Tag: 2015 MLB Spring Training

Taijuan Walker Ready to Break Out, Form 1-2 Ace Duo with Felix Hernandez

If all the prospect reports and estimated times of arrival had been right, we wouldn’t be asking whether Taijuan Walker can step up to be a legitimate “2” to Felix Hernandez’s “1” atop the Seattle Mariners starting rotation.

We wouldn’t be asking, because it already would have happened, the way it happened for all those New York Mets starters. They stepped in, and they stepped up, seemingly without a glitch, and the Mets found themselves in the World Series.

The Mariners, for yet another year, did not. And with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays all making it to October, the Mariners now own the longest postseason drought in the game (14 years).

And Taijuan Walker can still be the guy who ends it. This year.

He still has all that talent that got him ranked ahead of guys like Chris Archer and Noah Syndergaard on those long-ago prospect lists. He’s only 23, and he’s coming off a pretty good half-season of success in 2015.

He could “shoot the moon” this year, as new Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in his introductory press conference last September.

“He’s the type of talent who could make huge strides in performance at any point,” Dipoto said this week in a follow-up text to Bleacher Report. “But for now, we’re quite satisfied with simply viewing him as one of our guys, no more, no less.”

The Mariners actually entered spring training with the public stance that Walker had to compete for a job, that he was one of three pitchers for the final two rotation spots. Even now, while it’s clear he will be there, Bob Dutton of the News Tribune believes the Mariners will start him fourth behind Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Wade Miley.

Really, though, Walker is the guy who could push the Mariners to something special.

He’s part of the reason Dipoto didn’t believe the M’s needed a total overhaul, why the new GM kept together the core that includes Hernandez as well as Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz. With Cano and Cruz in the middle of the order, and Hernandez and Walker atop the rotation, it’s not that hard to see the Mariners contending in the American League West.

It’s not that hard to see Walker as a guy who can help make it happen, based on the stuff that earned those high prospect rankings and the results that show he went 10-3 with a 3.62 ERA over his final 20 starts in 2015 (with supporting numbers to match). The Mariners can even see his ugly first two months as a positive because a young pitcher learned to figure things out without needing a trip back to Triple-A.

His results so far this spring have been so-so, including a Monday start in which he allowed four runs in 3.1 innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks. But it’s worth remembering Zack Greinke allowed three runs in 3.2 innings in the same game, and in another split-squad game on the same day, Hernandez gave up three runs in 2.1 innings.

It’s also worth remembering Walker had a spectacular spring in 2015, with a 0.67 ERA and a .114 opponents’ batting average. That performance no doubt had people suggesting the same thing we’re suggesting here: Walker could join King Felix and bring the Mariners to the top.

It’s easy to see super-young pitching and predict greatness, but there are cautionary tales everywhere that prove it doesn’t always happen. The Mariners themselves thought they were building a super-rotation, back when Baseball America was ranking Walker and Danny Hultzen ahead of Archer, and James Paxton ahead of Marcus Stroman.

Hultzen got hurt. Paxton is 27 and still hasn’t spent a full season in the big leagues. Maurer was traded to the San Diego Padres for Seth Smith.

Walker remains as the big hope.

He’s still young enough and talented enough, and the run of good starts last year felt like a possible breakthrough. As manager Scott Servais said in a tweet from Larry Stone of the Seattle Times:

Yes, it is fun to watch him pitch. It’ll be even more fun for Servais and the Mariners if Walker pitches them to October.

It could happen. This year.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Top Candidates to Enjoy Breakout Seasons for Arizona in 2015

Entering the 2015 season, the Arizona Diamondbacks are expected to be in a rebuilding mode but with a bright future.

Young players are dominating the D-backs rotation and starting lineup thus far in spring training. Chase Anderson (27), Rubby De La Rosa (26), Jeremy Hellickson (27) and Archie Bradley (22) are all confirmed as part of the rotation.

In the lineup, Chris Owings (23), Nick Ahmed (25) and Ender Inciarte (24) join Paul Goldschmidt, Mark Trumbo and A.J. Pollock as players under 30 who are entering the primes of their careers.

The abundance of youth will allow these players to grow and mature at the big league level right away. That bodes well for the future in Arizona.

Who among the young talent is poised to enjoy a breakout season in 2015? Let’s find out.

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5 Things We Learned About Mets in Spring Training

Opening Day is a little more than a week away, so that means it’s time to recap spring training and see what we have learned from the New York Mets in the past month.

The Mets currently have the best Grapefruit League record at 16-11. Of course, these spring training games do not count at all for the regular season, but the Mets’ offense has hit its stride lately, and hopefully this will carry over into the regular season, which begins on April 6.

Here are five things we have learned about the Mets in spring training.

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Predicting 5 Surprises from the Final Week of 2015 MLB Spring Training

We are now just a week from the start of the 2015 MLB season, but there is still a lot of work to do as teams make their final and, generally, most difficult decisions to trim their rosters down to 25 players.

That roster crunch always makes for at least a few surprises.

