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Mets GM: 'I think' Tebow will play in MLB

MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Those who consider Tim Tebow's baseball experiment a joke, a distraction, are officially on notice. Yes, Tebow's doubters may not disappear anytime soon. He knows that his Minor League statistics are what they are. But the Mets are no longer willing to discuss the former NFL quarterback as anything less than a legitimate prospect.

General manager Sandy Alderson on Sunday gave his most ringing endorsement yet of Tebow's status in the organization, saying: "I think he will play in the Major Leagues."

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Those who consider Tim Tebow's baseball experiment a joke, a distraction, are officially on notice. Yes, Tebow's doubters may not disappear anytime soon. He knows that his Minor League statistics are what they are. But the Mets are no longer willing to discuss the former NFL quarterback as anything less than a legitimate prospect.

General manager Sandy Alderson on Sunday gave his most ringing endorsement yet of Tebow's status in the organization, saying: "I think he will play in the Major Leagues."

"That's my guess," Alderson continued. "That's my hope. And to some extent now after a year and a half, a modest expectation."

Tweet from @Mets: .@TimTebow has arrived in camp. #Mets pic.twitter.com/vLmXxk1VRN

What began 17 months ago as a curiosity at best, a publicity stunt at worst, has evolved into something far more legitimate. Tebow reported this weekend to his first big league camp, where the Mets plan to treat him no differently than Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce or any of the team's other outfielders. There is a chance that Tebow begins this year at Double-A Binghamton, just two steps from the Majors.

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So although Tebow stopped short of calling a big league promotion his expectation, he too is beginning to acknowledge its possibility.

"As an athlete, you always want to be the best you can, play at the highest level, win a championship, be the best," Tebow said. "If the best that I can be is in the bigs, that would be awesome. I believe in myself, and so I want to strive for that. But if that doesn't happen, then I won't look back and regret playing baseball, because I've already enjoyed it."

A former Heisman Trophy winner with the University of Florida and an NFL quarterback for the Broncos, Jets, Patriots and Eagles, Tebow began his Minor League journey when he signed with the Mets in September 2016. Competing in the Arizona Fall League that autumn, Tebow spent last spring in Minor League camp, though the Mets frequently borrowed him for Grapefruit League games.

Over the summer, Tebow advanced to Class A Columbia and Class A Advanced St. Lucie, hitting .226 with eight home runs in 126 games. While he never hit well enough to force his way up the Minor League ladder, Tebow showed enough marked improvement that the Mets felt comfortable pushing him to such heights.

Video: Tebow hits walk-off homer for St. Lucie Mets

That is why they invited Tebow to big league camp in Port St. Lucie, where he will compete against some of baseball's best players. Ever since the end of last season, Tebow has revamped his swing, despite spending much of his winter traveling to the Middle East and South America for foundation work.

"He benefits the Mets because of how he conducts himself," Alderson said. "He's a tremendous representative of the organization. We've been pushing him because there's a finite period of time for this to work. But his commitment to the game has been exceptional. So we're pushing him a little bit and he's here in camp not because he brings some notoriety. He's here because we want to push him a little bit. We think this is the best environment for him to get better."

Often defensive of the experiment, Alderson said Tebow was "phenomenal for Minor League Baseball last year," calling the notion that he shouldn't have a chance to compete "crazy."

Tweet from @AnthonyDiComo: Here are Tim Tebow's own thoughts on playing in the Major Leagues: pic.twitter.com/187hygMPQT

"We're going to evaluate Tim Tebow just as we would anybody else," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "I think Tim Tebow is here because he can potentially help us at the Major League level at some point. He wouldn't be here otherwise."

If Tebow does make it to that stage, he said, his broadcasting commitments to the SEC Network will not interfere. Tebow's other employers understand that baseball is his top priority, even if a segment of the fan base doesn't quite believe it -- and perhaps never will.

"My goal isn't about what's going to happen one day. My goal is to focus on this day," Tebow said. "I can't worry about one day if I'm going to play in the bigs or not. I got into this because I love it."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

New York Mets, Tim Tebow

Kraken tearing the cover off the ball -- literally

When Gary Sanchez steps to the plate, baseballs cower in fear -- as they should. He's smashed 53 homers over the last two years, leading all Major League catchers despite playing in far fewer games while crushing the ball as far as anyone. You know, like this one that went 493 feet -- second-longest in the Majors last year: 

Friars on Hosmer: 'I couldn't be more excited'

San Diego clubhouse features multiple former Royals, who rave about new first baseman
MLB.com @AJCassavell

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Austin Hedges was fast asleep Saturday night, when his phone buzzed. Then it buzzed again. And then it buzzed again. He couldn't ignore it much longer.

So Hedges picked the phone up and read the news -- that the Padres had an agreement in place with free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer, an eight-year deal as reported by MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Austin Hedges was fast asleep Saturday night, when his phone buzzed. Then it buzzed again. And then it buzzed again. He couldn't ignore it much longer.

So Hedges picked the phone up and read the news -- that the Padres had an agreement in place with free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer, an eight-year deal as reported by MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi.

