All 30 MLB Teams' Biggest Storylines Halfway Through Spring Training
We are midway through spring training, and storylines abound throughout the league, as all 30 MLB teams have some big decisions to make between now and Opening Day.
From key injuries to unexpected breakout players and everything in between, every camp has at least a few noteworthy topics of conversation here in the middle of March.
So with that in mind, here is a look at all 30 MLB teams' biggest storyline halfway through spring training as we draw closer to Opening Day of the 2014 MLB season.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Can Archie Bradley Make the Opening Day Roster?
Arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball entering the 2014 season, Archie Bradley has all the makings of a future staff ace with a big 6'4" and 225-pound frame and prototypical power-pitcher stuff.
He looked to be ticketed for the minors to start the season after the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Bronson Arroyo in free agency, but with Arroyo battling a bulging disk in his back, Bradley has done everything in his power to position himself for a rotation spot.
In 6.1 scoreless innings of work through two outings, the right-hander has allowed just three hits and four walks while striking out nine.
Atlanta Braves: The Kris Medlen Injury
Despite the loss of veterans Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm in free agency, the Atlanta Braves rotation still looked strong going into the season thanks in large part to the homegrown trio of Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran.
That group took a potentially serious hit over the weekend, as Medlen was forced to exit his last start with what is being called a forearm strain. He will undergo an MRI Monday, but there's at least a chance he could be headed for his second Tommy John surgery, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com.
Baltimore Orioles: Will Manny Machado Be Ready for Opening Day?
A gruesome knee injury suffered trying to leg out an infield single ended the 2013 season for Manny Machado Sept. 24, and he underwent knee surgery in the middle of October.
According to the latest report from Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun, the 21-year-old is running at 70-80 percent right now and he'll meet with doctors March 18 to be cleared for a full return. Whether that gives him enough time to prepare for Opening Day remains to be seen, but he's been ahead of the curve throughout his recovery.
Boston Red Sox: The Return of Grady Sizemore
Still just 31 years old, Grady Sizemore has not played in the majors since 2011 and has not topped the 100-game mark since 2009.
The Boston Red Sox took a chance on him this offseason, signing him to a deal that could be worth as much as $6 million with performance and roster bonuses. He's competing with rookie Jackie Bradley to replace the departed Jacoby Ellsbury in center field, and so, far Sizemore looks to have the edge.
He is 3-for-8 this spring, while Bradley has gone just 4-for-21.
Chicago Cubs: Will Arodys Vizcaino Make the Opening Day Roster
Hard-throwing right-hander Arodys Vizcaino has not thrown a pitch for the Chicago Cubs organization since being acquired from the Braves at the trade deadline in 2012 for veteran Paul Maholm.
He's spent the past two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery, but it finally looks like he's ready to make an impact. He has thrown just two innings this spring, as the team has continued to bring him along slowly, but his stuff has drawn rave reviews from catcher Welington Castillo, per Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago.
“His stuff is so good," said Castillo. "His ball is just jumping out of his hand so easily (and) his breaking ball is perfect. He’s a power pitcher and he can command all his pitches."
Chicago White Sox: Will an Outfielder Be Traded Before Opening Day?
With the acquisition of center fielder Adam Eaton in a trade with the Diamondbacks, the Chicago White Sox now have a logjam in the outfield. Avisail Garcia is locked in as the everyday right fielder, leaving Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza to battle for at-bats in left field.
One of those two could very well be traded before the start of the season, and the latest rumor has the Seattle Mariners showing interest in Viciedo, according to Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago.
Cincinnati Reds: Will Billy Hamilton Hit Enough to Be a Viable Leadoff Hitter?
Despite the losses of Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo, it was a quiet offseason for the Cincinnati Reds, whose only significant moves were re-signing reliever Manny Parra and adding a handful of bench pieces to the mix.
The big question all offseason has been whether speedster Billy Hamilton, who hit just .256/.308/.343 at Triple-A last season, will get on base enough to replace Choo atop the order.
He's looked good so far this spring, going 5-for-16 with four walks and zero strikeouts while converting all six of his stolen base attempts. The 23-year-old will continue to be watched closely as he looks to make a serious impact as a rookie.
Cleveland Indians: Who Fills the No. 5 Starter Spot?
With Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir officially gone, the Cleveland Indians entered camp with one rotation spot up for grabs behind Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar, with a handful of guys in the running.
Carlos Carrasco (7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 9 K), Trevor Bauer (5 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 7 K), Josh Tomlin (9 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 9 K) and Aaron Harang (5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 K) are all in the mix at this point.
Colorado Rockies: The Jhoulys Chacin Injury
Pitching was the focus of the offseason for the Colorado Rockies, as they added Brett Anderson and Jordan Lyles to the rotation mix and signed veterans LaTroy Hawkins and Boone Logan to shore up the bullpen.
