Every MLB Team's Biggest Surprise and Disappointment from Spring Training
There's less than two weeks to go before spring training is a distant memory, replaced by Opening Day and the start of the 2014 MLB season.
While fans, players, writers, prognosticators, hot dog vendors and everyone else associated with the game loves to say that spring training statistics and numbers are largely meaningless, they do provide a way to analyze how individual players are performing—just like they do during the regular season.
Sure, the games and stats don't actually count, but they go a long way toward helping managers decide on the 25 players that will break camp with their respective teams and head into the grind of the regular season, hoping to be the last team standing in October.
As is the case with anything in life, those results are full of disappointments and pleasant surprises. In some cases, the surprise and the disappointment are one and the same.
The possibilities are endless. It could be a veteran returning to relevance, a youngster making his mark or an injured star returning to action. Perhaps it's a group of players that are overperforming—or underperforming—this spring. Or, in some cases, maybe it's something that happens away from the field of play.
With that said, let's take a stroll around each of the 30 spring training camps and see what each team's biggest surprise and its biggest disappointment have been during spring training in 2014.
*All spring training statistics courtesy of MLB.com.
*All other statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Biggest Surprise: RP Josh Collmenter
Josh Collmenter has made a name for himself as one of baseball's more consistent and versatile pitchers over the past three years, pitching to a 3.40 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 108 games, including 35 starts.
But he's elevated his game to a level we didn't know he had this spring, tossing 9.1 scoreless innings of relief and scattering four hits to go along with one walk and five strikeouts. He's also converted all three save opportunities that he's been presented with, something he's never done before.
Biggest Disappointment: Patrick Corbin's (Potentially) Season-Ending Injury
Arizona continues to hold out hope that the damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in Patrick Corbin's left elbow won't require surgery, but given the recent rash of pitchers that need Tommy John surgery to repair their ailments, it's hard not to believe that Corbin is headed down the same road.
While the team has options to replace Corbin in the rotation in Josh Collmenter, Randall Delgado and top prospect Archie Bradley, only Bradley has front-of-the-rotation talent, and asking him to perform at Corbin's All-Star level in what would be his first taste of major league action may be asking too much.
Biggest Surprise: Dan Uggla's Renaissance
He's never going to hit for average, but Dan Uggla has posted a more-than-respectable .250/.404/556 slash line across 16 spring training games, numbers that the Atlanta Braves and their fans would sign up for in a second during the regular season.
Uggla attributes his new-found success to adopting a slightly wider stance in the batter's box, as he explained to Carroll Rogers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
After going through the worst season of his career in 2013, when he hit .179 and was left off of Atlanta's postseason roster, a return to relevance in 2014 was considered a long shot.
That Uggla, perhaps, is back to being a productive player? It's not only surprising, it's shocking.
Biggest Disappointment: Injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy
Already without longtime Brave Tim Hudson, now with the San Francisco Giants, Atlanta's starting rotation suffered two huge blows early this spring when Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy went down with what's believed to be season-ending elbow injuries.
Medlen has already had Tommy John surgery, while Beachy is getting a second opinion, according to CBS Sports' Mike Axisa. It's expected that Beachy, like Medlen, will go under the knife for his second dose of Tommy John surgery as well.
While the Braves moved quickly to sign Ervin Santana to cushion the blow, losing both Medlen and Beachy for the year is a major disappointment. Not only does it put the team in an unenviable situation this year, but it brings the careers of Medlen and Beachy into question.
Biggest Surprise: SP/RP Zach Britton
After delivering a mediocre performance over parts of three major league seasons, pitching to a 4.77 ERA and 1.52 WHIP, something seems to have finally clicked for 26-year-old left-hander Zach Britton.
Britton has made five relief appearances this spring, allowing only one earned run over eight innings of work, walking two and striking out eight. He may have found his niche as a left-handed reliever, joining Brian Matusz as the second southpaw in the team's bullpen.
Biggest Disappointment: 2B Jemile Weeks
Acquired from the Oakland A's in the deal that sent closer Jim Johnson out west, Jemile Weeks walked into camp with a chance to win the starting job at second base, replacing the departed Brian Roberts, who signed with the New York Yankees during the offseason.
While Weeks has flashed his top-end speed, successfully swiping seven out of eight bags, he's struggled mightily at the plate, with only four hits in 29 at-bats. He leads the team with six walks on the spring, but Weeks simply isn't getting on base consistently enough to cause problems with his speed.
Boston Red Sox
Biggest Surprise: OF Grady Sizemore
It's been six years since Grady Sizemore performed at an All-Star-caliber level—two years since he stepped foot on a major league field, sidelined by a litany of injuries—so expectations surrounding the three-time All-Star were tempered heading into camp.
Merely staying healthy throughout the spring would have been viewed as a big surprise and massive success. The best-case scenario, most of us assumed, was that Sizemore would show enough to break camp with the club as a reserve outfielder.
Not only has he stayed healthy, but the 31-year-old has turned back the clock. “He looks the same as he always has,” general manager Ben Cherington told CBS Sports' Jon Heyman recently.
The veteran has outplayed prospect Jackie Bradley Jr., going 9-for-25 (.360) with a .785 OPS, significantly better than his younger counterpart's 8-for-40 showing (.200) with a .623 OPS, and seems to have the inside track on starting the regular season as Boston's starting center fielder.
You won't find many bigger surprises this spring than that.
Biggest Disappointment: OF Jackie Bradley Jr.
