Spring Training Preview of National League Central Division Teams
The Associated Press
A team-by-team look at the National League Central entering spring training, including key players each club acquired and lost, and dates of the first workout for pitchers and catchers, and the full squad:
Manager: Bryan Price (second season).
2014: 76-86, fourth place.
Training Town: Goodyear, Arizona.
Park: Goodyear Ballpark.
First Workout: Feb. 19/24.
He’s Here: LF Marlon Byrd, RHP Burke Badenhop, RHP Kevin Gregg, RHP Raisel Iglesias.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Mat Latos, RHP Alfredo Simon, LF Ryan Ludwick, INF Jack Hannahan.
Going campin’: A lot of attention will be on first baseman Joey Votto, who missed 99 games last season and didn’t play after July 5 because of strained muscles above his left knee. If he’s back to his MVP form of 2010, an offense that struggled to score runs will be much better. The Reds also are looking to fill out a rotation missing Latos and Simon, who were traded in the offseason. Left-hander Tony Cingrani missed much of last season with a sore shoulder and will get a chance to win one of the spots. The other one is open to competition. The middle of the bullpen is a work in progress after a rough 2014. Leadoff hitter Billy Hamilton is working on his bunting and improving his steal percentage after an impressive rookie season.
St. Louis Cardinals
Manager: Mike Matheny (fourth season).
2014: 90-72, first place, lost to Giants in NLCS.
Training Town: Jupiter, Florida.
Park: Roger Dean Stadium.
First Workout: Feb. 20/25.
He’s Here: OF Jason Heyward, RHP Matt Belisle, RHP Jordan Walden.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Shelby Miller, RHP Pat Neshek, C A.J. Pierzynski, INF Daniel Descalso, 2B Mark Ellis, RHP Justin Masterson, OF Shane Robinson, RHP Tyrell Jenkins.
Going campin’: Were it not for the shocking death of promising outfielder Oscar Taveras last fall, the Cardinals might have needed just minor tweaks coming off their 11th postseason appearance in 15 seasons. They’ll begin the process of wooing Heyward, entering the final year of his contract. The trade with Atlanta cost them Miller, and they could use a young standout as part of their core with Matt Holliday entering the last two years of his contract. Carlos Martinez gets an extended shot at winning the vacant fifth spot in the rotation, with lefty Marco Gonzales also in the mix after a strong finish to his rookie year. Jon Jay comes to camp with a two-year contract and as the starting center fielder after fighting off a challenge from Peter Bourjos last year. Walden could inherit the setup job from the departed Neshek, who was a first-time All-Star, and Belisle figures as a swing man.
Manager: Clint Hurdle (fifth season).
2014: 88-74, second place, lost to Giants in wild-card game.
Training Town: Bradenton, Florida.
Park: McKechnie Field.
First Workout: Feb. 19/24.
He’s Here: RHP A.J. Burnett, C Francisco Cervelli, INF Jung Ho Kang, OF Corey Hart, LHP Antonio Bastardo, RHP Radhames Liz.
He’s Outta Here: C Russell Martin, RHP Edinson Volquez, SS Clint Barmes, 1B Ike Davis, OF Travis Snider, LHP Justin Wilson, RHP Jeanmar Gomez, 1B Gaby Sanchez.
Going campin’: Pittsburgh proved its breakthrough 2013 was no fluke, surging to a second straight playoff berth last year. It ended with a quick exit at the hands of the World Series champion Giants. Then the Pirates re-signed starter Francisco Liriano to the richest free-agent contract in club history ($39 million over three years). Liriano anchors the rotation with Gerrit Cole, and Pittsburgh also brought back Burnett from Philadelphia to eat innings. The biggest pitching questions are at the back of the rotation, where Jeff Locke and Brandon Cumpton compete for the fifth starter’s spot while Charlie Morton recovers from hip surgery. The bullpen is searching for a little more depth, but pitching coach Ray Searage has often been able to coax the most out of his relievers. The lineup remains built around perennial MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen. Pedro Alvarez transitions from third base to first after struggling last season. The addition of Kang from South Korea should provide insurance up the middle — and maybe more. The only real position battle is in right field, where Gregory Polanco, Andrew Lambo and Hart will all get a chance to impress.
Manager: Ron Roenicke (fifth season).
2014: 82-80, third place.
Training Town: Phoenix.
Park: Maryvale Baseball Park.
First workout: Feb. 22/26.
He’s Here: 1B Adam Lind, RHP Corey Knebel, INF Luis Sardinas, RHP Chris Perez, LHP Neal Cotts, LHP Dontrelle Willis, C Juan Centeno.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Yovani Gallardo, RHP Francisco Rodriguez, 2B Rickie Weeks, 1B-3B Mark Reynolds, 1B Lyle Overbay, RHP Marco Estrada, LHP Zach Duke, LHP Tom Gorzelanny.
Going campin’: How long will it take for this team to get over the bitter taste of last year’s late-season swoon? The Brewers hope to move on quickly in spring training. Instead of a complete overhaul, general manager Doug Melvin tweaked the roster that had been in first place in the NL Central for the first five months of 2014. Lind will be counted on to be the solution at first base while providing left-handed pop in a lineup where most of the power comes from the right side. Rodriguez could yet be back to close after saving 44 games last year. If not, Jonathan Broxton would get a shot to assume the closer’s role. But the Brewers ultimately believed that a full year of a healthy Ryan Braun will help cure the hitting woes that the feast-or-famine lineup slogged through in September. All eyes from the start at Maryvale will focus on whether an offseason medical procedure will finally fix the nerve damage near Braun’s right thumb that affected his swing for much of the past two years. Young right-hander Jimmy Nelson’s development will also bear watching this spring. He’s slated to rejoin the rotation after Gallardo was traded to Texas in the offseason.
Manager: Joe Maddon (first season).
2014: 73-89, fifth place.
Training Town: Mesa, Arizona.
Park: Sloan Park.
First Workout: Feb. 20/25.
He’s Here: LHP Jon Lester, C Miguel Montero, CF Dexter Fowler, RHP Jason Hammel, RHP Jason Motte, C David Ross.
He’s Outta Here: Manager Rick Renteria, 3B Luis Valbuena.
Going campin’: After five straight losing seasons, the Cubs made it clear they’re ready to make a jump. Hiring Maddon after they told Renteria he would return for a second season was the first big signal, and signing Lester to a six-year deal worth $155 million erased any doubt. They now have one of baseball’s top managers along with a three-time All-Star leading the rotation. More than anything, there’s a feeling of renewal and hope surrounding a long-downtrodden franchise that last won the World Series in 1908 and hasn’t captured the pennant in 70 years. Talented shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo are coming off All-Star seasons. Promising prospects Javier Baez and Jorge Soler arrived in the majors last year and there are more in the pipeline, such as slugger Kris Bryant. Their development will be crucial if Chicago is going to return to contention, let alone bring home a championship.