3 Key Questions Facing Each MLB Team During Spring Training

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2015

3 Key Questions Facing Each MLB Team During Spring Training

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    Full-squad workouts are officially underway in Arizona and Florida, and a full slate of spring training games is set to kick off Wednesday as we move ever closer to Opening Day.

    There is a lot to be sorted out between now and the start of the season, with position battles to be played out, injuries to be dealt with and 25-man rosters to be set heading into the year.

    To put it simply, there are significant questions facing all 30 MLB teams, regardless of their outlook for the upcoming season.

    What follows is a look at the three biggest questions each team will need to answer before spring training wraps up and Opening Day rolls around.

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who rounds out the rotation behind Josh Collmenter and Jeremy Hellickson?

    Last year's best pitcher, Josh Collmenter, and offseason acquisition Jeremy Hellickson figure to fill the first two spots in the Diamondbacks rotation, but the remaining three slots behind them are up for grabs.

    Chase Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Rubby De La Rosa, Randall Delgado, Vidal Nuno, Robbie Ray, Allen Webster and prospect Archie Bradley all figure to get a look this spring. Delgado and De La Rosa are both out of options, so that's worth keeping in mind.

    • Is Archie Bradley finally ready to make an impact?

    Speaking of Archie Bradley, the former No. 7 overall pick still looks like the future ace of the staff, but he has yet to break through and reach the majors.

    The 22-year-old dealt with elbow issues last season and was limited to just 18 starts, but he's healthy now and expected to make a serious run at a rotation spot.

    • Can Tuffy Gosewisch and Gerald Laird handle catching duties?

    With All-Star Miguel Montero traded to the Chicago Cubs and no significant free-agent additions made, the Diamondbacks appear ready to open the season with Tuffy Gosewisch and Gerald Laird penciled in behind the plate.

    Gosewisch hit .225 with a .553 OPS in 129 at-bats as the primary backup last year, while the 35-year-old Laird hit .204 with a .532 OPS in 152 at-bats for the Atlanta Braves. Non-roster invitee Jordan Pacheco, Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez and prospect Peter O'Brien will also get a look this spring.

Atlanta Braves

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who will be the No. 5 starter?

    After the Braves traded David Hale to the Colorado Rockies, the front-runners for the No. 5 starter job in Atlanta look to be a pair of non-roster invitees in Eric Stults and Wandy Rodriguez.

    Hard-throwing prospect Mike Foltynewicz could have something to say about that with a big spring performance, but at this point, it looks like it will be one of the aforementioned veteran lefties.

    • Which non-roster players will win a roster spot?

    Aside from Stults and Rodriguez, the Braves have a handful of other non-roster invitees who seem to have a realistic shot at making the 25-man roster.

    The versatile Kelly Johnson, speedy outfielder Eric Young Jr. and reliever Jose Veras are all projected to make the roster after signing minor league deals, according to Roster Resource.

    • Who plays center field with Melvin Upton Jr. injured?

    With Melvin Upton Jr. expected to miss the remainder of spring training with a left foot injury, chances are it will be someone else manning center field to begin the 2015 season.

    Zoilo Almonte, Eury Perez, Todd Cunningham and non-roster invitee Eric Young Jr. are the leading candidates, as prospect Mallex Smith is probably still at least a year away.

Baltimore Orioles

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • What role will Ubaldo Jimenez fill?

    When the Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million deal last offseason, it looked like a potential steal if he could come close to matching his dominant 2013 second-half numbers.

    Instead, he struggled mightily, going 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA and 1.516 WHIP, and he found himself relegated to the bullpen during the stretch run. The No. 5 starter job figures to come down to him and Miguel Gonzalez as he looks to redeem himself in his second season in Baltimore.

    • Can Jonathan Schoop hold off Everth Cabrera?

    Signing Everth Cabrera to a one-year, $2.4 million deal to provide some infield depth was a nice low-cost move for the Orioles, and it's not out of the question to think he could push Jonathan Schoop at second base.

    Schoop showed some impressive pop with 18 doubles and 16 home runs, and he ranked as one of the better defensive second basemen in the AL. However, he hit just .209/.244/.354 on the year, with a 13/122 BB/K ratio, so he's by no means locked into an everyday role.

    • Are Manny Machado and Matt Wieters ready for healthy seasons?

    The losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis no doubt hurt the offense, but the returns of Manny Machado and Matt Wieters could go a long way in leveling this out this coming season.

    Machado is healthy to start the spring after a second serious knee injury in as many years cut his 2014 season short, while Wieters is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and looking to cash in with a big contract year.

Boston Red Sox

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who wins the center field job?

    With Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and a healthy Shane Victorino penciled into the everyday right field job, it will come down to a pair of high-upside young players in Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts for the starting center field job.

    Furthermore, with Daniel Nava out of options, chances are whoever loses out on the center field job will be headed to Triple-A along with slick-fielding Jackie Bradley Jr. An injury could obviously change things, but for the time being, this looks like the most intriguing position battle out there.

