1 great unknown for each team ahead of Opening Day
No matter how much teams prepare as Opening Day nears, there’s always an unknown or two — or five — that remain. As we build up to the start of a new regular season, each MLB.com beat reporter highlights one great unknown for their club.
Blue Jays: Ricky Tiedemann
The Blue Jays’ prized prospect is ranked No. 32 by MLB Pipeline and has as much momentum as almost any young arm coming off a spectacular 2022. He’s still just 20, but with the lefty expected to start in Double-A, he could quickly pitch his way into the conversation. Tiedemann spending the full season in the Minor Leagues isn’t out of the question. It never is for a 20-year-old, of course. But with Tiedemann’s talent level, the upside he could offer the Blue Jays by midseason is just incredibly tantalizing. — Keegan Matheson
Orioles: DL Hall
Will he eventually crack Baltimore’s starting rotation? Will he be used as a relief weapon? Hall’s short-term role isn’t entirely clear, although the Orioles believe the 24-year-old’s long-term future remains as a starter. The club’s No. 7 prospect (and MLB Pipeline’s No. 97 overall prospect) has made only one big league start, but he thrived out of Baltimore’s bullpen down the stretch last season. The only sure thing is there’s a lot of talent in Hall’s left arm, which could provide a boost to the O’s in one of various ways. — Jake Rill
Rays: Jose Siri
Siri is 27 years old, but it’s still not entirely clear what kind of player he will be. We should get a much better idea this season, as he’s set to be the Rays’ everyday center fielder. He will make a huge impact on defense, like his predecessor Kevin Kiermaier, after ranking among the game’s best defensive outfielders despite only playing in 104 games for the Astros and Rays last season. Manager Kevin Cash has said the Rays will win games because of Siri’s speed on the bases. Can he contribute more at the plate to become a dynamic, all-around threat? — Adam Berry
Red Sox: Trevor Story
How much will Trevor Story contribute to the ’23 Red Sox? The shortstop underwent an internal bracing procedure on his right elbow in January and isn’t expected back until after the All-Star break. If Story can play the entirety of the second half, and at a high level, it dramatically improves the Red Sox on offense and defense. Story offers pop with his bat, speed on the bases and strong defense at either shortstop or second base. There’s a chance the Sox could wait until ’24 to move him back to shortstop to lessen the burden on his arm as he comes back. — Ian Browne
Yankees: Anthony Volpe
Volpe’s excellent spring accelerated his timetable, and the 21-year-old top prospect earned the Opening Day shortstop nod after his strong performance. Several voices within the front-office hierarchy campaigned for Volpe to head north with the club, as he outperformed Oswald Peraza and Isiah Kiner-Falefa over the exhibition slate.
But, as Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner cautions, “This is not New York and this is not the regular season.” Volpe seems to have all of the right attributes to succeed in the Big Apple spotlight, and manager Aaron Boone has said that he is targeted for a lengthy career at the top or middle of the batting order, while remaining in the middle of the diamond defensively. But he also has only 99 plate appearances at Triple-A, where evaluators believed he needed more seasoning. — Bryan Hoch
Guardians: Can Josh Bell be the source of power this lineup has desperately needed?
The Guardians were hoping for a big year from Franmil Reyes last season, planting him behind their best hitter, José Ramírez, to hopefully provide him protection in the lineup. Instead, Reyes struggled massively and ended up being designated for assignment at the beginning of August. Cleveland is hoping to find the answer to its lack of power in Bell, who’s hit 30-plus homers in his past. And while he’s certainly a slugging threat, Bell also has the ability to hit for average, which should make him even more dangerous to pitch to, allowing Ramírez to finally receive the lineup protection he’s needed. — Mandy Bell
Royals: How will young hitters adjust in their second year?
The Royals feel they have their next championship-caliber lineup with their core hitters in the Majors, but what roadblocks will Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino or Michael Massey run into in year two of the Major Leagues? And how will they adjust to the league figuring them out as hitters? The Royals need to address the uncertainty about their future in center field: Can Isbel or Drew Waters handle the job? And, although he’s no longer a young hitter, there are unknowns about whether Hunter Dozier can return to form after two years of searching for answers about his swing. — Anne Rogers
Tigers: Spencer Torkelson
Torkelson debuted last season to lofty expectations but never settled in as a Major League hitter, leading some evaluators to question if he was called up too soon in the wake of Riley Greene’s injury. He looked much more comfortable and confident at the plate this spring, but will that carry over to the regular season? And if it does, is he still capable of becoming a formidable power hitter and run producer around which Detroit can build a lineup? — Jason Beck
Twins: What can they expect from Alex Kirilloff?