Younger and healthier than Grady Sizemore—and with the best baseball of his career still ahead of him—Jackie Bradley Jr. was expected to cement himself as Boston's center fielder of the future this spring.
Instead, the 23-year-old has struggled to perform at the plate, as noted above, and there's a real possibility that he'll start the season back with Triple-A Pawtucket rather than serve as Sizemore's primary backup.
“It is what it is,” Bradley Jr. told the Boston Herald's Scott Lauber. “Those decisions aren’t something I can control. I’ve never thought of it as trying to make the team. I’m just going out there, preparing for the season."
With starting right fielder Shane Victorino capable of spelling Sizemore in center field, a return to Triple-A, where he can continue to refine his swing, may be the best thing for Bradley Jr.'s long-term development.
That doesn't make his struggles this spring any less of a disappointment, however, and there's no question that his prospects for the future aren't quite as bright as they once were given his continued struggles at the plate.
Biggest Surprise: RP Arodys Vizcaino
Making his return to the mound for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011, 23-year-old Arodys Vizcaino looked very much like his old self this spring, hitting the upper 90s with his fastball while scattering two hits over three scoreless innings of relief before being optioned to Triple-A Iowa.
Most importantly, Vizcaino left camp having made a big impression on new manager Rick Renteria, who was effusive in his praise when talking about the reliever with MLB.com's Carrie Muskat:
We're still following the plan and want to make sure he gets his innings in a controlled environment and kind of ease him back in. He needs to get in more game situations and things of that nature and make sure he can handle it all and see where it's at.
He's got a great arm and needs to continue to command his fastball and do all the other things that the game asks him to do. If there's a need, he's a nice guy to have. The depth he gives us is real nice.
Whether Vizcaino could be counted as a piece of the rebuilding process in Chicago has been a question that nobody could answer since the team acquired him from Atlanta at the trade deadline in 2012, given his injury.
He's taken a huge step toward being able to answer that question affirmatively this spring.
Biggest Disappointment: SS Starlin Castro
Few players disappointed as much as Starlin Castro did in 2013, when he saw his production at the plate disappear, hitting a woeful .245/.284/.347, a steep decline from the .297/.336/.425 career slash line that he carried into the season.
A clean slate under a new manager was expected to see Castro bounce back into his previous All-Star form, but a hamstring injury has kept him off of the field for all but two at-bats this spring, raising questions as to whether or not he'll be ready in time for Opening Day.
To his credit, the 23-year-old is keeping his spirits up and remains optimistic about his chances to break camp with the club, as he explained to the Chicago Tribune's Mark Gonzales:
It's going to be good for opening day. I'll take some at-bats in the minor leagues and take a couple of games here. I think I'll be 100 percent and really strong to start the season.
It's frustrating because I came in 100 percent and get hurt here. The good year I want to have this season isn't going away.
While Castro may be right, it would have been nice to see him work off the rust in more than a handful of games this spring—and to spend some time in the field with top prospect Javier Baez, who is on the fast track to the major leagues and is expected to take over at second base when he arrives.
Chicago White Sox
Biggest Surprise and Disappointment: SP Jose Quintana
Jose Quintana has been a consistent contributor for the Chicago White Sox over the past two seasons, pitching to a 3.61 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Much of the same is expected this season, with the 25-year-old southpaw slotted as the team's No. 2 or No. 3 starter, depending on which depth chart you want to believe.
He's looked like anything but a front-line starter this spring, though, allowing 17 hits and 20 earned runs in only six innings of work. Despite his struggles, Quintana insisted to CSN Chicago's Dan Hayes that there's nothing wrong with him.
“I feel real good. My arm and ankle is good," he said. "I’ll be good. I’ll be fine when the season starts. I feel bad for this day. Continue to be working and I’ll be ready.”
If the White Sox are going to improve upon a dismal 2013 season that saw them finish 36 games below .500 and 30 games behind Detroit in the AL Central, they need the Quintana of old to take the ball every fifth day.
So far, that version of Quintana has been nowhere to be found this spring.
Biggest Surprise: RP Trevor Bell
While he was outstanding across two levels of the Cincinnati Reds' minor league system in 2013, pitching to a combined 1.80 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with 17 saves and a 4.33 K/BB ratio, there was little in the way of expectations surrounding 27-year-old Trevor Bell, a non-roster invitee to spring training.
The right-hander has been dominant, tossing 5.2 innings of scoreless relief and striking out eight while holding the opposition to a .150 batting average.
While the odds are still against him breaking camp with the club, given the depth that the Reds have in their bullpen, Bell has emerged as a legitimate option if-and-when reinforcements are needed during the regular season.
Biggest Disappointment: SP Daniel Corcino
Ranked as the 94th-best prospect in baseball heading into the 2013 season by Baseball America, Daniel Corcino struggled mightily in his first taste of Triple-A last season, pitching to a 5.86 ERA and 1.66 WHIP while struggling with his command.
Those struggles have continued this spring, with Corcino issuing seven walks while allowing eight hits and 13 earned runs in only two innings of work before being optioned to Triple-A Louisville in the first round of cuts.
Only 23 years old, there's still time for Corcino to turn things around, but things are moving in the wrong direction for a pitcher who, at one point, was thought to be similar to Johnny Cueto in terms of ability.
Biggest Surprise: SP/RP Josh Tomlin
After missing most of the 2013 season as he recovered from elbow surgery, 29-year-old Josh Tomlin has made a strong case for inclusion at the back end of the Cleveland Indians rotation this spring.