    • Which starter gets the ball on Opening Day?

    The Red Sox's lack of a proven ace has been talked about at length this offseason, and while it brings their ability to legitimately contend into question, it also makes deciding on an Opening Day starter somewhat tricky.

    The team has made no indication of who will receive the honor, but Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe likes incumbent Clay Buchholz to take the ball April 6 against the Philadelphia Phillies.

    • Has Dustin Pedroia put the wrist issues behind him?

    Dustin Pedroia landed awkwardly on his wrist during the Red Sox's home opener last season, and it wound up being an issue that nagged him all season.

    He finally underwent surgery on Sept. 11, and he's now looking to rebound from what was the worst offensive season of his career. He hit just .278/.337/.376 with 33 doubles and seven home runs, as the injury sapped him of his power.

Chicago Cubs

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Does Javier Baez need more time in the minors?

    The raw power and bat speed that Javier Baez possess is impossible to ignore, but so too is the dizzying 44.6 percent strikeout rate he had over his 213 at-bats last season.

    His approach will obviously need to change, but he has shown to be capable of making adjustments during his rise through the minor league ranks. The addition of Tommy La Stella gives him some competition this spring, and if the strikeouts start to pile up again, Baez could be ticketed for Triple-A to begin the year.

    • Will Edwin Jackson or Welington Castillo be traded?

    After going 6-15 with a 6.33 ERA last season, Edwin Jackson is currently pegged to begin the season as a $13 million mop-up reliever. He's still owed $26 million over the next two seasons, so moving him won't be easy, but there could be someone interested if injury strikes this spring.

    Then there is catcher Welington Castillo, who finds himself as the odd man out after the offseason additions of Miguel Montero and David Ross. The 27-year-old has value, with decent power and solid defensive skills, and chances are he's moved one way or another.

    • Which left-handers make the bullpen?

    The Cubs traded James Russell at the deadline last year and then non-tendered Wesley Wright to begin the offseason, leaving the bullpen without a proven left-hander.

    There are some interesting options, led by former starters Felix Doubront and Tsuyoshi Wada. The trio of Zac Rosscup, Drake Britton and Joseph Ortiz is also on the 40-man roster.

Chicago White Sox

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • When will Chris Sale return?

    The excitement of a busy offseason for the White Sox was quickly grounded when it was announced that ace Chris Sale had suffered an avulsion fracture to his left foot.

    The injury will cost the 25-year-old three weeks, putting him behind schedule and leaving his status for Opening Day at least somewhat up in the air. He'll be watched closely, as the White Sox need their ace healthy if they're going to contend.

    • When will Carlos Rodon debut?

    The White Sox were no doubt thrilled to see Carlos Rodon slip to them with the No. 3 pick in last June's draft, and he made a case for a late-season call-up with an impressive pro debut.

    The left-hander posted a 2.96 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 24.1 innings over three levels, reaching Triple-A for three starts to close out the season. There is an outside chance he wins a rotation spot out of camp, but one way or another he figures to arrive in Chicago at some point in the first half.

    • Who wins the second base job?

    The return of Gordon Beckham gives the White Sox a fall-back option, but it still figures to be a competition between prospects Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez for the starting second base job this season.

    Sanchez got his feet wet with 100 at-bats in the majors last season, while Johnson is not yet on the 40-man roster. Johnson has more upside, so it will likely be his job sooner or later, regardless of who wins the job this spring.

Cincinnati Reds

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Will Anthony DeSclafani emerge as the No. 5 starter?

    Acquired as the key piece of the trade that sent Mat Latos to the Miami Marlins, right-hander Anthony DeSclafani will have every chance to win the No. 5 starter job this spring.

    The 24-year-old had a 3.78 ERA, 1.212 WHIP and 8.5 K/9 between Double-A and Triple-A last season, but he struggled to a 6.27 ERA in 33 innings in the majors. The continued development of his changeup as a viable third pitch will be big this spring.

    • When will Homer Bailey be ready to join the rotation?

    Homer Bailey threw his first bullpen session of the spring Friday as he continues on the recovery trail from the elbow surgery that ended his 2014 season on Sept. 5.

    "He's behind the others. We'll see how it goes. We'll probably have a minimum of four bullpens, maybe five before he gets to live batting practice and then we'll re-assess," manager Brian Price told C. Trent Rosecrans of The Cincinnati Enquirer. "We will not rush him back. I don't think we're expecting him for Opening Day."

    • Who will step up in the bullpen?

    The Reds bullpen ranked 26th in the league with a 4.11 ERA last season, and that number was helped by Jonathan Broxton (51 G, 1.86 ERA), who was eventually traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in August.

    Outside of signing Burke Badenhop, the Reds have only added the likes of Paul Maholm, Jose Mijares and Kevin Gregg in the offseason on minor league deals. That leaves the team counting on someone like Jumbo Diaz to step up in a late-inning role.

Cleveland Indians

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who will be the No. 5 starter?

    The Indians rotation is their ticket to contending in 2015, but there is still a question as to who rounds things out in the No. 5 starter spot.