Hedges didn't get much sleep after that.

"I couldn't be more excited," Hedges said Sunday morning. "I've been excited ever since the rumor started spreading in [November] that we even had the possibility of signing him. ... Obviously, the guy puts up numbers every year, and he's a stud. But from a leadership standpoint, teammate standpoint, how he plays first base, he's the whole package. He's exactly the type of person we want here."

• Source: Padres, Hosmer agree to 8-year deal

Video: Padres reportedly sign Hosmer to eight-year deal

That sentiment rang throughout a particularly buoyant Padres clubhouse on Sunday morning.

In the eyes of reliever Matt Strahm, who spent two seasons as Hosmer's teammate in Kansas City, it won't be the last time Hosmer's presence is felt there.

"I've never seen a guy walk into a clubhouse and just change the mood like [Hosmer] would over in Kansas City," said Strahm. "He gets along with everyone, and he can relate to everyone, which is awesome. I'm really excited to have him and really excited to get the season going."

No Padres player has been affected by the Hosmer signing more than Wil Myers. The club has asked Myers -- once the franchise first baseman in San Diego -- to transition to the outfield.

• Hosmer's arrival will reshape outfield, lineup

Nonetheless, Myers was among the most exhilarated Padres at the prospect of the signing, and he readily accepted the positional change. He first met Hosmer at instructional ball in the Royals' farm system in 2009. Hosmer hit third and Myers hit fourth during their brief stint together in Class A Advanced Wilmington in 2010. If it meant clearing room for Hosmer, Myers was more than willing to shift to a corner-outfield spot.

So what, exactly, is it about Hosmer that has the club so energized?

"Besides being a good player?" Myers said with a wry grin. "He's great in the clubhouse. He'll get along with anyone. ... Who he is as a person, I think he's going to fit right into what we're doing here in San Diego."

• Hot Stove Tracker

Chris Young has seen that firsthand. Along with Hosmer, Young helped bring a World Series championship to Kansas City in 2015, and he spoke to Hosmer's immense impact on that group.

"He's one of my all-time favorite teammates," Young said. "He's a great guy, great attitude, he brings competitiveness, a fire, but also that child spirit in the clubhouse where you can relate to everyone, have fun, joke around. He has a way of connecting with everyone on the team."

Video: Chris Young on what Eric Hosmer brings to the Padres

News and notes

• Reliever Kirby Yates twisted his ankle and is being held out of fielding drills. The Padres don't view the injury as a long-term concern, and Yates was able to throw his bullpen session as scheduled on Sunday.

• Right-hander Jacob Nix, the club's No. 14 prospect, has been sidelined with "a lower-leg injury," according to Padres manager Andy Green. There's no timetable on a return, but Green said his absence was precautionary.

• Right-hander Tyson Ross faced hitters for the first time this spring on Sunday. He's drawn rave reviews for the freeness in his delivery, and Ross acknowledged he's feeling much better than he did during a pair of injury plagued seasons in 2016-17.

"Time heals all wounds," Ross said. "It took a while to recover from that [shoulder] surgery. Having a full offseason to get strong, work on throwing, mechanical work -- I feel great."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Eric Hosmer

Zobrist: 'The hunger is back' in Cubs' WS chase

Veteran opts not to offer advice to Astros on avoiding championship hangover
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MESA, Ariz. -- Ben Zobrist played on back-to-back championship teams with the Royals in 2015 and the Cubs in '16. Any advice for the Astros on how to deal with a World Series hangover this season?

"No," Zobrist said laughing, "and if they did [ask], I would tell them all the wrong things because we need to beat them this year."

MESA, Ariz. -- Ben Zobrist played on back-to-back championship teams with the Royals in 2015 and the Cubs in '16. Any advice for the Astros on how to deal with a World Series hangover this season?

"No," Zobrist said laughing, "and if they did [ask], I would tell them all the wrong things because we need to beat them this year."

Zobrist, 36, called last season one of the toughest in his career.

"It's hard to put into words the impact that the kind of championship that 2016 has on a team," Zobrist said Sunday, "because I don't think anybody has had to deal with that in baseball when you're talking about how much pressure was on our team and getting to that Game 7 and win that championship that hasn't been done in 108 years.

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"I think everybody was pretty satisfied as far as Cubs Nation goes -- at least for a little bit. As players, you have to find a way to turn it back on. It's not easy to do. From the top to the bottom, it was a difficult road to get everybody back to the same frame of mind, the same hunger that we had in '16. We just weren't ourselves the whole first half of last year."

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The Cubs did scuffle at the start of last season, coming in 5 1/2 games behind the Brewers at the All-Star break. They rallied to win the National League Central and reach the NL Championship Series, but lost in five games to the Dodgers.

"We were trying," Zobrist said of last season. "There was a lot of effort going into it. I think we just struggled to figure it out and try to get back to the same place of mind, and I think there was a lot of fatigue -- mental and emotional fatigue more than physical -- for a lot of guys at the early part of last season."

This year is different, Zobrist said.

"I can tell you this, the hunger is back for this team and we're excited to get back at it and prove that we're the best team again," he said.

