1 key Spring Training storyline for each team

February 12th, 2024

We've made it through another offseason and Spring Training is finally at hand. With the opening of camps in Arizona and Florida comes a plethora of storylines across baseball as each club prepares for Opening Day.

Here's a look at one key storyline for each team as Spring Training gets underway this week:

American League East

Blue Jays: Can Alek Manoah bounce back?
In back-to-back seasons, the Blue Jays have teetered on the edge of their starting pitching depth becoming a real problem. That depth has been built out now, but this organization still needs Manoah to come into camp and reclaim a spot in the rotation after a dreadful 2023 season that saw him optioned to Triple-A twice. It was a stunning fall for the workhorse who finished third in AL Cy Young Award voting just a year prior, but if there’s anyone who can rebrand this narrative as motivation, it might just be Manoah. Having Manoah pitching reliable innings would take this rotation from good to great. -- Keegan Matheson

Orioles: Will Jackson Holliday make the Opening Day roster?
At some point this year, another top prospect will arrive in Baltimore, as the 20-year-old Holliday (MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect) is on the cusp of his big league debut. It could even occur on Opening Day on March 28 vs. the Angels at Camden Yards. General manager Mike Elias has stated numerous times that Holliday will have an opportunity to win a job this spring. The 2022 No. 1 overall Draft pick is a shortstop by trade, but he could break into the Majors as a second baseman -- he’ll get “a lot” of time there in camp, per Elias, and the O’s would like to have a left-handed-hitting option at the position following the departure of Adam Frazier. -- Jake Rill

Rays: Familiar places, new faces
The Rays are back at their Spring Training home in Port Charlotte after a year away, and they find themselves in another familiar place: counting on younger, less proven talent to capably fill roles vacated by more experienced players. Gone are Tyler Glasnow, Manuel Margot, Robert Stephenson, Andrew Kittredge, Luke Raley, Christian Bethancourt and others. Ace Shane McClanahan will spend the year rehabbing. All-Star shortstop Wander Franco’s future remains uncertain. So in come Taj Bradley, Ryan Pepiot, Jonny DeLuca, Richie Palacios, José Caballero, Jonathan Aranda, Curtis Mead, René Pinto and perhaps top prospect Junior Caminero. Roster turnover is part of life for the Rays, who have nonetheless reached the postseason five years in a row. Can this new cast of characters help make it six? -- Adam Berry

Red Sox: How will the rotation piece together?
When Craig Breslow took over as chief baseball officer at the beginning of the offseason, his main mission was to improve the starting rotation. After not landing Yoshinobu Yamamato, who signed for $325 million with the Dodgers, it appears the bulk of the improvements Breslow is seeking will have to come from within. To this point, the only external addition was the signing of Lucas Giolito, who was an upper-echelon pitcher from 2019-21 and is trying to get back that form. The Sox traded oft-injured Chris Sale to the Braves, putting more pressure on the team’s young core of arms (Brayan Bello, Garrett Whitlock, Tanner Houck, Kutter Crawford and Josh Winckowski) to step up. -- Ian Browne

Yankees: Welcome to the Aaron Judge & Juan Soto Show
Power and patience are now en vogue for the Yankees’ lineup. Judge has suggested his ideal batting order for the 2024 season, which would feature Soto batting second and Judge hitting third. That sounds like a winner to manager Aaron Boone. Soto’s arrival gives the Yankees two of the game’s top offensive players at the top of each turn through the lineup, promising plenty of headaches for opposing pitchers. A year removed from breaking Roger Maris’ single-season AL home run record, Judge blasted 37 homers despite missing 51 games with a right big toe injury last year. -- Bryan Hoch

AL Central

Guardians: Where is the offense coming from?
The Guardians didn’t make many offseason moves to add to this lineup that has ranked toward the bottom of MLB leaderboards in power categories over the last few years. Beyond José Ramírez or Josh Naylor, the Guardians will need to figure out who can provide. Can they find a place for Kyle Manzardo on the Opening Day roster to try to bring some pop to the middle of the order? Will they mix up the outfield now that newcomer Estevan Florial and prospects Johnathan Rodriguez and George Valera are in the mix? They’ll need to find players who can push more runs across the plate than last year. -- Mandy Bell

