Baseball is back! The trends, teams and faces we can’t wait to see


This week, pitchers and catchers are heading to major league camps across Arizona and Florida, and baseball has officially returned, and for the first time since 2019, we have a full spring practice ahead of us.

The start of camp marks the first chance to see stars like Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander and Trea Turner in their new uniforms, and this year we’ll see MLB’s 2023 rule changes in action as soon as Cactus League and Grapefruit League games take place. start off.

To celebrate the return of the sport, we asked our MLB experts to talk about the teams, themes, and the stars they can’t wait to check out when spring training begins.

After last year’s lockout led to a hyped start to the season, what are you most excited about when full spring training begins?

Buster Olney: Baseball officials, employees, and players have been talking about the potential impact of rule changes for years, but now we’re seeing their real impact on the field. Some of the first feedback I heard from club coaches and managers was that they believe that big bases will change the game to an unforeseen degree because the geometry of the sport has always been so precisely rooted in how the game is played. .

Jeff Passan: Clock with a field. If you didn’t get to see him play in a minor league game last year, will major league games this year look almost like someone else’s: crisp, clean, and dare I say dynamic? Here’s the thing: It will take some time for players to get used to it, especially considering how long it will take to play the World Baseball Classic without a watch. There will be bad moments. The game is bound to be won or lost by violating the serving hours, and people won’t like it. But that’s a small price to pay for what will become commonplace: Major League baseball games that last 2.5 hours.

Alden Gonzalez: I’m excited about the upcoming World Baseball Classic, which will run concurrently with spring training. We’ve had stars who have competed in previous WBCs, but never like this. The line-up includes eight MVP winners and 67 All-Stars, 35 of whom competed in last year’s Midsummer Classic. Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw will represent Team USA for the first time. Shohei Otani will play the lead role in Japan. Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Mexico are all adorned with stars, while the Dominican Republic is absolutely folded. This is a chance to see intense games in a frenetic environment with top talent before the regular season even starts. It will be great.

David Shenfield: These first reports and game results from promising prospects. I remember last spring training when we heard a lot of good things about Michael Harris II at the Braves camp. His spring performance was one of the reasons the Braves were confident of advancing him to the majors after just 43 games in Double-A. So I’ll be looking at guys like pitchers Grayson Rodriguez of the Orioles and Andrew Painter of the Phillies, as well as hitters like Jordan Walker of the Cardinals and Anthony Volpe of the Yankees to see how soon they can impact a major league team in 2023. .

Brad Doolittle: Normal spring rhythms and an emphasis on real baseball. There are always sideshows and I expect the new rules will serve that purpose this spring. But for the first time in a long time, we know when the regular season will begin. We have players in the camp who are fighting for places, getting in shape. Some forwards will have updated swings. Some pitchers will try new offers. The news will come in a steady, undramatic, slow flow. Baseball is like a straight line on a calendar for many, myself included, and after a long, long period of turmoil, it’s good to just get it out there at your normal pace.

On the heels of wild freedom this winter, which of the team-changing players would you most like to see in new uniforms?

Olney: Xander Bogarts wanted to play for the Red Sox his entire career and actually worked to make that happen by signing a team-friendly contract in 2019. Seeing him in the colors of the Padres, of course, will be unpleasant, but also fun. — At the end of April, Bob Melvin will have to decide how to organize his unrivaled quartet of strikers. I beat Bogaerts in the sweep, behind Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto and Manny Machado.

Pass: The New York Yankees entered the winter with two priorities: re-signing AL MVP Aaron Judge and adding a pitching rotation that could shut down elite rosters. Six years and $162 million for Carlos Rodon certainly helps with the latter as the 30-year-old southpaw joins the team with Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes and Luis Severino. They’re a formidable group, and the Yankees are hoping Rawdon’s strength — he hit 237 in 178 innings for San Francisco last season — will play as well against the Alternate East as he did against the NL West.

Gonzalez: I really like how Trea Turner in Philadelphia got to the top of this squad. But what I really like is Traya Turner in the 2023 baseball rules, which is big bases and a limited number of players. I want stolen bases back in the sport and I hope baseball starts to come back to it this season. Nobody runs and slides like Turner. I want more.

Shenfield: I’m going to cheat a little and go 2-to-1: Jacob deGrom goes to the Rangers and then Justin Verlander goes to the Mets to replace deGrom. Given the problems that deGrom has been on the hill for the past two seasons, the Rangers’ five-year, $185 million deal with him is probably the offseason’s biggest gamble – and possibly worth it. As for Verlander, in three full and healthy seasons with the Astros, he finished second, first, and first in Cy Young’s voting. It turns 40 next week and it starts to slow down at some point, but I don’t think it will happen in 2023.

Doolittle: The sight of Wilson Contreras in a Cardinals uniform will feel out of place for a while, but we’ll get used to it soon. It’s not just that he moved in with an old rival. The fact is that he is also trying to take the place of Yagyer Molina on the field and in the club, and this will give St. Louis a different feel. I have little doubt that everything will be fine, but I’m looking forward to seeing this new combination in action.

Which team interests you today much more than a year ago at this time?

Olney: The Padres, who have caused more discomfort to opposing pit owners than any other club. Rival clubs may shrug off Mets owner Steve Cohen’s spending by citing Cohen’s unrivaled net worth, but when the Padres spend big — and they spend big with the addition of Soto, Josh Hader and Bogarts — well, that changes the context. for everyone else. You get two different reactions from other clubs to the Padres: what they do is a) risky and erratic, or b) makes other owners look bad.

Pass: This doesn’t mean Arizona is an immediate threat to the Dodgers or Padres for NL West dominance. But the Diamondbacks are undeniably an up and coming team, and there’s nothing more satisfying in baseball than watching a bunch of talented young players rise up together. The Arizona roster has several players with not only high ceilings but also high floors. Outfielder Corbin Carroll is one of them. Catcher Gabriel Moreno, acquired in Toronto in exchange for Dalton Varshaw, has multiple All-Star potential. Right-hander Zach Gallen made the leap last year. And if Brandon Pfaadt (218 strikeouts and 33 walks in 167 minor league innings), Dray Jameson or Ryan Nelson can get a place in the rotation, maybe that will be enough to force the owners to do something next winter that they haven’t done this time: invest in freedom of action and complement an excellent core.

Gonzalez: Last offseason, the Rangers spent a total of $500 million on two center linebackers in one day—and that was only half the job. The presence of Corey Seeger and Markus Semien lifted the franchise instantly, but then it became clear that she still needed some serious pitching help. This offseason, the Rangers opened their wallets again and signed DeGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney as free agents, adding them to a group that includes Martin Perez, John Gray and Jake Odorizzi to form a very strong rotation. The Rangers may not be legitimate rivals just yet, but they’re making it fast.

Shenfield: It’s odd to say since the Braves were vacating the World Series championship a year ago, but last season they added two exciting new stars in center fielder Harris and flamethrower Spencer Strider. They were better in 2022 than they were in 2021, and they could be better in 2023 than they were in 2022 thanks to the addition of catcher Shaun Murphy and, I expect, a resurgent Ronald Acoon Jr. with more power.

Doolittle: It seems to me that of all the recent recovery teams, the Orioles have been the most interesting. It’s not just that last season they were much better (although this is partly), that it seems to me that they played above their heads. But on top of that unexpected success, now the O’s are starting to roll out some of their leads, and they’ve got quite a few who seem like they could be real influencers. Adley Ratchman is already there. Gunnar Henderson follows him. Grayson Rodriguez should be a factor soon. A year ago, Baltimore’s recovery seemed vague to me. Now I’m just excited for the fans out there.


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