Last year when we rolled around to the beginning of spring training, it was both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado who ruled the headlines with their free agent cycles circulating due to each still being unsigned.
This season, it’s a bit more complicated, and everything will be focused on the Houston Astros, and for multiple reasons: Their cheating, reactions from players around the league about their cheating, the chances of teams throwing pitches at Houston hitters in spring training (and the regular season at that), how the Astros pitching staff will react if that does go down and then you also have the reaction to the reaction. It’s baseball season again!
Behind that smoke, you also have Gerrit Cole signing an historic contract with the New York Yankees after leaving the cheaters, Anthony Rendon embracing the Anaheim lifestyle with the Los Angeles Angels (and snubbing the Hollywood lifestyle of the Los Angeles Dodgers) after leaving the world champion Washington Nationals and Mookie Betts is headed to Hollywood to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his trade from the Boston Red Sox — and this after months and months of speculation.
And then you had other speculated players who still remain with their clubs, including the likes of Francisco Lindor with the Cleveland Indians, Nolan Arenado still hanging tight with the Colorado Rockies and Kris Bryant on the Chicago Cubs after an offseason of rumors that saw him in a different uniform — and then you had his contract dispute.
As spring training gets underway and pitchers and catchers report to work, let’s go over the biggest headline (or players) to watch for each of the 30 franchises in Major League Baseball.
What to Watch for All 30 MLB Teams as Spring Training Begins
Madison Bumgarner Wearing Sedona Red, Teal and Black in Phoenix
It’s certainly going to be strange seeing Madison Bumgarner in a uniform other than that of the San Francisco Giants, but with this being the case, the focus now shifts on how good exactly Bumgarner will be away from Oracle Park — a field notoriously known for being friendly to pitchers. In spring training, we won’t learn much about that, especially considering the Cactus League is also another pitcher-friendly product. Another thing that we will eventually see is how he helps younger pitchers grow such as Zac Gallen and Robbie Ray, who have already been productive for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ pitching staff.
What Is Going to Happen at Third Base With Josh Donaldson Now Gone?
The Atlanta Braves made some pretty sizable moves over the offseason signing free agents such as Cole Hamels, Marcell Ozuna, and Travis d’Arnaud, however, Atlanta had no interest in digging deep into their pockets to bring Josh Donaldson back to third base. It appears that the Braves will rely on their internal guys, having Austin Riley and Johan Camargo compete for the position. For Riley, he would start out great, hitting for a .324 average and nine home runs in the first 18 contests of his rookie season, but after that, things would fall apart, going .192 with nine home runs in his remaining 203 trips to the plate. In 2018, Camargo would perform well with a WAR of 3.7, but 2019 would be a bit of a struggle coming off of the bench — he would accumulate a minus-0.7 WAR. With the circumstances being what they are, it appears that Atlanta could use a platoon to replace Donaldson, having Riley and Camargo sharing playing time — which could be extremely effective with Riley’s hype and Camargo’s switch-hitting ability.
A former No. 1 pick of the Baltimore Orioles, catcher Adley Rutschman is a non-roster invitee to spring training. With that being said though, Rutschman might not get a lot of playing time in the spring before being sent to the minor leagues, but we will have our first real look at the Oriole despite the limited playing time. And you know Baltimore would love to have a little peak, especially considering they hope the 22-year-old will one day become the face of their franchise. In college at Oregon State University, his numbers were absolutely monster-like, hitting for a stat line of .411/.575/.751 with 17 home runs. In 185 at-bats, he would also accumulate 76 walks and 38 strikeouts. Defensively, he’s already a force behind the plate in the catcher position as well, so don’t be surprised to see Rutschman in the major leagues pretty quick.
Boston Red Sox
Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi
The Boston Red Sox may have finally completed the trade to send both Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but they’re still without a manager. On top of that, Boston also faces a sign-stealing scandal like the Houston Astros, and we’re still waiting to see how exactly Major League Baseball will punish them. Once all of that is over with though and spring training gets underway, everybody will then be centering around starting pitchers Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi to see how healthy they are. For Sale, he would make his last start back on August 13, while Eovaldi would be out a lot longer and wouldn’t return at all. During his eight starts in 2019, he would record a dismal 6.21 ERA.