Whether it’s an unexpected non-roster invitee forcing his way onto a team, a deserving player winding up on the outside looking in, a late-spring trade or the outright release of an established veteran, a lot can happen before teams pack up and head north.

Predicting these moves is obviously tricky, but a glance at the projected outlook of each roster can potentially give us some hints.

What follows is a prediction of five surprises from the final week of spring training before the long-awaited arrival of Opening Day.

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3 Reasons to Be Optimistic for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 2015 Season

It’s not always easy to be optimistic for 2015 when your team finished the previous season with the worst record in MLB.

However, the Arizona Diamondbacks are not a typical last-place-caliber team. With most of the team returning strong, along with several key offseason acquisitions, anything less than an improvement from 2014 would be a disappointment.

Here are three reasons why the D-Backs should be optimistic as the 2015 season rapidly approaches.

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MLB Spring Training 2015: Intriguing Cuts Who Could Still Make an Impact

The crack of the bat, the pop of the ball meeting leather and roster cuts—they’re all an indelible part of spring.

While the first two elicit nostalgia, the last one is an undeniable bummer. Writing for Fox Sports, former major league hurler C.J. Nitkowski describes the agony of the annual ritual:

A Major League Baseball team will start spring training with anywhere from 55-65 players. It starts the regular season with just 25. That means 30-40 players in each camp get the dreaded tap on the shoulder, usually from the hitting or pitching coach, ‘The manager needs to talk to you.’

Ugh, I get that same pit in my stomach just typing those words, you know what’s coming. It is an awful feeling, you’re getting sent down, or worse, released.

But getting axed from the big league roster, or even cut loose altogether, isn’t a death sentence. Every year, a gaggle of players—some prospects, some veteransreturn from their March exile to make an impact. 

Who will it be this year? Let’s take a look at a few early candidates, guys who’ve been demoted as of March 27 yet appear primedbecause of potential, past results or both—to catch on and produce at some point this season.

What follows isn’t an exhaustive list. Rather, it’s a sampling of intriguing names with the ability and opportunity to work their way from spring cuts to summer players. 

Many are flying under the radar; some have never tasted the big leagues. But they all share a common dream: cut today, back tomorrow.

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Complete Dodgers’ 2015 Season Preview

As spring training nears a close for MLB teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers can start to focus their attention on Opening Day.

Besides a completely new front office, half of the infield and about 40 percent of the starting rotation will feature new faces, ones the Dodgers have entrusted to carry the team back to the top of the National League West and beyond.

Fans heard about the metrics all winter, and now they have finally seen the players on the field instead of on a sheet of paper or computer screen. There have been relatively few disappointments at Camelback Ranch so far as the team molds itself into shape for the real deal.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Dodgers in advance of their first game of the season on April 6 against the San Diego Padres.

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Final Predictions for MLB’s Most Hotly Contested Spring Position Battles

The Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues are winding down. The 2015 Major League Baseball season approaches. We said baseball! Can you taste it?

Yet with less than two weeks remaining in the exhibition slate, some of the spring’s most hotly contested position battles linger, unresolved. And there’s no guarantee they’ll be resolved once the games count; a few could stay fluid well into the regular season.

Still, someone’s going to get the Opening Day nod at all nine positions for all 30 teams. It’s simple math, people.

In many cases, it’s obvious by now who that someone will be. In other cases, it’s clear as pine tar, even with the calendar nudging toward April.  

Let’s examine a handful of those ongoing diamond auditions, break down the competition and pick winners based on the best available evidence and a dash of gut feeling.

What follows isn’t an exhaustive list; we’re leaving off fifth-starter skirmishes and focusing on position players. Even then, these aren’t the only competitions going on around the league.

But they are among the most interesting, either because of the names involved, the potential impact to the team in question or both.

OK, enough preamble—on to the battles.

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Miggy and V-Mart Back Thumping in Heart of Tigers’ Order: Thursday MLB Takeaways

At the start of spring training, the possibility existed that the Detroit Tigers’ top two hitters might miss the start of the 2015 Major League Baseball season. With only a little more than a week left before Opening Day, however, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez look ready to rock.

Both Cabrera, who has been recovering from offseason ankle and foot surgery, and Victor Martinez, who needed surgery in February after tearing the meniscus in his left knee, were back in the lineup together on Thursday. Oh, and each hit a home run to lift the Tigers to a 6-4 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

With Detroit down 3-2 in the sixth, Cabrera hit this low-lining laser off the Baltimore Orioles’ Tommy Hunter that somehow cleared the left-field wall to tie it up:

The drive was especially impressive because Cabrera managed not only to turn on a fastball down and in, but also shoot it out with a swing that initially looked like it might have resulted in a hard ground ball.

Two innings later, Martinez’s two-run knock—a much more majestic rain-maker to right—came against Kevin Gausman and broke the deadlock:

Martinez and Cabrera combined for three hits and five RBI—the first three of the spring for Cabrera and first two for Martinez—in the victory. Detroit also went with a lineup that should be very similar to its Opening Day one-through-nine now that the club’s two biggest bats are back.

