It might seem like last season just ended — especially if your team was playing baseball in November — but for players, the offseason has officially ended, and spring training has officially begun. While outcomes in Arizona and Florida don’t necessarily translate into regular season performance, they still offer a fascinating peek into the direction each team is going. Here are the storylines we’ll be keeping our eyes on while spring training rolls along.
- Houston Astros: With their first ever World Series win last year, the Astros come into Spring Training loaded with a healthy mix of young and veteran talent. But all eyes are on Carlos Correa, their All Star shortstop. In just 109 games he hit 24 home runs and batted in 84 runs, with an on-base percentage of nearly .400. Plus, he’s only 23; this is just scratching the surface of what he can do. Is this the year Correa explodes into superstardom?
- Los Angeles Angels: After snagging possibly the most coveted international free agent in history, it’s time for the Angels to find out whether or not Shohei Ohtani can showcase his two-way talent in the majors. If he is truly good enough to hit as well as pitch, the Angles could be a serious contender.
- Oakland Athletics: The biggest question mark for the A’s heading into this season is can this starting pitching staff really compete? When the most veteran member of your rotation is 27 year old (4 year veteran pitcher Kendall Graveman) and only pitched 105.1 innings in 2017 it’s tough to know exactly what you’re going to get. Oakland could find 5 very good MLB pitchers, or they could suffer from health and performance issues and have a full meltdown. High variance is fun!
- Seattle Mariners: With a starting pitching rotation that’s full of potential but light on certainty, it would be very helpful for Seattle if James Paxton could replicate his breakout 2017 season. Last year he made a career-high 27 starts, posted a 2.98 ERA, and 1.103 WHIP. Those kinds of numbers would make him the Mariners undisputed ace, but first he needs to replicated it and prove that he can stay healthy.
- Texas Rangers: For the Rangers, spring training is all about whether top prospect Willie Calhoun should be on the everyday roster. In Triple-A last season he had 31 homers and a .300 average, and in a very small sample size he looked like he could hit in the majors. Whether Texas can find a spot for him is a different question.
- Arizona Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks jumped from 69 wins in 2016 to 93 wins in 2017, but it remains to be seen if their roster can duplicate last year’s success. On-paper, the talent looks up to it, but questions around Yasmany Tomas (he had 31 home runs last year) and Zack Greinke’s recovery still need to be answered.
- Colorado Rockies: The biggest open issue for the Rockies is whether Ryan McMahon is the answer at first base. He didn’t make his big-league debut till September last year, but he looks like he’s set to become an impact hitter.
- Los Angeles Dodgers: As far as rosters go, the Dodgers look to have one of the best in the majors. But left field appears to be up for grabs, with Andrew Toles, Alex Verdugo, Kike Hernandez, and Joc Pederson all up for the job. The battle will be fun to watch.
- San Diego Padres: The Padres are looking to the future, but to get there they’ll have to decide who their man is at second. Carlos Asuaje, Cory Spangenberg, and Luis Urias are all going to get a shot there. Urias seems like the long-term answer at the position, but he might not be ready to make the leap just yet.
- San Francisco Giants: While the rest of baseball tries to go younger, the San Francisco Giants are looking to squeeze whatever juice is left out of baseballs (relative) geriatrics. They traded for Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, then signed Austin Jackson to boost their moribund offense. Scoff if you like, but talented players in their early 30s coming together looks like a pretty similar approach to the 2010, 2012, and 2014 title-winning San Francisco teams. Spring training will be a good barometer of whether this one has what it takes to join that list. After all, 2018 is an even year.
- Chicago White Sox: The White Sox are in full rebuild mode right now, with many positions up for grabs. Center field might be the most immediate need. Adam Engel played their last year, and he can chase down a ball with the best of them. But he slashed just .166/.235/.282 (batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage) last season. That’s not going to cut it, even on a rebuilding team.
- Cleveland Indians: When your roster is this good, there generally isnt’ a ton to sweat in the offseason. But for the Indians, figuring out who is going to take the fourth and fifth spots in the starting rotation is very important. There are four candidates to take those two slots and the battle between Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin, Mike Clevinger and Ryan Merritt this spring training should be fascinating.
- Detroit Tigers: The Tigers have started a painful rebuilding process and for the next few seasons it's unlikely that they’ll sniff the postseason. They’ll still be plenty exciting, though, with loads of young prospects and role players who could turn into stars. We’ll especially be watching Jeimer Candelario, who shined last year, hitting .33/.406/.468 in 27 games. He’s now the entrenched starter at third and it will be interesting to see if he maintains—or even builds on—that high level of play through spring training and the 2018 season.
- Kansas City Royals: So, uh, who's going to play first base for the Royals in 2018? With All-Star first baseman Eric Hosmer still holding out for an improved contract, Kansas City doesn’t have any in-house replacement, and until Hosmer makes up his mind, they can’t go out and acquire a free agent. If Hosmer signs in the next couple weeks he’ll slide right in, but until then spring training will be an exercise in young bats trying to make their way onto the team.
- Minnesota Twins: The most interesting battle on the Twins roster will be for designated hitter. Robbie Grossman is the incumbent, and slashed .246/.361/.380. That’s pretty good, but Kenny Vargas is a tantalizing talent who can hit for massive power on both sides of the plate. He has a much lower floor than Grossman’s, but his massive upside might be worth a gamble.
