By Norm Elrod
(CBS Sacramento/CBS Local) — Spring Training is beginning to wind down. Opening Day, when all 30 MLB teams will play, is still over a week away. But the regular season actually starts this week with two games in Japan. The games, part of MLB’s broader effort to extend its reach internationally, will also act as a sort of mini farewell for one of baseball’s greats.READ MORE: Supply Chain Issues: 'There Really Are Problems Everywhere,' Even For Small Companies
This week’s Spring Training Report looks at the Japan Opening Series, along with a glimpse at the some of the game’s rising stars and the League’s efforts to combat sign-stealing.
Japan Opening Series
The Seattle Mariners face the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday and Thursday in Japan’s Tokyo Dome to start the regular season. Marco Gonzalez will be the Mariners’ starting pitcher for the first game, ending Felix Hernandez’s streak of opening-day starts at 10. He’ll face Mike Fiers, who gets the start for the Athletics. Seattle’s Yusei Kikuchi will take the mound to face Oakland’s Marco Estrada in Game 2.
Taking the field behind Gonzalez and Kikuchi will be the legendary Ichiro Suzuki. The Hall Of Fame-worthy outfielder, who spent more than a decade with the Mariners, was signed to a minor league contract a few weeks ago. Ichiro, who is now 45, has received a hero’s welcome in Japan, and has showed flashes of his former self in exhibition games. His future beyond these two games remains uncertain.
Both games between the Mariners and Athletics will begin at 5:35 am ET.
Up-And-Coming PlayersREAD MORE: Fourth Stimulus Check: Is Another Relief Payment Coming?
Much of the Spring Training talk has focused on proven superstars receiving big contracts. Today’s news of Mike Trout’s 12-year $430 million extension with the Los Angeles Angels is just the latest. But some of MLB’s lesser names are poised to step up.
Victor Robles of the Washington Nationals will get the opening-day start in center field after the injury to Michael Taylor. Previously overlooked in an outfield that included Bryce Harper and Juan Soto last season, Robles now has his turn to shine. The speedy outfielder has good range in the field, along with a strong arm. He’s hitting .333 in Spring Training and has displayed a little power upon occasion.
The Philadelphia Phillies right-handed pitcher Nick Pivetta could be among MLB’s best pitchers in 2019. He was certainly better in 2018 than his stats show, given the Phillies’ poor defense. Look for his stock to rise as the season progresses.
Adalberto Mondesi, shortstop for the Kansas City Royals, possesses a nice combination of speed and power. He hit .275 in 75 games last season, tallying 32 stolen bases and 14 home runs. His stats should improve this season as he continues to gets consistent at-bats and playing time.
The Colorado Rockies right-hander German Marquez will have a breakout season if he can continue his success from the second half of last season. His sub-2.5 ERA after the All-Star Break was partly a product of his improved repertoire We’ll see if he can continue his dominance, now that hitters have seen his slider. Coors Field isn’t exactly a pitcher’s paradise.
Combating Sign-StealingMORE NEWS: The Story Behind Showtime's New Russell Westbrook Documentary: 'This Is Russell Claiming His Own Narrative'
Sign-stealing isn’t illegal in baseball, but using technology to do it is. Teams can no longer put non-broadcast cameras in the outfield that could pick up communications between catchers and pitchers. MLB is also testing out a system that lets pitchers and catchers communicate with watches. How that might affect the pace of games — something MLB is keen to address — remains to be seen.