This week, pitchers and catchers for all 30 Major League Baseball teams will be reporting to spring training to begin preparation for the 2013 season, marking the beginning of baseball season.
Teams will be prepping for a run at the defending champions San Francisco Giants and the ultimate goal of a World Series title.
Spring training in MLB takes place in two places: the Grapefruit League in Florida, and the Cactus League in Arizona. Teams will be using this time filling holes, solving position battles, getting their first looks at offseason acquisitions, a better look at top prospects and getting physically prepared for the new season.
Each team has different holes to fill. For example, the National Leagure-favorite Washington Nationals will be going into camp with a decision to make on the seventh member of their bullpen, while the Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins will be trying to determine nearly all of their lineup and rotation.
Position battles are always entertaining for fans, as most choose sides and defend their chosen player. Some interesting battles going into 2013 are the Arizona Diamondbacks' and Oakland A’s outfield situations — they both have four starters for three spots — and the Chicago Cubs’ third base competition.
After an offseason full of moves, spring training represents the first opportunity for fans and teams to see new players playing meaningful baseball for their team.
In particular, the Los Angeles Dodgers will have a number of new faces in camp. Additionally, teams like the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels will be showing off their new stars.
Other teams will be introducing new managers, and spring training will give an idea of what these managers want to accomplish. This will be the first spring training for new Colorado Rockies manager Walter Weiss and Houston Astros manager Bo Porter.
Of less interest to fans, but an important part of spring training for executives is the fresh look at top prospects in more advanced action.
Organizations will be judging whether or not the best prospects in the game, such as Oscar Taveras (Cardinals), Jurickson Profar (Rangers), Travis d’Arnaud (Mets), Dylan Bundy (Orioles) and Wil Myers (Rays) are ready to begin their promising MLB careers.
These looks often lead to games filled with substitutions and players who are relatively unknown getting into games in the late innings. This can lead to some hilarious situations such as a TV broadcast calling a Cardinals prospect “Minor League Guy on Third,” but it also means that the results aren’t measured on the scoreboard.
Finally, some teams will be trying to get healthy in time for Opening Day. Teams that rely on older stars like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, will be using this time to get their stars prepared for one more run at a title.
This spring training also has a few quirks.
First, there are still two big-name free agents who remain unsigned in Scott Boras’ clients Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse. Due to new rules regarding free agent signings and draft compensation, both players have struggled to find the deal they want. With spring training beginning both will be looking to wrap up this situation and get to know their new teams.
Second, this season marks the third World Baseball Classic, in which a number of Major League stars will be participating. The WBC will run from March 2-19, directly over spring training. This means that star players such as Miguel Cabrera, Felix Hernandez and Ryan Braun will not be in camp for this time as they compete for their country.
While the statistical results themselves aren’t completely relevant, spring training is still an important part of the baseball season. Every team — from fringe contenders such as the Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates to World Series favorites such as the Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds — will be looking to send an early message that 2013 is their year.