Each team's top Spring Training storyline

February 14th, 2023

With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training this week, the sound of baseballs hitting gloves in the warm weather of Arizona and Florida will again be music to our ears. With Spring Training upon us, we asked each MLB.com beat writer to highlight a key storyline for their club heading into camp:

American League East

Blue Jays: Who is the No. 5 starter?
This camp isn’t exactly stocked with competitions, but the No. 5 starter’s role will be. Yusei Kikuchi may have the inside track, given his upside and contract, but Mitch White will have a shot at the role along with anyone else the Blue Jays add between now and Opening Day on March 30. Don’t expect there to be an extreme amount of patience with Kikuchi, though, and with Hyun Jin Ryu potentially returning from Tommy John surgery mid-season and No. 1 prospect Ricky Tiedemann on his way, this No. 5 job could have many faces in 2023. -- Keegan Matheson

Orioles: Will Grayson Rodriguez make the rotation?
Rodriguez, the No. 7 overall prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, will be a top player to monitor in O’s camp this spring. The 23-year-old right-hander has yet to make his big league debut -- a three-month IL stint due to a right lat strain prevented it from happening in 2022 -- but he has a legitimate chance to make the Orioles’ Opening Day rotation. In fact, general manager Mike Elias has stated numerous times that he believes Rodriguez has the inside track for a spot. But the 2018 first-round Draft pick will still need to earn it in Spring Training. -- Jake Rill

Rays: How is the lineup coming together?
The Rays didn’t make any moves this offseason to improve a lineup that sputtered and ultimately crashed down the stretch, so we’re putting three key questions under one umbrella. How healthy are Wander Franco and Brandon Lowe, two key hitters who missed a lot of time due to injuries last season? Will they make any moves to alter the composition of their position player group, as they did by acquiring Harold Ramírez and Isaac Paredes last spring? And if they stand pat, what are we seeing from the bounce-back/breakthrough candidates they’ll be counting on to improve the lineup from within? -- Adam Berry

Red Sox: Sale is healthy. Will he stay healthy?
All eyes will be on Chris Sale when Spring Training begins. Sale was thrilled to reveal to reporters at Winter Weekend last month that he is fully healthy again. But as Sale and the Red Sox learned all too well in recent years, it matters not how he feels at the start of camp, but if he can make it to the end on track to be on the Opening Day roster, something he hasn’t been able to do since 2019. The good news is that none of Sale’s injuries in '22 were arm-related. The bad news is that he made only two starts due to three different injuries in which he suffered a broken bone. -- Ian Browne

Yankees: Next gen shortstops?
Youth could be served this spring, with infield prospects Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe both in camp to challenge shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who endured defensive struggles that prompted his benching during the playoffs. If Peraza resoundingly wins the job, Kiner-Falefa could shift into a utility role, offering Volpe additional development time after the 21-year-old logged just 99 plate appearances at Triple-A last year. Volpe is the Yanks’ No. 1 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, and Peraza is ranked No. 3. -- Bryan Hoch

AL Central

Guardians: Who will be the backup catcher?
It’s strange for this to be the biggest position battle heading into camp for the Guardians, but with the rest of their roster largely sorted out, this will be their biggest headache. The team will need to figure out quickly if Mike Zunino (thoracic outlet syndrome surgery) is healthy and ready to take on the starting job. If so, Cleveland will need to sort through four non-roster backstops and Bryan Lavastida, who is already on the 40-man roster, to handle the backup duties before the Guardians deem Bo Naylor (No. 64 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list) ready to make the transition to the Majors. -- Mandy Bell

Royals: Who’s in center field?
A major question for the Royals in 2023 is who their future center fielder will be -- and whether that player is already in the organization. They traded Michael A. Taylor this winter to open the position for young players, specifically Kyle Isbel and Drew Waters. Those two will compete for the Opening Day center field job, but both will get ample playing time this season either in center or right field. Both receive high grades for their defense, and both have offensive ceiling. What the Royals find out about both of them this year will be a key factor in determining the future outfield in Kansas City. -- Anne Rogers