    Gavin Floyd was signed to a one-year, $4 million deal this offseason as he looks to make his way back from injury. He'll need to beat out T.J. House, who went 5-3 with a 3.35 ERA last season, including 4-1 with a 2.53 ERA in 10 starts after the All-Star break.

    • When will Francisco Lindor be ready?

    Francisco Lindor has been pegged as the shortstop of the future in Cleveland since being taken with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 draft, and that future figures to arrive sometime in 2015.

    Jose Ramirez will open the season at shortstop, but Lindor is already a Gold Glove-caliber defender, and his offense has come along nicely. The 21-year-old hit .276/.338/.389 with 11 home runs and 28 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A last season.

    • Which Lonnie Chisenhall will show up in 2015

    As Lonnie Chisenhall enters his fifth big league seasons, it's still unclear exactly what kind of player he is, but he'll enter the season as the primary third baseman once again.

    The 26-year-old was fantastic in the first half last season, hitting .332/.396/.519 with 20 doubles and nine home runs, but his line plummeted to .218/.277/.315 after the All-Star break.

Colorado Rockies

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who is the primary catcher?

    Wilin Rosario has some of the best power of any catcher in the league, hitting 62 home runs over the past three seasons, but his defensive skills leave a lot to be desired.

    The Rockies signed veteran Nick Hundley to a two-year, $6.25 million deal this offseason, and he is expected to be given every chance to be the starter, according to Thomas Harding of MLB.com.

    • Can the starting rotation pull its weight?

    It's no secret that pitching is the big weakness for the Rockies—and it has been throughout the history of the franchise.

    That being said, the Rockies look to have some legitimate upside heading into 2015. Jordan Lyles and Tyler Matzek both showed flashes last year, Jorge De La Rosa is back at the top and prospects Eddie Butler and Jon Gray are knocking on the door.

    • Is Troy Tulowitzki ready for a healthy season?

    Keeping superstars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez healthy remains one of the big keys to the season, but with solid outfield depth in the form of Brandon Barnes and Drew Stubbs, it's Tulo the team really can't afford to be without.

    When he's healthy, he's not only the best all-around shortstop in the game, but also one of the game's truly elite players.

Detroit Tigers

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • How big of a role does Anthony Gose fill?

    One of the more interesting under-the-radar moves of the offseason was the Tigers shipping second base prospect Devon Travis to the Toronto Blue Jays for Anthony Gose.

    A former top prospect, Gose never really got a chance at everyday at-bats in Toronto, but he's a terrific defender and is capable of much more than he's shown so far offensively. Rajai Davis will still get plenty of playing time, especially against lefties, but Gose has a chance to play his way into a significant role.

    • Which Alfredo Simon will show up in 2015?

    Alfredo Simon was one of the surprise stories of the first half last season, as he stepped into the Reds rotation in place of an injured Mat Latos and went 12-3 with a 2.70 ERA to earn a spot on the All-Star team.

    He fell off from there, though, going just 3-7 with a 4.52 ERA in the second half, and if his 4.33 FIP overall was any indication, he's probably closer to the pitcher we saw after the break. The Tigers are counting on him to hold down a rotation spot, and they gave up some quality young talent to get him.

    • When will Bruce Rondon return to the bullpen?

    The Tigers made a few additions to what was one of the worst bullpens in baseball last year, signing Tom Gorzelanny and acquiring Alex Wilson. They will also have a full season of Joakim Soria, who was picked up at the deadline last year.

    However, the real difference-maker could be a healthy Bruce Rondon, after the hard-throwing righty missed all of 2014 with Tommy John surgery. The 24-year-old had a 3.45 ERA and 9.4 K/9 as a rookie in 2013, and he has the stuff to be a future closer.

Houston Astros

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Will Jon Singleton start the season in the minors?

    The Astros thought highly enough of Jon Singleton to sign him to a five-year, $10 million extension shortly after he made his debut last season.

    However, he hit just .168/.285/.335 with 13 home runs in 310 at-bats, and there's at least a chance he begins the 2015 season in Triple-A. If that happens, it would mean Chris Carter and Evan Gattis fill the first base and DH roles, with things then opening up for Jake Marisnick in left field.

    • When will Mark Appel be ready?

    When the Astros selected Mark Appel No. 1 overall in 2013, there were some who believed he would be a rotation staple by the following season, but he has yet to break through.

    After some early-season struggles in 2014, he rebounded to post a 3.69 ERA and 8.8 K/9 in 39 innings following a promotion to Double-A. He's a long shot to make the team out of camp, but a strong showing this spring could put him on track for a first-half debut.

    • Who will be the No. 5 starter?

    Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Scott Feldman are locks for the first three spots in the Astros rotation, while Brett Oberholtzer looks like a fairly safe bet to win one of the two remaining spots, but the No. 5 starter job is still up for grabs.

    Jake Buchanan, Samuel Deduno, Dan Straily, Alex White, Asher Wojciechowski and non-roster invitee Roberto Hernandez are all in the mix.

