Spring training brings much promise

Published 8:01 am Sunday, March 1, 2015

One of the most wonderful times of the year is here.

Major League Baseball’s spring training officially began last week, with pitchers and catchers from all 32 MLB teams reporting to camp. For baseball fans, this is the most hopeful time of the year, and here are some of the reasons spring training is awesome:

 Youthful promise

MLB’s farm system is one of the great things that sets baseball apart from other professional leagues. Yes, the NHL and others develop players, but not to the extent of the minor league baseball. Thousands of minor leaguers swing for the big leagues each year. Some are touted as the next stars, many are it. Spring training is one of the best times for fans to see what all the hype is about.

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The twins have a lot of promise in the farm system. Six of their prospects are ranked in MLB.com’s top 100: outfielder Byron Buxton is No. 1, third-baseman Miguel Sano is ranked 11th, pitcher Alex Meyer is 29th, pitcher Jose Berrios is 32nd, shortstop Nick Gordon is 33rd and pitcher Kohl Stewart is 36th.

Spring games offer the first time to check out these big-time prospects before they make it to the big leagues. In spring training, they’re all about the promise. Right now, they’re all on the cusp of eventual stardom. Meyer, a flame-throwing starting pitcher, is toying with a changeup to bluster his pitching repertoire, while Buxton and Sano are returning from injuries.

Nevermind the fact that many prospects fail to live up to expectations. Details. Right now, they’re all about the potential.

Benefit of the doubt

At this point of the year, most players are all about the promise and upside. It’s the time to cross your fingers and hope the Twins’ rebuilt rotation and newcomer Ervin Santana can rebound from a sour 2014 (though I have my doubts).

As with any spring training, there are reports about who is fit and who isn’t. Seattle Mariner Jesus Montero, once considered a “can’t miss” prospect, has struggled badly the last few years. After reaching the majors in 2011 and showing promise by hitting .328 in 18 games, he hit .208 in 2013 and .235 in ’14 with a total of four homeruns and 11 runs batted in after being traded to Seattle, which was sour enough to get sent back to the minors. Last year, he put on weight and reported to camp at 275 pounds before spending the bulk of the season in the minors. This year, he reported at 230 pounds after spending the bulk of the offseason in extensive workouts. A recent Seattle Times article highlighted his rediscovered love of the game, and he has many people looking for a bounceback year.

Even New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabbathia — who has gained about 30 pounds since last spring — is saying the added weight is closer to his prime pitching years and that he feels more comfortable now. Never mind the fact that he is coming off knee surgery.

 New beginnings

The Twins are one of many teams enjoying the spirit of hope. For the Twins, it’s largely based on new manager Paul Molitor. He’s implemented a new spring training workout regimen, and he’s implementing new defensive schemes, which have some hoping for big things.

Several other teams are unveiling drastically different teams. The San Diego Padres, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Oakland As, and the Chicago White Sox, the Twins’ division rival, have all undergone offseason makeovers. The Washington Nationals added front-line start Max Scherzer in a $210 million contract and have World Series aspirations thanks to their stocked starting rotation. Nevermind the fact that the deal could prove terrible if the 30-year-old Scherzer’s production declines and the team doesn’t win a World Series.

 It’s spring training

While this winter hasn’t been quite as harsh as last year’s, Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of six more weeks of winter has been painfully right so far. Cabin fever is setting in. The National Football League’s training camp always feels a bit depressing because in August it signifies the end of summer. Spring training is just the opposite. Spring training is all about promise, the promise of a big season, the promise of the future, and the promise of warm weather and outdoor baseball.

Play ball.