Tigers: Is Tork ready to break out after rough rookie season?
The Tigers signed no free-agent hitters to guaranteed contracts this offseason, opting instead to leave opportunities for young hitters to show whether they’re a part of the solution to Detroit’s offensive woes. No young Tiger looms larger in that regard than Spencer Torkelson, whose struggles last year landed him back at Triple-A Toledo at midseason before he showed signs of hope in a September return. He believes his swing can work, and the Tigers want to give him every opportunity to find out so that new president of baseball operations Scott Harris can plan for the long term. -- Jason Beck

Twins: Is there as much starting depth as it seems?
On paper, the Twins have a rotation logjam, with six MLB-caliber starters jostling for position. But in practice, it’s not so simple because of all the injury question marks. Kenta Maeda is coming back from Tommy John surgery. Tyler Mahle only made four starts for Minnesota last season due to mysterious shoulder issues that the Twins seem to be hoping will have subsided with rest. Pablo López pitched a full season last year, but his career has been riddled with shoulder troubles. Sonny Gray dealt with hamstring and pectoral issues last year. Bailey Ober missed most of last season with recurring groin issues. -- Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: How will things change with Pedro Grifol now in charge?
The 53-year-old all but won the interview process to become the 42nd manager in White Sox history during his first of four meetings with various front office members. He has been eloquent, focused and understatedly confident and upbeat during his media interactions since officially being announced a little more than three months ago. But Grifol and the White Sox understand that true results and victories come when the players take the field, especially with the 81-81 disappointment from ’22 still fresh in fans’ minds. It all begins on Feb. 15. -- Scott Merkin

AL West

Angels: Who will be the club’s sixth starter?
One of the biggest competitions in camp will be for the final spot in the rotation. The Angels have several internal candidates for that sixth spot, including lefty Tucker Davidson and right-handers Chase Silseth, Griffin Canning, Chris Rodriguez, Jaime Barría and Davis Daniel. It’s too early to name a favorite for that sixth spot and there’s still a chance the Angels could sign or trade for another starter. But Canning and Rodriguez are intriguing because they’ve had success in the Majors, but both missed the 2022 season due to injury. Davidson is also out of Minor League options, which could help his case because he’d have to be exposed to waivers if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster. -- Rhett Bollinger

Astros: Who’s the backup catcher?
The Astros flirted with adding a catcher to back up veteran starter Martín Maldonado this year, but ultimately decided to let prospects Yainer Diaz and Korey Lee compete for the job. Both spent most of last year at Triple-A Sugar Land. Lee, the team’s No. 7 prospect, had some ups and downs mechanically at the plate but has an elite arm behind it; Diaz, the team’s No. 3 prospect, is considered a better hitter, plus he can play first base. -- Brian McTaggart

Athletics: How will the A’s construct their starting rotation?
Not only do the A’s not know who their Opening Day starter will be, but there is major uncertainty as to which five starting pitchers they’ll even break camp with. The group of candidates includes left-handers Ken Waldichuk, JP Sears and Kyle Muller, along with right-handers Paul Blackburn, James Kaprielian, Drew Rucinski, Shintaro Fujinami and Adrián Martínez. How the rotation shapes up could largely be determined by performance in the Cactus League. -- Martín Gallegos

Mariners: How they manage young arms
Homegrown pitchers Logan Gilbert and George Kirby were huge catalysts in the Mariners' drought-ending postseason trip last year, each emptying the tank well into October. They also threw a career-high 185 2/3 and 156 2/3 innings (for Kirby, it includes the Minors), respectively, with workload management a well-chronicled topic throughout. Seattle’s front office is cognizant that both will be just as vital to the club getting back to the playoffs this year -- and of the possible reverberating effects from last year’s workloads. -- Daniel Kramer

Rangers: Did the Rangers do enough to improve their offense?
They didn’t add a single offensive player on a big league deal and will enter 2023 with more or less the same lineup as '22. There is a solid core with Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Nathaniel Lowe and Adolis García that will be aided by top prospect Josh Jung and the return of Mitch Garver. Texas’ pitching additions improve the squad as a whole, but a team that slashes .239/.301/.395 like last season isn’t winning a World Series. More than one player will need to take a step forward this season. -- Kennedi Landry