They were dealt a blow in the early going this spring, though, when ace Jhoulys Chacin was shut down for "a week, likely longer" with shoulder soreness back on Feb. 25, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post.
The diagnosis was relatively good news, as there was no structural damage, but his preseason has been set back to the point that it's unlikely he'll be ready to go by Opening Day, and any added obstacles could make matters worse.
Detroit Tigers: Who Plays Left Field with Andy Dirks Hurt?
Originally expected to compete with rookie Nick Castellanos for the starting left field job, Andy Dirks instead found himself as the right-handed side of a platoon with Rajai Davis entering camp after Castellanos was moved back to third base following the Prince Fielder trade.
However, back surgery is now expected to sideline Dirks for roughly 12 weeks, according to James Schmehl of MLive.com (h/t Dayn Perry of CBS Sports). That leaves utility guys Don Kelly and Steve Lombardozzi and non-roster invitees Trevor Crowe and Ezequiel Carrera to battle for a shot at expanded playing time to start the year.
Houston Astros: When Will George Springer and Jonathan Singleton Be Ready?
First baseman Jonathan Singleton and center fielder George Springer are expected to be the first of the Houston Astros' top prospects to make a serious impact at the big league level, and both are projected to make their debut at some point in 2014. The question now is, when?
Neither has impressed this spring. Singleton is 0-for-15 with six walks and five strikeouts, and Springer is 1-for-13 with the same amount of walks and strikeouts. That likely means both will open the season in the minors as fans continue to anxiously await their arrival in Houston.
Kansas City Royals: Is Mike Moustakas for Real This Time?
Last spring, third baseman Mike Moustakas looked to be on his way to a breakout season for the Kansas City Royals, as he hit .394/.429/.718 with eight doubles, five home runs and 16 RBI.
Instead, he went on to hit just .233/.287/.364 with 12 home runs and 42 RBI over 472 at-bats, taking a big step backwards in his second full season.
Danny Valencia was acquired this offseason to push the 25-year-old, and the results have been promising once again this spring. He's 8-for-20 with two doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI. The question now is whether he can carry that over to the regular season this time around.
Los Angeles Angels: Will Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols Bounce Back?
When the Los Angeles Angels added Josh Hamilton to a lineup that already featured Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo last offseason, it was immediately hailed by many to be the best lineup in baseball and the Angels' ticket to the postseason.
Instead, Hamilton struggled in his first season with the team and Pujols wound up missing significant time with a foot injury. All told, the two sluggers combined for just 38 home runs and 153 RBI on the year, a far cry from expectations.
Things have not gotten off to a great start this spring, as Hamilton has yet to play in a game while battling a calf strain and Pujols is just 3-for-19 in the early going. If the team hopes to turn things around and reach the playoffs, it will need a big year from both of its high-priced sluggers.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Who Gets the No. 5 Starter Job?
The trio of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu atop the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation is as good as any in baseball, and the team is hoping veteran Dan Haren can build off of a strong second half last year to lock down the No. 4 spot.
The final spot in the rotation is up for grabs, though, as a healthy Josh Beckett will look to beat out free-agent signing Paul Maholm and Rule 5 pick Seth Rosin, as well as Matt Magill and Stephen Fife.
Rosin has been a standout this far, allowing just five hits and one walk while striking out 10 in eight scoreless innings of work. However, considering Beckett will make $15.75 million this coming season, he'll likely get every chance to secure the job.
Miami Marlins: What Will Jose Fernandez Do for an Encore?
At this time last year, Jose Fernandez was just another top prospect looking to get his feet wet in camp with the major league club. Little did anyone know that a pair of late-spring injuries would open things up for him to break camp with the big league team on his way to NL Rookie of the Year honors.
All told, the right-hander was 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA and 187 strikeouts in 172.2 innings of work over 28 starts last season, leaving everyone anxiously awaiting what he'll do for an encore. Some regression seems likely, but there's no reason to think he can't be among the best starters in the NL once again.
Fernandez has gotten off to a nice start this spring, throwing 5.1 scoreless innings and allowing just four hits and no walks while striking out four.
Milwaukee Brewers: The Return of Ryan Braun
The 2014 season will be an uphill battle for Ryan Braun as he looks to reestablish himself as one of the game's premier offensive threats after his 2013 season ended prematurely with a 65-game PED suspension.
The best way for him to put the whole ugly incident behind him is to put up the kind of numbers that made him a perennial MVP candidate to kick off his career. It may not repair his image, but it will be hard for fans to stay mad at a productive Braun.
He's off to a hot start this spring, going 7-for-11 with two doubles, two home runs and three RBI.
