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One player from every MLB team to watch during spring training

The Sports Daily logo The Sports Daily 2019-02-06 Matt Musico, The Sports Daily
a close up of a man in a blue uniform holding a baseball bat © Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Seeing MLB players report to their respective spring-training complexes evokes a level of euphoria for baseball fans longing for spring and summer. It doesn’t take long for things to get even better after that, though, like when games start being played.

Sure, they don’t mean anything and the stats don’t count, but it’s actual baseball being played after months of suffering through the cold, cold winter. With Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules on the precipice of getting started, storylines about certain players will finally start coming to life.

How a player performs during spring-training games doesn’t necessarily tell us whether the upcoming season will be successful or not. However, these “meaningless” games can serve as an important foundation for the six-month grind that follows.

Here’s one player from each MLB team to watch during camp while we wait for Opening Day.

a baseball player holding a bat © Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks

It’s the dawn of a new era in the desert since Paul Goldschmidt won’t be manning first base on Opening Day. Goldy’s departure allows Jake Lamb to move across the diamond from third base to first base, letting Eduardo Escobar slide into the hot corner on an every-day basis.

This will be an interesting transition for Lamb, who has only played 29 total innings at first in the big leagues, all of which came in 2015. He did post five Defensive Runs Saved at third in 464.1 innings during 2018, but combined for -21 DRS in more than 2,300 innings the two seasons prior to that.

Oh, and as he’s getting used to a new position, Lamb will have to get back into the swing of things after an abbreviated campaign. Shoulder issues led to multiple disabled-list stints while suiting up for just 56 games (238 plate appearances). After launching 59 home runs between 2016-17, he hit six in 2018 to go along with a .222/.307/.348 triple slash. That led to a disappointing 78 wRC+ and 0.3 fWAR.

Lamb did post a 42.5% hard-hit rate last season, but it was accompanied by a 51.4% ground-ball rate and 30.8% fly-ball rate. This was on the heels of posting one of the lowest ground-ball rates (41.1%) and the highest fly-ball rate (38.3%) of his career in ’17.

Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves

Although he’s technically an important piece to the Braves’ puzzle, it feels like Teheran has seen his name going through the trade rumor mill for quite some time. His durability would be valuable for any team — he’s thrown at least 175 innings in six straight years — but some of his peripherals are concerning.

Despite bouncing back with a 3.94 ERA after watching that number balloon up to 4.49 in 2017, his fWAR continued to plummet. In fact, the 0.7 fWAR Teheran just posted was the worst single-season mark of his career since becoming a full-time starter in 2013. This was accompanied with a 4.67 SIERA (second-worst mark of career), 11.6% walk rate (worst of career), and 36.5% hard-hit rate allowed (worst of career).

Atlanta is probably hoping Teheran’s strong finish carries over into 2019. Through July 31st (115 innings), the right-hander owned a 4.46 ERA with a 21.7% strikeout rate, 11.8% walk rate, and 1.67 homers allowed per nine innings. From August 1st through the end of the year (60.2 innings), those numbers improved to 2.97, 23.8%, 11.3%, and 0.74, respectively.

Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles

The 2018 season was horrendous in every possible way for the Orioles. Unfortunately, Baltimore’s 26-year-old leader of the rotation couldn’t escape those bad feelings. Bundy had two really good months, but the rest was rather unsettling. Check out his monthly ERA and wOBA allowed throughout last season.

While it was nice to see his strikeout rate (24.5%) bump up a couple percentage points while his walk rate (7.2%) remained the same, his homers allowed per nine innings skyrocketed. Bundy’s 2.15 mark was the highest all qualified starting pitchers by a substantial margin — Jakob Junis had the second-worst number at 1.63.

A lot of the damage came on his slider and changeup, too. After allowing just 14 combined homers between those two pitches in 2016 and 2017, those offerings yielded 17 long balls alone this past year. He appears to be around for the long haul with regard to Baltimore’s rebuild — at least for now — so it’ll be important to get him back on track this spring.

Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox

As the Red Sox prepare to defend their 2018 World Series title, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is looking past 2019 with regard to keeping pieces of his current core together.

The club tried to extend Xander Bogaerts beyond the upcoming season, but nothing came to fruition outside of settling on a contract to avoid arbitration. It’s easy to see why the Red Sox tried to do that, too — this past year was his fourth straight campaign of posting at least 3.2 fWAR, with 2018 easily being the best. Bogaerts posted his second season of 20-plus homers, first with 100-plus RBI, and a single-season career-high mark in wRC+ (133).

Although it was the third consecutive year in which he cost his team at least 10 runs in the Defensive Runs Saved department, Bogaerts is an interesting commodity as a shortstop potentially entering free agency as a 27-year-old. He’s just one of a number of tough decisions the front office will have to make over the next couple years. Chris Sale is also set to hit the open market next winter, while Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley will do the same the following year.

a baseball player holding a bat on a field © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox

The raw skills have continually been there for Yoan Moncada, and 2018 was his first opportunity to play a full year in the big leagues. There were some good things that happened — he hit 17 homers, stole 12 bases, and posted a 10.3% walk rate while being worth 2.0 fWAR — but there is still some growth to be done.

As a 23-year-old, that’s partly to be expected. We all can’t take the league by storm like Mike Trout, ya know? The most glaring statistic that needs to get corrected is his strikeout rate, which settled in at 33.4% last year. However, as he’s continued accumulating plate appearances, a number of important peripherals have gone down. Moncada’s ground-ball rate, fly-ball rate, swinging-strike rate, and contact rate on strikes have all improved year over year since debuting with Boston for a short period of time in 2016.

Now with a full year of play in the big leagues under his belt, it’ll be interesting to see how he continues to adjust to opposing pitchers. The White Sox are hoping to take a significant step forward in 2019, and an equally significant step forward in Moncada’s development would be a huge help.

Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

“Fun” is probably the last word Kris Bryant would use to describe his 2018 campaign, which was easily the worst of what’s been an impressive career. Shoulder issues limited him to playing just 102 games (he played in at least 151 in each of his first three seasons), and after three straight years of at least 6.1 fWAR, he finished with 2.3 wins this past season.

Having Bryant healthy enough to be his 30-plus homer and 100-plus RBI self will be huge for a Cubs offense that hasn’t made any substantial improvements during the winter. And that was even after admitting their offense “broke” along the way last year.

His shoulder is reportedly at full strength and he’s been hitting since the middle of January in advance of spring training, which is terrific news for Chicago. If they plan on fighting for a division title in what’s come an increasingly deep NL Central, the Cubs need Bryant to be his 2015-17 version, not the 2018 version.

Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds

Speaking of a competitive NL Central, the Reds are doing what they can to throw their weight around with the Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Milwaukee Brewers. Among all the moves made, though, they haven’t yet found a true center fielder after non-tendering Billy Hamilton.

There are a number of players to follow once Cincy’s camp gets underway, but none are more intriguing than top prospect Nick Senzel. He was limited to 193 plate appearances at Triple-A last year but has seemingly hit everywhere he’s landed since arriving in A-ball during the 2016 season.

The 23-year-old was drafted as a third baseman and spent the majority of his minor-league career at that position heading into 2018. But with Eugenio Suarez is under contract for the foreseeable future, he actually spent the majority of his time at second base this past year. Since Scooter Gennett is still in the picture for the time being, Senzel will get a shot in center field.

The Reds currently have a starting outfield consisting of Matt KempScott Schebler and Yasiel Puig, so this seems like a good idea. However, it’ll be fascinating to watch how Senzel adjusts to yet another position change.

Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians

The past couple years have been tough for Jason Kipnis. Upon entering 2017, he had posted a wRC+ below 100 just once in his career. He’s unfortunately fallen below that benchmark in each of the past two seasons (81 in ’17, 89 in ’18). His performance has been so lackluster that the Indians haven’t found a trade partner in order to offload at least part of his remaining contract.

