First, let’s take a second to take a collective deep breath. We made it to spring. Go ahead and do a little happy dance. Players have reported to camp, the weather is turning, the birds are chirping, and you can smell it in the air. It’s baseball season!
Whether your team is contending for a World Series or rebuilding, there’s at least one thing to get excited about. This article will touch on one interesting thing for every MLB team as we gear up for games starting on Friday.
One Exciting Thing For Every Team In Spring Training
Diamondbacks – Youth Movement. Potential future superstar Corbin Carroll (100th percentile speed sprint, plus hit tool, and growing power) leads the young new core for Arizona. Alek Thomas, Jake McCarthy, and Gabriel Moreno will also have opportunities to cement their roles as part of that core. And there’s a handful of young exciting starting pitchers such as Brandon Pfaadt, Drey Jameson, Ryne Nelson, and Tommy Henry that will look to earn spots with strong performances this spring. If things break right, Arizona could be on a 2022 Baltimore Orioles’ path in 2023.
Dodgers – Position competitions. A relatively quiet off-season for the LA boys (preparing for Ohtani?) has a few positional questions that should be exciting to see unfold this spring. Early indications are Max Muncy and Gavin Lux on the left side of the infield. Most interesting is how does the uber-talented prospect, Miguel Vargas, handle a position change to 2B, and will it affect his production at the plate? The outfield (Jason Heyward rebirth?) and bullpen (Shelby Miller, Alex Reyes excite anyone?) also have multiple competitions so this camp will be an intriguing one to watch.
Giants – Turn up the power. The Giants struggled in a multitude of ways in 2022, and one area it seems they looked to address was adding more power production to the lineup. This would be much more exciting if I was writing about Aaron Judge or Carlos Correa being in black and orange which almost happened, but Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto are two quality hitters in their own right (career 122 and 124 wRC+). Two veteran middle-of-the-order hitters should help on and off the field. I suspect the Giants will be better in 2023.
Padres – Showtime. This one almost writes itself when you’re adding stars the way San Diego has. Juan Soto last summer, Xander Bogaerts signs a massive deal this off-season to join up with Manny Machado, and oh, Fernando Tatis Jr. should be back after the first 20 regular season games. If that wasn’t enough excitement for you, the Padres also have arguably three aces in their rotation. That’s of course depending on how you feel about Blake Snell. Sprinkle in electric Josh Hader, and I can’t wait to see how this group plays together.
Rockies – The future. Kris Bryant could have a place here as it would be great to see him healthy and hitting rockets this spring, but I can’t wait to see what Ezequiel Tovar does in camp. Tovar looks to be the future Rockies shortstop for years to come given his special blend of skill and age. The youngest position player to debut in Rockies history may not even need that strong of a spring in order to lock in the job. Keep an eye on Justin Lawrence too. I can see him positioning himself to be next in line for saves if anything happens with Daniel Bard.
Braves – The return of Oz. Spring marks the first time we’ll see Ozzie Albies in a Braves uniform in a while as foot and finger injuries caused him to miss most of the 2022 season (296 total PA), including the post-season run. At his best, Albies is in that “Most Exciting” conversation with his extreme athleticism and swag. Albies is a good threat to go 25 HR and 25 SB, and it will be fun to see if he can make 2023 a bounce-back season. A good season from him could help Braves’ fans feel better about the departure of Dansby Swanson.
Marlins – Centerfield music. The Marlins have been searching for a centerfielder for a few years and now it looks like they have the position set. Not by way of trade or free agency, but by moving their 2022 second baseman, Jazz Chisholm Jr. to the outfield grass. Chisholm is one of the most electrifying players in the game, and was limited to only 240 PA in 2022 due to back and knee injuries so to see him back on the field will be a sight for sore eyes by itself. Add in seeing how he handles his new position, and we have quite an intriguing reason to watch Marlins’ spring training games. The additions of Luis Arraez, Jean Segura, and hopefully a full healthy season from Jorge Soler should also add some electricity to the Marlins’ lineup.
