The coronavirus pandemic cut Spring Training short and caused the postponement of Opening Day back in March, but baseball is set to return, with players reporting for Summer Camp today ahead of the anticipated start of the season on July 23 or 24.
Here is the top storyline for each MLB team as Camp begins.
American League East
Blue Jays: What role does Nate Pearson play?
No player in this organization -- not Vladimir Guerrero Jr., not Bo Bichette -- will generate more interest than Pearson when Summer Camp opens. MLB's No. 8 prospect consistently topped 100 mph in a dominant stretch of Spring Training performances and, when paired with his breaking pitches and changeup, hitters simply couldn’t make sense of him at times. Service time remains a factor here, yes, but the Blue Jays are staring at a massive opportunity in Pearson. The nature of a 60-game season means he could start without any hard workload restrictions, of course, but there should also be plenty of room to use him in a hybrid or multi-inning relief role. More >
Orioles: How do the O's replace Trey Mancini?
The Orioles’ world took an extra shock the day baseball shut down, as it was also the day they learned they’d be without All-Star Trey Mancini for the year due to Mancini’s colon cancer diagnosis. Four months or so later, Mancini continues to undergo chemotherapy treatment while his teammates prepare to ramp up baseball activity again. How do the Orioles replace him? Can they? Expect DJ Stewart and Dwight Smith Jr. to siphon the residual at-bats to start off, with several utility candidates to get reps in right field as well. No.4 prospect Ryan Mountcastle could potentially factor in at some point down the line also, depending how the Orioles choose to balance opportunity and development during this truncated 60-game season. More >
Rays: Who’s behind the plate?
The Rays will enter Summer Camp without a lot of roster decisions to make, but the backup catcher spot will be the main one to watch. Mike Zunino had a disappointing first year with the club, but some changes to his lower half and some slight mechanical changes have him believing that he will turn it around in 2020. Zunino will be the starter, but Tampa Bay will have to decide who backs him up. Michael Perez, Kevan Smith and Chris Herrmann appear to be the top contenders for the role. More >
Red Sox: The arrival of Alex Verdugo
Alex Verdugo, the big acquisition piece in the trade for Mookie Betts, was barely seen during regular workouts at Spring Training in February and March. At that point, the right fielder was mainly in the trainer’s room recovering from a stress fracture in his back that he suffered last season with the Dodgers. With the lengthy delay to the start of the season, Verdugo had all the time he needed and more to get ready. He is now said to be a full go, and it will be intriguing to see how he looks during Summer Camp. Verdugo is known for having a cannon arm and a solid bat, and the Red Sox at last will get to see him up close on a daily basis. More >
Yankees: The ‘great white whale’ gets back to work
The Yankees landed their "great white whale," in the words of general manager Brian Cashman, when they signed ace Gerrit Cole to a nine-year, $324 million contract. Cole was already making a strong impression when Spring Training was halted on March 12, holding pitching clinics at his locker on the days when he wasn't firing high-octane heat from the mound. After weeks of tossing in the yard of his new Connecticut home, Cole will resume preparing for that Opening Day start, heading a rotation that projects to also include Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, J.A. Happ and Jordan Montgomery. The knock against last year’s Yankees club was that it didn’t have enough starting pitching depth; that issue seems to have been resolved. More >
Indians: Who will start in the outfield?
Ten outfielders on a 40-man roster is a lot to handle. The one guarantee is that Oscar Mercado will lock up one of the three spots (most likely center field). From there, the Indians will have to fill in some blanks. Will Tyler Naquin be able to pick up where he left off last season before he tore his ACL? Will Jordan Luplow show that he can be more than a platoon guy who mashes lefties to take the starting job from Naquin in right field? The Indians will also have to decide who between Franmil Reyes and Domingo Santana will start in left and who will be the designated hitter, leaving Delino DeShields, Jake Bauers, Greg Allen, Bradley Zimmer and Daniel Johnson to also try to fight their way onto the season-opening 30-man roster. More >
Royals: Who will win the first-base job?
Manager Mike Matheny had raved all offseason about the potential of Ryan O’Hearn, his hard-hit rates and his willingness to stay more positive about himself. It seemed Matheny was virtually awarding O’Hearn the job. Then along came Ryan McBroom, picked up from the Yankees late in the 2019 season. McBroom wowed Matheny and the coaching staff with a torrid spring, posting a 1.026 OPS with three home runs and three doubles. But O’Hearn was even better, posting a 1.252 OPS with five home runs. The battle will continue in Summer Camp, but now with a 30-man roster to start the season, it seems clear that Matheny won’t have to chose one or the other to make the Opening Day roster. They both will. More >
Tigers: How close are the kids?
