2019 MLB Spring Training Is Underway – What to Follow Before the Season Starts

By Michael Wynn
Published on February 21, 2019
2019 MLB Spring Training

Spring training is officially underway, as pitchers and catchers have already reported, scattering themselves all over Florida and Arizona.

Position players are on the way, and baseball fans are starting to get antsy. The 2019 MLB season is on the horizon, but there are still plenty of unknowns.

We saw the Padres finally cave in and be the team to step up to the plate in the Manny Machado sweepstakes, inking the shortstop to a 10-year/$300 million mega deal. But what about Bryce Harper? When is Dallas Keuchel going to sign?

When push comes to shove, Harper, Keuchel, and the rest of the gang will all find deals, and they’ll all be playing baseball soon enough. Where they end up will be big stories to follow as we inch toward the start of the regular season, but there’s a lot more to pay attention to during spring training in 2019.

I want to know which teams will be contending for a World Series in October, and I want to see how certain players are fitting in with their new squads. There are some question marks surrounding the health of some key players, and lots of young, fresh faces are bound to break out.

Here are ten things to keep an eye on during 2019 MLB spring training.

Messy in Cleveland – Who Will Play in the Outfield for the Indians?

Michael Brantley’s departure was not only a major boost for the Houston Astros, but it also leaves a major void in the Cleveland Indians outfield. It appears that Leonys Martin is going to man center field and bat leadoff for Terry Francona, which right away is something I’m not too excited about.

Martin is a lifetime .248 hitter with an on-base percentage (OBP) of just .303, but unfortunately, this is how scarce the outfield situation in Cleveland is. In terms of who is going to fill in every day in right and left field, that’s where things get interesting.

Lonnie Chisenhall signed with the Pirates, as did Melky Cabrera. Brandon Guyer joined the White Sox, and Rajai Davis is now part of the Mets organization. Bradley Zimmer is still recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder and remains without an official timetable to resume baseball activities.

Tyler Naquin looks like he’s next in line to assume duties in right field, and perhaps he can develop his game and be a nice player in this league. But it doesn’t give me a ton of confidence. Greg Allen will likely start the year in left field and bat eighth or ninth, as Jordan Luplow is the only other OF on the Indians big-league roster at this point (Jake Bauers is slated to play first base).

If you’ve never heard of Jordan Luplow, it’s probably because the 25-year-old from Visalia, California, carries a career .194 batting average and has more strikeouts (40) than hits (33) on his resume.

Now you know why I called the outfield situation in Cleveland messy. As good as the Indians starting pitching will be, it’ll be a shame if they don’t get it cleaned up.

Angles Taking It Slow – When Will Shohei Ohtani Be Healthy?

Shohei Ohtani will not be ready for Opening Day, and we may not even see him at all throughout spring training. Forget about all the hearsay, and quit listening to all the unproven theories about when Ohtani will be on the field.

The Angels have invested a whole bunch of money in the 24-year-old Japanese sensation, and they want to keep their options open as far as him potentially hitting and pitching down the line. That’s why we won’t see Ohtani throw any baseballs in 2019, and it could be a while before we even see him swinging a bat.

“I think that’s why we’re saying we’re going to be extremely cautious, because we don’t want the fact that he might be able to DH affect if he’s going to be able to pitch in 2020.”

That was Angels skipper Brad Ausmus commenting on Ohtani’s availability, and you can see the club is going to be ultra-careful with easing him back into action. Some say Ohtani should sit out the entire year, although the Angels seem to think that sometime in May is a reasonable expectation for him to get back into the batter’s box.

The reports I have read stating that Shohei could see in the neighborhood of 500+ at-bats in 2019 seem a bit exaggerated and a little overambitious, as there are too many variables blocking that from coming to fruition.

Even when healthy and back in the lineup, Ohtani will probably receive days off here and there to allow Albert Pujols and Justin Bour to trade off at first base.

I’m really high on this kid’s future, and I think he could have a long and successful career in Anaheim. But considering that the Angels won’t be overtaking the Astros in the AL West anytime soon, I think taking the slow approach and waiting until Shohei Ohtani is fully healthy is GM Billy Eppler’s only choice.

