What to Watch for in Spring Training – 2012

Inspired recently by my good friend, Adam Hendrick’s UFC Blog (which you can find right here http://ufchamp.hubpages.com/hub/My-First-Hub-Looking-Ahead-to-UFC-144, check it out it’s a great read!) I’ve decided to get my MLBlog up and running again.  All of this just in time for the start of Spring Training.  I love this time of year, nothing like the air getting warmer and the days getting longer to tell you it’s time once again for baseball.  While football is obviously the most watched sport in America, baseball is the United States’ most loved of all the sports.  Every kid has those stories of the games they watched growing up and going out to the ball park, playing catch out in the yard and pretending like you were Will Clark. It really is America’s pastime. So here are a few things to watch for as we start the new year.

MANAGERS

Starting off the 2012 season several teams will be going different directions as they have new skippers in charge of the club.  The 2012 World Series champions (ugh…that still hurts to say) lost one of the great managers of all time in Tony La Russa.  Replacing the great Tony La Russa is former Redbird catcher Mike Matheny.  I remember watching Mike Matheny behind the plate at St. Louis and he was a lot of fun to watch.  Matheny didn’t have the best bat or glove in baseball, but his work ethic was second to none.  For this reason alone I’m sure he was hired with really no hesitation from the Cardinals front office.  Even though StL lost the great Albert Pujols, they are loaded and return a pitcher I think should have a Cy Young to his credit, Adam Wainwright.

The Red Sox, the poor, poor Red Sox.  What a joke of a baseball club right now.  That team needed a complete make over and unfortunately for BoSox fans, it came from all the wrong places.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of letting go of a great manager IMO in, Terry Francona.  Tito was a great manager but I understand how baseball works.  It’s a lot easier to fire one guy than to fire twenty five guys.  So in comes former Mets and Rangers manager Bobby Valentine.  Valentine hasn’t managed in a couple years since he came over from a team in Japan, but he has the fiery in-your-face attitude that this team needs.  They have the best player in the league IMO (Adrian Gonzalez) but their mindset is not in the right place at all.  They’ll have to get it together early and if they don’t, look for them to have a long, long season.

Good ole Ozzie Guillen.  Talk about a team that went all in for this season.  The Miami Marlins (that feels weird to say) completely put all their eggs in one basket and are making a go at it this season.  It all starts with the manager Ozzie Guillen, who is known to speak whatever is on his mind. While that might be good for this team, there are a lot of big personalities and for their sake I hope they don’t clash.  If they don’t, Miami is ultra talented and very, very young.  Look out for them in 2012.

The man who replaced Guillen in Chicago is former White Sox 3rd Baseman Robin Ventura.  Poor Robin, he is going into a job where there is honestly no upside.  They are bogged down with really bad contracts and not a lot of room to make any moves.  Hopefully for his sake the front office of the ChiSox will see what he has to work with and give him time or his career in Chicago might end up like his fight against Nolan Ryan.

Now to my favorite move in the offseason.  Dale Sveum, formerly of the Milwaukee Brewers, is the best managerial signing of the offseason.  He has always had the potential of being a great manager and I’m surprised it took this long for him to get a full time job.  The Cubs will have patience with him as recently hired VP Theo Epstein has said he wants to build this team from the inside up.  Which I think is definitely the best move for the club at this time.  Let these bad contracts expire and keep signing top notch talent in the farm system.  The Cubs won’t be contenders this year, and probably not even next, but they are headed in the right direction and will be a top club in the near future.

PLAYERS

There were a lot of moves prior to the Spring Training starting but for the purpose of this blog, I’m going to focus on the Top 10 players to watch that could change a teams projected line-up or a player that might have a potential break out year.  I’ll save the Albert Pujols’ and the Prince Fielders’ for my regular season preview.  However, some players might make both lists. (I kind of got this idea from you, Adam)

10. Gerrit Cole – Pittsburgh Pirates/RHP

The first player taken in the 2011 draft, Cole has all the makings of an elite pitcher at the next level.  His fastball sits at around 94-98 MPH but he has been clocked at 102.  The question is will he be ready to come straight into the league and be the future ace the Pirates hope he’ll be.  Spring training will give us some indication of whether or not he makes the team to start the year.  If he doesn’t no reason to panic for Pittsburgh fans.  In the Arizona Fall League he posted a 3.00 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP while striking out 16 batters in 15 innings pitched.

9. Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim/OF

Talk about a true 5 tool player.  Mike Trout has all the making of one of the top players in baseball, if he can find some consistency. He has it all, but can he put it all together is the question.  He’ll have a good enough ST to make the 25 man roster, but his average has to come up.  All that said, at 20 years old, I have no doubt that’ll happen.  Which, quite frankly as a Rangers fan, scares me.

8. Michael Pineda – New York Yankees/RHP

The Bronx Bombers gave up their most prized prospect, Jesus Montero, for Pineda so they must see great things in him.  He’ll have to adjust to the bright lights of New York, which is no easy feat.  Spring training hasn’t started off all that well for Pineda as he comes into camp 20 lbs. over weight.  He has to get the mindset and get it fast or New York and its media will eat him up.  He has all the makings of a great pitcher and I think spring training will be a good indication of whether or not he is up to the task.

7. Mike Stanton – Miami Marlins/OF

A future star of this league, and possibly the best player of the league in the future.  Another true five star player.  “The Unnatural” as he is known around baseball might be the next generations best home run hitter.  According to HitTrackerOnline, Mike Stanton hit 15 no-doubt homeruns, which was the best in the NL.  He averaged 416.6 ft a home run out of his 34 he hit.  Probably the best player, as of right now, on this list.

6. Matt Moore – Tampa Bay Rays/LHP

I saw first hand what Matt Moore was capable of doing when he shut out the 2 time defending AL champions in game one of the 2011 ALDS.  The Rays really like this kid and think he is the future ace of the staff.  Now that people have film on him, we’ll see how he adjust to hitters.  He is young, but still has to gain experience to be that top notch guy in the rotation.

5. Stephen Strasburg – Washington Nationals/RHP

Here is a guy that we’ve all seen pitch and we all know what he is capable of.  The question is, will he be able to have the same kind of success now that he is coming off Tommy John surgery.  My guess is we might not see it this year, but he’ll be back no doubt.  Despite the innings limit the Nats will give him, he is still one of the players to watch in spring training.

4. Buster Posey – San Francisco Giants/C

The past two seasons have been full of ups and downs for Buster Posey.  Going from World Series Champion to a freak and horrific injury in 2011.  He may never be able to catch full time again, but he still is an important spot in that lineup.  It will be interesting to see what he is able to do offensively and defensively.  Will he able to reproduce what he did before the injury?  Spring Training should give some indication.

3. Yoenis Cespedes – Oakland Athletics/OF

I honestly thought I would be talking about how this signing could potentially send the Miami Marlins to the World Series.  Instead I’m here talking about how this could be the star player Oakland needs to build a franchise around.  I, for one, am happy that Oakland signed Cespedes.  For an organization with so much rich history they really needed this.  Cespedes is a future gold glover and another true five tool player.  The question is will he be able to adjust to major league pitching.  If he doesn’t produce in Spring Training, the A’s won’t hesitate to send him down to the minors to adjust.

2. Bryce Harper – Washington Nationals/OF

Talk about a kid with all the ability in the world.  He is the epitome of a five tool player.  At 16 years old he hit the longest home run ever at Tropicana Field (502 feet)…that’s right 16 years old.  According to SI, he hit a HR 570 feet at 15 years old.  The kid has legit power.  He also has a really bad attitude.  Hopefully that doesn’t take over what this kid can produce in the future.  I’m really looking foward to watching him in spring training.  Though, at 19, I fully expect him to spend some more time in the minors, Davey Johnson said he is giving Harper a shot at making the roster.  This kid has it all.  Possibly the best player in all of baseball within a few years.

1. Yu Darvish – Texas Rangers/RHP

We all knew I couldn’t stay away from the Rangers this entire blog.  But this time, rightfully so.  Yu Darvish became the most expensive RHP in the history of baseball this offseason.  The Rangers staff thinks this was money well spent.  The thing about Darvish is, he throws hard, has pin point accuracy, and his breaking stuff is devastating.  He isn’t your typical gimmicky Japanese pitcher.  The kid has legit stuff.  On top of all that he is young.  The Rangers have been looking for that anchor guy in the rotation for awhile now, and they think they’ve found it with Darvish.  I’m anxious to see what Darvish can do in spring training.  If you want a show, the media coverage the first time he pitches will be unreal.

Well that’s a wrap for the Spring Training blog.  I’ll give my take on certain players in spring training and the top players for the regular season before it begins.  I’ll also be featuring an all Rangers blog to start the season.  I might even throw in what I think of all the new uniforms.  Comment and let me know what players I should be looking out for in spring training.  Thanks!

