Spring Review: A Weekly Look at Each MLB Camp

The regular season finally gets underway early Tuesday morning, March 30, in Tokyo, Japan for two teams! And back in America, all the other teams remain in Florida and Arizona for another five days. Crazy isn't it! Rosters are as good as set and players are starting to play like we've come accustomed to seeing. One more week for final adjustments and then they all start to count.

Anaheim Angels:
Entering Spring Training, Aaron Sele was considered a long shot to make the rotation. It was anticipated that Ramon Ortiz would claim the fifth spot and Sele would either be used out of the pen or would be traded. However, with a week to go before the regular season gets underway, everything has changed. Sele (1-0, 3.21 ERA) appears to have won the final spot in the rotation over Ortiz (0-0, 7.50 ERA). If a trade is not made, Ortiz will be the one used out of the pen.

Baltimore Orioles:
Recently there have been many trade rumors swirling around the Orioles' camp. The most prominent one had Jay Gibbons being shipped to the Dodgers for some pitching help. Those rumors have quieted down recently and you have to wonder if it is because of Gibbons' struggles. The powerful lefty has hit just one home run and two doubles in 41 at-bats this spring. This trade could be revisited in July should the Dodgers be in contention and the Orioles out of it, but it appears off for now.

Boston Red Sox:
Derek Lowe had a difficult 2003. His 4.47 ERA was the highest he had posted since his rookie year in 1997. At times his sinker was flat and caused him to be very inconsistent. This spring he has been anything but inconsistent. His 1.78 ERA in 25.1 innings is best among all Red Sox pitchers with more than six innings pitched. He has allowed just 18 hits and has walked four. If he can carry this success into the regular season, Lowe, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling could form the best 1-2-3 punch in baseball.

Chicago White Sox:
Mark Buehrle, like Derek Lowe, had a disappointing 2003 season. His 4.14 ERA was the highest he had posted since his rookie year in 2000. In his 20 innings this spring he has yet to walk a batter and has a 2.25 ERA. The White Sox will certainly need a strong year from Buehrle as well as a repeat performance from Esteban Loaiza if they are to compete for the AL Central title.

Cleveland Indians:
With Bob Wickman's elbow keeping him out for at least the first half of the year, David Riske will take over as the Cleveland closer. Riske has gotten very little publicity after his spectacular 2003 in which he posted a 2.29 ERA in 74.2 innings. This spring, he has allowed just one run in 10 innings and accumulated three saves. He has never before been a full-time closer so this could prove to be a challenge for him but if his spring is any indication, he'll do just fine. However, who is going to set him up is a different question all together.

Detroit Tigers:
Not only has Ivan Rodriguez made the trip from the Marlins to the Tigers; so has Ugueth Urbina. Urbina signed a one-year deal this week and will take over as the closer. In 2003, the Tigers had eight different pitchers pick up saves. Urbina will begin the year on the disabled list in order to get back into pitching shape. When he returns in late-April, he'll stabilize the bullpen and give the entire team a boost.

Kansas City Royals:
Mike Sweeney missed 54 games in 2003 thanks to his back and it is acting up already this year. Sweeney has missed the last two games and could possibly miss a couple more after feeling a twinge. While he has been in the lineup, he has shown good power, hitting four home runs and three doubles. His average isn't up to his level of expectations, however, at .263. If he remains healthy, Sweeney will be one of the best hitters in the American League.

Minnesota Twins:
On Saturday against the Pirates, Johan Santana finally had his first solid outing of the spring. He threw five shutout innings and lowered his ERA to 5.63. Santana, a Rule V pick by the Twins in 2000, has been one of the most underrated pitchers in the league. In the past, his low profile has allowed him to sneak up on everyone but after his success in 2003, he's going to have to face the opponents' best lineup each time out.

New York Yankees:
With the season-opener on Tuesday, the Yankees couldn't be happier with their premier pitchers. Mariano Rivera, Tom Gordon, Javier Vazquez, Jose Contreras, Kevin Brown, Paul Quantrill, and Felix Heredia have combined to throw 99 innings with a 1.45 ERA. Mike Mussina, the Yankees' Opening Day starter, hasn't been as strong however. He has a 9.00 ERA in his eight innings. If he can pick it up, which he surely will, the Yankees could be even more dangerous than previously thought.