In four games (two starts), Tomlin has pitched to a 2.57 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, striking out 14 batters while walking only two, dialing his fastball up into the mid-90s while showing sharp bite on his curveball.
His stiffest competition for the final spot in the rotation, Carlos Carrasco, has struggled, posting a 5.59 ERA and 1.86 WHIP with the opposition hitting .386 against him.
The biggest obstacle that Tomlin has to overcome may be that, unlike Carrasco, he still has minor league options left. Despite his performance this spring, he may find himself stuck in Triple-A to start the season.
Biggest Disappointment: SP Trevor Bauer
Is it time for us to start looking at Trevor Bauer as a bust?
You have to at least consider the possibility with the putrid numbers that the 23-year-old has put up this spring, allowing eight earned runs and 12 hits while issuing five walks in only six innings of work.
Manager Terry Francona continues to stand firmly in Bauer's corner, but with only one minor league option remaining, he's running out of time to turn things around.
“I do think with Trevor looking at the big picture is important. We really value this kid. We think at some point whether it’s next week or two weeks from now, he’s going to help us win games,” Francona recently told the Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes. “His last couple of bullpen sessions have been better. He’s really trying hard.”
While Bauer may get an "A" for effort, he gets a failing grade for his performance. With Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir out of the picture in Cleveland, a strong spring could have earned Bauer a spot in the rotation.
That he's failed to come remotely close to capitalizing on that opportunity is a major disappointment.
Biggest Surprise: IF Paul Janish
Signed to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training, veteran infielder Paul Janish has always been highly regarded for his versatility and above-average defense at multiple positions. A career .214 hitter over parts of six major league seasons, though, nobody expects much from him at the plate.
Except he's been one of the Colorado Rockies' most consistent offensive contributors this spring, hitting .455 with a 1.061 OPS over 33 at-bats, reaching base safely in 12 of the 16 games in which he's appeared.
While the Rockies would have to create a roster spot for him to break camp with the club, which could give the nod for the utility role to the underwhelming Josh Rutledge, Janish is making a strong case for Colorado to figure out a way to keep him with the big club.
Biggest Disappointment: LHP Boone Logan
Signed to a three-year, $16.5 million deal this past winter, 29-year-old Boone Logan only made his first appearance of the spring for the Rockies Thursday, having worked his way back from October surgery to remove bone chips and a bone spur in his left elbow.
The results were not good, as surrendered three consecutive singles before walking in a run against the Milwaukee Brewers, taking the loss in the process.
While you can certainly chalk up Logan's shaky performance to rust that he merely needs to shake off, there are legitimate questions as to whether he'll be ready to start the season in Colorado's bullpen and if the team made a mistake by making such a large investment in a reliever that it knew was injured.
Biggest Surprise: 3B Nick Castellanos
No matter what team you're talking about, top prospects always have a way of being over-hyped by the media and fans alike, doomed to fall short of unrealistic expectations that are thrust upon them before they ever step foot on a major league field.
Nick Castellanos has not only lived up to those expectations this spring, he's exceeded them.
The 22-year-old, who made his major league debut late in 2013, has been nothing short of phenomenal this spring, hitting .396 with seven doubles, two home runs, 16 RBI and an OPS of 1.078.
If he can continue making solid contact and driving the ball to all fields when the regular season begins, Castellanos could be in for an award-winning season for the Detroit Tigers in 2014.
Biggest Disappointment: SS Jose Iglesias' Legs
Expected to solidify the left side of Detroit's infield with his phenomenal range and excellent glove, Jose Iglesias will instead be spending the next four to six months on the sidelines, recovering from stress fractures in both legs that, for all intents and purposes, will keep him out of action for the entire season.
“(He could) perhaps be back later in the year, but in my thought process that’s more unlikely than likely at this point,” GM Dave Dombrowski said, via the Associated Press (h/t NESN). “This is a very rare situation for somebody at any age, but particularly a young individual."
Rather than look outside the organization for a shortstop, the team is looking at internal candidates, with Eugenio Suarez, Danny Worth and Hernan Perez the three most likely options to replace the 24-year-old.
Biggest Surprise and Disappointment: OF George Springer
After a stellar 2013 campaign that saw him hit a combined .303 with 37 home runs, 108 RBI and an OPS of 1.010 across two levels of the minor leagues, big things were expected from George Springer this spring.
At the very least, the talented five-tool prospect was expected to put on a strong enough showing, as he did in spring training a year ago (.292 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBI, .992 OPS), to break camp with the Houston Astros as the team's starting right fielder.
Instead, the 24-year-old barely showed up, hitting only .161 with one RBI and a .527 OPS over 14 games before being optioned to minor league camp, and he'll start the season with Triple-A Oklahoma City.
While the Astros aren't going to contend in 2014, Springer was supposed to be part of the first wave of talent that represented a step back toward respectability for the once-proud franchise. That he's back in the minor leagues is a major surprise and an even bigger disappointment.
Kansas City Royals
Biggest Surprise: SP Yordano Ventura
We knew that Yordano Ventura was a talented pitcher who figured into the Kansas City Royals' future plans, but not even the most ardent Royals fan could have predicted that the 22-year-old would be the talk of baseball this spring.
Ventura has dominated the opposition, pitching to a 1.76 ERA and 0.72 WHIP over 15.1 innings of work, holding opponents to a .185 batting average while issuing only one walk and striking out 15.
