The long road to the start of the regular season begins this week with the opening of training camps in Florida and Arizona – but with many of the same COVID-19 protocols as for the 2020 season.
On opening day, 1. In April, the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers will take on the Colorado Rockies. The 108-page operational guidelines for 2021 include shorter spring training sessions, mandatory wearing of contact tracking devices, fines for wearing masks incorrectly, and a ban on eating inside and going to the movies.
Fans will be allowed to attend a limited number of spring training games; Florida teams will limit their travel to games in the state; and players will be quarantined for five days upon arrival at camp. Otherwise, all systems are normal… as normal as they can be, at least.
As the players get ready for spring training, we’ll review the big teams to see the biggest story of spring training and look at each team and some of the key players.
In 2020, Arizona had 60 abysmal games, and a rotation that should have been a strength of the team resulted in a 5.04 ERA. Madison Bumgarner and Luke Weaver combined to go from 2 to 13 with an ERA of 6.53. With Merrill Kelly trying to come back from her breast surgery in September, it’s important that these two are at the head of the rotation along with Zach Gallen.
A bumgarner is someone who observes in the camp: His fastball velocity is down from 91.4 mph to 88.4 mph in 2020, and he’s at or near the bottom in Statcast measures like walk rate (1%), predicted average strikeout (3%) and predicted ERA (2%). If his speed continues to drop late in camp, that’s a warning sign.
The Braves have a few questions to ask on the field…. What does Mike Soroka’s return after his Achilles injury look like? Who will replace Mark Melancon as the next closest? — The big problem will be signing a long-term extension for Freddie Freeman.
The 2020 National League MVP is a free agent after the 2021 season, and while it’s hard to imagine him playing for another team, that would be worth far more than the $65 million the Braves just spent to rehire Marcell Ozuna. As owned by Liberty Media, the Braves have refrained from giving Mega Days to veterans, and Freeman will enter the 2022 season turning 32.
One of the big stories of spring training will be the return of Trey Mancini, after he missed last season while battling stage 3 colon cancer. After being voted the team’s MVP in 2019 after hitting .291/.364/.535 with 34 home runs, he should return to his regular duties at first base or as the designated hitter.
If he reaches 2019 levels during the regular season, it will be interesting to see if he ends up being a trade bait as the Orioles continue to rebuild.
The return of Alex Cora as manager is a major story and his main job will be to set the rotation. Without Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez in 2020, the Boston rotation was 16 starting pitchers short in just 60 games. It is perhaps not surprising that Boston allowed the highest PBP and the second highest rate of congestion.
Sale is still expected to be on the mend after his Tommy John surgery, but Mr. Rodriguez said he is 100% recovered after battling a coronavirus linked to myocarditis. Watch for newcomer Tanner Hawk, who was good in three starts in September (17 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 21 SO).
I’m not sure he’ll show up for spring training, but the Cubs need to find a way to get their momentum back. Yes, they won the division in 2020, but that was despite the unflinching offensive performances of Chris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez.
Computer projections predict better results in 2021 despite offseason moves; Pecota has the Cubs with the third-best offense in North Los Angeles. All three are free agents, so will they regain their glory in their eventual final race together? Spring can give early clues about the course of the season.
Everyone is looking forward to Michael Kopech, the only 100 mph fastball player in history, who we last saw in the majors in 2018. It will be interesting to see if the White Sox will use Garrett Hook’s 2021 number – where he can immediately find his place in the big leagues – or if they will develop him as a starter in the minor leagues. Is first baseman Andrew Vaughn ready to make the jump to the Major League?
But these are side issues in one of the greatest stories of all sports: Is 76-year-old Tony La Russa the right manager to lead this World Series qualifier?
The Reds gave it their all in 2020, spending more money on free agency than they had in the previous decade. But the offense faltered in a 60-game season (with a 0.212 batting score and Holland finishing last in the point standings) and was then eliminated by the Braves in both playoff games. Now Trevor Bauer is gone and the estate is back in the red.
In the meantime, there are three main points for the camp: (1) Will Sean Doolittle be as close to the first shot as Amir Garrett? (2) Will Kyle Holder, the Phillies’ Article 5 coach, take the shortstop position or will the Reds look for a trade? (3) Will Nick Senzel stay healthy and do well this year?
Once you get past the missing faces of Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Carlos Carrasco, the focus will be on the young players who have something to prove. Was the withdrawal of Zach Plesac in the 2020 game an indication of a breakthrough this season? Is Triston McKenzie the next star of the rotation? Can Oscar Mercado (.128 in 2020) work downtown? Will Bobby Bradley or Jake Bowers take first place? If Andres Gimenez is the shortstop, what do you do with Amed Rosario?