MLB Prospects on the Rise – Four Names to Remember

Last season wasn’t just about one or two prospects breaking out into everyday players and becoming big-time contributors. Ronald Acuna Jr. took the league by storm by dazzling in Atlanta, while Juan Soto was doing lots of damage in the nation’s capital.

Gleyber Torres was a big part of what the Yankees accomplished in 2018, and Victor Robles proved he’s got everything it takes to be the real deal.

As we embark on 2019 spring training baseball, which up-and-coming players should we be paying attention to early on? Which guys are most likely to be called up and never sent back down?

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Is Dynamite

Vladimir Guerrero won’t turn 20 until March 16th, and he might not have any experience competing at the Major League level. After seeing him dominate AA and AAA baseball last season, I have no qualms that he’s going to be an absolute stud and may even surpass the Hall of Fame bar his father set.

Vlad Jr. hit .381 and blasted 20 homers in 95 games last season playing for various teams within the Blue Jays farm system. Toronto will likely keep him down when the season begins, but expect to see Vlad in the Blue Jays everyday lineup within a few short weeks.

And expect nothing short of a spectacular rookie campaign.

Eloy Jimenez Is a Beast

I can’t wait until Eloy Jimenez is playing in the outfield on a daily basis for the Chicago White Sox in 2019. The 22-year-old beast is being talked about as “the Babe Ruth of this generation,” and he’s being compared to some of the game’s most powerful hitters.

What captivates me about Eloy is he possesses Aaron Judge-like power at the plate, yet somehow displays extreme discipline and is able to lay off pitches. Jimenez K’d just 69 times in 456 plate appearances in 2018, slugging 22 homers while batting .337.

Fans in the Windy City, get ready for a big bat to hit the middle of your lineup sometime by April or early May. And expect a tight race with Guerrero Jr. for the AL Rookie of the Year award.

Fernando Tatis Jr. Has the Pedigree

Fernando Tatis was a solid MLB third baseman who played for five teams over his 14-year career in the Big Leagues. His 20-year-old son and member of the San Diego Padres is going to be a heck of a lot better.

Now that the Padres have signed Manny Machado for the next ten years, the San Diego left side of the infield has a chance to be special. Fernando Tatis Jr. participated in 88 AA games in 2018, and he proved he could do it all.

Fernando hit .286, smacked 16 homers, and belted out 22 doubles. He’s a natural defender who can play SS or 3b, and his speed was on full display when he hit four triples and swiped 16 bags last year.

The Pads may or may not call him up in 2019, but we’ll certainly get a big dosage of him during spring training games.

Jesus Luzardo Could Be MLB’s Next Great Southpaw

The Oakland Athletics won 97 games last year and surprised a lot of folks. Their starting rotation is looking rather thin to begin 2019, but that could all change by allowing Jesus Luzardo to join the fray, which should happen sooner than later.

If I were in a room with Billy Beane and David Forst, I’d preach to them to let Jesus start the year with the big boys, as he’s already done more than enough at the AAA level. The hard-throwing southpaw struck out 129 batters across 129.1 innings last season, but here’s what impressed me the most.

Jesus walked just 30 batters and kept his ERA below 3.00 (2.88). If Oakland wants to wait a few weeks to bring him up, then that’s up to them. I’d say what the heck are you waiting for?

Pujols and Migs – What Do These Former Studs Have Left in the Tank?

I’m not entirely sure which versions of Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera we’ll see in 2019. Sure, both of these guys are sure-fire locks to get to Cooperstown once they hang it up and move on from the game, but I’m wondering just how much each of these future Hall of Fame first basemen have left in the tank.

I’ll start with Albert.

The 39-year-old will split time between first base and DH this year in Anaheim, and if he suited up for 120 or more games, the Angels would be pleased. The days of Albert belting 40+ homers and accounting for 100+ RBI are long gone, as 18-25 HR in 2019 would be a lofty expectation.

Even worse, his discipline at the plate has dramatically waned in recent years. The lifetime .302 hitter hit .241 in 2016 and .245 in 2017.

Quite frankly, rolling with Shohei Ohtani at DH and Justin Bour at first base will probably be the Angels’ most effective lineup.

Now for the situation in Detroit. That’s still bit murky, as February 18th marked the first time that Miguel Cabrera faced a pitcher since his arm injury last June.

