Game on! What to watch for on Day 1

February 28th, 2021

It's finally that time -- time for Cactus League and Grapefruit League play to begin in Arizona and Florida. We'll finally get our first looks at new faces in new places and new uniforms, as well as returning veterans and top prospects in game action as clubs prepare for the 2021 regular season. With help from all 30 beat writers, here's a breakdown of what to watch for as Spring Training games begin today:

American League East

Blue Jays: Springer set, but what about the corners?
The best outfielder on the free-agent market this offseason was George Springer. But the question remains: Who will start at the corner outfield spots come Opening Day? How will the Jays split up playing time between Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk? More >

Orioles: Mancini makes his return
Trey Mancini fought Stage 3 colon cancer and now that his recovery is complete, manager Brandon Hyde said he'll be in the lineup for Baltimore's Grapefruit League opener against the Pirates. It'll surely be an inspirational and emotional moment for Mancini and baseball fans everywhere. More >

Rays: Wander wants to make MLB debut in '21
Wander Franco has been the top overall prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline for two years running, and the switch-hitting shortstop said Saturday that he's ready to make his big league dream a reality this season. Will he reach the Majors in '21 after having played only through Class A in the Minors to this point? When will he debut for Tampa Bay? The questions abound, but we will begin to learn more when the Rays play the Braves in their Grapefruit League opener. More >

Red Sox: Barnes the closer for '21?
Matt Barnes has been a solid reliever for the Red Sox over the past several seasons, but could he be Boston's next closer? We'll begin to find out how things will develop when the Sox open their Grapefruit League schedule against the Twins. More >

Yankees: Is El Gary back?
Gary Sánchez had a rough 2020 season, hitting just .147/.253/.365 in 49 games. Will the catcher bounce back in '21? Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Sánchez will be in the lineup as the designated hitter when New York opens its Grapefruit League schedule against the Blue Jays. More >

AL Central

Indians: Who's on first? Bauers?
Jake Bauers hasn't played in a Major League game since 2019, when Cleveland's acquisition of Carlos Santana necessitated a move for Bauers to the outfield. The transition was tough, and after spending all of the 2020 season at the club's alternate training site, Bauers will make his bid to be Cleveland's starting first baseman again now that Santana has signed elsewhere in free agency. How will he adjust back to the position? Will he hit? His quest begins in Cleveland's Grapefruit League opener against the Reds. More >

Royals: Does Santana still have it?
Veteran right-hander Ervin Santana has only pitched in eight Major League games over the past three years, so the question that naturally arises is, does he have more left in the tank? He pitched well during winter ball in the Dominican Republic, and is slated to make his debut on the mound for Kansas City when it opens its Cactus League schedule against the Rangers. More >

Tigers: Alexander to start opener
Nine consecutive strikeouts in a game? That's a record for a reliever. And it was set by Tigers left-hander Tyler Alexander in 2020. Alexander gets the ball to open Detroit's Grapefruit League schedule against the Phillies, and it'll be intriguing to watch him begin his third Major League season after he put himself in the record books last year. More >

Twins: Which Robles do we see in '21?
Reliever Hansel Robles was dominant with the Angels in 2019, posting a 2.48 ERA over 71 appearances. But he had a 2020 he'd like to forget -- in the pandemic shortened campaign, he struggled to a 10.26 ERA over 18 outings for Los Angeles. Now with the Twins, he's looking to wipe the slate clean and return to his '19 form. Will he? He's scheduled to be part of the group of Minnesota pitchers on the hill in the Twins' Grapefruit League opener against the Red Sox. More >

White Sox: La Russa back in the dugout
Tony La Russa will be back in the dugout as a manager for the first time since leading the Cardinals to the 2011 World Series title. The Hall of Famer also won a World Series championship with St. Louis in 2006, and with the A's in 1989, during a run of three straight AL pennants for Oakland. How will he adjust to managing again after a 10-year hiatus? More >

AL West

Angels: Quintana to make Angels debut
José Quintana is slated to take the mound in the Angels' Cactus League opener against the Giants after signing with Los Angeles as a free agent this offseason. With the Halos having chronic pitching issues over the past several years, a strong season from Quintana would be a big lift. More >

Astros: Young righty to open Houston's spring schedule
Rookie right-hander Brandon Bielak will get the ball to open the Astros' Grapefruit League opener against the Marlins, and he has a lot to prove. Bielak had a strong start to his MLB career when he had a 1.69 ERA over his first 21 1/3 innings in 2020. But he struggled from there on out, posting a 16.88 ERA over his final 10 2/3 frames. He'll look to show off the changes he made during the offseason with a strong opening act. More >

Athletics: Elvis is in the building
A's fans will get their first look at what will surely be a strange sight at first, given that he played for the division rival Rangers for his entire career to this point: Elvis Andrus in the green and gold. Andrus and fellow veteran infielder Mitch Moreland are expected to make their A's debuts when Oakland opens the Cactus League schedule against the Dodgers. More >

Mariners: Marco to the mound
Following a stellar 2020 campaign in which he posted a 3.10 ERA (136 ERA+) over 11 starts for Seattle, Marco Gonzales will take the mound to open the Mariners' Cactus League slate against the Padres. The 29-year-old left-hander has been solid over the past three seasons, pitching to a 3.85 ERA in 74 starts. What will 2021 bring? More >

Rangers: Young arms in focus
Lefty Wes Benjamin, who made his MLB debut last year with the Rangers, will start Texas' first Cactus League game against the Royals. Benjamin, along with several other young pitchers who may be called up later this year even if they don't make the Opening Day roster, will be a focus of evaluation, according to manager Chris Woodward. More >