This isn’t just about 2023; it’s about determining if Kirilloff, the club’s one-time No. 2 prospect, can get his career back on track after persistent right wrist issues led to consecutive season-ending surgeries. When healthy, Kirilloff was expected to be a middle-of-the-order bat with a very high floor, the type who anchors lineups for years and years. He’ll start the season on the IL as he continues to build up that wrist — and considering he only knows of one other MLB player to have undergone the more invasive surgery, there’s little precedent for what to expect or any particular timeline, though Kirilloff had ramped up to Minor League games by the end of spring. — Do-Hyoung Park
White Sox: Who will close?
Liam Hendriks continues to receive treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and as one of the best closers in the game and one of the best clubhouse presences on any roster, he’s impossible to replace. The White Sox don’t plan on replacing him, as manager Pedro Grifol has talked about a closer by committee situation without using those exact words. He’ll study pockets of high-leverage situations, as well as bullpen availability, before deciding who comes into the game. So, this isn’t so much an unknown as it is a question: Does Grifol stay with this particular plan or try to find one pitcher with the hot hand to finish off victories? The White Sox certainly have a handful of capable relief options. — Scott Merkin
Angels: Can Anthony Rendon get through an entire season healthy?
Rendon was one of the best third basemen in baseball during his seven seasons with the Nationals and was rewarded with a seven-year deal worth $245 million before the 2020 season. But Rendon has been hampered by injuries over the last two seasons with the Angels, hitting .235/.328/.381 in a combined 105 games. He underwent right wrist surgery last season but had a healthy offseason and looked dominant offensively in Spring Training. If he can stay healthy, it would be huge for the Angels. They went 26-20 when he started at third base last year and 47-69 when he didn’t. — Rhett Bollinger
Astros: Is Hunter Brown ready to join Houston’s deep rotation?
The injury to Lance McCullers Jr. has opened the door for top pitching prospect Hunter Brown to get his shot at the starting rotation to begin the season. He dominated in the Pacific Coast League last year with a 2.55 ERA, .186 opponents’ batting average and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings before the Astros called him up. In 20 1/3 regular-season innings with Houston, he flashed his potential with a 0.89 ERA and even threw three scoreless in the playoffs. Scouts raved about his stuff all spring, and he’ll get a shot in the rotation if he’s not derailed by end-of-spring back tightness. — Brian McTaggart
Athletics: Can Shintaro Fujinami succeed in MLB as a starter?
Shintaro Fujinami’s signing with the A’s from Japan this offseason came with a lot of fanfare. The right-hander was considered a prospect on the scale of Shohei Ohtani when both were first-round selections in the 2012 Nippon Professional Baseball Draft, and it’s easy to see why there was so much hype around Fujinami based on the electric stuff he’s displayed so far in Spring Training. If he can get his command in check, Fujinami has ace-level potential. If not, his long-term future in MLB might come in the bullpen. — Martín Gallegos
Mariners: Will the huge workloads of George Kirby and Logan Gilbert linger?
Kirby threw more than twice as many innings in 2022 as he did the year prior, and Gilbert nearly reached 200 last season. The Mariners have more rotation depth than ever before, especially with prospects Bryce Miller and Emerson Hancock on the MLB cusp. But the health of Kirby and Gilbert will be paramount to taking the next step from securing an AL Wild Card to potentially winning the division. — Daniel Kramer
Rangers: Will Josh Jung live up to the hype?
The Rangers’ top prospect, Jung is finally healthy. He’s expected to be the Opening Day third baseman in 2023 and for the foreseeable future, something that has been expected since he was selected in the first round (eighth overall) of the 2019 MLB Draft.
Jung made his MLB debut in September, hitting just .204 in 26 games coming off a shoulder injury that delayed his season until August. With a fully healthy offseason and a cup of coffee against big league pitching under his belt, Jung should be a solid contributor in the upcoming season. He looked the part this spring with a .321/.345/.623 slash line, and he has more than improved his defensive abilities in camp. — Kennedi Landry
Braves: How much will Dansby’s defense be missed?
The Braves are going to miss Dansby Swanson, who easily led all MLB shortstops with 21 Outs Above Average last year. How much he is missed depends on how effective Orlando Arcia is while serving as the team’s starting shortstop. Braden Shewmake is the club’s best defensive option, but he needs additional offensive development. The Braves have a talented pitching staff, whose value will be greatly influenced by the efficiency generated by the shortstops. Shewmake may make an impact much like Michael Harris II did when he rose from Double-A to become Atlanta’s starting center fielder near the end of May last year. — Mark Bowman
Marlins: How will the defense fare?
In order to bolster the lineup, Miami might’ve sacrificed defense. Jazz Chisholm Jr. is playing center field for the first time and Jean Segura is moving over to third base — a position where he has limited experience. Luis Arraez split time at first, second, third and designated hitter in 2022 with Minnesota, but he is Miami’s second baseman. If Spring Training was any indication, there will be growing pains. The club didn’t have much time together, with Segura and Arraez at the World Baseball Classic. Miami relies on its pitching, so having players out of position could have an impact. — Christina De Nicola
Mets: How will the team replace Edwin Díaz?
Last year, Díaz proved to be the best closer in baseball. And while replacing a one-inning reliever may not be the most difficult challenge on the diamond, Díaz was so much more than a typical closer. Losing him for the season to a torn patellar tendon in his knee was a significant blow.
For now, the Mets figure to mix high-leverage relievers David Robertson, Adam Ottavino and Brooks Raley in the ninth. Longer-term, they could become active in the trade market if closing games becomes a problem. This was a notable strength last season for the Mets, who will do what it takes to ensure Díaz’s absence won’t crush their World Series aspirations. — Anthony DiComo
Nationals: Sean Doolittle
Doolittle is rehabbing from undergoing an internal brace procedure to alleviate a left UCL injury last season. The 36-year-old opted for that over Tommy John surgery for a shorter recovery time. Doolittle, who signed a Minor League deal, has been slowed in his return and will not be ready for Opening Day. If healthy, he can add a coveted veteran arm to the Nationals bullpen. But he will have to pass several milestones in his recovery before being cleared to do so. — Jessica Camerato
Phillies: Replacing Rhys Hoskins’ firepower
Rhys Hoskins suffered a season-ending ACL injury last week. It is a crushing blow. Is first baseman/designated hitter Darick Hall ready for his shot? He batted .250 with nine home runs, 16 RBIs, an .804 OPS and 121 OPS+ in 142 plate appearances last season, primarily serving as the team’s DH while Harper recovered from a broken left thumb. But the Phillies protected Hall, limiting him to only 12 plate appearances against lefties. Hall will need to do more for longer with Hoskins gone. The good news is Hall worked hard this offseason to narrow his strike zone and hit left-handers better. The results this spring have been encouraging. — Todd Zolecki
Brewers: Which version of Christian Yelich will they get?
Yelich was valuable last season as a leadoff man who made things happen on the basepaths. The Brewers would much prefer he return to run-production, even if it’s unfair to expect Yelich to replicate his all-world performances in 2018 and ‘19. He spoke at length in mid-March about shouldering heavy expectations, and if he succeeds, it would be a huge boost to the Brewers’ offense, something of an unknown itself, compared to the solid starting pitching. — Adam McCalvy
Cardinals: How much does 41-year-old Adam Wainwright have left in the tank?
Wainwright, who will miss “several weeks” because of a groin strain, according to manager Oliver Marmol, was embarrassed and motivated by not pitching in the playoffs last fall. Candidly, he said he didn’t deserve to pitch in the playoffs after going 2-4 (and two no-decisions) with a 6.69 ERA over his final eight starts of 2022. Now, the prideful Wainwright hopes to end his career with a flourish — much the way legendary slugger Albert Pujols did last season with a feel-good flurry of 24 home runs. But how effective can Wainwright – who has already endured a round of back spasms and the groin strain — be with fastball and cutter velocities that have been mostly in the high 80s and low 90s in Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic? Said Marmol boldly: “I wouldn’t bet against Waino.” — John Denton
Cubs: Which version of Cody Bellinger will the Cubs get this year?
The Cubs made a calculated gamble when they jumped at the chance to sign Bellinger, who was non-tendered by the Dodgers over the winter. The center fielder burst onto the scene across 2017-19, posting a .928 OPS and picking up a Rookie of the Year trophy, Gold Glove Award and an MVP plaque along the way.
Over the last three seasons, Bellinger has hit .203 with a .648 OPS while battling through a variety of injury setbacks. If the center fielder can maintain a clean bill of health and return to some level of his early-career form, that would be a major win for the Cubs. — Jordan Bastian
Pirates: Will the Pirates trade Bryan Reynolds?
Days prior to the Winter Meetings, the news surfaced that Bryan Reynolds had requested a trade from the Pirates. Due to the timing of the request, there was a widespread belief that the Pirates would cash in their chips and trade Reynolds. At the beginning of Spring Training, the All-Star outfielder said the request stemmed from a difference of opinion regarding his value, but noted that he was still open to signing a long-term extension. Reynolds said on Friday that if he and the Pirates were going to agree to an extension, he would want it to be completed before the season begins. The Pirates, of course, do not have to trade Reynolds as he is under team control for the next three years, but given how things have unfolded, this saga will likely end in an extension or trade. The question is which one. — Justice delos Santos
Reds: Will Joey Votto be fully back and contributing?
Coming off the worst offensive season of his career and an August surgery that repaired a torn rotator cuff and biceps in his left shoulder, the 39-year-old Votto is entering the final season of a 10-year, $225 million contract. Camp started with the first baseman on a modified routine before he started playing games in the second half of Spring Training. Votto, who has been with the Reds since debuting in 2007, batted .205 with a .689 OPS with 11 home runs and 41 RBIs in 91 games — all career lows — in ’22. Although Votto will start the season on the IL, the club’s hope is that he can bounce back to be the same hitter who slugged 36 homers with 99 RBIs in 2021. — Mark Sheldon
D-Backs: Will the bullpen be better?
It’s no secret that the bullpen has been a sore spot for the D-backs for the last couple of years, and its improvement was the No. 1 priority in the offseason. Rather than bring in big names or an experienced closer like they tried last year with Mark Melancon and Ian Kennedy, the D-backs brought in a number of intriguing arms including Miguel Castro and Scott McGough, both of whom appear poised to pitch in high-leverage situations, as well as veteran lefty Andrew Chafin. Holdover Kevin Ginkel has looked good this spring, so there are multiple options for manager Torey Lovullo to use late in games. How it will all come together remains to be seen. — Steve Gilbert
Dodgers: Can the lineup still be elite?
Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Will Smith give the Dodgers a potent trio atop the lineup. It’s probably safe to assume Max Muncy will have a better season than he did in 2022. Outside of that, however, the Dodgers’ lineup has some question marks heading into the season. J.D. Martinez hasn’t impressed in camp, though the Dodgers have said he’s usually a slow starter. Miguel Vargas will need to prove he belongs. Chris Taylor is striking out at an alarming clip this spring, which follows a tough ‘22 season. And there’s Miguel Rojas, who hasn’t had a lot of success at the plate over his career and will be tasked with the everyday shortstop role. In order for the Dodgers to be an elite lineup again, they’ll need one or two of those players to have big seasons at the plate. — Juan Toribio
Giants: What can the Giants expect out of their catchers?
Joey Bart has yet to put it all together at the big league level and will have to show he can put the ball in play more consistently to entrench himself as San Francisco’s starting catcher. Veteran Roberto Pérez will likely serve as Bart’s backup, but there are questions about his durability after he appeared in only 65 games over the last two seasons due to injuries. The Giants are also expected to carry Rule 5 Draft pick Blake Sabol, who remains a work in progress behind the plate and figures to see most of his initial playing time in the outfield following the injuries to Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater. — Maria Guardado
Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr.
Is it fair to call Tatis an “unknown?” We know precisely what he’s capable of. When he’s on the field, Tatis is among the small handful of baseball’s bona fide superstars. But it’s fair to ask what, exactly, the Padres will get from Tatis in 2023. On April 20, when he is slated to return from his PED suspension, Tatis will play his first game for the club in 565 days. In the interim, he has garnered all manner of unwanted headlines. Tatis has also undergone a trio of surgeries — two on his left wrist and one on his left shoulder. There’s no telling how his body will hold up, though he’s shaken off some rust this spring and looks comfortable at the plate. — AJ Cassavell
Rockies: Can third baseman Elehuris Montero carry his Spring Training approach to the regular season?
Montero, part of the Nolan Arenado trade with the Cardinals, hit for power his entire time in the Rockies’ system. Called up for the first time last year, pitchers took advantage of his eagerness by getting him to chase breaking balls and by taking advantage of some timing inefficiencies. As Spring Training progressed, Montero made major strides in controlling the strike zone. Can he translate that approach to the regular season to become a force offensively, all while making progress defensively? — Thomas Harding