NL Spring Training Preview
Pitchers and catchers continue to trickle into spring training, with 25 of the 30 teams having their first official pitcher and catcher workouts today.
We broke down the American League on Tuesday and what to watch for as camp opens. Now we look at the National League. As with the AL, the position battles will likely change as more veteran free agents start to sign.
2017 Record: 72-90, third in NL East
Key Storyline: The Braves look to take a jump forward in their rebuild and start pushing for a winning record, with a young core of Ozzie Albies, Sean Newcomb, Ronald Acuña, Luiz Gohara and others establishing themselves in the majors.
Position Battle: Third base – Johan Camargo is tentatively penciled in to start after hitting .299 with a .783 OPS in 82 games last year. Rio Ruiz will try and push him with a big camp, and offseason acquisition Charlie Culberson is a sleeper challenger despite playing little third base in his career.
NEW YORK METS
2017 Record: 70-92, fourth in NL East
Key Storyline: After a calamitous 2017, the Mets will try to keep their fragile rotation healthy in order to return to their 2015-16 playoff form.
Position Battle: Center field – Juan Lagares is a defensive standout but increasingly offers less and less with the bat. After performing well with a .797 OPS as a rookie last year, Brandon Nimmo has a chance to relegate Lagares to a fourth-outfielder role with a strong camp.
2017 Record: 66-96, fifth in NL East
Key Storyline: New manager Gabe Kapler takes over one of the game’s greenest groups, with only one projected starter — lineup or pitching staff — older than 27.
Position Battle: Right field — With Rhys Hoskins moving to left field and Oduebl Herrera ensconced in center field, that leaves only available spot for Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams. Altherr was quietly the Phillies best everyday player last season (124 OPS+) until Hoskins arrived, while Williams had an impressive rookie campaign with an .811 OPS.
2017 Record: 97-65, first in NL East
Key Storyline: The Nationals gear up for what could be their last run with Bryce Harper before he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season, with aim of getting out of the Division Series for the first time.
Position Battle: Catcher — Matt Wieters had the worst season of his career last season (.225, .632 OPS), compounded by a defensive meltdown in the NLDS. Longtime prospect Pedro Severino is in the wings, while veteran non-roster invitee Miguel Montero has a chance to make things interesting.
2017 Record: 77-85, second in NL East
Key Storyline: A complete roster teardown saw nearly every accomplished big leaguer traded, and now the Marlins start from square one in what projects to be a long, painful rebuild.
Position Battle: Corner outfield — Lewis Brinson will replace Christian Yelich in center field. The battle to replace Giancarlo Stanton and Marcel Ozuna in the corners is less settled. Veteran utilityman Derek Dietrich, rookie slash-and-dashers Magneuris Sierra and Braxton Lee, veteran non-roster invitees Scott Van Slyke, J.B. Shuck and Rafael Ortega, and maybe even traditional infielders Martin Prado and Garrett Cooper all have a shot to end up starting in a corner spot on Opening Day, with a lot to be figured out as camp progresses.
2017 Record: 92-70, first in NL Central
Position Battle: Left field — Kyle Schwarber slumped to a .211, .782 OPS showing last year while playing horrendous defense. If his bat doesn’t come back around to justify his defense, Ian Happ (and possibly Ben Zobrist) have an opportunity to seize the bulk of the playing time in left.
2017 Record: 75-87, fourth in NL Central
Key Storyline: The offseason trades of Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole have the fanbase fired up, and the Pirates will try to show it wasn’t just spin when they said they were “retooling” rather than “rebuilding.”
Position Battle: Left field – Starling Marte is set to play center field everyday with McCutchen gone, but that leaves a vacancy in left field. Utilityman Adam Frazier, non-roster invitee Daniel Nava and prospect Jordan Luplow are all in the mix, but it bears watching how top prospect Austin Meadows performs in camp after an injury-plagued 2017 at Triple-A.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
2017 Record: 83-79, third in NL Central
Key Storyline: The Cardinals are coming off back-to-back playoff-less seasons, and are trying to avoid missing the postseason three years in a row for the first time since 1997-99.