Mets – Detriot East. Almost ten years ago, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander were Detroit Tigers teammates. Now, Verlander joins Mad Max in the Big Apple to form a nasty pair of aces. The Mets didn’t stop there as they brought in Kodai Senga and José Quintana to bolster their rotation. Seeing Verlander in Mets’ blue was exciting enough. Imagine watching him and Scherzer dominate lineups. Can’t wait.
Nationals – Land of opportunity. One of the positives of being in a rebuilding team is you often have plenty of spots to give players opportunities. The Nationals are a good example of that as the most exciting thing might be seeing which players such as Joey Meneses, Jeimer Candelario, and Dominic Smith to name a few can add on to or redevelop their value. Projection systems seem to like Meneses quite a bit, but I could see a world where all three end up having some value. Especially once we get to the hot DC summer months. We won’t talk about the pitching staff. Out of respect.
Phillies – Trea day. The Phillies will be without Bryce Harper hitting tanks in Spring Training and the first part of the season, but they will have a new superstar on the field: Trea Turner. The reports are he will hit leadoff for the Phillies, and I’d imagine a boatload of stolen bases are on the horizon. Some analysts say they don’t expect him to get more stolen bases, but I have a feeling we could see 50+ if he decides he wants to. He may not want to in the first year of a mega-deal, but the Phillies also have World Series aspirations and their division doesn’t really breed a ‘we can coast into the playoffs’ mentality. It will be fun to watch.
Brewers – Pair of aces. This could be a bit about Jesse Winker, or even the new power influx of Luke Voit and Tyler Naquin turning their minor-league deals into major ones with strong spring showings. But with recent news, it feels like this might be the last year of the very sweet 1-2 punch in Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff. Burnes lost his arbitration hearing and didn’t appear too happy about it. My guess is the Brewers are looking to keep his contract as attractive as possible for a potential trade so I’d soak up this spring training watching the two of them deal because it could be the last. For Brewers fans’ sake, I hope I’m wrong.
Cardinals – Powerful offense. The Yadier Molina era is over, which still feels weird to say. Thought that guy might play until he was 50. But with any end comes a new beginning, and that new beginning is Willson Contreras in Cardinal red. Tyler O’Neill reworked his off-season routine, including doing yoga, in hopes of staying healthy for a full season, and I’m sure you saw the Lars Nootbaar video of him working on his swing velocity. Youngsters Dylan Carlson, Juan Yepez, Nolan Gorman, and Jordan Walker are also in spring camp position battles. And you already know there’s a player or two that will come out of nowhere to become a contributor thanks to an extremely quality development system in St. Louis. If you ask Vlad Seder, he’d probably mention AleLead by the power duo of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, the Cards’ offense should be flying high this year.
Cubs – Strong middle. The Cubs might have one of the best defensive middle infield tandems in the game after landing one of the big shortstop free agents in Dansby Swanson for 7 years $177 million. The signing moves Nico Hoerner over to second, where he should profile as an elite defender. An interesting wrinkle I wonder about is how does this help their overall infield defense and subsequently their pitchers, if at all. Especially for ground ball pitchers such as Marcus Stroman.
Pirates – Wise teaching. It would be easy to mention Oneil Cruz and his 100th percentile max exit velocity, but I want to highlight something I think all rebuilding teams should be doing. And that is bringing in veteran players to help mentor the young players that ideally are a part of your next winning team. Signing veterans such as Carlos Santana and Rich Hill are smart moves that will pay dividends. The Pirates have some intriguing young players and if they can get the proper development there might actually be something brewing in Pittsburgh. We may already be seeing the signs of knowledge being passed down.