Heading into the spring, there were concerns about Ventura's lack of prototypical size (5'11") and whether his shaky command would eventually force the hard-throwing right-hander into a relief role.
Now, thanks to a blistering fastball that routinely cracks triple digits and his dominant performance, Ventura heads into the regular season with huge expectations, both for himself and for the Royals, who are trying to end a nearly 30-year absence from the playoffs.
Biggest Disappointment: RHP Luke Hochevar's Injury
After years of disappointing results as a starter, Luke Hochevar finally found his mojo as a middle reliever in Kansas City's bullpen in 2013.
The former top overall pick in the 2006 MLB draft pitched to a minuscule 1.92 ERA and 0.83 WHIP over 70.1 innings of relief, walking 17 while striking out 82 batters, and there was palpable excitement that he'd be able to build on that remarkable season in 2014.
Instead, he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery March 18. A free agent after the season, Hochevar's career in a Royals uniform may have come to an end just as it looked like it was truly about to begin.
Los Angeles Angels
Biggest Surprise: LHP Hector Santiago
Acquired from the Chicago White Sox as part of the three-team trade that saw the Los Angeles Angels trade Mark Trumbo to Arizona, 26-year-old Hector Santiago was expected to bring some stability to an Angels rotation that needs it.
He's exceeded those expectations this spring, pitching to a 2.76 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 16.1 innings of work over four starts, walking six and striking out 19.
Concerns remain about his command, as he owns a career 4.5 BB/9 in the big leagues and a slightly better 4.1 BB/9 over six minor league seasons, but so far this spring, Santiago has put those worries to rest with his outstanding performance on the mound.
We knew that Santiago was good, but nobody thought he was this good.
Biggest Disappointment: LHP Tyler Skaggs
Another piece of the package that the Angels got in return for Trumbo, 22-year-old southpaw Tyler Skaggs hasn't had anywhere near the success that Santiago has enjoyed this spring.
While Skaggs has gotten his velocity back up by using his legs more than he has in the past, he's gotten shelled this spring, especially over his last two starts, a stretch that has seen him allow 15 hits and eight earned runs over 8.1 innings of work.
With the equally unimpressive Joe Blanton the team's only other real option for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, Los Angeles needs Skaggs to turn things around before the regular season begins.
Whether he's capable of that remains to be seen, but he's been a major disappointment up to this point in camp.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Biggest Surprise and Disappointment: Second Base
Dee Gordon, who spent the bulk of 2013 with Triple-A Albuquerque, had become something of an afterthought for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That, coupled with the fact that the Dodgers signed Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero for $28 million last October (presumably to be the team's starting second baseman), makes Gordon's return to relevance this spring nothing short of shocking.
Both shortstops for the bulk of their careers, the two have put up solid numbers offensively this spring, with Guerrero offering more in the power department while Gordon is clearly the bigger threat once he gets on base:
Defensively, Gordon has been better able to adapt to the position switch than Guerrero, and that's why he's getting the nod as the team's starting second baseman.
But the Dodgers aren't paying Guerrero $7 million a season to be a minor league infielder, and sooner rather than later, he's going to have to show that he can handle himself with the glove against major league competition.
While Gordon's resurgence is a major surprise, Guerrero's struggles to make the transition from shortstop to second base, while somewhat expected, are a disappointment.
Biggest Surprise: RHP Tom Koehler
If you want to make an argument for left-hander Brad Hand in this spot, you'll get no argument from me, as he's been equally as impressive as Koehler, but for my money, Koehler, who is three years older than Hand, has been a bit more surprising.
Owner of a career 4.49 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over parts of two major league seasons, there were no expectations on 27-year-old Tom Koehler heading into the season. He was what he was, and for a rebuilding Miami Marlins club, that was good enough.
Except someone forgot to pass that message along to Koehler, who has allowed only one earned run and seven hits over 12 spring innings, walking two and striking out 11 while holding the opposition to a .175 average.
Most importantly, he's gotten the attention of Marlins manager Mike Redmond, who was effusive in his praise when speaking with the Sun-Sentinel's Juan C. Rodriguez: "He looks like a different guy from last year to this year. It's been a real pleasure to watch him go out there and work this spring."
Biggest Disappointment: 1B/OF Garrett Jones
Signed to a two-year, $7.75 million deal this past winter to provide the Marlins with some offense at first base, Garrett Jones has done anything but that so far this spring.
The 32-year-old has managed only six hits in 41 spring at-bats (.146), isn't getting on-base with any consistency (.186 on-base percentage) and has struck out at an alarming rate (31.7 percent of the time).
While Jones has never historically put up big numbers in spring training, he's never been quite this bad before. If this is a sign of what's to come during the regular season, the Marlins may have no choice but to play prospect Christian Yelich, slated to be the team's center fielder, at the position instead.
Biggest Surprise: 2B Rickie Weeks
Much to the chagrin of Brewers fans that want to see Scooter Gennett playing second base on a daily basis, Rickie Weeks has made adjustments at the plate—and the results have been impressive.
The 31-year-old Weeks, who has spent his entire 10-year career with the Brewers, is hitting .321 with a .486 on-base percentage and .986 OPS, drawing more walks (nine) than strikeouts (seven), something that he's never come close to doing before.
“I hope he continues it. When he’s swinging the bat like this, he is really fun to watch. If you guys watch balls come off his bat, it’s pretty scary,” manager Ron Roenicke said, via MLB.com's Adam McCalvy, earlier this spring. “He’s one of those rare guys that has that kind of pop that it doesn’t matter where he hits it.”
