Just three days, count ’em – three, until Spring Training begins for the Phillies. All over Florida and Arizona, teams will begin filing in for the extended beginning of the baseball season. It’s nice to know we’re so close to having baseball in our lives for the next seven or eight months.
If you’ve been keeping track – and I’m sure you have – you know the rest of the NL East has undergone a transformation. Each team has done something to try and dethrone the Phillies from their perch atop the division. Below, we look at some things to watch for when Spring Training opens.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: Can Juan Pierre win a spot on the roster?
We know what Jonathan Papelbon is capable of. He’s been in the league forever and is one of the best at his position. It’s a foregone conclusion he will make a difference. Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix, Jim Thome; they all figure to get steady playing time. Dontrelle Willis is an interesting subject, but he seems to have solid chance at a late-inning bullpen role. That basically leaves one spot remaining on the roster.
The man to win it could very well be veteran outfielder Juan Pierre. Look for the Phillies to give him plenty of opportunities to make the team. If he has any speed remaining in those 34-year-old legs, he could be nice asset to have as the Phillies 5th outfielder. He’ll also be in a fight with Scott Podsednik, among others, for the final roster position.
ATLANTA BRAVES: Can they hit?
What a wild season for the Braves in 2011. Heading into the season, the lineup looked rather formidable. Jason Heyward tore it up in his rookie season, so the Braves were hoping for more. They brought in Dan Uggla. Martin Prado, Brian McCann, and Chipper Jones still resided there. On the surface, it didn’t look awful. But it pretty much came crashing down.
Uggla had pronounced ebbs and flows throughout 2011, Heyward had a sophomore slump, Prado and Jones, of course, dealt with injuries.
Can they overcome those and have a better offense in 2012? Their playoff lives depend on it. The starting rotation and bullpen can only do so much.
MIAMI MARLINS: How will Hanley Ramirez adjust?
In talking with many people around the league, there is a resounding negative opinion of Hanley Ramirez. His true character will be tested even more as the Marlins brought in Jose Reyes to man his old position, shortstop, leaving him as the everyday third baseman for 2012. Fantasy nerds rejoice, as Ramirez will have dual position eligibility!
Beyond that, we’ll find out what kind of player Ramirez is. The 28-year old had his worst season as a major leaguer in 2011, hitting just 10 home runs while missing 70 games, many of them stemming from a bum shoulder that required surgery.
An awful 2011 and now questions as to whether or not he’ll accept his new role; not good. “I don’t think he’s 100 percent on board, not yet,” Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen told MLB.com. “Not from the last time I talked with him. I don’t expect him to be. I expect him to be 100 percent on board with this move when we play St. Louis, the first day of the year”
Sounds like a team with a lot of talent and a lot questions pertaining to their best player.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS: Will Bryce Harper make the team
I’m also interested to see how the team will handle Stephen Strasberg this spring and into the season. Will they coddle him after he missed a full year due to Tommy John surgery?
Another interesting dilemma is, how will the Nats proceed with prospect Bryce Harper. We’ve all seen the videos, we’ve seen the ability, we know what he’s capable of. Can that sweet swing translate to the big leagues this season? The Nationals organization has to be chomping at the bit to see what he’s made of at the next level. However, they’ve stated many times before that they won’t rush the prodigy. Is that a good move or bad move?
The Nationals look close to being a full breakout team after 80 wins a season ago. If Bryce Harper hits the big stage, he could provide them a few more.
In Port St. Lucie, the Mets will need to find someone, anyone, to pick up the slack that was left when Reyes took $100 million-plus to go to Miami. Who can that be? Who knows.
Firstly, they’ll need Johan Santana to be close to the Johan of old, which is asking a hell of a lot. Not sure anyone knows what the Mets will get from a guy who has been crushed by shoulder surgery. He may not be ready for opening day. Beyond Santana, the starting rotation is probably the best thing they’ve got going.