Position Battle: Corner infield – The Cardinals have a couple of ways they could go with their corner infield spots. They could (and likely will) go with Jedd Gyorko at third base and Matt Carpenter at first base. Or, they could push Carpenter back to third base and play some combination of Jose Martinez and/or Luke Voit at first, while using Gyorko in a super-utility infield role.
2017 Record: 86-76, second in NL Central
Key Storyline: After a surprising 86-win campaign and the offseason acquisitions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, the Brewers are geared up at a run for their first postseason appearance since 2011.
Position Battle: Backup outfielder – With Yelich, Cain and Ryan Braun lined up to start, the Brewers have some major contributors from last year just trying to win bench spots. Keon Broxton is coming off a 20-20 season but also a 37 percent strikeout rate and 85 OPS+, Domingo Santana is coming off a 30 home run, .875 OPS campaign but with atrocious defense and Brett Phillips is ready for a larger role after performing well in his ML debut last season. Which of them wins a job could determine who gets traded, likely for more pitching depth.
2017 Record: 68-94, fifth in NL Central
Key Storyline: Coming off three consecutive last-place finishes, the Reds will try to break the 70-win threshold for the first time since 2014.
Position Battle: Shortstop – Jose Peraza is the early favorite to replace Zack Cozart as the Reds everyday shortstop, a potential liability given his .665 career OPS and the fact he’s a natural second baseman. Dilson Herrera, who was the key part of the return for Jay Bruce two years ago, and non-roster invitee Phil Gosselin are the top challengers.
Sinker Helps Put Sterling Sharp On The Map
Sharp shined in the Arizona Fall League, in part because of the sinker he learned from watching video of a former Nationals reliever.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
2017 Record: 104-58, first in NL West
Key Storyline: One win away from a World Series victory last year, the Dodgers return reloaded as they seek a championship on the 30th anniversary of Orel Hershiser, Kirk Gibson and the franchise’s last title.
Position Battle: Left field –Joc Pederson’s redemption began with an excellent World Series performance, Andrew Toles is due back from a torn ACL, top prospect Alex Verdugo is ready after a full year at Triple-A and his first big league callup, and oh yeah, Matt Kemp is back. Sorting out who gets the most playing time – with Kikè Hernandez still likely to start against lefthanders most nights – will be the Dodgers top priority.
2017 Record: 93-69, second in NL West
Key Storyline: The Diamondbacks first winning season and playoff berth since 2011 was a step forward, now they’ll work to show it wasn’t a fluke.
Position Battle: Middle infield – Chris Owings, Ketel Marte, Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury all have the chops to start, with all but Drury capable of handling shortstop. All four saw significant time last year as injuries hit, and figuring out the most effective combination will be an interesting development.
2017 Record: 87-75, third in NL West
Key Storyline: After a run to the wild card last season, the Rockies will have to fend off the Dodgers, D-backs and retooled Giants to make consecutive postseasons for the first time in franchise history.
Position Battle: First base – Top prospect Ryan McMahon is tentatively considered the favorite to win the job, but depending on his performance as well as that of young outfielders Raimel Tapia and David Dahl, Ian Desmond and Gerardo Parra could be pushed to first base and give him a challenge.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
2017 Record: 64-98, fifth in NL West
Key Storyline: Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen lead a group of veteran newcomers as the Giants try and bounce back from their worst season since 1985.
Position Battle: Center field – A position that has been a black hole for the Giants for years is slated to be filled by Austin Jackson, who has been a part-time player the last two seasons and has seen his center field defense decline precipitously. Rookies Austin Slater and Steven Duggar and non-roster invitee Gregor Blanco will try to challenge his hold on the starting spot.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
2017 Record: 71-91, fourth in NL West
Key Storyline: With more consecutive losing seasons (seven) than all but the Marlins in baseball, the Padres will try to show their rebuild is actually moving forward rather than stagnating.
Position Battle: Starting rotation – Luis Perdomo and Dinelson Lamet are safe, and renaissance man Clayton Richard likely has a spot, at least for Opening Day. The rest is wide open. Colin Rea, Robbie Erlin and Matt Strahm are returning from major injuries, offseason acquisition Bryan Mitchell has nine big league starts to his name, Jordan Lyles has a career 5.32 ERA as a starter, and non-roster invitees Tyson Ross and Chris Young, both making their Padres returns, have been either injured or ineffective the last two seasons.