Mid-spring snapshot: Unanswered questions for all 30 teams
As spring training begins to wind down, teams are starting to make the tough roster decisions. Many clubs are attempting to fill the back end of the rotation or determine which reserves deserve a bench job. For the few fortunate teams, such as the defending champion Chicago Cubs, the key remaining issue might be deciding the pecking order in a packed bullpen.
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Here is a look at the biggest unanswered question of spring training for each team, as determined by The Sports Xchange's national network of baseball correspondents.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
The Diamondbacks entered spring training with six starters for five spots, but that appears to have sorted itself out with Shelby Miller and Patrick Corbin appearing to claim the final two spots ahead of Archie Bradley. An outfield issue has cropped up, though. Yasmany Tomas (oblique) has been out since March 9 and shows no signs of being ready for Opening Day, although the D-backs have not ruled him out. Non-roster invitee Gregor Blanco seems certain to make the team, and Chris Herrmann, one of three catchers on the roster, could see some time in the outfield.
The Rockies have to fill out the final two spots in their rotation and will do so with inexperienced pitchers. Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson and Tyler Chatwood are set as starters. The other rotation candidates are Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez, left-hander Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela. The latter two have not made their major league debuts, while Hoffman (eight games, six starts) and Marquez (six games, three starts) received limited experience upon reaching the big leagues last season for the first time.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Can Yasiel Puig harness his talent? A revelation in his first two seasons, the right fielder had his performance and attitude deteriorate so much last year that the Dodgers tried to trade the former All-Star before optioning him to Triple-A Oklahoma City in August. Puig has hit well this spring, yet on Thursday, he was ejecting for slamming his bat into the ground after a called strike. Puig then waved at the umpire while walking down the left field line to the Dodgers' clubhouse. If Puig remains a problem, expect Andre Ethier or Scott Van Slyke to replace him.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
The rotation is unsettled with the candidates largely disappointing thus far, and shortstop seems to be an elimination duel between Luis Sardinas and Erick Aybar. But the biggest question right now is who plays second and third. The Padres have three candidates at the two spots -- switch hitter Yangervis Solarte, who was the regular third baseman last year, and left-handed hitters Cory Spangenberg and Ryan Schimpf. The Padres might like Solarte better at second and Spangenberg or Schimpf better at third. But any change has been delayed because Solarte was away at the World Baseball Classic and Schimpf has been hurt.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
What's right about left? While much of the focus of the Giants' spring has been on whether Matt Cain can be trusted as the No. 5 starter (every indication is he can't), a bigger issue appears to be left field. San Francisco began the spring hoping youngers Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker could platoon in Angel Pagan's old spot. The Giants are ending the spring experimenting with iron-gloved Michael Morse out there.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
The World Series champs still need to sort out their bullpen options with Aroldis Chapman back in the Bronx. Wade Davis, acquired in a trade with the Royals for Jorge Soler, appears ready to take over the ninth-inning role. He looks healthy after spending part of last season on the disabled list with a right forearm strain. Hector Rondon (77 career saves) and Koji Uehara (93 career saves) could appear at any point in the late innings. Carl Edwards Jr. emerged late last season as a capable reliever, and he appears suited for a setup role, too.
Reds manager Bryan Price doesn't want to carry more than two catchers on his Opening Day roster, so if Devin Mesoraco isn't quite ready, Price would rather start him on the disabled list. Entering the final two weeks of spring training, Mesoraco was progressing well after appearing in just 16 games last season before undergoing hip and shoulder surgeries. He was showing no physical issues in camp. Tucker Barnhart is the likely starter behind the plate for Cincinnati, at least initially. Rob Brantly and Rule 5 pick Stuart Turner also are in the mix.
The top of Milwaukee's rotation is set with Junior Guerra drawing the Opening Day assignment and Zach Davies expected to follow. After that, it is a crapshoot. The Brewers have five candidates to fill the final three spots. Veteran Matt Garza along with Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson are the favorites, but all have something to prove after disappointing campaigns. Chase Anderson was in the rotation last season but could serve as the long man to start the year, while Tommy Milone could sneak into the mix as the lone left-hander of the bunch.
