Friday, February 20, 2009

Five Things to Watch During Spring Training

Lots of new faces in Ft. Lauderdale this year...what should we be watching for when we watch the meager MASN slate of Spring Training games?

1. Koji Uehara…What’s Up With That?

Uehara is an exciting addition but he’s a huge unknown on this side of the Pacific. Raise your hand if you’ve seen him pitch. I’ve only seen some WBC footage on YouTube. How’s his delivery? How does that fastball pop? Can he control his breaking pitches? How will he do against the competition this Spring?

2. The Rotation…who will emerge?

When Spring Training broke in 2007, here was the starting rotation:

J. Guthrie
D Cabrera
A Loewen
S Trachsel
B Burres

As you know, only Guthrie remains in the organization. Uehara will be the number two starter by default but it’s a Battle Royale for the last three spots. We have star-crossed homegrown prospects (Hayden Penn), cast-off from other organizations (Brian Hennessey), former Cubs farmhands who can’t find the plate (Rich Hill), former Oriole farmhands who can’t find the plate (Radhames Liz), guys who weren’t even sure they wanted to be middle relievers two years ago (Danys Baez), guys dumped for minor league relievers by division rivals (David Pauley), guys coming back from serious shoulder injuries (Troy Patton, Matt Albers), former NBA players (Mark Hendrickson), recent First Round draftees (Brian Matusz) and various farm system products hoping for a shot (David Hernandez, Brad Bergensen, Chris Waters).

That’s at least 13 arms who will legitimately compete for three available spots in the rotation. (I won’t count Chorye Spoone, John Parrish, Chris Tillman, etc…guys who have no real shot at grabbing a spot.) That makes for a lot of competition and a hope that at least a couple of these guys break out and put a stranglehold on a spot in the rotation.

3. Luke Scott…Where’s he playing?

Dave Trembley has said that the arrival of Felix Pie will not spell the end of Scott’s time patrolling LF for the O’s. Scott says he’s willing to play some first base and the DH spot is wide open.

Contrary to popular belief, Scott’s defense in left was not bad at all. He doesn’t look great doing it but he fields his position well. It would seem a waste to put him exclusively at DH. It will be interesting to see how he handles first base; if he is competent, he could be an interesting option for that position in 2010 when Aubrey Huff departs.

4. The Catcher Situation…

Gregg Zaun has the starting job until Matt Wieters shows up but there are a few guys competing for that backup catcher spot…even if they will only have it for a few weeks. Robby Hammock, Guillermo Quiroz, Chad Moellers, Adam Donachie…but obviously that’s not the glamourous aspect of this story.

The interesting thing will be if Wieters plays well enough to break camp with the team. Now, given the free agency ramifications surrounding him, there’s little chance he heads north with the big club in April. Of course, I said the same thing about Nick Markakis three years ago. If he shows up and lives up to the hype of being Christ in a Catcher’s Mask, he’ll make the decision a lot harder for Andy MacPhail.

5. Who’s The Closer?

Or more precisely, how’s the bullpen going to shake out? But figuring out who the closer is will go a long way to figuring the rest of the ‘pen out.

If Chris Ray takes the closer spot back, what happens with George Sherrill? If Sherrill tkaes the setup job, does Jim Johnson take over as the 7th inning guy? Will Jamie Walker be reduced to lefty specialist? Will Walker be effective at all? Will Trembley feel comfortable with a 12 man pitching staff or will he continue to carry 13 arms? Who's the long relievers?

Mundane matters now but they won't be mundane once the games start to count.

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