Spring Training Preview: American League
Winter is falling away and spring is approaching. With it, baseball season begins in earnest.
Teams begin reporting to Arizona and Florida for spring training this week. All across the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, starting jobs will be won and young prospects will show their worth against big leaguers.
Here is a preview of what spring training holds for American League teams as camps open. Keep in mind, many of the position battle dynamics will likely change as the huge number of unsigned veteran free agents ink contracts as spring drags on.
BOSTON RED SOX
2017 Record: 93-69, first in AL East
Key Storyline: After finishing 26th in the majors in slugging percentage and 27th in home runs last year, the Red Sox still have yet to add a power bat.
Position Battle: Second base – With Dustin Pedroia scheduled to be out until May following offseason knee surgery, prospects Marco Hernandez and Tzu-Wei Lin will fight veteran Brock Holt and utilityman Deven Marrero for the lion’s share of the reps at the keystone until Pedroia returns.
NEW YORK YANKEES
2017 Record: 91-71, second in AL East
Key Storyline: The Yankees made the biggest move of the offseason acquiring Giancarlo Stanton, but their success may depend on how a group of rookies performs in vacated infield spots.
Position Battle: Second and third base – Miguel Andujar, who has played five big league games, is currently slated to start at third base. Gleyber Torres, who has played 23 games above Double-A and is coming off a major injury, is in competition to start at second. Ronald Torreyes and fellow prospect Tyler Wade are their competition, although non-roster invitees Danny Espinosa and Jace Peterson are worth keeping an eye on.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
2017 Record: 76-86, fourth in AL East
Key Storyline: In the first year of the post-Jose Bautista era, the Blue Jays added Randal Grichuk, Yangervis Solarte, Curtis Granderson and Aledmys Diaz to try and energize an offense that finished 26th in the majors in runs scored last year.
Position Battle: Fifth starter – Frontrunner Joe Biagini struggled badly after moving into the rotation from the bullpen last year. Lefthander Ryan Borucki and waiver claim Taylor Guerrieri, both rookies, will try and force him back to the ‘pen.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
2017 Record: 80-82, third in AL East
Key Storyline: After trading franchise icon Evan Longoria and with Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi reportedly on the block, the Rays appear headed for another rebuild after four straight losing seasons.
Position Battle: Shortstop – The defensively-gifted but offensively-challenged Adeiny Hechavarria is slated to start, but newly-acquired Christian Arroyo and top prospect Willy Adames are both ready to move beyond Triple-A.
2017 Record: 75-87, fifth in AL East
Key Storyline: Despite posting a major league worst 5.70 starters ERA last year, the Orioles somehow open camp with an even worse rotation than last year.
Position Battle: Right field — Joey Rickard, with a career .659 OPS, is currently listed as the starter in right field, but fast-rising prospect Austin Hays is in position to challenge him after making his MLB debut last season.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2017 Record: 67-95, fourth in AL Central
Key Storyline: After seeing Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Nick Delmonico make their Chicago debuts last year, the White Sox aim to take baby steps forward in year two of their rebuild.
Position Battle: Fifth starter – With Carlos Rodon out recovering from shoulder surgery to begin the season, an Opening Day rotation spot is up for the taking. Carson Fulmer finished with four strong starts last year (2-0, 1.56) and is the front-runner, but a big camp from flamethrowing top prospect Michael Kopech could make things interesting.
2017 Record: 102-60, first in AL Central
Key Storyline: With mostly everyone back from a 102-win squad last year, the Indians have all the pieces in place to again contend for a spot in the World Series.
Position Battle: Catcher – Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes are ensconced in Cleveland and aren’t really in danger of losing their jobs. That said, both have been offensive liabilities for three years straight now, and a strong camp by top prospect Francisco Mejia—especially defensively—could make things interesting.
2017 Record: 85-77, second in AL Central
Key Storyline: A year after making their first postseason appearance since 2010, the Twins aim to take the next step with their talented young core.
Position Battle: Starting rotation– The Opening Day rotation is largely up for grabs with Ervin Santana, Michael Pineda and Phil Hughes all in various stages of surgery recovery. Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson and sophomore lefty Adalberto Mejia are safe bets, while prospects Aaron Slegers, Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero will try and stake a claim.
2017 Record: 64-98, fifth in AL Central
Key Storyline: Coming off the franchise’s worst season since their 119-loss campaign in 2003, the Tigers rebuild begins in earnest as they enter camp minus Justin Verlander, Justin Upton and Ian Kinsler.
Position Battle: Center field — Leonys Martin was signed to start in center field, but hit just .232 with a .513 OPS a year ago. JaCoby Jones, prospect Mike Gerber and top Rule 5 draft pick Victor Reyes will try to show they can do better.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
2017 Record: 80-82, third in AL Central
Key Storyline: The Royals begin the next chapter of their franchise history, moving on from the core that led them to back-to-back World Series.
Position Battle: Starting pitcher – Danny Duffy is a front-of-the-rotation starter, but Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel are past their primes, Nate Karns is unreliable and Jake Junis is trying to show he can avoid a sophomore slump. Offseason trade acquisitions Jesse Hahn and Trevor Oaks, Rule 5 draft picks Burch Smith and Brad Keller and free agent signee Wily Peralta all have a chance to make an impression.
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Meadows' development hit a speed bump in the Midwest League, though the Tigers remain high on his future.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
2017 Record: 80-82, second in AL West
Key Storyline: Shohei Ohtani comes to Anaheim with unparalleled hype as the Angels aim to make the playoffs for just the second time in the Mike Trout era.
Position Battle: Closer —Bud Norris and Huston Street are gone, as is top 2017 reliever Yusmeiro Petit. Revelation Blake Parker, hard-throwing Keynan Middleton and one-time closer-in-waiting Cam Bedrosian will try to solidify themselves as reliable end-of-game options.
2017 Record: 101-61, first in AL West
Key Storyline: The reigning World Series champions, after adding Gerrit Cole, enter the year in prime position to defend their title.
Position Battle: Lefty specialist — Tony Sipp posted a 5.79 ERA last season and was left off the postseason roster. With Francisco Liriano gone, Sipp will try to fend off Buddy Boshers and Rule 5 pick Anthony Gose, the former center fielder, to be the lefthander in the Astros bullpen.
2017 Record: 78-84, third in AL West
Key Storyline: Now the owners of the longest playoff drought in the four major North American sports, the Mariners enter 2018 desperate to shed that ignominious label.
Position Battle: Fifth starter – The Mariners have a group of young pitchers—all with ERA’s over 5.00 last year – competing to round out their rotation. Marco Gonzales (6.08) is out of options and thus is the lead candidate, while Ariel Miranda (5.12), Andrew Moore (5.34) and Chase De Jong (6.35) are also options. Rob Whalen, Sam Moll, and Max Povse could also be possibilities depending on how camp goes.
2017 Record: 78-84, fourth in AL West
Position Battle: Starting rotation — The Rangers are trying convert Mike Minor and Matt Bush from reliever to starter to fill out their rotation. Veterans Matt Moore and Doug Fister, coming off poor seasons, are also slated for rotation spots. If they falter, Yohander Mendez, Ronald Herrera and Clayton Blackburn are waiting.
2017 Record: 75-87, fifth in AL West
Key Storyline: With a powerful lineup in place, the Athletics look for improvement from their young rotation to end their streak of three straight losing seasons.
Position Battle: Center field — Late-season acquisition Boog Powell owns the spot for now, but talented prospect Dustin Fowler – trying to come back from a horrific knee injury – is expected to be ready by the end of February and can push Powell if healthy.