MLB Spring Training: Each Team's Player in the 'Best Shape of Their Lives'
We're half way through spring training and already the injury bug has struck a few players, such as Adam Wainwright, Zach Greinke, and even Chase Utley.
But not everyone is on the bend thankfully, and some players are even entering the season in the best shape of their lives.
This comes as welcome news, especially for teams who are used to playing with a 50/50 squad of "A-team" and "B-team" players, and especially comes as welcome news for a handful of teams who could contend this year, such as Oakland, Chicago (both sides of town), and perhaps even Atlanta.
Let's take a look at some of the players who are currently pictures of perfect health.
Philadelphia Phillies, Jimmy Rollins:
The Phillies shortstop missed 87 games last year due to calf and hamstring injuries, but says he feels better than ever and even attributes his current health to some trials with yoga.
Philadelphia was able to deal with his absence thanks to Wilson Valdez and others, but without Rollins the Phillies did suffer defensively and on the base paths.
This year he is champing at the bit, saying he feels “very good” about himself, the season and a 2011 global rebound.
Atlanta Braves, Dan Uggla:
At 30 years old, second baseman Dan Uggla is not only at the top of his game but also the peak of his health.
Uggla is coming off of a banner 2010 campaign where he hit 35 HR and had 105 RBI. He is currently the only second baseman in MLB history to hit 30 plus home runs in four consecutive seasons.
So a healthy Uggla is a…ugly Uggla? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
The Braves needed a quality power bat who can hit for power and Uggla is as good as they come. In peak health, he is the most dangerous second baseman in the game.
New York Mets, Jose Reyes:
The speedy shortstop is in a contract year and will likely not play for the Mets in 2012. But Reyes says he is "as good as I've felt physically in the last two years," according the New York Daily News.
A healthy Reyes is probably the best version of the potent SS who is expected to have a significant impact where ever he goes.
Let’s not forget that Reyes’ stolen base repertoire includes these decorations:
- 56 in 2008
- 78 in 2007
- 64 in 2006
- 60 in 2005
Obviously Reyes is in an elite class at shortstop, and as a healthy 27-year-old, he’ll be in high demand next year.
Washington Nationals, Ian Desmond:
Aside from some rumors suggesting the Nationals may wind up dealing Desmond, he himself says he is in the best shape of his career and is ready for a bounce back season; a season that he hopes will allow him to stay in Washington.
Desmond was a highly touted prospect who floundered last year after not only leading the National League with 34 errors, but also suffering through a drop in his OPS (.879 in 2009 and .700 last year).
Desmond has the ability to be a solid player for the Nats, but his prime health alone will not help him achieve permanent residence in Washington.
Florida Marlins, Chris Coghlan
Coghlan is not only on schedule to resume everyday activities, but says he feels better than he ever has—and that knee is no longer an issue.
I am of course talking about that freak injury in which Coghlan tore the meniscus in his left knee when delivering a celebratory shaving cream pie after a late-July win.
Coghlan should bounce back rather nicely, and is no stranger to such a feat.
He batted .195 with no extra-base hits last April only to quicken his pace in the following weeks, putting up a .290/.361/.438 line over the remainder of the season that was closer to what we saw during his '09 NL Rookie of the Year campaign.
With Mike Stanton shut down and likely to begin the year in the minors again, the Marlins are going to certainly need all the help they can get from Coghlan.
Chicago Cubs, Carlos Pena:
Many people balked at the notion of bringing in Carlos Pena to play at first base, mainly due to his .196 batting average from a year ago.
Fair enough, but the guy is known for his power (28 plus home runs in four straight years…peaking at 46 in 2007) not his batting average (.241 career).
At 32 years old, Pena believes he is in the prime of his health. And you have to imagine playing in Wrigley Field will afford a rise in Pena’s power numbers, so the Cubs could absorb an average below .250.
And they’ll surely enjoy having a healthy power bat in their lineup for 162 games.
St. Louis Cardinals, Colby Rasmus;
Rasmus definitely has the ability to be one of the best players on the Cardinals, and despite dealing with some minor health issues last year, Rasmus says he feels “ better than ever”.
Rasmus wants to be the best athlete in St. Louis this spring, and in his quest, he’s done a ton of work in the off-season to help in that pursuit, including rehab-based exercises as an injury preventive measure.
If his word is good on his health and desire, Rasmus may just wind up being the best athlete in St. Louis.
Cincinnati Reds, Johnny Cueto
The flame throwing Johnny Cueto is in the prime of his health at 25, which is great news for the Reds organization considering they just signed him to a pretty new four deal.
Cueto built a name for himself in the early goings for his ability to throw strikes, but also struggled with command last year; an issue the Reds feel will be settled this season.
With solid command, and a penchant to bring the heat, a healthy Johnny Cueto is a dangerous Johnny Cueto.
Houston Astros, Brett Myers
Brett Myers believes he is in the best shape of his career and also believe he can better his 2010 campaign (14-8, 3.14 ERA, 1.24 WHIP).
Myers was thought to be a significant down slope while playing in Philadelphia, which is partly how he wound up in Houston; a place he has flourished in.
If he remains healthy, there’s little reason to think he can’t do better in 2011, and don’t be surprised if Myers winds up playing for the Yankees in 2012.
Pittsburgh Pirates, Andrew McCutchen
Andrew McCutchen is in the prime of his youth, healthy, and playing as a Pittsburgh Pirate with lofty expectations this season.
After a solid 2010 campaign in which he improved upon nearly ever stat from 2009, the healthy outfielder is poised to have a breakout season.
Good news for a team who is in need of some uplifting players.
Milwaukee Brewers, Shaun Marcum
After a bout with Tommy John surgery, Marcum says he feels better than ever and is ready to build upon a solid 2010 performance in which he posted a 3.64 ERA over 195-plus innings.
This is good news for Marcum and the Brewers considering the Brew crew will likely start the season without impending staff ace Zach Greinke, who isn’t quite as healthy.
San Diego Padres, Ryan Ludwick
After a disappointing 2010 season in which Ludwick did not live up to his power expectations—no surprise there considering where he is hitting—Ludwick says he is ready to deliver in 2011.
Ludwick says he feels great, is in his prime, and is ready to make due on a season in which he feels he was the reason the Padres did not make the playoffs.
Los Angeles Dodgers, Ted Lilly
Ted Lilly’s rough ride in Chicago was remedied in Los Angeles.
After battling through injuries in Chicago, and the battle of the return process, Lilly began to regain his composure and confidence after becoming a Dodger.
This year he says he feels better than he ever has, and if that’s true, the Dodgers have themselves an explosive pitcher who can pitch with the best of them.
San Francisco Giants, Pablo Sandoval
No guess work here. Sandoval has shed over 40 pounds in an effort to prevent the organization from sending him to the minors, and retaining his job at third base.
He had some surgery done on his eyes a year ago which is what he thought the problem was, until the extra weight proved to be the true culprit both offensively and defensively.
Currently, Sandoval is having a monster spring, hitting .462 with two taters and six RBI.
Arizona Diamondbacks, Miguel Montero
When healthy, Montero showed to be one of the most promising hitters in Arizona, but when ailing, he proved to be a liability.
Now, as 2011 approaches, Montero says he feels great and is ready to bust out.
Montero can hit for power and can also hit for percentage; two aspects don’t always accompany a catcher.
If he remains healthy, he’ll be a solid contributor for Arizona in 2011.
Colorado Rockies, Troy Tulowitzki
‘Tulo’ was removed from last week’s Cactus League game after whacking his foot, but it wound up just being a nick, which was a giant sigh of relief for the Rockies.
Aside from that blip on the radar, Tulowitzki is in the prime of his health, and should reach 30 home runs and eclipse 100 RBI this season.
New York Yankees, Curtis Granderson
At 29, Granderson is not only in top shape, but he has also become comfortable in New York, meaning the Yankees have themselves another powerful and deadly weapon at the plate.
Granderson has hit 20 plus home runs in each of the past four years, and is slated to have a monster year for the Yanks, especially if he can build upon his second half performance from a year ago.
Boston Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia
Pedroia has been champing at the bit for his expected return, and says he feels better than ever.
Pedroia is a guy who can steal, hit for average, and even add a little power, making him a versatile member of the Red Sox lineup.
Toronto Blue Jays, Brandon Morrow
Morrow was shut down early last year due to fatigue, and the organization’s desire to protect its young talent.
In 2011, Morrow is highly regarded as a player on the verge of a breakout.
Morrow has dealt with command issues in the past, but can rack up over 200 strikeouts in any given season. If he remains healthy and matures as a pitcher, the potential is there.
Tampa Bay Rays, Manny Ramirez
Tell me the following isn’t scary:
- Manny Ramirez told Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times that he is in terrific shape after working out extensively this offseason.
- "I just got a chip on my shoulder that I want to be here, I want to get my stuff right and show people I can play," – Tampa Tribune on Twitter
That’s right, a highly motivated and healthy Manny Ramirez is a pretty deadly weapon for any team to own.