With a number of teams still searching for upgrades at second base, a productive Weeks could develop into a valuable trade chip for the Brewers down the road.
Biggest Disappointment: RHP Matt Garza
Given his recent spring training performances, which seem to indicate that the older Matt Garza gets, the worse he performs during the exhibition season, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by the veteran hurler's struggles this spring:
While he's bounced back to have solid regular seasons, averaging a 3.62 ERA and 1.23 WHIP from 2011 to 2013, Milwaukee would certainly like to see some signs of life from the 30-year-old before the regular season gets underway.
Biggest Surprise: RHP Kyle Gibson
Coming off of a brutal debut season with the Minnesota Twins in which he pitched to a 6.53 ERA and 1.75 WHIP over 10 starts, it was fair to wonder whether Kyle Gibson was truly recovered from 2012 Tommy John surgery and worthy of the first-round pick that Minnesota used on him in the 2009 MLB draft.
He spent the winter honing his craft, as he explained to MLB.com's Andrew Simon, and he believes that his performance this spring speaks for itself:
I think I've done a good job the last three weeks making sure I'm game-ready. I feel like I've made the adjustments I needed to make this offseason, and at this point it's the front office's job to decide who they want and in what spot, and hopefully I'm one of those guys.
Gibson has appeared in four games this spring, making two starts. He pitched to a 2.70 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, walking three with six strikeouts over 13.2 innings of work.
While Gibson has minor league options available, something that the likes of Scott Diamond and Vance Worley—his competition for the No. 5 spot in the rotation—do not, his performance should land him on the team's 25-man roster when camp breaks.
Biggest Disappointment: RHP Vance Worley
Considering his well-documented struggles in 2013, perhaps we shouldn't be shocked that Vance Worley has once again looked like anything but a major league pitcher this spring.
If you haven't paid attention to his performance this spring, you might want to sit down (or at least brace yourself) for these numbers: 22 hits allowed, 16 earned runs and a .415 BAA in only 10.2 innings of work.
Worley has been an absolute disaster since arriving in Minnesota before the 2013 season as part of the package the Twins got from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Ben Revere. The time has come for them to cut bait with the bespectacled hurler, who clearly doesn't have "it" anymore.
New York Mets
Biggest Surprise: OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis
What a difference a year makes.
Last spring, Kirk Nieuwenhuis mustered only three hits in 35 spring training at-bats and broke camp with the club.
This spring, the 26-year-old is raking at the plate, hitting .300 with four extra-base hits, eight RBI and a .966 OPS. Even so, he's all but destined to start the season back with Triple-A Las Vegas, thanks to improved outfield depth with the additions of Curtis Granderson and Chris Young this past winter.
While he may not break camp with the New York Mets, Nieuwenhuis has at least reminded manager Terry Collins and GM Sandy Alderson that he's still around and should be called on if and when a need arises in the team's revamped outfield during the regular season.
Biggest Disappointment: SS Ruben Tejada
The Mets continue to hold out hope that Ruben Tejada can get back to being a contributor with the bat while providing solid defense as he did two years ago.
That's a pipe dream, as Tejada is hitting only .214 with one walk, six strikeouts and a .527 OPS. Not only is he a liability at the plate, but he's no good in the field either, where he's committed four errors.
At this point, you have to wonder if the Mets would be better off holding open auditions at Citi Field, American Idol style, to find their starting shortstop in 2014.
New York Yankees
Biggest Surprise: RHP Michael Pineda
After two years of waiting for a myriad of injuries to heal, the Yankees finally got a chance to see what Michael Pineda looks like in the pinstripes for an extended period of time this spring.
And they can't help but love what they've seen.
An imposing physical specimen at 6'7", 260 pounds, the 25-year-old Pineda has been lights-out for the Yankees this spring, scattering eight hits over nine scoreless innings while striking out 14 batters and issuing only one walk.
He's assured himself of the No. 5 spot in the team's rotation, but more importantly, he's given the Yankees a second young arm, along with Masahiro Tanaka, to build their future rotation around.
Biggest Disappointment: CC Sabathia's Velocity
The workhorse of the Yankees rotation, CC Sabathia has been pretty good this spring, allowing only three earned runs and six hits over 10 innings of work, walking two while fanning nine and, most importantly, not surrendering a home run, something he had a penchant for doing a year ago.
But concerns remain about what he's got left in the tank, as Sabathia has yet to touch 90 mph this spring.
While the overall results are far more important than the readings from a radar gun and Sabathia is making the adjustment to go from being a thrower to becoming a pitcher, fastballs that sit in the high 80s tend to get hit hard by major league hitters.
Perhaps it's much ado about nothing, but it'd be a lot easier to feel confident that Sabathia will bounce back from a brutal 2013 season if he were able to get back some of the velocity that he's lost. So far, that hasn't been the case, and that's both a concerning and disappointing development.
Biggest Surprise: SP/RP Jesse Chavez
With Jarrod Parker out for the season and A.J. Griffin dealing with elbow issues of his own, Oakland has turned to former reliever Jesse Chavez to help fill the holes that have appeared in its starting rotation.
He's been up to the challenge, pitching to a 1.04 ERA and 1.038 WHIP over 17.1 innings of work this spring, walking four while striking out 14 and holding the opposition to a .222 average.