Worth noting

• First baseman Anthony Rizzo was expected in camp on Monday for the first full-squad workout. Rizzo had returned to his hometown of Parkland, Fla., to be with family and friends after a shooting at his former high school in which 17 people were killed.

"He's a special guy, and some of the things he's gone through and their community has gone through the last couple days, I'm looking forward to giving him a big hug and welcoming him back," Zobrist said of Rizzo.

"He needs hugs. We give a lot of hugs around here. We're a tight-knit group. He'll be excited to get back into the game. That's one of the best things about baseball is that it helps everybody move on from difficult things that happen."

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were expected to address the players.

• The Cubs used 11 different leadoff men last season. Zobrist is one of the candidates to do so this year, but the Cubs also could continue to rotate players.

"I'm very comfortable with moving that around based on guys who get on base often," manager Joe Maddon said Sunday. "That's the whole point. When you can combine that with a guy who has high on-base and can hit homers, too, that's even more attractive. We have a lot of guys who are capable."

Video: CHC@MIL: Zobrist provides insurance with two-run jack

• Maddon is well aware of the potential for criticism on social media when he expresses his opinion on topics such as gun control.

"It's going to happen," he said. "Everybody has a voice these days. Whenever you sit in this seat and talk into the camera every day, and if you ask me my opinion, of course people are going to disagree with it. I expect that. I kind of enjoy it. I don't mind any of that. If I say something, I want to be committed and believe what I say to you guys first. If I'm uncertain, I'll tell you I'm uncertain. But to be disagreed with by people anonymously typing messages in the basement or off their phone in the bathroom, I don't worry about stuff like that. It's part of our culture right now."

One thing Maddon will emphasize in camp is using the phone to actually talk to people. He wants to hear the nuance in their voice.

• The Cubs made two roster moves on Sunday. Outfielder Charcer Burks was added to big league camp as a non-roster invitee. Burks, 22, batted .270 last season at Double-A Tennessee and also played in the Arizona Fall League.

The Cubs released right-handed pitcher Williams Perez, a non-roster invitee. Perez, 26, had pitched for the Braves in 2015 and '16. Last season, he was 7-10 with a 5.01 ERA in 23 starts with Triple-A Iowa.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Ben Zobrist

With Hoz signed, can Sox gain traction on JD?

Dombrowski confident in roster, but Boston continues to pursue free-agent slugger
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Now that a big free-agent domino has fallen with Eric Hosmer agreeing to terms on an eight-year deal with the Padres, can the Red Sox gain some momentum in their prolonged quest to reel in slugger J.D. Martinez?

It is clearly a question worth asking, but one that Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski didn't have an answer for as of Sunday afternoon.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Now that a big free-agent domino has fallen with Eric Hosmer agreeing to terms on an eight-year deal with the Padres, can the Red Sox gain some momentum in their prolonged quest to reel in slugger J.D. Martinez?

It is clearly a question worth asking, but one that Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski didn't have an answer for as of Sunday afternoon.

"We haven't had many free-agent conversations over the last little time period, so I can't really say there's any difference," said Dombrowski. "But it's apparent that it's starting to break. Hosmer ended up signing, or apparently agreed to terms when you look at it. [Yu] Darvish last week. There are still a lot of big-name guys out there, but there are some other guys starting to sign, so overall, it looks like it's starting to happen."

The Red Sox made Martinez a five-year offer worth at least $100 million earlier in the offseason.

Due to a seemingly limited number of suitors for Martinez -- the D-backs are the only other one that has been publicized -- the Red Sox don't want to bid against themselves.

Does Dombrowski feel the Red Sox need to acquire a big-name free agent?

"When you say it, you almost can't come up with the right answer because it seems like if I say one thing it comes out [wrong]," said Dombrowski. "I always think that our club can be better. We will always strive to make our club better. But if we went into the season with the club we have now, and it was healthy, I would feel very good about that."

Meanwhile, the players in the clubhouse are just going about their business. On Sunday, they welcomed back an old friend in Eduardo Nunez. Whether or not Martinez comes walking in some day is still anybody's guess.

"We hear about it every single day," said Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi. "I don't think anybody wants to pay attention to it really. We're players. We play. That's not really what we have to worry about. Whatever happens happens. I'm sure we'll hear about it before we see somebody walk in, but we'll see what happens."

Video: Rick Porcello confident heading into 2018 season

Lowe works with Porcello
Former Red Sox right-hander Derek Lowe attended the team's workout in street clothes on Sunday and did some work in the bullpen with Rick Porcello. Lowe's signature pitch during his playing career is the sinker, which is Porcello's out pitch.

Lowe lives right down the street from where the Red Sox train in Fort Myers, but he doesn't work for the club. He is good friends with new pitching coach Dana LeVangie. Lowe first started talking sinkerballs with Porcello in January at the Red Sox' Winter Weekend in Connecticut.

"Yeah, he sunk the ball well for a long time, so just talking about different stuff, grips, trying to take any little tip that he throws my way and if it's something that works for me, I'll use it to my advantage," said Porcello. "Not everything is going to directly translate, but there's a lot of things I can learn from him and everybody. Just taking information and processing it and talking [to him] about a whole bunch of different stuff."

