Scott Miller's Starting 9: 66 Reasons to Pay Attention to Spring Training

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistFebruary 14, 2017

FORT MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 13: Mookie Betts #50 and Deven Marrero #17 of the Boston Red Sox walk into the batting cages on February 13, 2017 at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida.   (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox) *** LOCAL CAPTION ***  Mookie Betts;Deven Marrero
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

So it was only last week, as I was walking near Bondi Beach just outside Sydney, when three college-age women strolled by, one of them wearing a Detroit Tigers cap.

The Michigan native part of me couldn't help but stir.

"Go Tigers!" I told her.

"They get going in eight days!" she said eagerly.

So I figured I'd better scramble to the airport and head home. Doggone if she wasn't right. Even Down Under, the magic of baseball sparkles and the anticipation spreads.

From kangaroos to Tigers, from kookaburras to Orioles and Blue Jays and Cardinals, finally, it's here. You supply the sunblock; I'll supply everything you need to know over these next few weeks from Florida to Arizona, starting right here.


1. Top Five Spring Storylines

Cue the spotlight.

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US President Barack Obama welcomes the World Champion Chicago Cubs baseball team to the White House in Washington, DC on January 16, 2017.  / AFP / YURI GRIPAS        (Photo credit should read YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Cubs defend their title. There, that's a sentence the internet has not seen since 1909, when manager Frank Chance greeted pitchers and catchers with the catchy phrase "A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form."

Hey, wait—that actually was what manager Joe Maddon said at the White House when the champion Cubs visited last month. And as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Co. delivered Wrigley Field's first world championship in more than 100 years, you'd better believe a whole lot of minds were stretched like taffy in the hot sun.

Now, the 2017 Cubs are loaded again, albeit with a few significant changes. All eyes will be on new closer Wade Davis, who doesn't throw as hard as Aroldis Chapman but has a World Series pedigree from Kansas City.

The biggest question for the Cubs involves their rotation after Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey. Mike Montgomery, Brett Anderson, Rob Zastryzny, Eddie Butler and Alec Mills provide depth.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown? No team has won back-to-back World Series since the New York Yankees won three in a row from 1998 to 2000. The Cubs, loaded, have an excellent chance.

Boston Red Sox's pitching riches. One thing club president Dave Dombrowski does not do is move in small measures. Continuing a history of making bold moves in Florida and Detroit, Dombrowski moved to acquire ace Chris Sale in a blockbuster trade with the Chicago White Sox in December.

Along with Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, veteran ace David Price, knuckleballer Steven Wright and lefty Drew Pomeranz, Sale solidifies what should be the best rotation in the American League.

How much would the television cameras love a World Series set in Fenway Park and Wrigley Field? They'd go wild—like they were cutting between Adele and Beyonce at the Grammys. Hello.

World Baseball Classic. This spring comes with the different twist that the WBC brings, which means the age-old question arrives: Is the United States ever going to win one of these things?

This is the fourth edition of the WBC, and after Japan won the first two, the Dominican Republic won in 2013. Team USA has never even placed among the top three, and it finished as high as fourth just once, in 2009.

Don't expect that to change until the names on the Team USA roster actually begin to outshine the names not on it. This year's non-participants include Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw, among many others.

Credit Giancarlo Stanton, Adam Jones, Eric Hosmer, Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew McCutchen and Chris Archer, among others, for signing on to attempt to Make America (Baseball) Great Again. Games are in Miami, San Diego and Los Angeles from March 9-22.

Is Gary Sanchez (and the rest of the Yankees' youth movement) for real? Once the Yanks unloaded Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira and others from their everyday lineup last year, they took off like "Hamilton." Well, OK, maybe they didn't get quite that hot, but Sanchez sure did, with 20 homers in 53 games. He also knocked in 42 runs and produced a 1.032 OPS in only 229 plate appearances.

Now, encore? It will be one of the more riveting stories of the spring and summer. The Yankees haven't embarked on a youth movement like this in, well, not in recent memory. Add young sluggers Tyler Austin, Greg Bird and Aaron Judge to the stage this spring, along with several other prospects general manager Brian Cashman acquired in trades for Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman last summer, and maybe the next Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera will be in pinstripes this spring.

What we do know is that the Yankees have made only one playoff trip since 2012, but they've also produced 24 consecutive winning seasons. The AL East is tough as ever, but this well could be a full quarter-century of winning by September.