Chicago White Sox
Nick Madrigal and Luis Robert
Luis Robert is one hell of a baseball player, and the Chicago White Sox know it, and that evidence comes in the form of the White Sox signing Robert to a six-year contract that includes two option years — a contract that may allow the multitooled Robert to get into the major leagues this season. In the minor leagues, Robert would put up smoking numbers, hitting a .328 average with 32 home runs. Shortly after Robert makes his debut for the White Sox, you can expect second baseman Nick Madrigal to get his call-up not much longer after Robert’s — Madrigal was a No. 4 overall pick by the Chicago White Sox in the 2018 MLB Draft. You can expect to see both of these players in heavy action in spring training’s Cactus League.
Will Kris Bryant Be Shipped out of Chicago?
During the offseason, the Chicago Cubs and Kris Bryant would have a battle about service time, with Bryant losing his grievance. As a result, the Cubs now hold Bryant contractually for two more seasons, rather than just one. And with this being in play, Bryant’s trade value absolutely skyrockets for the Cubs to get some stellar pieces. At the same time though, this could mean that Chicago keeps him for the 2020 season. For the Cubs, last year would be a frustrating one, but success can surely come in the new campaign. Last season, they would tally 84 wins, but if you recall, they were only two games out of the top spot for the NL Central division until they would lose nine consecutive games late in September. With their Pythagorean record, they would underperform that mark by seven victories, and they would also put up a 19-27 figure in contests decided by one-run, and in extra-inning games, Chicago would have a 4-9 record. Winning the World Series back in 2016, the Cubs still carry talent on their team, but if they do decide to trade Bryant, it could be a strong sign that Chicago has another motive — like retooling, or maybe even rebuilding, rather than winning in 2020.
Who Is Going to Be the Man out in Center Field?
The offseason was pretty huge for the Cincinnati Reds, but in terms of spring training, the most interesting thing to pay attention to will be Shogo Akiyama and Nick Senzel competing for the center field position. As a rookie, Senzel would shift from the infield to center field and would put up numbers of .256/.315/.427, which would deliver below expectations. Defensively in the outfield, he wouldn’t score any praise from anyone, playing average at best. Things would get worse for Senzel as well, being forced to end his season on the injured list because of a partial tear in his labrum — he would require surgery. For Akiyama, he would be a center fielder, but his play would come in Japan, and there’s another issue for Cincinnati with him turning 32 years old in April, which is a bit high for any center fielder — which probably explains why scouts are doubting his abilities to play in the outfield. Back to Senzel, Cincinnati Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams would say that Senzel is not at third base (Eugenio Suarez will be inactive for the beginning of the season) or shortstop on a temporary status, so he’ll have to earn his playing time in center field.
What Will They Do With Their Outfield?
During the winter, each the New York Mets, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds would try to pull a deal for Francisco Lindor from the Cleveland Indians. However, nothing has happened, and with spring training beginning, the trade rumors seem to have faded away. Recently at the Indians’ Tribe Fest, Lindor would say to the media, “If they don’t think I can stay here because of the money situation, then I won’t be here,” and would later say, “The front office tries to put a team together to win, not to save money. They’re supposed to try to put a team together to win. I’m here to try to win.” I just want to point out that Lindor is a shortstop, meaning me (nor the Indians) have no idea what the hell the future holds for the Cleveland Indians’ outfield.
After a Load of Rumors, Will Nolan Arenado Be on the Move?
The closer we get to spring training, the less likely that the Colorado Rockies will trade away Nolan Arenado, but that doesn’t mean that the press will be in full action when they finally get their chance to speak with Arenado. When that happens for the first time this season, he’ll surely be hounded with the question of: Do you want to remain a Rockie? For public relations purposes, you can definitely expect Arenado to respond with a “yes” answer, and that he wants to help Colorado win a World Series in 2020. But does he really?
