Spring Review: A Weekly Look at Each MLB Camp

As we wrap up the second week of spring training we see some position battles that have developed further, we see some regulars that are starting to tune up for the season, and we see that the prospects are beginning to get sent down. The number of players in camp is decreasing and the time until the regular season begins – March 30 - is doing the same. We are almost there. Here's an update on the lastest happenings around baseball.<br>

Anaheim Angels:
Not many pitchers can throw the ball nearly as hard as Bobby Jenks. He is one of the few pitchers that can hit triple digits on the radar gun. He combines that devastating fastball with a hard curve and average change. The problem has never been his stuff, it has been his command and focus. This spring Jenks has shown signs of dominance but has also shown that lack of command that plagues him. In six innings he has allowed just three hits and zero runs, but also walked three and threw a wild pitch. Jenks will most likely begin the year at Triple-A but could help the Angels this year if needed.

Baltimore Orioles:
Sidney Ponson was brought in by the Orioles to compliment the upgraded offense but thus far this spring he has only upgraded opposing offenses. In his three appearances he has gone nine innings and allowed nine runs, eight earned. His velocity has been down and his weight has been up. He figures to correct this eventually, but it could be a rough start for Ponson.

Boston Red Sox:
There is a Martinez on the Red Sox that is dominating hitters this spring. However, it's not Pedro, rather Anastaci Martinez. The 23-year old was dealt to Pittsburgh last season only to be reacquired nine days later. Attempting to win a bullpen job, Martinez has thrown five scoreless innings. He has struck out three, allowed just two hits and walked none. There may be another Martinez on the Red Sox to keep an eye on this year.

Chicago White Sox:
Following Billy Koch in recent years has been like watching a rollercoaster. He can look unhittable at times and during others he isn't able to get an out. Coming into Spring Training, he was penciled in as the closer for the Sox. Thus far he has done nothing but improve his chances of holding the job. Koch has thrown five scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and no walks while striking out five. However, it is not all golden for Koch. His velocity is down to the 91-92 range so this situation is worth keeping an eye on.

Cleveland Indians:
Is there a better name in baseball than Coco Crisp? Perhaps not, but he's trying his hardest to be known for more than his name. Crisp is batting sharp .391 through 23 at-bats and his speed has allowed him to total 3 steals. Crisp appears to be battling for the fourth OF job but if Matt Lawton struggles, Crisp could quickly pick up the starting job.

Detroit Tigers:
As with Coco Crisp, speed is Alex Sanchez's biggest asset. Sanchez is not competing for a starting job but that hasn't stopped him from performing. He is hitting .500 through 20 at-bats, including a home run and two stolen bases. Sanchez will enter the season leading off for the remodeled Tigers. Veteran 2B Fernando Vina, who was brought in from St. Louis in the offseason, is also a very capable leadoff hitter and could see time there as well.

Kansas City Royals:
Ken Harvey was expected to produce big numbers as a rookie last year but failed to live up to expectations. This year he is forced to compete with Matt Stairs for playing time. Neither has hurt their quest for playing time this spring. Harvey is hitting .348 with four doubles while Stairs is right on his tail batting at a .313 clip. This battle for time should continue throughout the spring and well into the regular season.

Minnesota Twins:
Kyle Lohse has devoted himself this spring to improving his arsenal on the mound. He has been working on adding a sinker to his fastball-curveball mix and the results have been positive so far. Lohse has been strong in his nine innings of work, allowing just two runs on six hits and two walks. Lohse was strong in the final two months of last season and hopes to carry that over into 2004.

New York Yankees:
Tom Gordon was brought in to strengthen the bullpen, a weakness on the 2003 Yankees. He will be used as a set-up man for Mariano Rivera and neither has allowed a run to date. Gordon has thrown five shutout innings while allowing just two hits and one walk. Rivera has managed to top that, going four shutout innings and allowing two hits and two walks. The two will combine with Paul Quantrill, Gabe White, Felix Heredia, and Steve Karsay to form a formidable bullpen.

Oakland Athletics:
It is hot in Arizona but the battle for the starting job in left field is heating up. Eric Byrnes and newly-acquired Bobby Kielty are competing and neither could have started any better. Kielty is hitting .444 with one homer and one stolen base. Byrnes is right on his tail, hitting .400 with one homer and three doubles. Kielty might have the slight edge as he was brought in to start, but if Byrnes can outperform him, it can change.

