Robinson Cano's breakout 2007 season might be difficult to duplicate. But if you listen to his coaches, even better things might be on the horizon.
Last season, Cano hit .342 with 57 extra-base hits. He reported to Yankees Spring Training camp in great shape, aided in part by the team allowing him to play winter ball.
"I didn't want to sit at home for a few months not doing anything," Cano told Newsday. "I wanted to keep myself going."
Yankees coach Larry Bowa, who has taken Cano under his wing, believes Cano can have an even better season than last year.
"I don't know what the ceiling is," Bowa said. "Do you expect him to hit .340? That's an unbelievable number. I don't know if he can, but I will say he is a .300 hitter, and he's going to get stronger and hit home runs. I don't want him to read that, but he doesn't know pitchers yet. He doesn't have two [full] years in."
It is easy to believe Cano can improve on last year's numbers. Cano had 41 doubles, slugged 15 home runs and drove in 78 runs in only 482 at-bats and he missed six weeks due to a hamstring injury. Cano, a left-handed hitter, hit .363 against right-handed pitchers and has drawn some high praise from manager Joe Torre.
"In my mind, he's a combination of Rod Carew and Robbie Alomar, just from watching the softness with which he did everything and the explosiveness with his bat," Torre said.
Soriano ready to get back on the mound: Rafael Soriano's 2006 season ended badly with a line drive to the head. But the new Braves hurler says he had no lingering effects from it.
"I'm not scared, I'm not a little kid," Soriano told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "What happened, happened. I can look at the videotape of what happened. It doesn't bother me to see it."
Soriano suffered a concussion after being hit by a blast off the bat of Vladimir Guerrero. It was a shocking end to what had been a comeback season from two years of shoulder problems which limited him to just 13 games in 2004-05. Soriano finished 2006 with a 2.25 ERA in 53 games. "I feel 100 percent now," said Soriano, who kept in shape in the offseason with a throwing regimen that included tossing batting practice to Sammy Sosa in the Domincan Republic.
Owens never saw himself as a pitcher: There are not many Major League hurlers who claim they weren't the best pitchers in the family, but Marlins reliever Henry Owens is one of them. In fact, he claims to have two siblings who were better than him.
"Oh, my goodness, my sisters were way better. Way better," Owens told the Miami Herald. "They were the big thing in Miami. They were definitely the pitchers in the family."
Both of Owens' sisters were fast-pitch softball standouts. Meanwhile, Owens didn't even think his future was in baseball. Through college, Owens was a catcher who figured his career would be in medicine.
"I would say there's probably a good chance that I would've already graduated medical school and probably already practicing medicine somewhere," Owens said when asked how the 1997 Owens would have projected the 2007 Owens. "In 1997, I was interested in orthopedic surgery, primarily dealing with athletes."
But the Pirates had Owens remove his catching gear and throw as a pitcher after scouting him. They were impressed enough to sign him as a non-drafted free agent, even though he had never pitched in a game.
"When I first showed up to Pirates camp, the pitching coach told me to get on the mound and throw bullpen," Owens said. "I said, `What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to stand on this thing?' I had no idea. He said, 'What?' I said, 'I've never pitched before.' He was like, `Oh, my gosh.'
"They would bring me out there every day for early work, kind of break down the fundamentals. It's been a learning process ever since that continues today. I've still got a lot to learn and I'm really anxious to learn. The idea is to get big-league hitters out not just for a short-term, but for a long time."
Ortiz looks good back on old stomping grounds: An impressive stint in Puerto Rico convinced the Giants to re-sign veteran pitcher Russ Ortiz. The one-time ace of the staff goes to Spring Training with a leg up on the fifth starter's slot in the team's rotation.
"Now, is that set in stone? No," Ortiz told the San Jose Mercury News. "It's fair to say that's their intent ... but I also know if they don't see what they want to see, at no time did they promise me that would be the case."
Rich Aurilia is also back in camp with the Giants. He played with Ortiz during the pitcher's first go-round with the club and was impressed after facing him in batting practice.
"That's the Russ that I knew and played with before," Aurilia said. "If you asked any of the four guys who faced him today, they'd say, `Where has this guy been the last few years?'"
Ortiz' performance impressed manager Bruce Bochy.
"You get a better read when games start and the hitters have their timing, but you can tell by the way he's throwing right now," Bochy said. "He has a lot of confidence."
Lopez in mix for Opening Day call: It is always tough joining a new team, but right-handed pitcher Rodrigo Lopez already feels at home with his new teammates on the Colorado Rockies.
"I know I am the new guy in the group and there are guys who have been here for some time," he told the Rocky Mountain News. "I know I have to prove myself, but they have made me feel like I belong."
And while Lopez may be the newcomer, the former Baltimore Orioles pitcher has a chance to be the Opening Day starter. Manager Clint Hurdle said Lopez is one of the pitchers in the mix for the assignment, along with Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook.
"That is a very big compliment, for him to think of me in that way," Lopez said. "For them to have that much confidence in me makes me feel very good about my situation."
Hurdle believes Lopez, who started on Opening Day three times for Baltimore, is more than capable of throwing 200 innings this year and winning 10 or more games. He also believes Lopez will match up well against the best pitchers from opposing teams if he is used at the top of the rotation.
"More often than not he's going to draw the No. 1 or No. 2 starter from the other team, and he has to be able to put that aside and pitch his game," Hurdle said. "He has to accept the fact he isn't pitching against another pitcher but he has to pitch to a lineup."
Japanese baseball a boon to Garcia: Phillies veteran Karim Garcia is back in the United States after spending two years playing in Japan.
"It's very different baseball over there than it is here," Garcia told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "They put many more hours into working out and concentrating on hitting and stuff like that. Culture-wise, it's completely different. Games start at 6 p.m. at night. Over there, if you're tied after 12 innings, that's it. You're not going to finish.
"Baseball-wise, it's a lot slower than the States. They don't have the arm strength that we have here, but they're very smart. They'll make it tough for you. But I'm very excited to be here in the States. Two years was enough for me."
In his time away, Garcia changed his approach at the plate to cut down on his reputation as a dead-pull hitter.
"I usually struck out a lot, so I learned to put the ball in play and really concentrate on pitches you're looking for," said Garcia, a .241 career hitter. "I tried to hit to the opposite field more to make me a more complete hitter.
"I wanted to give myself one more chance to play in the Major Leagues," he said. "Right now, I'm getting an opportunity and I want to take advantage of it. I know the competition is going to be with a lot of guys. I'm just going to have to do my job to make this team. ... I just think this for me was the best shot."
And that's all he was after.
"When I left two years ago, I knew I needed to go somewhere else to get a break," he said. "I wasn't doing very good. Those two years in Japan gave me the opportunity to experience something else baseball, culture and now I think I'm still at a good age to come back and play for a few more years."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.