Results tagged ‘ MLB Lists ’

Top Ten Subway Series Moments

With the 18th edition of the Subway Series starting tonight, we look at the ten most memorable moments since 1997

Mariano Rivera, the last player to ever wear 42, recorded his 500th save against the New York Mets in 2009 (Getty Images)

Written by Jake Elman

April in New York means hockey playoffs, basketball playoffs, and preparation for which disappointing quarterback will be joining the New York Jets shortly…yet, no one really cares about any of that right now. It’s Subway Series time, and for the first time in a long time, this series actually means something; both teams are contenders out of the gate, and the title of New York is on the line again. This isn’t a series just for pride anymore, and after a silly attempt at putting the Subway Series all in one week over the past two years (it was not a good idea, despite what some fans will tell you), there’s legitimate excitement all around the Big Apple.

It’s hard to believe, but 2015 marks the 18th year of the regular season Subway Series; this matchup, in fact, kicked off ten days (June 16th, 1997) after I was born, and it started with the Yankees’ dominant offense being shutout. So, some things haven’t changed it seems. In the past 18 years, we’ve had some fantastic moments from the Subway Series, but which were the absolute best?

Well, that’s what we’re here to count down. Whether it be regular season or from the World Series, a game in the Bronx or a game in Flushing, anything from the past 18 years is eligible for this list. Without further waiting, let’s take a look at what I believe to be the top moments from the Subway Series in the past two decades.

10. Yankees mess with the Johan

Nine earned runs, three innings, and a 15-0 loss…no, that’s not the statline of your MLB 15: The Show created player. Rather, that was the statline of Mets ace Johan Santana on June 14, 2009, in a blowout loss to the New York Yankees. For fans on both sides, this was an extremely memorable series, as we’ll see below, but this was the finishing touch; Santana was lit up badly by the Yankees, including giving up a two-run home run to Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui, and his ERA went from 2.39 to 3.29 in the process. Not at all a good start from the two-time Cy Young winner, that’s for sure.

9. Koo bests Johnson

Do you remember Koo Dae-Sung? I didn’t really remember him, but all of the memories came back when I saw what he did in May 2005. Facing Yankees ‘ace’ (don’t let anyone fool you, Mike Mussina was the true ace of those teams) but still extremely intimidating Randy Johnson, the 35 year old Koo hit a double and then scored on a sacrifice bunt. The last time Koo had hit before facing Johnson, according to the left-hander, was in high school. What a legendary moment from a player that appeared in only 33 games during his illustrious MLB career.

8. Doc’s return to Shea

It’s not much of a memorable moment to some, but the five solid innings by Yankee starter Dwight ‘Doc’ Gooden in July 2000 make this list for one reason only: it was the first time Doc Gooden had pitched at Shea Stadium since he was with the Mets. Gooden, who had pitched for both Houston and Tampa before coming back to New York, went five innings while allowing two runs in a 4-2 Bombers win. It wasn’t a perfect start, but it was definitely an emotional one and Doc got his team the win.

7. Jeter leads off with a bang

Our only moment on this list solely from the 2000 World Series between these two teams, now-retired Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter led off the game with a home run to swing the momentum back in the direction of the Bronx Bombers. There’s a reason why the future Captain won the World Series MVP award for this Fall Classic…

6. David Wright’s closes the door on Sandman

Ah, it’s hard to forget this signature moment of the 2006 Miracle Mets season. In only his second year starting at third, Mets star David Wright hit a walk off single against Rivera to give his team a 7-6 victory. It wasn’t quite David versus Goliath, but it surely was a bright moment in the then-young career of Sir Wright.

Do you remember Dae-Sung Koo? It may be hard to recall the Korean import, but many Met fans will never forget his double and subsequent scoring on Yankees ace Randy Johnson (NY Daily News)

5. Piazza vs. Clemens

Ah, one of baseball’s premier rivalries that featured blood and guts galore…well, just blood, though I’m sure Mets catcher Mike Piazza would have loved to rip out Roger Clemens’ guts like a zombie from The Walking Dead (sorry, brother). Anyways, we should all know the story by now: Clemens domed Piazza in the summer of 2000, then there was the whole bat incident in the World Series, Piazza goes deep against Clemens in 2002, and then the beef kind of lost its relevancy. Seeing as some of you probably got very excited when you heard the word blood, here’s the aforementioned bat incident.