Oakland Athletics:
The offensively-challenged A's were dealt another blow this week when Mark Ellis went down with a dislocated right shoulder. Some sources are saying that he could have a torn labrum as well and if so he would miss the season. This has yet to be denied or confirmed by the tests as they have come back inconclusive. Frank Menechino is expected to be the regular second baseman when he returns from a strained calf. In the mean time, the replacement for the replacement is expected to be Marco Scutaro or Esteban German. Scutaro has had the better spring of the two, hitting .324 to German's .255.

Seattle Mariners:
As a team, the Mariners have hit 16 homeruns this spring. However, just five of those have come from the anticipated starters. There are even six players that have single-handedly out homered the Mariners' regulars, each of them hitting six. The M's spent the off-season finding ways to improve their offense. They were not able to get the "big bat" they wanted so they put together the deepest batting order possible. The method could work just fine, but they will certainly need to hit for more power than they have thus far.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays:
The Devil Rays will open in Japan along with the Yankees. As the Yankees are pleased with their pitching, the Devil Rays must be pleased with the performance of their offense this spring. Six of their starters hit over .300 and as a team they hit 18 home runs. In an exhibition game against the Hanshin Tigers on Sunday, Rocco Baldelli added to that homer total, hitting two. The Devil Rays might not be ready to compete this year, but with their youth and strong farm system, they'll be ready soon.

Texas Rangers:
Francisco Cordero followed up on his breakout 2002 season with an equally impressive 2003 performance. He was given the closer job in the second half and held on tightly, saving 15 games. He entered this spring as the favorite, but not a lock, to be the Rangers' closer. Jeff Zimmerman was expected to compete for the job but with the surgery on Zimmerman's elbow and Cordero's strong spring (six innings, zero runs allowed), he has clinched the job.

Toronto Blue Jays:
While one closer battle has been settled, another is just heating up. Aquilino Lopez was the favorite to hold the job but his recent struggles have opened the door for Kerry Ligtenberg and Justin Speier. Lopez has a 6.23 ERA through 8.2 innings. Speier has posted a 3.38 ERA in his eight innings, and Ligtenberg has an ERA of 1.00 in nine innings. Lopez is still the favorite to close, but the race is starting to get tight.

Arizona Diamondbacks:
Luis Gonzalez has been battling elbow problems all spring but if you look at his stats, you'd never know it. Gonzo is hitting .491 in 53 at-bats. He has seven extra-base hits and has knocked in 17 runs. Gonzalez is an injury risk for the D-Backs but if he can stay healthy, he'll be one of the better hitters in the National League.

Atlanta Braves:
The Braves have always been known for their pitching. They've dominated the National League East for the last decade with it. However, this year they may need to rely much more on their offense as their pitching isn't nearly as strong as in the past. This is supported by their overall sub-par pitching this spring. Just five pitchers have a sub-3.00 ERA and one of them, Chris Reitsma, was just acquired from the Reds.

Chicago Cubs:
Scott McClain never had a chance of winning a spot on the Cubs' roster even though he deserves one with his spring performance. In 39 at-bats, he is hitting .359 with six home runs and nine total extra-base hits. McClain played last year in Japan but with this performance, he is sure to find a job in the States; it just won't be on the Cubs major league roster.

Cincinnati Reds:
Adam Dunn has one of the most powerful bats in the league, can take a walk, and can even steal a few bases. However, since he has entered the league, he has not hit for a good average and has struck out far too much. This spring, batting average has not been a problem for Dunn. In 41 at-bats, he is hitting .390 while still hitting five homeruns. If Dunn has found a way to maintain his power and increase his average, he will quickly become one of the most dangerous hitters in all of baseball.

Colorado Rockies:
Aaron Miles has all but officially won the starting second base job for the Rockies thanks in part to Damian Jackson's struggles. In 60 at-bats, Miles hit a solid .283 and Jackson .143 in his 42 at-bats. However, Rule V pick Luis Gonzalez (not the outfielder, the Diamondbacks aren't that crazy) has outperformed both. In 47 at-bats, he is hitting .362 with two homeruns. He won't get a chance to start at the beginning of the year but if Miles struggles, he could take over.

Florida Marlins:
Even though Josh Beckett got all of the attention, Carl Pavano was just as important for the Marlins when they won the World Series last year. Pavano threw some very important innings that allowed the Fish to stay close and eventually pull the games out. This spring he has carried over some of the strong performances. In 20 innings he has a 1.80 ERA, allowing just 11 hits and walking only one. Pavano and the rest of the staff will form one of the most solid rotations in the league.