Kansas City Royals

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • What role will Brandon Finnegan fill?

    It was a swift climb to the big leagues for Brandon Finnegan last season after the Royals selected him with the No. 17 overall pick in the June draft.

    Now they'll need to decide what to do with the left-hander moving forward. As good as he was out of the bullpen, his future may still be in the rotation. Shipping him back to the minors to stretch out a starter might be the best move.

    • Who is next in line if a starting pitcher gets hurt?

    Signing Edinson Volquez to replace James Shields shored up the Royals starting rotation, but there is a legitimate question as to who is next in line if one of the starters goes down with an injury.

    Offseason acquisition Brian Flynn is one option, while the aforementioned Finnegan is another. Yohan Pino, John Lamb and Aaron Brooks are also on the 40-man roster, and Joe Blanton is in camp as a non-roster invitee.

    • Is this the year Mike Moustakas finally puts it together?

    Third baseman Mike Moustakas has something of a history of dominating during spring training, leading everyone to call him a breakout candidate, and then laying an egg when the regular season rolls around.

    He hit .394 with five home runs and 16 RBI in 2013, then did one better with a .444 average and 18 RBI last spring. The 26-year-old still has plenty of potential, and he had an .817 OPS and five home runs in the playoffs last year, so could 2015 finally be the year he puts it all together?

Los Angeles Angels

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who will win the second base job?

    The Angels landed a terrific prospect in Andrew Heaney in the trade that sent Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers, but that has left them with a rather glaring hole at second base for the upcoming season.

    Grant Green is the leading in-house candidate for the job, and the team also brought in Johnny Giavotella, Josh Rutledge and Rule 5 pick Taylor Featherston in what figures to be a wide-open battle for the job this spring.

    • Is Andrew Heaney ready to step into the rotation?

    Speaking of Heaney, he looks to have a clear path to a rotation spot, with Garrett Richards sidelined to begin the season as he continues to recover from knee surgery.

    The 23-year-old Heaney went 0-3 with a 5.83 ERA and 1.330 WHIP in 29.1 innings with the Marlins last season, but he has been dominant in the minors, and he has some big-time upside.

    • Can a non-roster lefty win a bullpen spot?

    The Angels again find themselves without a proven lefty in the bullpen heading into the 2015 season.

    They acquired Cesar Ramos from the Tampa Bay Rays, but he figures to fill more of a long reliever/swingman role than a late-inning setup role.

    Jose Alvarez is the only other lefty reliever on the 40-man roster, but the team does have Adam Wilk, Atahualpa Severino, Edgar Ibarra and Scott Snodgress in camp as non-roster invitees.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who will close while Kenley Jansen is sidelined?

    All-Star closer Kenley Jansen underwent surgery on his left foot just before pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, leaving him sidelined for eight to 12 weeks and leaving the Dodgers in need of an interim closer.

    Brandon League has the most closing experience of anyone in the bullpen, while veterans Joel Peralta and J.P. Howell could also see time if the club opts to go with a by-committee approach.

    • Which non-roster relievers will make an impact?

    As opposed to making a flashy signing or two to shore up the bullpen, the Dodgers opted to cast a wide net this offseason, bringing in a handful of interesting veterans on minor league deals.

    Mike Adams, Sergio Santos, David Aardsma, Chad Gaudin, David Huff and Erik Bedard are among the 11 non-roster pitchers in camp, and at least one or two of those guys figure to make an impact of some sort in 2015.

    • When will Brandon Beachy return?

    The team also signed Brandon Beachy to a one-year, $2.75 million deal as he makes his way back from a second Tommy John surgery.

    The rotation is set, but given the injury histories of Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, the team figures to tap into its starting pitching depth at some point. A healthy Beachy would likely be next in line for a rotation spot if someone went down.

Miami Marlins

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Will Dan Haren pitch for the Marlins?

    It originally appeared as though Dan Haren would stick to his word and retire after being traded to the Miami Marlins this offseason, but the veteran has since changed his tune.

    "I'm here, I'm happy to be here. I'm ready to get going," Haren said, per The Associated Press (via ESPN).

    With the No. 5 starter job up in the air until Jose Fernandez returns in June, having Haren in the fold puts the team in a better position to begin the year.

    • Can J.T. Realmuto push Jarrod Saltalamacchia in 2015?

    Jarrod Saltalamacchia was the Marlins' big addition last offseason, signing a three-year, $21 million deal, but his first season with the team was something of a disappointment. He hit just .220/.320/.362 with 11 home runs and 44 RBI, and his OPS dropped from .804 in 2013 to .681.

    Enter top prospect J.T. Realmuto, who hit .299/.369/.461 with 25 doubles, six triples, eight home runs and 18 stolen bases in Double-A last season. He'll start the year in the minors to get everyday at-bats, but he could be knocking on the door by midseason.

    • Can Jose Fernandez stay on track for a June return?

    The big question for the Marlins' chances of contending in 2015 is when ace Jose Fernandez will return.