Pitching prospects Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo were the talk of Spring Training. Can they pick up where they left off after three months? It won't earn them spots on the Opening Day roster, but it could earn them a callup from the alternate training site in Toledo later this summer for their Major League debuts if and when the Tigers need pitching depth. Add in the 2020 No. 1 overall Draft pick Spencer Torkelson and the return of Riley Greene, and Summer Camp could be more fun for the kids than Spring Training. More >
Twins: Can Bomba Squad 2.0 live up to the lofty expectations?
What do you get when you take a Major League-record 307 home runs and add Josh Donaldson? On paper, the 2020 Twins should be an even more formidable group than the self-anointed “Bomba Squad” that bashed its way to new power-hitting heights last season, with Donaldson now in the middle of that power-packed lineup and Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda in the fold to bring proven veteran success to the starting rotation. But can they translate that to wins in this unconventional regular season? And, more importantly, if the Twins make the playoffs, can they finally get over the Division Series hump for the first time since 2002? We still hadn’t seen the new lineup at full strength in Spring Training due to Byron Buxton’s injury, but that should change on Opening Day. More >
White Sox: Is the contention window officially open?
Back in March, the White Sox appeared to be the third best team in the AL Central, behind the Twins and the Indians. Their pitching depth was a question mark, and while they felt good about what was accomplished during Spring Training, there still figured to be somewhat of an adjustment for all of their new players working together. However, in this sprint of this new 2020 campaign, Chicago has a solid chance to end a 12-year postseason drought. Like every Midwest team, the White Sox will benefit from the elimination of those frigid April games. But more importantly, they will have right-hander Michael Kopech and left-hander Carlos Rodon back from Tommy John surgery without restrictions. More >
Angels: Do the Halos have enough starting pitching?
The delayed start to the season helps the Angels, as two-way star Shohei Ohtani and right-hander Griffin Canning wouldn’t have been ready to pitch in April, but are both healthy and ready to join the rotation now. The Angels will use a six-man rotation, with Ohtani pitching once a week and serving as the designated hitter three to five times a week. Veterans Andrew Heaney, Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran will join Ohtani and Griffin on the starting staff, with the last spot still up for grabs. The Angels could be forced to lean heavily on their bullpen, but the good news is that it’ll be for only a 60-game schedule instead of the usual 162-game grind. More >
Astros: The health of Justin Verlander
The postponement of the season had a silver lining for the Astros, as Verlander underwent surgery on his groin March 17 and was expected to miss up to eight weeks of the season. Verlander, the 2019 Cy Young Award winner, also dealt with a lat issue earlier in the spring. The righty, who recently posted a video on Instagram of him throwing off the mound, is likely to be ready when the season starts July 23 or 24. He was a workhorse last year, going 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA and a career-high 300 strikeouts in 223 innings while leading the Majors in WHIP (0.80 and opponents’ batting average (.172). More >
Athletics: Will Jesús Luzardo and A.J. Puk be unleashed?
Luzardo and Puk, the A’s top two pitching prospects, were both expected to move into the starting rotation this season, but the team likely would have kept a close eye on their workloads. The shortened 60-game season could allow Oakland to maximize the value of the electric left-handers, who both shined last September as multi-inning weapons out of the bullpen. Coming off a postseason exit in the Wild Card Game for a second straight year, full seasons out of Luzardo and Puk in the rotation could finally get the A’s over the hump and deeper into the playoffs this season. More >
Mariners: Are the kids ready to play?
Take away third baseman Kyle Seager and center fielder Mallex Smith, and Seattle's projected starters average 85 games and 263 at-bats of MLB experience. These 60 games will be the first chance for Evan White to show he’s ready to make the jump from Double-A to a starting role at first base, for Shed Long Jr. to prove he’s capable of being the second baseman of the future, for Kyle Lewis to back up the strong first impression he cast last September, and for fellow rookie outfielder Jake Fraley to grab hold of his own opportunity at the other corner spot. It’ll be showtime for rookie starting pitchers Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn, and for a group of young relievers. Even with several elite prospects still a year away, the youth movement has begun, and the shortened season only heightens the need to make the most of these learning opportunities. More >
Rangers: Where will Nick Solak play?
The Rangers have high hopes for Solak, even though he has just 33 games of Major League experience. They believe he can be an impact offensive player, but they aren’t sure where to play him. His best position is second base, but that’s Rougned Odor’s spot, The Rangers gave him some time in center field during Spring Training and could use him in left, if needed. He is also taking ground balls at first and third base. He will get time at all those positions during the Rangers intrasquad games at Summer Camp. At some point the Rangers will need to decide how to get him in the lineup, but he also has to uphold their faith by producing at the plate. More >
National League East
Braves: What will the Braves get from Marcell Ozuna?