Houston Astros:
The Astros are one of the most well-balanced teams in the league. Their offense has "The Killer B's" and "The Excellent E's" and their offense has The Outstanding, well they don't have a nickname, but they are good. Their strong pitching depth has been showcased this spring. No member of their expected staff has an ERA higher than 5.25 and just one, Wade Miller, is above 3.60. Even with the loss of Billy Wagner, the bullpen remains one of the better pens in the league, and with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite joining the rotation, the overall staff is one of the best.

Los Angeles Dodgers:
Odalis Perez had a disappointing 2003; his ERA jumped more than a run and-a-half from his 2002 level. With Kevin Brown and the rest of the Dodgers staff all having great seasons, it didn't hurt the overall team. However, this year if the Dodgers wish to contend, Perez will need to revert back to his 2002 level. This spring he has shown just that, performing as the best starter on the team. In 20 innings he has a 0.90 ERA and has struck out 21 while walking just two. He has the potential to be one of the best starters in the league and could ease the loss of Brown if he returns to form.

Milwaukee Brewers:
Brooks Kieschnick was one of the best stories in baseball last year. As a two-way player, he posted a below-average 5.26 ERA but hit .300 with seven home runs in 70 at-bats. He is expected to occupy the same role for the Brewers this year but has gotten off to a different start. He is hitting just .154 in 13 at-bats without a home run. However, in his 10 innings pitched, he has a 3.60 ERA. Whichever way he picks to succeed this year should make for an interesting player to watch.

Montreal Expos:
Not many can replace Vladimir Guerrero but Carl Everett was brought in to try. Everett got off to a blistering start while with the Rangers in 2003 but has not been able to repeat that success this spring. In 39 at-bats, Everett is hitting just .179 with two home runs. He is being outperformed by almost every other member of the offense but his job is 100 percent safe. He will surely improve on these numbers once the regular season comes around but he will not come close to replacing Vlad.

New York Mets:
Are we expecting too much of Kazuo Matsui thanks to the immediate success that Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui experienced? Early indications say yes. In 57 at-bats, Matsui is hitting just .175 with one home run and a steal. Matsui got off to a tough start when he cut his finger, which didn't allow him to hit right-handed. He has not improved much as the spring has moved along, and it could be a tough adjustment for Matsui this year.

Philadelphia Phillies:
Billy Wagner missed two weeks of the spring with a finger injury but it appears he hasn't missed a step (can fingers step?). Wagner is now up to seven innings pitched and has struck out eight with a 3.86 ERA. The finger injury should not be a recurring problem and Wagner will continue to be one of the best closers in the league, further strengthening the Phillies' bullpen.

Pittsburgh Pirates:
The Pirates made an odd move earlier in the spring when they signed Raul Mondesi. As a team looking to rebuild, many believe they should have let their rookies such as J.J. Davis play instead of signing a veteran. Mondesi might not be the best player for this team, but he will perform. In 46 at-bats he is hitting .283 with four homeruns and 11 RBI. He may help them win a few more games this year but in Pittsburgh, the future is more important.

San Diego Padres:
Trevor Hoffman's numbers this spring don't jump out at you (9 IP, 12 hits, 5.00 ERA) but he's been successful. After missing most of last season, Hoffman's primary goal this March was to get back on track and stay healthy, which he has done. He is slowly regaining form and over the weekend he pitched in back-to-back games for the first time since September 2002. If the Padres are to be competitive this year, Hoffman must be back to his old self.

San Francisco Giants:
The Giants' hopes for an NL West title ride on two pitchers that will open the season on the DL. Jason Schmidt and Robb Nen will both miss at least the first week of the season and probably a couple more. Schmidt has thrown just nine innings this spring and Nen has yet to get into a game. Both will need not only time to rehab but time to build arm strength. It is better to miss two of your better pitchers in April than September, but this could prove costly if either injury lingers.

St. Louis Cardinals:
In the first week of this column I told you not to worry about Matt Morris' struggles in his first start. He was just working on a changeup. He's either perfected the pitch or stopped using it. In four starts since then he has thrown 19 innings with a 2.37 ERA. Morris, the Seton Hall grad, could be ready to post his best season yet.

Ian is an intern from New Jersey who attends Seton Hall University and lives baseball 24-7. Need proof? He intends to write this weekly MLB roundup each Monday throughout the regular season. Ian can be reached at mariner741@yahoo.com for comments, criticisms, critiques and care-packages.

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