NL West spring training preview: Young players looking to shine
The Diamondbacks are counting on Trevor Cahill and, perhaps, Trevor Bauer
The Giants need to figure out a way to keep Brandon Belt's bat in the lineup
Jerry Sands leads a slew of young Dodgers who could have an impact in '12
This week, Cliff Corcoran will break down what to expect from each team's camp as part of SI.com's spring training preview. Teams are listed by their order of finish from 2011. Note: The Big Prospect is a player who will be in camp and has not yet debuted in the major leagues.
The Big Question: Was Trevor Cahill worth Jarrod Parker?
There are two ways to look at Trevor Cahill, the young righty the D-backs acquired in a trade with Oakland last December. The first is that he is a young stud who won't be 24 until March 1, went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA in 2010, making that year's AL All-Star team, and has seen his strikeout rate improve in each of his three major league seasons. The other view is that he has a still-weak strikeout rate (6.4 K/9 in 2011) and poor numbers outside of the A's pitching-friendly ballpark (4.71 career road ERA), was helped in 2010 by an unsustainably low .237 opponents' batting average on balls in play and was merely average in his other two major league seasons.
There are also two ways to look at Jarrod Parker. The first is as a top-10 draft pick and future front-of-the-rotation pitcher who should crack Oakland's starting five this year. The second is as an unproven minor league righty who has already had one major surgery (Tommy John in 2009), is only eight months younger than Cahill, and might wind up in the bullpen.
This trade could go either way, but Cahill could help ease nervous Diamondbacks fans by getting a lot of groundballs and strikeouts this spring.
The Big Battle: Leftfield
Another curious move the D-backs made this offseason was to sign lefthanded outfielder Jason Kubel to a two-year, $16 million contract despite the fact that he didn't represent a clear upgrade on the player he would seem to have been signed to replace in the lineup, fellow lefty Gerardo Parra. Kubel had a strong age-27 season in 2009 but has hit a combined .266/.331/.446 in the two seasons seasons prior to that one and the two since and is a liability in the field and on the bases thanks in part to a major knee injury suffered in his early twenties.
Parra, meanwhile, is a career .282/.331/.403 hitter in the major leagues, makes up for the difference in slugging with speed and legitimate Gold Glove quality defense, and, as a 24-year-old, is still maturing at the plate. The Diamondbacks' plan seems to be to give Kubel the majority of the playing time in leftfield while trying to keep Parra in the lineup on a semi-regular basis as a fourth outfielder playing all three positions. Instead, Parra should be given a fair chance to keep his job, while Kubel's defensive profile should be expanded to include first base.
The Big Prospects: Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs
One reason Arizona was able to gamble on the Parker/Cahill trade is that it has two more stud pitching prospects on the way in 21-year-old righty Trevor Bauer, the third overall pick in last year's draft, and 20-year-old lefty Tyler Skaggs, acquired from the Angels in the Dan Haren trade of 2010, both of whom struck out more than 11 men per nine innings after being promoted to Double-A late last year. Both will be in camp this spring and could be battling for a major league rotation spot a year from now.
The Big Question: Where is Brandon Belt going to play?
A fifth-round pick in 2009, Belt has hit .343/.457/.596 in 825 minor league plate appearances over two seasons, including a .291/.436/.535 line in 273 trips for Triple-A Fresno. The 6-foot-5 lefty is exactly what the underpowered Giants' need, but last year they jerked him around, making him their Opening Day starter at first base only to demote him before the end of April. It was his bad luck to get hit on the wrist by a pitch soon after being recalled in late May, but after that fracture healed, the Giants kept him in the minors, then made him ride the major league bench in late July.
It wasn't until mid-August that they finally put him back in the lineup on a semi-regular basis as a leftfielder. All that so that Aubrey Huff could hit .249/.309/.381 at first base. The Giants ranked 29th out of the 30 major league teams with a mere 3.52 runs scored per game. So, seriously, now, where is Brandon Belt going to play this year?
The Big Battle: Shortstop
Sophomore Brandon Crawford can pick 'em, but he can't hit 'em. Free agent addition Ryan Theriot can hit lefties (.301/.373/.401 career), but his viability at shortstop is questionable. Incumbent Mike Fontenot falls somewhere between the two, with solid defense and a capable, but not particularly thrilling platoon bat from the left-side (.267/.337/.413 against righties on his career). The Giants will need to piece together 162 games at shortstop from that trio.
The Big Prospect: Gary Brown
The 24th overall pick in 2010 out of Cal State Fullerton, centerfielder Gary Brown made his full-season debut in High-A last year and hit .336/.407/.519 with 13 triples and 53 stolen bases. The California League can inflate hitting stats, but the 23-year-old Brown is the real deal and on the fast-track to the majors.
The Big Question: How much of an opportunity will Jerry Sands get?
Sands is no Brandon Belt, but as a rookie last year, he out-hit Juan Rivera, his primary rival for the leftfield job this spring, and was within spitting distance of first baseman James Loney's modest batting line. The 24-year-old righty has played his share of both the outfield corners and first base in the minors and, on a team desperate from production from someone other than Matt Kemp, comes to camp as a .286/.376/.576 career hitter in the minor leagues, including a .278/.344/.586 line in 418 Triple-A plate appearances, though he got a boost from the hitting friendly environment in Las Vegas on that last line.
Sands -- who hit .253/.338/.389 in 61 games for Los Angeles last season -- isn't a future star, but given how little potential the Dodgers' lineup has, he should be given a chance to start somewhere this season as he would seem to have an upside his rivals lack.
The Big Battle: Closer
The Dodgers will have open competitions at third base and catcher this spring, but the most interesting battle could take place in the bullpen. That's where Kenley Jansen, a 24-year-old with a career strikeout rate of 15.3 K/9, will challenge 26-year-old Javy Guerra for the closer's job, and where off-season addition Todd Coffey and the returning Mike MacDougal give the Dodgers eight pitchers who likely expect to break camp as a member of L.A.'s bullpen.
The Big Prospect: Alfredo Silverio
The Dodger's top prospect is 20-year-old righty starter Zach Lee, their top draft pick in 2010, but he won't be in major league camp this spring. Nor will several other of the organization's top pitching prospects, all of whom are still in the low minors. That makes 24-year-old outfielder Alfredo Silverio the prospect to watch.
The toolsy Silverio hit .306/.340/.542 in Double-A last year, with 18 triples helping to inflate that slugging percentage. He's not a perfect prospect. He's better in a corner than in center, is a lousy basestealer despite his speed, doesn't walk, will turn 25 in early May and has yet to crack Triple-A, but, as with Sands, the Dodgers need to focus more on what their hitting prospects might do than what they might not.