The Tigers lost some of their once-dominant pitching when they traded Rick Porcello and let Max Scherzer walk. But their offense—now featuring Yoenis Cespedes, who also homered Thursday, and J.D. Martinez for a full season—is going to be dangerous as long as Miggy and V-Mart are healthy.

Given the talent influx in the AL Central, which houses everybody’s popular preseason pick, the Cleveland Indians, the much-improved Chicago White Sox and, oh, by the way, last year’s AL champion Kansas City Royals, Detroit is going to have to rely on its stalwart sluggers.


Orioles, Chris Tillman Talking Extension?

Chris Tillman made some headlines Thursday, and not just for holding the mighty Tigers offense in check for much of the game, allowing just two earned on five hits with a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 5.1 frames, thus becoming the first starter to pitch into the sixth inning this spring.

Tillman also has been the subject of speculation that he could be inking a long-term extension:

While that report is promising, it doesn’t mean that a deal of any sort is imminent, even with the theoretical Opening Day deadline.

In fact, that’s just what the soon-to-be 27-year-old told Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com: “We’re not going to continue that into the season. We’ve got two weeks [left] for the most part.”

For the O’s, there’s no real rush, as Tillman remains under team control through the 2017 season. Then again, he did lead a starting rotation that was one of just four to sport a sub-3.00 ERA in the second half of last season. In that span, the right-hander had a brilliant 2.33 ERA and 1.01 WHIP.


Yasiel Puig Stays Red-Hot

Yasiel Puig is trying to give Kris Bryant a run for his money. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ star outfielder powered a 9-6 win by homering for the second day—and his third game—in a row, this time smashing a two-run shot off Brad Penny (yep, that Brad Penny), now of the Chicago White Sox.

After a slow start to spring that saw his batting average sitting at .174 through his first nine games, Puig has gone 6-for-15 with three long balls and eight RBI in his past five contests.

That’s certainly a promising sign for the Dodgers, who need the uber-talented but streaky outfielder to work on being more consistent and picking up the offensive slack that left when the team let Hanley Ramirez sign with the Boston Red Sox and traded Matt Kemp to the San Diego Padres.

Remember, amid an MVP-caliber first half in 2014, Puig went into a power-outage funk from late May into early September, hitting just two homers in 88 games, including one 33-game homerless drought.


David Robertson Battling Arm Soreness

While it’s not necessarily a major concern (yet?), it’s also never a good thing when a club’s new $46 million closer has allowed 11 baserunners and four earned runs in his first 4.2 frames this spring—and is dealing with a bout of forearm soreness, according to Colleen Kane of The Chicago Tribune.

For what it’s worth, Robertson isn’t worried. “I don’t think anything is wrong,” Robertson said via Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago. “I’m not going for MRIs or anything like that. I just got a little soreness. This late in the season, I don’t want to sit there and push something and end up being injured for the start of the season.”

After a pair of disappointing seasons but a busy—and buzz-y—offseason, the Chicago White Sox have a lot riding on 2015 after trading for Jeff Samardzija and signing Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke in addition to Robertson.

While Robertson might not be the most important of those newbies, he does have the task of trying to straighten out a bullpen that hung a 4.38 ERA in 2014, the third-worst in baseball. To do that, he’ll need his full health.


Rangers’ Opening Day Nod Goes to Gallardo

Born in Mexico, Yovani Gallardo grew up a fan of the Texas Rangers. It made for a good story, then, when the 29-year-old was traded to them this offseason. Now that Gallardo has been announced the club’s Opening Day starter, per Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, it makes for an even better narrative.

Gallardo will be starting his sixth straight opener, the last five of which came with the Milwaukee Brewers, the team he tops in strikeouts all time.

“It’s definitely an honor and a privilege to get that ball in Game 1,” Gallardo said. “To have the opportunity to go out there and start Game 1 for a team that I grew up watching as a young kid definitely means a lot more.”

If nothing else, this is the silver lining to the black cloud that has been ace Yu Darvish’s torn ulnar collateral ligament and subsequent Tommy John surgery this spring.


To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

3 Things We Learned About the Red Sox in Spring Training

Spring training declarations are a difficult beast to tackle. Putting too much weight in March statistics would be misguided, as Jake Fox and his 10 Grapefruit League home runs in 2011 remind us. “Jake Who?” you ask? Precisely. 

At the same time, this is the first extended look at the 30 MLB clubs, and in some cases managers are determining roster spots based on performance. So these games aren’t entirely meaningless; they just have to be viewed through the proper lens. 

Are Xander Bogaerts‘ struggles (.222 average) really cause for concern, or is he merely a slow starter the way David Ortiz has been throughout his career (.227 career spring training average)? For a player of Bogaerts‘ pedigree I’d advise stepping away from the ledge and waiting for real games before inciting panic. His on-base percentage is more encouraging (.333), and he’s slugged a pair of home runs. A better start would have been welcomed after his roller-coaster 2014, but it’s too early to say anything definitive about the 22-year-old at this point. 

That said, there are some takeaways we can glean from what we’ve seen in Fort Myers so far. 

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