Countdown to Spring Training: 10 Players Who Will Show Up to Camp in Best Shape
The countdown to Spring Training has begun with pitchers and catchers set to report for some teams in less than a month. It was a busy offseason in the baseball world with a ton of big names moving teams.
Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee and Jayson Werth were three of the top free agents on the market over the winter who found a new home. Now that most free agents have found a team the focus will shift to Spring Training.
As baseball is about to get underway, it's always a good time to start rolling out some predictions. But since we haven't even reached Spring Training yet, this set of predictions won't have anything to do with who will win what or which teams are World Series contenders; we'll save that for another date.
Instead, here's a look at 10 players who will show up to camp in the best shape of their lives.
Going from MLB's least home run hitter friendly ball park to one of the best, makes Gonzalez a big winner over the offseason. The former San Diego Padre was acquired by the Boston Red Sox for three prospects in a trade that set the tone for Boston's offseason.
Now, Gonzalez will be thrust onto the big stage in Boston playing in one of the toughest divisions in baseball in the AL East. Impressing the Red Sox faithful isn't the biggest reason to expect Gonzalez to show up in excellent shape; no, that honor goes to the lucrative contract extension he is seeking from the BoSox.
Gonzalez and the Sox were unable to reach an agreement on an extension after the trade was completed. Nevertheless, Boston took the gamble that they will be able to reach a deal with Gonzalez at some point during Spring Training or during the season.
Gonzalez reportedly wants a deal in the range of $22-25 million a year. And in order to get Boston to commit that kind of change to him, he's going to have to show up in great shape to prove his worth.
With all the potential money that is riding on the line for Gonzalez, you can bet he's spent his fair share of time this offseason in the gym.
You'll notice a common theme with most of these players on this list; the majority are in contract years. There's nothing more motivating to a player than the opportunity to put together a great season and make a boatload of money during free agency.
Reyes fits the criteria above. It also hasn't helped that Reyes has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons only appearing in 169 games. That isn't exactly something that looks good on a resume as you enter the final season on your contract.
The 27-year-old has a lot riding on this season and staying healthy will be vital as he hopes to strike a monster deal after the season is over. Reyes needs to show up to camp in shape ready to go to try and avoid another injury-plagued season.
Motivation is on Reyes' side, making it all the more likely he is fit as a fiddle in a month.
The picture above sums up Morneau's past two Septembers with the Minnesota Twins; on the bench watching his team compete in a pennant race without him. Morneau suffered a serious concussion last season, which ultimately cost him the second half of the season. And the playoffs for a second straight year.
For awhile, there were doubts that Morneau would ever step on a Major League field again. Fortunately, for the All-Star first baseman and the Twins, all signs are pointing he'll be ready for the start of the season. Although he hasn't begun resuming baseball activities quite yet.
The Twins have taken a patient approach with Morneau's concussion, and they're hoping they'll have their slugger healthy for a full season. Despite not being able to take part in any baseball activities, Morneau's been cleared to hit the gym.
And with plenty of down time over the previous months, he's got to be itching to get back at it. Morneau's a hard worker, who is always in shape when camp breaks but with the long layoff you can expect the former MVP to hit the gym hard over the next month.
Rust can be expected from Morneau; what you don't expect from him is to show up to Spring Training carrying a few too many pounds.
Jeter had an interesting offseason to say the least; the NY Yankees and Jeter had a hard time reaching a contract extension, but eventually the two sides came to an agreement. The deal Jeter received was a three-year, $51 million contract which will virtually ensure he retires a Yankee.
The 36-year-old is coming off the worst season of his career, and in order to make sure it doesn't happen again, Jeter is heading out to the Yankees' Spring Training complex to get a head start. There's not much Jeter can do to damage his legacy, but that doesn't mean the future Hall of Famer is going to sit back and take it easy in his final years; that isn't the type of character Jeter has.
You can expect after a poor season that Jeter will come to camp in as good of shape as he's ever been. He may not have the youthful body he once had, but a strong offseason of training can combat age. The media has become increasingly critical of Jeter and there's no question he'll want to put a rest to his doubters.
Fielder is in his last season in the arbitration process before he can finally become a free agent. There will be plenty of teams lined up to sign him at the conclusion of the 2011 season, but first he must put together an impressive year on the diamond.
Weight has always been an issue for Fielder; the slugger is listed at 5'11" and 268lbs on ESPN.com. For his height, Fielder is considerably overweight. If he doesn't show up to camp in shape in a contract year, he never will.