Another familiar face arrives on Monday, as 2007 World Series MVP Mike Lowell will be on hand to work with some of the players, including third baseman Rafael Devers.

"I'm a big believer that whoever can contribute to this program, I'm happy that they offer their services and that they're here," said manager Alex Cora. "You saw everybody's excitement. … It was amazing when D-Lowe walked in, especially with Pedro [Martinez]. He has a great relationship with Dana and reconnected with him in Connecticut at the Winter Fest, so was here. They are similar pitchers, so why not? If that's going to make Rick better, so be it."

Video: Cora discusses the offseason and rivalry with Yankees

Big day on Monday
Monday's first full-squad workout will be an exciting day for Cora, who will address the team before they take the field. Traditionally, members of ownership and the front office also speak to the players.

"Yeah, I'm more prepared for this one than the one with pitchers and catchers," said Cora. "But there's a lot of people that are going to be here tomorrow. I know how big that first day is, not only for the baseball team, but for the players and the organization. I'm looking forward to that.

"It's an opportunity to, not that you have to make a statement; they know what's at stake. But to get some points across. I'm glad that everybody is here. It's going to be a tough day, schedule-wise. We're going to be all over the place. That's what it's all about now. Now we go."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox

Votto reports, issues 'winning' challenge to Reds

First baseman eager for Cincinnati to return to contention
MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- By his own accounting, Joey Votto purposely tried not to do too much with his offseason. The Reds first baseman embraced his down time.

"I tried to get fatter," Votto joked after completing his physical Sunday, when position players reported. "I succeeded at that apparently. We did all the testing, and I am fatter. I just wanted to take as much time away as I could and relax and really unwind. I felt like I needed it. Hopefully it pays off."

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- By his own accounting, Joey Votto purposely tried not to do too much with his offseason. The Reds first baseman embraced his down time.

"I tried to get fatter," Votto joked after completing his physical Sunday, when position players reported. "I succeeded at that apparently. We did all the testing, and I am fatter. I just wanted to take as much time away as I could and relax and really unwind. I felt like I needed it. Hopefully it pays off."

Votto finished in second place for the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2017 -- a mere two points shy of winner Giancarlo Stanton. The 34-year-old Votto had arguably the best year of his 10-year career after he batted .320/.454/.578 with 36 home runs, 100 RBIs and 106 runs scored.

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But Votto was not using his idle time to bask in his own achievements -- especially since Cincinnati finished 68-94 for the second consecutive year. The club hasn't reached the postseason since 2013, and it is a long way from the days of being NL Central champions in 2010 and '12. He would like to get better as a player, but Votto noted he wants his team to get better, too.

Video: Outlook: Votto continues to display superb discipline

"It's tough because even had I won that award, it still would have felt awkward because we had such a down year last year," Votto said. "For me, I always want to do my job and play as well as I can. But ultimately, it's much better going home at the end of a work day knowing that you contributed to winning baseball. It's much better finishing a season knowing you're a part of winning baseball. That's been on my mind.

"I think we're starting to get to the point where people are starting to get tired of this stretch of ball. I think something needs to start changing and start going in a different direction. I'm going to do my part to help make that change."

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Votto could not say whether the team currently assembled in the Spring Training clubhouse was one that could bring that change.

"Guys need to get better. Guys need to grow. Guys need to just come out of nowhere," Votto said. "We need lots of help, all the way around. Hopefully that happens sooner than later. I think there's potentially a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope it happens. More importantly, I hope it happens where it's sustainable, where we get guys that stay put for a long time, become marquee names in the city and hopefully in the game in general. The only chance that happens is if there are guys that can really, really play."

Video: Breaking down the Reds' projected 2018 lineup

From 2010-13, when Votto helped the Reds reach the playoffs in three out of four years, he recognized there were the expectations from within -- and the outside -- that the team would be a contender and win.

This year, teams like the Astros, Cubs and Nationals are the ones that carry that aura.

"That's a frustrating thing when you move out of the window," Votto said. "I'll just speak about us. We kind of moved out of it in '14-ish, and the writing was on the wall. Hopefully we start it back up again in the not-too-distant future."

Cincinnati made no significant moves to add players in the offseason; the two big league contract signings were relievers David Hernandez and Jared Hughes. The club is instead counting on its young starting pitchers to grow and improve and veterans like Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani to stay healthy and be successful.

Votto endorsed not splurging on the free-agent market.

"I think they made the right moves," he said. "At some point they'll sign somebody very similar to the way the Brewers did it with Lorenzo Cain or made a five-year offer for [Yu] Darvish. I think those were both wise attempts and signings. I think, at some point, we'll do something similar to that."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Joey Votto

Get ready: Judge, Stanton hit together Monday

Reigning AL Rookie of the Year will sit out early spring games as precaution
MLB.com @BryanHoch

TAMPA, Fla. -- The greatest show on dirt could enjoy its opening act Monday, when Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are expected to hit in the same batting practice group during the Yankees' first full-squad workout of the spring.

