One thing to watch for each team in today's spring slate

February 24th, 2024

We made it through another winter, and the first day with a full slate of Spring Training games has arrived. The storylines abound across baseball with famous faces in new places and rising prospects looking to impress in Arizona and Florida.

Here's a look at one thing to watch for from each game when taking in all the Cactus League and Grapefruit League action on Saturday:

Red Sox at Orioles, 1:05 p.m. ET

  • Red Sox: The competition for the final spot in the starting rotation officially gets underway as Garrett Whitlock takes the mound for the Red Sox in their Grapefruit League opener. Whitlock bounced between the bullpen and the rotation the previous two seasons. Unlike a year ago, when Whitlock was coming back from right hip surgery, he has no health concerns this spring and added a noticeable amount of strength in the offseason. He is battling with Tanner Houck and Josh Winckowsi for a spot in the rotation. -- Ian Browne
  • Orioles: It’s Corbin Burnes time. The 29-year-old right-hander (who was acquired in a Feb. 1 blockbuster trade with the Brewers) will make his O’s debut in the team’s Grapefruit League opener. A former National League Cy Young Award winner, Burnes is also the favorite to start on Opening Day for Baltimore on March 28 vs. the Angels at Camden Yards. He’s no stranger to the assignment, having started Milwaukee’s opener each of the past two seasons. -- Jake Rill

Pirates at Twins, 1:05 p.m. ET

  • Pirates: We will get our first taste of this spring’s starting rotation competition, which should have one or two spots up for grabs, when Bailey Falter takes the mound on Saturday. Falter was acquired at the Trade Deadline from the Phillies and used in a variety of roles with his new team, and the results were decent. He is out of Minor League options, so it seems likely that he will make the Opening Day roster in some form. The question is whether that will be as a starter, a reliever or some sort of hybrid role. -- Alex Stumpf
  • Twins: Remember Royce Lewis? The Twins had a pretty good time watching him hit four playoff homers last October following a difficult-to-believe and torrid return from a second torn ACL. Well, the Twins won’t waste any time working Lewis into the action in his first fully healthy Spring Training since he entered the big league picture, as Lewis is slated to play alongside a bevy of other big leaguers in the Twins’ first Grapefruit League game. -- Do-Hyoung Park

Braves at Rays, 1:05 p.m. ET

  • Braves: Spencer Strider will take the mound as the Braves make the short drive to play their neighbors in Port Charlotte. The Cy Young Award candidate’s outfielders will include Michael Harris II and Jarred Kelenic, the talented left fielder acquired from the Mariners in December. Marcell Ozuna will get the start at first base. Ozuna is attempting to prove he can be dependable if there’s a need for him to replace Matt Olson for a short stint this year. -- Mark Bowman
  • Rays: The Rays will ease their best pitchers and many of their regular hitters into Grapefruit League action. But there will be a few players to watch in their Spring Training opener, headlined by top prospect Junior Caminero. The 20-year-old infielder will look to prove himself worthy of a quick return to the big leagues this spring, starting Saturday. -- Adam Berry

Marlins at Cardinals (split-squad), 1:05 p.m. ET

  • Marlins: Left-hander Ryan Weathers will start, kicking off the audition process for pitchers hoping to make the Opening Day rotation. The 24-year-old, who was acquired from San Diego at the Trade Deadline, added a two-seamer while working with TrackMan over the offseason. Selected seventh overall in the 2018 MLB Draft, Weathers has yet to stick in the big leagues through 46 games (31 starts). -- Christina De Nicola
  • Cardinals: Left-hander Matthew Liberatore, Saturday’s starter, is in a competition with fellow left-hander Zack Thompson for a role as the Cardinals’ sixth starter or as a bullpen piece who can work long relief. Liberatore started and pitched out of the ‘pen last season with some success in both roles, but he would prefer to start. While talent has never been a question, the Cards need to see more consistency with his velocity and focus. -- John Denton

Yankees at Tigers, 1:05 p.m. ET

  • Yankees: Luis Gil will draw the start, marking another milestone in the right-hander’s recovery from Tommy John surgery. Gil featured a high-90s fastball, a plus slider and a developing changeup when he made his big league debut in 2021. Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that Gil’s velocity seems to be all the way back, and he could be in the mix for a rotation or bullpen spot this season depending on the team’s needs. -- Bryan Hoch
  • Tigers: Colt Keith, MLB Pipeline's No. 22 prospect, begins his quest to not only earn an Opening Day roster spot, but also take the starting nod at second base. The six-year contract he signed a few weeks ago was certainly a vote of confidence, but the Tigers still want to see him take the opportunity and roll with it. Keith and Andy Ibañez have been taking drills at second base with the regulars so far in Spring Training. -- Jason Beck