    "He’s worked extremely hard. He’s done a tremendous job doing everything he needs to do to get himself back," president of baseball operations Michael Hill told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. "We won’t put a timetable on it. We don’t want him to feel any pressure."

    A return sometime shortly after June 1 looks like the expectation, but he will need to avoid any setbacks.

Milwaukee Brewers

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who platoons with Adam Lind at first base?

    Flipping ousted starter Marco Estrada to the Toronto Blue Jays for Adam Lind has a chance to be one of the better trades of the offseason, but the team will still need to decide on a platoon partner for its new offensive piece.

    Lind hit just .061/.162/.061 against lefties last season, compared to .354/.409/.533 against righties. The team will likely use Jonathan Lucroy some at first base to keep him fresh, while Luis Jimenez is also a platoon option if he can win a roster spot.

    • Will Luis Sardinas make the roster?

    Luis Sardinas was acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Yovani Gallardo trade, and it's unclear how the Brewers intend to use him in 2015.

    The 21-year-old infielder hit .261/.303/.313 in 115 at-bats for the Rangers last season, but with Scooter Gennett and Jean Segura locked in up the middle, the team could opt to send him to Triple-A to see regular at-bats.

    • Can Jimmy Nelson replace Yovani Gallardo?

    Part of the reason the Brewers were comfortable trading Gallardo is the presence of right-hander Jimmy Nelson, who has nothing left to prove at the minor league level.

    The 25-year-old was 10-2 with a 1.46 ERA, 0.919 WHIP and 114 strikeouts in 111 innings in Triple-A last season before holding his own with a 4.93 ERA (3.78 FIP) in 69.1 big league innings. With a rotation spot to call his own, he looks like a legitimate breakout candidate for 2015.

Minnesota Twins

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who starts in center field?

    Oswaldo Arcia and Torii Hunter figure to be the everyday options at the corner outfield spots, but center field is up for grabs as the Twins continue to await the arrival of top prospect Byron Buxton.

    Aaron Hicks has earned the Opening Day nod the past two seasons, but he has yet to do enough to seize the job. Jordan Schafer figures to be his top competition after hitting .285/.345/.362 in 130 at-bats after being claimed off waivers from the Atlanta Braves in August.

    • Will Alex Meyer earn a roster spot?

    After going 7-7 with a 3.52 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 130.1 innings in Triple-A last season, top pitching prospect Alex Meyer looks to be on the cusp of cracking the big league rotation. He'll get a long look this spring.

    The 25-year-old indicated earlier this offseason that he'd be willing to pitch out of the bullpen if it means making the roster, according to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. It seems unlikely he winds up in a relief role, but the No. 5 starter job could be his with a big spring.

    • When will Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano arrive?

    Third base prospect Miguel Sano missed the entire 2014 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, while Buxton did not fare much better from a health standpoint, playing in just 31 games while dealing with a wrist injury and a concussion.

    Those two figure to be franchise cornerstones once they arrive in Minnesota, and proving to be healthy and back on track this spring will be a nice first step toward their eventual debuts.

New York Mets

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who will be the second left-hander in the bullpen?

    Josh Edgin (47 G, 1.32 ERA, 9.2 K/9) figures to have a rotation spot locked up, but it remains to be seen who will be the second left-hander in the Mets bullpen.

    Rule 5 selection Sean Gilmartin will have every chance to win the job, but he'll need to hold off the likes of Dario Alvarez, Jack Leathersich and Scott Rice this spring.

    • Can Wilmer Flores seize the everyday shortstop job?

    It has almost been viewed as a foregone conclusion that Wilmer Flores will be the Mets' everyday shortstop this coming season, but it's not out of the question to think incumbent Ruben Tejada could still take the job with a strong spring.

    "Absolutely, I don’t think I can approach it any other way," Mets manager Terry Collins responded when asked if the shortstop job was still an open competition, via Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News.

    • Will Dillon Gee be traded before Opening Day?

    The Mets tried more than once to trade a starter this offseason, with ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin reporting Dillon Gee was shopped aggressively during the winter meetings. As it currently stands, they still have six starters for five spots.

    Gee could certainly stick around as depth, but with Rafael Montero, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard waiting in the wings in the minors, the Mets may opt to unload Gee to open up more opportunities for their young arms.

New York Yankees

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who will be the starting second baseman?

    What was expected to be a battle between prospects Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder for the everyday second base job was changed when the Yankees decided to bring back Stephen Drew on a one-year deal.

    That being said, it's by no means a given Drew will break camp as the everyday second baseman. If one of those prospects shows something this spring, the team could release Brendan Ryan and slot Drew as the utility infielder.

    Like it or not, Alex Rodriguez is going to be a part of the 2015 Yankees, and the team is going to want to get something out of the $22 million it is paying him.

    Chase Headley will be the everyday third baseman, so A-Rod will likely need to scratch out his at-bats alongside Garrett Jones at DH and perhaps by giving Mark Teixeira the occasional day off at first base. He's fallen a long way, but A-Rod is still capable of putting up some useful numbers in the right role.

