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Friday, February 14, 2014
10 bold predictions for spring training

By Jim Bowden

Matt Kemp
Is it possible Matt Kemp might miss all of spring training? Could be.
It was in March 2013 that I predicted that some time during the season, Yasiel Puig would become a star on the level of past star rookies such as Fernando Valenzuela and Hideo Nomo and create his own mania -- "Puigmania."

Well, it's time for more bold predictions, and I'm beginning with spring training. Let's take a look at my 10 bold predictions for 2014 spring training. (Don't worry, I'll make more bold predictions for the regular season.)

1. Matt Kemp doesn't play in a single major league spring training game.

Kemp is still recovering from microfracture surgery on his left talus bone (a major weight-bearing bone in his ankle), and I think he will begin the season on the disabled list. The ankle surgery revealed that the injury was far more serious than originally reported, and when you combine that with the surgery Kemp had on his left shoulder -- also this past fall -- the Dodgers will be very careful to take their time with Kemp.

From a baseball perspective, the Dodgers have no reason to rush Kemp, with Puig in right field, Andre Ethier in center field, Carl Crawford in left field, as well as their top outfield prospect Joc Pederson ready if needed.

2. The Toronto Blue Jays will announce the signing of either Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.

Toronto is in need of a starting pitcher who can provide quality innings, and Jimenez and Santana fit that bill. There is draft-pick compensation tied to both, but the Jays are in a good spot because both of their first-round picks are protected. That means that they would only have to give up a second-rounder to sign one of these guys and still be sure to get two quality prospects at the top of the draft.

Once one of these guys signs with Toronto, the other will be stuck without a suitor and might have to wait for an injury before more offers come in.

3. Stephen Drew agrees to a bargain deal with the New York Mets.

It's either the Red Sox or the Mets for Drew, and Boston appears ready to move on with Xander Bogaerts at shortstop. As a result, New York will get a relative bargain. It will be just a two-year deal worth just $8 million per year. The contract will not have an opt-out clause after year one and will not include a no-trade clause.

4. Max Scherzer and the Detroit Tigers will agree to terms on a contract extension.

It will be a six-year contract extension with an average annual value (AAV) of $28 million a year. Tigers fans will finally understand that the Prince Fielder and Doug Fister trades weren't just about getting younger and better defensively. They were about ensuring the 2013 Cy Young Award winner won’t be going anywhere.

5. Jose Abreu will emerge as the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year.

Abreu possesses a professional approach to hitting. That and his ability to drive the ball to the gaps will persuade most baseball analysts to predict that he will be the AL Rookie of the Year over Masahiro Tanaka.

6. George Springer will be the Astros’ Opening Day left fielder.

Not only will Springer make the Astros out of spring training, but he will be named the team’s everyday left fielder after belting five spring training home runs. As I wrote earlier this week, he has some holes in his game, but the upside is obvious.

7. Oscar Taveras will make the St. Louis Cardinals’ Opening Day 25-man roster.

Not only will Taveras make the team, but he’ll establish himself as its everyday right fielder. Despite the Cardinals' plan to use Allen Craig in right field and Matt Adams at first base for Opening Day, Taveras will change those plans by showing not only his formerly injured ankle is ready, but his bat is, too.

Having Adams on the bench gives manager Mike Matheny cover at first and the outfield corners in case of injury to Taveras, Craig or Matt Holliday, and the loss of Carlos Beltran won't even be felt in the lineup.

8. Brian Wilson will win the closer’s job for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I predict Wilson will close for the Dodgers on Opening Day, with Kenley Jansen moving to the eighth-inning setup role. Wilson's stuff will be even better than it was last season and show flashes that he's nearly all the way back to prime days with San Francisco.

This will give manager Don Mattingly the flexibility to use Jansen for more than an inning at a time, and in certain seventh- and eighth-inning situations that are often more demanding than the ninth.

9. The Miami Marlins' projected infield will be 50 percent different come Opening Day.

Right now, Garrett Jones (first base), Rafael Furcal (second base), Adeiny Hechavarria (shortstop) and Casey McGehee (third base) are the Marlins’ projected starters. However, by the end of spring training, half of that group will not be starting as neither Furcal nor McGehee will be able to hold on to their jobs.

This will be good news for second baseman Derek Dietrich, who showed some power in his rookie campaign last year (.405 slugging), but not much else (.214 batting average).

10. Jeff Francoeur will be put in charge of organizing the March Madness bracket.

Now an outfielder for the Indians, Francoeur will take charge of the clubhouse’s brackets for March Madness. And don’t be surprised if he’s in the lead by the time the team announces he's been reassigned to minor league camp.