MLB Spring Training 2015: Updating Biggest Need for All 30 Teams
Every team has needs.
From World Series favorites like the Washington Nationals to clubs favored to land in the cellar like the Philadelphia Phillies, all 30 clubs have at least one bullet point remaining unchecked on the organizational to-do list.
The New York Yankees need Masahiro Tanaka's elbow to remain healthy. The Boston Red Sox are still on the lookout for a front-line starter. Plus, playoff hopefuls like the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are already searching for extra bodies thanks to untimely spring injuries to key contributors.
The Need: A Dallas Keuchel/Collin McHugh-like breakout campaign from one of the starters.
The future is looking bright at Minute Maid Park.
As Jon Heyman of CBS Sports sees it, the revamped offense has impressed this spring, but the starting staff could still use a pitcher or two. Last year, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh both stepped up in big ways, and the club will need another unheralded starter to follow that path in 2015.
One candidate to take on that role in Dan Straily, whom the team added in an offseason swap with the Chicago Cubs. While Straily has yet to establish himself at the big league level, the right-hander has enjoyed success for stretches of time. Back in 2013, Straily finished fourth in American League Rookie of the Year Award voting, as he posted a 10-8 record and a 3.96 ERA.
Los Angeles Angels
The Need: A fully healthy Garrett Richards for as much of the season as possible.
Garret Richards was absolutely electric last year before a knee injury ended his season in August.
Per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, the starter isn't expected to be good to go for Opening Day, but he could join the staff "shortly" after that. As Richards works his way back to 100 percent, the Los Angeles Angels have to play it smart. The rising ace has the chance to be a game-changer for the Angels in 2015, and the team needs to make sure that he isn't rushed back into the fold.
The Need: An unexpected source of power.
The Oakland Athletics lost a lot of pop in the offseason.
The front office shipped out all sorts of players, including Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss, who just happened to finish No. 1 and No. 2 in home runs in 2014, respectively. So, who exactly is going to replace all that power?
For now, there aren't a ton of obvious candidates. Over the winter, Oakland brought in Billy Butler and Ike Davis, but those two veterans combined to hit just 20 home runs in 2014.
The Need: A powerful season from Nelson Cruz.
Last season, the Seattle Mariners came within a single game of making the playoffs.
Looking back on the campaign, there's no question that the M's dearth of right-handed power was the squad's most glaring weakness. Enter Nelson Cruz.
The Mariners inked Cruz to a four-year, $57 million deal in the offseason to add some much-needed firepower. The outfielder/designated hitter posted a monster stat line in 2014. Cruz clocked 40 home runs to lead the majors and checked in with a .525 slugging percentage.
Of course, there's no guarantee that he'll match those numbers during the upcoming season. Safeco Field is a notoriously unfriendly place to hit, and the arc of Cruz's 2014 has to be considered. After going yard 28 times before the All-Star break, Cruz connected on just 12 home runs in the second half.
The Need: To get a little bit of luck on the health front.
Dating back to last offseason, the Texas Rangers have been downright snake-bitten.
Last year, injuries to the likes of Derek Holland, Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo sent the Al West club spiraling to a last-place finish. This year, injuries are threatening to undo the Rangers even before the regular season arrives.
Staff ace Yu Darvish is already out of the frame, as he recently underwent Tommy John surgery. With the AL West shaping up to be a highly competitive division, Texas is going to need some luck on the injury front if the team has any hope of staying afloat.
Chicago White Sox
The Need: Another monster season from Jose Abreu.
The Chicago White Sox crushed the offseason.
There were plenty of teams that drastically improved their squads over the winter, but what makes the White Sox stand out is that nearly every aspect of the roster was revamped. The rotation is stronger. The bullpen is nastier. The lineup is more dangerous. And the bench is more versatile.
For all those offseason moves, it's Jose Abreu who remains the club's linchpin. After shattering every expectation during his rookie season, the Cuban enters 2015 as one of the AL MVP front-runners.
However, past results are no guarantee of future performance. There have been countless Rookie of the Year winners who have tumbled into sophomore slumps. Abreu and the White Sox can't let that happen in 2015.
The Need: Healthy campaigns from Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
The fate of the Detroit Tigers' 2015 season hinges on the health of Miguel Cabrera's right ankle and Victor Martinez's left knee.
With those two in the middle of the lineup, the Tigers have the potential to claim the club's fifth consecutive division title. Without those two, Detroit is a in a lot of trouble in a loaded AL Central. Per Jason Beck of MLB.com, team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski told Chris Russo of MLB Network that both stars could be ready to go by Opening Day.
However, patience is required, because it's not just the 2015 season that hinges of Cabrera's and Martinez's health. As Buster Olney of ESPN points out, the Tigers owe the pair $330 million between now and 2023.
The Need: For the second-half version of Carlos Carrasco to show up in 2015.
Carlos Carrasco enjoyed his best season yet in 2014. The right-hander ended the year with a 2.55 ERA, which was nearly two runs lower than his career average.
Digging through the numbers, Carrasco really took off after the All-Star break. In his final 17 outings, the right-hander put up a 1.72 ERA. That mark was actually slightly better than the 1.73 ERA that Corey Kluber posted. If Carrasco can approximate his second-half showing during the upcoming season, the Tribe will have a seriously formidable one-two punch.
Kansas City Royals
The Need: The continued emergence of Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy.
The pressure is on for Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy.
With James Shields now calling Petco Park his home, the task of anchoring the Kansas City Royals' pitching staff falls to the pair of starters. So far, it hasn't been the smoothest spring for Ventura, as the Dominican has racked up a 10.29 ERA through his first three outings.
Meanwhile, Duffy has been looking much sharper. Manager Ned Yost told 610 Sports Radio Kansas City that the left-hander hit 95 mph on the radar gun during a recent outing.
The Need: A much more productive starting rotation.
The Minnesota Twins' starting rotation was a flat-out train wreck last season.
On the year, the group was battered to the tune of a 5.47 ERA. That's not the recipe for competing—especially since the Twins play in the challenging AL Central. One new face who should definitely help the Twins drop that ugly figure is Ervin Santana.
After his first start of the spring, the right-hander received a vote of confidence from his manager, Paul Molitor: "He looked fresh, he's here to work, he's a welcome addition," said the skipper, via Bob Rathgeber of The News-Press.
A welcome addition, indeed. Santana has worked at least 196 innings in three of the past four seasons and posted a 3.95 ERA for the Atlanta Braves in 2014.
The Need: Manny Machado to return to his 2013 form.
The Baltimore Orioles didn't have a great offseason on the free-agent front. Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis and Andrew Miller all departed from the squad.
With so many big-time contributors having left, there's no question that the O's will need a productive season from Manny Machado if the team is going to repeat as AL East champs. Now that he's healthy again, the Orioles need Machado to return to his 2013 form when he was a Gold Glover at third and clubbed 51 doubles at the plate.
Boston Red Sox
The Need: An ace to lead the rotation.
According to Pedro Martinez, the Boston Red Sox just might already have an ace.
“Any one of these guys could be the stopper,” said Martinez, via Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald. “They were just never put in this spot."
It's possible that Martinez is spot on. After all, the Hall of Fame inductee knows all about being a No. 1 starter. Looking at a rotation of Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson and Joe Kelly, there's a lot to like, but no true frontman.
If the Red Sox brain trust wants to go outside the organization to find that arm, the pieces are in place to make that happen. Bleacher Report's Mike Rosenbaum believes Boston has the fifth-best farm in baseball.
New York Yankees
The Need: For Masahiro Tanaka's right elbow to cooperate.
So far, so good for Masahiro Tanaka.
The Japanese right-hander, who is pitching with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, has yet to give up a run in his first two Grapefruit League outings. Small sample size or not, that's encouraging stuff for a pitcher who is absolutely vital to the New York Yankees' hopes of snapping the club's two-year playoff drought.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Need: A rapid return for Alex Cobb.
Alex Cobb is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball.
The 27-year-old right-hander has recorded a sub-3.00 ERA in back-to-back seasons for the Tampa Bay Rays. The problem is that Cobb has struggled to stay off the disabled list. During his four-year stint with the AL East team, Cobb has never totaled more than 27 starts in a single campaign.
