Here are 11 players to keep an eye on this spring

February 24th, 2020

Now is when it gets fun. For weeks, we’ve projected what this guy or that one will do and the impact he could have on the standings. With spring games underway, we can see those projections begin to take shape.

Spring Training isn't about Mike Trout or Christian Yelich. Those guys show up to fine-tune their games with the sole focus on being at their best for Opening Day.

For others, these spring games matter in all sorts of ways. For some, it’s about winning a job. For others, it’s about making a favorable impression. Here are 11 players to keep an eye on this spring:

1. , Phillies RHP: He might just be the most important player in the National League East. He appears to be past the knee and elbow injuries that hampered him the last two seasons and could give the Phillies' rotation a front three -- Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Arrieta -- comparable to almost any in the NL East. All the questions about Arrieta won’t be answered this spring, but it’s a good start.

2. , Red Sox LHP: He could be the most watched veteran in any camp this spring. If he’s really good -- that is, if he’s the Sale of 2018 (2.11 ERA) -- the Red Sox could be one of baseball’s surprise teams of 2020. Sale wouldn’t answer every question the Red Sox have about their roster, but his return to form would be a huge step in the right direction.

3. , Yankees LF/DH: He’s three seasons from hitting 59 homers for the Marlins and two from hitting 38 for the Yankees. He’s also only 30 years old, so even after a season in which injuries limited him to 18 regular-season games, there’s no reason to think he can’t produce another great season. The Yankees showed last season that they can score plenty of runs without him, but his daily presence in the lineup would make a great lineup even better.

4. , Dodgers LHP: He does not want to be “the other player” in the Mookie Betts trade. If Price is healthy -- and he appears to be -- he probably won’t be "the other player." In the three seasons before 2019, he had a 3.74 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 81 appearances for the Red Sox. He could go a long way toward the Dodgers opening the season with the “best team in baseball” label.

5. , Cardinals UTIL: He could play six positions this spring, including third base, shortstop and center field. Let’s face it, if you can play those three well, you can probably play anywhere. He could also beat out veteran Matt Carpenter for the third-base job, but the Cardinals would prefer to move him around the diamond.

6. , Cubs LHP: What’s left in the tank? The 36-year-old lefty with 411 Major League starts and three World Series rings hopes to prove there’s plenty. After one of his most frustrating big league seasons in 2019, Lester showed up at camp noticeably leaner and determined to show he can still perform at a championship level.

7. , Angels OF: Spring is for the kids, right? The 20-year-old -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 6 prospect -- is on the fast track to being a huge impact player. How soon that happens probably depends on his spring performance. Adell is competing with veteran Brian Goodwin for the Angels' right-field job, and club officials are excited to see how he answers the challenge.

8. , Rays LHP/1B: The Rays say they haven’t given up on their quest to make McKay a full-time two-way player. For now, though, the focus is on preparing him to compete for a spot in their starting rotation after he was virtually unhittable in the Minors in 2019, but struggled some in 13 Major League appearances.

9. , White Sox 2B: His quest to win the second-base job in just his second full professional season has made him one of the more intriguing players this spring. He got better and better last season and brings such a dazzling set of skills to the table that the only question seems to be what month he’ll make his Major League debut this season.

10. , Nationals 3B: The Nationals believe he’s good enough to step in for Anthony Rendon on Opening Day and fill the position for the next decade or so. All he has to do this spring is win the job from veteran Starlin Castro and others. On a team with very few questions, he’s one of the most interesting ones.

11. , A’s C: The A’s aren’t fooling around. It’s talent over experience. After watching Murphy tear up Triple-A pitching last season and get 20 games with the big league team, he is penciled in as Oakland’s starting catcher. He’ll have to prove it this spring, but on a roster chock full of gifted homegrown players, there’s no reason to doubt him or them.