As spring training gets underway, each team will have multiple storylines to follow into the regular season. Here, we examine one player from every National League club who’s worth keeping an eye on throughout training camp.
Braves: Vaughn Grissom, SS
The biggest questions surrounding the reigning NL East champs are around Dansby Swanson’s successor at shortstop. And those are big shoes to fill, with Swanson becoming a first-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner at the position last year. Right now, it seems like Grissom is the most likely candidate to take the reins, but he’s certainly not a lock with Orlando Arcia looming. Grissom, 22, made his MLB debut last year and was pretty impressive with five homers and five steals over 41 games. His free-swinging plate approach could expose him, though, and he has also not looked especially comfortable defensively. Those items should be the biggest focus of Atlanta’s spring.
Marlins: Jazz Chisholm Jr., OF
By now, Marlins fans are well-acquainted with their electric budding star who will grace the cover of MLB The Show. But this spring, he’ll be auditioning himself to become, according to him, a Gold Glove-level center fielder. The addition of Jean Segura and Luis Arraez has forced Chisholm out of the infield, but he’s not short on confidence in adapting to a new, very demanding defensive role. The mid-day Grapefruit League sun makes even the most seasoned veterans look like fools on routine flies at times, so there are going to be growing pains. Can he grow through those mistakes? And can Chisholm, who missed 100 games last year, stay healthy while doing it?
Mets: Kodai Senga, SP
The focus is on this offseason’s marquee international free-agent pitcher, who’s currently listed as a likely candidate to win NL Rookie of the Year (+650). The 30-year-old right-hander is not considered prospect-eligible by most publications, but Baseball America had him ranked him as the 16th-best farmhand entering the 2023 campaign. He’s a proven winner and his “ghost ball” – a ramped up split-finger fastball that’s thrown hard and deceptively falls off the table en route to the plate – is making headlines.
Examining what that looks like will be top of mind for him, but making sure everything else also translates to MLB success is also crucial. In Japan, he was exceptional at suppressing barrels and good at inducing whiffs, but gave up a fair amount of free passes. How will that look over here?
Nationals: MacKenzie Gore, SP
There are a couple interesting prospects to watch in Nationals camp, but probably the most captivating will be Gore. Expected to make the team’s Opening Day rotation, spring training will be the 23-year-old lefty’s first real chance to show Nats fans who, among others, their team traded Juan Soto for. When Gore was acquired, the former third overall pick was shelved with elbow inflammation, but he was eventually able to make four abbreviated starts at Triple-A that didn’t go especially well, allowing seven runs on 16 hits and four walks while striking out nine. At his best, he has been pretty wild in his career, but it’s all about making progress at this stage – both for him and for the Nats. A healthy spring where he hones his command would be a great step forward.
Phillies: Craig Kimbrel, RP
It’s going to be really hard to gauge what version of Kimbrel the Phillies added based solely on spring training. But that won’t stop all eyes from being fixated on him every time he comes into a game, regardless of situation. In spring, game results don’t matter and relievers rarely come in during save opportunities – it’s all about getting guaranteed work in and preferably against fellow major leaguers early in the contest. But is it going to matter to fans when they see Kimbrel cough up a homer early in spring in the fifth inning of a blowout? The veteran right-hander needs to show that he’s still got it and a lot of early attention will be on his velocity, which dipped to a career-worst 95.8 mph average last year. If his fastball can still light up a gun, that’ll be an early indication that he could be a key member of the Phillies’ bullpen.
Brewers: Brice Turang, 2B
There are a few new faces to focus on, with William Contreras the biggest name added this winter. However, we’re going internal as a top prospect looks to compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster at a position that has given the Brewers some developmental trouble before. Turang, 23, is a former first-round pick and progressed slowly through the minors. He’s never flashed much pop but he seems to possess very impressive speed and base-stealing acumen, going 34-for-36 last year at Triple-A. The lefty hitter will be looking to lock down the second-base job, which is a bit of a sore spot after top farmhand Keston Hiura never really panned out at the position. With larger bases and other rules that could improve the running game across MLB, Turang could prove to be an interesting weapon.
Cardinals: Jack Flaherty, SP
Is he finally back? When we last saw Flaherty as a full-time starter, it was way back in 2019, when he posted a 2.75 ERA and 3.46 FIP over 196 1/3 innings as a 23-year-old and looked like one of the league’s future aces. Alas, since then, he’s posted a 3.90 ERA and 4.36 FIP while injuries have held him to 154 2/3 innings total over three seasons. The Cardinals are entering 2023 with lofty expectations, adding Willson Contreras as Yadier Molina’s heir after returning to NL Central supremacy. If Flaherty really is back – and that starts with merely a healthy spring – they could emerge as a favorite in the Senior Circuit.
