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One key question for every AL club

MLB.com

With Spring Training about a month away, it's a good time to ask some important questions about each MLB team. We'll look at the American League clubs here, with one key question from fans for each of the 15 MLB.com beat writers covering the AL highlighted, as well as a link to more from that reporter's most recent inbox.

Angels: Is a youth movement in the works?

With Spring Training about a month away, it's a good time to ask some important questions about each MLB team. We'll look at the American League clubs here, with one key question from fans for each of the 15 MLB.com beat writers covering the AL highlighted, as well as a link to more from that reporter's most recent inbox.

Angels: Is a youth movement in the works?

Q: Do you think Griffin Canning or any of the young players break in at the start of the season? - David L., Chino, Calif.

Rhett Bollinger, Angels reporter: Right-hander Griffin Canning, the club's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, certainly could make his debut in 2019 after reaching Triple-A last year, but it's more likely to happen later in the season. But, of course, injuries do happen in the rotation, which could move up Canning's timeline.

The 2017 second-rounder out of UCLA had a strong first year of pro ball, posting a combined 3.65 ERA with 125 strikeouts in 113 1/3 innings between Class A Advanced Inland Empire, Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Salt Lake. But he did have a 5.49 ERA in 59 innings at Triple-A, so there is still some work to do.

Canning, 22, is currently at MLB's Rookie Career Development Program in Miami, so look for an interview and a story about him on Angels.com later this week. More >

Astros: What happens with Kyle Tucker?

Q: What to do with Kyle Tucker with Michael Brantley on board through 2020? -- Pete S., Houston.

Brian McTaggart, Astros reporter:Tucker, the No. 5-ranked prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, will be fighting for a spot on the Opening Day roster this spring, something which became more difficult with the signing of Michael Brantley to join George Springer and Josh Reddick in the outfield. With Brantley, Springer and Reddick all in the lineup, Tucker likely opens the season at Triple-A Round Rock. Jake Marisnick is returning as the fourth outfielder and Tony Kemp will be in the outfield/designated hitter mix, so unless there's a trade or an injury, Tucker might have to wait for an opening on the big-league club. More >

Video: Tucker on his 2018 debut, strong season at Triple-A

Athletics: What's the plan for Puk?

Q: What is the status of A.J. Puk? Will we see him in an A's uniform in 2019? -- Neal O., Addison, Texas

Jane Lee, Athletics reporter: That's the plan. Puk, who underwent Tommy John surgery in April, has made tremendous progress in his rehab. He's already throwing pitches from flat ground per general manager David Forst, and is seemingly on track to return to game action midseason -- if not sooner. The A's, of course, won't rush the big lefty but anticipate him making his big league debut at some point this year barring any rehab setbacks. More >

Blue Jays: If Toronto was going to need a replacement shortstop, why'd it trade Diaz?

Q: After releasing Troy Tulowitzki, I read the Blue Jays want to add a shortstop for more infield depth. Can you explain why they traded Aledmys Diaz? -- Gert L., Bussum, Netherlands

Gregor Chisholm, Blue Jays reporter: I see where you're going: Why would the Blue Jays trade a utility infielder only to end up needing one a couple of months later? Well, the simple answer is that Toronto saw an opportunity to acquire a young starter in Trent Thornton and the club filled an area of need by dealing from a position of strength. The other part is that the Blue Jays don't have the same need for a high-quality backup as they did last spring. 

Last year, the oft-injured Tulowitzki and Devon Travis were the projected starters up the middle. Toronto didn't need a back-up as much as it needed another starter. This season, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will start at short, Travis remains at second, but the club also has Brandon Drury and Richard Urena at its disposal. Toronto doesn't need someone with starter potential; it simply needs a competent back-up who can handle shortstop. That candidate might be the recently signed Eric Sogard. More >

Indians: Who gets the nod behind the plate?

Q: Will Kevin Plawecki be the Indians' starting catcher? -- Tony M.

Mandy Bell, Indians reporter: As of now, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said that Roberto Perez is still expected to get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate. But, of course, the team will need to see how each backstop fairs during Spring Training.

After dealing Yan Gomes in November and Francisco Mejia in July, Cleveland was left with Perez and Eric Haase as realistic catching options. But because Haase has played in just nine big league games, acquiring Plawecki throws another experienced backstop in the mix who can lead a pitching staff. This does not mean that Haase will not have a chance to impact the Major League club in 2019, but it at least adds some more depth behind the dish.