There's reason for concern, of course. Chavez owns a career 5.48 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, has made only two starts over his six-year major league career and has thrown more than 100 innings as a professional twice, first in 2004 and again in 2012.
But he has been impressive this spring, and he's earned a shot to start during the regular season.
Whether he can carry his exhibition success into April and May remains to be seen.
Biggest Disappointment: Injuries to the Rotation
Coming off of two successful seasons as a member of the A's, going a combined 25-16 with a 3.73 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, Jarrod Parker was coming into his own and becoming one of the better young arms in baseball. That was until he felt soreness and tightness in his right forearm and Dr. James Andrews delivered the bad news. Andrews needed to perform Tommy John surgery on Parker's right elbow—for the second time.
A.J. Griffin, another up-and-coming youngster, will start the season on the disabled list with what has been diagnosed as elbow tendinitis, while Scott Kazmir, the team's big-ticket addition this winter, had been held out of games due to issues with his triceps, though he is on the road to recovery.
Losing Parker for the entire season hurts, but Oakland has the depth to weather the loss of one arm. Should Griffin's elbow issue become worse, however, the team will find itself scrambling to fill that spot, as Oakland's top starting pitching prospects are still another year away from offering any help.
Biggest Surprise and Disappointment: The aging core
Until GM Ruben Amaro finally acknowledges that changes need to be made, the fate of the Phillies will rest on the production of three former All-Stars: shortstop Jimmy Rollins, second baseman Chase Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard.
One of the most successful trios of their generation, they're all on the wrong side of 30—Rollins and Utley are both 35, while Howard's the youngster of the group at 34—and their age is beginning to show.
But Philadelphia's GM has been selling people on the fact that this group had another playoff run in them, and it's under that premise that we should be surprised—and disappointed—with what we've seen so far this spring.
What have we seen? A combined to .198 (22-for-111) batting average with two home runs, 12 RBI, nine walks and 27 strikeouts.
Their bats—and their bodies—continue to slow and break down due to age and years of wear and tear in the major leagues, and there's nothing that anyone can do about it.
Biggest Surprise: SP Wandy Rodriguez
A strained left forearm cut short Wandy Rodriguez's 2013 season after only 12 starts—a season in which he surrendered 10 home runs in only 62.2 innings of work—so it was fair to question what, if anything, the Pittsburgh Pirates could expect to get from the 35-year-old southpaw in 2014.
So far this spring, the results have been terrific.
He's allowed only one earned run over three starts, issuing one walk while striking out six batters and, most importantly, is healthy and has yet to surrender a home run. After his latest start, a 4-2 victory against Boston this past Wednesday, Rodriguez explained to MLB.com's Ian Browne that he's not yet where he wants to be:
I need to work on my curveball a little bit. The last two innings I threw a lot of those because I don't think it's quite ready to go. My location was a little off today, but it's Spring Training, and I'll keep working at it.
After losing A.J. Burnett to the Phillies as a free agent this winter, there were plenty of questions surrounding the team's rotation. Getting a healthy and effective Rodriguez back into the fold will go a long way toward answering those questions.
If he can improve on what has already been a very good spring training performance, as Rodriguez believes he can, nobody will be talking about Burnett's departure when the regular season begins.
Biggest Disappointment: SP Edinson Volquez
Pittsburgh was successful with one reclamation project, Francisco Liriano, in 2013, so the Bucs decided they'd try to catch lightning in a bottle for the second consecutive season, signing the talented but erratic Edinson Volquez this past winter.
If the early results are any indication, then what they say is true: Lightning never strikes the same spot twice.
Volquez has been atrocious, getting shelled for 14 hits and 11 earned runs over nine innings of work, walking five and striking out eight. Despite the poor results, Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage is confident that the 30-year-old can turn things around, as he told Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Stuff like this doesn't happen overnight. I'm not going to give up on this guy. I saw some good things come out of him, then I saw some reverted deliveries. It was a mix of what we're trying to get across and what he still has in there. I'm encouraged.
With the Pirates hoping to build on last season's successful playoff run, when they became "America's Team," Pittsburgh simply can't afford to trot Volquez out to the mound if he's going to deliver these types of results.
San Diego Padres
Biggest Surprise: 1B/OF Tommy Medica
On numbers alone, 25-year-old Tommy Medica has proven that he deserves a chance to break camp with the Padres, hitting .404 with a 1.061 OPS. But with Yonder Alonso entrenched at first base, he'll need to find a new position to play.
That's why Medica is likely ticketed for Triple-A Tucson to start the season, where he can continue to work on learning the correct routes to take to fly balls and the other intricacies that come along with playing a corner outfield spot.
But he's opened eyes this spring, and should San Diego need another bat in the lineup, he'll be one of, if not the first one that gets a call.
Biggest Disappointment: RP Alex Torres
I've been high on Alex Torres' stuff for awhile, naming him as one of the players that would quietly surprise on his new team earlier this month.
So far this spring, he's made me look foolish.
While the bulk of the blame for his inflated 13.50 ERA and 2.57 WHIP can be laid on his first appearance of the spring, when the Texas Rangers tagged him for three hits and five earned runs in two-thirds of an inning, the 26-year-old simply hasn't looked as sharp as he has in the past.
Ultimately, Torres will be fine and become a valuable addition to San Diego's bullpen. But he's been a disappointment so far in a Padres uniform.
San Francisco Giants
Biggest Surprise: IF Brandon Hicks
A light-hitting career journeyman infielder, now on his fourth team, there wasn't much expected out of Brandon Hicks, a non-roster invitee to San Francisco's spring training this year.
