What a great time of year.
The snow has melted in most parts of the country and here in Florida, where I have my winter dugout in the Orthodox enclave of Century Village in West Palm Beach, I had the opportunity to take in several spring training games.
Most of the games I see are in nearby Jupiter, spring training headquarters of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals. I also went a bit farther north up the coast to Port St. Lucie where the Mets train and made the three-hour trip west to Tampa to see the New York Yankees.
One of my personal highlights was being recognized via the photo on top of this column by a nice fortyish couple from Passaic, New Jersey. Wish I’d had more time to talk to them, but we were heading in different directions.
Anyway, after watching more than my share of innings, I feel I can make this observation: Don’t put any stock in what your favorite team does record-wise in spring training.
Remember this: Last year the Seattle Mariners compiled a 22-11 record in the Arizona Cactus League but once the regular season started they quickly went south in the standings, finishing 2013 with 91 losses and only 71 wins.
This year, of course, the Mariners plugged Robinson Cano into their weak-hitting lineup. The former Yankees second baseman batted .314 with 27 home runs and 107 runs batted in. Even with the added firepower, the Mariners should lose more games than they’ll win.
Many big-name players have changed uniforms via free agency and trades. Jacoby Ellsbury left Boston for a skyscraper-high pile of money to sign with the Yankees. Also taking the free agent route to the Bronx were outfielder Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and Japanese pitching superstar Masahiro Tanaka.
Tanaka last year won an eye-popping 24 games while losing none and recorded a dazzling 1.27 earned run average. But that was in Japan; on this side of the ocean the major league players are bigger and better. My prediction? Tanaka will win 14, lose nine, and post an ERA around 3.70.
While the new Yankees will bear watching, so will the Mets as they signed former Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon, who turns 41 in May but is better than most pitchers 15 years younger. The Mets also have hot pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard, a 6-6, 240-pounder who can throw 100 miles per hour and has star potential. The big question is when he’ll be ready to star.
Texas should be interesting to watch as the Rangers added slugging first baseman Prince Fielder and signed free agent Shin-Soo Choo.
Besides the established stars who find themselves in new surroundings, there will be interesting rookies to watch. Outfielder Byron Buxton and shortstop Miguel Sano of the Minnesota Twins are two of baseball’s brightest prospects and should make the majors sometime this season. Houston has shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder George Springer, both expected to be impact players. Springer is a potential Mike Trout kind of player who can hit for average and power and steal bases.
The California teams have two outfielders with at least one Jewish parent who are potential stars. Joc Pederson (Dodgers) and Zach Borenstein (Angels) are sluggers who hit for average in the low minors and could reach the majors by next season.
Two rookies, infielder Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox) and third baseman Nick Castsellanos (Tigers) are expected to battle it out for Rookie of the Year honors in the American League.
Having Castellanos allowed the Tigers to trade Prince Fielder to Texas for second baseman Ian Kinsler. The trade moved Miguel Cabrera back to first base and gave the Tigers improved defense at second base.
With a rising star at third and a defensive whiz at shortstop in Jose Iglesias backing up one of baseball’s best pitching staffs, the Tigers are my pick to top the American League Central Division.
The Texas Rangers should run away with the American League West and the Boston Red Sox will edge out Tampa Bay and New York in the tough American League East. Boston gets my nod because of its Japanese import closer Koji Uehara, who last year only allowed 33 hits and struck out a whopping 101 in 74.1 innings.
Oakland and Tampa Bay will be the American League Wild Card teams, but Detroit should top all opponents in the playoffs to represent the league in the World Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals will again top the National League Central as they keep bringing young impact players to the majors through their farm system. The Washington Nationals will top Atlanta for the Eastern Division title and the Los Angeles Dodgers will have an easy romp to the top in the West.
The National League wild card teams will be the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates but they’ll be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, leaving the Dodgers and Cardinals. I’m picking the Dodgers to go all the way and defeat the Tigers in a hard-fought seven game World Series.
But if you remember, I picked the Dodgers and Tigers last year and they never made it past the first round of the playoffs. What are your predictions?