One Exciting Thing for Each MLB Team This Spring Training

One thing a fan of every team can be excited about as we approach 2023.

The combination of February & March represents arguably the best time to be a baseball fan. You’ve got your first glimpse of new guys in new uniforms, prospects in a more accessible fashion than they are during the regular season, and a glimpse of hope that 2023 could be different. At least in some cases.  Spring training offers a fresh outlook bereft of the cynicism that tends to plague us as a collective (yours, truly included). Fans of every team can come away with at least something to be excited about heading into April. Those who identify with “good” teams have the thrill of the chase. Fans of the bad can keep a keen eye on projects and prospects gracing the roster during the season.

There will come a point where it stops being quite as exciting unless your team falls purely into the former. Competition for a division crown or wild card spot will keep you engaged. Selling off at the deadline amidst a lost season probably will not, once the intrigue of new blood in the system wears off. Some of the following things developed during the spring. Others started well before. Regardless, the objective here is to spot at least one thing for fans of each team to be excited about before those August doldrums and preparation for the next spring — when the cycle starts over again — hits.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: Adley Rutschman’s Power

We know Adley Rutschman is a generational talent behind the plate. That much is without question. It’s not as if the bat is some mystery, either. It’s good. Rutschman showcased a strong approach in his rookie year, walking at a nearly 14 percent rate that was consistent with his minor league numbers. What we could expect more of, though, is on the power side. As in, there’s more. Given the approach and the scouting as he was rising through the system, we can expect at least a modest increase both in homers and in ISO. Such a development would be a boon to a Baltimore team that was otherwise middle-of-the-pack with regard to power in ’22. With the trajectory in Baltimore already on the upswing, the power component of Rutschman would add a deeply exciting element to an already fun player.

Boston Red Sox: Jorge Alfaro’s Hair

I had initially planned this as a bit but then wanted something with a little more nuance. Then I returned to the bit. Because the truth of the matter is that there aren’t a whole lot of reasons for the Red Sox and their fans to be excited ahead of 2023. Masataka Yoshida’s transition to MLB will be interesting. Triston Casas will get an opportunity quickly to show he’s a long-term part of the lineup. There’s the eventual pursuit of Shohei Ohtani. Marcelo Mayer could appear at some point as Xander Bogaerts‘ long-term replacement. But with so many temporary solutions and the improvement of just about every team in their division, this is the direction in which I chose.

Jorge Alfaro’s only on a minor-league deal. But he’s looked good at the WBC (a pair of doubles in an upset over Mexico), and you simply don’t see a 6’3″ catcher with “Aquaman” hair…ever.

New York Yankees: Shortstop Battle Royale

Other than a myriad of injuries to the pitching staff, the talk of spring training for the Yankees has been about the shortstop position. More specifically, which one of Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe could grab the job out of camp? Peraza hasn’t been stellar offensively this spring, but we know he has the defensive chops to man the six for the Yankees from the jump. Volpe, however, has showcased strong offensive skills and famously has the intangibles that could make him the favorite. While the Yankees have some sorting to do with their staff and their outfield, their hand being forced into handing the shortstop keys to a youngster is legitimately exciting. For a team with so many established vets, an injection of youth could be a welcome distraction from the potential shortcomings of a club with title aspirations.

Tampa Bay Rays: A Normal Rotation for a Change. Maybe. 

After years of innovation and harvesting wins with unique pitching strategies, the internet and social media are abuzz with the idea that the Rays could offer something else in 2023: normalcy. Tampa Bay appears primed to roll with a traditional five-man rotation, which will include Tyler Glasnow when he recovers from his oblique injury. Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Jeffrey Springs, and Zach Eflin will round out the rest of the group. Of course, we’ve already seen Tyler Glasnow go down for a stretch. The rotation isn’t terribly deep. The bullpen is. This begs the question as to how long it’ll be before we get to see some weirdness out of Kevin Cash’s pitching staff.

