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March 23, 2011

On the Beat

The Sunny Side of Spring

by John Perrotto

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Spring training is the time for optimism and dreams. However, with Opening Day just eight days away, the time for wishing and hoping is drawing to a close. Before the party gets spoiled by the natural ebb and flow of the season, let's take a look at one positive occurrence for each of the 30 clubs this spring (to balance things out, on Friday we'll look at the negatives of the spring):

Angels: Power-hitting prospect Mark Trumbo has been a Cactus League phenom, with five doubles and five home runs in 47 plate appearances. He gives Los Angeles insurance, as it seems certain that Kendrys Morales' won't start the season on time thanks to his slow recovery from a broken leg.

Astros: Brett Wallace, who entered the spring as a major question mark, has won the starting first baseman's job and seems ready to live up to his pedigree as a Pac-10 Triple Crown winner at Arizona. He is hitting .358/.382/.585 in 55 plate appearances.

Athletics: The young starting rotation looks like it is ready to build on last season's success, and many scouts believe left-hander Gio Gonzalez, a breakout performer in 2010, is ready to take it to the next level. He has allowed three runs in 15 1/3 innings for a 1.76 ERA while striking out 19.

Blue Jays: Top prospect Brett Lawrie, acquired from the Brewers in an off-season trade for Shaun Marcum, has been better than expected, hitting .282/.317/.482 in 41 plate appearances. He has played so well defensively at third base that he is likely to be in the Opening Day lineup. That would be great news for Toronto on two fronts—it would allow Jose Bautista to stay in right field and give the organization a Canadian-born potential star.

Braves: Third baseman Chipper Jones has come all the way back from last year's reconstructive knee surgery and looks ready to be a big bat again in the middle of the lineup, putting up a .420/.463/.720 line in 53 plate appearances. He has also shelved the retirement talk.

Brewers: Second baseman Rickie Weeks signed a four-year, $38 million contract extension at the beginning of camp, and he has followed up on a breakout 2010 with a fabulous performance in the Cactus League. His .462/.523/.615 line in 44 plate appearances prompted hitting coach Dale Sveum to say, "He's ready to kick some serious ass this year."

Cardinals: It looks like third baseman David Freese has recovered from last year’s surgery on both ankles and is ready to become a run  producer and fill a big hole in the lineup. Through 33 trips to the plate, he has a .333/.333/.576 line.

Cubs: Closer Carlos Marmol and setup man Kerry Wood look ready to form one of the top late-inning relief duos in the game. Marmol has allowed one run in seven innings with nine strikeouts. Though Wood has been charged with three runs in six innings, he has also struck out eight.

Diamondbacks: The opening of Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, their fabulous new spring training facility in Scottsdale, has been one of the few highlights of an otherwise ugly Cactus League season.

Dodgers: After clashing with coaches Larry Bowa and Bob Schaeffer last season, center fielder Matt Kemp seems happier and much more focused under new manager Don Mattingly. Bowa and Schaeffer were not retained after Joe Torre retired as manager, and Kemp is hitting .304/.340/.674 with four homers in 49 plate appearances.

Giants: The rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner has picked up where it left off last fall when it led San Francisco to a World Series title. Lincecum is again leading the way, allowing just five earned runs in 17 2/3 innings for a 2.55 ERA, while notching 21 strikeouts. Even Barry Zito, the world's highest-paid fifth starter, has been effective, working around 11 walks to give up just four runs in 15 2/3 innings for a 2.30 ERA and holding opponents to a .160 batting average.

Indians: Carlos Santana showed that he is completely recovered from last August’s reconstructive knee surgery and ready to continue his push to become one of the game's top catchers, hitting .278/.316/.472 in 37 plate appearances. He has also showed he can handle first base, giving Cleveland a chance to keep him in the lineup on the days when he is not behind the plate.