One thing Fielder has working in his favor is the power of money. Some say money is the root of all evil, but in this case, it could be just what Fielder needs to get in shape. Prince will be the topic of trade rumors throughout the season and if he is indeed moved, he'll still have the option to become a free agent.
Either way, Fielder stands to make a boatload of money next offseason and that'll be enough motivation to have the slugger in prime shape when camp opens.
Beltran's tenure with the New York Mets has been a disappointing one. The athletic center fielder has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons, only appearing in 145 games. Beltran's situation is very much like his teammate Reyes; both are in contract years and have been injury-prone.
There's no question Beltran will be taking a pay cut after this season, seeing as he is due $18.5 million this year. But a healthy year along with solid production on the field will improve his dwindling stock.
For those reasons he should be in impeccable shape. In Beltran's last contract year, he rose to the occasion by blasting 38 homers to go with 104 RBI's. The Mets would love nothing more than Beltran to produce another season like that.
Staying with the common theme, Beltran has plenty of motivation for this upcoming season and enough reasons to come to camp in great shape. Also, like Morneau, Beltran's injury struggles has to have him chomping at the bit to get back onto the field.
Unlike most of the players on this list, Werth is not in a contract year, instead he is coming off of one. Werth, a Philadelphia Phillie for the past four years took the big contract this offseason with the Washington Nationals.
Now all the Nationals can hope is that Werth lives up to his seven-year, $126 million contract. Every year there are players who strike rich in the offseason with a lucrative long-term deal, but fail to live up to the dollar sign on their contract.
Werth very well could be the next player who has the same fate, although it won't be for a lack of effort. With being cast as the Nationals' franchise player, you can expect Werth to do is his best to try and lead Washington to its first playoff berth.
Consider this analogy: It's like Werth just starting dating a hot new chick who he really wants to try hard to impress. He's hitting the gym more often than usual and watching his diet to keep his new girl's interest.
Need I explain more why Werth will will be in tip top shape come Spring Training?
Wilson had a breakout year last season as he was a key cog in Texas' rotation. With Cliff Lee no longer in the fold it will be on Wilson to be the staff's ace. There are a number of reasons I think Wilson will show up to camp in great shape.
Let's start with the fact that the Rangers are coming off a World Series defeat at the hands of the San Francisco Giants. The pain of falling short of a championship will give added motivation for Wilson to be in excellent condition.
Another important factor to consider is the fact that Lee is no longer around. Wilson will be the focal point of the Rangers' rotation and that pressure can only drive someone to work harder during the offseason.
Lastly, Wilson is pitching on a one-year deal with the Rangers and another big season could earn him a significant raise. Although he isn't likely to hit the free agent market after this season because he is arbitration eligible through 2012. Regardless, a big season would give the 30-year-old a chance to further secure his future financially.
It's quite possible that we haven't seen the best of Crawford. After signing a seven-year, $142 million deal this offseason with the Red Sox, Crawford finally received his big payday. Now that he has it how will he respond?
At just 29 years old, Crawford is one of baseball's fastest and most exciting players to watch. Boston is getting Crawford for his prime years, although he's likely going to lose some of his explosiveness in the next few seasons.
With big contracts come big expectations. And with great expectations comes great motivation; it also helps that Crawford will be playing in front of one of the most passionate fan bases in all of sports. The stage is set for Crawford to have an MVP-type season and you can bet he's been working hard to get ready for Spring Training.
New teammates, coaches and fans will get to experience his fantastic play this season. And Crawford will be ready to show them his best.
Nathan had cemented himself as one of baseball's best closers before tearing an elbow ligament, which eventually required Tommy John surgery. A decade ago if you heard that a pitcher had Tommy John surgery the instant feeling was that this guy is never going to return to an effective level again.
In this day in age, though, pitchers are able to bounce back from the famous surgery quicker than ever. The Twins are hoping that Nathan will have a quick, efficient recovery that will allow him to return to being a productive closer once again. While Nathan is going to lose some umpf on his fastball, over the course of the season he should get some speed back.
A good thing for Minnesota is that Nathan is an extremely hard worker; if anyone can rebound from this it's going to be him. Nathan had all of last year and this offseason to rehab and get his body physical ready for a grueling season.
With the time he's had to sit and think about playing, there's no question he'll come to Spring Training in better shape than he's ever been in. Now he just needs his arm to cooperate and avoid any setbacks.