Toronto Blue Jays: A Worthy Challenge

The Yankees maintained a firm grip on the AL East throughout 2022. Even in stumbling in the second half, their division lead was so great that neither Tampa nor Toronto could touch it. The Blue Jays are aiming to change that this year. They revamped their outfield defense, adding Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho to replace, arguably, better bats in Lourdes Gurriel Jr. & Teoscar Hernández. Their pitching staff, all told, runs deeper than it did. And they still boast two of the game’s most exciting young stars in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, the latter of which set the world on fire with an incredible second half. There are pennant aspirations in Toronto and they are very real.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: The Giolito Bounce Back

Lucas Giolito showed up this spring sounding like a guy who went on a journey this offseason. He spent the winter doing environmental work, getting his body — and, more importantly, his mind — back into form, and reworking his mechanics in hopes of recapturing his dominance on the bump. In 2022, Giolito struggled with his command (3.40 BB/9) and lost a little zip on his velocity on his way to an ERA that barely came in under five. It’s clear that there were a number of factors working against him prior to and during last year’s disappointing White Sox season. With the body and mind appearing to come together, we could see quite the 1-2 punch next to Dylan Cease atop the Sox rotation.

Cleveland Guardians: More Power

The Cleveland Guardians have established themselves as one of the more stable organizations in recent years, even following the trade of Francisco Lindor to the New York Mets. While their pitching depth and defense could give way to another deep playoff run, this was a club really devoid of power in ’22. They ranked 28th in ISO (.129) and hit the second-fewest homers in the league (127). The additions of Josh Bell & Mike Zunino could go a long way toward rectifying that. Each brings at least 20 home run potential, while a full season of Oscar Gonzalez could add another dose of that upside. Adding that trio to the likes of José Ramírez should be a boon to the Cleveland offense. An injection of power could help each game feel less like a grind for the pitching staff and catapult them just that much further.

Detroit Tigers: Things Can Only Be Better

The Tigers invested in their roster prior to 2022, hoping to take that next step. They also hired A.J. Hinch. They then lost 96 games. There are many reasons to think that things can head in a better direction this year. Javier Báez has a full year under his belt and is back to his El Mago ways at the WBC. Spencer Torkelson has been a maniac at the plate this spring. Riley Greene’s got his first full year ahead of him. They likely don’t have enough pitching to keep pace with the teams ahead of them, but this team is better — on paper — than they appeared last year. The fun potential is high and even that would be a massive upgrade over ’22.

Kansas City Royals: The Powder Blues

The Royals are not very good. They’ve got Bobby Witt Jr., of course. There are a couple of arms, and they should play pretty good defense. Change in leadership, on a couple of levels, could have this club heading in the right direction sooner rather than later. But, more than anything, 2023 is about the return of these guys. Some people oppose the influx of powder blue in recent years. For my part, I say give every team a powder blue set. Arizona, Miami, Baltimore. Doesn’t matter. Even if Kansas City has to fight Detroit to stay out of the cellar, they’re going to look extremely good doing it.

Minnesota Twins: Back on an Actual Trajectory

It was touch-and-go there for a while as to what the Twins would look like not only for 2023 but beyond. The departure of Carlos Correa and a muddled roster left them on the cusp of purgatory. But Correa’s journey brought him back to Minneapolis, and their trade for Pablo López deepens a solid rotation. Joey Gallo isn’t quite the same player anymore but still flashes big power. Max Kepler should be one of the benefactors of the shift ban. There is a path to contention here for the Twins, which is far more than you could say on January 1st.

Now they all just need to stay healthy.

AL West

Houston Astros: Jeremy Peña’s Growth (Literally & Figuratively)

Jeremy Peña was an absolute star on the way to Houston’s 2022 championship, culminating in his being named World Series MVP at its end. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for growth. The good news is that Peña showed up to spring training looking completely shredded. So. Growth accomplished. In terms of performance, it’s not as if Peña set the world aflame during the regular season. He wRC+’d just 102 and struck out almost a quarter of the time. Given that the playoffs showcased how effective he can be with a more focused approach, that’s probably something we can expect to see in the regular season. The rest of the team is loaded, with very little turnover. They’ll contend for their division and a title. The real intrigue comes with whether Peña can extrapolate that success over a full 162 games.

Los Angeles Angels: Do I Even Need to Say It? 

Mike Trout is wonderful. There are few things that I love more about the sport of baseball than watching Mike Trout turn on a pitch low-and-inside. Nothing that Mike Trout does is anywhere near as remarkable as anything Shohei Ohtani does. We should all just be thankful to be living at a time in which we get to watch him throw baseballs hard and hit them even harder.

Oakland Athletics: Drone Light Show?