Royals: How much will the new additions improve the performance?
The Royals were busy this offseason, adding new starters, new relievers and new hitters. In total, there are 10 new faces on the 40-man roster showing up to Spring Training. On paper, the roster certainly looks improved, as the Royals focused on adding proven winners. That’s especially true for the pitching staff, with an emphasis on strike-throwing -- an area that desperately needs to be improved from 2023. But the Royals are coming off a 106-loss season. A lot has to go right for them to go from the bottom of the AL Central to the top, where they’re aiming. Finally, after lots of talk, now is the time to see it play out. -- Anne Rogers

Tigers: What impact can Colt Keith make in Detroit’s lineup?
Keith’s six-year contract reduced the suspense about whether he would make the Tigers’ Opening Day roster, though the Tigers say he still has to earn the starting nod at second base. But we still don’t know yet how the Tigers will slot him into the lineup and what they expect from him early on. Keith’s combination of impact power and plate discipline should find a prominent place in the Tigers’ batting order, but we don’t know how quickly. Part of that might depend not only on Keith, but on whether shortstop Javier Báez can be a productive hitter in the middle of the lineup. The process will likely stretch into the regular season, but Spring Training should give us some clues. -- Jason Beck

Twins: Will Byron Buxton be able to regularly play center field?
Buxton has been confident that he will return to the outfield for the first time since August 2022 -- but to what extent? Even he doesn’t know yet. A larger-scale return to center field is important not only because Buxton derives lots of value from his outstanding defense, but also because he never fully adjusted to the designated-hitter role when he was forced into that full-time last season -- and his offense struggled as a result. -- Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: Are they rebuilding?
Ah, yes. It’s the question that's been hovering around the South Siders since early last August: rebuild or retool? This is a rebuild, and a necessary one after the previous rebuild ended in two total playoff wins and the 2023 debacle. But it’s not a rebuild in the sense of tearing the organization all the way down. General manager Chris Getz is looking for a certain style of play -- better defense, faster paced and with dynamic contributors who can play across the diamond. He’s building depth and building an overall winning culture, not even giving up '24 if many, many factors work in the team’s favor within the AL Central. -- Scott Merkin

AL West

Angels: How will the Angels fare post-Ohtani?
The Angels had two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani on their roster for six years but never posted a winning record in any of those seasons. He left via free agency to the Dodgers this offseason and now the Angels are left to pick up the pieces. It’s expected to be a year in transition for the Angels, who still have superstar Mike Trout but will lean heavily on a young core of players that includes catcher Logan O’Hoppe, shortstop Zach Neto, first baseman Nolan Schanuel, outfielder Mickey Moniak and starting pitchers Chase Silseth and Reid Detmers. The Angels could surprise but they haven’t made any huge additions since losing Ohtani in free agency. -- Rhett Bollinger

Astros: How will Josh Hader fit into the bullpen?
Manager Joe Espada hasn’t yet anointed Hader, who signed a five-year, $95 million contract last month, as the closer, but the team probably isn’t paying him $19 million per year to be a setup man. The Astros say Ryan Pressly is completely on board with the move -- Pressly has yet to speak publicly -- but are we in for any surprises on how Espada will use Pressly and Hader at the back end of Houston’s strong bullpen? -- Brian McTaggart

Athletics: How will the rotation round out?
Four of the five rotation spots appear to be locked down after the A’s signed Alex Wood and traded for Ross Stripling earlier this month. Those two will join Paul Blackburn and JP Sears among the top four slots. Who gets the fifth and final spot? That will likely come down to a Spring Training battle that will feature several intriguing options, including right-handers Joe Boyle, Luis Medina, Joey Estes, Mitch Spence, Freddy Tarnok and Adrián Martínez. -- Martín Gallegos

Mariners: How will the new-look lineup look?
Out are well-known players Jarred Kelenic, Eugenio Suárez, Teoscar Hernández and Tom Murphy, and in are Mitch Garver, Mitch Haniger, Jorge Polanco, Luke Raley and Luis Urías -- essentially, five new everyday players. Each also carries some notable injury history, but if they’re all able to stay healthy, much of the aggressive heavy lifting by Seattle’s front office could wind up paying off. -- Daniel Kramer

Rangers: Can Wyatt Langford make the Opening Day roster?
Langford, the No. 4 overall pick out of the University of Florida in the 2023 MLB Draft, was playing in the College World Series less than a year ago and is already an option to contribute at the big league level. The 22-year-old rocketed through the Minors in 2023, slashing .360/.480/.677 as he finished the year with five games at Triple-A Round Rock. There’s not exactly an opening in the outfield, but if anything, Langford, who's ranked No. 6 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospects list, could crack the Opening Day lineup at designated hitter if he proves himself in big league camp.