It’s worth noting that if we take out Kipnis’ first two months out of this past year, his numbers would’ve looked much different. Through the end of May, he struggled to a .199/.283/.303 triple slash with three homers and 22 RBI in 238 plate appearances, good for a 59 wRC+. His didn’t set the world on fire in his final 363 plate appearances, but Cleveland will gladly take the .251/.336/.445 line with 15 homers and 53 RBI (109 wRC+) that he produced again.

While we know spring-training stats don’t mean much, Kipnis quickly became the poster child for that in 2018. He broke camp with an 1.193 OPS and eight extra-base hits in 52 at-bats before those horrendous struggles to begin the regular season.

a man in a baseball uniform throwing a ball © Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

German Marquez, Colorado Rockies

The up-and-down year from Jon Gray and Cy Young-worthy performance from Kyle Freeland made it easy to overlook what German Marquez did. His innings pitched (196), fWAR (4.5), and strikeout rate (28.2%) all improved for the second consecutive year, and he can thank an incredible second half for that.

Heading into the All-Star Break, Marquez owned a 4.81 ERA with a 23.5% strikeout rate and 8.2% walk rate. Those numbers improved dramatically to 2.61, 33.9%, and 5.5%, respectively over his final 93 frames. It’s even gotten him recognition as a sleeper Cy Young candidate for the upcoming year.

Marquez’s slider saw a tremendous improvement, as well. After it was his least-used pitch in 2017 and yielded a 247 wRC+ and 6.3% strikeout rate, it was his third-most used pitch of 2018, producing a 17 wRC+ and 40.4% strikeout rate.

Nicholas Castellanos, Detroit Tigers

Although Nicholas Castellanos would prefer to start 2019 with a team not named the Tigers, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. At the very least, not until some big free-agent names finally come off the board. Like, you know, that Bryce Harper guy.

It’s hard to blame either side here — Castellanos is in his final year of team control before free agency and is probably tired of all the losing. Detroit, on the other hand, is still a ways away from being competitive again. With their slugging outfielder being a final legitimate trade chip, they’re trying to get as much value as possible in a potential deal.

Offensive potential has never been an issue for Castellanos, which culminated in 2018 with career highs in wRC+ (130) and fWAR (3.0). The issue is how bad he is defensively. He was so bad at third base (-64 DRS for career) that he was moved out to right field permanently this past year. That also didn’t go well, as his -19 DRS was fifth-worst among qualified hitters.

It’s not a question of if he’ll ever be an asset on defense — that’ll probably never happen — it’s how much it’ll take away from his offensive production.

Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

There’s no doubt about Correa’s natural ability — the former number-one overall pick has already shown what he’s capable of at the big-league level. What’s more important is making sure he’s healthy for a Houston team that’s still in the middle of its championship window.

Playing through a nagging back injury was admirable, but he became a black hole in the Astros’ lineup following the midsummer classic. The young shortstop has proclaimed himself completely healthy, which will hopefully mean he and Jose Altuve can do what they do best in 2019.

This will be an important year for Correa because of the obvious reasons, but also his impending contract status. With two years left via arbitration, Houston could opt to try and work out a long-term extension with its current shortstop, or ride it out year-by-year for the time being.

Adalberto Mondesi, Kansas City Royals

As the Royals embark on the beginning stages of a rebuild — they suffered through their first season of 100-plus losses since 2006 — it’s important to find things to get excited about and latch onto them. Adalberto Mondesi’s 2018 campaign certainly qualifies as one.

Mondesi’s first 209 big-league plate appearances produced a .497 OPS, 33.5% strikeout rate, .090 ISO, three homers, 14 stolen bases, and a 29 wRC+. His next 291 plate appearances (all in ’18) led to an .804 OPS, 26.5% strikeout rate, .222 ISO, 14 homers, 32 stolen bases, and a 114 wRC+.

He was still swinging and missing a lot (18.2% swinging-strike rate in ’18), but posted a 79.3% swing rate on strikes, which was 10 percentage points higher than what he did the year prior. While his 79.5% contact rate in this situation isn’t overly impressive, it likely helped in the young middle infielder to post a 43.1% hard-hit rate.

