MLB's Biggest Winners and Losers from 2021 Spring Training

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 31, 2021

MLB's Biggest Winners and Losers from 2021 Spring Training

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    If optimism was a stock, the 30 Major League Baseball teams would buy it coming out of spring training faster than a day trader adding GameStop to his portfolio.

    Of course, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers would own the most of the hypothetical optimism stock because of their respective World Series hopes.

    Even a team expected to struggle, like the Pittsburgh Pirates, can come out of spring training with some hope after three of their infielders finished in the upper echelon of offensive categories.

    The on-field product that leaves spring training is far from the finished one, but there is optimism that stars like Shohei Ohtani are in for big seasons.

    Optimism can also be valuable on the other end of the spectrum for players that struggled in Arizona and Florida.

    David Price is the headliner of that category since he lost his spot in the Dodgers rotation to Dustin May, but if the southpaw regains his form, the National League West squad could look even more dangerous in its title defense.

    The same positive attitude needs to come from the game's top young prospects. Only one of's Top 10 prospects will begin the 2021 season on a major-league roster, but there is plenty of promise for the rookies who could grace the diamonds at some point this summer.

    Before we delve into the specifics of what will happen over the next six months, let's look back on the biggest winners and losers from spring training.

Winner: Shohei Ohtani

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Shohei Ohtani's spring training performance is the most notable news from the game's top stars.

    Ohtani already created buzz for himself before 2021 since he is a two-way player, but he generated more attention in March with how he performed in both aspects of the game.

    Ohtani recorded 17 hits in 30 at-bats and a 1.655 OPS. Although he had three losses on the mound, he struck out 17 batters in 10.1 innings.

    Of course, those are small sample sizes to evaluate what he can do to help the Los Angeles Angels, but it is a positive development after he suffered a right forearm strain last season.

    If Ohtani is at full strength, the Angels could have a pitching staff that boosts them up the American League West pecking order in 2021.

    The Angels added Alex Cobb and Jose Quintana for rotation help and landed Raisel Iglesias as their closer. Junior Guerra, Tony Watson and Steve Cishek were also brought in as bullpen help.

    The Angels have yet to get the full Ohtani experience on the mound. He was 4-2 in 10 starts in 2018 and made two appearances on the bump in 2020.

    Ohtani does not have to be a Cy Young winner to have success on the mound, but if he can elevate the Los Angeles rotation while providing more power around Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, the team's outlook could match the sunny California weather.

Winners: Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Infielders

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Entering the Grapefruit League, the Pittsburgh Pirates appeared to have the same chance of having three starters with 20-plus hits as the Oregon State Beavers did making the Elite Eight of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

    Ke'Bryan Hayes finished second to Arizona's Josh Rojas in hits with 22. Adam Frazier and Kevin Newman recorded 21 and 20, respectively.

    Each member of the infield trio recorded six doubles. Newman had the best OPS of the group at 1.429, while Frazier and Hayes mashed a pair of home runs each.

    While the success of Frazier and Newman is nice to see, Hayes is the player everyone will care about from the national perspective.

    Hayes is currently the ninth-ranked prospect on's Top 100, but he is the only one in the Top 10 that will start on Opening Day. Nate Pearson is 10th, but he is dealing with injuries and will not be available right away for the Toronto Blue Jays.

    The spring training success of the hitters may not translate to success over 162 games, especially in the grueling National League Central, but the numbers at least create some positive buzz for a team that has struggled to find that recently.

Winners: Jonathan India and Taylor Trammell

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    You don't have to look far geographically from Pittsburgh on the MLB landscape to find more buzz for young players.

    Jonathan India of the Cincinnati Reds and Taylor Trammell from the Seattle Mariners made their respective Opening Day rosters thanks to their play in Spring.

    India is expected to start at second base at Cincinnati. The 2018 SEC Player of the Year at Florida spent two seasons in the minors before earning the roster spot as a non-roster invitee.

    Trammell, who was a 2016 draft pick of the Reds, traversed his way through the minors before earning a roster spot. He was part of the Trevor Bauer deal between Cincinnati, Cleveland and San Diego in 2019 and then was moved to Seattle during the Padres' wheeling and dealing at the trade deadline last season.

    India and Trammell produced similar offensive totals to earn roster spots. India had three home runs, seven RBI and a 1.045 OPS. Trammell hit three home runs, knocked in nine teammates and recorded a 1.037 OPS in 19 Cactus League games.

    India and Trammell were two of a handful of prospects that impressed in spring training, but not all of them got the major-league call-up they wanted.

Losers: Bobby Witt Jr. and Jarred Kelenic

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    We have to wait a bit to see the No. 4 and No. 7 prospects on a major-league diamond.

    Bobby Witt Jr. and Jarred Kelenic were sent down to minor-league camps by the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners, respectively.

    Witt recorded three home runs, 11 hits and scored 10 runs in 40 plate appearances. Although those numbers were decent, he may have struggled right away in the majors.

    Witt was one of many prospects that lost a valuable year of experience in 2020. In 2019, the infielder played in the Arizona Fall League.