    • How close to ready is Luis Severino?

    There may be no prospect who climbed further than Luis Severino did in 2014. He opened the season in Single-A with just 108.1 professional innings under his belt and ended it with six dominant starts in Double-A.

    All told, the 21-year-old went 6-5 with a 2.47 ERA, 1.062 WHIP and 127 strikeouts in 113 innings last season, and it may not be long before he's moving up in New York. Considering the big league roster's relative lack of starting pitching depth, his continued development this spring will be key.

Oakland Athletics

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who rounds out the rotation behind Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir?

    Budding star Sonny Gray and resurgent veteran Scott Kazmir are locked in as the No. 1 and No. 2 starters this coming season, but the rest of the Athletics rotation is up for grabs.

    Jesse Hahn (7-4, 3.07 ERA, 3.40 FIP) showed enough as a rookie with the Padres last season that he looks like a solid bet to win one of the spots, while some combination of Chris Bassitt, Jesse Chavez, Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin and Drew Pomeranz will round things out.

    • Can Mark Canha earn a roster spot?

    The Rule 5 draft was pitcher-heavy as usual this season, but one bat that could make an impact as a Rule 5 selection is Mark Canha.

    The 26-year-old hit .303/.384/.505 with 28 doubles and 20 home runs in Triple-A for the Marlins last season, and he has a chance to slide into the role previously filled by Brandon Moss. At the very least, he makes sense as a right-handed platoon partner for Ike Davis.

    • Can Pat Venditte or Barry Zito earn a roster spot?

    Every team has a handful of intriguing non-roster invitees to keep an eye on, but the A's might have the two best storylines in the league in Pat Venditte and Barry Zito.

    Venditte, a switch-pitcher, has been the talk of A's camp in the early going. He has a 2.46 ERA and 431 strikeouts in 384.2 career minor league innings, so he's more than just a novelty.

    Meanwhile, the 36-year-old Zito is looking to make a comeback where he began his career as the No. 9 pick in the 1999 draft.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Can Odubel Herrera earn a roster spot?

    The Phillies took 23-year-old Odubel Herrera in the Rule 5 draft after he hit .315/.383/.388 with 21 stolen bases between High-A and Double-A last season. So, can he win a roster spot?

    "He's been the talk of camp," Mike Ondo, director of pro scouting, told Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News. "He's shown a lot of bat speed and a willingness to learn—so far, so good."

    • How long before Maikel Franco takes over at third base?

    After a shaky start to the 2014 season, top prospect Maikel Franco turned things around to hit .309/.326/.551 with 11 doubles and 10 home runs in the 46 games after the All-Star break in Triple-A.

    He continued hitting this offseason, playing in the Caribbean Series for the Dominican Republic, and it seems like only a matter of time before incumbent Cody Asche is pushed off of the hot corner. He's already been taking balls in the outfield, according to Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly.

    • Will anyone else be traded before Opening Day?

    The Phillies managed to move Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd and Antonio Bastardo this offseason, landing some solid pitching prospects in return, but there are still more than a few pieces they'd like to unload.

    Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon and Cliff Lee could all be dealt if the team can find an interested suitor, while Cole Hamels remains the Phillies' most attractive trade chip, but one who will only be moved if its steep asking price is met.

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • What role will Jung-ho Kang fill?

    There might not be a bigger mystery around MLB right now than Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang, who the Pirates signed to a four-year, $11 million deal this offseason.

    The 27-year-old posted a 1.198 OPS with 36 doubles and 40 home runs in the hitter-friendly KBO last season, but it's unclear how his game will translate stateside.

    He could push Jordy Mercer for the starting shortstop job with a strong spring, or he could settle into more of a super-utility role now that Josh Harrison is penciled in as the everyday third baseman.

    • Will Charlie Morton be healthy for Opening Day?

    Re-signing Francisco Liriano and bringing back A.J. Burnett on a one-year deal shored up the Pirates rotation for the upcoming season, but there is still the question of when Charlie Morton will return from the hip surgery that ended his 2014 season.

    "Everything is normal,” Morton told Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune-Review. “The one thing they're monitoring more than anything is my running. But everything else is right on track as usual.”

    • When will Tyler Glasnow be ready?

    He has yet to pitch above the High-A level, but it may not be long before Tyler Glasnow arrives in Pittsburgh, as his electric stuff has been absolutely dominant in his pro career.

    The 21-year-old is 21-11 with a 1.94 ERA, 1.044 WHIP and 365 strikeouts in 274 innings (12.0 K/9) over his three pro seasons. He's passed Jameson Taillon as the team's top pitching prospect and enters 2015 as the No. 16 overall prospect in the league, according to Baseball America.

San Diego Padres

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who wins the third base job?

    One of the biggest surprises of last spring for the Yankees—Yangervis Solarte—wound up traded to the Padres before his rookie season was over. All told, he hit .260/.336/.369 with 19 doubles and 10 home runs.