Mariners: After three shoulder surgeries, left-hander Erik Bedard seems fully healthy and ready to take a spot in the rotation, having allowed two runs in 10 2/3 innings for a 1.69 ERA with 10 punchouts. If Bedard comes close to pitching as he once did, he would give Seattle's rotation a huge boost.

Marlins: Manager Edwin Rodriguez has kept spirits high despite a rash of spring injuries and owner Jeffrey Loria's displeasure with how his team has played in the Grapefruit League. Rodriguez is in a tough spot, as he is on a one-year contract after replacing Fredi Gonzalez on an interim basis last June, but has the respect of his players.

Mets: Manager Terry Collins, whose hiring in November was met with much skepticism by the New York media, has connected with his players and seems to be the right fit for the job. Shortstop Jose Reyes told the New York Post, "He reminds me of me, so much energy and passion for the game."

Nationals: After having last season ruined by surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, Jason Marquis has thrown well in Grapefruit League games with a 2.18 ground ball to fly ball ratio. When Marquis' sinker is working like it has been this spring, he is a reliable mid-rotation innings sponge.

Orioles: With eight home runs this spring, utility player/designated hitter Jake Fox is looking like the Babe Ruth of Florida. Though there is no spot in the starting lineup for him, Fox gives Orioles manager Buck Showalter a big right-handed bat to use against tough left-handers.

Padres: Third baseman Chase Headley has consistently swung the bat well from both sides of the plate and finally appears ready to blossom as a switch-hitting threat in the middle of the lineup. In 39 plate appearances, he is hitting .424/.513/.576.

Phillies: While most pitchers need spring training to knock off the rust and build arm strength, Roy Halladay is using this Grapefruit League season as a launching pad for another Cy Young Award season. He has allowed exactly one run in 18 2/3 innings for a 0.48 ERA, and he went 7 2/3 innings, almost unheard of spring training, in his start against the Red Sox on Monday.

Pirates: Right-hander Charlie Morton has been lights-out and finally seems ready to live up to his vast potential, which would greatly aid a pitching-starved club. He has been touched for just two runs in 14 innings for a 1.29 ERA, and opponents are batting just .196 against him.

Rangers: Second baseman Ian Kinsler has taken to the leadoff spot, making a strong lineup even better. In 51 plate appearance, he has put together a .370/.473/.848 line. Manager Ron Washington likes the idea of having a home run threat at the top of the batting order.

Rays: Mercurial designated hitter Manny Ramirez, signed as a free agent in January, is happy in his new surroundings, working hard and even developing into a team leader. It's also nice that he's hitting, posting a .316/.364/.579 line with three homers in 41 times at bat.

Red Sox: Following injury-riddled 2010 seasons, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, third baseman Kevin Youkilis, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and outfielder Mike Cameron have all been healthy. So has first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who had elbow surgery shortly before the Sox acquired him from the Padres in an off-season trade.

Reds: Chris Heisey is making a strong case to be more than just a fifth outfielder. He has gone deep four times in 44 plate appearances to highlight a .317/.378/.683 line.

Rockies: First baseman Todd Helton seems to have regained his hitting stroke and turned back the clock, something Colorado desperately needs as it is wedded to a franchise icon with an oversized contract. He is hitting .355/.432/.484 in 36 plate appearances with no strikeouts.

Royals: Many of the organization's numerous talented prospects performed well before being sent to minor-league camp, including catcher Salvador Perez, first baseman Eric Hosmer, and third baseman Mike Moustakas, and had scouts raving. Look for all three to make their major-league debuts sometime this season.

Tigers: Following his embarrassing DUI arrest just before the start of spring training, first baseman Miguel Cabrera seems none the worse for wear. After finishing second to Josh Hamilton for American League MVP honors last season, Cabrera has been hitting like he is ready to make another run at the crown, with six doubles and three home runs in 59 plate appearances to go with a .309/.350/.582 line.