Now, it will be a matter of trying to sustain this kind of performance over the course of a full season.

a baseball player wearing a red hat © Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Zack Cozart, Los Angeles Angels

A career year with the Reds in 2017 led to a nice payday and a position change for Zack Cozart with the Angels. Year one of three with the club didn’t go well — not only did he scuffle to an 84 wRC+ and 0.3 fWAR, but he played in just 58 games overall.

Cozart’s batted-ball profile actually didn’t change much when comparing his abbreviated 2018 to what he did the year before. He even paired it with a significant rise in hard contact (30.8% to 36.8%). The veteran infielder did watch his BABIP fall from .312 to .244, though.

His performance on fly balls took a huge nose dive — after posting a 180 wRC+ with a 17.5% soft-hit rate, 33.8% hard-hit rate, and 11.7% infield-fly rate in 2017, those numbers settled in at 85, 26.7%, 38.7%, and 17.3%, respectively, in 2018.

Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

Seager’s season was cut incredibly short due to undergoing Tommy John surgery, but there are a couple pieces of silver lining here. Without his injury, the Dodgers wouldn’t have acquired Manny Machado, and it happened early enough so that Seager at least has a shot at starting the regular season on the field instead of on the disabled list.

Getting their incumbent shortstop back into the fold is likely a big reason why Los Angeles was never connected in a meaningful way to Machado or Harper this winter.

Finding a way for Seager to have as normal of a spring as possible without pushing him too hard will be crucial for the Dodgers. After all, they’re fresh off two disappointing results in the World Series and haven’t won a title in more than three decades now. So you could say the pressure is mounting just a bit. It’s always a little easier to handle with your former Rookie fo the Year and leader back in the lineup on a daily basis.

Lewis Brinson, Miami Marlins

Patience is needed with all young hitters as they find their way at the big-league level. However, the Marlins are probably hoping for a meaningful step forward from Lewis Brinson in the upcoming year.

The soon-to-be 25-year-old accumulated 406 plate appearances in 2018 and posted -1.0 fWAR with a 56 wRC+. His hard-hit rate increased to 38.6% but his soft-hit rate also rose up to 18.9%, along with his ground-ball rate remaining above 50.0%. It is worth noting that after posting a 35.2% strikeout rate in his fist 105 plate appearances, that number dropped to 27.6% over his final 301 trips.

It’s way too early to pass judgment on Brinson’s future as a big leaguer, but now is the time to start making some progress. Especially since he’s gotten a far amount of playing time underneath his belt.

Jimmy Nelson, Milwaukee Brewers

The 2017 season was a legitimate breakout for Jimmy Nelson before it was cut short by injury. His strikeout rate (27.3%) and walk rate (6.6%) were at or near career-high levels, while his 3.49 ERA and 3.42 SIERA were career bests. After missing all of 2018 because of a shoulder injury that he suffered sliding back into first base, regaining his presence could feel the same as making a huge free-agent acquisition for Milwaukee.

Nelson isn’t currently expected to have limitations heading into spring training. However, it’s unknown exactly how rusty he’ll be upon getting back onto a mound, or if he’ll eventually have any kind of restrictions with regard to innings pitched.

That process will begin once he reports to the Brewers’ spring-training complex and starts toeing the rubber.

a baseball player holding a bat © Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins

Buxton appeared to experience a turning point in 2017. He stayed healthy and on the big-league roster for most of the year (140 games played), and while his season-long wRC+ settled in at 90, his bat came alive in the second half and his defense helped him accumulate 3.5 fWAR.

That wasn’t the case after watching him go through injuries, rough performances, and substantial time in Triple-A this past season. He only racked up 94 plate appearances with Minnesota, which led to a paltry .156/.183/.200 line. His offense was worth -3 wRC+ and he produced -0.4 fWAR overall.