    He enters camp as the front-runner to win the third base job and hit leadoff, but he could be pushed by Will Middlebrooks, who the team acquired from the Boston Red Sox in an intriguing buy-low move. Middlebrooks has struggled the past two seasons, but the tremendous power potential is still there.

    • What role will Carlos Quentin fill?

    With the new outfield of Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Matt Kemp in place, incumbent outfielders such as Cameron Maybin, Will Venable and Carlos Quentin don't have clear-cut roles on this year's team.

    Quentin will make $8 million this season, so the Padres will likely try to find a way to boost his value and move him if possible. The team will reportedly try him at first base, according to Dennis Lin of U-T San Diego, where he could wind up in a platoon with Yonder Alonso.

    • Can Brandon Morrow and/or Josh Johnson make an impact?

    The foursome of James Shields, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy looks awfully strong for the Padres, but the No. 5 starter spot is still a question mark.

    Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson were both signed to one-year deals as two of the more intriguing bounce-back candidates on the market, and while Johnson continues to recover from Tommy John surgery, Morrow figures to be given every chance to win the final rotation spot this spring.

San Francisco Giants

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Is Matt Cain healthy?

    The starting rotation is the big question mark for the San Francisco Giants heading into the season, and the biggest question of all has to be the health of Matt Cain.

    The 30-year-old underwent surgery on his right elbow to remove bone chips and his right ankle to remove a bone spur, and the team is counting on him to return to form and help anchor the rotation alongside ace Madison Bumgarner.

    • Who will be the backup catcher?

    Backup catcher is not often a battle that makes headlines, but the Giants have an interesting decision to make between Hector Sanchez and Andrew Susac.

    The 24-year-old Susac certainly has more upside, but he may be better suited returning to the minors, where he can see regular playing time. The 25-year-old Sanchez has been the backup the past three seasons, so he knows the pitching staff.

    • Who hits in the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in the lineup.

    With Pablo Sandoval gone, one of the key things to watch this spring will be how the Giants fill out their lineup.

    Angel Pagan figures to leadoff, and Buster Posey will likely again be in the cleanup spot, but who hits between them is still up in the air. Nori Aoki and Joe Panik are both solid options for the No. 2 spot, while Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence look like the best choices to hit in front of Posey.

Seattle Mariners

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who will be the second left-hander in the bullpen?

    Charlie Furbush is back as the primary lefty setup man for the Mariners, but they will need to decide on a second left-hander this spring after opting against re-signing Joe Beimel this offseason.

    Rule 5 selection David Rollins will get a long look as he tries to hold off Lucas Luetge, Mike Kickham and starter Roenis Elias for the job.

    • Can Chris Taylor push Brad Miller for the shortstop job?

    Brad Miller looked like a long-term piece of the puzzle for the Mariners after posting a 110 OPS+ with 25 extra-base hits in 306 at-bats as a rookie in 2013.

    His production fell off significantly last year, though, as he hit just .221/.288/.365.

    Meanwhile, prospect Chris Taylor hit .328/.397/.497 with 34 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases in Triple-A last season, and he should give Miller plenty of competition this spring.

    • Will a slimmed down Jesus Montero make an impact?

    Jesus Montero has essentially been a non-factor since being acquired from the New York Yankees in the Michael Pineda trade.

    He's seen only 118 big league at-bats the past two seasons, hitting .212/.260/.339 with four home runs and 11 RBI. However, the 25-year-old arrived at camp down 40 pounds from last season, and there is certainly still time for him to get his once-bright career back on track.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Will Jason Heyward sign an extension before Opening Day?

    The Cardinals would not have surrendered a controllable young arm like Shelby Miller if they did not have every intention of signing Jason Heyward to a long-term extension.

    Heyward is open to an extension, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but the two sides have yet to make any significant progress toward a deal. The 25-year-old certainly won't come cheap with so many prime years ahead of him.

    • Who wins the No. 5 starter job? 

    At this time last season, the Cardinals had too many starting pitchers, but after trading Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly, things are not as deep as they once were.

    That being said, there still figures to be some competition for Carlos Martinez for the No. 5 starter job. Left-handers Marco Gonzales and Tyler Lyons and swingman Carlos Villanueva are all vying for roster spots.

    • Can Jaime Garcia get and stay healthy?

    The X-factor in the rotation this season could be Jaime Garcia, who finds himself as something of a forgotten man after making just 16 total starts over the past two years while dealing with shoulder issues.

    The Cardinals are reportedly happy with what they've seen so far this spring, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. It remains to be seen exactly what kind of impact the left-hander can have in 2015, though.

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who starts in right field?

    Steven Souza figures to be the everyday left fielder and Desmond Jennings will once again be patrolling center field, but the right field job is still somewhat unsettled.

    Kevin Kiermaier is a terrific defensive outfielder, and he posted a .765 OPS with 10 home runs in 331 at-bats last season, but he hit just .220/.284/.335 after the All-Star break so he's by no means a lock.