Seattle Mariners:
Justin Leone has Greg Dobbs to thank for his breakout season in 2003. When Dobbs tore his Achilles' tendon, Leone was given the starting third base job and went on to win the Texas League Player of the Year award. This spring, however, it is as if 2003 never happened. Dobbs is healthy and showing why he is such a highly regarded prospect and Leone is struggling. Dobbs is hitting .417 in 12 at-bats and Leone has yet to record a hit in his 13 at-bats. Neither stood much of a chance of making the team but Dobbs may be regaining his status as a better prospect than Leone and could be first to get a call-up should a spot open.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays:
Coming in to spring it was expected that Damian Rolls would platoon with Geoff Blum at third base. A .500 average can not be ignored, however. In 28 at-bats he has 14 hits, four being doubles, and nine RBI. Blum is making things hard on himself, hitting just .222 in 18 at-bats. Rolls may be hitting his way into more and more at-bats.

Texas Rangers:
Hank Blalock had a break-out year in 2003, dramatically improving in every offensive category imaginable. Even after his huge 2003 Blalock is still looking to improve, and he has started off well. He is batting .444 with one home run through 27 at-bats. No, the one home run didn't come off Eric Gagne, this isn't the all-star game. Even with Alex Rodriguez now a third baseman in New York, Blalock could still make the all-star team at the hot corner and get another crack at Gagne.

Toronto Blue Jays:
Eric Hinske began his major league career with bang, posting outstanding numbers across the board. He was looking to improve on his numbers in 2003 but a broken hamate bone limited him. Now back at full strength, Hinske is looking to take that next step. He has gotten off to a fast start, hitting .429 with a home run and one stolen base this spring. Big things are expected of Hinske in 2004.

Arizona Diamondbacks:
Another player was able to burst on to the scene in 2003, Brandon Webb. Webb uses a devastating sinker to induce tons of ground-ball outs. So far, the sinker has been sinking and Webb has avoided a sophomore slump. Webb has thrown eight shutout innings, allowing just six hits and three walks while striking out five. If Randy Johnson can return to form, he will join Webb as one of the better 1-2 punches in baseball.

Atlanta Braves:
Russell Branyan has as much pure power as anyone out there; that has never been questioned. The uncertainty has been his ability to make contact. Branyan has averaged 244 strike outs per 600 at-bats during his career. If he were to do that in one season, he could break the strike out record by the trading deadline. With a lot of strikeouts comes a low batting average, and this spring it has shown. Through 12 at-bats, Branyan has not had a hit and any chances of him claiming the starting third base job are quickly going down on strikes.

Chicago Cubs:
Matt Clement is expected to round out what is arguably the best rotation in baseball. He has not looked sharp as of yet, however, and there is some concern developing. He has allowed 10 runs on 10 hits and five walks in seven innings. Clement believes that he may be going through a "dead arm" period. He has been working on his slider and may have thrown too much, too soon. Keep an eye on this situation.

Cincinnati Reds:
In last weeks' review we took a quick look at the battle for two rotation spots. This week we'll review another battle, this one unofficial. Although Danny Graves has been named the closer, Ryan Wagner is doing his best to get a chance. Each has allowed just one run in six innings, but Wagner appears to be more dominant. He has allowed just three hits and no walks while striking out five. Graves has allowed six hits and no walks but has only struck out one batter. If Graves goes through a rough period once the season begins, Wagner could quickly step in and become one of the best closers in the league.

Colorado Rockies:
Be it the thin air of Colorado or the dry air of Arizona, Todd Helton can hit. The left-handed hitting first baseman has been one of the best hitters since his first game in the major leagues. After hitting .358 last season, he's at it again. Helton is hitting .500 through his first 14 at-bats, including two home runs and even a triple. Helton will be the rock in the middle of a strong Colorado lineup in 2004.

Florida Marlins:
Hee Seop Choi and Wil Cordero will battle for playing time all season long. Early in the spring, Cordero appears to have the slight edge. Cordero is hitting .313 in his 16 at-bats and Choi is hitting just .190 in his 21. Even with Choi trailing in batting average, he leads in slugging percentage, .571 to .500. Their early performances are good indications of what they will most likely do given full playing time. Choi would hit for more power and Cordero would hit for a higher average. The hot hand might be the only thing determining playing time.

Houston Astros:
After posting a breakout season in 2003, Morgan Ensberg will finally be the starting third baseman for the Astros. With that job comes pressure to repeat his numbers from last year. Thus far in the spring he hasn't been able to come close. Ensberg has just one hit in 18 at-bats and is pressing to get things going. Even if he continues to struggle through the spring he will be the starter to open the year.

Los Angeles Dodgers:
Eric Gagne has disappointed me. Sure, in his three innings he hasn't allowed a run or even a hit, but he walked a batter and struck out only three! Has Gagne lost his touch? Well, maybe not. Gagne is throwing as well as ever and should repeat as the best closer in baseball. It is unlikely that he can top his 2003 season, but if we have learned one thing from watching Gagne pitch, we have learned that anything is possible.

Milwaukee Brewers:
Rickie Weeks was the second overall pick in the 2003 draft. He is a second baseman with an outstanding bat and good speed. Even with no real chance to make the team out of Spring Training, he has done nothing but impress. He has four hits including two doubles in his seven at-bats. He'll likely begin the year in Double-A, but don't be at all surprised if he is a regular in Milwaukee by the end of the season.

Montreal Expos:
Tomo Ohka was the most inconsistent pitcher in baseball in 2003. He ended the year with a respectable line but on a start-by-start basis you had no idea what you would get. Ohka is looking to shake the inconsistent reputation and has started out well. In his first 11 innings, he has allowed just two runs on 10 hits and one walk. If he can maintain his consistency during the regular season, he can be one of the better pitchers in the division.

New York Mets:
The Mets' pitching this spring has defined all or nothing. Nine pitchers including Orber Moreno and Royce Ring have combined to throw 42.2 shutout innings. On the other end of the spectrum, seven pitchers including Jeremy Griffiths have totaled 16 innings and 32 runs for a shocking ERA of 18.00. Not all of the players included in the two categories are in line for jobs but there are some that will be with the Mets when the season starts.

Philadelphia Phillies:
Pat Burrell was the biggest disappointment of 2003. He struggled all season and was barely able to top the Mendoza line, hitting just .209. Manager Larry Bowa never lost confidence in Burrell but if he is to keep his job this year he will need to show some improvement. Burrell has started spring well, hitting .333, and has knocked in a team-leading six RBI in his 21 at-bats. If ge can regain his form he can upgrade the Phillies' offense from solid to outstanding.

Pittsburgh Pirates:
Craig Wilson doesn't get much publicity but he possesses one of the best bats in the league against left-handed pitching. Wilson hit 18 home runs in just 309 at-bats in 2003 and is looking to take the next step this year. Wilson has already hit foiur home runs in 28 at-bats in spring, three of which have come off left-handed pitching. Given 500 at-bats, Wilson could easily top 30 home runs.

San Diego Padres:
Prior to 2003, Mark Loretta had never hit more than seven home runs in a season and last year he nearly doubled that number with 13. While the power may have been a spike that he won't be able to match this year, his .314 average can certainly be repeated. Loretta is hitting a mere .600 in 20 at-bats this spring. He even has smacked two home runs and two doubles. Given the stronger lineup San Diego is expected to have this year, Loretta could post similar numbers and be a very valuable asset.

San Francisco Giants:
Barry Bonds is in the middle of controversy this spring but that isn't what has kept him off the field. His troublesome back has been acting up and has limited him to just seven at-bats. Bonds' at-bats and games played have decreased each year since 2001. With the back problems already beginning, Bonds could be in for another decline. This is not a good sign.

St. Louis Cardinals:
The battle for the starting left field job is just getting underway in St. Louis. Neither Ray Lankford nor Kerry Robinson has gotten off to a blazing start, but both have been solid and matching each other step for step. Lankford is hitting .304 and Robinson is hitting .273. Two of Lankford's hits have been doubles while just one of Robinson's has. Robinson, however, has driven in four runs compared to just one for Lankford. If the two continue to post similar numbers, Robinson has the edge as he is the speedier of the two.

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