By Tim Birkmeyer The 5 best words in baseball, no, all of sports: Pitchers and Catchers Reporting Today! Let me be the first to wish every one of you a Happy New Year. BASEBALL. IS. BACK! Time to break out the peanuts and cracker jacks, put on your sunglasses, and turn on those twitter notifications for your team’s local writers and the national journalists. It is also time to look ahead to this upcoming season and regain hope that your team will win the World Series. Unless you are like me. If you’re like me, chances are your favorite team is the Orioles, Tigers, Rangers, Mariners, Pirates, or Rockies. So why are we so excited for today? What is there to be hopeful for this season? Well, baseball returning is one of them. The other is prospects, farm watching, and hope for a better season than last. Take my Orioles for example. Once we cleaned house, we all knew a rebuild was happening and that it would take a few seasons to MAYBE compete for a Wild Card spot. Now we have our highest farm system ranking ever, some actual good prospects to watch (mainly Adley Rutschman), but we are still a year or two away from actually thinking about a winning season. My hope for this season (which I’ll get into more with previews and such) is 70 wins. It shows we are improving by a handful of games every season and would still be on pace to be somewhat competitive in a year or two. If you are a fan of a team like the Orioles, here are some prospects to keep an eye on: Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez (Mariners), Ke’Bryan Hayes and Quinn Priester (Pirates), Spencer Torkelson and Matt Manning (Tigers), Zac Veen (Rockies), and Josh Jung (Rangers). If you’re not like me and you are a fan of teams like the Yankees; Dodgers; Padres; Braves; White Sox; and Astros, congrats! Your team is actually good and will be having World Series aspirations. What should you be looking for this Spring Training? Health and any new players brought in from Free Agency or Trades. For the Dodgers, you are looking at Trevor Bauer to see if he is looking like his Cy Young self from last season. For the Yankees, you are wishing for the health of your players since everyone was hurt last year, and specifically the health of ace Gerrit Cole. If he suffers a big injury, it’s likely over for the Yankees who don’t have much of a rotation after Cole. Padres’ fans should be watching to see if the Slam Diego Swag continues this season, especially with a bolstered roster. For other competitive teams, you are hoping for the prospects to live up to the expectations, and hoping for continued growth and success to get over the Dodgers/Yankees hump to compete for a title. And, if you’re a fan of a team that’s in the middle and can make a run, such as the Phillies; Brewers; Cardinals; Blue Jays; Twins; and Athletics, that’s exactly what you are hoping for this season. You want everyone to be healthy, you want Bryce Harper and Christian Yelich to return to their MVP selves, you want the Nolan Arenado trade or George Springer signing to pay off, and you want to catch lightning in a bottle and win 14 of 15 to gain some games in the standings or to further your lead. And, if you make the playoffs, it is anyone’s game at that point. All you have to do is beat the Dodgers 3 times in 5 games (or 4 in 7) to move on, it is possible. Finally, and I speak for mostly every baseball fan when I say this, if you are an Angels fan: PLEASE BE GOOD SO WE CAN SEE MIKE TROUT IN THE PLAYOFFS. The Angels were good one time in 2014 when they were the best team in Baseball, and got swept by the Royals. Mike Trout is a generational talent that is going to waste because the Angels can’t seem to figure it out. Luckily, with Joe Madden as the manager, there is hope, but the Angels need to do a bit more. So, get excited for Pitchers and Catcher reporting, get excited for Spring Training and the upcoming season, and keep an eye out for some of the things written above. What/who else will you be looking for this Spring Training? What else about baseball would you like for me to write about? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter, Play Ball! By Tim Birkmeyer

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