Two of my best friends in the world are fans of the Oakland Athletics. This was the conversation:

  • Me: “Unironically, give me a thing for the A’s to be excited about in 2023.”
  • Wade: “Lawrence Butler
  • Kyle: “Shea Langeliers
  • Kyle: “Zach Gelof, maybe?”
  • Wade: “He seems nice”
  • Kyle: “Is LawBut gonna make the bigs this year?”
  • Wade: “It’s the A’s. There’s always a chance.”
  • Kyle: “Laureano healthy again”
  • Kyle: “A’s have a drone light show night i think”
  • Wade: “Last man left of the dynasty”
  • Kyle: “Two things
  • Kyle: “1 – the drone light show is a thing”
  • Kyle: “2 – randy come visit so we can go to this game challenge”

So, there you have it. Drone light show. And I will be in Oakland on June 16th.

Seattle Mariners: Contention Without Bad Nostalgia

The M’s famously went two decades between postseason appearances. Their 2022 run was one of the most exciting and wholesome stories of last season. Heading into 2023, they appear poised to be just about the only legitimate challenger to Houston in the AL West. The lineup is loaded. Julio Rodríguez is already a superstar. They added Kolten Wong and Teoscar Hernández. They’ve got a host of supplementary guys that can fill in as needed. The rotation is deep, both with youth and experience. The bullpen has some depth to it, too. It’s just a really sound team. While the outcome of their impending challenge of Houston remains to be seen, they’ve slayed the postseason beast. They can now make their run free, clear, and as enjoyable as any team out there.

Texas Rangers: A Healthy Josh Jung

It’s easy to see a few directions in which the wind of ’23 blows the Rangers. On one hand, it was another loud offseason. Jacob deGrom & Nathan Eovaldi join Jon Gray & Martín Pérez to compose a formidable rotation. A lineup with Marcus Semien, and Corey Seager is still fun, even if there are holes elsewhere. But the real excitement for the Rangers — that isn’t the incredibly obvious answer of deGrom — comes in the form of third base prospect Josh Jung. Most notably, it is currently mid-March and Jung is healthy. That hasn’t been the case the last two years, as both 2021 and 2022 were wildly delayed due to different injuries.

After a 26-game sample at the top level to close out 2022, Jung has been healthy this spring. If his approach and contact can join him in Texas, something that didn’t quite happen last year, there isn’t any reason to think that he can’t help the Rangers come that much closer to solidifying their infield for their move back toward contention.

NL East

Atlanta: The Actual Return of Ronald Acuña Jr.

Ronald Acuña Jr.tore his ACL in 2021 and was back on the field by the end of April of last year. While Atlanta was chasing down the New York Mets at an absolutely torrid pace to capture the NL East, it wasn’t quite due to the contributions of their star outfielder. He turned in a fine year, to be sure. But that’s all it was — fine. His power was nearly absent (.148 ISO) and his wRC+ (114) reflected a hitter that was merely above average. Far from the superstar talent we’ve come to see. By the end of the year, it was clear that Acuña Jr. simply was not healthy, with comments indicating the lingering pain in that repaired right knee.

This year, we should expect the full version. He hit .429 and reached base at a .500 clip across a small spring training sample before the WBC, scoring five runs along the way. With a postseason atmosphere playing for Team Venezuela to round out the month, we should see one of the game’s stars return to full power for 2023.

Miami Marlins: Centerfield Jazz

This is tough to admit. I bought a lot of Marlins stock in the last two years. I just loved their pitching. Now all I’ve got is Jazz Chisholm Jr. and way too many infielders (to say nothing of Sandy Alcántara). Chisholm is set to move to center after the team signed Jean Segura and traded for Luis Arráez whilst still employing Joey Wendle and Jon BertiJosé Iglesias was since added to the group. It all leads to Jazz exploring the space on the outfield grace. For his part, it was voluntary and that commitment could indicate a positive transition. But beyond their ace and their new CF, there is just far too much ahead of this team in perhaps the best division in baseball.

New York Mets: The Impending Rise of Brett Baty

For most contenders, the talk isn’t centered around prospects. Sure, contenders can have a great system and/or guy(s) on the cusp, regardless of caliber, but for a title contender, the talk is on the here and now of the roster. We very well could talk about that with the Mets. Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and a very good lineup in a really tough division are going to be a blast. But the talk of the spring training has been third base prospect, Brett Baty. A disappointing 11-game cup of joseph hasn’t put any damper on Baty’s monstrous spring. He’s hitting over .400 at the time of this writing, with a homer and a pair of steals.

