10 Mid-Spring Training Flops We Should Already Be Worrying About

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2013

10 Mid-Spring Training Flops We Should Already Be Worrying About

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    Baseball is a fickle mistress.

    She doesn't care how much money a player makes, what the numbers on the back of his baseball card says or how many individual awards a player may have picked up along the way.

    The lady has one question: "What have you done for me lately?"

    Around baseball, a handful of players are struggling to answer that simple query with anything other than, "Not much, dear."

    The lady grows impatient.

    She has taken notice.

    We should as well.

    While there's still plenty of baseball left to be played before Opening Day arrives, it's beginning to get late early for those players still struggling to get themselves on track this spring.

    Let's take a look at 10 players that desperately need to turn things around over the next three weeks.

Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves

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    Coming off the worst season of his seven-year career, most figured that Dan Uggla had hit rock bottom and was poised to rebound in 2013.

    Through the first few weeks of spring training, it looks like the soon-to-be 33-year-old second baseman is still in a free fall. Uggla has managed only four hits in nearly 30 at-bats, striking out an MLB-high 13 times while drawing only three walks.

    To add insult to injury, Uggla took a pitch off of the neck against the New York Yankees. And while the Braves second baseman says that he's fine, the event certainly makes you think that the baseball gods are still looking down on the veteran infielder with disdain for some reason.

    With five years and $59 million remaining on the contract he signed with the Braves back in 2011, Uggla is firmly entrenched in the middle of Atlanta's infield. Even if he continues to regress at the plate, there's little to no chance that the Braves could make a move to replace him.

Shane Victorino, Boston Red Sox

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    I've been consistent in my criticism of the three-year, $39 million deal that the Boston Red Sox handed to 32-year-old outfielder Shane Victorino this past offseason, and the early results have done nothing but reaffirm that.

    Coming off the worst season of his career since he became an everyday player with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006, Victorino did almost nothing in five spring training games with the Red Sox.

    Literally.

    He left camp to join Team USA at the World Baseball Classic without recording a hit in 11 at-bats, drawing four walks and scoring a pair of runs while striking out three times.

    While he'll see plenty of action in the WBC, Victorino is Team USA's fourth outfielder, which means that he simply isn't going to get the regular playing time that he needs to get himself back on track.

    There's plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Boston's chances this season. Unfortunately, Victorino's performance isn't one of them.

Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland Indians

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    Ubaldo Jimenez has been an absolute disaster in a Cleveland Indians uniform, going 13-21 with a 5.32 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 42 starts since the Tribe acquired him from the Colorado Rockies at the trade deadline in 2011.

    He's shown no signs of progressing to the level of even an adequate starting pitcher this spring.

    Jimenez has been rocked in exhibition play, allowing 12 hits and six earned runs over eight innings of work. It's not as if he's been victimized by a few bad pitches either—nobody's managed to go deep off of the 29-year-old right-hander, which I guess is the silver lining of the dark cloud that hovers above him.

    Sure, you can point to his last start, where he held the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants to one run over four innings of work, but one spring training start does not erase a year-and-a-half of total ineptitude.

    Jimenez told Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer that new Indians' pitching coach Mickey Callaway got him to speed up his delivery, which Jimenez credits with his success against the Giants:

    "It is working," said Jimenez. "It's taking all my momentum to home plate. I was stopping during the windup [before] and then I had to start over again. Now I'm trying to stay in one movement."

    As we know, working in spring training and working in the regular season are two entirely different things.

    Cleveland needs Jimenez at the top of his game if the Indians are going to contend for a playoff berth in 2013.

Bruce Rondon, Detroit Tigers

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    Manager Jim Leyland and the powers that be in the front office of the Detroit Tigers can spin things however they like, but nothing changes the fact that Bruce Rondon has looked like anything but a major league closer thus far in spring training.

    Rondon, 22, has yet to mow down three batters in succession, leading to a 5.79 ERA and 2.57 WHIP over 4.2 innings of work thus far in the exhibition season.

    After Rondon's latest appearance on March 8 against the New York Mets, one that saw him scatter two hits without allowing a run while striking out two, some, like Leyland, are enthused, as he told the Detroit News' Tony Paul: "He was around the plate a little bit more. There were a couple pitches that had excellent movement. He didn't do anything wrong today."

    That's great and all, but there are two things to consider here.

    First, Rondon entered the game in the eighth inning with the score tied at two. It was not a save situation.

    More importantly, his appearance came against the Mets, a team whose lineup doesn't exactly send shivers of fear down anyone's spine these days.

    While his latest outing was certainly a step in the right direction, Rondon still has quite a ways to go before he can be counted on to close games for the defending American League champions.

Chris Carter, Houston Astros

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    When the Houston Astros traded shortstop Jed Lowrie to the Oakland Athletics back in February, it was a no-brainer to say that first baseman/left fielder Chris Carter would be the one piece Houston acquired who would make the biggest impact for the club in 2013.

    So far, that impact has been minimal.