Reds – The Stephenson plan. The trio of young arms in Cincinnati is probably the easy pick for the most exciting thing in the Reds’ camp. What’s more exciting than Hunter Greene fastballs? But I want to highlight an interesting report that came out recently which is the Tyler Stephenson plan. The reports state that the goal is for Stephenson to play 140-150 games by rotating between catcher, first base, and DH with about 65 games coming at catcher. Stephenson has a quality hitting profile, but it won’t matter if he’s not on the field, and I worry even 65 games at catcher might be too much exposure considering the injury list we’re working with here. I’m hoping for the best.
Angels – Reinforcements. The Angels might want to invest in name tags given how busy they were this off-season. And Anthony Rendon needs one too since we haven’t seen him in two years. A bit of hyperbole, but the Angels did add three hitters to their lineup core in Hunter Renfroe, Brandon Drury, and Gio Urshela which should hopefully help get Mike Trout to some playoff games. They also added Tyler Anderson to their rotation which gives them a solid five options. The sixth spot is up in the air with at least 4 pitchers in competition. If no one takes it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Angels try a traditional five-man. That would send some shock waves.
Astros – Repeat hopes. The reigning champs are well positioned to defend their crown even with losing Justin Verlander and Yuli Gurriel. That good position is partly thanks to Hunter Brown‘s intriguing skill upside and signing slugger José Abreu. I’d imagine Brown’s innings will be somewhat monitored, maybe in a similar vein to what they did with Cristian Javier in 2022, but there is no denying his skills. And how weird is it his delivery is essentially identical to Verlander’s? We might be watching the Astros in the World Series again in 2023.
Athletics – Flash. Like the Nationals, the Athletics have a lot of opportunities for players to make their mark. The most intriguing is Esteury Ruiz and his blazing speed. Can you believe this guy stole 85 bases in 2022? Now pitchers can only throw over twice. I do wonder what that does psychologically to the pitcher. Maybe the catchers are too elite for Ruiz to capitalize on his speed, but I have my doubts about that. I sure hope the A’s let him play as that would give us something exciting to tune into.
Mariners – Jarred Kelenic. Here we go. Is this the year? From top prospect to seemingly looking lost at the major league level, it’s been a wild ride for Kelenic. The reports now are that he spent the off-season getting advice from new instructors and has overhauled his swing. The Mariners did sign AJ Pollock, but the primary left field position is all Kelenic’s if he can perform well in camp.
Rangers – New Ace. The Rangers were the team to land the crown jewel of the pitching market: Jacob deGrom for a 5 year $185 million dollar contract. As often mentioned, injuries will be the key for deGrom, as there is no doubting his skill. Albeit in a limited 62 innings in 2022, deGrom posted a 2.13 xERA and 0.76 xWHIP with a 21.5% swinging strike rate good for 102 strikeouts. Now equipped with a true ace the Rangers went out and added Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney to pair with existing rotation members Jon Gray and Martín Pérez. If the Rangers can find the magic health elixir they could be a dark horse playoff team. Please stay healthy, Jake.
Blue Jays – Reloaded. The Blue Jays spent the off-season adding to their already impressive core in the hopes of a World Series berth. The most exciting acquisition is super athlete Daulton Varsho, who projects as the starting center fielder. Varsho is not without his faults, but what he does do is play an elite centerfield and contribute offensively with a power and speed combination. The Blue Jays look ready for a deep October run.
Orioles – Health. Injuries are already creeping in for the Orioles as we got the news that Félix Bautista is still experiencing soreness and Dillon Tate will likely be out the first month of the season. And that’s before we mention all eyes being on potential ace Grayson Rodriguez. The good news is Bautista recently threw a bullpen and said he felt great so maybe he can actually get on track to be ready for Opening Day. The health of Bautista and also Rodriguez is something to watch this spring.
Rays – Shifting. There are whispers that teams might move their better infielders around the infield each inning depending on the handedness and tendencies of the upcoming hitters. We could see this in spring games and if there’s any team that would try it, it feels like the Rays would. They also arguably boast the best rotation in the game with the return of Tyler Glasnow, and the signing of Zach Eflin to join Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, and Jeffrey Springs. Eflin is an interesting case study as he has had injury issues, specifically with his knee, but the Rays gave him $40 million dollars, which is the richest free agent contract in Rays’ history. They must see something.