Could Plawecki become the starting catcher? Possibly. But as of now, expect Perez to get the majority of the starts. Prior to Spring Training, it's easier to say the Indians will stick with the catcher they are more familiar with and mix in Plawecki. No matter who becomes first- or second-string, it wouldn't be shocking if both get a decent amount of reps behind the plate since neither has made more than 80 appearances in a single season in their careers. More >

Mariners: What should we expect from Kikuchi?

Q: Now that we have signed Yusei Kikuchi, what type of pitcher is he? -- Derek C., Sedro Woolley, Wash.

Greg Johns, Mariners reporter: Unlike a lot of Japanese pitchers, Kikuchi is a power lefty, with a fastball that clocks anywhere from 92-98 mph and generally sits around 94. While he'll wear Hisashi Iwakuma's No. 18 jersey, he'll bring more heat and strikeout potential than the savvy Kuma. Whether he has similar success will depend on if he can command his four-pitch arsenal and keep hitters off balance as well as Iwakuma.

The 26-year-old also has a very good slider, along with a decent curve and changeup. Given the way Seattle's ballpark generally favors left-handed pitchers, he should be a nice fit for the Mariners if he stays healthy and lives up to advance billing. More >

Video: Mariners could be creative with Kikuchi's workload

Orioles: Is it showcase time in Baltimore?

Q: Can we expect to see guys like Yusniel Diaz and Ryan Mountcastle up in the Majors at some point this year? -- @SchoopCity6 via Twitter

Joe Trezza, Orioles reporter: I'd say both are likely. For the new O's front office, 2019 is going to be a lot about player development, and that means a lot of assessing the inherited talent already in the system. That means a lot of showcasing.

They won't rush Diaz or Mountcastle -- the O's top two prospects per MLB Pipeline. But if either performs at Triple-A, the O's would have little reason not to promote them at some point this summer and see what they have. Diaz can play all three outfield positions, so finding him at-bats wouldn't be a challenge. And nobody is blocking Mountcastle at third base. Both had really nice seasons last year at Double-A. More >

Rangers: New ballpark, new approach in free agency?

Q: Do you expect the Rangers to go "all in" on players next offseason for the first year of the new ballpark? Or will they give it a few years? -- Brady S. Seminole, Texas

TR Sullivan, Rangers reporter: That will depend how far the Rangers rebuild progresses this season. If the young offense starts proving that it is a contending lineup, the Rangers might start flirting with the top-of-the-market free agents. The list of potential free agent starters after this season includes Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, Madison Bumgarner, Justin Verlander, Zack Wheeler and Stephen Strasburg. More >

Rays: Where's the offense going to come from?

Q: A very general question: The Rays are "down" on paper for offense since Wilson Ramos was on the roster, Mallex Smith was traded, and C.J. Cron was lost. If no other players are added, who on the current roster has the best chance to deliver big on offense to make the losses up? -- @freetherays via Twitter

Juan Toribio, Rays reporter: Yes, the Rays have to replace some key bats in the lineup, but they have also added some quality bats over the last couple of months. Tommy Pham, who finished with a 1.071 OPS in 39 games with the Rays last season, will get a full year in the lineup and he hopes to have an even better season in 2019. Austin Meadows, who the Rays also acquired in July, is expected to be an integral part of the lineup. Also integral is getting full seasons of Willy Adames, Daniel Robertson, Mike Zunino and Michael Perez.

The Rays have to replace Cron's team-leading 30 home runs, but they feel like they have more power heading into 2019 than they did entering '18 because of the upgrades they have made over the last six months. More >

Red Sox: Who's the closer?

Q: Do you think the Red Sox are going for Adam Ottavino first instead of Craig Kimbrel? Or are they all in on Kimbrel? -- @goredsox635 via Twitter

Iane Browne, Red Sox reporter: They continue to monitor the markets for both righties. "All in" definitely isn't how I'd phrase the Kimbrel situation. I think it's more of a case of seeing how much Kimbrel's market drops. When the offseason started, Kimbrel was looking for an Aroldis Chapman -type of deal. But with several other quality relievers (David Robertson, Andrew Miller, Kelvin Herrera, etc.), signing relatively affordable contracts, it's hard to envision Kimbrel gets that Chapman-type (five years, $86-million) of deal. I think Kimbrel will end up with one of the two teams he's spent most of his career with: the Braves or Red Sox. More >

Video: MLB Now discusses Kimbrel's value in free agency

Royals: Who surprises in 2019?