The career .133 hitter has turned some heads, however, playing solid defense at second base, third base and shortstop while hitting .394 with nine extra-base hits (two home runs), 10 RBI and an OPS of 1.288.
While he may be destined for the minor leagues to start the season, as the Giants would have to create a roster spot for him to break camp with the club, Hicks has done enough this spring to warrant a promotion if and when the Giants need another infielder or a right-handed bat for the bench.
Biggest Disappointment: RP Javier Lopez
Coming off of a successful 2013 that saw him pitch to a 1.83 ERA in 69 relief appearances for the Giants, 36-year-old Javier Lopez signed a three-year, $13.5 million deal to stick around the Bay Area until, likely, his career comes to an end.
So far this spring, Lopez has looked nothing like that 2013 pitcher, allowing six earned runs and nine hits in only 4.2 innings of work, walking four batters in the process.
Whether it's because he got his payday or for another reason completely, Lopez has a lot of work to do if he hopes to live up to even the most modest expectations that come along with a multimillion dollar deal.
Biggest Surprise: OF Dustin Ackley
After playing his way out of the major leagues and back to Triple-A last season, Dustin Ackley arrived in spring training with a new approach at the plate and is finally looking like the player that the Seattle Mariners took with the second overall pick in the 2009 MLB draft.
Hitting .457 with eight extra-base hits and 11 RBI, the 26-year-old Ackley looks like a completely different and far more confident player than at any point during his short major league career.
With the bulk of the attention on newcomers Robinson Cano, Logan Morrison and Corey Hart, Ackley can quietly go about his business and looks poised to deliver a breakout campaign for the Mariners in 2013.
Biggest Disappointment: RP Fernando Rodney
After allowing runs in four of his first five relief appearances this spring, Seattle's decision to sign 37-year-old Fernando Rodney to a two-year, $14 million deal this winter was beginning to look like a poor decision.
Heading into Seattle's game against the Chicago Cubs Thursday, Rodney sat with a 15.75 ERA and 2.75 WHIP. But finally, as manager Lloyd McClendon explained to MLB.com's Greg Johns after the game, Rodney tweaked his delivery and got back to what he does best—throwing strikes—resulting in a scoreless frame.
There's still work to be done before his spring numbers come down to even semi-respectable levels, but at least he appears to have taken a step in the right direction.
St. Louis Cardinals
Biggest Surprise: OF Stephen Piscotty
Overshadowed by Oscar Taveras on the prospect front, 23-year-old Stephen Piscotty has torn through the Cardinals' minor league system, reaching Double-A in his first full year as a professional. And after this spring, he may be destined for the big leagues in his second full campaign.
Piscotty has torn the cover off of the ball to the tune of a .357/.457/.607 slash line, drawing three times as many walks (six) as strikeouts (two) and flashing an above-average glove in the outfield.
While he'll be ticketed to start the season at Triple-A Memphis, alongside Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk, his play this spring has put him in the mix for a midseason promotion should a need arise.
Biggest Disappointment: OF Oscar Taveras
Tavares' inclusion as the biggest disappointment in Cardinals camp has less to do with numbers and his hamstring injury and more to do with his attitude.
After undergoing surgery last season to repair an injured ankle, Taveras appeared tentative, scared to truly test the ankle by going all-out. It's something that manager Mike Matheny noticed and wasn't pleased with, as he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold:
I think (the spring) could be looked at, in his eyes at least, as a step back. He came in here with a shot of making this club if things go right. We’ve always said a step back isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it’s handled the right way. The initial step back happened when he got hurt last year. I know we were hoping, he was hoping that he would have that behind him by the time he got to spring training. (It) just didn’t happen.
Eventually, Taveras will reach the major leagues and excel, with this spring nothing more than a faint memory. But he's been outplayed by a lesser prospect in Piscotty, who may reach the major leagues before him.
That's incredibly disappointing.
Tampa Bay Rays
Biggest Surprise: RP Brandon Gomes
We've seen Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon get excited before, but the skipper was downright giddy when talking to MLB.com's Bill Chastain about how Brandon Gomes has played so far this spring:
How about Brandon Gomes? Nobody's even talking about this guy. But gosh, he can't throw the ball any better than he is right now. He cannot. He's made some adjustments in his delivery -- his command has gotten better, the sharpness on his pitches. Really fun to watch.
The 29-year-old Gomes has been in and out of the Rays bullpen over the past three seasons and delivered mediocre results—a combined 4.38 ERA and 1.39 WHIP, decent numbers for a back-end starter but not so good for a middle reliever.
So far this spring, he has tossed seven scoreless innings of relief, scattering two hits and two walks while striking out 10 batters—and he owes it all to bullpen coach Stan Boroski, via Chastain:
I was throwing before [bullpen coach] Stan [Boroski], and [we] kind of simplified my delivery and essentially made it a slide step. My mechanics have been much more repeatable since then. I haven't lost any of my stuff. If anything, it's been better, and I'm quicker to home. So [there are] a lot of factors, it's just better overall.
He was like, 'Why not?' I thought about it a lot, and finally we pulled the trigger.
Unless something drastically changes between now and Opening Day, Gomes looks to have a spot reserved in Tampa Bay's bullpen.
Biggest Disappointment: SP Matt Moore
Nobody disputes that Matt Moore is ridiculously talented, but command of his lethal arsenal of pitches continues to be a problem for the 24-year-old southpaw, who has issued 11 walks in 10.1 innings of work.