The health issues led the 25-year-old to bring a new focus to offseason workouts. It worked, as he gained 21 pounds of muscle during the winter. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any impact on his speed here — Buxton swiped 29 bases while also posting 24 DRS in 2017.

Greg Bird, New York Yankees

Following an impressive 178-plate-appearance performance as a rookie in 2015, the Yankees are still waiting for Greg Bird to breakout and stay healthy for a prolonged period of time. His power potential — especially as a left-handed hitter at Yankee Stadium — remains intriguing. Although he couldn’t turn it into real production, Bird did post a 39.9% hard-hit rate and 49.5% fly-ball rate in limited time.

Unfortunately for him, his struggles have opened the door for others to take advantages of their own opportunities to play. The prime example is Bird’s likely competition to play first base in Luke Voit. He only accumulated 148 plate appearances with New York after getting acquired from the Cardinals but took advantage by slugging 14 homers with a 194 wRC+ and 1.9 fWAR.

On a team with championship aspirations and a deep roster, this will undoubtedly be one of the more intriguing position battles to watch unfold prior to Opening Day.

Amed Rosario, New York Mets

As everyone has seen, first-year general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has hopes for the Mets to contend for a playoff spot in 2019. New York does have an intriguing young core of starting pitchers and position players currently on the roster, with a crucial one being shortstop Amed Rosario.

His first full season in the big leagues included a bunch of learning on the job. However, it appeared as though he was starting to get a hold of things in August and September. Through the end of July, Rosario slashed .237/.280/.359, which was good for a 74 wRC+. During the regular season’s final two months, that line improved to .284/.318/.413, along with a 102 wRC+.

This was a significant stretch because it was the first time he had finished at least one month with an above-average wRC+, and in this instance, he did it in consecutive months. He’ll obviously need to figure out a way to sustain this while also cutting down on the -16 DRS he posted at shortstop last season.

Mike Fiers, Oakland Athletics

Although the A’s non-tendered Mike Fiers following one of the best full seasons of his big-league career, Oakland re-signed the hurler to a two-year deal this winter. There’s good reason for that, too — the organization doesn’t have a lot of legitimate options in the rotation thanks to free agency and injuries.

As it currently stands, Fiers is actually at the top of the A’s depth chart when looking at the rotation. He only logged 53 innings by the Bay, but there are some peripheral stats he’ll need to improve upon in order to keep the good vibes of 2018 going into this year.

He did amp up his strikeout rate (24.5%) while keeping his walk rate among career-best levels (5.2%) with Oakland. However, opposing hitters launched 2.04 homers per nine innings against him off the strength of a 40.0% fly-ball rate, 3.4% infield-fly rate, and 45.2% hard-hit rate.

It’s always going to be tough for Oakland to consistently experience success because of financial limitations, but if they want to have a chance at doing so, Fiers needs to keep the magic alive.

a baseball player taking a swing at a ball © Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies have already been pretty active this winter by acquiring Jean SeguraDavid Robertson and Andrew McCutchen, but everyone is still waiting to see which big free agent they’re going to spend “stupid money” on. While we wait for that, it’s worth taking a peek at how Rhys Hoskins’ role is changing for the better.

Signing McCutchen and trading away Carlos Santana opened up the slugger’s natural position at first base once again, along with filling the hole he’d leave in the outfield. This was a one-year experiment that didn’t go well — among qualified players, Hoskins’ -24 DRS was third-worst in baseball, and second-worst when looking at outfielders.

The good thing is that he didn’t let those defensive struggles impact him negatively at the plate. Hoskins’ first full season’s worth of plate appearances led to his first of what the Phillies hope is many performances of 30-plus homers and 90-plus RBI. Now back in his natural position — and a place where he wasn’t a complete black hole defensively — may help take his game to yet another level, and possibly make him an NL MVP candidate.

Chris Archer, Pittsburgh Pirates

Unlike the rest of the NL Central, the Pirates have been rather quiet this winter. They did make some intriguing moves at last July’s non-waiver trade deadline, which included the acquisition of Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays.