    Carter, 26, has looked mediocre at the plate, sitting with a .231/.276/.385 slash line through 10 games. He's managed only two extra-base hits and three RBI, he's struck out eight times and he's been outplayed by veteran Carlos Pena—a career .234 hitter who has finished two of the past three seasons hitting below .200.

    Nobody expects Carter to become a .300 hitter, and his .231 batting average is right around his career mark of .234.

    But expectations that he would become a run producer in the middle of the lineup with regular playing time—especially after hitting 16 home runs with 39 RBI in only 67 games for Oakland in 2012—have yet to be reached.

Nick Maronde, Los Angeles Angels

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    Just over a year after being selected in the third round of the MLB draft by the Los Angeles Angels, Nick Maronde found himself standing on a field with Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and the rest of the team's big-league roster—and he thrived.

    Maronde allowed only one earned run in six innings of relief spread over a dozen games, pitching to a 1.50 ERA and giving the Angels the inkling that he would be a major part of the team's plans in 2013.

    A starter in the minor leagues, where he pitched to a combined 2.26 ERA and 1.01 WHIP across three levels of the Angels' farm system in 2012, Maronde has looked anything but major league-ready this spring.

    In three appearances (one start), Maronde has allowed eight hits and seven earned runs, striking out four but also issuing four free passes as well in just 3.2 innings of work.

    To be fair, Maronde is far from the only pitcher in camp who has struggled for Los Angeles, as the team's pitching staff sits with the highest ERA (7.11) of any team in baseball.

    But his performance has been as disappointing as anyone's thus far—and time is running out for the 23-year-old to make the Opening Day roster.

Jacob Turner, Miami Marlins

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    The centerpiece of the package that the Miami Marlins landed from the Detroit Tigers in the Omar Infante/Anibal Sanchez trade last season, 21-year-old right-hander Jacob Turner was expected to be part of the Marlins' starting rotation in 2013.

    In his first outing this spring, Turner wasn't able to get out of the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals, giving up four hits and six earned runs, hitting a batter and walking three while recording one out.

    That's not good by anyone's standards.

    While he looked better in his second outing, it’s important to note the competition he was facing. It was a “B” game against the New York Mets on a back field at the Marlins' spring training complex—not exactly the equivalent of facing major league-caliber talent.

    Look, nobody expects the Marlins to contend for anything but the top overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft this season. But the team needs Turner to take the ball every fifth day and at least keep the game close.

    As it stands now, even that task appears to be asking too much from the youngster.

John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers

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    The Milwaukee Brewers spent the offseason rebuilding a shattered bullpen, one that pitched to an MLB-worst 4.66 ERA in 2012.

    Apparently, someone forgot to give closer John Axford that memo.

    Axford has been atrocious so far this spring, allowing four earned runs and four hits over 2.2 innings of work, blowing the only save chance he had before departing camp for Team Canada and the World Baseball Classic.

    He worked the ninth inning of an exhibition with the Brewers before Canada began WBC play in earnest. And even then, Axford was far from his 2011 form that garnered him votes for both MVP and the Cy Young award, giving up two hits while striking out two in a scoreless inning of relief.

    Axford will need to build upon that performance and show signs of life for Team Canada while he's away from the Brewers before Milwaukee skipper Ron Roenicke can honestly say that he's confident that Axford's troubles are behind him.

Lucas Duda, New York Mets

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    It's no secret that the New York Mets outfield is, well, a work in progress.

    But one of the holdovers from 2012, Lucas Duda, is expected to serve as one of the three big bats in the team's lineup, along with third baseman David Wright and first baseman Ike Davis.

    So far this spring, the Duda has not abided.

    He has managed only three hits in 19 at-bats, and while two of those hits went for extra bases (a double and a home run), the 27-year-old has struck out 10 times without drawing a walk.

    The good news for Duda is that the Mets really don't have any other options, and he's all but assured to be in the team's starting lineup on Opening Day.

    That said, his lack of plate discipline is an ominous sign for a Mets team that needs production from every spot in the lineup if it has any chance of contending for a playoff spot in 2013.

Hector Noesi, Seattle Mariners

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    Hector Noesi needs to thank Mother Nature, as his spring training numbers could be much worse than the 14.73 ERA and 4.64 WHIP that he sits with after three official appearances.

    In his latest outing against the Oakland Athletics, Noesi lasted only two innings, giving up six earned runs on five hits, walking two, hitting a batter and allowing three home runs in a rain-shortened game.

    Mariners skipper Eric Wedge wasn't holding back after the game, via MLB.com's Greg Johns:

    He's been around a little bit, he gained some valuable experience last year at the big league level. I think the big leagues showed him what he needs to continue to work on and it continues to show him. His stuff is real, but it is about executing pitches and having conviction with your pitches. And that's what we haven't seen.

    With Seattle having traded Jason Vargas this winter, a spot at the back of Seattle's rotation was all but a lock for Noesi, acquired prior to the 2012 season along with Jesus Montero in the Michael Pineda trade.

    At this point, Noesi seems destined for a spot at the back of the rotation in Triple-A Tacoma.

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