National League East

Braves: Can Jarred Kelenic upgrade what was one of the most productive lineups in baseball history?
Kelenic certainly has the potential to be more productive than Eddie Rosario, the only starter who won’t return to a lineup that posted an AL/NL record .501 slugging percentage and matched the MLB record with 307 homers last year. But it’s always been about potential for this 24-year-old outfielder, who was ranked MLB’s No. 4 prospect as recently as 2021. The former Mariner was on pace for a 20-homer season before fracturing his foot last summer. Joining a star-studded clubhouse should help lessen the pressure he feels with his new team. -- Mark Bowman

Marlins: Are previously injured players ready to contribute?
Miami will need a collective effort to return to the postseason without ace Sandy Alcántara (Tommy John surgery) and All-Star slugger Jorge Soler (free agent). Left-hander Trevor Rogers (2021 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up), reliever Anthony Bender (career 145 ERA+), right-handers Max Meyer (No. 3 prospect) and Sixto Sánchez (2020 NL Wild Card Series starter) and outfielder Avisaíl García (career 100 OPS+) are talented but have missed significant time. -- Christina De Nicola

Mets: How will Pete Alonso react to his walk year?
Get ready to hear early and often about how Alonso is entering his final season of team control. Both parties have expressed a desire for Alonso to remain a Met well beyond 2024, but until each side puts pen to paper, questions will abound. It doesn’t appear the Mets have plans to complete an extension with Alonso before he hits free agency, which should make his walk year an intriguing one to watch. One thing to note: Alonso has never had trouble with the New York spotlight, bashing 53 homers as a rookie and backing it up with one of the best five-year starts to a career in franchise history. -- Anthony DiComo

Nationals: Top prospects in camp
The Nationals invited six prospects ranked in their top 30 to Major League Spring Training, including outfielder Dylan Crews, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 Draft. Crews (Washington’s No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline and No. 7 overall) will be joined by outfielder James Wood (No. 2, MLB No. 14), third baseman Brady House (No. 3, MLB No. 48), outfielder Robert Hassell III (No. 8) and infielders Trey Lipscomb (No. 14) and Darren Baker (No. 25). Of this group, only Baker has reached Triple-A, representing the steps the Nats are taking to get closer to their next chapter. -- Jessica Camerato

Phillies: Can they run it back and win it all?
It’s been a quiet offseason for the Phillies, who stunningly lost Games 6 and 7 to Arizona in the NL Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park. They signed Aaron Nola to a seven-year, $172 million contract in November, then signed nobody other than left-hander Kolby Allard (one year, $1 million). The Phillies believe they can be as good or better in 2024, with almost entirely the same team they had last year. Outsiders think it’s a risk, if it happens. But never rule out a surprise or two from Dave Dombrowski. The Phillies are unlikely to sign any of the game’s remaining big free agents unless the market changes dramatically in the coming weeks. They like left-hander Jordan Montgomery, albeit on a one- or two-year deal. -- Todd Zolecki

NL Central

Brewers: Is this a postseason-caliber starting rotation?
When Spring Training opened last year, the Brewers were considered to have arguably the best rotation in the NL, if not all of baseball. That’s not the case this year. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Eric Lauer and Adrian Houser are all gone via releases and trades. Wade Miley is back, slotting behind Freddy Peralta in a rotation that is otherwise full of question marks. How many innings the Brewers get out of their rotation will be a big question this spring, and probably all year. -- Joe Trezza

Cardinals: How much improvement has the pitching staff made?
The pitching staff had its fingerprints all over the club’s worst finish in 33 years in 2023, so the front office acted swiftly and aggressively throughout the offseason to address the pitching problems. They inked a long-term deal with Sonny Gray, the runner-up for the AL Cy Young Award last season and a tough-minded battler. Fans have been critical of the signings of 36-year-old right-handers Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson, but both bring reputations of toughness, durability and leadership. Where the Cardinals might have made the biggest gains was in the bullpen. Adding former AL All-Star Andrew Kittredge and 2023 revelation Keynan Middleton to pair with Ryan Helsley, Giovanny Gallegos, JoJo Romero, Andre Pallante and John King could give the Cards lots of late-inning options in tight games. -- John Denton

