MLB Spring Training Highlights

Zander Frost

It may only be February, but it’s already baseball season for the MLB fanatics. This past week, pitchers and catchers were finally reporting for spring training, while there was the usual preseason prognosticating, hype of prospects and all-around smack talking from teams (or fans of teams) with major offseason additions.

The biggest acquisitions of the offseason have come at the hands of teams based in Toronto, Atlanta and Los Angeles, and the Dodgers/Blue Jays World Series predictions have already been declared across Facebook, Twitter and the ESPN comment section. Let’s not make any mistake here; the Blue Jays and Dodgers have certainly improved, but let’s not forget about where these additions actually came from. The Dodgers have built a team with several players from the legendary 2012 Red Sox team, while the Blue Jays have filled out their team with the world-famous 2012 Miami Marlins, a 38 year-old and the “surprisingly-small-headed-given-the-steroids” Melky Cabrera.

Of course, I’m nitpicking here. The Dodgers and Blue Jays both improved, and the 38 year-old happens to be a 2012 Cy Young Award-winning knuckleballer (who has aged just as well as Tim “I can’t believe it just retired” Wakefield), but the point is that the same people going into spring training with these two League champions already picked probably got October reservations in Boston and Miami last year too. 

Beyond the small market clubs, let’s talk prospects. There are a few names that the rabid MLB fans have known for a few years that casual viewers will know by the end of the year. The first player is Oscar Taveras, the lefty outfielder in the Cardinals system who will make the jump to the majors in the very near future. He appears to be yet another stud developed by St. Louis, batting a decent .321 with an OPS of .953 in the minors this past season. 

The next standout player is Jurickson Profar, the top prospect in baseball who the Rangers are developing as a shortstop. Profar already played in some games in the majors last season at age 19, and you can expect to see him on the Texas 25-man roster at some point this year. He’s blocked by current Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus and has two years remaining on his contract, but his talent is so great that he has a decent chance of moving to the majors and creating plenty of Andrus-based trade rumors this summer. 

The last player, Dylan Bundy, is near and dear to my heart considering I am an Orioles fan. He’s a 20 year-old right-handed pitcher with a cannon for an arm, in top physical condition, and there’s just about every indication that he will be a future ace. Since being taken directly out of high school as the fourth pick in the 2011 draft, Bundy has seen his stock rise, and he’s now

considered by most pundits to be the top pitching prospect in baseball. Now, before any fans get ahead of themselves, it is important to remember that the Orioles organization is famous for turning high-ceiling pitching prospects into legends like Hayden Penn (who?), Adam Loewen (now a AAA player in the Blue Jays organization) and Jake Arrieta (don’t even get me started), so nothing is set in stone yet. However, the new Dan Duquette/Buck Showalter/Rick Peterson regime in Baltimore has fixed Chris Tillman and is actually inspiring faith in Baltimore pitching development for the first time in a long, long while. So, it’s okay to get a little excited. 

The future of these players certainly holds promise, but what will happen this season? There are several roster battles to keep an eye on this summer, and I’m not talking about the ongoing case of Pablo Sandoval vs. McDonalds (Bruce Bochy’s no-pandas-served legislation didn’t catch on in San Francisco). 

Anaheim has one of the most interesting battles in its outfield this spring training, with the young and talented Peter Bourjos competing with Mark Trumbo and Vernon Wells’ $21 million contract. Vernon Wells is a .682 “OPSing” abomination at this point who only has a roster spot because nobody wants to waste $40 million, especially on someone who hasn’t been an active contributor to the team. Trumbo’s numbers were good last season on the whole, but he had a terrible slump in the second half of the season, batting .183 and .204 and OPSing a measly .501 and .550 in September and August, respectively. I’d bet on Trumbo to be the starting left fielder, but Bourjos could be a light-hitting left fielder for the Angels by the end of the season, like Brett Gardner for the New York Yankees.

The other matchup that I’m interested to watch is the sad show that will be the New York Yankees catching battle. After the Pittsburgh Pirates’ fearsome empire stole Russell Martin by paying him with enough money to buy a lifetime supply of poutine, the Yanks are now faced with the three-headed catching monster of Stewart, Cervelli, and Romine. I call it Stewminelli. I also call it a fourth place finish. Seriously though, the Yankees will be starting one of these three players for the foreseeable future, and this battle will probably just end up as a revolving door for the Yankee catcher position this season. The only sadder battle in the league is Alex Rodriguez’s lifeless corpse versus Kevin Youkilis to play the hot corner in the Bronx, which is funny solely based on the fact that Kevin Youkilis and Alex Rodriguez are the Yankees’ third base options this year.

There are several moving parts in this spring training and baseball fans should be excited. Non-baseball fans should be excited too, because baseball talk means summer is coming. Either way, everyone wins.