Eduardo Escobar is currently slated to start at the hot corner and still offers a decent enough bat. But he’s also versatile and likely won’t impede Baty from taking the job when he’s ready. He looks ready.

Philadelphia Phillies: They are a World Series Contender

We are still within striking distance of a memory in which the Phillies looked destined for baseball purgatory. Some big contracts and a below-average system left it looking…not great. So the Fightins went all-in on offense, signing Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber (this is the oversimplified version). And it worked! That pair, freshly-signed Trea Turner, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Alec Bohm, and Bryson Stott compose most of the lineup. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Ranger Suárez, and Taijuan Walker anchor the rotation, along with a deep bullpen. Defense up the middle is better, with Turner, Stott, and Brandon Marsh, but still remains a weakness. As is rotation depth. But it’s without question that the Phillies could make another run, even in this division.

Washington Nationals: Joey Meneses in the WBC

Mexico demolished the United States in their pool play matchup. The highlight came on Meneses’ huge bat flip on a three-run job off Brady Singer, his second of the night. Is this as good as it gets for Washington in 2023? To the point where their most exciting moment is not only behind them but watching one of their players do an exciting thing in not a Nationals uniform? Maybe. Probably. But what a moment!

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: The Middle Infield Defense

The Chicago Cubs did a lot this winter to take their team from below average to just about average. And while they may come up short in other areas, defense is not one of them. This is particularly true of the middle infield. Dansby Swanson & Nico Hoerner combine for not only the most handsome infield duo but perhaps the most defensively efficient one. Swanson (16) and Hoerner (10) were the top two at shortstop in Outs Above Average in 2022. For a pitching staff that generates more contact than strikeouts, the turns up the middle are going to be a spectacle in the best way.

Cincinnati Reds: Young Rotation Arms

The Reds are perhaps set to engineer the Bad Team Express this year. The pitching, though, will at least be worth watching. Fireballer Hunter Greene has already been tapped as the Opening Day starter. Nick Lodolo will form the 1-2 atop the starting five. Graham Ashcraft showed good command and a high groundball rate, with likely more strikeouts in his game somewhere. The Reds do have a handful of interesting prospects that should appear at some point during the year. But, at least for now, their lineup will consist of stopgap veterans, including additions Wil Myers & Kevin Newman. The bullpen is in a similar situation. There isn’t a lot of intrigue for a team riding out short-term vets as eventual trade bait. That top three in the rotation, though, will make Cincinnati fun to watch roughly 30 percent of the time.

Milwaukee Brewers: Finding Direction

We both know and do not know what we’re getting out of the Brewers in 2023. That lack of foresight makes them an intriguing group. Their lineup has a lot going on. At-bats will have to be found for Jesse Winker, Brian Anderson, Luis Urías, Brice Turang, and Michael Brosseau. Garrett Mitchell appears poised to start in center, while prospect Sal Frelick could grab some time in the outfield depending on the fortunes of Tyrone Taylor and non-roster invitee Tyler Naquin. While the pitching isn’t quite as deep as it’s been in recent years, Craig Counsell will have every opportunity to play the matchups and maximize outcomes for the lineup.

And his success in doing so will say a lot about Milwaukee moving forward. Success means a legitimate effort at a division crown and more. Failure means big changes, as Corbin Burnes and Willy Adames have already been floated as contracts names that could be moved. There’s so much variability here.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen, Mentor

It’s easy for any non-contender to say the prospects. Especially with Pittsburgh. And the continued development of Oneil Cruz & Ke’Bryan Hayes will absolutely be important aspects of this team in ’23. But what’s going to be really fun to watch is Andrew McCutchen return to where it all started, albeit as a very different player. He’s still got some pop. But he’s not the on-base force he used to be and likely won’t be a staple in left. But for a Bucs team trying to establish a culture with such a young group (and more on the way), his presence will make this year far less laborious. They’re still no more than a fourth-place squad, but Cutch should have the vibes around PNC shifting in a good direction.

