Here’s the most interesting guy at each camp
The days of players putting down their cigarettes and six packs and finally mixing in some sit-ups and sprints to get ready for the upcoming season are long gone. The modern Major Leaguer, by and large, comes to camp in proper physical form, needing only some repetition under the Arizona or Florida sun before embarking upon another new year.
But Spring Training is more important for some than others, and that’s the thought behind this list of the most interesting player in each camp.
Rather than focus here exclusively on established stars who changed clubs or other players for whom spring is a mere formality, this is a list of prospects competing for jobs, veterans returning from injury and others in need of a strong spring to find their footing.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Ricky Tiedemann, LHP
Though he is not likely to crack the Opening Day roster, Tiedemann, Toronto’s No. 1 prospect (No. 32 in MLB, per MLB Pipeline) should have the opportunity — thanks to the World Baseball Classic — to wow the Blue Jays’ brass, similar to the way Alek Manoah won them over a year ago. Even if he still starts the season in Double-A or Triple-A, Tiedemann could assert himself as a first line of defense for a team with question marks in the back end of the rotation.
Orioles: Grayson Rodriguez, RHP
He should be the next exciting young player to break in with the O’s. We had hoped to see Rodriguez, who is rated the No. 2 prospect in the O’s system and No. 7 overall, make his debut in 2022, but a strained lat hampered him. He’s going to have every opportunity to win a rotation spot in camp, and his legit four-pitch mix could put him in position to excel right away.
Rays: Tyler Glasnow, RHP
After recovering from Tommy John surgery, Glasnow needed only three appearances last season to remind us of what a special, commanding presence he has on the mound. Though limited in pitch count, he was fantastic in five scoreless innings in the Wild Card Series against the Guardians. The Rays will continue to manage his innings, but it will be exciting to see him back atop this terrific rotation from the onset this season.
Red Sox: Chris Sale, LHP
After making just two starts in 2022 because of three non-arm-related injuries, Sale recently announced that “Humpty Dumpty got put back together,” and that he’s fully healthy for Spring Training. Since closing out the ’18 World Series, Sale has pitched fewer than 200 innings for the Red Sox, so they need him to perform like the ace he once was in the worst way.
Yankees: Anthony Volpe, SS
The next Derek Jeter? Hey, everything is bigger in the Bronx, including the hype. The Yankees abstained from consecutive free-agent classes stockpiled with superstar shortstops because they know what they have coming. And now, whether or not he wins the Opening Day assignment, this camp is a chance for Volpe, the No. 5 prospect in MLB, to show fans what all the fuss is about.
Guardians: Bo Naylor, C
Though Cleveland signed veteran Mike Zunino to shore up the catching spot, with a one-year deal, he’s viewed as a placeholder until Naylor is deemed ready for the big leagues. The younger brother of Josh Naylor is rated as the No. 64 prospect in MLB. He debuted at the end of 2022 and, after splitting last season between Double-A and Triple-A, could assert himself quickly, beginning with a strong camp.
Royals: Kyle Isbel, OF
One of the Royals’ top prospects entering 2022, Isbel was held to a humbling .211/.264/.340 slash line in 106 games. But he’s a fantastic defensive player (tied for fifth in MLB in outfield Outs Above Average last season) who proved he can hit in the Minors. And with Michael A. Taylor shipped off to Minnesota over the winter, Isbel has a clear path to regular playing time this season if he can fend off prospect Drew Waters for the starting center-field job.
Tigers: Spencer Turnbull, RHP
On May 18, 2021, when Turnbull threw a no-hitter in Seattle, he finally appeared to be reaching the potential his raw stuff had long promised. But as evidence of how cruel the game can be, less than three weeks later, he suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since. Now recovered from the surgery and coming off a normal offseason progression, Turnbull can nail down a rotation spot.
Twins: Alex Kirilloff, OF
Had everything gone to plan, Kirilloff would be entering his third season in the big leagues as an established, everyday corner outfielder. But recurring wrist issues instead led to season-ending surgery in consecutive years, the latter of which required shaving the bone in his wrist. Is Kirilloff finally past the wrist woes, or will they continue to hamper his career?