He was productive in 2018, but not at the level we’ve come to expect from the right-hander. While Archer posted 2.4 fWAR between his two stops, his 4.31 ERA was the third straight year that number settled in higher than 4.00. It was also the second straight year his line-drive rate allowed was at least 22.0% with a hard-hit rate allowed that was at least 39.0%.

This is an important year for the 30-year-old for a number of reasons, with one of them being his contract status. This is the final guaranteed year of a very team-friendly six-year, $25.5 million deal he signed with Tampa, which includes club options for 2020 and 2021. If he pitches well enough, Pittsburgh will undoubtedly pick up those options when the time comes. But if not, he could find himself on the free-agent market, which hasn’t been fun for a number of notable players the past couple offseasons.

Wil Myers, San Diego Padres

Just a couple years ago, the Padres made a long-term commitment to Wil Myers, effectively making him the de facto face of their franchise. But after some struggles, the acquisition of Eric Hosmer, and now the legitimate courting of both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, that’s the furthest from the case.

Hosmer’s arrival displaced Myers from first base, moving him back to the outfield, but he also spent some time at third base. That appears to be done for now, though, as he’ll transition back to the outfield.

The peripherals showed some red flags, but 2016 and 2017 were banners years for Myers because he posted consecutive 20-20 seasons before being limited to just 83 games and 343 plate appearances this past year. For someone that’s shown an ability to 20-30 homers in a season, he’ll need to cut down on those line drives (27.5% rate in ’18) and shift some of it back over to fly balls (28.9%). That will allow him to take advantage of the strides he’s made in hard-hit rate, which included a career-high 46.6% rate last season.

Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

The unquestioned ace of the Giants for quite some time now, Madison Bumgarner is entering his final year of team control before hitting free agency. After being a workhorse for San Francisco between 2011 and 2016 (at least 200 innings pitched each year), injuries have limited him to 240.2 since the start of 2017.

MadBum has remained productive on the mound, but there are warning signs that things might be changing as he approaches his 30s. Although he limited hard contact to a 25.8% clip in 2013, that number has increased each year since, including a career-worst 41.6% rate in 2018. The southpaw has also dealt with some declining fastball velocity — after sitting around 91-92 mph throughout the early parts of his career, it’s now sitting 90-91 mph.

That doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but it’s forced him to shift his pitch mix — he threw his fastball at a career-low 34.2% rate last year. And for the Giants, who have new leadership in the front office and are clearly trying to hit the reset button, a good (and healthy) start to 2019 for Bumgarner could mean he gets traded by the summer time.

a man wearing a helmet holding a baseball bat © Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Edwin Encarnacion, Seattle Mariners

I think most of us are shocked Edwin Encarnacion is still on the Mariners. After all, we just assumed Jerry Dipoto was going to flip him to another team after acquiring him from the Cleveland Indians. For a club like Seattle, though — who is very much rebuilding at the moment — every plate appearance will be an audition for Encarnacion to show other teams he’s worth the risk.

The right-handed slugger has been one of the game’s more feared power hitters in recent years. He continued that work in Cleveland when looking at his counting stats, which included two more years of 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBI. His power dipped a little bit in 2018 when looking at his first-half/second-half splits, but his overall production increased (105 wRC+ to 133 wRC+).

His market is a bit limited because of a lack of defense, but if he has a good spring and carries that into the start of the regular season, it’ll be shocking if he’s still in Seattle by the time July rolls around.

Dexter Fowler, St. Louis Cardinals

Everything about 2018 was a disappointment for Dexter Fowler when it comes to what happened on the baseball field. He was limited to just 334 plate appearances, and when looking at hitters with at least 300 trips to the plate, his 62 wRC+ and -1.2 fWAR were both among the 10 worst in baseball.

The Cardinals are hoping his third season of the five-year deal they agreed upon a few winters ago ends up being quite a bit better. Fowler is slated to be the every-day player in right field, joining Marcell Ozuna and Harrison Bader in the outfield grass.