The Pitching Staff in the Minor Leagues
In their minor league system, the Detroit Tigers are loaded with a talented group of pitchers, led by top 25 prospects in Matt Manning and Casey Mize. They’ve also got another arm that you could throw in that category in Tarik Skubal, who would surprise people last year to hit the Double-A level, even doing better than both Manning and Mize in AA. At that level, he would record 82 strikeouts and would do so in 42.5 innings. In spring training, all three will be active for the Detroit Tigers, and it’s quite possible that all three could make an appearance at the big league level some time in the regular season.
How Will They Handle What Will Be a Long Season in 2020?
Yes, we’ve finally arrived to these guys. When the Houston Astros arrive to West Palm Beach to kick off their spring training, you know (and I’m sure they do too) that the media will be in full force to press Houston hitters. Needless to say, it’ll be fascinating to see how they deal with all of this. Two weeks ago, both Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman were asked about the sign-stealing at the Astros’ fan festival, and apologies weren’t necessarily their thing that day. Now that the heat has been delivered and the new campaign is about to begin, will they have a different mindset now? During an interview on MLB Network, former manager AJ Hinch would admit his failures in ending the sign-stealing that took place in 2017, and this would ultimately cost him his job. Now that spring is approaching, will the players step up to the plate as well? When asked about buzzers being used last season, Hinch didn’t necessarily deny those accusations — how will players respond to that? And that’s just the beginning of all of this nonsense. Next, we then get to examine what will happen in games and will their opposition go after them in any way. It’s going to be a long season for the Houston Astros. A very, very long season. And it all starts with Day 1 of Spring Training.
Kansas City Royals
Like Detroit, the Focus Is on Their Minor League Pitchers
If the Kansas City Royals hope to get back to the World Series, they need to make sure they complete the development of their young and talented pitching in the minor leagues, and that’s exactly where they will place their eggs in order to make them competitive once again with a goal of two-to-three years. The Royals would send non-roster invites to spring training to all four minor league pitchers of Jackson Kowar, Kris Bubic, Brady Singer and Daniel Lynch, with all four having strong potential to be special when they make the show. Kowar and Singer would slingshot themselves to the Double A level last season, while Bubic and Lynch would hit high-A.
Los Angeles Angels
Shohei Ohtani’s Return From Tommy John Surgery
It’s going to be quite the interesting spring training for the Los Angeles Angels, and this because of the big offseason that they would have. Not only would they land Anthony Rendon from the Washington Nationals, but they also have other new names in Julio Teheran, Dylan Bundy and Jason Castro. Another player that we’ll be able to take a peak at is Jo Adell, a top prospect in the Angels’ farm system. However, he may start the 2020 campaign in Triple A, and this because of his dismal play in 27 games with the Angels in 2019 — .264/.321/.355, no home runs and 43 strikeouts in 131 PAs. The most interesting thing for L.A. though is their pitcher Shohei Ohtani, who the Angels are bringing back from Tommy John surgery very slowly. It’ll be interesting to see how he performs, however, we might not see him in Major League Baseball until May. Over the last three years, Ohtani has thrown in only 77 innings.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Yeah, they just got a generational player in Mookie Betts and the hype is sure to be real as the regular season gets underway, but we’ll worry about that then. With spring training, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not they let relief pitcher Julio Urias off of the leash or not. In 2019, he would throw for a total of 79 innings, with the majority of them as a reliever, and then you take Hyun-Jin Ryu, Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda out of the equation — Los Angeles is out of 68 starts, which explains why they would also bring in David Price. He’ll be able to make that mark look better, and Urias might have something to do with that too. It’s possible that he could make 25 starts or more this season, but we’ll see how much freedom the Dodgers give him.
Isan Diaz, Jorge Alfaro and Lewis Brinson
Last season, the Miami Marlins’ offense was absolutely horrific, and as a matter of fact, it was so bad that it was historic. With it being so awful, the Marlins brass would go out and gather some veterans to help productivity, bringing in Corey Dickerson, Jesus Aguilar and Jonathan Villar. However, if the Marlins ever hope to become competitive in the future, they’re going to need to center in on the development of their young hitters. All three would do horrible last year when it came to working the strike zone, with Brinson and Diaz hitting .173. With the Marlins’ growth, it’ll be interesting to see if any of these hitters have gotten any better — spring will give us an early look and some early intel into that.