It is unclear when third baseman Jung Ho Kang (restricted list) will report after his third DUI arrest in his native South Korea and subsequent work-visa delays. David Freese can fill in, but Kang, 29, offers a cleanup-spot option, and his power (21 homers in only 370 plate appearances last season) will be sorely missed. General manager Neal Huntington has said even after issues are resolved and Kang reports, the third-year Pirate will need time in extended spring training.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Pretty much everything has been settled with two weeks left before Opening Night. The rotation is determined, the everyday lineup seems set, and most spots in the bullpen are spoken for, so all that's left is deciding the backup catcher role and figuring out how many pitchers to keep for the bullpen. The best guess is that Eric Fryer, who spent the first half of last year with the Cardinals, will back up Yadier Molina so that Carson Kelly can play every day at Triple-A Memphis. It is likely the club will keep 12 pitchers on the roster.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
After losing versatile free agent signee Sean Rodriguez to a shoulder injury that might keep him out for the season, the Braves acquired second baseman Brandon Phillips from Cincinnati as a veteran stopgap. The bench, though, remains weak, with no pinch-hitting threat or a proven outfielder to back up the starters. Someone like free agent Angel Pagan might be a perfect fit if the price was right. Pagan spent the spring as the leadoff hitter for the Puerto Rican team in the World Baseball Classic.
When third baseman Martin Prado pulled a right hamstring muscle while representing Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, it disrupted Miami's plans. Prado, who hit .305 with eight homers, 75 RBIs and a .775 OPS last year, said he does not anticipate being ready for Opening Day. The Marlins have yet to tip their hand at Prado's replacement, but it will likely be Derek Dietrich (.798 OPS) if manager Don Mattingly wants more offense or Miguel Rojas (.613 OPS) if defense is the bigger concern. Mattingly could platoon the two since Dietrich bats left-handed and Rojas right-handed.
NEW YORK METS
Who will be the fifth starter? In one-time phenom Zack Wheeler as well as last year's two revelations, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, the Mets have a trio of pitchers who would be rotation mainstays almost anywhere else. Wheeler is throwing in the high-90s but hasn't pitched for the Mets since 2014 due to Tommy John surgery, so it is likely he will be eased in as a reliever. Gsellman probably has the edge over Lugo, who has thrived for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic but has more professional experience as a reliever.
The Phillies need to determine which outfielders will come off the bench. Aaron Altherr seems like a lock to grab one reserve outfield spot. The Phillies also brought in veterans Chris Coghlan and Daniel Nava to spring training, and both are capable of making the roster. Nava, 34, has outperformed Coghlan, 31 -- .429 to Coghlan's .241 batting average through Monday -- but Coghlan's versatility to play multiple positions, including in the infield, may leap him ahead. Cameron Perkins and Brock Stassi are also in the mix.
The most pressing question since Mark Melancon signed as a free agent with the San Francisco Giants in December is who would be the Nationals' closer. It appears Washington will fill that in-house to start the season at least, with veteran right-handers Blake Treinen and Shawn Kelley emerging as candidates. Kelley was 3-2 with seven saves and a 2.64 ERA in 67 games last year, while Treinen was 4-1 with one save and a 2.28 in 73 games. If they fail, general manager Mike Rizzo may be looking for a closer at the trade deadline.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
The Astros are unwavering in their commitment to Yulieski Gurriel at first base despite his inexperience at the position. Gurriel, a standout third baseman in his native Cuba, played just five games at first after signing with the Astros last July. He has worked with Hall of Fame first baseman Jeff Bagwell this spring and hasn't yet experienced any egregious missteps making the transition, but the club would be wise to groom a viable backup -- former prospect A.J. Reed perhaps -- to prepare for the possibility of Gurriel struggling defensively.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
The bullpen makeup remains uncertain. Huston Street, the team's closer since being acquired from the Padres in July 2014, will begin the season on the disabled list after straining his back while pitching in the Angels' first Cactus League game on March 3. That leaves Cam Bedrosian and Andrew Bailey to compete for the role. Bedrosian has the better spring training statistics, but Bailey, the American League Rookie of the Year in 2009, has the experience. Whoever loses likely will become the setup specialist. Competition elsewhere in the bullpen remains wide open.
Is the staff ace's future sunny or gloomy? The A's began spring training gushing about their options at the bottom of the rotation. They are ending it deeply concerned about the guy at the top. That is, if you can still consider Sonny Gray at the top. A strained lat is expected to sideline the two-time 14-game winner well into April ... if not longer. A strained right forearm limited Gray to one inning after Aug. 6 last year.
Daniel Vogelbach has not yet done enough to solidify the starting job at first base. Acquired last July in a deadline trade that sent future World Series hero Mike Montgomery to the Cubs, the 24-year-old Vogelbach is being given every opportunity this spring. He started with a hot bat but has cooled off over the past week, his average down to .226 through Monday. He is competing with converted third baseman Danny Valencia, and the two could wind up in a platoon.
The Rangers still have to decide on a No. 5 starter to open the season. Andrew Cashner has been slowed by right biceps soreness, opening the door for Dillon Gee, Michael Hauschild and Eddie Gamboa. All are right-handers. Hauschild, a Rule 5 pick, could have the upper hand, but he hasn't separated from the pack, posting a 4.05 spring ERA through Monday. The Rangers are also considering using a four-man rotation because of off days in hopes that Cashner could be ready to help before the end of April.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Are the White Sox finished dealing? General manager Rick Hahn launched a long-term rebuilding project when he shipped ace left-hander Chris Sale to the Red Sox and sent outfielder Adam Eaton to the Nationals in exchange for top prospects. However, other trade chips remain on the roster, including left-hander Jose Quintana, closer David Robertson and third baseman Todd Frazier. Could Hahn shed another veteran or two before the team heads north? For now, Quintana is projected as the team's Opening Day starter.
The question that was being asked at the beginning of camp has yet to be answered: Can Michael Brantley finally make a complete recovery from his lingering shoulder injury? Brantley played only 11 games last year due to a right shoulder condition that required two separate surgeries. However, with less than two weeks remaining in spring training, there was guarded but growing optimism that Brantley may have turned the corner in his recovery. He played in his first major league spring training game on Monday, and he had not experienced a setback all spring.
The Tigers are unsettled in center field. Odds favor left-handed-hitting Tyler Collins as part of a platoon with offseason acquisition Mikie Mahtook, the right-handed-batting half. However, highly regarded rookie JaCoby Jones could show enough offensively to avoid playing the first half of the season with Triple-A Toledo. The job goes to Jones when he shows he can control the strike zone and not chase off-speed and outside pitches; it is up to the Tigers whether he learns those skills in the majors or the minors.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Second base was up for grabs when spring training started. It is still unsettled as camp winds down. Raul Mondesi had started nine games there, Whit Merrifield seven, Christian Colon five and Cheslor Cuthbert four through Monday. Colon and Cuthbert are out of minor league options, which make it a more intriguing decision. Whether Cuthbert, a true third baseman, has the range to play 100-plus games at second remains a question.
The rotation is the biggest issue. Twins starters had the worst ERA in baseball last year. The expectation is Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson and Hector Santiago will be starters. Hughes appears healthy after thoracic outlet syndrome ended his 2016 season. Behind them, Trevor May will miss the season due to a torn elbow ligament. Jose Berrios has pitched sparingly this spring while with Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Rookie left-hander Adalberto Mejia had a 1.88 spring ERA through Monday. Tyler Duffey is in the mix, as well as Rule 5 pick Justin Haley and veteran Ryan Vogelsong.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
When will Chris Tillman will be ready to go? He won't start Opening Day after receiving a cortisone shot last week in his bothersome right shoulder (for soreness that is hanging around). He said that he felt better after the shot and hopes to be throwing soon, but the long-term plans certainly are up in the air. Right-hander Kevin Gausman looks as if he will get the Opening Day start now, but Tillman's situation is a worrisome one since the right-hander ran into similar issues last season.
BOSTON RED SOX
Pablo Sandoval missed last season due to shoulder surgery, and he returns as a trimmer version of his former self. Can he provide both offense -- needed with David Ortiz gone -- and defense at third base? The early answer was yes. He hit two homers Saturday, then added two doubles Monday to give him a .349 average (15-for-43) with three homers and 13 RBIs this spring. His defense was just fine as his return to Panda status was in full bloom.
NEW YORK YANKEES
Who gets the last two spots in the rotation? It is a crowded field, and right-hander Luis Severino appeared to be close to securing one of those jobs until struggling Sunday. Also in the competition are Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green and Adam Warren. Another name to follow is left-hander Jordan Montgomery, who intrigues the Yankees. Even if he does not win the fifth spot, Montgomery could make the team as a reliever and occasional starter, filling the role Ramiro Mendoza once held.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Who opens the season as the starting shortstop? Matt Duffy remains sidelined as he recovers from heel surgery, so it could mean Tim Beckham (.303, six walks, four RBIs in 14 spring games through Monday) gets the nod until Duffy is fully healthy. Prospect Daniel Robertson had a shot at a backup role at least but was hitting only .147 in the Grapefruit League, so that role might go to versatile Nick Franklin, who was hitting .406 and can help as a corner outfielder if necessary.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Left field has been an ongoing question after the loss of Michael Saunders to free agency. The solution appears to be a platoon, with Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera, holdovers from last season, the leading candidates. Newcomer Steve Pearce also could see some time there, as well. Dalton Pompey likely will start the season in the minors but could be promoted to see some action in left field during the season. Darrell Ceciliani, who spent most of 2106 at Triple-A Buffalo, was making a case with a strong spring training.