2012 Free Agent Destinations

Unfortunately, in the last couple of days I’ve realized that my nightmare is a reality.  Game 6 will continue to haunt me the rest of my life I’m afraid.  Rangers will be good again in ’12 but they have to take that final step.

Because of the debacle that was Game 6, I’m going to focus on all of the FA and possible destinations for 2012.

So let’s get started:

  • C.J. Wilson – Garbage postseason, but still the biggest SP on the free agent market.  Possibilities – NYY, Rangers, Nationals.  Prediction:  He’ll get overpaid and sign with the New York Yankees.
  • Albert Pujols:  Wow, can’t say enough about this guy and his talent.  Probably the best first baseman of all time.  After the Cardinals won the World Series, I can’t see them letting him walk.  Possibilities – Cardinals, Cubs, Rangers, Mets, Angels.     Prediction:  He’ll resign with the Cardinals.  And rightfully so.
  • Prince Fielder:  He really likes Milwaukee, but I’m not sure that they’ll have the cash to give him his mega contract he and his agent Scott Boras are looking for.  His value will go down because the BoSox and Yankees will not be bidding for him.  Lot’s of possibilities, but most probable are – Cubs, Rangers, Mets, Brewers.                                                                                                         Prediction:  I’m going to say he’ll stay in the NL Central and sign with the Cubs.  Though the Rangers have a very good shot at signing him.
  • Jose Reyes – This is going to be a fun one.  His status is completely up in the air right now.  So many teams could make a push for him.  I’ll spare you the information I’ve looked up and tell you the biggest possibilities.  Possibilities – Mets, Nationals, Red Sox.                                                                                                                                                                                                         Prediction:  Even though Boston exercised the option on Marco Scutaro, you will be seeing Jose Reyes in a Red Sox uniform next year.
  • C.C. Sabathia – The Rangers are going to go after him, just to see him sign with New York.  Really the only of place he could end up is Texas.  Possibilities – Texas and New York.                                                                                                                                          Prediction:  99.9% sure he’ll be in pinstripes next year.

Now unfortuenately this list shows the Rangers losing out on all of these players.  But, that’s okay, considering we should have won with the lineup that we currently have.  But I’ll list two offseason FA’s that I think will sign with Texas:

Yu Darvish – Always risky taking a Japanese pitcher (Akinori Otsuka anyone?)  But, Darvish seems to have a lot of upside and is only 25 years old.

Michael Cuddyer – I think this could be a good pickup for the Rangers.  Coming off his best season as a professional, he brings a lot to a Rangers lineup that is already loaded with power.  Add one more power bat like this and you could easily be looking at another 94-96 win season.

I’ll post some more Free Agents in a couple of days.  My insomnia is wearing off so it’s time for bed.  Hopefully my dreams aren’t filled with that “great” jump Nelson Cruz got on David Freese’s fly ball.

Rangers lineup on Opening Day

This is the lineup I think Ron Washington will go with against Lester and the Red Sox.

1. Ian Kinsler – 2B
2. Elvis Andrus – SS
3. Josh Hamilton – LF
4. Adrian Beltre – 3B
5. Nelson Cruz – RF
6. Michael Young – DH
7. Mitch Moreland – 1B
8. Yorvit Torrealba – C
9. Julio Borbon – CF
On the Mound: C.J. Wilson – P

You might see Mike Napoli at first because of Lester being a LHP, but I highly doubt that.  I think Wash wants Moreland to know he is his everyday 1B.  Plus Moreland had a monster spring.

Comparing Opening Day this year to last.

When I look at Texas at the beginning of this season, I have much more optimism than I did last year at this time.  Yeah, they didn’t resign Lee, which would have been huge, but they have more to be happy about.  Lee was better in the postseason, but didn’t help the Rangers win the AL West by 9 games, going 4-6 in 15 games.  At third base they are much more improved defensively and have a chance to improve offensively at the position if Beltre produces like he did in Boston.

Mike Napoli’s role

  This spring we’ve seen Mike behind the plate, as a DH, and at 1st base against the ChiSox.  Hitting .389 this spring and a high slugging pct. are both things to look forward to for Wash and the Rangers.  Will Mike Napoli be a consistent starter probably, but not at a certain position.  Look for him to have a lot of playing time moving around the three positions.

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