National League East

Braves:  Who will be the shortstop?
The Braves have talent throughout their rotation and bullpen, but the pitching staff’s value will be influenced by who replaces Dansby Swanson at the shortstop position. Vaughn Grissom spent time working out with infield guru Ron Washington this winter and could get a chance. But he doesn’t have the experience possessed by Orlando Arcia, who was the Brewers’ starting shortstop from 2017-2020. If the Braves don’t go with Grissom or Arcia, they could go with Adeiny Hechavarria, who is coming to camp as a non-roster invitee. -- Mark Bowman

Marlins: How will Jazz’s transition to center field go?
The acquisition of Luis Arraez means moving Chisholm, the NL's All-Star starting second baseman in 2022, to a position that Miami hasn't been able to fill since dealing Starling Marte at the '21 Trade Deadline. Chisholm believes he can become a top-five center fielder in '23 despite never having played in the outfield before. General manager Kim Ng pointed to Chisholm's athleticism as the reason for why the experiment should work. -- Christina De Nicola

Mets: What about the kids?
With respect to Justin Verlander, Kodai Senga and all the other new faces, the real drama in Port St. Lucie, Fla., will revolve around a pair of youngsters: top prospects Francisco Álvarez and Brett Baty. Both debuted late last season amidst significant expectations, but the Mets possess enough veteran talent that neither prospect is guaranteed an Opening Day job. Álvarez is likely to begin in the Minors to continue developing defensively behind the plate, but a strong spring could make things awkward for Mets officials. Baty, meanwhile, has a real chance to become the starting third baseman if he turns heads in February and March. -- Anthony DiComo

Nationals: Who will start at third base?
The starting job has been determined in Spring Training in recent years, and the decision will be finalized in camp this season, too. Veteran Jeimer Candelario signed in November, and he expressed an interest in an everyday third-base role, the position he has played the majority of his career. The Nationals also will give reps to Carter Kieboom, who is returning from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2022 season. Prospect Jake Alu made a case for big league consideration following a breakout Triple-A performance, and veteran infielder Ildemaro Vargas is returning after making 43 starts at third last year with the Nats. -- Jessica Camerato

Phillies: Does Andrew Painter make the team?
Dave Dombrowski said it himself last summer: “I’ve had no problem pitching guys who are 20 years old and having a lot of success and putting them in the big leagues.” Enter Painter, who is the No. 6 prospect in baseball. He has a very real chance to make the Opening Day roster as the team’s No. 5 starter. Painter turns 20 on April 10, but he has the goods to win a job. -- Todd Zolecki

NL Central

Brewers: Figure out the rejiggered bullpen
Seven pitchers logged more than 30 relief innings for Milwaukee last season. Four of them, including Josh Hader, are gone. Devin Williams is locked in at closer and setup man Matt Bush is back after a shaky final two months. He’s out of Minor League options. New arms like Bryse Wilson, Javy Guerra and Joel Payamps are also out of options. Said manager Craig Counsell: “It’s definitely the area in [exhibition] games where we have the most to learn.” -- Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: How will the outfield shake out, namely rookie sensation Jordan Walker?
On a team littered with infield stars, the Cardinals' outfield is full of question marks. That’s the case after Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson slumped throughout injury-riddled seasons. Enter Walker and Lars Nootbaar to spice up the competition. Nootbaar had exit velocity, hard-hit and walk rate profiles last season that mirrored those of superstars. As for Walker, the 20-year-old has the physique of a full-grown man and he has an impressive mental maturity to match. If Walker hits and handles right field, he’ll likely be the Opening Day starter. The Cardinals would prefer O’Neill, Carlson and Nootbaar to be their starting outfield, but they aren’t about to block a potential star for the next decade. -- John Denton

Cubs: How will the Hendricks situation impact the pitching staff?
The Cubs made it clear at their fan convention in January that veteran Kyle Hendricks’ recovery from last season’s right shoulder injury could linger beyond Opening Day. The rotation is in better shape to absorb that blow with Marcus Stroman, Jameson Taillon, Drew Smyly and Justin Steele in the fold, but it still will have a trickle-down impact on the pitching staff. There will be a group of arms vying for the open fifth spot, and the ones who don’t get that job could slide into the race for the multiple vacancies in the bullpen. Or maybe a prospect like Hayden Wesneski can win the job and avoid a trip back to the Minors. Then, manager David Ross will have to pick his Opening Day starter, if Hendricks’ streak of three straight nods does indeed come to an end. -- Jordan Bastian

