Are we excited for the start of Spring Training? No question, we are. Do we have questions about Spring Training? No question, we have questions.
Here is a rundown of the biggest question facing each club at the start of camp. We won’t be asking generic stuff like, “Can they win the World Series?” because, last we checked, that isn’t decided in the Grapefruit or Cactus League season. Rather, let’s hone in on some specifics that clubs hope to address over the next seven weeks.
A’s: What’s the rotation complexion?
The power lineup and deep bullpen make the A’s an intriguing underdog going into 2018, but only if the rotation rounds into shape. After Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea, there are a handful of candidates (Jharel Cotton, Daniel Mengden, Daniel Gossett, Paul Blackburn and Andrew Triggs) for three spots.
Angels: Is MLB ready for Shohei Ohtani, and vice versa?
There hasn’t been a pitching-hitting hybrid in the vein of Babe Ruth in about 100 years for a reason, and so there is genuine curiosity as to what Ohtani’s preparation and schedule will entail. And of course, fair or not, we’ll be obsessively analyzing his first results against big league hitters and pitchers.
Astros: Can left-handed relief help be found in-house?
The defending World Series champs could still make an acquisition or take an all-right-handed relief corps into the season, but spring camp will be a time for Tony Sipp, who is in the final year of his contract, to try to pitch his way back into the Astros’ good graces or for waiver claim Buddy Boshers or even Rule 5 pickup (and former position player) Anthony Gose to assert themselves.
Blue Jays: Can Aaron Sanchez get past the blister issues?
If Toronto has any shot at contention this year, Sanchez has to be the rotation weapon he was in 2016. Last year, he battled a nagging blister all season and was limited to eight starts, but he enters camp with a clean bill of health.
Braves: How close are the kids?
Our expectations for Atlanta could evolve rapidly depending on the developmental paths of outfielder Ronald Acuna, right-handers Kyle Wright and Mike Soroka, left-handers Luiz Gohara, Kolby Allard and Max Fried and third baseman Austin Riley — all seven of whom appear on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list and will be in big league camp.
Brewers: How is the outfield logjam resolved?
There aren’t enough at-bats to go around for Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips and Keon Broxton, especially if Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar remain at first base. The Brewers could still use this depth in a trade to fill a hole in their rotation and/or second base.
Cardinals: Have they done enough in the bullpen?
A Cards club that has seen more departures from (Trevor Rosenthal, Seung Hwan Oh, Juan Nicasio) than additions to (Luke Gregerson) what was already a shaky bullpen has to figure out the closing situation (Mike Matheny has said he wants a proven ninth-inning guy) and whether young guys like the newly acquired Conner Greene or the recovering Alex Reyes might soon figure into the ‘pen plans.
Cubs: What kind of impact can the new coaches make?
New hitting coach Chili Davis replaces John Mallee and takes over the task of trying to get Kyle Schwarber‘s big league career on track (especially as the Cubs continue to search in-house for a reliable leadoff option). New pitching coach Jim Hickey replaces Chris Bosio and takes over a staff that has seen major transition (and really needs more strikes out of its bullpen).
D-backs: Who’s the closer?
Archie Bradley could graduate into the role after his bullpen breakout last year, but he actually might be more valuable as a high-leverage, multi-inning setup solution. The 33-year-old Japanese right-hander Yoshihisa Hirano will be interesting to watch, as will trade acquisition Brad Boxberger, if he stays healthy.
Dodgers: Is Hyun-Jin Ryu ready to take on a larger role?
With Yu Darvish off the market, the Dodgers will need their deep stash of starters beyond Clayton Kershaw to step up in 2018, and Ryu, whose 126 2/3 innings last year constituted his only meaningful workload in the last three years due to shoulder issues, will be an intriguing figure in camp, entering healthier than he’s been in a long while.
Giants: Will an aging lineup survive the spring?
The game is trending younger, but the Giants got older over the winter, with the additions of Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen and Austin Jackson to their lineup. Every projected starting position player with the exception of second baseman Joe Panik is in his 30s, so this is a club in particular need of avoiding the spring injury bug.
Indians: Do any starting pitchers change roles?
If everybody stays healthy, the Indians have a rotation logjam with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger and Ryan Merritt (who is out of options). Salazar and Clevinger were moved to the bullpen for the postseason last year, and it will be interesting to see if the Indians, who lost Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith in free agency, investigate such a possibility for either guy going into 2018.
Mariners: How does Felix Hernandez look?
General manager Jerry Dipoto is pretty blunt in his prognosis that if King Felix has a year like 2016, the Mariners will be good, and if he has a year like ’17, they will have a challenge on their hands. Hernandez had two DL stints with shoulder issues last year and was limited to 16 starts.
Marlins: Do they keep dealing?
If you’re going to tear it down, you might as well go all the way, and it’s no secret catcher J.T. Realmuto and newly acquired second baseman Starlin Castro would rather be in more competitive situations.
