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Spring training storylines to watch

The Strasburg Show

The Nationals will unveil their golden arm, top pick Stephen Strasburg, 21, who is being hailed as one of the top pitching prospects of all time. The right-hander, who signed to a record $15.1 million deal, will likely start the season in the minor leagues. But if he comes anywhere near to living up to the hype, Nats fans will clamor for him to crack the big-league rotation this summer.

The Great Heyward Hope

Speaking of hype, there's Braves slugging outfielder Jason Heyward. Built like a football player at 6 feet 4, 245 pounds, Heyward, right, is baseball's top-rated prospect. Heyward, 20, has been compared to Fred McGriff (only bigger) and could compete to start in rightfield.

The Swan Song

This will be the last spring for Braves manager Bobby Cox, who will end his likely Hall of Fame career with one last camp in Lake Buena Vista. Cox, who led the Braves to an unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles, doesn't like the attention on him, but he'll likely receive plenty on this farewell tour.

Big Mac's impact

Now that Mark McGwire has come clean (for the most part) on his use of performance-enhancing drugs during his historic home run chase, will that issue continue to dominate Cardinals camp? Or can McGwire now focus on his new job as hitting coach?

Damon in D-Town

With Johnny Damon's seemingly never-ending search for a new team done, and his days in pinstripes over, can he stabilize the top of the Tigers order? With Detroit trading away leadoff man Curtis Granderson, and No. 2 hitter Placido Polanco departing via free agency, Damon could also help mentor rookie CF Austin Jackson and provide leadership in the clubhouse.

The Mets' Mess

It has been a forgettable three years for the Mets, from their collapses in the NL East in 2007 and 2008 to their embarrassing fourth-place finish last season (70-92). Then there was the PR fiasco over who-told-whom-when? regarding Carlos Beltran's offseason right knee surgery. The team, ravaged by injuries a year ago, made a splash by signing OF Jason Bay but has plenty of questions to answer, including the health of several of their top players, including Beltran, Jose Reyes, Oliver Perez and recently acquired reliever Kelvim Escobar.

Show Mauer the money

The Twins have beefed up their payroll, adding Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy and Jim Thome. But the big question is, can the defending AL Central champions reach a contract extension with their franchise player, catcher Joe Mauer, before opening day? Mauer, 26, the reigning American League MVP and three-time batting champion, is in the last year of his deal and could become one of the game's richest players by the time camp is over.

Changing Sox

What will the Red Sox roster look like on opening day? There are the new faces, offseason acquisitions such as OF Mike Cameron, 3B Adrian Beltre and RHP John Lackey who improved the defense and pitching. Then there's the status of some of the club's stalwarts, with former World Series MVP Mike Lowell in limbo and RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka trying to come back from injury.

Great expectations

With Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan, an East Lake product, coming off his NL rookie of the year season, how will he handle the increased attention this spring?

Special guest

In Astros camp, other than the Brad Mills era beginning and the battle at closer, another hot topic may be where the next Jennie Finch sighting will be in Kissimmee. The international softball pitching star, married to Astros RHP Casey Daigle, will likely draw a crowd.

Joe Smith, Times staff writer

Spring training storylines to watch 03/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 11:58pm]
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