National League East

Braves: Wright for the job?
Right-hander Kyle Wright had a sensational close to the 2020 season and a great performance in the NL Division Series against the Marlins, but only after struggling to the tune of a 7.71 ERA over his first two MLB seasons. This could be his make-or-break year, and it starts when he starts Atlanta's Grapefruit League opener against the Rays. More >

Marlins: Rookie arms get first chance to shine
The Marlins won't have to wait long to get a look at a pair of rookie rotation candidates pitching in live game action for the first time in 2021, as left-hander Daniel Castano and right-hander Nick Neidert are scheduled to pitch in Miami's Grapefruit League opener against the Astros. Castano was acquired in the Marcell Ozuna trade to the Cardinals in 2017, and Neidert is the club's No. 11 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. More >

Mets: Time to meet the Mets
The Mets were one of the most interesting teams to follow this offseason because new owner Steve Cohen has made it clear he wants to build a winner, and soon. As in, this year. With the addition of Francisco Lindor at shortstop headlining a busy winter, we'll finally get a chance to see the new-look Mets on the field Monday when they play the Marlins to open their Grapefruit League schedule. Mets camp was abuzz Saturday as Cohen made his first appearance in Port St. Lucie, Fla. More >

Nationals: Fedde first up
Right-hander Erick Fedde is competing with Joe Ross and Austin Voth for Washington's fifth rotation spot, and we'll get a first look at him when he takes the mound against the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla. More >

Phillies: Put me in, coach
You know how the song goes: "Put me in coach, I'm ready to play today. Look at me, I could be in center field." Well, it remains unsettled who the starting center fielder for the Phillies will be on Opening Day. Adam Haseley will start in center behind Iván Nova in Philadelphia's Grapefruit League opener against the Tigers. But he'll have competition from Scott Kingery, Roman Quinn and possibly Odúbel Herrera. More >

NL Central

Brewers: Will Yeli be Yeli again?
The big question on everyone's minds when it comes to the Brewers is: Is Christian Yelich back? As in, has he put a difficult 2020 campaign behind him, and will he return to the MVP-caliber player Milwaukee had become accustomed to having in the middle of its lineup? Yelich says he has a good idea about what went wrong at the plate, and he's been working on fixing it. As the Brewers open their spring slate against the White Sox, we'll begin to see for ourselves. More >

Cardinals: Arenado's Cards debut
Sure, it's Spring Training. But it'll be the first time we get to see star third baseman Nolan Arenado in Cardinals red during a game. The eight-time Gold Glove Award winner, whom St. Louis acquired in a trade with the Rockies this offseason, will be in the starting lineup for the Cards' Grapefruit League opener against the Nationals. More >

Cubs: Pederson ready to go full-time
The Cubs non-tendered left fielder Kyle Schwarber this offseason, but replaced him at the position with another slugging left-handed hitter, Joc Pederson. Up to this point in his career, entirely spent with the Dodgers, Pederson has been a part-time player. But he said he's ready to play an everyday role, and the Cubs will get their first look at him in a game when they open their Cactus League schedule against the Padres on Monday. More >

Pirates: Who's at short?
Who will be the Bucs' Opening Day shortstop? It appears to be a four-man race between Cole Tucker, Erik González, Kevin Newman and Wilmer Difo. The competition ramps up when Pittsburgh opens Grapefruit League play against the Orioles. More >

Reds: Castellanos eyeing a bounce-back
Nick Castellanos struggled in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, and said Saturday that all of the adjustments that went along with the abbreviated season affected his production at the plate. But he's looking to bounce back for the Reds in '21, something Cincinnati will be keenly watching as they begin Cactus League play against Cleveland. More >

NL West

D-backs: Gallen to open Cactus League slate
Right-hander Zac Gallen will take the mound in Arizona's Cactus League opener against the Rockies. Gallen has made 27 career starts and owns a 2.78 ERA. Twenty of those starts have come with the D-backs over the past two seasons, and it will be intriguing to watch the 25-year-old begin a season in which he will seek to throw more than 80 innings for the first time. More >

Dodgers: The champs are here
The Dodgers' big offseason acquisition, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, won't start until Monday, but the defending World Series champions will be back on the field in a competitive environment for the first time since their six-game Fall Classic victory over the Rays last October. Manager Dave Roberts has indicated that A.J. Pollock, Gavin Lux and Austin Barnes will be in the lineup, and the club's No. 11 prospect per MLB Pipeline, DJ Peters, will see time in center field as the Dodgers open Cactus League play against the A's. More >

Giants: Dubón bulked up, NRIs on the mound
Mauricio Dubón put on 12 pounds of muscle during the offseason, looking to add some power to his production at the plate. He flashed some of that when he launched a ball 450 feet or so over the fence during batting practice Friday. We'll get a chance to see if that translates into game action as the Giants open their spring slate against the Angels. Manager Gabe Kapler has said he plans on seven pitchers appearing in the contest, with Conner Menez starting and six non-roster invitees set to take the mound after him. More >

Padres: It's finally time
The Padres are one of the most -- if not the most -- exciting teams in baseball, with young stars blossoming all over the diamond. Manager Jayce Tingler said Saturday that most of his regulars will start in San Diego's Cactus League opener against the Mariners. And you know what that means: the new $340 million man, shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., along with another $300 million superstar to his right at third base, Manny Machado, will make their spring debuts. More >

Rockies: Gomber to make Rox debut
The Rockies won't have to wait long to see one of their acquisitions in the Nolan Arenado trade with the Cardinals in action, as left-hander Austin Gomber is scheduled to take the mound in Colorado's Cactus League opener against the D-backs. More >