Here we are, folks. The offseason? All gone. Spring Training is here...and that means baseball!
Feel free to use the comments below to post pictures, tweets, and all of the rest of that good stuff we'll get throughout the day. In the meantime, I wanted to run through a list of some of the under-the-radar stories we'll see play out in the next month.
Is Andy LaRoche's talent really gone for good?
Do slick-fielding third basemen with a career .900 minor league OPS grow on trees? Not exactly. There's a reason LaRoche was named on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list four years in a row, including two years in the top twenty. So what happened? The Dodgers gave him a shot in 2007 and 2008, where he proceeded to OPS .664. He was then included in the three-way Manny Ramirez trade, where he was sent to Pittsburgh. With the Pirates, he got over 1000 plate appearances, putting up an abysmal .637 OPS. He clearly had talent in the minors, but it seemed to all vanish on the biggest stage. The A's signed him this offseason to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Kevin Kouzmanoff clearly has the 3B job locked up, but what would happen if LaRoche had a stellar spring?
How is Bobby Cramer's new changeup?
Flashfire snagged a fantastic interview with Bobby Cramer, which ran on this site last week. (Drop whatever you're doing and read it now, if you haven't yet. Part 1. Part 2.) One of the interesting revelations that came up was that Cramer had finally figured out how to throw a quality changeup, which, if successful, would expand his repertoire from two pitches to a three-pitch arsenal. Is that enough to take the fifth starter job away from Brandon McCarthy, Rich Harden, Tyson Ross, and company?
Who is the odd man out in the bullpen?
Assuming everybody's healthy (a freak chance, I know), we've got spots guaranteed to Andrew Bailey, Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour, Michael Wuertz, and Craig Breslow. With a twelve-man pitching staff, that leaves two spots for Brad Ziegler, Jerry Blevins, Joey Devine, and the runner-up of the fifth starter competition as the long relief guy. Who stays? Who goes?
Is Fautino de los Santos going to be a household name by this time next year?
Believe it or not, Gio Gonzalez wasn't necessarily the crown jewel of the Nick Swisher trade. A sizable amount of White Sox fans were more upset about losing Fautino de los Santos. At the time of the trade, Fautino was a starting pitcher in high-A ball, coming off of a season where he struck out 11.3 batters per nine innings, split between single-A Kannapolis and high-A Winston-Salem. That season earned him the 60th spot on Baseball America's 2008 Top Prospects list, and a solid B+ from John Sickels. Upon arriving in Oakland's system, he was placed at high-A Stockton...where he lasted only five games before being sidelined, eventually needing Tommy John surgery. He's finally back, this time as a reliever. By being taken out of the starting role, he managed to up his strikeout rate to 13.9, which is more than a third of the batters he faced. The A's have a strong track record of pulling top-notch relievers seemingly out of thin air (see: Andrew Bailey). Could de los Santos be next in line?