There’s no doubt the Braves will significantly benefit if Cole Hamels remains healthy and productive over the remainder of this year. But the most influential offseason addition was Ozuna, who will attempt to compensate for the power lost via Josh Donaldson’s departure. If Ozuna can be a force in the cleanup spot, he will enhance the significant value Atlanta should once again receive as Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman fill the lineup’s first three spots. There are some question marks about the bottom of the lineup. But if Ozuna proves to be a good fit, less pressure will be placed on Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson and Travis d’Arnaud, who will attempt to build on last year’s rebound. More >
Marlins: Rounding out the rotation
In March, manager Don Mattingly never officially announced the Opening Day starter or the rest of the rotation. Still, the club had a pretty good indication, and in no particular order the five front-runners were Sandy Alcantara, José Ureña, Caleb Smith, Pablo López and Jordan Yamamoto. Alcantara, an All-Star in 2019, is the projected Opening Day starter. While the Marlins anticipate going with five starters, they also could get creative and use other starting candidates in relief roles. More >
Mets: What can Yoenis Céspedes provide?
Last we saw Céspedes, he was taking regular batting practice and participating in defensive drills with his fellow outfielders in Port St. Lucie, Fla., but also taking time off daily to go through an extensive physical therapy regimen with Mets trainers. He has not played in a professional game, nor run at full speed, since July 2018. Since that time, Céspedes has undergone multiple heel surgeries and fractured his right ankle. He’s also closing in on his 35th birthday. Still, Céspedes remains a potent bat with far more potential now than he had three months ago, due to the fact that the Mets can use him as a designated hitter. There are a wide range of outcomes for what Céspedes can give the Mets in 2020. More >
Nationals: Who is the Opening Day third baseman?
The question that arose when Anthony Rendon departed in free agency still lingers. Washington has given top prospect Carter Kieboom the opportunity to earn the job at the hot corner. Kieboom played 11 Major League games last season, all at shortstop. He got his first experiences at the new position during Spring Training, and he noted the differences between drills and workouts compared to live-game action. Thirteen-year veteran infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera, who has played third base in parts of four seasons, has taken on the role of mentor to Kieboom. If the Nats do not believe the 22-year-old is ready for the starting job by the end of Summer Camp, Cabrera can take on the starting job until Kieboom is. More >
Phillies: Will they sign J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension?
Sure, the Phillies need to find a No. 5 starter. They will want to see how Andrew McCutchen and his surgically repaired left knee look. And they still need to get a better feel for their bullpen. But really, the most important thing for the Phillies -- well, maybe for Phillies fans -- is signing All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension. They traded top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, catcher Jorge Alfaro and another prospect for Realmuto in February 2019. They made the trade because they envisioned Realmuto as a piece of their core. But if they let Realmuto hit free agency, they could lose him. Right now, the Phillies don’t have anybody in the system close to replacing him. More >
Brewers: Will the ‘depth’ approach pay off in a condensed season?
When the Brewers signed utility man Brock Holt on Feb. 19, he marked the Brewers’ 14th outside acquisition -- Major League free agency, trade or waivers -- since the end of 2019. It was a remarkable turnover for a team coming off consecutive playoff appearances, and it created a roster built for depth, meant to withstand the rigors of a 162-game season. The Brewers were going into the year with eight starting pitchers for five spots. For position players, they had timeshares in mind at every position but left field (Christian Yelich) and maybe second base (Keston Hiura). Newcomers Avisaíl García, Luis Urías, Omar Narváez, Brett Anderson, Josh Lindblom, Eric Sogard, Jedd Gyorko and Holt all were pegged for prominent roles. How will all of that change in a season condensed to 60 games over two months? And how will the calendar, combined with social distancing, impact players who were still getting to know each other? Those are some of the unknowns. More >
Cardinals: Who starts in left field?
The Cardinals' outfield competition is still very much in play, although somewhat narrowed since we left Jupiter, Fla., back in March. Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas are the frontrunners for the open spot in left field. With the most experience out of the group, the Cardinals seem firm on giving these two the opportunity to show what they have before looking to their outfield depth, which includes Austin Dean -- who could see time as the DH, as well -- Justin Williams and, yes, top prospect Dylan Carlson. While Carlson was invited to Summer Camp at Busch Stadium, it’s still unlikely that he'll start on Opening Day or even be on the Opening Day roster. However, in a 60-game season, the importance of every game is magnified, and it’s certainly fair to take the approach that the outfield should feature whoever produces the most early on, especially as the Cardinals look for offense to jump out to a quick start. More >
Cubs: Ross leads Cubs into a new era
Eight months ago, the Cubs officially hired David Ross as their new manager, ushering in a new era after five seasons with Joe Maddon at the helm. Chicago felt it was time for a new but familiar voice to lead a mostly unchanged roster into a critical campaign in the franchise timeline. Ross is still waiting to manage his first game, but has spent the past three months working behind the scenes to shorten his learning curve. One step Ross has taken has been working with the team’s analytics department and coaches on simulated game management. Shortened season or not, Ross plans on doing everything in his power to help bring another World Series trophy to the North Side. More >
Pirates: How does this affect the new regime’s plan?