Miguel, who will turn 36 in April, missed 124 games in 2018 after needing surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left bicep. That was after suffering a hamstring injury earlier in the season.

Clearly, Cabrera is banged up, and his best days are behind him. We saw him hit .316 and launch 38 homers as recently as 2016, but his body has gone through quite a lot in the last two+ years. I’d like to see Miguel have a comeback season for the Tigers, and we all know that Detroit will need the help.

I’m just worried that’s a little too much wishful thinking on my behalf.

New Skippers in Town – Which Rookie Manager Is in the Best Situation?

We’ll have six new managers in place when the 2019 MLB season begins in March, five of which will be managing a Big-League club for the first time in their career. Take a peek.

Charlie Montoyo Takes over in Toronto

Charlie Montoyo finally gets a shot at managing an MLB team after earning his stripes as the Tampa Bay Rays third base coach and ultimately their bench coach. Charlie did spend eight years leading the AAA affiliate of the Rays (Durham Bulls), so he does have some experience being the “lead guy.”

The Toronto front office will need to be patient with Montoyo in 2019, as the outlook for the Blue Jays isn’t too good. Fortunately for the 54-year-old native of Puerto Rico, he’s inked in for three years and has some time to prove his worth.

Why Was Brandon Hyde Hired in Baltimore?

The short answer to this question is because Major League Baseball requires that each team has a skipper in place. No, seriously, the 45-year-old spent the last six seasons in the Chicago Cubs organization, assuming roles from the bench coach to the director of player development.

Clearly, he is well-versed in the inner workings of how to run a baseball team, but boy, will his work be cut out for him.

The Orioles lost a league-high 115 games in 2018 and have done little to nothing this offseason to make me think they can turn it around. Things are such a mess in Baltimore that Hyde wasn’t even hired until December 14th, the day after the winter meetings had culminated.

The Rangers’ New Man in Charge Is Chris Woodward

You may remember Chris Woodward’s name from his days as a journeyman infielder from 1999-2011. Most recently, Chris was the third base coach for Dave Roberts in Los Angeles from 2016-2018.

When Woodward was hired on November 2nd, the Texas franchise understood that bringing the Rangers back to relevancy in the AL West would take time. Considering they won just 67 games in 2018 and finished a whopping 36 games behind Houston, I’d say that’s a pretty fair assessment.

So long as the Rangers can show signs of life and approach 75 wins, 2019 should be treated as a success. And as long as that happens, Woodward’s job should be more than safe.

It’s up to David Bell to Turn Things Around in Cincinnati

Buddy Bell is the vice president and an advisor in Cincinnati, so it’s only fitting that his son David gets a chance to manage the club. David Bell was the VP of player development in San Francisco last year, and that was after serving as a coach in Chicago (2013) and St. Louis (2014-2017).

Not only are the Reds staring up at four teams who finished above .500 in the NL Central in 2018, but Cincy never came close to factoring in, winning just 67 games.

There’s no doubt that David Bell understands what it takes to be successful, but actually seeing it all pan out in 2019?

Now, that’s another story.

Can Rocco Baldelli Get the Twins to the Playoffs?

Rocco Baldelli became the youngest manager in baseball when the Twins hired him during last year’s World Series. Rocco might just be 37, but he’s spent plenty of time working his way up to this point. Minnesota won 78 games last year, and we’re still unsure what the Cleveland Indians final product will look like.

Baldelli should have no problem relating to his players, and the Twins have some pieces to be excited about. Nelson Cruz brings his powerful right-handed bat over from Seattle, and Jonathan Schoop is a nice addition at second base.

If Eddie Rosario can remain steady and Jose Berrios takes the next step toward being an ace, then Minnesota could approach the 90-win mark. But given how stiff the competition is in the American League, that still might not be enough to reach the postseason.

Brad Ausmus Gets a Chance in Anaheim

The one new manager in 2019 with prior managing experience is Brad Ausmus. The former catcher got the Tigers to the playoffs during his first year in charge in 2014. However, the Tigers were swept by the Orioles in the ALDS.

He’ll take over an Angels squad that finished fourth in the American League West, but an 80-82 record tells me that the Halos weren’t too far off.