Minnesota Twins: Miguel Sano Injured, Byron Buxton Struggles
One of the most exciting storylines entering spring training was the presence of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, top-10 prospects in all of baseball regardless of what publication you subscribe to, in big league camp with the Minnesota Twins.
Neither had a clear-cut path to an Opening Day job, but it was also not out of the question that one or both could break camp with the big league club.
Instead, Sano has been lost for the season to Tommy John surgery and Buxton has looked like someone who needs more time in the minors, going just 3-for-19 at the plate. The future is still incredibly bright for both guys, but the spring has undoubtedly been a disappointing one.
New York Mets: Who Gets the Opening Day Start?
With Matt Harvey on the sidelines recovering from Tommy John surgery, the role of staff ace is up for grabs atop the New York Mets rotation, and there is still a question about who will get the ball on Opening Day.
Jon Niese drew the assignment last season, and he is the early favorite to do so once again, according to manager Terry Collins, via Mike Vorkunov of The Star-Ledger.
Second-year man Zack Wheeler and offseason addition Bartolo Colon are also viable options to front the rotation. While Harvey will certainly be missed, the team's rotation looks like it should still be a strength in 2014.
New York Yankees: Can Yangervis Solarte Make a Real Impact in 2014?
After playing the first six seasons of his pro career in the Minnesota Twins organization, Yangervis Solarte spent the past two years at the Triple-A level for the Texas Rangers.
The 26-year-old signed a minor league deal with the New York Yankees this offseason, and he entered camp with an outside chance to compete with Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore and a handful of others for a utility infield spot.
He's made the most of the opportunity thus far, going 10-for-17 with two home runs and six RBI so far this spring. The second baseman showed some offense last year, hitting .276/.323/.403 with 12 home runs and 75 RBI, and with infield depth a real question for the Yankees, he has a chance to make an unexpected impact in 2014.
Oakland Athletics: Will Addison Russell Be the Everyday Shortstop in 2015?
Taken with the No. 11 pick in the 2012 draft, Addison Russell was impressive in his first full pro season, hitting .269/.369/.495 with 29 doubles, 10 triples, 17 home runs and 21 stolen bases.
He spent the bulk of the season at the High-A level and will likely open 2014 in Double-A, according to Lawr Michaels of USA Today. For the time being, though, he's in big league camp, and he's held his own at 6-for-23 with a double and a triple.
The real question is what his role on the team will be next season. Incumbent shortstop Jed Lowrie is set to hit free agency next winter, and another solid year would likely price the A's out of the market, putting Russell in position to step into a starting job to kick off 2015.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Cole Hamels Injury
Despite what his 8-14 record may imply, Cole Hamels actually pitched well for the most part last season, finishing the year with a 3.60 ERA and 1.16 WHIP while reaching the 200-inning mark for the fourth straight year.
Expected to once again team with Cliff Lee to form one of the better one-two punches in baseball, Hamels has instead battled arm fatigue in the early going this spring, according to an Associated Press report (h/t ESPN).
His offseason was already off to a poor start, as biceps tendinitis back in November had him behind schedule, and with things shut down for the time being, it seems unlikely that he will be ready to go by Opening Day.
Pittsburgh Pirates: First Base
Rumors continue to swirl about the Pittsburgh Pirates possibly making a run at acquiring a first baseman between now and the start of the season, but for the time being, a collection of incumbents is set to fill the position.
Gaby Sanchez has been used primarily as a platoon option against left-handed pitching the past few years, as he hit .333/.448/.539 against lefties compared to just .203/.304/.315 against righties.
He showed up to camp in great shape, though, and as he looks to make a push for an everyday job, he has gone 5-for-11 with three doubles so far this spring. If the team does opt for a platoon, Andrew Lambo and Chris McGuiness look like the most likely partners for Sanchez at this point.
San Diego Padres: Is Tommy Medica for Real?
Ranked as the No. 23 prospect in the San Diego Padres organization entering the year, according to the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Tommy Medica has been perhaps the biggest surprise of the spring so far.
The 25-year-old was added to the 40-man roster last September, and he went 20-for-69 with two doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI down the stretch. Despite that, he entered spring on the outside looking in for a roster spot.
It's been impossible to ignore his production to this point, though, as he's gone 13-for-25 at the plate with two doubles, two home runs and six RBI. He will likely need to edge out Kyle Blanks for a bench job if he hopes to break camp with the team, but either way, Medica has put himself on the map this spring.
San Francisco Giants: Will the Rotation Bounce Back to Dominant Form?
The bedrock of the San Francisco Giants' run of success that netted them two World Series titles in three seasons was their dominant starting pitching. However, that group saw their ERA climb from 3.73 (sixth in MLB) in 2012 to 4.37 (24th in MLB) this past season, and the Giants missed the playoffs as a result.