We’ll get some clues from these players in camp and maybe proof that Cleveland can surprise in the American Central League.
For the first time since 2012, the Rockies will have a third regular base player not named Nolan Arenado. (Chris Nelson was the third baseman for Arenado, in case you were wondering). It looks like Ryan McMahon will get the job in 2021. He went through the minors as a third baseman, but started just 23 games in the majors. The big problem is that McMahon isn’t affected; he has an OPS+ career of 82 in nearly 1,000 appearances.
Check out our Top 100 list for the 2020 season. Kylie McDaniel (ESPN+)
Josh Fuentes will be at first base along with minor league players C.J. Cron and Greg Bird. In his 159 AP career in the major league, Fuentes had 49 outs and three walks. Former first team player Brendan Rodgers is still trying to establish himself in the first division and is recovering from a shoulder injury. The midfielder will go between Raymel Tapia, Sam Hilliard and possibly Garrett Hampson. All of this leads to the team’s biggest question this spring: Will Trevor Story still be on the roster on opening day?
What do young beginners look like? Casey Mays, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal are ranked 20th, 23rd and 53rd respectively in Kiley McDaniel’s Top 100 Prospects. Mize and Scoubal retained their rookie status after moving from Double-A to the Major League in 2020, where they were battered by opposing pitchers and recorded a 6.27 ERA with 16 homers in 14 innings on 60⅓.
Skubal spent some time at Driveline Baseball during the offseason refining his work, while former first-round pick Mize appreciates the analytical mind that new pitching coach Chris Fetter (who was hired at the University of Michigan) brings to the table. Fetter will also be responsible for fixing Matthew Boyd, who allowed 15 home runs in the heats of 60⅓ in 2020. This all makes for a potentially interesting rotation (Spencer Turnbull could be the best of them, at least in 2021) for new captain A.J. Hinch, whose first team from Houston scored 86-76 points and made the playoffs. That won’t happen with Detroit 2021, but with the young rookies and the selection of Spencer Torkelson as the world’s number one in 2020, the groundwork has been laid.
With George Springer having gone through free agency, the Astros could use another center fielder. But the big question is how the 2019 rookie, Yordan Alvarez, will handle it after playing just two games in 2020 before undergoing surgery for a torn patellar tendon in his right knee. After hitting .313/.412/.655 in 87 games as a rookie, he has the potential to become one of the best hitters in the game when healthy.
Watch out for José Altuve. As bad as he was in 2020, he managed to stay under .298 with 31 home runs in one season. His blasting and running numbers are headed in the wrong direction in 2020, and those are numbers that show up even in the muddy stats of spring training.
There’s no general principle story here, but this rotation is fun to watch, with more interesting hands in the miners along the way. Brad Keller now has a career ERA of 3.50 while operating his arsenal of four floats/loaders/sliders despite his high morale. Brady Singer and Chris Bubic made their debuts in 2020.
Next in line: Asa Lacy, the fourth pick in the 2020 Texas A&M draft and a very talented left-hander, Daniel Lynch, another varsity left-hander, and Jackson Cowar, Singer’s teammate at Florida, could be candidates for the bull team.
The Angels have made modest additions across the lineup – Raisel Iglesias closer, Jose Iglesias shortstop, Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb, Dexter Fowler outfielder, and Curt Suzuki receiver – so the question is whether there will be another change in the rotation.
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They are still counting on Shohei Ohtani as one of the players in the rotation, but he failed to make an impact last season following his return from Tommy John surgery. Honestly, I would consider using Ohtani as a DH and bringing in another starter – maybe Taijuan Walker or Jake Odorizzi.
With the World Series championship finally in hand, it will be interesting to see how much energy the Dodgers bring to spring training and the start of the regular season. Note that the last champions, Boston and Washington, got off to slow starts and were never able to defend the title.
I don’t think it will be a problem for the Dodgers, because they want to do it in a 162 game season and they have the Padres breathing down their necks to motivate them. That’s another reason why it makes so much sense to contract Trevor Bauer: He will certainly give the team an advantage – in a good way, I think, by pushing the other pitchers on the staff.
Are the kids ready to contribute? In just a few years, the Marlins have transformed their farming system from one of the worst to one of the best. (But let’s face it: it cost them some good major league talent). McDaniel had six players on the Top 100 Prospects list, led by Sixto Sanchez, who went through the J.T. trade. Realmuto and looked like a potential ace in his six key starts (and a great player to beat the Cubs in the playoffs).
Infielder Jazz Chisholm, acquired for Zac Gallen, also reached the majors, though he could secure a Triple-A card in early 2021. Also watch pitcher Max Meyer and outfielder J.J. Bleday, a team that currently has two first-round selections and should advance quickly as varsity players.