4. Dave Mlicki starts it off right

With all of the great names on the old Mets and Yankee teams — Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Al Leiter, David Wells, Rick Reed — you’d think that the first pitcher to throw a shutout in the Subway Series would be a premier name, right? Well, it was veteran Dave Mlicki who threw that first shutout, he of the 8-12, 4.00 ERA season in 1997. In fact, Mlicki did it in the Subway Series’ first ever game, shutting down the Yankees by a final score of 6-0.

3. Mo joins the 500 club

Thirteen years after his first save, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera joined the 500 save club with a four out closing of the New York Mets. Like most of Rivera’s other outings, the opposing hitters were fooled by the cutter, as Sandman struck out two and forced Alex Cora into a game-ending groundout. Not bad, old man.

2. Carlos Delgado breaks the Bombers

June 2008 is going to be remembered by every Met fan for what was, essentially, the beginning of the end. It’s a time where Mets manager and former New York Yankee Willie Randolph was fired and Jerry Manuel was named his replacement, a move that began a streak of mediocrity and inconsistency…but, June 2008 was also a time where Carlos Delgado, the oft-criticized Mets first baseman, finally began to show why the team had so much faith in him as their veteran leader. In the first game of a double header in the Bronx, Delgado recorded two home runs nine RBI in the Mets’ 15-6 rout of their crosstown rivals.

June of 2008

1. Luis Castillo drops the ball…literally

Michael Kay said it best…A-Rod becomes the hero with a pop up.

What are your favorite moments from the Subway Series? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman

The 2015 All-MLB Underrated Team

Plenty of MLB players fall under the radar, but who are the most underrated players in the whole league?

White Sox lefty Jose Quintana, a former New York Yankees farmhand, has quietly become one of the team's most valuable players (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

White Sox lefty Jose Quintana, a former New York Yankees farmhand, has quietly become one of the team’s most valuable players (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

When you talk about underrated, it’s exactly what it sounds like – underrated means something is either not properly rated or not rated high enough, which, depending on your own interpretation, might mean the same thing. Meals are underrated at a certain restaurant, musicians are underrated because they’re not ‘mainstream enough’, and, of course, we use underrated when talking about athletes.

It seems like every day, someone’s always talking about a player being underrated. “I think *so and so* is truly underrated by the media,” a broadcaster might say, while a fantasy guru could suggest, “I feel, even though he’s underrated, this guy might be a great pick up this week.” Major League Baseball has plenty of players that would say that they’re underrated, but who are the best players that fall under that trope?

Well, that’s what we’re here to find out today. I’ve compiled a list of players who are among the most underrated players in the league. There was no special requirements or anything — though, you won’t see too many guys with big-time contracts on this list — aside from the player being, well, underrated. Without further waiting, let’s dive right into this.

C: Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians

When you talk about a player having a breakout 2014 season, Cleveland’s catcher, Yan Gomes, has to come into the discussion. Gomes, a former tenth-round pick of the Blue Jays from the University of Tennessee, hit .278/.313/.472 with 21 long bombs and 74 home runs for Cleveland a season ago; Gomes’ FanGraphs-calculated WAR of 8.2 trailed only San Francisco’s Buster Posey (10.5), Miluwakee’s Jonathan Lucroy (9.8), Pittsburgh’s Russell Martin (9.4) and St. Louis’ Yadier Molina (8.6) among catchers. Though the Indians finished out of the playoffs yet again, they look to have solved the franchise’s catching problems that have plagued them since the 2009 trade of Victor Martinez.
 Gomes earns a spot on this list because I feel like the Indians underrated him just a bit, giving him a six year contract extention that’s only worth 23 million dollars. I may not be the best at math, but even I know that’s underrating a good player at a position where good players are rare to come by. I don’t want to make it sound like Gomes is the best catcher in the game, though, because there’s a lot of things he needs to improve on. Gomes’ patience at the plate, for example is awful, as he nearly had more home runs (21) than walks (24). When you think of players that had more home runs than walks in a single season, dreaded power hitters like Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, and Andre Dawson come to mind, not a 26 year old catcher on a third place team. But, that doesn’t mean that Gomes shouldn’t be on our list, and I look forward to seeing what he can do in the future.