Phillies at Blue Jays, 1:07 p.m. ET

  • Phillies: There are only three jobs truly up for grabs this spring, but the Phillies have said repeatedly that center fielder Johan Rojas needs to earn his spot on the Opening Day roster. His journey starts Saturday. Rob Thomson said he doesn’t need Rojas to post great Grapefruit League numbers to make the team. He just needs to see better at-bats, which means not chasing as many pitches as he did in the postseason. -- Todd Zolecki
  • Blue Jays: You won’t have to wait long to get a look at some of the Blue Jays’ regulars, including your first look at Justin Turner in his new uniform. Bo Bichette, Daulton Varsho and Danny Jansen are also expected to be in the opening lineup. Turner takes on the Brandon Belt role this year, with the potential to play some third base along with first and DH, and the ageless wonder just keeps hitting. He’ll look just fine in a lineup with Bichette, who publicly lobbied for Turner over the offseason. -- Keegan Matheson
  • Cardinals: Following a season in which he bounced between the Majors and the Minors, and appeared both as a reliever and a starter, left-hander Zack Thompson is hopeful he can firm up a role as the Cardinals' sixth starter. The club is contemplating a six-man rotation to start the season with eight games in eight days and 13 in the season’s first 14 days. Thompson, who is battling fellow left-hander Liberatore for a rotation/roster spot, was 4-5 with a 4.28 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings as a starter after the All-Star Game in 2023. -- John Denton
  • Mets: Tylor Megill has suddenly become quite important. Kodai Senga’s shoulder injury means that Megill is one of three or four candidates competing for a job in the Opening Day rotation. He’ll kick off the competition with a start in the Mets’ Grapefruit League opener, looking to build upon the success he had down the stretch last season. Keep an eye out for his new pitch, a split-finger fastball he calls “The American Spork.” -- Anthony DiComo

Reds at Guardians, 3:05 p.m. ET

  • Reds: The 10-pitcher battle for five rotation spots begins in earnest on Saturday, when Carson Spiers gets the ball to start. Spiers, a prospect who debuted near the end of 2023, likely has an outside shot at being one of the five starters, but he could still be a depth option if somebody goes down. He can also figure in the mix for one of several bullpen spots up for grabs. -- Mark Sheldon
  • Guardians: After three seasons away from the organization that housed him for 11 years, Carlos Carrasco will make his return to the rubber for the Guardians on Saturday. Carrasco joined the team on a Minor League deal. Whether he makes the Opening Day roster will be determined by the health of the starting rotation and possible opportunities in the bullpen, but he’s guaranteed a warm welcome in his first spring start. -- Mandy Bell
  • Rockies: Last season, the Rockies brought righty starter Peter Lambert along slowly, since he had barely pitched since having Tommy John surgery in 2020. Lambert worked his way into the rotation and pitched until reaching a pre-set innings limit. He is competing for a rotation spot, but the Rockies expect him to return to the pitcher he was when he debuted in 2019, only with a cleaner and safer motion. -- Thomas Harding
  • Athletics: The battle for the final rotation spot kicks off with a pair of contenders set to pitch in Oakland's Cactus League opener -- Joe Boyle, who will start, and Joey Estes, who is expected to follow out of the bullpen. Both right-handers got their first taste of big league action last September with the A’s and fared well in their limited time. -- Martín Gallegos

Cubs at Giants, 3:05 p.m. ET

  • Cubs: Lefty Drew Smyly is slated to start the Cubs’ second Cactus League game of the spring. Last year, Smyly bounced between the rotation and bullpen, but the veteran lefty is getting a look this spring for the lone vacancy in the rotation. He is up for the job with Javier Assad, Hayden Wesneski and Jordan Wicks. Outfielder Mike Tauchman is among those in the planned lineup against the Giants, along with Patrick Wisdom, Nick Madrigal and first-base prospect Matt Mervis. -- Jordan Bastian
  • Giants: Right-hander Logan Webb, the undisputed leader of the Giants’ pitching staff, will take the hill and begin preparing for what will likely be his third consecutive Opening Day start for the club. Webb is coming off a runner-up finish in NL Cy Young Award voting, but he’s still only 27 and has the potential to continue to elevate his game in his sixth season in the big leagues. -- Maria Guardado