Back in Spring Training, new general manager Ben Cherington and manager Derek Shelton were off to a successful start in their efforts to build a more cohesive, comfortable working environment. Cherington brought the baseball operations department together and encouraged a collaborative process among staff, coaches and players. Shelton supported his players and let them be themselves, creating a more relaxed clubhouse. But what happens now that all of their best-laid plans have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic? Cherington has often spoken about the club’s “build toward a winning team” -- not a rebuild -- so it’s still vital that they use this year to evaluate the talent they have and determine how to build around it. Can they do that during a shortened season, with only a handful of top prospects working out at their alternate training site? How will they handle the Trade Deadline? Will limited development opportunities push them to be aggressive with top position-player prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes, among other young players? There are many questions left to answer that affect not just this abbreviated season, but the direction of the franchise. More >
Reds: Who fits in the outfield puzzle?
In some ways, this situation has gotten easier for manager David Bell and the front office to solve, as the active roster will be expanded to 30 players for the first two weeks of the season and then dropped to 28 for the two weeks after that before settling at 26. The NL also now has the designated-hitter rule. But that doesn’t entirely help the numbers issue. Cincinnati has five locks for the outfield -- Shogo Akiyama, Nick Senzel, Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker and Phillip Ervin. Aristides Aquino, Scott Schebler, Travis Jankowski and Rule 5 selection Mark Payton are the other four competing for spots. Castellanos or Winker fit the profile at DH, but any position player could rotate through the spot. With the new rule for extra innings that starts with a runner on second base, the speedy Jankowski could be an asset. More >
D-backs: Who takes Mike Leake’s place in the rotation?
With Leake electing not to play in 2020, the D-backs have to find someone to join Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray, Luke Weaver and Zac Gallen in the rotation. Look for right-hander Merrill Kelly and lefty Alex Young to be the main competitors for the spot. Kelly led the team in starts with 32 last year, while Young compiled a 125 ERA+ in 17 appearances (15 starts) after being called up in late June. Jon Duplantier and Taylor Clarke are other possibilities. More >
Dodgers: The 'new' guys
Mookie Betts immediately made an impact in the clubhouse, challenging his new teammates not to settle for just an eighth straight division title. Betts gives the Dodgers a second MVP in the outfield to flank Cody Bellinger in a batting order that is the franchise’s scariest since the late 1970s, if not the original Boys of Summer more than six decades ago. In March, David Price -- eight years after his Cy Young Award win -- appeared to be healthier than expected coming off wrist surgery and should settle into the No. 3 starter role behind Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. More >
Giants: When will Joey Bart arrive?
This season is viewed as another transitional year for the Giants, who are coming off three consecutive losing campaigns and are now entering a new era under first-year manager Gabe Kapler. While the shortened season could make contention a bit more viable this year, the Giants’ success should be judged by their gains in player development, particularly among top prospects like Bart. Considered the heir apparent to Buster Posey, Bart was added to the Giants’ player pool on Monday, though he’s unlikely to crack the club’s 30-man Opening Day roster. Still, it should only be a matter of time before the 23-year-old catcher officially debuts in San Francisco, especially if the Giants can ease him into the Majors by giving him at-bats at designated hitter. More >
Padres: How do MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño fit?
Gore and Patiño are two of the sport’s best pitching prospects, and it’s possible they’d already be Padres if the season had unfolded as originally planned. So what happens now? That’s anyone’s guess. The Padres had ruled both out of the rotation mix in Spring Training. But that was before the season was shortened to 60 games -- negating any concerns about a full-season workload. With expanded rosters, maybe there’s a spot on the pitching staff somewhere, even if they don’t open the year as starters. At the very least, Gore and Patiño will be given every opportunity to earn big league innings in 2020. More >
Rockies: Who will handle second base?
As a chain reaction to the advent of the designated hitter for all games, a spicy competition is brewing at second base. Ryan McMahon’s ability and willingness to play first base and allow Daniel Murphy to DH on occasion (manager Bud Black sees DH as a rotating role) create an opportunity for others to get in the lineup. Much of the focus will be on top prospect Brendan Rodgers, who is healthy after a right shoulder injury marred his debut. But Garrett Hampson, who had a solid finish to his rookie campaign in 2019, and veteran non-roster player Chris Owings, who had a strong Spring Training before camp closed, are competing, as well. More >