1B: Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays

Is it possible to be an underrated player when you’ve hit 112 home runs the past three seasons and made two All-Star Game appearances? Though you may think the answer is definitely no, Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion may disagree with you on that, as even after three straight seasons of at least 34 home runs and 98 RBI, the Dominican slugger is still flying well under the radar. How could that be? How is it possible that a player like Encarnacion can be on an all-underrated list when he puts up such fantastic numbers?

Well, part of the reason may have to do with the fact that Encarnacion plays in Toronto. Now, that’s nothing against Canada, but it’s moreso that the casual American baseball fan really doesn’t know players in their own country, let alone players in Canada. If Encarnacion played for an American team (a team in America, not just an AL team), maybe there’s a chance more people would recognize him, but I digress him. Anyways, Encarnacion has quietly become one of the game’s best sluggers, recording a WAR of 12.8 and keeping his K-BB ratio extremely close (228 walks to 238 strikeouts), an amazing feat in a time of hitters constantly recording 190+ strikeouts. Hopefully, Encarnacion can start becoming a household name sooner rather than later, because him and his parrot sure are fun to watch.

2B: Ben Zobrist, Oakland Athletics

I don’t know what it is about the utility guys who have become their team’s handyman, but there’s just something about them that’s always made me partial to those guys. Whether it was the before-my-time Luis Sojo on the New York Yankees or the more recent Miguel Cairo, I’ve just always really liked the guys that can play anywhere, give you a hit in a pinch, and are great for the team on and off the field. These days, the crown of ‘best super utility guy’ goes to Oakland Athletics utility man Ben Zobrist, a two-time American League All-Star with the Rays who has played everywhere from second base to outfield to even the hot corner.

It may seem silly to call the ‘best super utility guy’ underrated, but I think it’s more of Zobrist being under-appreciated than flat out underrated. Only once since the 2009 season began has Zobrist had a WAR less than 4.8, and he’s been durable too, with 2014 being the first season since 2008 that the former sixth round pick didn’t play in at least 150 games…he played in 146. If Zobrist doesn’t appear on a list about the most underrated MLB players, then the person who made the list is doing it wrong.

3B: Todd Fraizer, Cincinnati Reds

What is there to say about the Todd Father that hasn’t already been said? Not only does he hit for pop (the 29 year old third baseman had a career high 29 bombs last year), but Fraizer, originally from Toms River, New Jersey, has quietly become one of the NL Central’s most dangerous hitters since becoming a full-time player in 2012. Though Fraizer only hit .234/.314/.407 in 2013, the Jersey-born slugger rebounded with a .273/.336/.459 statline in 2014 and was awarded with his first All-Star Game appearance.

So, why does he get a spot on the All-MLB Underrated Team for 2015? Well, Fraizer is still making a name for himself, and last year’s Home Run Derby — where he made it to the Final Round before losing to then-Oakland left fielder Yoenis Cespedes — was the first time that many baseball fans were properly introduced to the Todd Father. With a big season in 2015, Fraizer might be able to cement himself as a top five third baseman in the game, and I’m sure the Reds would be thrilled if the Todd Father could put up numbers akin to last year’s breakout campaign.

SS: Erick Aybar, Los Angeles Angels

For an organization that’s tried to pride themselves on consistency, am I the only one surprised that the Los Angeles Angels only have two players remaining from the 2010 season? I’m sure that you immediately thought of the team’s All-Star starting pitcher Jered Weaver as one of the two players, but the fact that shortstop Erick Aybar, brother of former Rays utility man Willy Aybar, is the other player was an interesting finding on my part. Aybar, who turned 31 in January, has quietly grown into one of the American League’s better shortstops, hitting .280/41/313 while recording a WAR of 3.9 or more three times in the past four years.