Los Angeles Dodgers work to produce La La Land: Clayton Kershaw ostensibly is healthy, Adrian Gonzalez continues to seem ageless, Corey Seager has MVP skills and Justin Turner, Rich Hill and closer Kenley Jansen are back. So: Is this the year the Dodgers finally return to the World Series?

The amazing thing isn't that the Dodgers haven't won a World Series since Kirk Gibson was gimping around the bases in 1988—it's that they haven't even played in a World Series since then. For a large-market team with a gazillion-dollar payroll, that's more incredible than a song-and-dance routine on a gridlocked freeway, right?


2. Top Five Off-the-Field Spring Storylines

Order up some Little Caesars Pizza in tribute.

LAKELAND, FL - FEBRUARY 10:  A general view of the field and home dugout of Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Detroit Tigers, on February 10, 2017 in Lakeland, Florida.  (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty
Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

Tigers step into post-Mike Ilitch future. The legendary owner, a Detroit icon, died last week. How that will affect the Tigers, nobody knows for sure.

GM Al Avila indicated in the fall that the club was on the verge of cutting payroll, but then instead of dealing Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez or Ian Kinsler, Avila kept the band together for another run at October.

Under Ilitch, the Tigers operated like a big-market club, maintaining a payroll behind only the big-city folk like the Yankees and Dodgers. Now Ilitch's son, Christopher, 51, is in charge. And while the Ilitch financial empire (built on the dough of Little Caesars, the country's third-largest pizza chain) remains intact—Forbes estimates the family's worth at $6.1 billion—it remains to be seen if he'll continue spending money in pursuit of a World Series title the way his pa did.

The Tigers have played in the postseason five times in the past 11 seasons, while Ilitch's Red Wings won the NHL's Stanley Cup four times from 1997 to 2008.

Potential rules changes. What do you think of sticking a man on second base to start an inning when a game goes into extra innings? Can ghost runners be far behind? (Kids, ask your parents).

As Commissioner Rob Manfred continues to work on pace-of-game issues and tries to ensure that baseball remains snappy enough to keep the interest of millenials, reports are that MLB management has discussed with the players' union the possibility of raising the strike zone and eliminating the four-pitch intentional walk.

In an era of record strikeout totals, the feeling is that beleaguered hitters need some help to put the ball in play. Meantime, baseball is even looking into starting extra innings with a man on second. Stay tuned.

Sale of the Miami Marlins. Party time for baseball fans in Miami? Owner Jeffrey Loria reportedly has a handshake agreement to sell the club to a group led by New York businessman Joshua Kushner for $1.6 billion, though the Marlins are not commenting.

That isn't squashing hope among fans, however. As one, David Garcia, 32, told the Sun Sentinel over the weekend: "I'll throw a parade if [Loria] does. Every time we get somebody good, he sells them off. We're a glorified minor league team."

Kushner, by the way, is the brother of Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser. Maybe Joshua can build a wall around Marlins Park to keep the team's star players in Miami.

New ballparks. The Atlanta Braves will christen SunTrust Park in April, and won't Brandon Phillips look good at second base and Bartolo Colon on the mound (and might he even crush the first home run ever in the new ballpark? Stay tuned!)?

Before that, the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros will move to a new, shared spring training complex in West Palm Beach, Florida. It's a very Arizona thing to do: In the Cactus League, clubs share five complexes. In Florida, until now, only the Cardinals and Marlins share a complex, in Jupiter.

You cannot imagine how excited everyone is that the Nationals no longer are in Viera, Florida. I haven't checked this with the Weather Channel, but Viera must be among the windiest places on earth. I don't think I've ever spent a day there when the wind wasn't whipping or it wasn't raining. Hello, West Palm Beach. It will be sooo nice to see you.

New voice in Los Angeles. Meet Joe Davis, 29, a Michigander now transplanted to Los Angeles. Davis will call Dodgers games on television this season, and that is no small statement.

This will be the first time since 1949 that Vin Scully will not call Dodgers games from either the television or the radio booth. Davis will join a veteran crew, including radio (and sometimes TV) voices Charley Steiner and Rick Monday, that already is darn good. And if you get the MLB Extra Innings package on your television, tablet or phone, you'll hear him soon.

Question is, 67 years from now, will we all still be listening to Davis the way folks were listening to Scully 67 years down the road? Hahahahahaha! Sorry—no offense, Joe, but really. Unless you're Scully or Keith Richards, who lasts that long?


3. Five Key Offseason Changes

Hey, whatever happened to that other team in Chicago?

New White Sox addition Yoan Moncada at the team's fan fest.
New White Sox addition Yoan Moncada at the team's fan fest.Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

White Sox shift course. Following, oh, about a dozen disappointing seasons, Chicago's South Side team finally did what owner Jerry Reinsdorf is loath to do: kick-start a rebuilding process.

Goodbye, standbys like Sale and Adam Eaton. Hello, hot prospects like Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and Lucas Giolito. GM Rick Hahn has received rave reviews for his winter talent haul. Now, the only question remaining is when will he complete the process by dealing starter Jose Quintana, closer David Robertson and slugger Todd Frazier?

Well, really, there is one more question, and we should learn the answer this week as pitchers and catchers report. And that is: Did "Scissorhands" Sale snip every uniform in sight before he left, or will the White Stockings have their uniforms intact this spring?

Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto continues trading, goes for run prevention. Nobody shuffles his roster as frequently as Dipoto, not even San Diego Padres GM A.J. Preller. It's like Dipoto is always operating on six cups of coffee and three Mountain Dews. The guy is exhausting!

Since August, he's acquired outfielders Jarrod Dyson, Mitch Haniger and Ben Gamel. He added them to incumbent Mariners Leonys Martin and Guillermo Heredia, then proudly stepped back to proclaim that Seattle essentially has five fleet center fielders to cover the three outfield spots in 2017.

That should make ace Felix Hernandez and Co. extremely happy as they look to improve on last year's 86-76 finish. But will the Mariners get enough bop from Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager to make up for a light-hitting outfield?

Royals move forward without nasty bullpen. Former closer Greg Holland is in Colorado, and Wade Davis is on the North Side of Chicago. Kelvin Herrera now is the closer, and as the Royals work feverishly to keep their window to win open, this looming crisis persists: Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar all are free agents at season's end.

Slugger Jorge Soler, who didn't have a full-time spot with the Cubs last year, will get his big opportunity this spring and summer as the marquee addition in the Davis trade. The tragic death of Yordano Ventura, however, leaves an enormous void. Yes, things will be different in Kansas City.

Snakes alive. Nobody was more disappointing than Arizona last summer. So the Diamondbacks cleaned house, hiring a new GM (Mike Hazen, who was an assistant GM in Boston for four years before serving in the lead role last season) and a new manager (Torey Lovullo, who was John Farrell's bench coach in Boston).

The pieces are there for Arizona to bounce back and challenge San Francisco and Los Angeles in the NL West. But if the Diamondbacks do not start well, Hazen's front office mettle will be tested as he probably will need to look to trade starters Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller.

Watch Fernando Rodney, who turns 40 on March 18, this spring as he works to win the closer's job.

Two degrees of separation in Minnesota and Philadelphia. The Twins have new leadership in exexcutive vice president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine.

Levine is only the fourth Twins GM since 1985, following Andy MacPhail, Terry Ryan and Bill Smith. That's three decades, which is utterly amazing. MacPhail? He's now the Philadelphia Phillies' president, overseeing a rebuild with lots of young talent and, for the first time in years, no Ryan Howard.


4. Five Most Improved Teams

It's all happening on the shores of Lake Erie.

Feb 12, 2017; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians grounds crew dirty baseballs in preparation for spring training during reporting day for pitchers and catchers at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Indians: To last year's World Series team, the Indians added a healthy rotation and slugger Edwin Encarnacion. With starters Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco back, Terry Francona's team enters as the overwhelming favorite to win the AL Central.

Outfielder Michael Brantley's shoulder should be mended.

At 69 years since their last World Series title (1948), the Indians now drag the longest drought in the majors with them into a new season, with every hope of ending it.

Book those tours at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame again for October—the baseball world should be back.

Red Sox: Add Sale to Price, Porcello and such young position player talent as Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Co., and how can Boston not win?

Giants: Out with the old (tired old relievers Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla) and in with the new (closer Mark Melancon, fresh from signing a four-year, $62 million deal). The Giants led the majors in blown saves last year, springing leaks in their bullpen the way the hoses in my first car, an AMC Pacer, once leaked. Fix that, and they're back in business in October.

Astros: Two years ago, this team was climbing the charts with a bullet. Then, last year, the Astros got off to a slower start than spring in the Midwest. Now? Smart additions like outfielders Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Nori Aoki and catcher Brian McCann are just what Houston needed to regain it's (two-)step. And you know who's still there to make it all go? Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa.