St. Louis Cardinals: Contreras & the New Staff

Willson Contreras elected to forego appearing for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. He instead is choosing to remain in camp in order to acclimate himself to his new pitching staff. It’s going to be a fascinating development to watch take shape both in the spring and throughout the season. The Cardinals, of course, have had Yadier Molina holding down the staff for nearly two decades. Even if you think his defense was a touch overrated, his ability to handle a staff is without question. Whether St. Louis gets that same trait out of Contreras remains to be seen.

Contreras has never graded out particularly well in matters of framing or blocking (though he’s got a cannon behind the dish). With a Cardinals staff that isn’t particularly deep or high on velocity in their starting staff, it’s going to be fun to watch his transition to a new organization and staff. They’re a division favorite, but Contreras’ transition could have a lot to say about how they stack up against other NL contenders.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: The Transition Phase

Rebuilds are not linear. But, in general, they have some distinct phases. You’ve got, of course, the teardown. Then some muddled time where you’re building toward something. And then eventually there’s that step right before you’re ready to contend again. Some young guys are on the Major League roster. Others are on the cusp. Another year and contention is likely in the cards. That is the 2023 Arizona Diamondbacks. The lineup itself is really solid. Corbin Carroll and Alek Thomas highlight the youthful element, as both aim to become centerpieces for the future Snakes. The rotation is, obviously, headed up by Zac Gallen. Keep an eye on Ryne Nelson and Brandon Pfaadt, though. Nelson was terrific in a trio of starts in 2022, and Pfaadt has been phenomenal this spring.

There isn’t a clear path to contention, given LA & San Diego in front of them, but they’re going to be a lot of fun even in as sullen a venue as Chase Field.

Colorado Rockies: Healthy Kris Bryant at Coors

Being a not-good baseball team and doing very little to improve isn’t unique to Colorado. But whether it’s health, inactivity, or trading Nolan Arenado, few teams have faced tougher looks the last few years than the Rox. Their most notable acquisition of the last several years, though, saw only 42 games and 181 plate appearances in 2022. When he was in the lineup, Kris Bryant was really very good. He came in at a wRC+ of 125 and reached base at a .376 clip. The power was absent, however, at an ISO of only .169 (no doubt due to the nagging nature of various injuries). And so while the Rockies can’t be expected to contend this year, an actually healthy Kris Bryant in the thin air of Denver should be a really fun sight in which fans can take solace.

Los Angeles Dodgers: A Rare Chip on the Shoulder

The Dodgers have seen more notable departures over the last two seasons than arrivals. Trea Turner, Corey Seager, Max Scherzer, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, etc. are all on different teams. Gavin Lux is down for the year. Walker Buehler is unlikely to pitch, either. But these are the same Dodgers that feature Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, and as much pitching depth as any team in the league, whether we know the names or not. They are as stable an organization as any in recent memory. With the improvements down in San Diego, though, doubters have started to arrive. It’s a rare opportunity over the past decade-ish for the Dodgers to deploy the ol’ “disrespect” idea and re-establish themselves as the class of the NL West before their inevitable Shohei Ohtani pursuit this winter.

San Diego Padres: Literally Everything (Everywhere All At Once)

I’ll be writing later this month on why everyone should want to be a San Diego Padres fan right now. But there’s a lot of truth to that statement. They have as aggressive a general manager as there is in the league with full support from ownership (a genuine rarity in today’s game). The top half of the lineup features Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts, and the imminent return of Fernando Tatis Jr. Jake Cronenworth and Trent Grisham are strong supplementary bats. The pitching staff is led by Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, Robert Suarez, and Josh Hader. They’re strong on every side of the ball and you know A.J. Preller will make the moves he needs to in crunch time. This is a team with legitimate title aspirations and no reason to temper them. America’s Finest City ain’t only for the views or the weather anymore.

San Francisco Giants: ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Look, man. San Francisco is an awesome city.

Randy Holt

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Pitcher List & a depth charts analyst for Baseball Prospectus. He's a self-identified Cubs fan who has become more agnostic, instead obsessing about quality defensive baseball wherever he can find it. Randy has a sport management degree from the University of Florida, as well as degrees from Embry-Riddle & Arizona State. When not wasting away on the husk of Twitter/X, Randy is a high school English teacher & a baseball and golf coach.

One response to “One Exciting Thing for Each MLB Team This Spring Training”

  1. Bob says:

    I live inSan Francisco. It actually isn’t awesome at all. More like a urban hellscape.

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