Mets: Can they get through camp with five healthy starters?
And then, can they get through the 162-game schedule with the same? It will be interesting to see the early impact of new manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland on the Mets’ arms, especially pending free agent Matt Harvey. But health is priority No. 1 here.
Nationals: Who fills the last rotation spot?
It’s been a while since the Nats had a legit spring competition for a rotation spot at the start of camp, but that’s the case right now with youngsters A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde vying for the No. 5 job (with veterans Edwin Jackson and Tommy Milone in the mix on Minor League deals). There’s still a chance the Nats sign or trade for another arm.
Orioles: They’re adding some more starters, right?
Right now, it’s Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and, uh, well, we’ll get back to you. The Orioles have a recent organizational history of making late signings, but now everybody’s doing that. The O’s have some serious additions to make between now and the end of camp if they’re going to have a respectable starting five.
Padres: Who rises to the top in the rotation?
Bryan Mitchell, the pitcher the Padres received in the Chase Headley trade, is out of options, and it will be interesting to see if he seizes the opportunity in San Diego. Young guys like Dinelson Lamet, Luis Perdomo, Colin Rea and Robbie Erlin have upside.
Phillies: Does the rotation add a veteran?
Their roster is pretty well set, but the Phillies are one of a few clubs widely expected to make a starting-pitching addition between now and Opening Day to add a stabilizing presence to the group featuring Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez.
Pirates: Who fills the McCutchen void in the outfield?
Starling Marte now officially inherits center field from Cutch, and Gregory Polanco is in one of the outfield corners. But the Bucs don’t have an obvious answer for the other corner with prospect Austin Meadows likely not ready for primetime and non-roster invitee Daniel Nava likely a bench option.
Rangers: Is there a regular left fielder on hand?
Willie Calhoun, the key prospect received in the Darvish trade, will get a crack at the job, as will Ryan Rua, Jurickson Profar and Drew Robinson. With Delino DeShields in center and Nomar Mazara in right and Shin-Soo Choo at DH, the Rangers have a hole in left, which has been a position of need for a while now.
Rays: How different is the roster come Opening Day?
Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome, Adeiny Hechavarria and Denard Span are all trade possibilities on a Rays club that might shed more money in a time of transition. Or the Rays can keep all those guys and try to make good on PECOTA’s 84-win projection.
Red Sox: J.D., Hanley or somebody else at DH?
The J.D. Martinez situation has dragged on so long without resolution that it could be there is no resolution and Boston has to investigate other options, including the hope for and possibility of a Hanley Ramirez bounceback. But the Red Sox do have incentive to limit Ramirez’s role, given his $22 million vesting option for ’19 that kicks in with 497 plate appearances this season.
Reds: Can the rotation survive the spring?
Recent seasons have gotten off to a bad start in Goodyear, Ariz., for a Reds rotation barraged by injuries, including the elbow issues that put Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani on the shelf prior to Opening Day 2017. If those two and lefty Brandon Finnegan (shoulder) can get through the spring healthy, we’d feel better about the Reds taking a step forward in the standings.
Rockies: Who rounds out the lineup?
At the moment, it’s not clear how manager Bud Black will dole out the at-bats at first base and in the corner outfield. Veterans Ian Desmond and Gerardo Parra will figure prominently in the mix, and Colorado could re-sign Mark Reynolds or another free-agent bat. But homegrown products like David Dahl (who missed all of 2017 with a rib injury suffered in Spring Training), Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia and Mike Tauchman have an opportunity.
Royals: Who’s on first?
It seems doubtful that Cheslor Cuthbert is going to play both third and first on a daily basis, so does No. 3 prospect Hunter Dozier get a shot? Or do the Royals bring in a veteran? Like, say, a guy with past Kansas City ties? (Oh, I was talking about K.C. native Logan Morrison, but I suppose Eric Hosmer applies, too.)
Tigers: Is Daniel Norris a mainstay?
Norris’ arrival in the 2015 David Price trade was a major piece of the Tigers’ transition, but he’s had a wayward big league career to date, including a 5.31 ERA in 22 appearances last year. The Tigers need some arms to step up behind Michael Fulmer if they’re going to accelerate their rebuild.
Twins: What happens to the rotation with Ervin Santana on the shelf?
Santana’s finger surgery took a situation already in dire need of an external upgrade to another level. Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero are promising arms, but they not ready. Right now, there’s too much pressure heaped on Jose Berrios going into his first full season.
White Sox: Can Yoan Moncada make the adjustment?
This guy is such a central figure in the White Sox’s rebuild project, but he himself is a project at the big league level, where to date he’s put up a middling .730 OPS in 251 plate appearances. Moncada began to play a little more loose and free in September last year, and the Sox hope he can ride that momentum into the spring.
Yankees: What happens at second and third base?
Between highly touted prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, other youngsters in Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade and the more experienced Jace Peterson and Danny Espinosa, there’s a lot to sort through here even if the Yanks don’t make another move (which they might).