It’s about that time again

The Maryvale Racing Sausage Circuit

Baseball fans, rejoice. Pitchers and catchers are finally reporting, and spring training games are just around the corner. As we inch closer to the season, here are some things I will be keeping my eyes on throughout spring training:

-The Bullpen

The Milwaukee bullpen could be a real strength this year. We have to remember, however, that they are kind of counting on a lot of things to go right. Takashi Saito was effective last year but he is 41, and even though 2010 was good for him he posted the lowest ERA+ of his career by 30. LaTroy Hawkins is coming off major surgery and is 38. John Axford and Zach Braddock are both coming off good rookie years, and we’ll have to hope that they both avoid a sophomore slump (I’ve already detailed my concerns about Axford here). Kameron Loe was great last year but he has struggled to maintain consistent major league success. Manny Parra will be in the bullpen barring an injury to one of the starters, and he was good there last year, but you just never know with Parra. Beyond those six Sean Green, Mitch Stetter, Mike McClendon, and Rule 5 pick Pat Egan will have a shot. It will be interesting to see how Milwaukee fills the holes left by Carlos Villanueva, Todd Coffey and Trevor Hoffman, and perhaps more importantly, to make sure none of last years holdovers has regressed.

-Gomez and Betancourt, everyone’s least favorite starters

The main problem that everyone has with Gomez and Betancourt (apart from the latter’s defense, of course) is plate discipline. I’m no baseball player, but it seems like plate discipline is something that can be coached – Corey Hart has shown improvement over the last couple years, and Prince Fielder is better now than he used to be, to name a couple. If Gomez and Betancourt could each get to the point where they are getting on base more than 30 percent of the time, they could erase their titles as “offensive liability,” and maybe even prove to be worth something – Gomez with his speed and Betancourt with his pop.

-Free-agents-to-be?

It’s a little late for this post, as Rickie Weeks’ arbitration hearing is set for Thursday, but – at least for the next 48 hours – I’ll be paying very close attention to his contract status. Word is Milwaukee is back to negotiating a long term (3 or 5 year contract, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports) deal, which would make me extremely happy. Fielder, on the other hand, is almost certain to be gone by this time next year, if not sooner: Tim Kurkjian of ESPN floated the idea that the Brewers might trade Fielder this spring. I would give that about a .3 percent chance of happening, but I guess you never know.

-Greinke. Sweet, Sweet Greinke.

I’ll be watching Shaun Marcum too, but what I am most excited for this spring is, after weeks of hype, to see Zack Greinke’s electric stuff coming from a man in a Brewer uniform. I know that spring training doesn’t matter much, but it will be great to get an early indicator on whether we are getting the ’09 Greinke or the ’10 version.

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