Rockies: The young starters are another year older and wiser, and that has to help, right? The bullpen is better with former Royals closer Greg Holland. The lineup is better with Ian Desmond. New manager Bud Black could be in the right place at the right time, but—as usual in Colorado—it's all about the pitching.


5. Five Least Improved Teams

Look for even more protesting in the nation's capital.

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Pitcher Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals looks on during player introductions against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game three of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 10, 2016 in Los
Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images

Nationals: For an outfit whose window is beginning to close (Harper, among others, is a free agent after the 2018 season), and for a team that has yet to win one single postseason series since moving to D.C., this winter was mysteriously quiet.

The Nationals failed to land a big closer. They did acquire center fielder Eaton, allowing them to move Trea Turner to his natural position of shortstop. And, they added catcher Derek Norris.

But the club's season-ending 40-man roster sank from the fifth-highest in payroll in the majors in 2015 to 11th in 2016, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts (via Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal).

The Lerner family, which owns the Nationals, isn't exactly the Ilitch family, and GM Mike Rizzo is said to have to battle for every scrap he can get.

Texas Rangers: Their rotation additions were Andrew Cashner (no grit) and Tyson Ross (no shoulder last year), the same guys who helped drag down a once-promising San Diego Padres team. Really?

Pittsburgh Pirates: After failing to trade one-time MVP (2013) Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates announced they are moving him to right field for 2017, installing Starling Marte in center and Gregory Polanco in left field. The Pirates are not as good as they were when McCutchen was in his prime. Like the face of their franchise, they're slipping.

Blue Jays: Subtract All-Star Encarnacion's bat from the lineup, and with Jose Bautista now 36, the only way the Jays push into their first World Series since 1993 is if a promising rotation brings it. With Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano, maybe that happens, but it's difficult to see this team reaching a third consecutive ALCS.

Tampa Bay Rays: They traded second baseman Logan Forsythe to the Dodgers, drawing the ire of slugger Evan Longoria, after losing 94 games last year. The Rays have yet to prove they can adjust to the brain drain of losing GM Andrew Friedman (Dodgers) and manager Maddon (Cubs). Once, things were special in Tampa Bay. No more.


6. Five Rookies on the Verge

No longer is youth wasted on the young—not given the way MLB rookies have been moving along.

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 24: Alex Reyes #61 of the St. Louis Cardinals against the Chicago Cubs during the fifth inning at Wrigley Field on September 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Jon Durr/Getty Images

Alex Reyes, Cardinals: The Cardinals received ominous news as pitchers and catchers reported: Reyes came up with a sore elbow and will undergo tests for what's Jim Bowden speculated could be season-ending Tomnmy John surgery. The news puts a damper on what was expected to be a breakout season for Reyes. In five starts toward the end of last summer, Reyes went 2-0 with a 2.20 ERA. His season began late following a 50-game suspension after he tested positive for marijuana. St. Louis also acquired outfielder Dexter Fowler over the winter, moved Matt Carpenter to first base (from third) and installed Jhonny Peralta at third so Aledmys Diaz can play shortstop every day. Reyes' injury raises the bar for the rest of the Cardinals staff to produce if they are to make it back to October.

Albert Almora Jr., Cubs: The fleet center fielder inherits the job vacated by Fowler, who left via free agency. Part of the reason the Cubs kept Almora on their playoff roster in the fall was because they anticipated this day would come.

Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox: We were introduced to him last year, when he hit .295 in 105 at-bats, and it is telling that Boston opted to deal Yoan Moncada instead of Benintendi in the Sale trade. At least two things are thriving right now in Boston: young talent and, as always, the outstanding seafood restaurants.

Dansby Swanson, Braves: Atlanta called him up late last season, and he handled everything with aplomb. A centerpiece of the Braves' rebuilding process, the young shortstop has a chance to make Arizona regret trading him for the next decade—at least.

Aaron Judge, Yankees: He's 6'7", and his batting practices last spring in Tampa became must-watch. He's got gargantuan power. But as you would expect with a frame that large, Judge's swing also comes with mammoth holes: During a brief tryout in the majors last summer, he whiffed 42 times in 84 at-bats and hit .179. If he can shorten his swing and eliminate some of the holes, this guy is going to be a ton of fun to watch in the Bronx.


7. Five More Rookies on the Verge

They just keep coming.

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 19:  Julio Urias #7 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in game four of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 19, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Josh Le
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Julio Urias, Dodgers: That his first two starts last summer in his age-19 season were in New York's Citi Field and Chicago's Wrigley Field was no accident. Urias is fearless, and the Dodgers recognize it. This kid is going to be a star.