    Brandon Guyer, David DeJesus and prospect Mikie Mahtook are also in the mix.

    • When will Jake McGee return, and who closes in the interim?

    Jake McGee finally got a chance to close games last season, and he did not disappoint, going 19-of-23 on save chances with a 1.89 ERA and 11.4 K/9.

    However, he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his elbow in December and is currently on pace to return in late April, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. That likely means either Grant Balfour or Kevin Jepsen will be taking the ball in the ninth inning to begin the year.

    • Are visa issues going to cost Alex Colome the No. 5 starter job?

    After spending the past two-plus years in Triple-A, right-hander Alex Colome finally has clear path to a rotation spot this season. The trouble is, he's yet to arrive at Rays camp.

    The 26-year-old is having visa issues in the Dominican Republic. The team is hopeful he'll arrive this week, according to Topkin, but he's nonetheless falling behind the rest of his teammates.

Texas Rangers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who will be the primary left fielder?

    The Rangers declined their option on Alex Rios to begin the offseason, then opted against signing a clear-cut everyday option to replace him in left field, leaving them with a decision to make this spring.

    Jake Smolinski and Ryan Rua both impressed down the stretch last season, while Michael Choice still has plenty of upside and Delino DeShields is also in camp as a Rule 5 selection.

    • Which non-roster players will win a roster spot?

    Despite all of those options on the roster, it may very well wind up being a non-roster guy who emerges and snags the left field job. Ryan Ludwick, Kyle Blanks and Nate Schierholtz all have a real chance of making the roster.

    So too does reliever Jamey Wright, who has made at least 60 appearances in each of the past four seasons, pitching to a 4.35 ERA but a 3.47 FIP for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014.

    • Is Prince Fielder ready for a bounce-back season?

    Expected to thrive in hitter-friendly Arlington, Prince Fielder instead had a lost year last season, as he played in just 42 games before undergoing season-ending neck surgery. Now he's looking to bounce back with a healthy showing in 2015.

    "You don't know how much you miss it until it gets taken away," Fielder said, via The Associated Press (h/t MLive.com). "This is probably the most excited I've been for spring since my first one. I'm 100 percent, nothing is hurting. I feel good."

Toronto Blue Jays

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Will Dioner Navarro be traded?

    The Blue Jays gave Dioner Navarro a two-year, $8 million deal last offseason to be their starting catcher, and he posted a respectable .712 OPS with 22 doubles and 12 home runs in 2014 on his way to a 2.3 WAR.

    However, with the signing of Russell Martin, he's been relegated to DH duties, and that has led him to ask for a trade. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has said he will only trade him into an everyday role, according to Sportsnet's Shi Davidi, so it's unclear if a deal will get done.

    • Who will be the closer?

    With Casey Janssen departing in free agency and no significant addition made to the relief corps, the Blue Jays will have to pick from one of their in-house arms to fill the closer's role in 2015.

    The leading candidates look to be former All-Star Brett Cecil (66 G, 5 SV, 2.70 ERA, 12.8 K/9) and top prospect Aaron Sanchez (24 G, 3 SV, 1.09 ERA, 7.4 K/9), though Sanchez is also in the running for the No. 5 starter job.

    Signing Rafael Soriano, the top remaining free agent, is still an option as well.

    • Who will be the No. 5 starter?

    The trade that sent J.A. Happ to the Seattle Mariners opened up a spot at the back of the Blue Jays rotation, and prospects Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris look like the leading candidates for the job.

    Norris, 21, went 12-2 with a 2.53 ERA, 1.118 WHIP and 163 strikeouts in 124.1 innings over three minor league levels last season.

    Marco Estrada, Todd Redmond, Kyle Drabek and Liam Hendriks are also candidates, along with non-roster invitees Johan Santana and Jeff Francis.

Washington Nationals

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    Three Questions to Answer This Spring

    • Who wins the No. 5 starter job?

    It's not often that a pitcher goes 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA and finds himself facing a demotion to the bullpen the following spring, but that's the situation Tanner Roark currently finds himself in.

    With the addition of Max Scherzer to what was already one of the best rotations in baseball, the Nationals will need to decide between Roark and Gio Gonzalez as far as who fills out the staff behind Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister.

    • Will Michael Taylor break camp with the team?

    With Jayson Werth slowly working his way back from offseason surgery and questionable for Opening Day, the Nationals may need a short-term replacement in left field to begin the season.

    They could go with someone like Nate McLouth or Tyler Moore, but there is also a chance top prospect Michael Taylor could play his way into the job. The 23-year-old is expected to take over for Denard Span in center field in 2016 after posting a .915 OPS with 23 home runs and 37 steals in the minors last year.

    • Will anyone be extended before Opening Day?

    The Nationals have Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Ian Desmond all set to hit free agency next offseason, and their extension talks with Zimmermann and Desmond have been unsuccessful.

    It seems like something of a long shot now, but there is still a chance the team finds a way to extend one or both of those guys before Opening Day rolls around and the window to negotiate is likely closed.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.


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