"That's the plan," Judge said. "We'll see once we get in if that's still the plan, but I'm supposed to be full-go on the field with all of the guys. I'm looking forward to that."

TAMPA, Fla. -- The greatest show on dirt could enjoy its opening act Monday, when Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are expected to hit in the same batting practice group during the Yankees' first full-squad workout of the spring.

"That's the plan," Judge said. "We'll see once we get in if that's still the plan, but I'm supposed to be full-go on the field with all of the guys. I'm looking forward to that."

Check out first images of Stanton in pinstripes

Manager Aaron Boone said that while Judge has been cleared to participate in on-field hitting drills, he will be held out of the Yankees' earliest Grapefruit League games as a precaution. Judge had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in November.

Yankees Spring Training information

Judge has been working out in the batting cages and in the weight room, having recently been cleared to resume shoulder presses and overhead movements. He has also taken fly balls with outfield coach Reggie Willits, and said that he does not have an issue with the slower pace of his spring.

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"I understand it. It's all part of it," Judge said. "This process right here doesn't matter. What's important is being ready for Opening Day, so if I take a couple days here slow and miss a couple games or miss some activities, I don't mind that. I'd rather not miss any games when it starts to count."

Judge's batting practice sessions became must-see events last season, beginning in Spring Training, when he dented the left-field scoreboard numerous times and cleared it at least once. Judge said that he, Stanton and Gary Sanchez will probably have some enjoyable competitions.

"There's always some of that, even with the groups that we had before," Judge said. "Gary and I would get into it a little bit. We're just having some fun. We'll usually have about one round where we'll all kind of see how far we can hit it. There will be a little back and forth."

Spring in his step

Sanchez spent part of his winter focusing on improving his flexibility, which he hopes will help him be a more complete contributor. Boone said that while he believes Sanchez's defensive issues have been overstated at times, the manager has been excited by the early form that Sanchez has shown in drills with coaches Josh Bard and Jason Brown.

Sanchez is already tearing the cover off the ball

"I know we talk about the offense and all the things in the past, but I think he's going to turn into a great all-around player and one of the leaders on our team right away," Boone said. "The work he's doing right now with Brownie, with Bard, each and every day, I think is preparing him to be an impact on both sides of the ball. That's our expectation. He's going to impact the game in a positive way on both sides of the ball."

Video: Outlook: Sanchez might be game's best hitting catcher

Boone said that critics may be overlooking a "remarkable" start to the 25-year-old Sanchez's career. In 177 games, Sanchez has hit .283/.353/.567 with 53 home runs and 132 RBIs, including a 33-homer campaign in 2017 that shattered a record for Yankees catchers shared by Yogi Berra and Jorge Posada (30).

"When you're a young catcher trying to lead a playoff-caliber club, there's a lot that goes into that," Boone said. "There's a lot to that position, not just the physical part of catching and throwing and hitting, but also developing and learning to call a game and developing relationships with pitchers. It's a lot. Being a Major League catcher is a lot. I look at it more as a positive start to things for him and I think there's a lot more in there."

They said it

"It's good for the fans. They want to see their home team hit some batting practice at their home field. That'll be good for the kids, too. I know a lot of kids like to come out and watch some guys hit some home runs. It'll be a good opportunity for everybody." -- Judge, on the Yankees opening gates three hours early for spring home games

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton

Diaz feels 'reborn' in camp after mom's rescue

MLB.com @adamdberry

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates catcher Elias Diaz reported to Spring Training on Sunday morning, smiling as usual inside the Pirate City clubhouse, with some good news to share. His mother, Ana Isabel Soto, is "doing a lot better" after she was kidnapped and rescued in Venezuela, Diaz said.

"She's doing well. That's what's important," he said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "That's what matters. We're very glad."

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates catcher Elias Diaz reported to Spring Training on Sunday morning, smiling as usual inside the Pirate City clubhouse, with some good news to share. His mother, Ana Isabel Soto, is "doing a lot better" after she was kidnapped and rescued in Venezuela, Diaz said.

"She's doing well. That's what's important," he said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "That's what matters. We're very glad."

According to Diaz, the 72-year-old Soto was talking with a friend outside of her house when a group of men, including a few police officers and a family friend, took her. They were seeking money in exchange for her safe return, Diaz said, but she was rescued three days later -- without any ransom paid -- by judicial police, state police and other security officers.

"In the beginning, I have no words to describe the reaction and the response of when I received the news. It was heartbreaking," Diaz said. "No one really prepares themselves for something like that. No one really takes the time to think that through, to try to even imagine what that could feel like. However, when it hit me, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was a very tough situation to deal with.

"When I did find out the news that we found my mom, I can tell you the joy I felt was overwhelming. I've never felt that caliber of joy that I felt the moment I received the news that my mom was coming back home."

Diaz was particularly distraught to learn that a family friend was involved in the kidnapping.

"It kind of removes the trust -- the trust of your roots," he said. "It makes you want to detach from your roots and maybe even question, 'Do I want to go back? Do I want to remain there?' You kind of lose the trust, and it makes you more aware of your surroundings. It's kind of sad. It's a very tough situation to deal with."