Q: What's your prediction for biggest surprise player -- either positive or negative (please choose positive)? -- @bcraaum via Twitter

Jeffrey Flanagan, Royals reporter: I'm very high on right-hander Jorge Lopez. I remember after the first couple of times he pitched for the Royals, Salvador Perez pulled me aside and said, "That kid has the best stuff on the staff." That stuck with me. And then we almost saw Lopez throw a perfect game in Minnesota. Most pitchers have one "out pitch." Lopez has several. It's just a matter of gaining experience now. More >

Tigers: Should Detroit hold on to Castellanos?

Q: Why do the Tigers seem intent on trading Nick Castellanos? He is the only Tiger right now that you could depend on. -- Jim G., Houghton Lake, Mich.

Jason Beck, Tigers reporter: Given Castellanos' age -- he doesn't turn 27 years old until March -- you can make the case he's the one veteran Tiger young enough to still be in his prime when the Tigers hope to emerge from this rebuild in 2-3 years. And for all the young talent in the farm system, Detroit is still searching for that young impact hitter around which to build a lineup. However, Castellanos is a year away from free agency, so those years would come at a price. He's also the one Tiger left who could reasonably bring back quality prospects in a trade, or potentially a Draft pick if the Tigers make him a qualifying offer as a free agent and he signs elsewhere.

The roster rebuild model the Tigers (and other Major League teams) are following involves not just accumulating young talent, but also providing a window for them to make a run. Part of that window involves creating the payroll space to add players to that young core when the time is right. While Castellanos isn't at his prime yet as a player, still with room to grow as a player, he's about to hit his prime years in salary. That leaves the Tigers with a decision to make, and from all indications, they're leaning against re-signing him. More >

Twins: Is 2019 make-or-break for Buxton and Sano?

Q: Is it too outrageous to call this season the make-or-break year for Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano? -- Tony Mangan, Pierre, SD

Do-Hyoung Park, Twins reporter: I do think it's a stretch to call it a make-or-break year for Buxton and Sano, in that they both have the talent to be productive Major League players if they fall short of the stardom for which Twins fans have long hoped. Even if Buxton doesn't recognize his five-tool potential, his otherworldly speed and center-field defense at minimum give him value. Even if Sano doesn't rebound with 30 homers, he appears to be making strides in his conditioning, and his power and athleticism are undeniable.

If they can't rebound this year, the clock is ticking for Buxton and Sano to be the stars for the Twins' next sustained contender. But even if it's the next round of Twins prospects that proves to be the group that pushes Minnesota over the top, Buxton and Sano could still have significant roles on that team. More >

White Sox: Harper and Machado?

Q: What is the realistic possibility that the White Sox sign both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper? What if the two premier FA's said they would sign with us only if we took them both? -- Bryan, Big Spring, Texas

Scott Merkin, White Sox reporter: I never really thought both players would end up on the same team, and this is not an NBA sort of situation where players go together to form a super team. With that said, the White Sox are positioned payroll-wise to make significant pushes on Harper and Machado, which they already have, and handle the large amount of money needed to sign both. More >

Video: Scott Merkin joins MLB Now to discuss the White Sox

Yankees: Why no push for Harper?

Q: The Yankees need a left-handed power bat to balance the right-handed lineup they currently have. They should be after Bryce Harper. Why are they not making a play for him? -- Dave P., Clinton, N.J.

Bryan Hoch, Yankees reporter: The spending spree for Harper and Manny Machado that many Yankees fans envisioned this winter has not materialized, though at least Machado was brought to Yankee Stadium for a visit. With regard to Harper, they have never seemed strongly connected to him.

Cashman appeared to be surprised when asked about Harper during the Winter Meetings, rattling off the names of the six outfielders that the club already had on the roster (Jacoby Ellsbury, Clint Frazier, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton). Cashman later softened his stance, remarking that the front office could shift its attention to Harper because it is a "fully functioning Death Star," but that pivot has yet to take place. More >