Baltimore Orioles, Mark Reynolds
After a year that was marked by poor play, strikeouts galore and injuries, Mark Reynolds says he’s ready to put all of it behind him and do a complete 180 this year.
One of the components to that pursuit is his health, which he says, is fantastic.
Mark Reynolds is a huge competitor who takes his game—good or bad—very seriously, so a healthy Mark Reynolds on a mission is a big-time threat for the O’s.
Chicago White Sox, Paul Konerko
At 35 years old, the White Sox slugger is not only coming off of a banner year in which he belted 39 taters with 111 RBI, he's also enjoying being in the best shape of his life.
But what makes Konerko and the White Sox even more dangerous offensively is the fact that right after Konerko will be another huge bat: Adam Dunn.
Look out AL Central.
Minnesota Twins, Jason Kubel
Aside from Jason Kubel being in his prime, he is probably one of the biggest secret weapons the Twins have at their disposal offensively.
Not quite known for his defense, and seemingly a perpetual roster plug-in, Kubel has quietly put together three solid years with the Twins in which he has hit 20-plus home runs.
And while we won’t know for sure if Kubel will be an everyday starter in 2011, the consensus is it will be really difficult for the Twins to keep him grounded for long.
Detroit Tigers, Rick Porcello
Porcello is an interesting case in Detroit, but as a healthy “in his prime” starting pitcher who can dominate the mound—when he wants to—Porcello is a rising superstar in the rotation, should he make the cut.
This spring, he’s been a total dominant force on the mound, racking up five scoreless innings.
If Porcello can continue to keep his command in check and learn to work out of trouble, the Tigers should be pleasantly satisfied with what Porcello can bring to the table in 2011.
Cleveland Indians, Asdrubal Cabrera
Cabrera was cruising along in 2010, batting .276/.326/.346 with three home runs, 29 RBI, a .673 OPS and six stolen bases in 10 attempts before having his season cut short with a fractured forearm.
Well, here we are in 2011 and Cabrera is not only healthy as an ox, but is also a big-time candidate for a breakout season with the Indians, a team steeped in uncertainty.
Kansas City Royals, Billy Butler
Many feel that last year was a disappointment after a significant drop off in Butler’s stats (compared to 2009).
But what most didn’t know was that Butler was working on fine tuning other aspects of his plate appearances in an attempt to be more than a “classic power hitter”.
I go into more significant detail here, especially for you fantasy baseball fans.
2011 is a season with a wide open sky for a guy who is in the best shape of his life, and you can bet on a breakout season from Butler this year.
Texas Rangers, Nelson Cruz
At 30 years old, Nelson Cruz has been flirting with becoming one of the more elite bats and outfielders in the game for a couple of years now.
But his hamstring issues have always found a way to curb that pursuit.
This spring, Cruz says he feels better than he ever has, and he is also working on running more upright to lessen the strain on those hammys, which he says, is working.
A healthy Cruz equals an even more potent Rangers ball club.
Oakland Athletics, Brett Anderson
Despite technically finishing fourth in the AL with a 2.80 ERA last year (not enough innings to qualify), persistent arm troubles and a lack of offensive support from the A’s caused Anderson to have seemingly a pedestrian 2010 campaign, finishing 7-6.
But the fact of the matter is, Anderson is on the verge of a total breakout season, and last year’s performance was just the beginning.
Pitching coach Ron Romanick has been working with Anderson on a few tweaks with his mechanics, and the A’s have seriously upgraded their entire team, which is great news for Anderson.
They have the potential to win the division if they can get past Texas.
Los Angeles Angels, Vernon Wells
Probably one of the most talked about acquisitions in the 2010 off-season, the Angles went out and grabbed power-bat outfielder Vernon Wells who, at 32, feels has just begun to play his best baseball.
Probably because of his 31 home run 88 RBI 2010 campaign.
But if Wells can deliver a similar performance for the Angels, then this division suddenly becomes a quagmire of talented teams all competing it out for king of the mountain.
Wells, however, owns a career .226 BA and .607 OPS (159 AB) in Los Angeles.
Seattle Mariners, Jack Cust
It’s almost as if this guy never really gets hurt, isn’t it?
A near mainstay for the Oakland Athletics for years, Jack Cust is still chugging along in tip-top shape, and the Mariners are hoping he can do for them what he did for Oakland.
Cust is not a guy who will hit for average, and has a penchant for striking out. But he is a long-baller, and is a solid OBP source, which is what the Mariners lacked last year.
His power number could drop slightly due to the cavernous black hole called Safeco Field, but he should be a fine upgrade for the Mariners.
I hope you guys enjoyed this piece, and if you are looking for any fantasy baseball advice come check me out here.