How Exactly Will the Starting Rotation Look?
What the Milwaukee Brewers did over the offseason was a rarity. After qualifying for the postseason, they would then ship off the two arms that would start the most games for them in Chase Anderson and Zach Davies. One thing that we know for certain is that Brandon Woodruff will be in the starting rotation, who would have a great season in breakout fashion last year, though it was disrupted in August with an oblique injury. Others that could possibly get themselves a spot are Josh Lindblom and Corbin Burnes. For Lindblom, he would last pitch in Major League Baseball in the 2017 campaign, but the last three years, he would reibuild himself back into a starting pitcher while playing in Korea. After stellar performances in 2017 and 2018, Burnes would become a top prospect to be a starting pitcher, however, he would have a major setback in 2019 — he would have a horrific ERA of 8.82, collecting this in 49 innings. Burnes would rack up 70 strikeouts, but the high ERA completely overshadows that figure.
The Starting Rotation Is a War Zone
The Minnesota Twins would officially finalize their lineup with their acquisition of Josh Donaldson, and that pick up would make it look quite flashy, and it’s possibly even better than last year’s group — yes, the same one that set the MLB single-season home run record last year. Plain and simple, the Twins are going to be scary this season. But that’s not the story line of spring training, instead, it will be their starting rotation. As far as the first four spots are concerned, those are already locked up by Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kenta Maeda, and Homer Bailey, but with the No. 5 spot, it’s going to be a bloodbath to see who grabs that one. Minnesota can’t rely on Michael Pineda right now because he’s serving a suspension for the first 39 games of the campaign, while Rich Hill is also not an option due to his elbow surgery. So what are the Twins to do? They’re just going to sit back and let young talent such as Lewis Thorpe, Sean Poppen, and Randy Dobnak completely battle it out — best one grabs the spot.
New York Mets
Dellin Betances, Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia
With all of the chaos that happened with the Houston Astros and their sign-stealing scandal, former Astros player Carlos Beltran would feel the consequences of it. If you don’t recall, the Mets would hire Beltran as their manager, and then would fire him in light of the news to replace him with their quality control coach Luis Rojas — most of the focus in the early season will be on Rojas for sure. However, in spring training, there’s going to be a lot of attention on New York’s bullpen, which could possibly be one of the best in Major League Baseball here in the 2020 campaign, and this after being among the worst last season. All three of Betances, Diaz, and Familia would combine for a total of 212 innings pitched, and would put together 322 strikeouts and a great 2.58 ERA in that time. After their great performances, the Mets would then go out and trade for Diaz and would sign Familia, but both would put up dismal performances for New York in 2019 — a backfiring of sorts — seems fitting for this franchise. Last year, Betances would be with the New York Yankees, but would only pitch two-thirds of one inning for them after partially tearing his left Achilles tendon, an injury he still needs to come back from. And those weren’t his only issues in 2019 either, as he would also suffer lat and shoulder injuries. Here in 2020, if all three of Betances, Diaz, and Familia can get back their form and Seth Lugo does his job, the bullpen of the New York Mets is going to be fantastic.
New York Yankees
The Pinstripes Are Getting Their Health Back
Just last week, the New York Yankees would get some bad news about starting pitcher James Paxton being out three-to-four months after undergoing spinal surgery, but that injury would actually remind most of the load of Yankees who are coming back from injuries: Giancarlo Stanton (knee), Miguel Andujar (shoulder), Luis Severino (lat, shoulder), Luke Voit (abdominal), Aaron Hicks (Tommy John surgery), Jordan Montgomery (Tommy John surgery) and Mike Tauchman (calf). Each Stanton, Severino and Montgomery would make late returns last year, so they’ll continue to be monitored as a result, but it looks like health is on their side more than anything. For Hicks, he will still be undergoing rehab and will be listed on IL alongside Paxton when the new campaign begins. The biggest player to keep your eye on though is Andujar, who will be sure to get a ton of playing time at first base in the spring.
