Monday, February 13, 2012

Spring training brings optimism to MLB

The Major League Baseball season starts this week, with pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training. Spring Training is a wonderful time, when fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates think their team has a chance to compete with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Orioles have hopes of topping the Yankees; it’s a time of hope and optimism – a time when anything is possible for your beloved team.

This season is sure to be an interesting one, with teams that usually sit atop the standings having unresolved issues (Boston Red Sox, still not filling many of the holes they needed to) and some perennial cellar-dwellers showing promise (Washington Nationals).

Many teams got makeovers, starting with the Tigers. Prince Fielder joins Miguel Cabrera in Detroit, giving them the scariest back-to-back batters since Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz circa 2004-2007 over the next four or five seasons. The addition of Fielder improves any team, but I question how much he really helps Detroit in the long run. Statistically and physically, he and Cabrera are the same player – and because of their weight problems, both will become (defensive) liabilities in coming years.

Another makeover took place in the Sunshine state, where we have a “new” team – the Miami Marlins. Formerly the Florida Marlins, this re-vamped club added shortstop Jose Reyes, pitcher Mark Buehrle, pitcher smasher Carlos Zambrano, closer Heath Bell, manager Ozzie Guillen and a brand-new ballpark to mark the beginning of a new era of baseball in Miami with a pretty good team.

The 2011 season was an exciting one, with epic collapses to by the Braves and Red Sox to end their playoff chances, and standout rookie seasons by players in both leagues. There are a lot of players I’ll be keeping my eye on 2012, but here are my standouts:

Yu Darvish, Texas – the Rangers took a risk paying the Japanese sensation (of half Iranian decent) $60 million over six years, plus a whopping $51.7 million posting fee. Here’s hoping it turns out better for Texas than the Dice-K deal of 2006 has for the Red Sox.

Carl Crawford, Boston – after a disastrous 2011 season in which he was paid more than $20 million but batted just .255 with 11 homers and 56 RBI, Crawford has a lot to prove. Unfortunately, he had arthroscopic surgery on his wrist in January and will miss most of spring training and potentially opening day. Red Sox fans hope it’s not a foreshadowing of the 2012 season.

Bryce Harper, Washington organization – Harper is the most-hyped prospect in baseball history, but so far he’s lived up to the hype in the minor leagues. But at just 19, he’ll likely spend the first months of the season in Triple-A Syracuse. That said, he will undoubtedly be in the majors before his 20th birthday (Oct. 16).

Matt Moore, Tampa Bay – Moore is the only player who comes close to Harper for the title as “most exciting young player.” In his first season in the majors, Moore started 18 games, going 8-3 with 131 strikeouts and a 2.20 ERA. Those numbers in themselves are gaudy, but add in the fact that he was just 21, and the future looks bright. I have my fingers crossed he won’t go the way of the last “can’t-miss” pitching prospect, Stephen Strasburg, who was rushed to the majors too quickly by the Nationals and his 2011 season ended with Tommy John surgery after just five games. Strausburg will be back in 2012, and is another player to watch.

With so many changes in the offseason, I, like more baseball fans, can’t wait for the beginning of the 2012 season. Let’s play ball!

No comments: