Spring Review: A Weekly Look at Each MLB Camp

We have now passed the halfway point of the spring; Opening Day in Japan is just over a week away. Rosters are starting to take shape and some surprise decisions are being made. Fewer prospects are still in camp, regulars are starting to play more, and starting pitchers are extending themselves beyond five innings. One more week of spring and then we'll get a taste of some games that count.

Anaheim Angels:
The revamped Angels are making a tough decision that may not be so tough after all. Manager Mike Scioscia is trying to decide who will hit fifth behind Garrett Anderson. The logical candidates are Troy Glaus and Jose Guillen. If spring stats mean anything to Scioscia, Guillen will be the choice. In 27 at-bats, Guillen is hitting .407 and has already hit five homeruns. Glaus' .345 average and two homeruns is a good sign coming off of a down year last year, but not enough to give him the nod over Guillen.

Baltimore Orioles:
Kurt Ainsworth did not enter Spring Training as a lock for the rotation but with two weeks still to go, he has earned a spot. The right-hander was acquired from the Giants at the trading deadline in a deal involving Sidney Ponson. Ponson is not pitching next to Ainsworth in the rotation after resigning with the Orioles. If this spring is any indication of the future, perhaps it should have been Ainsworth as the center of that trade. Ainsworth has thrown 11.1 innings in his three starts, posting a 1.59 ERA. Ponson has continued to struggle, posting a 5.40 ERA through 15 innings.

Boston Red Sox:
The word of the day in Boston is "injuries." Trot Nixon will miss at least the first month of the season with a mildly herniated disc in his back. Byung-Hyun Kim will miss at least his first start of the season with a strained shoulder. Bill Mueller tweaked his elbow. Nomar Garciaparra is struggling through Achilles' tendonitis and Pedro Martinez seems to miss a few starts every year. The Red Sox had a strong off-season but if they are to contend, they'll need to acquire some health.

Chicago White Sox:
Mariners' announcer Dave Niehaus put it best on Sunday when he said that the M's were "Grilling Grilli." Jason Grilli allowed 14 hits and nine runs in just three innings, raising his spring ERA to 8.36. That outing may have clinched the final spot in the rotation for Dan Wright, who has a 2.79 ERA in his three appearances. Grilli will most likely begin the season in middle-relief but could return to the rotation should Wright struggle.

Cleveland Indians:
C.C. Sabathia is the anchor of the Cleveland rotation, figuratively and literally. The 6-7 290-pound lefty will be just 24 in July and is already showing signs of dominance. Sabathia has already thrown three full seasons in the major leagues and his ERA has declined each year. This season we may see more of the same. Through 10 innings he has a 2.70 ERA and has struck out eight. One negative we have seen thus far is his homeruns allowed, which is two. If he is to continue to improve, that number must be kept to a minimum.

Detroit Tigers:
It is funny how things almost always happen how you would least expect it. Last season Mike Maroth was the first 21-game loser since 1974 after posting a 5.73 ERA. This spring his ERA is 6.75 and that's the bad news. The good news? He hasn't lost! In fact, Maroth won his only decision. This season Maroth could benefit from an improved offense and post one of the largest win-loss turnarounds in the history of the game.

Kansas City Royals:
Carlos Beltran has been one of the best players in baseball since he entered the league. Through age 26 he has already posted four 100-run, 100-RBI seasons. He enters this season in the last year of his contract and is poised to post his best year yet. Last season he was injured during Spring Training but this year is different. In 33 at-bats, Beltran is batting .455 with a whopping eight extra-base hits. After a lot of off-season trade talk, it now is a safe bet that Beltran will begin the year with the Royals. However, if they drop out of contention, Beltran may get moved and help another team to a title.

Minnesota Twins:
Last week we spoke about Coco Crisp and how he has one of the best baseball names. There is a new contender for that title, Grant Balfour. How a pitcher accepts the name Balfour is beyond me, but you have to root for a long-shot like this. In his five innings this spring he has yet to allow a run and has struck out seven. However, he has allowed four walks. I guess we know where he got his name from.

New York Yankees:
Quick, who has more hits this spring, Alex Rodriguez or Enrique Wilson? Obvious, right? Of course the answer is Enrique Wilson. The new starting second baseman is hitting .441 in 34 at-bats. He has four extra-base hits and has also stolen two bases. Wilson can't keep this up and at the end of the season, he probably won't have you asking another seemingly obvious question; who is Alfonso Soriano?

Oakland Athletics:
The problem facing "small-market teams" is not becoming competitive, it is staying that way. This off-season alone, Oakland lost Miguel Tejada and Keith Foulke to free agency. The A's have looked into their own system to get Tejada's replacement, Bobby Crosby. In an attempt to replace Keith Foulke, they turned to a failed-closer and successful middle-reliever, Arthur Rhodes. Rhodes has all the stuff to be successful and he has shown it this spring with a 1.13 ERA in 8 innings. His problem that he must overcome is the mental aspect of being a closer. The A's playoff chances may ride on his head.

Seattle Mariners:
Ichiro Suzuki is at it again. In his three years in MLB he has started the season on fire and has slowed down considerably as the season went along. This season appears to be starting the same way. Ichiro is hitting .448 through 29 at-bats, including two triples and a stolen base. As Ichiro goes, so do the Mariners. If he is to perform at his best throughout the entire season, he will need proper rest. Ichiro's days off will have a huge effect on the final AL West standings.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays:
If there was any doubt before, that should be gone now. Danys Baez will enter the season as the closer for the Devil Rays. Through five innings he has allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out four. His main competition for the job, Lance Carter, has a 6.00 ERA through six innings. If last season is any indicator, Lou Piniella will give Carter another opportunity to close should Baez falter.

Texas Rangers:
Colby Lewis may have been the worst regular starting pitcher in baseball last year. In 26 starts he posted an astronomical 7.30 ERA. The 24-year old right hander has always had good stuff but has never been able to put it all together. He is starting to show signs of life this spring with a 2.70 ERA in 10 innings. If he is able to carry this into the regular season, he could post the best numbers of his career; although that won't be hard to do.
Toronto Blue Jays:
Roy Halladay won the Cy Young award in 2003 with a 3.25 ERA. He was able to put up that ERA even after posting a 4.89 ERA through April. If he is able to start the season well, he could have an even better year this year. In four starts and 15 innings this spring, Halladay has a 1.80 ERA. He has allowed just 11 hits and has not walked a batter. Expect big things from him this year.

Arizona Diamondbacks:
After a disappointing, injury-filled 2003, Randy Johnson is looking to bounce back in a big way. In seven official innings, Johnson posted a 2.57 ERA while striking out seven and walking just one batter. Johnson has also been impressive in intersquad games. He is looking healthy and as intimidating as ever. With the NL West wide open, a healthy "RJ" could lead the Diamondbacks into the playoffs.

Atlanta Braves:
The Braves have high hopes for rookie first baseman Adam LaRoche. He combines solid pop with potential gold glove defense to give the Braves a solid option for years. As he acclimates himself to the starting job this spring, he has posted solid numbers. He is hitting .278 through 36 at-bats and has hit two home runs. Both of the home runs came in the same game and he also pushed another just foul that game. LaRoche is a top contender for rookie of the year in the NL.

Chicago Cubs:
Cubs fans everywhere shook their heads when they heard the news. Mark Prior was going to miss some time due to inflammation in his right Achilles tendon. Chalk another up to the curse. The news is not all bad, however. Prior has been throwing on the side in bullpen sessions and has not been experiencing any pain. He may not get into a game this spring and will most likely miss at least his first start. He'll be back in mid-April and Cubs fans will have to find something else to blame.

Cincinnati Reds:
The bad news about Ken Griffey Jr., he is hitting just .125. The great news, he is healthy. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that a healthy Griffey will perform like an All-Star. The doubt is if he can stay healthy. Griffey is not only the subject of health inquiries but also trade inquiries this spring. There have been many rumors that have sent him to Seattle, Atlanta, and even New York. Even Griffey himself believes he will be traded before the end of spring. With a healthy Griffey, anything can happen.

Colorado Rockies:
Shawn Chacon emerged as a solid starter in 2003, even in Coors Field. During the off-season, the Rockies strangely decided to convert him into their closer. After getting a late start in spring because of elbow concerns, he has proven to be healthy and solid. He has yet to allow a run and has only allowed three hits in six innings. He won't be the next Eric Gagne but he will be a solid closer. If he has the ability to succeed for multiple innings as a starter, he can do the same in one inning stints.

Florida Marlins:
Juan Pierre gave the Marlins a scare this week after dislocating his right pinkie while sliding into second base. Tests have since revealed that there was no damage done so he will miss just five days. That is great news for the Marlins since Pierre is the catalyst of their offense. This spring, Pierre has led baseball in both batting average (.514) and stolen bases (six) and will likely continue to lead the league in stolen bases in the regular season.

Houston Astros:
Lost in all the Clemens-Pettite talk is probably the best pitcher on the Astros, Roy Oswalt. Even with a groin problem plaguing Oswalt through last year, limiting his starts, he posted a 2.97 ERA and won 10 games. Oswalt entered spring completely healthy after off-season surgery and has shown that the NL hitters had better be ready for another great season. In 12.2 innings, he has a 2.84 ERA and has walked just three. If he can remain healthy, he will anchor a rotation that will compete all year with another outstanding NL Central rotation; the Cubs.

Los Angeles Dodgers:
It's Lima-time! After a strong comeback with the Royals in 2003, Jose Lima is now a Dodger. He made a strange decision when he joined the Dodgers because it was very unlikely he'd get a chance to start. That remains the same but after the way he has pitched this spring, he is next in line. Through 16 innings, Lima has a 2.25 ERA and has allowed just 12 hits. If he doesn't get to start, he'll still be fun to watch and more specifically, listen to.

Milwaukee Brewers:
After a lot of rumors in the off-season that had Geoff Jenkins leaving Milwaukee via trade, the Brewers managed to resign him to a three year extension worth $23 million. If he is able to remain healthy, he'll easily play well enough to be worth that much money. The new contract has not had an effect on Jenkins. He is hitting .316 with six extra-base hits already this spring. More importantly, he has played in 14 games without any injury problems creeping up yet. Hopefully for the Brewers, he will be able to stay healthy all year. They'll need him to.

Montreal Expos:
Rocky Biddle came out of nowhere to close for the Expos in 2003 and he performed well enough to enter 2004 as the closer. He is not without competition though. Luis Ayala had an outstanding 2003 and is pitching just as well this spring with a 1.50 ERA. Another candidate is Chad Cordero. The Expos' first round draft pick in 2003 has already reached the majors and is penciled in as the closer of the future. His 2.57 ERA this spring is helping him make his case as the closer of the present. It is confirmed that Biddle will enter the year as the closer, but he may not hold on very long.

New York Mets:
Jose Reyes has as much potential as anyone in baseball, if his hamstrings cooperate. Reyes has strained his right hamstring multiple times already and the latest one has him questionable for Opening Day. When he returns, he will combine with Kazuo Matsui to form one of the fastest and most talented middle infields in the game.

Philadelphia Phillies:
The Phillies want to make Chase Utley into an ultimate utility player. Utley can play just about everywhere on the diamond so it would seem to be a good move. However, if Utley has his way, that won't happen. Utley is hitting .311 with three homeruns and 10 RBI this spring and could take over for David Bell if Bell does not quickly rebound from a poor 2003.

Pittsburgh Pirates:
Kip Wells has struggled this spring while posting a 12.60 ERA through 10 innings. The good news is the Pirates don't seem concerned with his struggles. After posting the best year of his career in 2003 and being completely guaranteed a rotation spot, he is most likely working on something. Wells may have trouble outperforming last season, but he will most likely put up solid numbers all year.

San Diego Padres:
In a shocking move, Rey Ordonez decided to leave the Padres camp and give up in his battle for the starting shortstop job with Khalil Greene. Even if Ordonez didn't leave, Greene was likely to be named the winner in the position battle. Even though Ordonez was hitting .304, Greene was better. Thus far he has hit .371 with two homeruns and five total extra-base hits. Greene will likely be a strong candidate for rookie of the year in the NL in 2004.

San Francisco Giants:
It took Barry Bonds a while to hit his first homerun of the spring, but when he hit his first there were more on the way. In the first inning of the game against the Mariners on Friday, Bonds hit a screaming line drive high off the foul pole for his first homer of the spring. In the third inning of the same game, Bonds hit another classic Bonds blast to deep right field. Later in the week Bonds added his third homerun of the spring. If his back can cooperate, Bonds should have no problem repeating his numbers from the past few seasons.

St. Louis Cardinals:
Jason Marquis was never able to put it all together while in Atlanta so the Braves sent him to St. Louis as part of the J.D. Drew deal. The change of scenery has worked for Marquis so far. He has posted a 2.70 ERA through 10 innings while striking out seven and walking just one. He'll enter the season as the fifth starter and if he is able to maintain his improved command, he could be one of the more underrated pitchers in the league.

Ian is an intern from Seton Hall University who knows his baseball inside and out. Drop him a line at mariner741@yahoo.com and try not to mention what Duke did to his Pirates in the Big Dance.

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