Diaz said he will do "everything possible to protect" his family. His plan is to move his immediate family out of his native Venezuela as soon as possible, though he admitted that is a "tough process."

The Pirates offered Diaz, 27, support throughout the distressing experience and gave him permission to stay with his family, delaying his arrival for Spring Training. He joined the team on Sunday, the deadline for position players to report and exactly a week after his mother was rescued.

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"I think it helps, no doubt, getting back in his routine," manager Clint Hurdle said. "To know that his mother's safe and secure now, it's a much better place than we were a week or 10 days ago."

Diaz said he was grateful for the Pirates' support, particularly that of Venezuelan teammates Francisco Cervelli, Felipe Rivero and Jose Osuna.

"I felt like my baseball family had my back," Diaz said. "It was very special to know my team had my back and was there supporting me and praying it up for me."

Now Diaz will begin preparing for his first full Major League season as Cervelli's backup. After what his family has been through, he said, he is looking forward to getting back to baseball.

"Without a doubt. I feel like a brand new man," Diaz said. "I feel like my mom was reborn and I was reborn as well. I'm more than excited, just motivated to get back on the field and do everything I can to help my team out and get ready for the season."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Elias Diaz

When Verlander speaks, Astros hurlers listen

Astros vet assists McCullers, talks pitching with Keuchel, Cole
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In his first Spring Training with the Astros, pitcher Justin Verlander has been spreading tons of knowledge. He was spotted Saturday getting hands-on with pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. during his bullpen session, and on Sunday, he was at his locker talking pitching with Dallas Keuchel and Gerrit Cole.

Even some of the younger pitchers in camp were training their eyes toward the corner of the clubhouse Sunday where Verlander was dropping insight.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In his first Spring Training with the Astros, pitcher Justin Verlander has been spreading tons of knowledge. He was spotted Saturday getting hands-on with pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. during his bullpen session, and on Sunday, he was at his locker talking pitching with Dallas Keuchel and Gerrit Cole.

Even some of the younger pitchers in camp were training their eyes toward the corner of the clubhouse Sunday where Verlander was dropping insight.

Astros Spring Training information

"I like to work with younger guys, older guys, whoever," Verlander said. "Especially in Spring Training time, it's a time to have new ideas, try new things, tweak things. Any information that I have that can help the guys, I'm kind of trying to see opportunities I can maybe help and impart some wisdom of a guy who's been around for a while. And thankfully this organization and a lot of the guys in the clubhouse are very open, even though they've had good success already, of trying new things and hearing different opinions. I think that's how you ultimately get better."

On Saturday, Verlander appeared to be showing McCullers ways to grip the ball while McCullers was throwing in the bullpen. The pair were also viewing photos and videos of the bullpen on a device while standing on the mound.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"Him and I are working on some similar stuff in Spring Training when it comes to spinning the ball or offspeed spin, just a few different things," Verlander said. "Honestly, [Saturday] we were back and forth. He would throw a pitch and we'd talk about how it felt and see some different results and go back and forth between pitches."

Verlander says he gets great satisfaction in helping his teammates, as long as it works. The goal, he says, is for everyone to get better.

"You're never pleased with where you're at. You're always looking forward and trying to improve in any way possible," he said. "If you have that atmosphere, guys tend to gravitate to guys that have been around for a while. It's kind of like, 'respect your elders.' I've been around a little longer, a little wiser. You just have more information processed that you've had over time in the big leagues. Hopefully, something I've seen or heard or felt, can help them."

Video: Verlander on new Spring Training, Cole in rotation

First full-squad workout Monday

The Astros went through an abbreviated workout Sunday, with most players leaving the facility by 9:30 a.m. CT. Sunday marked the final workout before the first full-squad workout Monday. Most of the position players who had reported early to camp weren't spotted at the facility Sunday, with the exception of outfielder Josh Reddick.

The Astros will open Grapefruit League play on Friday against the Nationals.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

Houston Astros, Justin Verlander

Be a GM with Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball

MLB.com

There truly is no offseason in baseball these days, as MLB general managers have been reshaping their clubs for the 2018 season ever since the Astros recorded the final out of the World Series last November.

And as Opening Day rapidly approaches, it's your turn to build a championship club.

There truly is no offseason in baseball these days, as MLB general managers have been reshaping their clubs for the 2018 season ever since the Astros recorded the final out of the World Series last November.

And as Opening Day rapidly approaches, it's your turn to build a championship club.

Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball, the Official Fantasy Commissioner Game of MLB.com, gives you the chance to manage your own club -- or perhaps even more than one -- and build it into a fantasy powerhouse, all from the comfort of your sofa. Better yet, fantasy owners can now manage their lineups on the go with Yahoo's award-winning Fantasy App, which includes all the same features as the desktop browser.

Join Yahoo Fantasy Baseball today!

Baseball's most celebrated executives like Theo Epstein and Jeff Luhnow don't build winners on their own, of course; it takes a team to build a team. That's why Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball includes a host of features to make your process as easy as possible, from customized player rankings to injury updates.