At the plate, the switch hitter should attempt to perform better on pitches in the strike zone. One way to do that will be to focus on doing damage on four-seamers again — he posted a 160 wRC+ in ’16 and 170 wRC+ in ’17 against that offering before it dipped down to 106 this past season.

Avisail Garcia, Tampa Bay Rays

The 2017 season was a breakout performance many were waiting for from Avisail Garcia. However, it was worth noting that not much changed within his actual plate approach, which made him a prime candidate to experience negative regression.

That’s exactly what happened in 2018. He did set a single-season career high with 19 dingers despite accruing just 385 plate appearances, but the rest wasn’t pretty. Garcia’s .719 OPS, 92 wRC+, and 0.0 fWAR from this past season looked a lot more like the earlier parts of his career, not the 2017 version of himself (.885, 137, and 4.2, respectively).

He went from being an intriguing piece on a rebuilding club like the Chicago White Sox to a non-tendered player hoping to regain his form in Tampa Bay. One of the many things that’ll need to change is his plate discipline — after finally seeing his chase rate dip below 40.0% in 2016 and 2017, it went back up to 43.9% in ’18, along with a career-worst 18.9% swinging-strike rate.

Drew Smyly, Edinson Volquez, and Shelby Miller, Texas Rangers

I know I said there would just be one player from each team, but it’s hard to look past the back end of the Rangers’ starting rotation. Texas is indeed a club that isn’t expected to contend in 2019, which is one of the reasons why they didn’t make any huge expenditures via free agency. It’s fascinating to see how they’ve built this area of the roster, though.

The longest tenured starter projected to be in the rotation is Mike Minor, who signed with Texas last winter. The second-longest tenured starter is Edinson Volquez (signed in February 2018), followed by Drew Smyly (acquired November 2018), Lance Lynn (signed in December 2018), and Shelby Miller (signed in January 2019).

Minor and Lynn are in the top two spots according to Roster Resource, but Smyly, Volquez, and Miller make up the final three. These hurlers combined to toss a total of 16 innings in the big leagues last year, all of which were thrown by Miller.

a man wearing a hat © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

For a Toronto team that doesn’t have too much to get excited about in 2019, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the big ticket. The real question will be when he makes his debut for the Blue Jays, because by the looks of hit offensive stats from last season, his bat is certainly ready for The Show.

Through 266 plate appearances in Double-A, Guerrero slashed .402/.449/.671 with 14 homers and 60 RBI, good for a ridiculous 203 wRC+. It didn’t take him long to adjust to Triple-A upon getting promoted, either. His triple slash settled in at .336/.414/.564 with six homers and 16 RBI in 128 more plate appearances, good for a 175 wRC+.

The Blue Jays just signed free-agent shortstop Freddy Galvis, which Roster Resource has moving Lourdes Gurriel Jr. moving to second, while Brandon Drury mans third base (Guerrero’s position). Knowing how teams operate with top prospects these days (see Ronald Acuna Jr. with the Braves most recently), it seems like Guerrero will start 2019 in the minors so Toronto can gain another year of team control.

Unless, of course, he tears up Grapefruit League action so much that he gives the Jays no choice. So let’s hope for that one.

Victor Robles, Washington Nationals

Bryce Harper may eventually end up back with the Nationals once the saga that is his free agency ends, but it doesn’t feel like he’ll be back in DC. And for the Nats, that’s perfectly fine because of the young depth they have in the outfield.

Along with Michael Taylor on the bench, Washington also has Adam EatonJuan Soto, and Victor Robles currently slated to be in the starting outfield. It won’t at all be fair to say this, but Robles will be the guy taking Harper’s roster spot if he doesn’t return.

Robles had a frustrating year from the aspect of injuries, but made the most of his September call-up to the big leagues. He was worth 0.5 fWAR in just 66 plate appearances, slashing .288/.348/.525 with three homers and 10 RBI. Seeing how the 21-year-old handles being a crucial piece to the puzzle for a Nats team with hopes of contending will be fascinating to watch unfold throughout spring training.


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