Like others on this list, what makes Aybar underrated is that he plays on a team full of big-name stars; Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson, and so forth are the guys you think of when the Angels are brought up, not a shortstop who has only hit above .280 only once since the 2010 season began. Yet, Aybar might realistically be the third-most important player to the Angels’ success, behind only Trout and Pujols. What I really like about Aybar is his ability to hit for the extra base — Aybar’s averaged 32 doubles and six triples the past four seasons — and he was rewarded with his first All-Star appearance a year ago. With the way that Aybar plays, however, I definitely can see more All-Star Games in his future.

 

For a player that's been among the league's best power hitters the past few seasons, Blue Jays first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion doesn't get much recognition outside of Canada (Kim Klement-USA Today Sports)

For a player that’s been among the league’s best power hitters the past few seasons, Blue Jays first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion doesn’t get much recognition outside of Canada (Kim Klement-USA Today Sports)

 

OF: Brett Gardner, New York Yankees

To say that the New York Yankees have struggled the past two seasons would be an understatement, as the 26-time World Series champions have missed the playoffs for consecutive years; this is the first time that’s occurred, of course, since the drought from 1982-1993 (with 1994 not counting due to the playoff strike). Even with the team making both big-time acquisitions and small, the Yankees have found themselves home for October baseball the past couple of years due to a mix of injuries, inconsistency, and overall lack of production from big name players. With that said, however, part of why the Yankees have even found themselves with a winning record in both 2013 and 2014 is due to veteran left fielder Brett Gardner, a former third-round pick with a penchant for clutch hits and stolen bases.

As a teammate of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite, Jacoby Ellsbury, and so on, Brett Gardner has never been the big-time attraction or even the team’s most popular player. What he has been, however, is a durable outfielder (2012 withstanding) that puts it all on the field and will beat you with his bat, his speed, his glove, or even just his ability to get a rally going. Not counting 2012, Gardner has racked up four straight seasons with a WAR of 4.0 or more, including a 7.3 WAR back in 2010 for the Bronx Bombers. He may not be the sexiest player in terms of name recognition, but without Gardner, the Yankees might be one of the league’s worst teams rather than one that’s middle of the pack.

OF: Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs

Speaking of outfielders who will beat you with their speed, Chicago’s Dexter Fowler has been a menace on the basepaths since making his debut with the Colorado Rockies in 2008. Fowler’s average stolen base numbers of 19 steals to 9 times caught stealing may not seem impressive, but Fowler averages 24 doubles and 10 triples a season, and that number jumps up to 30 and 12 per every 162 games. When you look at every player who is on this list, Fowler’s inclusion might be the most questionable, as he’s not a powerful home run hitter like Todd Fraizer or Edwin Encarnacion, or a super utility man like Ben Zobrist, but I don’t know if just the basic statistics can do him justice.

Out of every player in the big leagues, Fowler led the majors with a .451 on-base-percentage when there was no one out, and he also got on base 40 percent of the time when there was no one else on base; from your leadoff guy, and someone with speed, there’s not much else that you can really ask for. Fowler, who is entering his first year with the Chicago Cubs after a year in Houston, also has excellent plate discipline and has really become one of baseball’s best leadoff men. That’s the type of guy you want on your team, and that’s why Fowler lands a spot on this list.

OF: Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals

First things first, here’s the mandatory video featuring Cain’s defense.

Alright, mandatory video featuring Cain’s defense out of the way, let’s talk about the Royals’ budding outfielder. Cain, a former seventeenth-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2004, broke out onto the scene last season with a .301/5/53 statline that also saw him record 28 stolen bases on the year. That’s all good and well, as is Cain’s 5.0 WAR, but what really put this kid on the map was his defense. Line drive hit to center that’s falling fast? Cain will dive for it. High fly ball to right-center field that looks like it’s gone? Cain jumps and its in his glove.

Putting Cain on this list is a bit of a cop out, because he’s already starting to become less of an underrated player solely from the Royals’ miracle 2014 season that saw them make the World Series. Once people start seeing more and more of his crazy catches and gritty play on the field, Cain’s popularity is likely going to skyrocket among baseball fans, both hardcore and casual. For the time being, though, Cain is an underrated player that, not unlike Gardner or Aybar, is instrumental to his team’s success and deserves a spot on our list.

SP: Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox

In all honesty, I really have to hand it to Robin Ventura and the Chicago White Sox. Even though the team title of lefty ace was seamlessly transferred in-house from Mark Buehrle to Chris Sale following the 2011 season, Chicago was able to find a solid, middle-of-the-rotation starter not through trade or through a big contract, but off the waiver wire; former New York Yankees farmhand Jose Quintana, a lefty pitcher who had yet to make it past A level ball, intrigued the White Sox scouting department so much that the team signed him and immediately placed him in AA with the Binghamton Barons. After a decent first month in the minors, Quintana would reach the big leagues in May of that season, and the rest is history. Despite subpar numbers on paper (namely the 24-24 overall record), Quintana has posted a 3.50 ERA with a 423-150 K-BB ratio in 536 innings. Not bad for a guy who had never made it past high A ball with the Yankees, right?

I know White Sox manager Robin Ventura hasn’t had the best three seasons leading his former ball club — something I mentioned when previewing the American League Central division last month — but the find, and later success, of Quintana has to rank among the better things he’s done. We’re talking about a lefty pitcher that has excellent control and has been a savior for the White Sox, constantly keeping them in ball games and shutting down the opposition (opponents have hit .258 against him). The White Sox are in prime position to contend for the playoffs this year, and their stud lefty Quintana is a major reason why.

Manager: Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles

If this article was being written in March 2014 rather than March 2015, San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy would definitely have taken the managerial spot here. But, Bochy and the San Francisco Giants won a World Series in October, so I’m going with a different person here, and that’s Baltimore’s Buck Showalter. Since taking over the job in the summer of 2010 for interim manager Juan Samuel, Showalter has not only helped transform the Orioles into a perennial contender, but he’s also beginning to make a case as one of the best managers of this generation.

Rant Sports’ Brad Berreman talked about this in October, saying, “A lack of identification and long-term success with one franchise hurts Showalter in terms of outside recognition as one of the best managers of the past 20-25 years. But 2014 is his fourth full season as the Orioles’ manager, and barring something unforeseen he’ll be back next season and, at this point, he can probably have the job as long as he wants.” Showalter has helped change the chemistry and environment in Baltimore to one of winning and hard work, two things that were almost never seen in Charm City a decade ago. Even though the Orioles might not be a playoff team this season, you know that they’ll give one hundred and ten percent as long as Buck is their manager.

Who do you think are some of the league’s more underrated players? Make sure to tweet me at @JakeElman to chime in on the conversation.

Ten Interesting 2015 Spring Training Stories

Baseball’s spring training is set to have plenty of stories to watch this year, but which are the most interesting?

Rodriguez, 40 in July, is making his return to the Yankees after a one year suspension.

Alex Rodriguez, 40 in July, is making his return to the Yankees after a one year suspension. (USA Today)

Written by Jake Elman

For a baseball fan, the two magic words of “spring training” is enough to create hope, optimism, and if you’re a fan of the New York Mets, more demanding for a shortstop. Spring training is in session, the games ‘officially’ start this week, and baseball is back. As a fan of the game, I could not be more stoked for spring training, as it’s a great time to see not only if your team is a contender or a pretender, but who might be in line for a big season ahead.

As with every spring training, there are some interesting storylines to watch, but which are going to be the most intriguing? Out of at least twenty five that I counted, I’ve decided to pick ten and talk about what makes them so interesting to watch. This list is not necessarily ranked in any order, and if you think I left a storyline off, you can leave a comment or tweet me.

Without further waiting, let’s dive right into the top ten storylines to watch in 2015’s spring training.

10. Welcome back

Though we’re welcomed back to baseball (thankfully), the first post on this list refers to players that we either haven’t seen since early last year or 2013. Other than he-who-shall-not-be-named-until-later-on-this-list, Major League Baseball is set to welcome back Athletics pitcher Jarrod Parker, Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder, Athletics non-roster invitee Barry Zito, and so on.

With MLB Network airing daily spring training games, as well as the regional sports networks airing more and more of their team’s spring training games, you should be able to see these players making their returns; it’s a fairly obvious storyline, sure, but watching them bounce back and seeing how they fare against competition is one of the more interesting things to watch in the spring.