Pirates: The ballad of Bryan Reynolds
When Reynolds’s trade request went public prior to the Winter Meetings, there was a widespread belief that the Pirates would trade their All-Star center fielder for a package of prospects and young talent. As we enter Spring Training, Reynolds is still a Pittsburgh Pirate, and unless circumstances drastically change in the next several weeks, there’s a good chance that he’ll be suiting up for the black and gold on Opening Day. Still, questions remain coming into camp. If anything, Reynolds still being here creates even more questions. How much will Reynolds divulge? Will he express a desire to stay, or will he remain ambiguous? Will he speak on any potential extension talks? -- Justice delos Santos

Reds: Will Joey Votto be ready for Opening Day?
Entering the final year of his 10-year, $225 million contract extension, Votto is coming off the worst year of his storied career and still rehabbing from an August surgery that repaired a torn rotator cuff and biceps in his left shoulder. The rehab has been a slow and sometimes frustrating process and general manager Nick Krall recently disclosed that the 39-year-old Votto was not expected to be full-go for the start of camp. Manager David Bell remained optimistic that the first baseman would be able to get himself ready in time for what could be his final Opening Day in Cincinnati. The club expected to know a clearer timetable once Votto reports to camp in Goodyear, Ariz. If he isn’t ready for the opener, right fielder Wil Myers would be the most likely candidate to shift to first base. -- Mark Sheldon

NL West

D-backs: Who wins the final rotation spot?
As it looks right now, four pitchers head into camp as frontrunners for the rotation: Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Madison Bumgarner and Zach Davies. That leaves one spot open and there are a slew of young pitching candidates who could fill it. Tommy Henry, Ryne Nelson and Drey Jameson, who made their big league debuts last year, along with Brandon Pfaadt, who would have if not for the fact that the D-backs didn’t need to add him to the 40-man roster this winter, are the lead candidates. -- Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: Who plays center field?
Cody Bellinger struggled at the plate in each of the last three seasons, but he gave the Dodgers an above-average defender in center field. With him gone, the Dodgers don’t have a clear replacement at a key position. Chris Taylor, Trayce Thompson, Bradley Zimmer, James Outman and Jason Heyward will all get plenty of looks this spring. Unless, of course, the Dodgers can swing a trade for a center fielder before Opening Day. -- Juan Toribio

Giants: Will the Giants sign Logan Webb to a long-term extension?
During a recent discussion about Aaron Judge’s decision to re-sign with the Yankees, Webb mentioned that he’d “love to be a Giant for life.” Webb, 26, won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2025 season, but president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi confirmed that they've had some talks about a long-term deal this offseason. Locking up the club’s homegrown ace would certainly go a long way toward appeasing Giants fans, many of whom were deeply disappointed by the team’s inability to land a superstar this winter. -- Maria Guardado

Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr. is back
Tatis has 20 games left to serve on his suspension, but he can still be a full participant in camp -- and he said he expects to be. At Padres FanFest, Tatis noted he is “as close to 100 percent as I’ve been in the last two years.” It’ll be an eventful spring for Tatis, who has undergone three surgeries since he last played and still doesn’t have a set position. The expectation is that Tatis will return as an outfielder. -- AJ Cassavell

Rockies: Kris Bryant's do-over
The signing of Bryant as a free agent last spring sent enthusiasm through camp. But the former NL MVP only appeared in 42 games during the 2022 campaign due to back and foot injuries. During the fleeting time that Bryant was present and healthy, the Rockies’ lineup showed signs of functioning well. They were 10-6 when he left a game at Philadelphia with the back issue, and he hit .341 during the second stint back from the injured list. Early in the offseason, manager Bud Black and general manager Bill Schmidt reported that Bryant had healed, and they expected no carryover into this season. The Rockies’ lineup is built around Bryant, a four-time All-Star. -- Thomas Harding