Six of those walks came in his latest start against Minnesota this past Tuesday, which is ironic, as manager Joe Maddon told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times that Moore had "the best stuff" in that game that he's had since the 2011 playoffs, when he threw 10 innings of one-run ball against Texas in the ALDS.
Until Moore gets his command under control, he'll continue to be a bit of a disappointment, as he's got the talent and ability to be one of the elite starters in baseball.
Biggest Surprise: IF Kevin Kouzmanoff
If you're scratching your head saying "Kouzmanoff...that name sounds so familiar," you're not alone. It's just been awhile since we've seen him around.
Seven years after being named the 52nd-best prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus—one spot ahead of some guy named Joey Votto, for what it's worth—and three years after last appearing in a major league game, the 32-year-old is making a case to break camp with the Rangers in 2014.
Hitting .366 with a .447 on-base percentage and .947 OPS, Kouzmanoff has played solid defense at both corner infield spots, something that the Rangers may need heading into the season with third baseman Adrian Beltre and backup first baseman Mitch Moreland both slowed by nagging injuries.
Even if he doesn't crack the 25-man roster in Texas, that Kouzmanoff is back on the baseball map after toiling in the minor leagues for two years is a huge surprise.
Biggest Disappointment: SP Nick Tepesch
Texas needs quality arms to fill out the rotation until Matt Harrison and Derek Holland are able to return to action and certainly would have loved for a homegrown youngster with some big league experience to step up and claim one of those rotation spots this spring.
That wasn't in the cards for Nick Tepesch, who seems to have regressed after breaking camp with the Rangers in 2013, pitching to a 4.84 ERA and 1.37 WHIP over 19 games (17 starts) in his rookie season.
He appeared in three games for the Rangers this spring, allowing 19 hits and 10 earned runs in only eight innings of relief. Said Tepesch, via Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, upon learning he'd been demoted to Triple-A: “Obviously, it wasn’t as good as last spring.”
If you're looking for the understatement of the spring, folks, there it is.
Toronto Blue Jays
Biggest Surprise: SP Ricky Romero
For the first time in two years, the Ricky Romero that looked like a front-of-the-rotation arm in Toronto made an appearance at spring training.
Through his first three outings of the spring, Romero had allowed only one earned run and three hits over seven innings of work, and while his command was still shaky, with five walks over those three outings, there was a glimmer of hope that, maybe, he was about to turn a corner.
Then he took the ball from manager John Gibbons to start a game against Detroit this past Tuesday and it all fell apart. Romero issued five walks—including four in a row—over 2.2 innings of work, throwing only eight of his 31 pitches for strikes.
While he was optioned to the minor leagues shortly thereafter, Gibbons told MLB.com's Gregor Chisolm that he was quite excited by what he saw out of the team's former ace:
I'm basing everything on how good he has been this spring. If we didn't see that, gosh, when's it going to happen? But he showed us enough in his previous two outings before yesterday, that hey, it's coming. It's a long road, you never really know if a guy is going to make it back from that, but he started to show signs of it.
[Tuesday], he wasn't as good, but it reaffirmed, hey, start him down there, but he's moving in the right direction. It's not a common thing that happens when guys start losing some things, but some guys have come back from that. It's not an easy thing to do, so we feel for the guy.
Whether Romero ever makes it back to the big leagues is irrelevant. That he showed signs of life is one of the biggest surprises of the spring.
Biggest Disappointment: SP Marcus Stroman
After allowing 19 hits and 15 earned runs over 9.1 innings this spring, Marcus Stroman, Toronto's first-round pick in the 2012 MLB draft, found himself optioned to minor league camp.
Only 22, Stroman has plenty of time to work out the kinks and make his major league debut, but with the back of Toronto's rotation in flux—and with J.A. Happ sitting with a 20.25 ERA and 4.50 WHIP over three starts this spring—it's disappointing that Stroman couldn't put together a strong enough performance to bump Happ out of the picture.
Biggest Surprise: RP Blake Treinen
A quick look at Blake Treinen's spring training numbers—a 5.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP and .375 BAA—certainly doesn't leave you enthused about his chances of success at the major league level. Unless you're a Washington Nationals fan, you've probably never heard of him.
Treinen has wowed rival scouts and Nationals officials with his booming velocity – he hit 98 miles per hour in his last outing – and the wicked movement on his sinker. On one scout’s radar gun, Treinen hit 101 mph in a playoff game last season for Class AA Harrisburg.
What's intriguing about Treinen, aside from the triple-digit velocity, is that he's more of a ground-ball pitcher than a strikeout artist. You typically don't see that from someone who can dial it up like he can.
As he's not on the team's 40-man roster, the odds of him breaking camp with the club are slim. But Treinen is now on more radars, including that of manager Matt Williams, than he was before.
That makes for a successful—and surprising—spring training for the flame-throwing right-hander.
Biggest Disappointment: RP Rafael Soriano
To be fair, Rafael Soriano typically doesn't perform well in spring training, as evidenced by his career 5.26 ERA and 1.47 WHIP during the exhibition season. But Washington's closer has allowed runs in three of his four spring outings and sits with a 19.64 ERA and 2.73 WHIP after allowing 10 hits and eight earned runs in 3.2 innings of work.
Spring training numbers might be meaningless in the scheme of things, but those are some ugly, disappointing numbers for the closer on a team that's expected to be among baseball's best in 2014.