9. Old faces, new places

Baseball is a game of change, and this past offseason demonstrated that perfectly. The San Diego Padres, Oakland Athletics, and Atlanta Braves completely re-tooled their teams, while the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago White Sox all added pieces to help them contend for World Series championships. You have the obvious changes, like Pablo Sandoval, Rick Porcello, and Hanley Ramirez going to Beantown. Max Scherzer is now hanging out in our nation’s capitol, the White Sox brought in Melky Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija, Adam LaRoche, and David Robertson, Jon Lester is now a Chicago Cub, and then you have everything that the Padres did and more.

Even with that being the case, there were still some interesting, low-key signings and trades this offseason. Ichiro Suzuki takes his pursuit of 3,000 hits to Miami, Nathan Evoladi and Didi Grigorious look to be key members of the New York Yankees for years to come, Texas thinks they have a new ace in Yovani Gallardo, and there are plenty of other interesting moves made this past winter. Seeing how these guys do in their new homes will be fun to watch…unless they get injured, which leads me to…

8. Who else gets hit by the injury bug?

Well, we’ve done the obligatory first two ones on this list, so it’s time to get into some of the stuff you likely haven’t thought about…or, in the case of one on this list, you’ve tried not to think about. So, let’s talk injuries. Chris Sale, I hope your foot gets better. Ronald Belisario, I’m sorry about your swimming related injury. Michael Saunders, your Mickey Mantle imitation could have gone a bit better. Spring Training has been described by Deadspin as having the tradition of players suffering injuries in weird ways, and this spring has been no exception.

Already, a Cy Young candidate, a solid outfielder who was on the verge of a breakout season, and a middle reliever who isn’t bad in the bullpen have all suffered injuries, and fans all over are crossing their fingers to make sure that their star player isn’t next. Predicting player injuries is near impossible, but this is definitely an interesting storyline to watch as the spring goes on, especially if we see more of the crazy, unbelievable injuries. We’ve seen All-Star relievers fall down the steps moving boxes, position players miss time thanks to tattoo injuries, and even the occasional knee injury thanks to the dog.

Regardless of what team you root for, you just might want to pray to the baseball gods that no one on your team sustains a serious injury. Besides, even if you do that, a player or two is still likely to get hurt.

7. How will players, coaches adjust to pace of play?

I’ve always thought of spring training as a time to test things out, whether it be lineup order, certain shifts, or what flavor Gatorade there is in the dugout (blue, please), but this spring will be a time of testing the new pace of play rules. Those commercial breaks you loathe so much will be shorter, managers will be leaving the field for non-pitching change reasons much less, and the games will hopefully go at a faster pace. I’m someone who enjoys the three hour, 3-2 game, but I’m always up for change.

I’ve heard some people express concern about the early adjustment to pace of play, but that’s exactly what spring training is for: adjusting to new things. The preseason is a time to work the kinks out, and because Major League Baseball has promised that people won’t be fined for making mistakes relating to pace of play, I think everything will work itself out. You may have a veteran player like a David Ortiz be somewhat skeptical — or even slightly defiant — of the new rules, but it’s a learning experience for everyone.

6. Will Rob Manfred do anything noteworthy?

The short answer, no. The more in-depth answer is that because he’s done so much already, it may be best for Manfred to just sit back, relax, and watch his first spring training as commissioner. People will expect Manfred to do something, but think back to the NBA preseason this past fall. Did Adam Silver really do anything in the preseason other than conduct an interview or two and do his normal job? Besides, Manfred is entitled to a little bit of sunshine, baseball, and doing his best not to speak about he-who-shall-not-be-named.

 

Pablo Sandoval, after a successful ride with the San Francisco Giants that won him three championships, is now a member of the Boston Red Sox (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

5. Hello there, international people

For the past decade or so, it feels like more and more teams are coming into spring training with a new player from the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Japan, China, etc; they’re the shiny, brand new toys that they hope will make them the most popular kid in the class…or the winners of the World Series. It all depends on which point of view you look at it from, though I’m choosing to look at the second because, well, this is baseball.

Anyways, let’s welcome Jung-Ho Kang, the Korean shortstop that smashed 40 home runs last year, to Pittsburgh’s camp and give a warm hello there to Cuban imports Yasmany Tomas and Yoan Moncada; Tomas is in Arizona with the Diamondbacks, while Moncada is hanging out with fellow Cuban import Rusney Castillo in Red Sox camp. There are also other minor league prospects who are attending their first spring training camps in America, but these three are the cream of the crop; they’re our Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu of this year, so to speak.

