Its that time of year…. The sun is shining in Florida and half the teams are here for the annual ritual of Spring Training!!! Sports writers and fans flock to Florida and Arizona in March to anxiously see what the players look like after the off-season. Did they work on any aspects of their game, add size or just relax? Everyone can’t wait to see if their teams have the right ingredients and their favorite players are primed for a great season.
Who are the pitchers from last season with the watchful eyes of the league upon them? Which pitcher is poised for a break-through season in 2014? Let’s examine some of the ones to watch this preseason down in Florida…
Pittsburgh Pirates – Francisco Liriano
Francisco Liriano stunned the National League last year by winning his second Comeback Player of the Year award in four years. In his first season with the Pirates, the 30 year old lefty went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and 163 strike outs. In 2012, Liriano went 6-12 with a 5.34 ERA and 167 strikeouts split between the Twins and White Sox.
His rebounding stellar work in 2013 was instrumental in propelling the Pirates to their first post-season appearance in 21 years, bringing home the excitement in Steel City baseball not seen since the Jim Leland era in the 1990’s. Liriano won the Comeback Player of the Year award in 2010 while with Minnesota when he went 14-10 and a 3.62 ERA, with 201 strike outs.
Early reports from his outings in Florida this spring indicate he is still on fire, and will likely be the candidate to start the Pirates home opener. Can’t you just hear the whoosh from the wind from bats fanning the dust off home plate? Striiikkkeee!
Detroit Tigers – Max Scherzer
Not only did Max Scherzer win the American League Cy Young award in 2013, he also got married in the off season, negotiated a new contract that made headlines and has a new manager in Detroit. Despite all of these possible distractions, he still was smoking fastballs between 92 -95 MPH in his first inning of his debut on Friday, February 28th versus the Yankees. Scouts were raving that he looked like he was in mid-season form rather than his first game since October. Scherzer is looking to post similar numbers to what he did in 2013: 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and a whopping 240 strike outs! Could we see another Cy Young for Scherzer in 2014? Tiger fans are dying to know…
Washington Nationals – Jordan Zimmerman
Jordan Zimmerman, a Wisconsin native, had his best season of his career last year going 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA, and 161 Strike outs. Zimmerman had Tommy John Surgery in 2009 and has been getting progressively better ever since. In 2013 he pitched a career high of 213 1/3 innings establishing himself as a mainstay in the Nationals lineup.
The 6’2” right-hander looked very strong in his spring debut in Viera, Florida on March 1st. Could Washington return to the playoffs again like they did a few years ago?
Miami Marlins – Jose Fernandez
The 2013 National League Rookie of the Year, Jose Fernandez is certainly getting a lot of attention this off season after his incredible opening performance with a 12-6 season and a 2.19 ERA, with a total of 187 Strike Outs. Fernandez has the appearance of a confident 21 year old with ice in his veins when the pressure is on.
Perhaps that is why he finished 3rd in voting for the Cy Young during his Rookie debut season. Look for great things from this promising right-hander in 2014, as well as a lot of frustrated hitters.
Other Veterans to Watch in 2014
It is early to start making long term predictions with the Grapefruit League games just starting, but there are two notable veteran pitchers that will be interesting to watch in 2014: Baltimore Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez and Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle.
Gonzalez went 11-8 with a 3.78 ERA and 120 Strike outs in 2013, his career best, and was one of the Orioles most stable starters. He has battled some back spasms in spring training this year, but the 6’1” hurler is expected to improve on his numbers this coming season.
Buehrle, largely regarded as the fastest working pitcher in the entire league, is entering into his second season in his new home in Toronto. This spring training he is making preparations for the coming the season with a new catcher, Dioner Navarro. Early reports is that he has a renewed confidence with the relationship with his new catcher, and is expected to improve upon his performance of the 2013 season where he went 12-10 with just a 4.15 ERA. Beurhle is perhaps best remembered for his July 23rd, 2009 performance against Tampa where he threw the 18th Perfect Game in league history. Anyone remember his Letterman debut that night? “The Top 10 things that went through Mark Buehrle’s mind during his Perfect Game…”
Young Arms to watch in 2014
Anthony Ranaudo is a new young gun in the Boston Red Sox farm system and is one to watch this coming season. The 6’7” right-hander could be the next big star in Boston as he went 11-5 with an impressive 2.96 ERA in Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket last season. He racked up 127 strike outs over 140 innings and shows the command and polish necessary for the show. This young talented future All-star could likely be on the mound in Fenway sooner than expected.
Of course no one can forget Brandon Workman, the young Rookie who took the stage in Game 6 of the World Series for Boston in October! He came in and shut down the Cardinals 1, 2, 3!!! This talented young gun could be off to another impressive year in Fenway after having helped capture the first home World Series win in Boston in a century. He certainly will have the backing of the Red Sox fan base going into the 2014 season. Wouldn’t you want to keep this gun slinger around, even if just for the fans? Let’s hope his star continues to shine.
So its the official beginning of the season as Spring Games kick off. Let me know what you think of your favorite team and players this year.