Deeper bullpen or a shorter bench? Fingers crossed that those nagging injuries heal. Long-shot kids versus longer-shot veterans. What we've discussed for months against what we've seen for five weeks.This is the week 30 Major League teams prepare to apply the finishing touches to their Opening Day rosters, which means
Deeper bullpen or a shorter bench? Fingers crossed that those nagging injuries heal. Long-shot kids versus longer-shot veterans. What we've discussed for months against what we've seen for five weeks.
This is the week 30 Major League teams prepare to apply the finishing touches to their Opening Day rosters, which means hours in meeting rooms and in chats around batting cages, on car rides, etc.
At the end of Spring Training last year, a Major League pitching coach texted this: "I finally got to call a kid in and tell him he'd made the team." He was thrilled to be able to do this after a morning of telling players they hadn't made the club.
Some were veterans, some kids, and this guy was exhausted by the process because he understood how much work every one of those players had put into making the team. He had been invested in their quest as well.
So here we are again, about to begin one of the most tension-filled weeks of a baseball season as decisions are made on positions, lineups, playing time, etc., as Opening Day approaches.
Let's run down all 30 teams and check in on some of the important calls they're making:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Fingers crossed for right-hander Aaron Sanchez to finish off a healthy and productive spring after a season in which blisters limited him to 10 appearances. He's two years removed from leading the AL with a 3.00 ERA, and if he's good to go, Toronto could have one of the AL's top five rotations.
Four Rule 5 Draft picks could make the Opening Day roster as the O's attempt to fill in around the edges for another run at a postseason berth as shortstop Manny Machado approaches free agency. They're big underdogs in the AL East, but that was the case in 2016 when they surprised almost everyone by winning 89 games and claiming the second AL Wild Card.
Tampa Bay is sticking with its plan to use a four-man rotation with a group of relievers getting the ball every fifth day. With new players sprinkled up and down the roster, the Rays may be the team about which we know the least. Despite trading away Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi, Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza Jr., general manager Eric Neander says he believes his club can contend in 2018.
Christopher Johnson appears to have won one of the two rotation spots behind Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello. As for the other, Thomas Pomeranz (left forearm) probably will open the season on the disabled list, leaving Hector Velazquez, Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright vying for a berth.
How do you line 'em up? Aaron Judge appears locked into the No. 2 spot in the batting order while Stanton will hit either third or fourth. Manager Aaron Boone also has to figure out how to divide their playing time between right field, designated hitter and a sprinkle of left field.
The Tribe is taking a go-slow approach with left fielder Michael Brantley as he recovers from right ankle surgery. Manager Terry Francona hasn't ruled him out for Opening Day, but also calls it an "artificial deadline." Brantley played just 90 games last season, but when he did, he was as good as he's ever been, with an .801 OPS and a second All-Star appearance.
Can Kansas City still find roster space for its Rule 5 Draft acquisitions -- right-handers Brad Keller and Burch Smith -- after the arrival of Justin Grimm from the Cubs? The Royals like Keller and Smith, but seem unlikely to find room for both.
Detroit is still sorting out the back end of its rotation; Jordan Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer and Francisco Liriano have locked up the first three spots. Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris could be competing for one spot, but would both make it if manager Ron Gardenhire starts Mike Fiers in the bullpen after a tough spring.
Jorge Polanco's 80-game PED suspension leaves Minnesota sorting through its options at shortstop. Eduardo Escobar, Ehire Adrianza and Erick Aybar are the most logical options. No. 4 Twins prospect Nick Gordon, who batted .409 in 22 at-bats this spring, was reassigned to Minor League camp Sunday.
Before Chicago decides when to promote top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech -- Nos. 4 and 10 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 -- it must figure out what to do with 24-year-old right-hander Carson Fulmer, who had been hit hard this spring until pitching four no-hit innings against the D-backs on Monday night. Would a tuneup trip back to Triple-A help while veteran Hector Santiago takes the fifth spot in the rotation?
One monumentally difficult decision: whether or not to keep Shohei Ohtani, who has had a tough spring and might benefit from a few Minor League games. His struggles have overshadowed an even more significant story: the good health of Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs and Matthew Shoemaker. If they stay healthy, the Halos will be nicely positioned to return to the postseason.
Who gets the ball on Opening Day if Houston has a one-run lead in the ninth inning? Closer Ken Giles has offered hope that his postseason struggles are behind him even as manager AJ Hinch has enough options to mix and match relievers at the end of games.
Dustin Fowler has hit every marker on his way back from right knee surgery, but he's still playing catch-up, and Oakland must decide whether he's ready to handle everyday center field duties by Opening Day. Boog Powell is the alternative.
Will Felix Hernandez get a 10th straight Opening Day start? For Seattle, the answer is partly symbolic, especially since King Felix's spring was interrupted by a line drive off his right forearm in his debut. But it's more than that since his ability to still pitch at a high level will go a long way toward dictating if the Mariners can make a run at an AL playoff berth.
Manager Jeff Banister hasn't announced how he'll line up his rotation behind Cole Hamels. Doug Fister, Matt Moore and Mike Minor seem likely to get three of the sports, and Martin Perez will have the other when he's healthy. Bartolo Colon and Jesse Chavez are options.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Atlanta sent top prospect Ronald Acuna down to the Minors on Monday, but it's doubtful he will be there for long. He turned 20 in December, and now the club must decide just how long he will stay in the Minors. Acuna has played just 54 games above Double-A, though he hit .344/.393/.548 for Triple-A Gwinnett in 243 plate appearances last season.
Top prospect Lewis Brinson could open the season in center field for Miami, which would give fans a tangible rallying point after an offseason rebuild. Brinson, 23, has played just 107 games at Triple-A, so the Marlins are trying to figure out if he can handle the grind of a Major League schedule as well as the flood of offspeed pitches he's likely to see.
There are no decisions left in the rotation after Jason Vargas' injury opened the door for both Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler to get the final two spots. Next up: leadoff hitter. Brandon Nimmo has had an impressive spring, but manager Mickey Callaway could also rotate Asdrubal Cabrera, Juan Lagares and even Todd Frazier into the spot.
Second baseman Daniel Murphy probably won't be ready for Opening Day after undergoing offseason surgery on his right knee, and that's as close to a crisis as Washington has. Its lineup is deep enough to withstand his absence, and the rotation and pitching staff are the best in the NL East. If this is Bryce Harper's final season in Washington, the Nats have a chance to make it a special one.
How long does second baseman Scott Kingery remain in the Minors? That he'll open the season there seems a virtual lock. If Kingery stays down until April 13, Philadelphia would have an extra year of control, but he could have to wait until Maikel Franco struggles or Cesar Hernandez is traded. Regardless, Kingery is one of the reasons the Phils are so bullish about the future.
General manager David Stearns is running out of time to add a starting pitcher, and maybe that means he doesn't intend to. But after watching Brent Suter and Wade Miley get roughed up in their most recent starts, here's a friendly reminder that Milwaukee has enough Minor League depth to pry Chris Archer from the Rays.
As St. Louis debates how to use top prospect Alex Reyes when he returns from Tommy John surgery in May, the organization's pitching depth has been on display this spring. Luke Weaver will open as the fifth starter while Jack Flaherty and John Gant will provide enviable depth. That could mean using Reyes as a late-inning bullpen option.
These are the kinds of questions every team would love to have to answer. For instance, who hits leadoff, and does it matter? Are there enough at-bats for Ian Happ? What's the final makeup of a bullpen manager Joe Maddon says could be one of the best ever? Will Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana be the best one-two rotation punch in baseball? As for really pressing questions, this is a team that just doesn't have many.
Manager Clint Hurdle's key decision seems to be how to draw up his lineup around cleanup hitter Josh Bell in the post-Andrew McCutchen era. Hurdle has interesting options with Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Josh Harrison, Corey Dickerson and Colin Moran. These last few days will be figuring out who plays where.
Who hits leadoff? Billy Hamilton's career .298 OBP has prompted manager Bryan Price to consider other options, including some kind of platoon arrangement with Jesse Winker, Jose Peraza and Hamilton.
Zack Greinke's pulled groin means he'll probably miss Opening Day and is a reminder that a very good rotation lacks depth. Robbie Ray probably will get the Opening Day nod, and there are enough off-days to get Arizona through the first month. The D-backs are hopeful Greinke will not miss a large chunk of the regular season, but combine the injury and this spring's diminished velocity, and it's a concern.
Matt Kemp decision? There is no decision. Kemp has made it himself by coming into camp, hitting .342 and looking like a guy ready for a second act in Los Angeles at 33. This wasn't exactly the way the Dodgers planned it when he was acquired from the Braves in a complicated salary dump, but Kemp has made it an easy one.
Who's in center field? Either Austin Jackson and Steven Duggar could be given the job outright, or manager Bruce Bochy could go with some sort of platoon since Jackson bats right-handed and Duggar hits lefty. Jackson has hit .370 this spring, but Duggar has four homers and a .994 OPS.
What happens in the outfield? First baseman Eric Hosmer's signing shifted William Myers to right, leaving Jose Pirela, Hunter Renfroe and prospect Franchy Cordero fighting for playing time. Pirela may slide to second base at times, but San Diego may be open to dealing someone for pitching.
Carlos Gonzalez's return to has created a ripple effect that sends left fielder Ian Desmond back to first base and Gerardo Parra to left field -- likely leaving No. 2 prospect Ryan McMahon and outfielder David Dahl beginning the season at Triple-A Albuquerque as well.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.