Mike Trout is still a top-three player in baseball, Justin Upton can hit, and Justin Bour was quietly a really good offseason acquisition. Cody Allen was brought in to close games, but what concerns me is the depth of the starting pitching. Matt Harvey isn’t exactly dependable as a “go-to” guy.

But Ausmus has Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, plus he has four years of past experience under his belt. Looking around at what the other new managers are inheriting in 2019, I think Brad is in the most envious spot.

Red Sox Confidence Level – Is Chris Sale’s Shoulder 100%?

I still think Chris Sale is the best left-handed pitcher in baseball. But I understand those who are concerned that he could be wearing down. After tossing 214.1 innings during his maiden year in Beantown, Chris was held to just 158 innings pitched last season.

But I think that had as much to do with the BoSox trying to rest him for the postseason as it did with his shoulder really bothering him. The truth is, I’m not too worried about his lack of usage down the stretch in 2018.

Boston won the championship, and 2019 is a new year.

It was reported in January that Sale’s shoulder was feeling 100% and that he wasn’t suffering from any setbacks whatsoever. Chris will be ready to rock when Opening Day arrives, and Boston still has arguably the most potent lineup in baseball.

So you can worry about Boston and wonder about Chris Sale; that’s up to you. I’m telling you everything is in order, and here’s what you can expect. Boston should win 100+ games, and they’ll be contending for another World Series.

Chris Sale will finish in the top-six in CY Young voting for the eighth straight year, and he might even finally win the award.

So I’d say the confidence level for Alex Cora in Boston is sky high.

The NL East Is Loaded – Who Has the Edge?

The Marlins have done everything in their power to ensure they won’t be a competitive baseball team in 2019; that much I’ve learned. But while Miami won’t factor into which team captures the NL East, all four other squads in this division could.

Atlanta Braves Are Poised to Defend

I could go on and on about how nasty the Braves lineup is, as I’ve already gone on record stating that I think Ronald Acuna Jr. is a top-ten player in baseball. Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies give Ronald plenty of help, plus Josh Donaldson is healthy and ready to contribute.

If Atlanta could grab hold of another sturdy pitcher to add to a group that already includes Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb, then the Braves could end up cruising to a division title once again.

The Nationals Are Loaded from Top to Bottom

I know I just finished talking up the Braves, but I actually think the Nationals are the team to beat in the NL East. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg was already a 1-2 punch that provided a lot of force at the top. Adding Patrick Corbin now gives the Nationals three aces to choose from, and it’s why it’s one of the biggest MLB offseason moves that transpired over the winter.

Even if Bryce Harper winds up in Philadelphia, things will be “A-OK” in the nation’s capital. Juan Soto and Victor Robles are more than capable of carrying the load in the outfield, plus Adam Eaton is healthy.

Anthony Rendon is one of the most underrated players in baseball, and Trea Turner can set the table for this entire lineup.

The Phillies and Mets made a bunch of noise, and the Braves ran away with this division last year. But if that means you are sleeping on the Nats to be squarely in the mix, you need to readjust your expectations.

Taking Pride in Philly – The Phillies Have Buffed up Their Roster

Talk about a new look in Philly. The Phillies are trying to bring a World Series back to the City of Brotherly Love, and they’re trying to get it done in 2019. I want to address all the significant roster turnover, and I can start by revealing that the top three batters in the order are all new additions.

Andrew McCutchen is going to make $50 million over the next three years to play right field and bat leadoff in Philadelphia, while Jean Segura was traded from Seattle to man shortstop and hit second.

But the trade with Miami to land J.T. Realmuto as their everyday catcher is the one that really has me excited as someone who roots for the Phillies. Aaron Nola is wrapped up for the next four years, Nick Pivetta has shown promise, and this team could still wind up with Bryce Harper in their outfield.

You might want to place a bet on the Phillies to win it all right now because their price could start dropping if everything we see on paper starts coming together on the field.

The Mets Are Trying to Keep Pace

New York doesn’t want to get lost in the shuffle when it comes to who will contend in the NL East, which is why we saw Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen make the splashy trade to bring Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano over from Seattle.

Wilson Ramos signed a two-year/$19 million deal to solidify the catcher position, while Jed Lowrie was the recipient of a two-year contract worth $20 million.

If Jacob deGrom pitches anywhere near as scintillatingly as he did last year, and Noah Syndergaard can be available for 200 innings, then it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Mets could take this division.

Astros Pitching – Who Locks Down the Fifth Rotation Spot in Houston?

Charlie Morton signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, and we’re still not sure what’s going to happen with Dallas Keuchel.

I know Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole at the top make up as filthy as a duo as any in the league, but it’s going to take more than having two reliable pitchers to outlast the likes of Boston and New York in the American League.

Wade Miley was signed, and supposedly Collin McHugh will begin the year with a chance to prove his worth as a starter, but is that really going to be enough?

If Dallas Keuchel signs elsewhere, and Collin McHugh is unable to hold his own, then suddenly A.J. Hinch is in a bit of a pinch.

Josh James could be the guy, Framber Valdez may have an opportunity, and they still have Forrest Whitley lurking in the minor leagues. But if the Astros are serious about trying to win a World Series in 2019, they better lock up the back end of this rotation sooner rather than later.

Having a revolving door at the fifth spot might work at times, but it won’t last a whole season.

Questions in Chicago – Will Yu Darvish Contribute for the Cubs?

Theo Epstein, Joe Maddon, and the entire Cubs organization have big aspirations for 2019. The Cubbies won 95 games in 2018, and yet you get the sense that they could have achieved more.

Yu Darvish made his last start on May 20th, and how he responds to all the treatment his elbow has received is something to keep a close eye on in the Windy City.

Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Cole Hamels, and Jose Quintana are already slated as “1 through 4” in the Cubs rotation, so it’s not like Chicago needs Darvish to win 18+ games or strike out 300 batters.

What the fans in Wrigley Field want is to see Yu stay healthy and be on the mound in August, September, and hopefully October. If that means easing him back into action and reducing his pitch count early on, then so be it.

Chicago has proved they can win without Yu supplying innings, and the key is for him to be at 100% when the season is winding down — not when it is starting.

That could mean we won’t have our answer to whether Darvish will be a contributor in Chi-Town until after the All-Star break in July, but we need to remain calm.

If Darvish is pitching lights-out, it will have been well worth the wait.

MLB Newcomers – Who Will Have the Largest Impact?

Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals is a big-time move, and it should give St. Louis a legitimate shot at winning the NL Central. I think adding Josh Donaldson at the hot corner to what the Braves already had gives Atlanta as compelling a lineup as there is in the National League.

And of course, Manny Machado to the Padres means we’re at least talking about the Padres. But let’s not pretend that one batter is going to make opposing teams afraid of pitching to San Diego. The Pads still need to add more.

I love what Philly did by gluing their lineup together with J.T. Realmuto at the backstop, and if they end up with Bryce, then boy, are the Phillies going to be awfully strong.

But the one move that stands out the most to me in terms of what it does to take a team to the next level is the Nationals signing Patrick Corbin.

I believe Patrick Corbin could bring a World Series to Washington.

The 29-year-old southpaw sparkled in Arizona last year, enjoying a breakout season in which he struck out 246 batters in 200 innings.

If he can repeat that type of dominance and maintain an ERA around 3.15 over 33 starts once again, then Washington is going to be in really good hands. Getting to the playoffs is the key because facing the Nats in a 5- or 7-games series would be brutal.

If my premonition holds true that Corbin can continue to insert himself into the upper echelon of MLB starters, then this move could end up doing wonders for Davey Martinez and his club. It could even be the catalyst that helps bring home a World Series ring.

Conclusion

Spring training is now in full swing. That’ll be the case through March 26th as there is plenty to hash out from now until then. The reason that MLB’s spring training lasts more than a month is because teams need a decent sample size to figure out who belongs where and what their identity will be, and that takes time.

In terms of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado signing with San Diego for $300 million was music to his ears. It should help clear the way for Bryce to secure a deal in excess of the record $325 million that Giancarlo Stanton signed for in New York last season, and it looks like Philly is the most likely landing spot.

Whatever happens, the 2019 MLB season is going to be filled with drama and an abundance of unforgettable highlights.

Its time to buckle up and get ready for the ride!

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2019 MLB Spring Training Is Underway – What to Follow Before the Season Starts
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2019 MLB Spring Training Is Underway – What to Follow Before the Season Starts
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With so many storylines to follow during MLB spring training 2019, here’s some things to keep a close eye on before the season starts.
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