    Kelenic has two full years of minor-league experience, but he has not played above Double-A.

    The outfielder in the Seattle system put up a 1.140 OPS in spring games, but he only had six hits in 25 plate appearances.

    While it is possible that we see Witt and Kelenic in the majors at some point in 2021, it has to be disappointing for both players that they have to spend time at alternate-site camps and then in the minors to begin the season.

Loser: David Price

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Spring training disappointment is not exclusive to young players.

    David Price was forced to the bullpen after he lost out on a spot in the Dodgers rotation to Dustin May.

    The southpaw only threw 6.2 innings in spring training, which is a bit concerning since he is coming off a full year absence, Price opted not to play in the 2020 campaign.

    Price would likely have made the rotation on most rosters, but the Dodgers have an embarrassment of riches on the mound.

    Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and May will start in the rotation, while Price joins Tony Gonsolin and Jimmy Nelson as potential starters in the bullpen.

    Price could be the first man up if one of the starters suffers an injury or needs rest, so it would not come as a surprise to see him start a good chunk of games at some juncture.

Winner: Domingo German

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Domingo German ended up on the opposite side of an end-of-rotation decision than Price.

    German beat out Deivi Garcia for the fifth spot in the Yankees rotation behind Gerrit Cole, Jameson Tallion, Jordan Montgomery and Corey Kluber.

    German produced a 1.38 ERA and 17 strikeouts over 13.0 spring innings. Garcia had a 3.86 ERA with six earned runs off 12 hits in 14 frames.

    The 28-year-old may not be guaranteed of a starting role for the whole season since Luis Severino is due to return in June or July.

    German should be able to ease into the regular season since he is scheduled to face the Baltimore Orioles in his first start.

    His real test will come in start No. 2 against the Toronto Blue Jays. If he delivers quality starts against the top competition, Yankees manager Aaron Boone may have a difficult time removing him from the lineup when Severino returns.

Loser: Yankees Can't Avoid Injury Bug Again

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    While the Yankees have their rotation figured out, they are in a familiar spot with injuries to the top hitters in their lineup.

    Luke Voit was the snakebitten player this time around. The Yankees dealt with injuries to Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge in 2020.

    Voit is dealing with a meniscus tear, so he likely will not be able to defend his home run crown after bashing 22 dingers in the truncated 2020 season.

    No one outside of the Bronx is going to feel bad for the Yankees, especially with Stanton, Judge and DJ LeMahieu topping the order.

    The Yankees will call on Jay Bruce to bring some pop to the bottom of the order in place of Voit. Bruce hit 18 home runs in the last two seasons in a bench role with the Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies.

    Bruce, who turns 34 on April 3, last played over 100 games in 2017 with the New York Mets. He does not have to be the power hitter he was at the start of his career with the Reds, but if he provides decent support to the stars in the lineup, the Yankees should be in decent shape to start.

Loser: White Sox After Eloy Jimenez Injury

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The one injury many baseball fans will feel bad about, or at least those that do not live on Chicago's north side, was the one Eloy Jimenez suffered.

    Jimenez is slated to be out five-to-six months with a ruptured left pectoral tendon. He was expected to be a vital piece of the Chicago White Sox lineup that will try to build off its electric 2020.

    The White Sox should still be an entertaining side to watch with Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson and Luis Robert in the lineup, but it had World Series potential with Jimenez in the fold.

    Jimenez recorded 45 home runs and 120 RBI in his first 177 major-league games. He was second to Abreu on the team in home runs, RBI and OPS last season.

    Rookie Andrew Vaughn will be Jimenez's replacement in the outfield. He had six home runs and 36 RBI across three levels in 2019.

    Vaughn will not replicate Jimenez's offensive output, but if he settles into his role, he could be a nice piece in the bottom third of the lineup.

Winner: Joc Pederson

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Chicago's National League franchise received some good news in its outfield this spring.

    Joc Pederson was the spring training home run king with eight dingers in 51 appearances for his new team.

    The former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder will be a nice piece to interject in between Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez with Kyle Schwarber now with the Washington Nationals.

    The power should be not a surprise to those who watched Pederson in southern California. He had four 25-home run seasons in his five 100-plus-game seasons with the reigning champion.

    Pederson should receive a similar level of production in the batting order with Rizzo, Bryant and Ian Happ in front of him. Since he will not be the primary focus of opposing staffs, Pederson could continue his power streak while adding more RBIs to his stat lines.

Losers: Sam Hilliard and Trayce Thompson

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    If we are going to point out spring training's top slugger, we have to be fair and single out the strikeout kings at the plate.

    Colorado's Sam Hilliard and Trayce Thompson of Arizona tied for the lead in strikeouts with 25.

    Both players hit below .215 and Hilliard achieved the strikeout feat in four fewer at-bats than Thompson, who hit three home runs.

    At least Hilliard can come away from the spring with something to brag about since he is on a major-league roster. Thompson missed out on his spot with the Diamondbacks.

    If anything, the season can't go anywhere but up for the two hitters, but that may be tough for Hilliard since he had a .210 batting average and .710 OPS in 2020.


    Statistics obtained from Baseball Reference and