Lucas Giolito, White Sox: Acquired in the Eaton deal, this right-hander has a chance to reinforce the notion that Washington badly overpaid for Eaton. Stay tuned.

Yoan Moncada, White Sox: The move to second base will suit him well. So, too, will a new start: He struck out way too much during a September cup of coffee with the Red Sox (12 times in 20 plate appearances).

Manuel Margot, Padres: If he hits at all, he will be riveting to watch because he is an artist in center field. He's also a multithreat: At Triple-A El Paso last year, he hit .304 with 30 steals.

Michael Kopech, White Sox: Potential ace right-hander throws 105 mph, and he hasn't even grown up yet. Yes, notice the way the White Sox are dotting this list. There is hope, South Side fans.


8. Five Key Comebacks

Quick, get the scriptwriters.

Matt Sayles/Associated Press

Bryce Harper, Nationals: An MVP two years ago and a clunker in 2016. The bet here is on Bryce to take off again in 2017, though the debates regarding whether he or Trout is the best player in the majors seem settled for now.

Dallas Keuchel, Astros: A Cy Young Award winner in 2015 (20-8, 2.48 ERA, 232 innings) and a dud in 2016 (9-12, 4.55, 168 innings). The Astros can win the World Series, but they need an ace to do it.

Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks: It was a no-brainer that his numbers would inflate upon transferring from pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium (19-3, 1.66 ERA in 2015) to thin-air Chase Field (13-7, 4.37 in 2016), but that much? And he didn't come close to 200 innings pitched (158.2). With a contract for six years and $206.5 million, the heat is on (and not just the Phoenix desert heat).

Jason Heyward, Cubs: Despite his anemic offensive performance (.230, seven homers, .631 OPS), Heyward contributed, and the Cubs won the World Series anyway. That won't keep happening. They need much more from Heyward, especially given his eight-year, $184 million contract. Hitting coach John Mallee this winter watched a lot of video of Heyward's 2012 swing (27 homers, .814 OPS). That's what the Cubs will be looking for this spring.

Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox: The first sightings of Kung Fu Panda this spring revealed he has slimmed down. Now, the next sightings all need to be of him actually, well, playing.


8a. Five More Key Comebacks

From the injury department.

Feb 6, 2017; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets players Jacob deGrom (L) and David Wright (R) run during the first day of practice at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Leah Voss/Treasure Coast Newspapers via USA TODAY Sports
Leah Voss-USA TODAY Sports

Jacob deGrom, Mets: Two years ago, he was an October hero. Last summer, he had ulnar nerve surgery. The Mets can win, but only if their rotation horses gallop.

Matt Harvey, Mets: See above, but substitute thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. Everything else matches. Nobody is more eager to see the results than New York manager Terry Collins.

A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks: Before Greinke and Miller went south last year, Arizona's high hopes were torpedoed when Pollock essentially was lost for the season with a fractured elbow just three nights before the season opener. Arizona still has the pieces to win, but optimism is in far less supply than it was last year. If Pollock, who returned for 12 games near the end of last year, bounces back strong, that's one of the things that will help.

Lance Lynn, Cardinals: He missed all of 2016 following Tommy John surgery, but 15 months have passed since the procedure, and Lynn went through a normal offseason throwing program. St. Louis is an interesting team in 2017—much more so with a healthy and productive rotation. Lynn is a key.

Michael Brantley, Indians: After several false starts with his injured shoulder last summer, Brantley wound up playing only 11 games and underwent surgery. Then, he underwent another surgery to repair a biceps issue. He thinks he'll be ready for Opening Day; the Indians undoubtedly will take it slowly with him.


9. Five Managers on the Griddle

Butter and pure maple syrup at the ready...

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 10:  Manager John Farrell of the Boston Red Sox (R) talks with manager Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians prior to game three of the American League Divison Series at Fenway Park on October 10, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Ph
Elsa/Getty Images

John Farrell, Red Sox: A manager in Boston always takes heat. With this loaded roster, only winning will suffice.

John Gibbons, Blue Jays: He's great with a bullpen and in relating to players, but he also was inherited by Toronto's management and is ripe to take the blame if things begin to go south.

Bryan Price, Reds: Terrific person, good manager, but the Reds are rebuilding, and it's difficult to see him lasting until the winning begins.

Kevin Cash, Rays: We knew things would be tough post-Maddon, and Cash is a guy who learned from Francona and Farrell and manages personalities exceptionally well. But after last year's 68-94 finish, there will not be many more mulligans.

