Spring training is set to begin Thursday with pitchers and catchers reporting to Bradenton. The first workout is scheduled for Friday. With the season fast approaching there are still many questions to answer in the Buccos quest to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1992.
1. Which of the Joses, Bautista or Castillo, will be in the lineup on opening day? It appears that it is Castillo's job to lose. Bautista, who plays all positions but pitcher and catcher, will have the chance to steal the starting job at 3B which would switch Freddy to 2B. A few years back I was one of those who believed that Castillo and Wilson would make the next great double-play combo, yet with Castillo's disappointing progress as a pro has placed Bautista ahead on my depth chart. By the end of ST we shall see who will be starting. Prediction: Castillo at second.
2. Who will be the fifth starter? Since the Bucs signed Tony Armas, it would appear that he and Shawn Chacon will be the primary candidates for this job. Both have similar numbers, salaries, age, and stuff. Chacon pitched decently for the Pirates towards the end of the season, but nothing spectacular. Prediction: Armas will be the 5th starter, with Chacon hitting the bullpen for long relief duties. If Chacon performs well I would expect him to be traded by the deadline.
3. Will Freddy Sanchez stay consistent? I'm not looking for him to hit .344 again, but with his approach to the plate, his good plate discipline, and work ethic, hitting over .320 isn't a stretch. I would expect him to score at least 100 runs this season with Bay and LaRoche behind him. Prediction: .329avg 5hr 75rbis 108 runs.
4. Will Snell, Duke, Gorzelanny, and Maholm continue to show improvement? Snell had to have been the big surprise last season out of the starters, and looks like he has solidified himself as the opening day starter, unless Tracy has other ideas. Duke, Snell, and Maholm all had their first full season last year and it looks like they were all learning, not to just throw, but learning how to pitch. Still, Snell must learn how to get left handed hitters out and possibly get a better grip on his changeup. If Duke is able to cut down on first inning runs, he looks to improve his record from last season. Maholm showed poise in the second half and if he continues could win more than he loses. Gorzelanny has the most promise out of the four, but is also the youngest. If he shows the improvement that Snell has shown and the growth that Duke and Maholm have gone through, he may be our ace next in 2008. Prediction: Snell 15-8 4.50 ERA, Duke 12-8 3.95 ERA, Maholm 12-10 4.79 ERA, Gorzelanny 9-9 4.10 ERA.
Until next week when baseball will have begun....