The Brewers will welcome the return of Lorenzo Cain, who appeared in five games in 2020, and new second baseman Colten Wong. In the end, the defense is much better. Cain turns 35, when most central defenders have left their positions, but his numbers are exceptional in 2019 (plus 22 defensive points saved).
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Wong is the Golden Glove Award winner and took a big step forward on Keston Huera, who moves to first base. Hiura will have to learn the position and he lacks a first baseman, but the other option is Daniel Vogelbach, who isn’t exactly Baryshnikov around the bag. Third base remains a position the Brewers could improve, while Luis Urias and Daniel Robertson will be fighting for playing time.
With the late arrival of Nelson Cruz, J.A. Happ and Alex Colome, the Twins began their spring training with the goal of their third consecutive division title.
There are a few positional battles worth watching: Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer behind the fifth starter; Ryan Jeffers and Mitch Garver behind home plate; rookie Alex Kyrilloff, McDaniel’s #22, should beat Jake Cave in left field.
With the signing of Andrelton Simmons, who replaces Jorge Polanco at second base, Luis Arraez will also see time on the field as a super-user. (Arraez didn’t play there in 2020, but he started 18 games in left field in 2019).
Mets fans might be a little disappointed that the team only got one superstar in Francisco Lindor, instead of two in the Lindor/Trevor Bauer/J.T. pool. Realmuto/George Springer. But the Mets have greatly improved their depth, and there may be room for another addition to the starting rotation (or even a trade for Chris Bryant).
Some needles to watch out for: Marcus Stroman, who was absent last season, and Noah Syndergaard, who had Tommy John surgery in March. Syndergaard should be back mid-season, but spring will give us a better plan.
This is the status of two new starting pitchers and the return of the former team ace. Corey Kluber pitched one set for the Rangers in 2020 before missing the rest of the season with a torn shoulder muscle. Jameson Taillon pitched for 37 points in 2019 and missed all of 2020 with Tommy John surgery; as did Luis Severino, who took spring training in 2020.
Kluber has missed most of 2019, the three men have played just 86 rounds over the past two seasons. Kluber and Taillon will be ready for opening day, while Severino will be back mid-season. But it also has a charming side: The trio combined to go 53-25 with a 3.15 ERA in 2018.
The A’s are coming off a division title and have made the playoffs three times in a row, but they have a lot of questions. Most important is Matt Chapman’s health after his hip surgery in September. Chapman finished third in the 2018-19 Baseball and Relief War and sixth in the FanGraph War.
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AJ Puke did not return to action in 2020 after suffering a shoulder injury and undergoing surgery at the end of the season, although AJ hopes to be ready for opening day. Expected to replace Liam Hendricks, closer to home, are top contenders Jake Dickman, J.B. Wendelken and Lou Trivino. Elvis Andrus, who replaces Marcus Semien at the shortstop position, must show that he still has the range to play at that position.
The Phillies fired J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius and acquired Archie Bradley for their ninth consecutive release. The main themes of the spring training are therefore the same as those of Team 2020 : Midfield, rotation depth and envelope depth. Between Scott Kingery, Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn, who will take the central position? (We wonder if Jackie Bradley Jr. will end up here).
They called up Matt Moore and Chase Anderson to battle with Spencer Howard and Vince Velasquez for the final two rotation spots. The robust Jose Alvarado and Sam Kundrod are possible options in the late game to draft Bradley and Hector Neris.
As one would expect from a team that is supposed to be the worst of the big teams, probably the most interesting part of this franchise is the development of the small teams.
As for the major league, there are one or two holes in the back rotation. Cole Tucker and Anthony Alford will face each other in the midfield. Kevin Newman or Eric Gonzalez could be the starting shortstop. But the biggest key, at least if the Pirates want to have any interest in 2021, is how Gregory Polanco (.153), Brian Reynolds (.189) and Newman (.224) recover from their struggles in 2020.
In addition to admiring the quality of Nolan Arenado in a classic Cardinals jersey, the team also has a number of pitchers returning from injury. Jordan Hicks will try to resume his close role after Tommy John’s surgery. He had a 14 in 15 chance to score points before falling in June 2019. Myles Mikolas ended up missing all of 2020 after undergoing surgery to repair a flexor tendon in his right hand. Carlos Martinez struggled with an ARB of 9.90 after being diagnosed with COVID-19 and then a strain in the oblique arm. (And Dakota Hudson is already out for the season with Tommy John’s surgery).
