ESPN baseball reporters Tim Kurkjian and Buster Olney, both of whom spent extensive time at Spring Training in Arizona and Florida, share their perspectives in advance of the 2010 Major League Baseball season. Kurkjian provides his top storylines heading into the season, while Olney describes his top observations from Spring Training:
Tim Kurkjian’s Top Storylines
Jason Heyward’s Rookie Season
Kurkjian – “Braves outfielder Jason Heyward is the most exciting everyday player to come into the big leagues in the last 10 years or so. He told me he is 6’6” and 250 pounds, in uniform. He may be the missing ingredient to get them to the playoffs, and I believe they will win the N.L. wild card. They had a hole in their lineup and he can fill it, which is amazing for a 20 year old. I will be watching his progress every day and the Braves are convinced he will be a very good player right from the start.”
Major League Debuts of Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman
Kurkjian – “When will we see starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman? Washington’s Strasburg has been terrific this spring, but clearly the Nationals are not going to rush him. There is no need to do that right now. His stuff is Major League ready; he just needs a little experience facing professional hitters. I would be surprised if he wasn’t in the Major Leagues by June 1.
“Cincinnati’s Chapman is going to be in the Majors before June 1. He also has sensational stuff – fastball in the high 90s, and he threw two changeups on 3-2 counts in one start this spring. He had a minor back spasm that probably kept him from making the team, but I’d be surprised if he wasn’t in the Reds rotation by the middle of May.”
Will the Tampa Bay Rays Win the Division, or Make the Playoffs, with Crawford and Peña?
Kurkjian – “Carl Crawford and Carlos Peña are both free agents after the season, and it is almost certain that Crawford will leave via free agency. There is a chance Peña will go, also. I sensed an urgency with the Rays this spring. They know these guys could be gone, making this season more important than ever. With those two guys, the Rays are good enough to make the playoffs. If for some reason the Rays are not in contention by the end of July – which I don’t anticipate happening – they may have to trade one or both of them.”
Can Roy Halladay Take the Phillies Back to the World Series?
Kurkjian – “If Roy Halladay can lead the Phillies back to the World Series, they would be the first N.L. team since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals to make it to the World Series three years in a row. I believe the Phillies are the best team in the N.L. again, and Halladay is probably the best pitcher in baseball. He will probably be even better this year pitching in the National League, pitching for a team that will support him offensively and is so good defensively. He’ll be pitching in a smaller ballpark, but when he is right – which is most of the time – he throws a lot of ground balls.”
Will the Padres Trade Adrian Gonzalez?
Kurkjian – “Adrian Gonzalez is the best player that could be traded before the July 31 deadline. The Padres would like to keep him and sign him long term, but they might be better suited trading him for three or four young players to rebuild their system and their Major League team. The Red Sox and White Sox are teams, at least for now, that might logically take a run at Gonzalez if he is made available this summer.”
Buster Olney’s Top Spring Training Observations
The Braves Could be Really, Really Good
Olney – “The Braves have a chance to be a really, really good team. There were two big questions about them going into Spring Training – 1) can they hit? and 2) will Tim Hudson bounce back? They have gotten affirmative answers in both cases. With the addition of rookie Jason Heyward and Troy Glaus, they look like they’ll have a dangerous offense, and scouts love what they’ve seen in Hudson. The lingering question now: can Chipper Jones and Glaus stay relatively healthy and give the Braves at least 130 games apiece?”
D-Backs Have a Large Hole in Starting Rotation
Olney – “The Diamondbacks have a huge hole in their rotation, where they had hoped to have Brandon Webb. There is glass-half-full view of this – the D-Backs counted on Webb to help give them a powerful 1-2-3 in their rotation, and Webb still hasn’t thrown off a mound yet; the D-Backs have no idea when he’ll be able to pitch.”
The Twins are Spending Cash
Olney – “The Minnesota Twins are not some gritty, plucky, small-budget team anymore. As the $184 million signing of Joe Mauer and the move to Target Field demonstrate, the Twins – with a payroll close to $100 million – have become a legitimate second-tier power, in the class of the Cardinals and Giants. This means, if they need a closer in mid-season to replace Joe Nathan, they’ll go and get one.”
Despite Great Moves by Mariners, Little Margin for Error
Olney – “The Mariners had a great offseason, and yet it is increasingly clear that they don’t have much margin for error. All signs are good that Cliff Lee will be back sometime in April from his oblique injury, which is good for the Mariners because they can’t win without he and Felix Hernandez being great. They don’t have enough offense or rotation depth to make up for a significant injury.”
The Rays are Loaded
Olney – “The Rays are absolutely loaded, and might be the best team in the Majors – as we start the season. Whether or not they can make mid-season additions the way the Yankees and Red Sox do is another question altogether. For now, this is a great team. A rival GM told me, ‘If baseball was played with 15 guys, rather than nine, the Rays would win 130 games because they have so much depth.’”