Fantasy players won't need to let a busy day get in the way of their championship goals, as Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball will now step up to the plate to ensure your active lineup is, well, active. Owners can choose to have active players automatically started with just one tap, either for a specific day or an entire gameweek. That means your team will always be playing at full strength -- even if some of your players are riding the pine.

Video: Arenado, Bryant among top fantasy third basemen

Those ambitious enough to create their own leagues will get an assist: Yahoo is offering commissioners free access to its Fantasy Alarm Draft Book. Designed for both snake drafts and auctions, the Draft Book has an advanced tier structure that ensures you are always getting the best value. Yahoo also handles league dues and distributes winnings at the end of the season, meaning you can get back to building your perfect roster.

We know the 162-game schedule can be grueling for both big league clubs and fantasy owners. For those interested in a more abbreviated experience, Yahoo is here to help. Try Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball's weekly head-to-head scoring setting, which is available in private leagues that you can create or join. After the draft, all you need to do is set your lineup once a week.

The season doesn't end with the draft, of course, and oftentimes a league's winner comes from the most active owners on the trade market. That task is now simpler than ever with Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball's Trade Market tool, which gives players the ability to consistently track transactions made by their counterparts and help them stay ahead of the curve.

Video: Zinkie assesses the top tiers of fantasy outfielders

It's all part of the effort to grab those crucial bragging rights as champion, and Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball has something for everyone. Fantasy rookies can get their feet wet with Yahoo's easy-to-use interface, while seasoned vets will have all the necessary tools at their disposal to dominate. Players can take home an electronic trophy by winning a free game or earn something even bigger by prevailing in one of Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball's pro leagues.

It's all been set up for you. Time to play, and good luck this season.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

LIVE: Follow the Andre Dawson Classic

Annual HBCU tournament underway in New Orleans
MLB.com

Six historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), plus the University of Illinois at Chicago and tournament co-host University of New Orleans, are squaring off this weekend in the newly dubbed Andre Dawson Classic.

• Grambling star shows poise at Dawson Classic

Six historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), plus the University of Illinois at Chicago and tournament co-host University of New Orleans, are squaring off this weekend in the newly dubbed Andre Dawson Classic.

• Grambling star shows poise at Dawson Classic

The eight-team, round-robin tournament is being played at UNO's Maestri Field and the New Orleans Major League Baseball Academy and concludes today. Formerly known as the Urban Invitational, the tournament is in its 11th season.

Fans can follow pitch-by-pitch action of every game on MLB.com's Gameday. 

SCHEDULE

Today
LIVE: Alcorn State Braves vs. Grambling State Tigers, Wesley Barrow Stadium. Gameday »
LIVE: Southern Jaguars vs. New Orleans Privateers, Maestri Stadium. Gameday »

RESULTS
Friday:
Illinois-Chicago Flames 3, Southern Jaguars 0. Gameday »
Alcorn State Braves 5, Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions 4. Gameday » 
Southern Jaguars 8, Grambling State Tigers 7. Gameday »
New Orleans Privateers 5, Illinois-Chicago Flames 4. Gameday »
Alabama State Hornets 8, Prairie View A&M Panthers 7. Gameday »

Saturday:
Illinois-Chicago Flames 9, Southern Jaguars 5. Gameday »
Alcorn State Braves 8, Prairie View A&M Panthers 4. Gameday »
Alabama State Hornets 6, New Orleans Privateers 3. Gameday »
Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions 5, Grambling State Tigers 4. Gameday »

Sunday:
Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions, 8 Alabama State Hornets, Maestri Stadium, 5. Gameday »
Illinois-Chicago Flames 10, Prairie View A&M Panthers 7. Gameday »

Jones on O's: 'We are here for one reason'

Eyeing 'hardware,' outfielder addresses future, free-agent market
MLB.com @Britt_Ghiroli

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Adam Jones wants it known. The veteran outfielder, who is entering the final years of his extension with Baltimore, wants to win. At this stage in his career, Jones isn't prioritizing money or length of contract. The fierce competitor wants some hardware.

"I'm going to make the best decision for myself and going forward," Jones said in the O's clubhouse Sunday morning. "I want to win. It's not about money. It's winning. I've got a lot of friends with rings, hardware. My friend Cameron Maybin, he won a ring last year. My friend Quintin Berry got a ring. Dontrelle [Willis] got a ring. Edwin Jackson got a ring. I've got a bunch of friends with rings and I ain't got no ring, so I want to play for something."

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Adam Jones wants it known. The veteran outfielder, who is entering the final years of his extension with Baltimore, wants to win. At this stage in his career, Jones isn't prioritizing money or length of contract. The fierce competitor wants some hardware.

"I'm going to make the best decision for myself and going forward," Jones said in the O's clubhouse Sunday morning. "I want to win. It's not about money. It's winning. I've got a lot of friends with rings, hardware. My friend Cameron Maybin, he won a ring last year. My friend Quintin Berry got a ring. Dontrelle [Willis] got a ring. Edwin Jackson got a ring. I've got a bunch of friends with rings and I ain't got no ring, so I want to play for something."

