We’ve made it, gang: While there’s still a surprising amount of offseason business to attend to (thanks, Scott Boras), spring training is finally at hand. While the Dodgers and Padres got a head start on things, this week marks the opening of camps for every team in the league in Arizona and Florida. That means we have real, actual baseball players doing real, actual baseball things — our first looks at new faces in new places and depth chart battles and everything in between.
Here’s a look at one key storyline for each team as spring training gets underway this week.
American League East
Blue Jays: Can Alek Manoah bounce back?
Barring something unexpected, it doesn’t look like Toronto’s quest for an impact bat is going to bear fruit. This will largely be the same lineup as last year, which means that the Jays will once again be lead by their starting rotation. As good as Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios and Chris Bassitt are, Manoah bouncing back from a disastrous 2023 and finding his 2022 form (third in AL Cy Young voting) would take that rotation from good to great.
Orioles: Will Jackson Holliday make the Opening Day roster?
After mashing all the way to Triple-A as a 19-year-old last year, baseball’s top prospect is going to make his MLB debut at some point this season. With an sufficiently impressive spring, that could even come on Opening Day — at least if GM Mike Elias is to be believed. The O’s finally acquired their ace, and look as dangerous as anyone in the AL.
Rays: How does the next generation look?
Gone are Tyler Glasnow, Manuel Margot, Robert Stephenson, Andrew Kittredge, Luke Raley and others. Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs will spend all or most of the year rehabbing. All-Star shortstop Wander Franco’s future remains very much in doubt. Of course, if there’s any team equipped to weather that kind of roster turnover, it’s the Rays, who’ve made it part of their identity in recent years. Can guys like Taj Bradley, Ryan Pepiot, Jonny Deluca, Richie Palacios, Jose Caballero, Jonathan Aranda, Curtis Mead and top prospect Junior Caminero keep the assembly line running?
Red Sox: How will the rotation come together?
Craig Breslow’s top priority this offseason was to fix a starting staff that was among the shakiest in the league last season ... and yet, all he has to show for is swapping out Chris Sale for Lucas Giolito. That puts a ton of pressure on Boston’s young core of arms (Brayan Bello, Garrett Whitlock, Tanner Houck, Kutter Crawford), a group that’s long on potential but short on big-league production.
Yankees: Welcome to the Juan Soto show
Is New York baseball’s most desperate team entering 2024? The 2023 season was their worst in three decades, they missed out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge aren’t getting any younger. Oh, and Soto is only guaranteed to stick around for one season, meaning every day promises to be a fraught one in the Bronx.
American League Central
Guardians: Can they find some offense?
Cleveland continues to be among the league’s most confusing teams, too good to really bottom out but too cheap to commit to contention. The Guardians held on to trade targets like Shane Bieber, Josh Naylor and Emmanuel Clase, but they also didn’t make many offseason additions to a lineup in desperate need of oomph — will top prospect Kyle Manzardo break camp as the starting first baseman and make a difference?
Royals: Is Cole Ragans for real?
The Royals have had a nice little offseason, signing mid-rotation starters Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha and handing the bag to Bobby Witt Jr. If K.C. has designs on contending in a wide-open AL Central, though, Ragans is going to be the key: Acquired for Aroldis Chapman last summer, the lefty was quietly among the best pitchers in baseball down the stretch, with a 2.64 ERA over 12 second-half starts. If he builds on that this year, the Royals will have a solid pitching staff to pair with Witt and Co.
Tigers: How quickly can Cole Keith arrive?
One look the six-year contract Detroit just handed Keith last month — and the state of the team’s infield right now — suggests that the team’s top prospect has every chance to win a roster spot with a strong camp. If Keith hits the ground running, he could form a sneaky-solid middle of the order alongside Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Kerry Carpenter — and the Tigers could make some real noise in this division.
Twins: Is Byron Buxton back in center field?
Buxton has expressed confidence that he can return to the outfield for the first time since August 2022 — but to what extent, and will he be able to hold up all year? Given the losses in their rotation, Minnesota will need Buxton in the middle of the order if they hope to repeat as Central champions, and he never seemed to adjust to the full-time DH role when healthy last season.
White Sox: Will Dylan Cease make it through camp?
