Spring training NL West Roundup

NL West is perhaps the most intriguing division in baseball this year, even though it seems in February that it might just be a two-team race.  The two easy favorites going into the season are the defending champion Giants, who were able to keep most of their title team together this off-season. Then there’s their traditional rivals, the suddenly free-spending Dodgers who will have their first full season with their upgraded lineup and rotation.

Spring training was officially underway Tuesday as the five NL West teams had their pitchers and catchers report.  Most position players will report either Thursday or Friday.

Giants first baseman Brandon Belt started the jawing off early this week between the rivals, saying “you can’t buy chemistry”– in reference to the Dodgers’ big money acquisitions that started with last year’s trade with Boston.  The Dodgers have now overtaken the Yankees as the big spenders in baseball with a payroll over $230 million, good for the biggest in history.

Then there’s the Diamondbacks– who can’t be overlooked this year. They have a stocked roster with a mix of productive young players and veterans.  According to manager Kirk Gibson, the only thing lacking is chemistry.

Here’s a roundup of each team’s outlook after the first day of Spring Training, in order of last year’s standings:

San Francisco Giants:

Players were greeted Tuesday at their Scottsdale, Arizona spring training facility with a huge championship banner draped outside the building.

According to reports, many of the team’s position players have already shown up to work out alongside their pitchers and catchers. While talking to the media, Manager Bruce Bochy expressed how good it was to see most of the players eager to come back to work.

It is possible, however, that much of the early arrivals can be attributed to players from the squad preparing for next month’s World Baseball Classic.

According to the Associated Press, third baseman Pablo Sandoval showed up Tuesday with a cold and was able to carry a few balls past the center-field wall.

The most promising prospect going into the 2013 season is that the Giants were able to hold together much of the roster, including getting back Andres Torres, who they used in the mid-season trade with the Mets for Angel Pagan.

Areas for competition:  Most of the field positions are set barring injuries between now and opening day.  With the absence of closer Brian Wilson due to injury, and Sergio Romo’s promotion into the role, there can be some bullpen spots opening up this spring for competition.

Also announced last week:  The Giants will host a Metallica night after the May 3 game with the Dodgers this season.

Los Angeles Dodgers:

The Dodgers won’t have anything like Metallica night this year, but they do have a new deal with Time Warner that was agreed to this week and is worth a reported $7 billion.  The deal comes after getting a McCourt-Fox deal rejected by the MLB.  In all likelihood, this much bigger TV deal can make the team’s recent spending spree sustainable going forward.

Manager Don Mattingly is probably the manager with the most on the line this year.  The new management has chosen to stay with the skipper after missing the playoffs last season and even though he is a hire from the previous management.

Mattingly sounded defiant in his first spring training talk with the media Tuesday, saying he wouldn’t change his managing style this season, despite being in his contract year and failing to make the playoffs each of his first two seasons.

Brandon Belt did have a point– through key stretches of the Dodgers’ playoff push last season, the high-priced lineup of Kemp, Ethier, Ramirez and Gonzalez went stagnant.  Each of them had nice hitting stretches, but hardly ever at the same time.

It might not have been all their fault, however.  The only thing that was consistent about Mattingly’s managing style last season was that the lineup was shuffled for almost every game, not giving their big money hitters a chance at some chemistry and continuity.

Positive news for the top of this powerful lineup is the return of Carl Crawford. According to reports, Crawford will be ready to go by opening day and will likely start in left field.

Last week, the Dodgers had only a clear 19-man roster for the Major League squad signed journeymen pitchers Mark Lowe and Kevin Gregg, each of whom will have an opportunity to get a bullpen roster spot depending on their spring performance.

Areas of competition:  Now that the Dodgers seem to have solidified a solid starting rotation going into the season, the clear spots up for grabs will be middle-relievers and set-up pitchers that could help put 2nd year closer Kenley Jansen into save situations.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The D’backs started spring training Monday, and manager Kirk Gibson says there will be plenty of starting spots open to competition.  Gibson told reporters that last year’s 81-81 mark was unacceptable, but he feels his roster has what it takes for a championship given they can produce some chemistry.

The Diamondbacks have been in the thick of the competition in the division each of the past years, and despite recent subtractions they don’t seem to have lost much ground.  Top run producer and base runner Justin Upton has headed to Atlanta, and Chris Young and starting shortstop Stephen Drew are also out the door.

In the Upton trade, Arizona got back a consistent spray-hitter in third baseman Martin Prado, who had close to 200 hits last season.  Prado is a step down from Upton in power hitting, but is a much more consistent hitter for average.

The addition of free agent outfielder Cody Ross perhaps fills voids of the recent departures best.  Ross returns to a familiar NL West after a year with Boston in which he improved his hitting production from the previous year.  Ross was a key part of the Giants’ success on their way to the title in 2010.

This year’s team will see the return of a very successful bullpen of power pitchers J.J. Putz, David Hernandez and Heath Bell.

Areas of competition:  With departures of Drew and Upton, shortstop and the outfield are spots that are open this spring. According to Gibson, the outfield is all up for grabs, but says last year’s regular Gerrardo Parra has “as good a chance as anybody.

San Diego Padres

With camp underway in Peoria, Arizona, the only thing certain for the Padres is two spots in their starting rotation.  Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richard are the only two pitchers with guaranteed spots on the rotation, according to MLB.com.

Veteran Jason Marquis was signed to a one year deal this off-season, and reportedly will battle it out with young pitchers with mostly minor league experience for the final few starting spots.  Other candidates are youngsters Anthony Bass, Tyson Ross and Casey Kelly who have just a few games of big league experience.  Freddy Garcia is a non-roster invitee who could make his way into the rotation with a good spring.

Areas of competition:  Almost every starting spot on the team is open to competition this spring, with the exception of the obvious two held by center fielder Cameron Maybin and third baseman Chase Headley.

Colorado Rockies:

The Rockies start off training camp with bad news and nagging injuries to some of their key players.  This will also be the first spring training for new manager Walt Weiss.

Last week, 39-year-old franchise first baseman Todd Helton was arrested for DUI while reportedly on his way to buying a lottery ticket in Colorado.

Jorge De La Rosa, a top pitcher in the starting staff, is struggling in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.  The other top starters Jhoulys Chacin and Jeff Francis had very unimpressive campaigns last season, so a big shakeup in the rotation could be in order.

An impressive prospect from the Rockies’ farm system is 23-year-old Tyler Anderson, who last week was invited to join the Rockies for spring training this week.  A good showing during the upcoming games this month could get him a spot on the roster and maybe the rotation.

A big part of the lost season in 2012 for the Rockies was the groin injury that ended star shortstop Troy Tulowitzk’s season.  But the two-time gold glove winner is reportedly healthy now and ready to return.

Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez should have a strong presence in the middle of the lineup, but with their pitching still in shambles, it will probably be a hard time keeping up for a talented lineup.

Areas of competition:  The biggest question mark is the Rockies’ opening day stater.   De La Rosa’s lingering injury could leave some room on the roster for spot starters in the rotation.


Categories: Baseball