White Sox: Oscar Colas, OF
With Andrew Vaughn moving to first base to replace the departed José Abreu, the White Sox addressed left field with the addition of Andrew Benintendi. But right field went untouched. As it stands, Gavin Sheets and Leury Garcia figure to be the top options there, but the Cuban-born Colas, the organization’s No. 2 prospect, can alter that dynamic with a strong spring after posting an .895 OPS across three levels last year.
Angels: Anthony Rendon, 3B
With Rendon having played just 105 games total over the past two seasons, the Angels took extra precautions to guard against any potential absences by signing Brandon Drury and trading for Gio Urshela. Coming off wrist surgery, can Rendon prove in this camp that he’s back to full health and capable of the kind of All-Star season that was expected of him when he was inked to a $245 million contract?
Astros: Michael Brantley, OF/DH
Though there were some younger options available in free agency, the Astros were adamant about bringing back the 35-year-old Brantley as he rehabs his right shoulder following surgery last August. He’ll use this camp to try to prove his readiness for the Opening Day lineup. Can Brantley get back to being a dependable on-base machine?
A’s: Shintaro Fujinami, RHP
A member of the same Nippon Professional Baseball draft class as Shohei Ohtani, Fujinami had an electric start to his pro career straight out of high school before command issues intervened. But after a terrific 2022, he brings a plus fastball and slider to the big leagues with an A’s team that offers ample starting opportunity. His arrival is not as heralded as Ohtani’s was, but he’s definitely one to watch this spring.
Mariners: Jarred Kelenic, OF
The answer as to whether Kelenic, a highly touted trade acquisition who has mustered only a .589 OPS in 558 plate appearances in the big leagues, can live up to his billing can only be answered in the regular season. Still, this is an important camp for the 23-year-old Kelenic to find his footing and prove he’s worthy of, at minimum, the bulk of the platoon at-bats in left field, where the Mariners have also brought in veteran AJ Pollock.
Rangers: Josh Jung, 3B
Jung, the eighth overall pick in the 2019 Draft and the No. 34 prospect in MLB, appeared to be Texas’ starting third baseman going into 2022. But he tore his left labrum while weightlifting early in camp to throw those plans out of whack. He wound up making his debut in September. Now, with Jung again penciled in for the third-base spot on an improved team, the Rangers need him to get through camp healthy and ready.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Michael Soroka, RHP
Soroka looked like an ace in the making when he finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and sixth in the Cy Young voting in 2019 after going 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts. But he tore his Achilles early in the pandemic-shortened season of 2020, then again in June 2021. Now full-go for Spring Training, Soroka is expected to battle with his friend Ian Anderson for the Braves’ last rotation spot.
Marlins: Jazz Chisholm Jr., CF
The most fascinating aspect of the Marlins’ trade for Luis Arraez was what it meant for Chisholm, who volunteered to move from second base to center field in Miami’s new-look lineup. The “MLB The Show” cover boy had an All-Star start to 2022 before succumbing to a stress fracture in his lower back and right knee surgery. Now healthy, he has a lot on his plate with the position switch.
Mets: Francisco Álvarez, C
The No. 3 prospect in MLB debuted in the big leagues at the tail end of 2022 but has limited Triple-A experience. With Omar Narváez and Tomás Nido on the roster, Álvarez is highly likely to start the season in the Minors. But the Mets need power, and Álvarez has it. While a strong camp might not be enough to propel him to the Opening Day roster, this is a great opportunity to show the Mets he’s ready for prime time.
Nationals: Sean Doolittle, LHP
Doolittle, a respected veteran arm who was limited to just 5 1/3 innings last season because of an elbow injury, is expected to be a full participant in camp. Having signed a Minor League deal, the 36-year-old Doolittle is a fascinating case study, because he opted for what is called an “internal brace procedure” — an alternative to Tommy John. The procedure is relatively new and unproven.
Phillies: Andrew Painter, RHP
Rated as the No. 1 pitching prospect in the game by MLB Pipeline, Painter could conceivably crack the Opening Day roster as the fifth starter for the defending NL champs, despite having only logged one full pro season. But what a season it was (1.56 ERA, 38.7% strikeout rate and 6.2% walk rate in 103 2/3 innings across three levels), and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has said it’s not out of the question that the 19-year-old Painter could emerge quickly.
Brewers: Garrett Mitchell, OF
The first of a wave of current top prospects to reach the big leagues with the Brew Crew, Mitchell had a strong .311/.373/.459 slash line in 68 plate appearances last year, albeit with a 41.2% strikeout rate. Can he cut down on the Ks and solidify himself as the everyday center fielder in what will be a much different-looking outfield mix in Milwaukee this season?
Cardinals: Jordan Walker, OF
The Cards perpetually seem to have somebody coming up from the Minor League ranks to make a major contribution. This year, it could be Walker, the No. 4 prospect in MLB. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Walker, who is only 20 years old, moved from third base (where he’s blocked by Nolan Arenado) to right field late last season and will have plenty of innings and at-bats this spring to show he can handle the position and perhaps provide the power the Cards could use.
Cubs: Cody Bellinger, OF
We’re generally steering away from offseason acquisitions on this list, because, while the sight of them in a new uniform might be interesting, most of them are just getting ready for the season. But forgive us if we read a little extra into Bellinger’s spring performance, just given how unique it was for a recent (and still young) MVP to be non-tendered. We won’t know if Bellinger will make good on his one-year deal, but perhaps we’ll get a window into what changes he and/or the Cubs make to get him back on track.
Pirates: Colin Selby, RHP
One of the fun subplots of any Spring Training is the dark horse who emerges to win a big league job, and perhaps that will be Selby in Pirates’ camp. The 16th-round pick from the 2018 Draft has outperformed expectations in his Minor League career and pitched well enough in the Arizona Fall League to be rostered instead of exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. He has terrific raw stuff and could claim a bullpen role.
Reds: Elly De La Cruz, SS
With only 47 games played above the Single-A level, the chances of the Reds’ No. 1 prospect (and No. 14 overall, per MLB Pipeline) beginning the season in the big leagues would seem slim. But with Jose Barrero and Kevin Newman vying for the starting shortstop job, the possibility exists that De La Cruz, a five-tool talent who has hit everywhere he’s played, surprises people and speeds up his timeline.
D-backs: Gabriel Moreno, C
Moreno was the most prominent prospect-ish (because he exceeded his rookie limits with Toronto last year, he’s no longer eligible for MLB Pipeline’s list, but he’s only played 25 games) player to change hands over the winter. Arizona will ease him in alongside Carson Kelly, but this camp will be a glimpse into how prepared the uber-athletic Moreno is to ascend to starting duties in the Major Leagues.
Dodgers: Noah Syndergaard, RHP
If Syndergaard had signed with almost any other team, we’d assume he’d eventually look a lot like he did last year with the Angels and Phillies, which is to say he’d be a perfectly serviceable back-of-the-rotation option. But because it’s the Dodgers, we can’t help but wonder if the Thor of old — with that pre-Tommy John, fiery fastball — can be untapped here. We’ll get some clues in camp.
Giants: Joey Bart, C
Not totally unlike teammate Brandon Crawford, Bart likely heard the whispers about the Giants potentially signing someone new to man his position this season. They landed, instead, on veteran Roberto Pérez, who doesn’t replace Bart atop the depth chart at catcher but could push him for playing time. Bart was a highly touted prospect but did not light the world aflame in replacing Buster Posey as the everyday catcher last year and is still developing.
Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr., OF
Possibly the most interesting player in any camp. We know all about the talent, and we know all about the turmoil. Finally, after an 18-month surgery (three of them, to be exact) and suspension saga, it’s time for Tatis to play ball and to get further acquainted with the outfield after the Xander Bogaerts signing. Tatis will miss the first 20 games of the regular season while serving the remainder of his suspension but can participate in camp.
Rockies: Riley Pint, RHP
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 Draft briefly walked away from baseball in the summer of 2021 when he was no longer having fun chasing the big league dream. But he returned last year and pitched himself to Triple-A, then was added to the 40-man roster this offseason. Though no longer a highly touted prospect, a motivated Pint is out to prove he can make it in the Majors.