The team has replaced Barry Zito with Tim Hudson this offseason, but the other four rotation spots remain unchanged, as Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong will make up the staff.
Vogelsong (7.1 IP, 10 H, 8 ER) is off to a rough star this spring, but the other four have combined to throw 18 scoreless innings, over which they've allowed just nine hits. The question now is, will that rotation be strong enough to carry the team back to the postseason?
Seattle Mariners: The Health of the Starting Rotation
The Seattle Mariners had as busy an offseason as anyone, adding Robinson Cano, Corey Hart and Logan Morrison to the lineup and Fernando Rodney to the back end of the bullpen.
It's the health of the starting rotation that has been the story this spring, though, as Hisashi Iwakuma (strained tendon in finger) and top prospect Taijuan Walker (shoulder inflammation) are both currently sidelined and likely to remain as such until after Opening Day.
That leaves the team with non-roster invitee Scott Baker, rookie James Paxton and fringe starters Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan currently occupying its projected Opening Day rotation behind Felix Hernandez, according to MLB Depth Charts.
St. Louis Cardinals: When Will Oscar Taveras Make an Impact?
Ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball each of the past two seasons, according to Baseball America, Oscar Taveras may have already had a grasp on the starting right field job in St. Louis had it not been for an ankle injury that limited him to just 47 games last season.
That after he hit .321/.380/.572 with 23 home runs and 94 RBI in a full season at the Double-A level as a 20-year-old in 2012.
The team brought him along slowly this spring, and he made his Grapefruit League debut Friday, doubling in his first at-bat and finishing 1-for-3. He will have to make up for lost time now and will almost certainly open the season in the minors, but he could be the team's everyday right fielder by midseason.
Tampa Bay Rays: Will the Rebuilt Bullpen Work?
With Fernando Rodney and Jamey Wright gone from last year's bullpen in free agency, the Tampa Bay Rays set to work in their usual creative manner to rebuild the back end of the pen this offseason.
Grant Balfour was signed to a two-year deal after negotiations with the Baltimore Orioles fell through, and he'll replace Rodney as the closer. Former All-Star Heath Bell was also brought on board in a three-team trade, and he will replace Wright as one of the primary setup men.
The results have not been good in the early-going this spring, as Balfour (2.1 IP, 5 H, 5 ER) and Bell (2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER) have both struggled, but the Rays have proven time and again that they known how to piece together a successful bullpen.
Texas Rangers: Can Jurickson Profar Be the Breakout Star of 2014?
After entering the season as the No. 1 prospect in baseball, Jurickson Profar was something of a disappointment in 2013, hitting .234/.308/.336 over 286 at-bats at the big league level.
He put up those numbers while seeing sporadic playing time at second base, shortstop, third base, left field and designated hitter, and his numbers no doubt suffered as a result of his inconsistent playing time, as he found himself behind Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus on the depth chart.
With Kinsler traded to the Detroit Tigers in the Prince Fielder deal, Profar now has a position to call his own on a daily basis, and he could be in store for a big step forward as a result. He's certainly off to a promising start this spring, going 9-for-29 with two doubles, a home run and 10 RBI.
Toronto Blue Jays: Will Ervin Santana Be Signed to Bolster the Rotation?
Last spring, it was Kyle Lohse who signed with the Brewers in time to make one preseason appearance before joining the rotation to start the year. This time around, it looks like Ervin Santana will find himself in such a situation.
The Toronto Blue Jays and Orioles were both vying for his services, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, and a strong case can be made for the Blue Jays needing him more than anyone.
Behind R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, their rotation is a major question mark, and with guys like J.A. Happ (1.1 IP, 6 H, 6 ER), Brandon Morrow (5 IP, 8 H, 6 ER), Kyle Drabek (5 IP, 7 H, 6 ER) and Todd Redmond (5 IP, 6 H, 5 ER) all struggling so far this spring, things are far from sorted out.
Washington Nationals: Who Will Be the No. 5 Starter?
With the addition of Doug Fister this offseason, the Washington Nationals have arguably the best rotation in baseball entering the season. That being said, the No. 5 starter job was still up for grabs entering camp.
Veteran Ross Detwiler looked like the front-runner, but Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan both pitched well enough last year to warrant a long look this spring.
Detwiler (3.1 IP, 11 H, 4 ER) has been the worst of the bunch this spring, while Jordan (7 IP, 9 H, 3 ER) and Roark (4.2 IP, 6 H, 1 ER) have both pitched fairly well. Two of those three may break camp in the rotation if Fister is unable to put the elbow inflammation that has plagued him this spring behind him, but things are still wide open at this point.