Twins: Catcher Joe Mauer, first baseman Justin Morneau, and closer Joe Nathan are all healthy. Mauer had off-season knee surgery, Morneau missed the second half of last season with a concussion, and Nathan sat out 2010 following Tommy John surgery. Thus, manager Ron Gardenhire can finally exhale after holding his breath all winter.

Yankees: Third baseman Alex Rodriguez has torn up the Grapefruit League and seems ready to again be one of the top hitters in the game, as he has a .410/.465/.949 line and five dingers in 43 plate appearances. He says he feels better than he has in years and is now fully recovered from his 2009 hip surgery.

White Sox: One-time phenom Lastings Milledge has raised his career from the dead by hitting .319/.421/.574. He could wind up stealing playing time from right fielder Carlos Quentin.

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Rumors and Rumblings: Right-hander Carlos Silva will get his last chance to show whether he should be on the Cubs' Opening Day roster when he faces the Athletics today in a Cactus League game. … With Hideki Okajima having won the left-handed reliever's job, the Red Sox are willing to trade southpaws Rich Hill and Dennys Reyes. … Nyjer Morgan has lost his full-time center fielder's job with the Nationals, as Jerry Hairston will start against left-handers. There is a better than even chance that Rick Ankiel or Roger Bernadina will supplant Morgan against right-handers. … The Marlins are having second thoughts about beginning the season with prospect Matt Dominguez at third base. Plan B is to move Omar Infante from second base to third and start Emilio Bonifacio at second. … The Mariners have decided to shift Jack Wilson across the bag to second base and go with Brendan Ryan as the starting shortstop. … The Twins chose to go with Nick Blackburn as their fifth starter and will use Kevin Slowey in long relief. … The Tigers will open the season with Will Rhymes as their starting second baseman. … Mitch Moreland will be the Rangers' starting first baseman, though Mike Napoli or Michael Young will likely spell him against left-handers. … Right-hander Josh Tomlin will be the Indians' fifth starter. … Barry Enright has locked up the Diamondbacks' fourth starter's job, leaving Armando Galarraga and Aaron Heilman in the running for the last spot in the rotation. … Vin Mazzaro has won the Royals' fifth starter's job. … The Blue Jays plan to split catching duties between veteran Jose Molina and rookie J.P. Arencibia to begin the season. Molina will be behind the plate when right-handers Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek start.

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Scouts' takes on various major leaguers:

Padres closer Heath Bell: "His numbers aren't good this spring, but you can never judge veteran closers by their numbers in spring training. Those guys know to save all their bullets for the regular season, and that's why I wouldn't worry about him one bit."

Yankees right-hander Freddy Garcia: "He's had a couple of bad outings, but if I'm the Yankees and serious about winning, which they are, I have him in my rotation to begin the season. He has really adapted well to losing his good stuff after having his arm problems. He's learned how to pitch. The downside, though, is he's not able to overpower guys, so there will be days where he gets hammered."

Braves right-hander Kenshin Kawakami: "He's pitched better this spring, and I know the Braves are hoping teams will bite on him. For me, he's not a starter. Maybe he can help someone out of the bullpen, with the emphasis on maybe."

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins: "He's really slowing down in all phases of the game. I know he's a popular player in Philadelphia, but he's a free agent at the end of the year and [general manager] Ruben Amaro has got to think long and hard before he re-signs him."

Giants center fielder Aaron Rowand: "I know the Giants are trying like hell to trade him, but I can't see anyone biting. The guy doesn't have anything left after playing so hard and beating his body up for so many years."

Twins right-hander Kyle Waldrop: "He's really opened my eyes this spring. He's been a prospect for a long time, but he finally seems to be over his shoulder problems. He's ready to pitch in the big leagues now out of the bullpen."

Angels third baseman Brandon Wood: "He's the prototypical hitter who just can't make the transition to the major leagues. He's never learned any discipline at the plate and anything spinning baffles him. You throw him a fastball down the middle and he'll crush it. Otherwise, he's helpless." 

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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