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Spring Training Storylines

We’re almost there. If we can just make it through the weekend, baseball will have returned as pitchers and catchers report on Monday. Talk about a good Valentine’s Day present! Between now and then, I like to rev myself up for baseball season with a viewing of a few baseball movies. I usually start with Major League and then inevitably move on to Major League 2 and marvel at how much better the first one was. And I typically ignore Major League: Back to the Minors. If I want to watch a train wreck, I’ll go to a Royals game. I’m here all week, folks. Don’t forget to tip your waitresses.

As a bit of a primer to Spring Training, I thought I’d talk about some of the storylines to watch for during the spring. We’ve discussed most of them here, but it’s always good to freshen up before things get going. The biggest storyline of this spring will probably be the biggest storyline of next spring and that’s watching the prospects. If you’re planning on going to Spring Training, I’d recommend going during the early portion of games when all the NRI prospects are playing in the games for a good portion of the time. It’ll be fun to watch the first hacks of Moustakas and the first strikeout recorded by Montgomery or Lamb. These are the guys who you probably won’t see out there on March 31. They’re the ones who you’re going to have to wait for at least a few months to see. When you have the number one ranked farm system by everybody, the prospects are a big story. When you have one of the best systems of the past ten years, they’re a huge story. Then when you add in that the Major League team has a chance to be virtually unwatchable, they’re a gigantic story.

Onto the Major League roster, there’s not a huge battle per se, but the starting rotation is something to watch for because it will make or break this team. If three of Hochevar, Francis, Mazzaro, Chen and Davies can step up and be better than league average, there’s a chance that this team could turn some heads. If they’re not, well, those 100 loss predictions might not be so far off. I think going hand in hand with the starting pitching is the improvement of the defense and how much it’s noticeable on the field in Arizona. The pitchers might not be all that great, but the defense should be better to the point that the pitching staff should collectively out perform their FIPs. I suppose there is a bit of a battle, though, as there are a lot of starters invited to camp. Should one of the anointed five falter or get injured, there will be open season for the fifth starter spot.

The battle in the outfield will be one to watch for a couple of reasons. First of all, you’re going to get a chance to see what Lorenzo Cain can do out there. I’m not sure that he’ll be quite as fun to watch defensively as Jarrod Dyson, but from what I’ve heard he’s still fun to watch roam center field. From a style standpoint, it’d be tough to argue that Melky Cabrera deserves the job over anyone, but he’s currently the front-runner for the position. I’ve mentioned before, but it looks like there’s four outfield jobs for seven players. It looks pretty much like Gordon and Francouer are set barring injuries, so that leaves just center field open among five candidates. As I talked about the other day, if Cain makes the team, he’s the starter and Cabrera is the fourth outfielder leaving Blanco, Dyson and Maier jobless. Personally, I think that Cabrera is the starting center fielder on Opening Day and Blanco is the fourth outfielder. It’s not what I want, but it’s what I think will happen.

There are other smaller storylines that will be ongoing throughout the season, but will begin in the spring. I’m very interested to see how Ned Yost continues to develop the young players, Kila Ka’aihue in particular. His development is not vital to the future of the Royals, but if he can match his PECOTA projections of a .387 OBP and 25 homers, then he gives the Royals a fantastic problem to have.  There’s a lot to criticize Yost about, but one thing that’s hard to deny is that he’s got experience in helping young teams build, and he’s got strong results to back it up. I’m also curious to see if Dayton Moore resists the urge to spend some of the money that is inevitably burning a hole in his pocket. I’m not sure that there’s much more out there, but there’s always a chance for a Brett Tomko like deal. And perhaps the most interesting story of the spring is what nondescript reliever who was not expected to make the team will pitch on Opening Day in a key situation? You know it happens every year, and you know you’re going to tune in to find out. Either way, we’re just a couple of days away. Baseball winter is just about over.

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