Cubs: Is there still a big addition coming?
The biggest story surrounding the Cubs as Spring Training opens is not about who is in camp, but who could be arriving soon. Chicago still very much has a need for an impact bat, especially against right-handed pitching. The North Siders had one of those last year in Cody Bellinger, and he remains a free agent. Like in 2023, Bellinger fits the roster as an option for center field and first base. The Cubs have held the line with their valuation of Bellinger, but one side will have to flinch at some point. If Chicago does not re-sign the star center fielder, it could consider free agent Matt Chapman for third base (another position without a clear-cut solution right now). One way or another, it does not feel like the Cubs are set with the current iteration of their roster. -- Jordan Bastian

Pirates: Which second baseman proves the most?
None of the Pirates’ starting second base candidates have made a solid case in their first tastes of MLB that they deserve a starting job, unless you factor in Jared Triolo, who is rock solid on defense and wears four gloves. Assuming the Bucs don’t want to limit him to just one position, it’ll be a battle between Liover Peguero, Nick Gonzales, Ji Hwan Bae and Alika Williams for the regular role. -- Jake Crouse

Reds: Who will make the rotation?
It’s a deep list of contenders -- no fewer than nine for five spots -- which the Reds wanted after having their depth severely hampered by attrition in 2023. They took a low-risk gamble on free agent veteran starter Frankie Montas and also added swingman Nick Martinez for either a starting or relief role to support an otherwise very youthful group. The club also has returning starters Graham Ashcraft, Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Andrew Abbott, Brandon Williamson and Connor Phillips. None of them have made 30 starts in a big league season. -- Mark Sheldon

NL West

D-backs: How will they deal with the heightened expectations?
The D-backs were expected to improve over their 77 wins from 2022, but not many thought they would make the playoffs in '23, much less get all the way to the World Series. Now, though, given their postseason success last year and the additions they’ve made during the offseason, anything short of playing in October will be a disappointment. It’s one thing to defy expectations and surprise teams, but it’s different -- and some would say harder -- when there are big expectations. How the D-backs handle that will be something to watch. -- Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: How will Yoshinobu Yamamoto adapt to the Majors?
Yamamoto’s list of accolades was almost unprecedented at his age. The 25-year-old won the pitching Triple Crown in Nippon Professional Baseball -- leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts -- and the Eiji Sawamura Award (Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award) in each of the past three seasons.

During that span, Yamamoto went 49-16 with a 1.44 ERA and 580 strikeouts. But now, Yamamoto will have to adapt to the best league in the world and the best hitters on the planet. That’s why there’s risk in handing him a $325 million deal before throwing a pitch in the Majors. The Dodgers, however, believed he was certainly worth that risk because of the potential and talent he possesses at his age. -- Juan Toribio

Giants: Is Marco Luciano ready to become the everyday shortstop?
With Brandon Crawford no longer under contract, the Giants will have a void to fill at shortstop for the first time in over a decade. They hope they have an internal answer in the 22-year-old Luciano, who is ranked the club’s No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline. Still, Luciano has been slowed by injuries over the last two seasons, so he’ll have to stay healthy and hit the ground running to prove that he should be the Giants’ shortstop of the future. -- Maria Guardado

Padres: When are the reinforcements coming?
The Padres still need at least one starter, probably two. They still need at least one outfielder, almost certainly two. Their bench is remarkably thin. In other words, general manager A.J. Preller has work to do. If they can fill out the edges, the Padres have every reason to believe they’ll be a playoff contender in 2024. But right now, their roster just isn’t deep enough. The next six weeks should be fascinating. -- AJ Cassavell

Rockies: Three of the four Rockies on the MLB Pipeline Top 100 list will be in Major League camp
None of the three -- shortstop Adael Amador (No. 28), outfielder Yanquiel Fernandez (No. 72) and outfielder Jordan Beck (No. 81) -- have taken as much as a swing in Triple-A. Neither have four top 10 Rockies prospects who are in camp -- outfielder Zac Veen (No. 5), infielder/outfielder Sterlin Thompson (No. 6), center fielder Benny Montgomery (No. 8) and third baseman Warming Bernabel (No. 10). Switch-hitting catcher Drew Romo (No. 9) played in four games at Albuquerque, and that represents the sum total of Triple-A games played by Colorado's top 10 prospects. -- Thomas Harding