Paul Molitor, Twins: Two years ago, he finished third in AL Manager of the Year voting behind Texas' Jeff Banister and Houston's A.J. Hinch. Last year, the Twins went 59-103. Most everyone agrees that majority of that was out of Molitor's control, but with new management, there isn't much wiggle room.


9a. Spring Power Rankings

Check this part out by your local hotel pool.

LAKELAND, FL - FEBRUARY 12:  A general view of a batting cage and empty field getting readied for Spring Training at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Detroit Tigers, on February 12, 2017 in Lakeland, Florida.  (Photo
Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

1. Flip flops: Oh, don't you dare even talk to us about socks in the sunshine.

2. Sunblock: Otherwise, your toes will get burned, silly.

3. Fully stocked iPod: For commercial-free driving from Alligator Alley to the Florida Turnpike, through Yeehaw Junction and points beyond. If you visit multiple camps in Florida, the miles and hours stack up. Be prepared.

4. Baseball Prospectus 2017 annual: The must-have research book so you can look as smart as your favorite baseball writers (ha).

5. Smartphone: For GPS'ing your way to the ballparks and Yelping your way to dinner reservations. Speaking of which...


9b. Five Grapefruit League Eats

This is only the beginning...

Frenchy's, Clearwater Beach: The original fried grouper sandwich on the deck by the sand next to the Gulf of Mexico under the sun. Do this, and you will come back forever.

Ava, Tampa: It is owned by Maddon, and a Tampa Bay Times reviewer gave this Italian restaurant her highest marks ever. Among other things, I can vouch for the cavatelli al raga (fennel sausage, tomato pasta). Delizioso!

Harry's Seafood Bar and Grille, Lakeland: In Old Lakeland, you can't go wrong at this Cajun-flavored joint. The shrimp creole is terrific. The crawfish etouffee, divine. Jambalaya, smoked sausage, red beans and rice, mmmm.

Nino's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria, Fort Myers: A regular stop since 1994. Fresh, homemade Italian with generous portions. Say hello to Graziano, the owner.

Leftovers Cafe, Jupiter: A long fly ball from the Marlins and Cardinals park, the sweet potato encrusted sea bass is the way to go.


9c. Five Cactus League Eats

Guaranteed to prevent desert fever.

Richardson's, Phoenix: Cuisine of New Mexico, they say. I never knew New Mexico tasted so good. Home of the green chile potato, incredible blackened scallops and Lou Piniella's old favorite, the prickly pear margarita.

Tee Pee, Phoenix: A Mexican dive that serves enchiladas, burritos and tacos with the best of them. A favorite for dining while watching NCAA basketball tournament games—you can eat the chips and salsa alone for hours in front of the televisions.

Culinary Dropout, Scottsdale: Who couldn't enjoy eating in a place with a name like this? Get the cheese fondue and pretzel dish and the fried chicken, then thank me after you send a note disagreeing with one of my columns. We can disagree over baseball, but not over Culinary Dropout.

Don & Charlie's, Scottsdale: A baseball mecca for years. You could spend two hours here just looking at all the framed photos and baseball memorabilia that take up every inch of wall space. Then you can munch on delicious ribs while George Brett, Bud Selig or any number of other baseball celebrities dines a couple of tables over.

Oregano's Pizza Bistro (multiple locations): I try not to overeat pizza much anymore, but when I do, it's here. Terrific thin-crust pizza. And the original pizza cookie, a half-baked deep-dish cookie with ice cream melting atop it, is the one dessert you have to have.


9d. Rock 'n' Roll Lyrics of the Week

Because music is the soundtrack to our lives.

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

"Boat drinks

"Boys in the band ordered boat drinks

"Visitors scored on the home rink

"Everything seems to be wrong

"Lately newspaper mentioned cheap airfare

"I've got to fly to St. Somewhere

"I'm close to bodily harm

"Twenty degrees and the hockey game's on

"Nobody cares; they are way too far gone

"Screamin' 'Boat drinks'

"Somethin' to keep 'em all warm

"This morning I shot six holes in my freezer

"I think I got cabin fever

"Somebody sound the alarm

"I'd like to go where the pace of life's slow

"Could you beam me somewhere, Mr. Scott?

"Any old place here on Earth or in space

"You pick the century and I'll pick the spot

"I know I should be leaving this climate

"I got a verse but can't rhyme it

"I gotta go where it's warm"

—Jimmy Buffett, "Boat Drinks"


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.