- Chicago Cubs: Biggest thing on the mind of Cubs fan this year: how does Yu Darvish look and can he help take the Cubs back to the promised land? Joining an already talented rotation on a six-year $126m deal, Darvish is a power pitcher that should keep the Cubs’ championship window open.
- Cincinnati Reds: Losing Zack Cozart to the Los Angeles Angels left a giant hole at shortstop. Luckily for Cincinnati, their best prospect —Nick Senzel — just happens to be an incredible athlete, great hitter, and versatile infielder. The one minor hurdle is that Senzel has never played shortstop before, but he’s learning the position in camp. If he can continue his stellar minor-league career in the majors and make the switch, then Cincinnati has the potential to be very exciting. Spring training is the perfect opportunity to see how Senzel is handling the change.
- Milwaukee Brewers: Adding Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich to an already strong outfield makes for some difficult decisions. One of the more interesting questions is whether star Ryan Braun will actually make the transition to playing first base. It’s a big departure from left field and comments from Braun seem to indicate that he’s unlikely to play there. But the Brewers have to relieve the logjam somehow.
- Pittsburgh Pirates: With the Pirates in the middle of a rebuild, this season is all about prospects. One of the more scrutinized prospects in recent baseball memory has been Tyler Glasnow. He dominated in the minors like few before him, but his short time in the majors has been pretty much an unmitigated disaster. There’s enough talent there to believe that a major breakout could happen this year, and as spring training starts it will be interesting to see how the Pirates deploy him.
- Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals have a fairly set roster, but they still need to figure out what, if anything, Adam Wainwright has left. The last two years have been rough as he’s posted ERAs of 4.62 and 5.11. In the final year of his contract, nobody knows how Wainwright will do, but spring training is the first place to get an idea of what’s coming.
- Baltimore Orioles: Compared to some other members of the AL East, the Orioles don’t really seem like legit contenders and they’ve all but declared that they can’t pay what Manny Machado will command on the open market. So the real story to keep an eye on is whether the Orioles can move him before the July trade deadline in order to go full Hinkie and tank.
- Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox went all in on slugger JD Martinez, last seen putting up .302/.366/.741 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His addition makes offense a legitimate strength for the Red Sox and could catapult them into World Series contention. Spring training is the first opportunity for Red Sox fans to see him in their jersey and get a sense of how his addition will alter the hitting rotation.
- New York Yankees: All eyes have to be on Giancarlo Stanton and how his presence changes the feeling in the clubhouse. This was only the second time the league’s reigning MVP has been acquired in a trade and it’s not totally clear where he will fit best. Of course, considering Giancarlo Stanton hit 59 home runs last year, the Yankees will probably be able to find a place to squeeze him in somewhere.
- Tampa Bay Rays: The latest acquisition to the Rays roster is CJ Cron, a right handed first baseman who put up a .248 ERA last year. However, he was lauded as the best all-around hitting prospect in the country at the time of his drafting. If the Rays can develop him, Cron could be a very special hitter who helps them this season. Spring training will be a good time for Rays fans to gauge how that’s going.
- Toronto Blue Jays: The past two years have been rough for Troy Tulowitzki. He’s declined from an All Star player to batting .249/.300/.378 in 66 games last season. Toronto wants to see him back at his best as they make a run at the playoffs this year.
- Atlanta Braves: The Braves look like a team that’s building to be very good for a very long time, with maybe the deepest roster of pitching prospects in baseball. Whether any of those prospects successfully make the leap to the majors this season, though, remains to be seen. Luiz Gohara looks to be the most likely to break out. He started 2017 at High-A Florida and ended up making his major league debut in September. If he shows progression again, he’ll slot into the starting pitcher rotation.
- Miami Marlins: After a fire sale of an offseason, it could be tough for Marlins fans to be excited about the rebuild that’s coming. With an entire outfield, three open rotation spots, and potential infield positions still up for grabs, this spring training for the Marlins will feature a lot of unfamiliar faces. Frankly, it will probably look more like a tryout camp than a normal spring training.
- New York Mets: The big question mark for the Mets is who on the roster is going to be on first. Dominic Smith — a 2013 first-round pick — did not have a smooth start, hitting just .198 with a .262 on-base percentage. Smith was a top prospect for a reason and is in the Mets long-term plans, but the addition of Adrian Gonzalez puts him under pressure.
- Philadelphia Phillies: The most interesting decision the Phillies have to make this spring training is whether to commit to their highly touted prospect JP Crawford or not. He’s as good defensively as you’d hope a 23 year old shortstop would be, but in the majors last year he batted .214/.356/.300 in 23 games and .243/.351/.405 in 127 games at Triple-A. He needs to improve his hitting if he wants to be a regular member of the rotation.
- Washington Nationals: This is a make-or-break year for the Nationals, with Bryce Harper’s impending free agency hanging over the team. That means that every single move the team makes matters, even though it’s hard to make a plausible case for their being a real hole on the team. Worth watching: whether or not Michael Taylor’s breakout 2017 season (where he put up .271/.320/.486 line with 19 homers) can be replicated in 2018. It would help the Nationals a lot if it was.