How will they fare in the big leagues? Will they even play in the big leagues this season? Those are questions that will be answered throughout the season, and that’s why you should probably pay attention to this.

4. Will teams learn to beat the shift?

One of the hotter debates this offseason (besides if the dress was blue and black, or if it was gold and white) concerned the defensive shifts, or as I like to call it, the three-one shift. The whole idea of the ‘three-one shift’ is that the second baseman will move to shallow right field and the third baseman or shortstop will be on the right side of the infield; teams use it to combat pull hitters, and it’s worked to perfection, preventing players like Ryan Howard and Brian McCann from getting easy hits to right field in the process.

But, the fact that it’s worked so well is why many people are trying to make it illegal and cause Major League Baseball to rule the shift an illegal defense. Though I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, I do think more and more teams are going to find ways to beat the shift. Whether it’s bunting to the third base side or finding ways to put the ball in a place that is not covered by the shift, there has to be something these teams can do; in a time of devoting your time to PFP and the cone drills, learning to hit the shift should be up there in the necessary spring training drills.

3. Will Hamels last whole spring with Phillies?

The relationship between Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies is deteriorating faster than you can say cheese steak, and the former World Series MVP has made it clear that he wants out of the City of Brotherly Love; with the Phillies stuck somewhere between rebuilding and trying to field a team that could’ve won the NL East five years, Hamels wants to pitch for a contender, and it’s hard to blame him. Now, spring training trades are rare (unless you’re a player on the waiver wire), but I’m interested to see if the Phillies might send Hamels packing before the season starts.

Realistically, Cole Hamels is going to start for the Philadelphia Phillies on opening day against the Boston Red Sox in a matchup of teams with rosters that could contend for the World Series four years ago. Logically, it makes sense for the Phillies to trade Hamels soon, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. I still think the earliest we’ll see a Cole Hamels trade is late June to early July, but with this team, you never know. At this point, I can’t say it’d be truly shocking to see Hamels and closer Jonathan Papelbon both dealt for a bag of magic beans, an egg that you cannot cook, and a Jar Jar Binks toy. Who knows, maybe Jar Jar Binks can help the Phillies be contenders once again.

2. The Alex Rodriguez circus

If you clicked on this article and weren’t expecting to see Alex Rodriguez on here, come on. Now to some, this may not be interesting because they just want Rodriguez to play (I’m in that crowd), but you have to admit that the circus that surrounds him and the Yankees — not to mention how he’ll play this spring after not playing since September 2013 — is pretty interesting. I’ve already talked about the Alex Rodriguez drama a lot on SportsMix, so I don’t really have much to say about it that hasn’t been said, but this is the storyline that you want to ignore, and you probably should ignore, but you just can’t ignore.

1. Who is this year’s Yangervis Solarte?

One of 2014’s biggest breakout players, former minor league lifer Yangervis Solarte won a spot with the Yankees out of spring training and parlayed that not only into a starting spot with the Yankees, but also was the main piece that the Padres acquired in last July’s Chase Headley trade. Though Solarte trailed off after a hot first two months that saw him hit .299/6/26 with 11 doubles, he still finished with a .260/10/48 statline and is slotted in as the Padres’ starting third baseman barring a hot spring by Will Middlebrooks; Solarte went from a fringe player on the verge of being cut to a starting third baseman in the pros thanks to a .429/.489/.571 statline in spring training, and it makes you wonder who will be this year’s player that benefits from a strong preseason showing.

Of course, part of this question is not knowing who the breakout player will be; it could be a young prospect, or a little-known guy who, like Solarte, is able to use spring training to avoid yet another year of rotting in the minor leagues. If I had to pick three players who I can see using spring training to break out and secure a spot in their team’s future, it’d be Detroit Tigers outfielder Anthony Gose, New York Mets infielder Gavin Cecchini, and Giants lefty Ty Blach. But, part of the fun is that you don’t know who will break out, so I could be one hundred percent wrong.

What do you think are the most interesting storylines surrounding Spring Training 2015? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman.