03/27/11 11:00 AM ET
Five to Watch: Guys who need to get it together
Beckett, Kemp, Panda among quintet hoping to rebound in 2011
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
As MLB.com continues its Five To Watch series, in anticipation of Opening Day this week, we're taking a look at five guys who need to "get it together," be it through personal or performance strides, in 2011. Josh Beckett, RHP, Red Sox: Beckett's demotion from Opening Day starter to No. 4 in the pecking order for the outset of 2011 is more symbolic than substantial. In the end, it's the results, not the order, that truly matters. The simple fact is, Beckett didn't deliver the type of results last year that his career trajectory would lead you to expect. Perhaps it was just a matter of poor health leading to poor performance. Beckett dealt with back ailments in 2010, when he went 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA. He spent all winter strengthening his back and has gotten through camp feeling fine, aside from when he got plunked in the head by a fungo during batting practice. "Getting through Spring Training [healthy] is big," Beckett said, "because then you're not playing catchup." Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers: Unfortunately, Kemp's clashes with some coaches and dates with Rihanna got more attention than anything he did on the field in 2010. His performance wasn't horrendous, by any means, as he hit 28 homers and drove in 89 runs. But because his batting average slipped to .249, his strikeouts rose to 170 and the team didn't live up to expectations, it was viewed as a disappointment. Kemp dedicated himself to getting in better shape this offseason, and the Dodgers are counting on him putting together a 2011 season in which he makes headlines for his positive play. Francisco Rodriguez, Closer, Mets: Hard to imagine worse headlines than the ones Rodriguez generated for himself last summer, when he tore a thumb ligament in an altercation at Citi Field that led to an arrest on assault charges. Recovered from surgery and back from his exile from the Mets, Rodriguez is attending anger management sessions while simultaneously trying to get back in the Mets' good graces with his performance on the field. He has a $17.5 million option on his contract that vests if he finishes 55 games this season, and at this juncture, it's hard to imagine the Mets letting him get to that point. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants: Much was made about the general lack of tweaks made to the World Series champion Giants over the winter, but a major acquisition could come in-house, if Kung Fu Panda is anything like his 2009 self. Sandoval threatened to eat himself out of baseball last year, losing his spot in the everyday lineup in the process. But he shed 40 pounds over the winter and has looked like a new man in camp. "He's a different player," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I think he feels good about where he is, and I think he's getting better swings. He has better balance at the plate, and he's much more comfortable hitting now." Carlos Zambrano, RHP, Cubs: Stop us if you've heard this one before, but Big Z can be a dominating pitcher if he keeps his head on straight. Alas, his frequent meltdowns on the mound and in the dugout have become his calling card. Last year, Zambrano was demoted to the bullpen and then suspended from the team altogether after a particularly heated hissy fit. He attended anger management classes, came back and was dominant as a starter down the stretch. All reports out of Cubs camp point to a calm Zambrano thus far in 2011. He'll have to prove he can keep his cool all year before he can reasonably be counted on as a leader in the rotation. Others looking to get it together: Mets outfielder Jason Bay, Yankees right-hander A.J. Burnett, Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, Reds closer Francisco Cordero, Angels lefty Scott Kazmir, Padres left fielder Ryan Ludwick, Red Sox right-hander Jonathan Papelbon, Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena, Rays DH Manny Ramirez, Cardinals shortstop Ryan Theriot.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.