Red Sox – No Discount Sale. There’s a lot of buzz around Red Sox camp that this year will be different than 2022. Well, a healthy Chris Sale would certainly help that cause. I miss watching Sale dominate hitters. Along with Sale, the Sox hope their retooling provides fruitful with acquisitions such as Kenley Jansen, Corey Kluber, Justin Turner, Masataka Yoshida, Adam Duvall, and Chris Martin. If things don’t go as planned, we could be looking at a mid-season sell-off.
Yankees – Hired ace. Welcome to the Bronx, Carlos Rodón. The shortstop battle will surely be an exciting one but Rodón in pinstripes feels almost too perfect. Rodon is a bulldog with huge strikeout ability, and absolutely devastating against left-handed hitters which should help him mitigate the short porch in right. He joins Gerrit Cole, and Luis Severino to form a vicious top 3, and they will need to do the heavy lifting with Nestor Cortes nursing a (hopefully) minor hamstring injury, and Frankie Montas out with shoulder surgery. DJ LeMahieu is also a player to keep an eye on with reports that he is 100% healthy.
Guardians – Young bats. We could easily talk about the Guardians’ extreme ability to develop pitching or how injuries to Cody Morris and Daniel Espino could make room for other young Cleveland pitchers (Hi, Tanner Bibee), but I want to highlight the offensive side since that’s usually what is lacking with this team. How do Andrés Giménez, Steven Kwan, Josh Naylor, and Oscar Gonzalez follow up their 2022 seasons? Myles Straw is rumored to have reworked his swing and will that help him get back to being a productive offensive player? And when does Bo Naylor make an impact? Tyler Freeman is also a name to keep an eye on after reports that he added muscle and will play some outfield to increase his versatility. And there are even more young hitters on the horizon.
Royals – Changeup. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Brady Singer is working on his changeup. Last year was the same story, only for him to have bad results with it and decrease its usage. It seems location may have been an issue. If he’s able to spot it with more consistency in spring then maybe there’s an indication of growth. There could be another level to Singer’s game.
Tigers – Take Two. The rebound season is upon us in Detroit with it feeling like almost every Tigers player is looking to improve on their 2022 season. Players such as Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene, Jávier Baez, and Austin Meadows, to name a few. The fences were moved in some so that should help at least marginally, but what’s more important in my opinion is the new front office led by Scott Harris, former San Francisco Giants General Manager. Things should be brighter this year for the Tigers.
Twins – Rotation Improvements. Did every member of the Twins’ rotation go to Driveline or some pitch lab to adjust their arsenal? It sure seems like it. Joe Ryan and Tyler Mahle are the ones I’ve heard most about. There’s a lot to like about Ryan and his elite fastball, and if he can actually harness and utilize what he’s cooked up in the pitch lab (a sweeping slider and a split-changeup) then we might be looking at a top-25 SP. With Mahle, it’s the shoulder issues that holds me back from being really excited, but I want to believe he’ll stay healthy as he is a pitcher that can threaten 200+ strikeouts when not on the shelf. And Kenta Maeda is projected to be back with an internal UCL brace so that will be interesting to see how it holds up.
White Sox – New leadership. If you paid attention to the 2022 White Sox and I mention the name Tony LaRussa, I bet it gives you a type of feeling. Sorry about that. Well whether it was La Russa’s clubhouse vibe or other factors, it seemed like a lot of White Sox players underperformed. This spring I’ll be looking to see how the energy and vibe is with the new manager, Pedro Grifol, leading the way. There is no question the talent is there and the division is still arguably the least competitive one in the league. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see the White Sox make noise in 2023. Watch out for Michael Kopech.
Photo by Debashis RC Biswas/Unsplash | Featured Image by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)