Frankie Montas, Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk
The Oakland Athletics have a lot of interesting headlines coming into spring training, including: The battle for the starting role at second base, their rookie catcher Sean Murphy and Kris Davis trying to claim his power back, however, the most interesting has to be in their rotation with their three young starters in Frankie Montas, Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk. Last season, Montas was having an incredible year with a 9-2 record and 2.70 ERA in 15 starts, however, he would be busted for PED use in June and would be suspended for 80 games — he’ll be returning this season. For Luzardo and Puk, they’ll be getting their first shots in the starting rotation, which has the possibility to be one of the top ones in Major League Baseball, but there has to be complete seasons from both Montas and Sean Manaea, as well as productive seasons from their two rookies.
Joe Girardi as the New Head Honcho
It was a pretty big offseason for the Philadelphia Phillies that included signings of Didi Gregorius and Zack Wheeler, but the most fascinating move had to be that of hiring Joe Girardi as manager to replace the fired Gabe Kapler. In his last couple of seasons as the manager of the New York Yankees, Girardi would get criticized for not being completely active like how a skipper should be and he didn’t hold proper relationships with his players. Since then, he has been away from managing for two years now, so we’ll see if some time away and a new uniform will change his mindset any — and I’m sure having talent to work with will help out with that. However, with that talent comes expectations, so the pressure will be on Girardi (and new pitching coach Bryan Price) to get the Phillies into the postseason and have them hunting for a World Series, especially after the underachievement that Philadelphia would go through in 2019.
How Good Are Trevor Williams and Mitch Keller Exactly?
That’s the biggest question for the Pittsburgh Pirates heading into spring training: How good exactly are the likes of Trevor Williams and Mitch Keller? In 2018, Williams would put up 14 wins beside his name as a starter, and this would include an ERA of 3.11. Also in that same season, he would record a 1.29 ERA in his remaining 13 games. In 2019, he would do exactly the opposite, having a sky-high 5.38 ERA that would be dreadful for the Pirates. As a minor league prospect, Keller would be top of the line, but he would do dismal in his first contest in Major League Baseball. The rest of his 11 starts wouldn’t go well either, marking a 7.13 ERA and allowing 72 hits in 48 innings.
San Diego Padres
Their Young Pitching Talent
After one hell of a rookie campaign, how will Chris Paddack look in his sophomore season? Even further away from his Tommy John surgery now, how will Dinelson Lamet perform in 2020? Similar to Paddack last season, can MacKenzie Gore have a successful rookie year, showing that he can be productive going straight from Double A to Major League Baseball? And if he can’t do it to start the new season, will he be able to make the leap to the show soon? Or how about another top piece in their farm system in Luis Patino? Will we see him soon in San Diego? What about the talented left-hander Adrian Morejon or the speed-pitcher in reliever Andres Munoz? A lot of interesting questions for the San Diego Padres and their pitching, indeed.
San Francisco Giants
“Do” Call It a Comeback
There’s a ton of comeback attempts being made in the San Francisco Giants rotation kicking off in the spring. Starting out, you’ve got Johnny Cueto, who would make a return back in September last year. In 2019, Kevin Gausman would do horrendous with a 5.72 ERA, and he’ll be trying to recover from that figure. For Tyler Anderson, he would make a total of 32 starts for the Colorado Rockies in the 2018 season, but after undergoing knee surgery, he would just have five in 2019 — he’s also still in the process of healing and won’t be 100% in spring training. Another pitcher to keep an eye on is Tyson Ross, who would receive an invitation to spring as a non-roster invitee.
How Will the Youngsters Do?
When we talk about the youngsters of the Seattle Mariners, we’re mainly talking about outfielders Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic, both placed in the top 10 as far as all minor league prospects go — Rodriguez and Kelenic are the first players in the Seattle farm system to crack the top 10 since Jesus Montero would do so back in 2012. Before Montero, you have to go back 15 years ago when Felix Hernandez would accomplish that feat in 2005. Each Rodriguez and Kelenic have received non-roster invitations to spring training, and with Kelenic in particular, he has the potential to reach Major League Baseball this season after ending at the Double A level in 2019.