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, the starter is slated to miss Opening Day, as he's currently dealing with right forearm tendinitis, per Bill Chastain of MLB.com.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Need: For someone to step up and replace the injured Marcus Stroman.
Marcus Stroman has all the makings of a future star.
For now, the right-hander's rise is on hold, as the 23-year-old starter will miss the entire season after tearing his ACL. With Stroman on the shelf, the Toronto Blue Jays are going to need another in-house option to fill his shoes.
Aaron Sanchez is the leading contender to do just that, as the 22-year-old is officially in the rotation now, according to Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star. Marco Estrada and Daniel Norris, who are jockeying for the No. 5 spot, are also potential options.
The Need: A catcher.
With the Arizona Diamondbacks' catching options consisting of Tuffy Gosewisch, Gerald Laird and an injured Oscar Hernandez, it would seem that adding another backstop should be right at the top of the club's to-do list.
D-backs GM Dave Stewart apparently doesn't agree with that assessment: “We’re not going to trade for a catcher," said Stewart, via Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. "Some people think we are. We’re not.”
Maybe Stewart is just trying to maintain his leverage.
The Need: A healthy and fast start for Troy Tulowitzki.
No team wants to admit its punting in spring training.
Still, for the Colorado Rockies, it's nearly impossible to see how the team can compete in 2015. Simply put, the Rockies don't have the arms to give the club a chance to win on a nightly basis. For Colorado, the most important storyline of the upcoming season is the health of Troy Tulowitzki.
If the shortstop can stay on the diamond and put up his usual numbers, the Rockies will have one of the most valuable trade chips in baseball. The kind of trade chip that could allow the Rockies to redirect the trajectory of the entire franchise with a single swap.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Need: Figuring out who will anchor the bullpen.
Last year, the Dodgers bullpen was a mess. This year, it's a giant question mark.
According to Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com, J.P. Howell, Chris Hatcher and Joel Peralta are the only relievers guaranteed spots in the Opening Day pen. Closer Kenley Jansen is temporarily out of the picture, as the right-hander will miss the start of the season while recovering from a broken foot.
Considering how problematic the relief corps was in 2014, it's shocking that the group remains in a state of disarray with real games just weeks away.
San Diego Padres
The Need: A resurgence for Will Middlebrooks.
Based on the way playing time has been doled out, it looks like Will Middlebrooks has the inside track to starting at third base for the San Diego Padres in 2015. As Dennis Lin of the U-T San Diego notes, the 26-year-old has been logging the lion's share of the starts at the hot corner.
The former top prospect could be an X-factor for the Padres in the upcoming season. Upgrading the offense was the priority for the front office over the winter, and much of the attention fell to the acquisitions of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers.
Middlebrooks has the potential to be a difference-maker, too. The third baseman has struggled with injuries in both of the past two seasons, but back in 2012, he cracked 15 home runs and hit .288 in 75 games.
San Francisco Giants
The Need: A reliable outfielder or two.
The San Francisco Giants' outfield is a wasteland.
With Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan both dealing with injuries, the current situation is so dicey that Brandon Belt could be headed to the outfield, per John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. For his part, the first baseman is up for shagging fly balls: “I’m down, for sure. I’m here to do whatever they need me to do. ... If they want me to go the outfield, I’m ready to do it. If they want me to go on the mound and pitch, I’m ready to do that.”
Belt actually made one appearance in right last season and has made 35 starts in the outfield during his tenure with the Giants.
The Need: Early returns from the core of young positions players.
After bringing in the likes of Jon Lester and Joe Maddon, it would be difficult to have scripted a more ideal offseason for the Chicago Cubs.
Now, it's time to produce on the field. For the Cubs to climb into the wild-card race in year one of the Maddon era, it's going to take a lot of contributions from a lot of different players. Some of those players don't have much of a resume in terms of big league experience.
From day one of the 2015 season, the Cubs are going to need consistent production from the likes of Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara. All three of those players enter the season with plenty of pedigree, but none of them have played more than 70 games in the majors.
The Need: A healthy right side of the infield.
The NL Central is going to be fiercely competitive in 2015.
