Gammons: Stories abound as spring nears
Mets' health, Big Mac's return, Ackley's position intriguing
They're still human, which is why one year doesn't necessarily apply to the next and why Chase Utley may go to the Hall of Fame while his Little League teammate Sean Burroughs blew away. Players get hurt and they bleed, which is why these are 15 of the human storylines of the spring.
1. We saw the Jose Reyes sprint videos on Monday and got excited watching him, as we will when Carlos Beltran begins his workouts; the Mets with a right David Wright, Reyes, Jason Bay and Beltran are a far, far different team than the one that suffered through 2009. The health of Brandon Webb, Jeff Francis and Chad Billingsley will seriously impact what could be a fascinating NL West race. How close to his former self is Ben Sheets? Was Francisco Liriano's winter a mirage? Is Jay Bruce all the way back? Is Geovany Soto really in the condition to be what he was in 2008? Scot Shields? Is Cole Hamels' arm back from the transition he made in 2009 after pitching the Phillies into the World Series? Where is Brad Lidge? And so on.
2. Tony La Russa said he and Mark McGwire are fully prepared for what they know will be the raptors circling around the Cardinals' batting coach. "Mark's answered questions, he's admitted what he did, and we think we've prepared not to have any distractions to his doing his job," said La Russa. "Believe me, we're given this a lot of thought. Teaching hitting is Mark's passion, and I don't think he'll let anything deter him from doing his job and doing it really well."
3. Are the reports coming out of the Rangers' workouts correct about Josh Hamilton's health and condition? He was never right last season, but awed everyone in the organization last week as if he were back in time to the 2008 Home Run Derby in Yankee Stadium. The .304/32 HR/130 RBI/.901 OPS line Hamilton had that year makes the Rangers a different team than last year's .268/10/54/.741 Hamilton.
4. Can the Mariners' Dustin Ackley play second base? The second pick in last year's First-Year Player Draft can be one of the game's best young pure hitters, he can fly, and he has been working in Arizona at second base. "I played mostly shortstop in high school," said Ackley, who moved to first base because of an elbow issue that is now in the past. "I have a lot to learn, especially turning the double play and positioning, but I am excited. I think I can do it." Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said, "I haven't seen him yet, but our infield instructors are very encouraged. Look, he hasn't played a professional game yet, but he's a tremendous talent and kid. The North Carolina coaches believed second base is his position, and if he can play there, he can be a team-changing player."
5. Speaking of last year's Draft, Stephen Strasburg's spring with the Nationals will get a ton of attention as the prelude to the dance. And an hour away at Disney, the spring of Jason Heyward will be a major focus of the Braves' camp. Bobby Cox has never been afraid of giving young, talented players a chance to go north.
6. Are the Rays' B.J. Upton, David Price and Wade Davis in takeoff mode?
7. If their positional players are healthy -- or in Beltran's case, close to a May 1 return -- the story of the Mets' spring will be whether Oliver Perez did get his conditioning turned around, whether Mike Pelfrey has matured and whether John Maine is healthy. The Mets didn't have the money to play the starting-pitcher market, so the career paths of three pitchers from whom they need 90-100 starts are significant.
8. Is Jake Peavy the Cy Young Jake Peavy for the White Sox?
9. As usual, the Marlins lurk. If the Logan Morrison-Gaby Sanchez battle at first base produces a major winner, they are a different team, and they hope this is the year that Andrew Miller, Chris Volstad and Anibal Sanchez find consistency.
10. How good is the Rangers' Neftali Feliz? Great?
11. Can Jake Westbrook give the Indians 200 innings? If he can, and Carlos Santana is ready in June and Grady Sizemore is completely healthy, an Indians run at the 85 wins necessary to contend in the AL Central is possible. They may not ever see Travis Hafner close to what he was.
12. How will the Yankees decide to use Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes? Yes, they will begin the spring thinking about starting, but realistically there is only one job remaining, with one moving back to join David Robertson in front of Mariano Rivera.
13. Will Daisuke Matsuzaka show up to Red Sox camp in the shape he promised? Boston's ongoing sidebar will be the health and landing spot of Mike Lowell, but for all he's done, he deserves all the respect he can get. Cleveland makes a lot of sense, if the Red Sox can pay $10 million of his salary.
14. Speaking of Lowell, will the year removed from hip surgery make the 2010 season easier for him, Utley and Alex Rodriguez?
15. How will Mike Scioscia mold a different Angels team? Is Brandon Wood ready to play third? Joel Pineiro for John Lackey? Hideki Matsui for Vladimir Guerrero?
One of the best things about Spring Training is that there is a storyline a day. We all hope Koby Clemens takes his .341 average, 45 doubles, 22 homers and 1.035 OPS closer to the Majors, or we get a chance to see Casey Kelly pitch. It sure beats wind-chill factors.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.