To rebuild, or not to rebuild? That is, apparently, the question after this offseason came and went with Cease still on the South Side. New GM Chris Getz is likely just holding out to get the most value for his ace — and biggest trade chip — but waiting until the trade deadline also brings its fair share of risk. Chicago needs to kickstart this new era, and a Cease deal is the quickest way to do so.
American League West
Angels: Where, exactly, is this team headed post-Ohtani?
Los Angeles doesn’t seem to be rebuilding, given that it largely stood pat over the winter. And there’s still enough talent here to be at least mediocre, from Mike Trout to Zach Neto to Logan O’Hoppe to Nolan Schanuel to pitchers Chase Silseth, Griffin Canning and Reid Detmers. But mediocre is far from good, and this farm system is arguably the worst in the game. Something has to give here.
Astros: How does Josh Hader fit into this bullpen?
New manager Joe Espada hasn’t yet anointed Hader, who signed a five-year, $95 million contract last month, as Houston’s closer, but the team probably isn’t paying him $19 million per year to be a setup man. The Astros say incumbent Ryan Pressly is completely on board with the move, but are we in for any surprises given the presence of Pressly and electric righty Bryan Abreu at the back of the team’s bullpen?
Athletics: Are there any signs of life?
I mean, what would you like me to talk about, the team’s fifth starter battle? Once Oakland decides to be an actual professional baseball team again, we’ll start treating them as such. (Okay, fine: Joe Boyle could surprise some people.)
Mariners: Will the new offensive additions be enough?
Seattle certainly made some changes as they looked to upgrade the lineup around MVP candidate Julio Rodriguez. They just weren’t the ones fans hoped for — and it’s not clear they actually made the Mariners better. Jarred Kelenic, Eugenio Suárez, Teoscar Hernández and Tom Murphy are out, while Mitch Garver, Mitch Haniger, Jorge Polanco, Luke Raley and Luis Urías are in. The Mariners have the pitching to make a lot of noise, but will the offense cooperate?
National League East
Braves: Which Chris Sale will Atlanta get?
Whether Atlanta can finally unlock Kelenic is another interesting question, but this team will bang regardless of what it gets from its new left fielder. More pressing is Sale, who showed flashes of his past brilliance last season before a shoulder injury waylaid him. If the lefty can harness that performance in his new home — and, just as critically, stay healthy into October — then look out.
Marlins: Can young pitchers stay healthy?
Miami will go as far as their rotation takes them, and there are some real question marks there right now — especially with the loss of Sandy Alcantara to Tommy John. Will Trevor Rogers look more like the budding young star he was a few years ago? Can longtime top prospects Max Mayer and Sixto Sanchez make good on their promise (and stay on the mound)? We’ll begin to find out.
Mets: Will the Pete Alonso situation become a problem?
David Stearns fanned the flames here by saying that free agency was the “most likely outcome” for his team’s biggest star. That could just be a negotiating tactic, but if not, get ready to hear early and often about how Alonso is entering his final season of team control. If he hits the regular season without a deal, we could be in for an all-time walk year — or an all-time soap opera.
Nationals: Are Dylan Crews, James Wood and the gang ready to make noise?
Washington’s farm system isn’t the deepest, but it does have arguably the best one-two punch in the Minors in outfielders Crews (last year’s No. 2 overall pick) and Wood (the centerpiece of the Juan Soto trade). Both players received invites to big-league camp, and while they almost certainly won’t make the Opening Day roster, it is our first glimpse at two very bright five-tool talents — and at the future in D.C.
Phillies: What mindset will this team have?
Philly fell agonizingly short of a title for the second year in a row, and followed it up with a very quiet offseason. Granted, GM Dave Dombrowski didn’t have a ton of options at his disposal, and this roster remains strong from top to bottom. But if the Phils get off to a slow start, one wonders what the vibes will be like — and whether some doubt might start creeping in. Then again, they could show up like bats out of hell, which would also be a blast.
National League Central
Brewers: Is Milwaukee rebuilding or retooling?