The Padres are good, they are exciting, and they have the talent to put pressure on the Dodgers. Two pitchers to watch: (1) Dinelson Lamet, who was ruled out of the playoffs due to biceps soreness. He previously underwent Tommy John surgery, but Managing Director A.J. Preller recently said Lamet had passed all tests and would be ready for spring training. (2) Mackenzie Gore, McDaniel’s 13th hopeful, who was eliminated in favor of Luis Patino (now with Tampa Bay) and Ryan Weathers for a spot on the postseason roster, in part because the Padres said his performance didn’t outweigh a spot on another side. McDaniel revised Gore’s rating down slightly from his 2020 rating, so camp will tell us if he returns in 2021.
The Giants missed qualifying in 2020, but it was exciting with an offense that ranked third in the NL in terms of points scored, which was a big surprise considering it was a veteran team that ranked 14th in terms of points scored in 2019. The change of scale at Oracle Park certainly played a part, but some individual performances were still shocking: Mike Yastrzemski has been one of the top hitters in the league; Alex Dickerson has hit .576; Brandon Belt has had an OPS of 1,015 (!) and Donovan Solano has hit .328 over the last two seasons.
It has nothing to do with the story you see here: the return of Buster Posey after being sent off in 2020 in what could be his final season with the Giants.
Jarred Kelenisch and Logan Gilbert will not be on the first day team, but with a strong spring and a fast start in Triple-A, they could both make the jump to the majors sooner than expected. With all the hype surrounding Kelenic – he’s in the top 5 by consensus – it’s important to remember that he’s only played 21 games above A-league level in 2019. He would have done well in the 2020 summer camp, but there’s no reason to rush him to the big league without giving him more time in the senior ranks.
The Rays need to replace Blake Snell and free agent leaving Charlie Morton (and Yonnie Chirinos is gone for the season), and they have a long list of candidates for an interesting spring training.
Bradford Doolittle makes a stack of the starting lineups and pitcher rotations as they are now, while the stove is still burning. Rules becomes
Chris Archer returned after missing the season recovering from breast surgery. The Rays gave him $6.5 million, so they should be confident in his health, but it’s a tough job coming back as a pitcher. Brendan McKay’s 2020 season ended with shoulder surgery. Is he healthy? Are young Luis Patino or Shane McClanahan ready for the rotation? Does veteran Michael Wach have anything left to do? Everyone assumes that because it’s a robbery, everything will be okay, but there are no guarantees here.
After the majors’ second worst record in 2020, this list doesn’t offer much hope for 2021. However, there are a few names worth looking at.
Mike Foltynewicz, All-Star in Atlanta in 2018, is trying to rediscover his fastball, which used to be 95-97 mph, but averaged 90 mph at one of his departures in 2020 (where he was shot and then designated for a mission). Kohei Arihara, a 28-year-old right-hander, is from Japan, where his radiation levels have curiously dropped in 2020. He throws in the 90’s and has an arsenal of pitches – sinker, changeup, splitter, slider, cutter and slow curveball. Dane Dunning came to Texas as a key figure in Lance Lynn’s company. Jordan Lyles and Colby Allard will try to regroup after having an EER of above 7.00 in 2020 (despite the new park being adapted to launchers).
I don’t think Marcus Semien’s move to second base is a problem, so spring training will allow some key pitchers to start the regular season. Is Robbie Ray strong enough after walking 45 in 51⅔ innings in 2020? Is Kirby Yates healthy after his elbow problems last year? Is Nate Pearson ready to bounce back from his brief major league debut? More importantly: Is the constriction of the elbow that kept Pearson out for a month a problem? Is Steven Matz ready to put his losing 2020 campaign (0-5, 9.68 ERA) behind him?
This is perhaps the most shocking fact of the COVID-19 season: The national rotation has an ERA of 5.38. The Orioles… The Orioles. — …had a better ERA. The start to the National Championship resulted in the highest batting average, highest hit percentage and highest BABIP, and rose from fourth to 21st in shutouts of the majors.
Of course, one of the main reasons is that Stephen Strasburg only had two starts before undergoing carpal tunnel surgery on his right hand. Strasburg’s health – and his importance to the national championships – will make him one of the most watched players in spring training.
frequently asked questions
How many games do MLB teams play in spring training?
On Friday, Major League Baseball announced a revised schedule for spring training, which begins Sunday, Feb. 28, and features 28 of 30 clubs in action. Designed with health and safety in mind, Cactus League teams play 28 games in 30 days in Arizona, with two days off.
Does MLB spring training make sense?
In Major League Baseball (MLB), spring training is a series of practices and tryouts that take place before the start of the regular season. Spring training gives new players an opportunity to try out formations and positions and gives established players time to practice before the league begins.
Can I watch the spring training games?
This is all you need to know: Some of the Red Sox’ spring training games will be broadcast by NESN and can be watched for free online if you sign up for a free trial on fuboTV (if you live in the New England television market).
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