St. Louis Cardinals
Coming into spring training for the St. Louis Cardinals, there’s two issues that they need to focus on when it comes to Carlos Martinez. After the 2019 campaign was over, Martinez would undergo a platelet-rich plasma injection on his right shoulder, which is a minor procedure and he should be prepared to go for spring training. Still, with the circumstances being what they are, it’s wise to pay attention to the status of his health. The second issue for the Cardinals is that they need to decide whether or not they will place Martinez back in the starting rotation. As a starter from 2015-17, he would put up solid numbers in that stretch, including 42 wins and an ERA of 3.24 before splitting his duties between starting and relieving in 2018. In 2019, he would be a reliever in all 48 of his appearances. St. Louis would go out to the Korean market and would pick up left-hander Kwang-Hyun Kim, and this to compete for a spot in the starting rotation, but you’ve got to give the edge to Martinez here. With the exception of Jack Flaherty, nobody has the upside that Martinez has.
Tampa Bay Rays
There’s an incredibly large amount of things that are interesting about the Tampa Bay Rays. Where is everyone going to play exactly? Will Brendan McKay step up to the plate and provide Tampa with another reliable starter? In the bullpen, is there anybody who doesn’t throw the ball with flames attached to it? But here in February where the spring training games haven’t started yet, as well as throughout the spring in March, most are focused in on the Rays’ Wander Franco — the No. 1 overall prospect in all of minor league baseball. As of yet, Tampa Bay hasn’t said anything about Franco being a non-roster invitee to camp, but you would think at this point in his career, the Rays will call him up to the Grapefruit League to play with the big boys a little bit. He’s currently placed in minor league camp. Franco would force his way into high-A ball last season with stellar results, which could see him make an appearance in MLB this season, this despite Tampa normally promoting their players at a slow rate.
When it comes to players returning from injury, it’s Corey Kluber who is one of the most intriguing to pay attention to, if not the most intriguing. A trade could still happen for either Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado, but for the most part, the Texas Rangers wouldn’t do anything over the offseason to improve their offense. With that being said, they’ll be depending on Kluber, Lance Lynn and Mike Minor to be among Major League Baseball’s best trios. For Kluber, his injuries could have been worse as there was no damage to either his shoulder or elbow, instead, he would suffer a broken oblique and forearm. With that being said, he wouldn’t perform exactly the best at the beginning of the 2019 campaign, so he’ll have to prove that he still has it when it comes to being an ace of a franchise.
Toronto Blue Jays
Will We See Any Sophomore Slumps?
For the Toronto Blue Jays, each Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette are all entering their sophomore campaign in the big leagues. Will success once again come from the three, or will any of them see the infamous sophomore slump? It’s fascinating though, because when you examine the numbers, you see that Bichette and Biggio would actually hit better than Vlad Jr. — Bichette would put together a .930 OPS, while Biggio would score a .793 and Guerrero Jr. surprisingly finished last with a .772. At the home run derby, Guerrero would showcase the amazing power that he has, but when it comes to his hard-hit rate, he would place in only the 46th percentile in the rankings — hard-hit rate is the percentage of baseballs that are hit at over 95 MPH. Vladdy can hit with power, sure, but he is showing that he struggles with overall contact, with a load of his hits being groundouts. Another thing that Guerrero could work on as well is his defense, which certainly needs to get better.
Spring Training Means Spring Cleaning for Infield
The main player to keep an eye on through spring training for the Washington Nationals is rookie Carter Kieboom, who is ranked 21st in MLB’s prospect rankings, and the figure comes after a .303/.409/.493 performance at the Triple A level. In the minor leagues, he would play the shortstop position, but while briefly in Major League Baseball in the 2019 campaign, he would struggle at hitting the ball and on defense as well. However, here in 2020, he’s getting a fresh start and will get an opportunity at either second or third base. If the Nationals choose to not go in this direction, they’ll be depending on a rotation of veterans. Mixing up both second and third base would be Starlin Castro, Asdrubal Cabrera and Howie Kendrick, while at first base, it would be Kendrick, Ryan Zimmerman and Eric Thames. You obviously can’t replace a talent like Anthony Rendon, but in terms of depth, it’s certainly the most the Washington Nationals have ever had in their history.