Manny is happy. Manny has lost 15 pounds. Manny has his swing back. That's been the buzz around the Grapefruit League, where the Rays have been paying tribute to their new designated hitter by wearing T-shirts emblazoned with PROVE IT. Manny Ramirez has "been saying those words over and over since he got here," says outfielder Ben Zobrist.
Out to prove he's not yet done at 38, Ramirez, who signed a one-year, $2 million deal in January, "is driving the ball, and his body looks better than it's been in a while," says a scout. "He is a serious comeback candidate." Injuries limited him to 90 games with the Dodgers and the White Sox in 2010, but it won't take the Manny of old to give Tampa a boost: Last year the Rays' DHs combined for a .239 average and just 17 home runs. If Ramirez can stay happy and healthy hitting fourth behind third baseman Evan Longoria—"How good Manny looks right now definitely bodes well for Longo," manager Joe Maddon said last week after Ramirez's third home run of the spring—then the 12-time All-Star will turn out to be baseball's best bargain.
Bullish on Manny? Here are other players and teams whose stock has risen—or fallen—this spring.
• Blue Jays prospects
Rookie righthander Kyle Drabek, 23, has been so good that he has all but locked up a rotation spot. Outfield prospect Anthony Gose, 20, has turned heads with his game-breaking speed. But the biggest revelation has been 21-year-old third baseman Brett Lawrie, a former second baseman acquired in December in the deal that sent starter Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee. Lawrie's breakout this spring (.324 average, two home runs through Sunday) could push third baseman Jose Bautista to the outfield as soon as Opening Day. "[Lawrie] reminds me of Ryan Braun," says one scout. "He's a .300 hitter with 30-home-run potential."
They strutted into spring training as everyone's favorite in the NL. But injuries to rightfielder Domonic Brown (out until mid-April after hand surgery) and second baseman Chase Utley, who faces the possibility of knee surgery, have made them vulnerable. "They have nothing around Ryan Howard [in the lineup]," says a scout. "The pitching will be great, but the offense was thin with Utley, and without him, it's below average."
• Jonathan Papelbon
Coming off his worst season, the Red Sox' closer has had control problems this spring (five walks). Papelbon's future in Boston is doubly uncertain: He's in the last year of his contract, and the Sox have setup man Daniel Bard and ex-closer Bobby Jenks as capable replacements.
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A debate is raging in Rangers camp: The defending AL champs are torn about whether to move last year's AL Rookie of the Year, closer Neftali Feliz, from the bullpen to the rotation. CEO Nolan Ryan said last weekend that opinions in the organization remained split 50-50, even though Feliz has dazzled in a spring starter audition, mixing his high-90s fastball and slider with a new cutter. The problem is that there is no clear candidate to succeed Feliz as closer. Righthander Mark Lowe, 27, has been lit up this spring (14.14 ERA in seven innings), and righty Alexi Ogando, 27, has no career saves. "[Manager] Ron Washington has gotten very comfortable with Feliz getting the last three outs," says assistant G.M. Thad Levine. "But the highest-value player in the game is the premier starting pitcher."
MANNY'S BACK The Rays' Ramirez looks dreadlocked in at the plate, while Drabek (below) has opened eyes in Jays camp.
BRAD MANGIN (FELIZ)