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Gear

Can it happen with Baltimore? No one knows for sure, though this season is the last, contractually, for Jones, relievers Zach Britton and Brad Brach, All-Star infielder Manny Machado, manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette.

Showalter made it clear on Saturday that his annual state-of-the-team meeting Sunday night won't be for the thin-skinned. It will be about how the organization can get back to prominence.

"This is professional baseball. It's not a daycare. We are here for one reason," said Jones, who joked he had rhino-thick skin. "Simple as that -- we are here for one reason and one reason only. And if you're not here for that, bye. Thick skin, that's the rhetoric, but [Showalter's] message is he's here to win."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Whether Jones will stick around beyond this season isn't up to him, as he reminded the media again on Sunday morning. There have been no new developments regarding an extension for Jones, who was traded to the O's in 2008, though he said he's unconcerned with that this spring.

"Once you get in here, all of that other contract stuff and last year, all that stuff goes out the window. Obviously, it's on the minds of people because it's their lives, but myself, Brach, Manny, Zach, we are worried about '18," he said. "We are worried about getting through Spring Training and doing something between those lines once March 29 starts. We aren't worried about the future, because we can't control that part."

If Jones and his teammates hit the free-agent market next year, they'll do so on the heels of an historically slow winter.

"I know there's a lot of guys out there that can help every single team in baseball win, and they're sitting at home. That's what I don't understand," Jones said. "You want to see your peers in positions of success. You want to see them with a job, you want to see them playing."

Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast.

Baltimore Orioles, Adam Jones

Ellsbury prepping to reclaim center-field job

Yankees vet supplanted by Hicks in postseason, dangled as trade bait
MLB.com @BryanHoch

TAMPA, Fla. -- As he reports for his fifth spring with the Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury is in the unfamiliar position of having to fight for his place in the lineup, trying to reclaim a job after Aaron Hicks started all 13 of the team's postseason games in center field.

"I just know I have a ton of baseball left," Ellsbury said. "I'm excited to go out there and play. That's really it."

TAMPA, Fla. -- As he reports for his fifth spring with the Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury is in the unfamiliar position of having to fight for his place in the lineup, trying to reclaim a job after Aaron Hicks started all 13 of the team's postseason games in center field.

"I just know I have a ton of baseball left," Ellsbury said. "I'm excited to go out there and play. That's really it."

Yankees Spring Training information

General manager Brian Cashman shopped the 34-year-old Ellsbury over the offseason, floating his availability to the Marlins as an initial part of the discussions for reigning National League MVP Award winner Giancarlo Stanton.

The Marlins rejected that offer, instead accepting a follow-up proposal that included second baseman Starlin Castro and two Minor League pitchers. Ellsbury said that he was never asked to waive his no-trade clause, and that he was excited to learn that the Yankees had acquired Stanton.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"Obviously, a great player," Ellsbury said. "You add a player of his caliber to your team, you're going to be better. I came here to win. He makes us better, so I'm very happy with that addition."

Ellsbury hit .264/.348/.402 with seven homers, 39 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 112 games last season, a campaign that was impacted by a concussion sustained in a May 24 game against the Royals.

That forced Ellsbury to miss a month, and agent Scott Boras has said that Ellsbury came back from the injury too quickly, playing with "blurry vision." Ellsbury hit .200/.289/.333 from June 26 to Aug. 30 before helping the Yankees secure a postseason spot with a strong September.

Despite hitting .337/.436/.477 in 27 September games, Ellsbury was bypassed for most of the postseason, going hitless in nine at-bats with two walks as he made four starts at DH and two appearances off the bench.

"That was last year," Ellsbury said. "I'm just excited to be here. I feel healthy, I feel good. I'm excited to get going."

Ellsbury said that he recently had a casual lunch with manager Aaron Boone in Arizona, where they discussed the season ahead. Ellsbury said that his uncertain status will not alter his preparation.

"Every year, you come in and compete," Ellsbury said. "There's never one year that the lineup has been made already in my 10 years in the big leagues. Everyone comes in, works hard, there's not a lineup made up yet. That's how I look at it."

With $68 million remaining on Ellsbury's contract over the next three years, the Yankees likely would have to eat a significant portion if they were to complete a trade. When Ellsbury was asked if he would prefer to be a role player with the Yankees or a starter elsewhere, the question was waved off.

"I love playing. I'll just leave it at that," Ellsbury said. "That's why you play the game. I'll try to be the best teammate possible, whatever my role is. All I can do is just go out there and be prepared and help my team out whatever it might need. Ultimately, it's about winning."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury

Dunk champion's dad works for Mets

The best of the NBA convened at Staples Center in Los Angeles for All-Star Saturday Night, with various skills competitions lined up as part of All-Star Weekend. 

Arguably one of the most popular competitions, the Slam Dunk Contest, took place in the evening and featured a pretty dramatic (and gravity-defying) showdown between the Cavs' Larry Nance Jr. and Jazz shooting guard Donovan Mitchell Jr. It was Mitchell who ultimately won, thanks to ridiculous feats like dunking over comedian Kevin Hart and his family.