If the Cincinnati Reds are going to stand any chance of getting involved in the race, the team is going to need a much healthier campaign from its right side of the infield. Last season, second baseman Brandon Phillips and first baseman Joey Votto combined to miss 141 games. Votto's season was particularly frustrating, as the left-handed hitter collected just six home runs.
The Need: Some insurance for the rotation.
Apparently, Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin doesn't care much for insurance.
It's not often that a club only needs just five starting pitchers throughout the course of a season. Either due to injuries or inconsistency, reinforcements are almost always required.
Looking at the Brewers roster, it's difficult to see just which arms are available to provide backup. After the starting five of Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson, Milwaukee is extremely light on rotation options.
The Need: Strong seasons from a couple of unproven position players.
From the rotation to the bullpen to the lineup, the Pirates roster is flooded with quality contributors.
The team also has a couple of position players who are enigmas entering the 2015 season. Jung-ho Kang, who was signed to a four-year deal worth $16 million (including a $5 million posting fee), clubbed 40 home runs in Korea last year but has never played a single MLB regular-season game.
Then there's Gregory Polanco. The right-fielder stormed through the Pirates farm system but hit just .235 in his rookie season. If both of those players can match the hype in 2015, Pittsburgh will be in a great spot.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Need: For someone to take over the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
Entering the spring, Carlos Martinez was the front-runner to claim the final spot in the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation. So far, the 23-year-old has yet to cement his job as he battles with Jaime Garcia and Marco Gonzales for the gig.
Garcia has been building a compelling case for a rotation berth. On March 19, the lefty punched out seven New York Mets in a four-inning start. Manager Mike Matheny described Garcia's stuff as "freakish," according to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.
The Need: A healthy season from Nick Markakis.
The Atlanta Braves' offseason looked an awful lot like a fire sale.
Justin Upton, Evan Gattis and Jason Heyward were among the most prominent names shown the door. Nick Markakis was the biggest star who actually arrived in Atlanta. However, right after inking his four-year, $44 million deal with the Braves, the right-fielder underwent neck surgery.
It's not often that a big leaguer lands a mutliyear contract and then immediately goes under the knife. So far, his rehab has been progressing in a promising fashion. Per Mark Bowman of MLB.com, the Gold Glover is still "aiming" to be in the lineup for the first game of the season.
The Need: For Henderson Alvarez to do a Jose Fernandez impression.
After a busy offseason, the Miami Marlins have the pieces in place to make a run for a wild-card spot—even with Jose Fernandez rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
With Fernandez still on the mend, the Fish will have to rely heavily on Henderson Alvarez to headline the staff as the de facto ace. The right-hander doesn't generate a ton of buzz, but his numbers tell the story. Last season, the Venezuelan went 12-7 and posted a 2.65 ERA.
New York Mets
The Need: More offense form the big earners.
Even with Zack Wheeler set to miss the season, the New York Mets still have more than enough pitching. As the regular season approaches, it's the offense that threatens to once again undermine the Mets. In 2014, New York ranked 26th in baseball in OPS.
Outfielders Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer have the ability to help the squad improve the stat. However, for different reasons, both vets struggled to produce consistently in 2014. Granderson hit just .227 in his first season at Citi Field, while injuries limited Cuddyer to just 49 games.
Considering that the two will combine to make $28.5 million in 2015, the Mets will be banking on much better production.
The Need: To find a way to kick-start the rebuild.
On paper, the Philadelphia Phillies have the worst roster in baseball. The offense is particularly atrocious. Just ask GM Ruben Amaro Jr.
"We're not going to score a lot of runs," the exec explained to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. With the Phillies staring at a likely last-place finish in 2015, the club needs to jump-start the much-needed rebuilding process. Unfortunately, doing so won't be easy, as the roster is saddled with aging veterans weighted down by exorbitant deals.
The Need: Some help in the outfield.
The Washington Nationals' outfield is looking murky as Opening Day approaches.
Bryce Harper is good to go in right, but after that, the team is dealing with an array of injuries. Per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Jayson Werth, Denard Span and Nate McLouth could all miss out on the start of the season. As spring training rolls along, figuring out who will be playing alongside Harper will be the top storyline at Nats camp.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.