Milwaukee appeared set to make one more run for an NL Central crown ... until it flipped Corbin Burnes to Baltimore earlier this month. Now, your guess is as good as mine as to what direction this team is headed. Will they flip Willy Adames before the season starts? How will the infield picture shake out with prospects Tyler Black and Joey Ortiz vying for jobs? And if the Brewers do hope to still be competitive, how will they piece together a rotation minus Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Adrian Houser?
Cardinals: How much improvement can the pitching staff make?
St. Louis has added a ton of bodies to what was a miserable staff in 2023: Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson in the rotation, Andrew Kittredge and Keynan Middleton in the bullpen. Will that be enough to get this team back on track, and to support a lineup that’s ready to contend? That remains an open question, especially considering how much remains unknown behind Gray in this rotation.
Cubs: Is there one more move coming?
The biggest story surrounding the Cubs as Spring Training opens is not about who is in camp, but who could be arriving soon. Chicago feels one bat short of being a real contender in the NL, and it just so happens that last year’s version, Cody Bellinger, remains a free agent. Neither side has been willing to blink so far, but a reunion seemingly makes too much sense not to happen eventually. With Craig Counsell on board and young talent on the way, the Cubs’ window of contention is open right now, and they can’t afford to mess around.
Pirates: Will top prospects sink or swim?
Pittsburgh finally started showing some signs of life last season. Now comes a year of evaluation: What do the Bucs actually have in youngsters like Oneil Cruz, Henry Davis, Quinn Priester and Nick Gonzales? How soon will we see pitchers Paul Skenes and Jared Jones in the Majors? And just how much longer does this team have to go in its rebuild?
Reds: How will the rotation shake out?
Cincy certainly isn’t hurting for interesting options among Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Graham Ashcraft, Andrew Abbott, Brandon Williamson, Connor Phillips and new addition Frankie Montas. But can five or those guys be healthy and effective for a full big-league season? If the answer is yes, these young Reds are ready to win right now. If not, well, expect plenty of second-guessing about president Nick Krall’s decision not to get more aggressive this winter.
National League West
Diamondbacks: How do they deal with heightened expectations?
Arizona won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around, and anything short of a repeat trip to October will considered a disappointment. Then again, they have an MVP candidate in Corbin Carroll, a deeper lineup than you’d expect and a rotation that now features free-agent acquisition Eduardo Rodriguez and postseason breakout Brandon Pfaadt. This team isn’t a fluke, but it remains to be seen how they’ll handle the spotlight.
Dodgers: How does Yoshinobu Yamamoto adapt to life in the States?
Yamamoto’s resume is nigh-unimpeachable; the 25-year-old won the pitching Triple Crown in NPB last year — leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts — and the Eiji Sawamura Award (Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young) in each of the past three seasons. But now, the righty will have to adapt to the best league in the world and the best hitters on the planet, all while shouldering the expectations that come with the richest contract ever given to a pitcher. Oh, and he’s arguably the lynchpin to the Dodgers’ World Series hopes after L.A.’s billion-dollar offseason. No pressure.
Giants: Is Marco Luciano ready for prime time?
Once again, San Francisco heads to big-league camp with a star-shaped hole in the center of its roster. They also have a hole at shortstop after the departure of Brandon Crawford, one that they’ll be hoping that top prospect Luciano can fill. The 22-year-old has been slowed by injuries over the last two seasons and struggled in his first taste of MLB action last year, so he’s still yet ot prove he can be this team’s shortstop of the future — and these Giants are in desperate need of a shot in the arm right now.
Padres: Is A.J. Preller done?
The Padres still need at least one starter, probably two behind Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Michael King. They still need at least one and probably two outfielders around Fernando Tatis Jr. Their bench is remarkably thin. In other words, Preller has work to do — but if they can fill out the edges, the Padres still have enough talent to be a playoff contender in 2024. Given Preller’s track record, the next six weeks should be fascinating.
Rockies: Our first look at Adael Amador
Look, there’s not a lot going right for the Rockies at the moment. But the team’s top prospect, shortstop Amador, will be in big-league camp after blitzing two levels of the Minors last year (.287/.380/.495, 12 homers, 15 steals in just 69 games). He won’t turn 21 until April, and he’s yet to appear above Double-A, so his MLB debut will likely have to wait until this summer at the earliest. But Colorado will take all the good vibes it can get right now, and seeing Amador against big-league competition will be fun.