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Johnson: A look at pro baseball as spring training breaks

Games played on the other side of the planet notwitstanding, the 2014 Major League baseball season is only a few days from getting underway.

Naturally, it snowed earlier this week in Grundy County – and at U.S. Cellular Field, where the White Sox will host the Twins on Monday afternoon.

The weather has probably tempered my enthusiasm about the start of baseball season, and the present state of Chicago’s teams, and especially my Cubs, has limited it further. While 2014 doesn’t figure to be a competitive one for either Chicago team (I could see the White Sox being a fringe contender if they get a lot of things to go their way), an olive branch I’d throw miserable fans is that 2014 won’t be a complete wash of a season, either.

The White Sox should be the better of the two teams. They’ve got one true superstar in Chris Sale who at press time is just 24 years old (he’ll turn 25 Sunday). They have another guy in Jose Abreu who might as well take his place as one of the game’s best power hitters by September. Those guys will be worth watching.

More importantly, the 2014 Sox will be an interesting look at how well general manager Rick Hahn’s widely-praised rebuilding-on-the-fly approach is working. These Sox don’t have to compete for that to be the case. Good seasons from guys like Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson and Erik Johnson, not to mention up-and-down veterans like John Danks and Gordon Beckham, will make the immediate future look much brighter for the Sox.

The Cubs’ more thorough and deliberate rebuild remains a work in progress as its third season (some would say its 106th). There aren’t any players as exciting as Sale and Abreu on the opening-day roster, though it’s very possible that Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and/or Jeff Samardzija will resume the progression to stardom they seemed to be on before their disappointing 2012 campaigns.

But the best thing 2014 will likely bring Cubs fans is the arrival of several top prospects. The top prospect, Javier Baez, will be at Wrigley by July, I’d reckon. Arismendy Alcantara could arrive at the same time. Kris Bryant might be up by September. They won’t all set the world on fire from day one, but they’ll give Cubs fans a peek – and a tangible indication that better days could be around the corner.

Looking local

It’s not surprising, but neither of the area natives who pitched at major league spring training survived their team’s final cuts.

Minooka’s Mike Foltynewicz was one of a group of top Astros prospects who were reassigned to minor-league camp last Thursday. Foltynewicz, who has never pitched above the Double A level, is expected to start the year at Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Zach Petrick of Morris was reassigned by the Cardinals on March 15. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he will be in the rotation at Triple-A Memphis.

Just outside of the Morris Daily Herald’s area, Wilmington native Tanner Roark is considered a favorite, if not the favorite, to be the fifth starter for the Washington Nationals. That decision will reportedly be finalized this Saturday. Even if he doesn’t get the job, Roark is a virtual lock to make the 25-man roster.

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