Rangers at Royals, 3:05 p.m. ET

  • Rangers: The Rangers' rotational depth has been a hot topic early in camp, and the first few Cactus League games will give everybody a chance to see prospects like Owen White, Cole Winn and Zak Kent face live hitters. Jack Leiter made his spring debut on Friday, with the others hopefully to follow in the coming games. Manager Bruce Bochy has been open and honest about the idea that everybody has a chance to make the big league club out of camp, and this is the best opportunity for the young pitchers to prove they have what it takes to make it at the big league level. -- Kennedi Landry
  • Royals: Right-hander Alec Marsh draws the start in the Royals’ second Cactus League game, this time as the home team against the Rangers at Surprise Stadium. Marsh, 25, is vying for a spot on the Royals’ Opening Day pitching staff and has shown his versatility already in a short stint in the Majors -- he started, came out of the bullpen and served as the bulk pitcher after an opener. Performance will dictate Marsh’s role in 2024, and he’ll get a chance to show what he can do Saturday. -- Anne Rogers
  • Mariners: The Mariners aren't rolling out any of their prominent pitchers over the first few games, so all eyes will be on the position players. The two who are most curious to keep an eye on in the opener are first baseman Ty France and second baseman Jorge Polanco. France overhauled his swing at Driveline last season -- the first time that the contact specialist has sought outside counsel -- and will put it on display for the first time competitively. And for Polanco, Seattle’s most significant offseason addition, it’ll be his first action with his new team. -- Daniel Kramer
  • White Sox: A number of pitchers are being stretched out as starters, but the main five targeted for the rotation won’t be seen in the first week of Cactus League play. The bullpen is a fairly open competition, so the relievers in contention are the ones at the center of attention. Jesse Chavez, beginning his 17th big league season, opened Friday’s game against the Cubs, while Dominic Leone will get the same honor Saturday. Both veterans stand firmly in the relief mix. -- Scott Merkin
  • Rockies: In the second of back-to-back games against the D-backs, the Rockies take a look at their pitching future. Righty Noah Davis started in six of his eight appearances last season. While he enters spring considered a depth piece, he hopes to put together his wide array of pitches into a cohesive style and grab a season-opening rotation spot. Also pitching is lefty prospect Joe Rock, who wants to show he is at the crest of the next Rockies pitching wave. Rock needs experience, but he has a solid three-pitch mix -- fastball, slider (which can be a swing-and-miss pitch) and changeup (a new pitch he handles well). -- Thomas Harding
  • D-backs: After signing free agent left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez during the offseason, the D-backs came into camp with the first four spots in the rotation set with Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Rodriguez and Brandon Pfaadt. The fifth spot is where the battle will take place. One of the top candidates, lefty Tommy Henry, started Friday’s game and another top candidate, Ryne Nelson, will go Saturday against the Rockies. Nelson won the fifth spot last year in camp and will need to have a good spring to do so again. -- Steve Gilbert

Dodgers at Angels, 3:10 p.m. ET

  • Dodgers: All the attention this spring has landed on Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Shohei Ohtani, helping Tyler Glasnow fly under the radar. But the right-hander is one of the most talented arms in the Majors when healthy and he’ll look to prove that this season. He’ll get his first crack at it on Saturday against the Angels. -- Juan Toribio
  • Angels: Pitching prospect Victor Mederos, who got his first taste of the Majors last season, will get the start in the Cactus League opener against the Dodgers, which is expected to be a sellout at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Manager Ron Washington said he plans to play all of his regulars, including veteran stars Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon. -- Rhett Bollinger

Brewers at Padres, 3:10 p.m. ET

  • Brewers: Sal Frelick, a first-round pick in the 2021 Draft who has only played outfield as a professional, will get the start at third base Saturday. He did play a smattering of infield in the amateur Futures Collegiate Baseball League during his time at Boston College. The move could alleviate a logjam in the outfield behind Christian Yelich, Jackson Chourio and Joey Weimer. -- Jesse Sanchez
  • Padres: Two key Padres are set to make the transition from shortstop to another position this spring. Xander Bogaerts is expected to play his second game at second base on Saturday after debuting there Thursday. Meanwhile, Jackson Merrill, the team’s No. 2 prospect, is eyeing the left field job. Merrill will continue to receive reps at shortstop this spring, but with Ha-Seong Kim entrenched there for 2024, Merrill’s likeliest path to a roster spot is as a utility man with a focus on the outfield. -- AJ Cassavell

Astros at Nationals, 6:05 p.m. ET

  • Astros: Houston’s Grapefruit League opener marks the spring debut of manager Joe Espada, who worked under a pair of World Series-winning managers in Houston: AJ Hinch and Dusty Baker. Espada said the team’s star players will play in Grapefruit Leagues from the start, which is a change from past years. He’ll be keeping a closer eye on fundamentals, too, as Houston has worked to improve its baserunning to be more aggressive, as well as stressing better defense and holding runners better. -- Brian McTaggart
  • Nationals: The Nats will get an extended look at their starters in the Spring Training opener with Patrick Corbin, Jackson Rutledge and Joan Adon already stretched out to two innings. Veteran Joey Gallo will make his first appearance as a member of the Nationals, and the organization’s top prospects -- including last year's No. 2 overall pick, Dylan Crews -- could see game action. -- Jessica Camerato