Cubs: Cody Bellinger, OF
The Cubs have numerous new additions that will be interesting to watch this spring, with Swanson, Eric Hosmer, Trey Mancini, and Jameson Taillon, among others, joining the fold. But Bellinger is the most captivating, landing a one-year, prove-it deal with the Cubs after being non-tendered by the Dodgers. Since winning NL MVP in 2019, he’s been hobbled by injury and ineffective. A change of scenery in tandem with the addition of shift restrictions could help rejuvenate the 27-year-old’s career, but some early results in Cactus League could get Cubs fans on board with the move even more.
Pirates: Endy Rodriguez, C
For the Pirates, the season will start and end with spring, really, so these are important times to check out which prospects might be the future for this franchise. Rodriguez, 22, is probably the most exciting rising star after climbing the ranks aggressively over the past calendar year and now ranking No. 55 in baseball and second in Pittsburgh’s system behind Termarr Johnson. Some scouts don’t believe Rodriguez can stick behind the plate, which hampers his overall stock, but his keen eye, elite plate discipline, and impressive power still make him a captivating player to watch. Across three minor-league levels last year, starting the season in High-A and progressing to Triple-A, Rodriguez hit .323/.407/.590 with 25 homers, 95 RBIs, and 60 walks in 125 games. Most recently, he struggled a bit in the developmental Dominican Winter League, but spring will give him a better taste of major-league action.
Reds: Elly De La Cruz, SS
One of the most interesting league-wide prospects is De La Cruz. The infielder is now considered a top-10 farmhand by MLB Pipeline and was ranked as high as fourth by The Athletic’s Keith Law. Whether he sticks at shortstop or shifts to third base is largely immaterial, as he’s a fine defender with impressive power and even more electric speed. Between High-A and Double-A last year, the 21-year-old hit 28 homers and stole 47 bases over 120 games. He might not break camp but it seems like his first full season could involve a pursuit to 20-20 with a future chase for 40-40 perhaps.
Diamondbacks: Gabriel Moreno, C
One of the marquee trades of the winter, the Diamondbacks are eager to get their first glimpses of Moreno. A former top prospect, the 23-year-old will look to stabilize a weakness at catcher for Arizona after coming over with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in exchange for Daulton Varsho. Moreno made his MLB debut last year and definitely looked like a complete and disciplined hitter – while lacking some pop – hitting .319/.356/.377 with one homer over 25 contests. Even further, he seems to be a polished receiver behind the dish and is borderline elite at reaction time to throw out would-be stealers, which could be handy as new rules look to ramp up the running game. The focus in spring should be making sure Moreno adapts well to a brand new pitching staff as he vies for the primary job over incumbent Carson Kelly.
Dodgers: Gavin Lux, SS
It’s Gavin Lux’s time to shine. Thanks to an uncharacteristically quiet winter from the Dodgers, Lux will be asked to take the reins as the team’s primary shortstop for the first time since being a highly touted prospect. Now a 25-year-old with parts of four seasons under his belt, he needs to seize the opportunity, and without the benefit of the infield shift to mask any of his defensive inefficiencies. He has been inconsistent over his short major-league career, hitting .253/.329/.383 with 18 homers and 14 steals. His most recent campaign, though, featured his most regular playing time, and he rewarded the Dodgers with by far his most consistent play, posting a 113 wRC+. In spring, look for him to handle duties at shortstop and simply maintain a productive plate approach.
Giants: Michael Conforto, OF
Conforto is a huge unknown. After sitting out the entirety of the 2022 campaign as a free agent, the 29-year-old outfielder is presumably fully healed from his shoulder surgery and ready to contribute. Shoulder injuries can be tough for hitters to overcome, frequently sapping some power, but an extended time off to heal might prove to be beneficial. Getting back up to playing speed, while making regular reps in the batter’s box and in the outfield, will be the challenge worth monitoring for the former All-Star.
Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr., OF
It’s honestly hard to fathom, but the last time Friars fans got to watch Tatis at Petco Park was way back in September 2021. Since then, he rehabbed back from wrist and shoulder surgeries and got popped for using performance-enhancing drugs, which will keep him suspended through the first 20 games of the 2023 campaign. That won’t stop him from being included in spring training, though, as the superstar will get to fully participate and hopefully show he’s fully up to speed by adapting well to his new presumptive full-time position. Tatis could be asked to play shortstop in the future, but the addition of Xander Bogaerts on a lucrative deal all but assures that Tatis will be an everyday right fielder moving forward. The team is already hoping that plan helps preserve Tatis’ body and keeps his incredibly crucial bat in the lineup.
Rockies: Kris Bryant, OF
In some ways a forgotten man, Bryant is entering his second season of a seven-year, $182-million contract to patrol the outfield for Colorado. He missed all but 42 games in his maiden campaign with the club due to injuries, but was actually pretty impressive in those contests, hitting .306/.376/.475 with five homers. Now the goal for a team with no real chance at reaching the postseason should be to keep him in the lineup. Regular reps and continuing to adapt to a full-time outfield role could mean a return to stardom. And, if the Rockies choose to rebuild, he might be an interesting option for teams willing to take that contract on – especially if he returns to his early-career form.
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