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MLB Spring Training: 5 storylines to follow

The Major League Baseball season is rapidly approaching, but before we get to Opening Day, each team has a month to prepare in Spring Training.

Spring Training offers each team a glimpse into what the team could look like in the regular season, a first look at their offseason acquisitions and the prospects that could make their way to the big leagues soon enough.

Here are five storylines to follow as Spring Training officially starts next Thursday.

Read more: MLB Spring Training schedule, format, leagues, how to watch

Ohtani and Yamamoto join the Dodgers

The Dodgers spent over a billion dollars this offseason. After a successful 2023 regular season ended with an unexpectedly early playoff exit, it was time for Los Angeles to spend in the offseason.

That led to the Dodgers signing two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani to a 10-year contract worth $700 million.

The contract broke every record in North American sports and even though Ohtani won’t be able to pitch this season, the Dodgers still believed he was worth every penny at the plate since he hit 44 home runs last year.

If the Dodgers only signed Ohtani, it would have been an incredible offseason and the Dodgers would have still been the biggest winners heading into Spring Training.

However, Ohtani was just the tip of the iceberg. Soon after Ohtani was signed, the Japanese sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto agreed to terms with the Dodgers for $325 million over 12 years.

That’s the biggest contract for any MLB pitcher and Yamamoto hasn’t even thrown a pitch in the league yet. Even after that, the Dodgers still weren’t done.

They acquired star pitcher Tyler Glasnow from the Rays in a trade, signed James Paxton and brought back Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers are the team to beat this season and their win total has been set at O/U 104.5.

A new era in New York with Juan Soto

It was a miserable 2023 season for the Yankees, who would have finished last in the division if it wasn’t for the Red Sox.

Gerrit Cole won the Cy Young and Aaron Judge launched 37 home runs, but the rest of the team struggled mightily.

The Yankees needed another star or two and that’s exactly what they got in the offseason.

New York agreed to a trade with the Padres that would send Michael King and prospects to San Diego for the slugger Juan Soto, whose contract expires after the 2024 season.

At just 25 years old, Soto is already one of the most accomplished hitters in the game. His elite eye, excellent bat control, and perfect swing have made him the face of the franchise wherever he has landed.

Soto’s swing also appears perfect for Yankee Stadium. The short porch in right field means a flyout in other stadiums could be a home run in the Bronx, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Soto have a career-high in home runs and OPS in 2024.

Combined with Judge, that’s a powerful top of the order, while on the mound, Cole has his sidekick.

The Yankees signed Marcus Stroman to a 2-year contract worth $37 million. Stroman was an All-Star last season and finished the year with a 3.95 ERA in over 130 innings.

With the additions of Soto in the lineup and Stroman on the mound, there is a playoff mentality in New York this season and they have the fourth-shortest odds to win the World Series at +1000.

Bellinger, Snell and Chapman highlight remaining free agents

Pitchers and catchers have already reported to Florida or Arizona and position players will join their teams on February 22 for the official start of Spring Training.

That means Opening Day is just over a month away and teams need to start getting ready for the grueling 162-game season.

However, the free-agent market is still very active. In fact, there are far more star players available right now than most anticipated.

That includes reigning NL Cy Young Blake Snell, former NL MVP Cody Bellinger, and 2x platinum glove winner Matt Chapman along with Tim Anderson, Jordan Montgomery, Adam Duvall, J.D. Martinez, and Michael Lorenzen.

It’s almost certain that these players will be on a roster by Opening Day since they have the talent, but the size of their contract demands are holding these players back.

However, the closer it gets to Opening Day, the more desperate teams and players will become, so it’s only a matter of time.

The listed players available can make an immediate impact on whatever team they sign with, and it could change the outlook of the team doing the signing.

Will top prospect Holliday make Orioles Opening Day roster?

The Orioles seem to pump out top prospect after top prospect each year and this season is no different.

A few years ago, it was Adley Rutschman. Last year, it was Grayson Rodriguez and Gunnar Henderson. This year, it’s Jackson Holliday.

The son of 7x All-Star Matt Holliday is the MLB’s #1 prospect and is expected to make his MLB debut sometime in 2024.

Holliday just turned 20 years old and was phenomenal in his short time in Triple-A last season, so he is expected to be a part of the Orioles in 2024. The big question is - could he make the big-league team out of Spring Training?

Some experts believe he will. If he does, Holliday would be the new second baseman in Baltimore and would round out one of the youngest infields in MLB if that happens.

At shortstop, Gunnar Henderson won AL Rookie of the Year in 2023. At third base, Jordan Westburg is the #37 prospect in baseball and at first base will be Ryan Mountcastle, who has already played four seasons but is just 26 years old.

It’s a youth movement in Baltimore and if Holliday can be on the Opening Day roster, he would surely make a quick impact for the Orioles, who are +1300 to win the World Series.

Giants win the Jung sweepstakes and get Ray

The Dodgers weren’t the only NL West team to make some moves in the offseason. The Giants signed KBO superstar Jung Hoo Lee to a 6-year contract worth $113 million.

Lee was one of the best players in Korea for the last few years, as he finished with a .340 career average in the KBO and never hit below .318 in a season.

In his best year in Korea, Lee hit .349 with 23 homers and 113 RBIs. He is an elite bat who does not strike out much and is also a speedy outfielder, and he will slot in as the new center fielder for the Giants.

The Giants had two goals for the offseason: sign an outfielder and strengthen the starting rotation. Signing Lee accomplished the first task and the second task was completed by trading for Robbie Ray.

Ray had spent the last two years in Seattle, but missed nearly the entire 2023 season as he suffered an elbow injury and needed Tommy John surgery.

He made only one start in 2023, but before that Ray posted a 3.71 ERA with 12 wins in nearly 200 innings for the Mariners in 2022.

And before that, Ray won the AL Cy Young award for the Blue Jays in 2021 by posting a 2.71 ERA.

He is expected to be back on the mound around the all-star break, which will give the San Francisco pitching staff a much-needed boost. The Giants' over/under for total wins is 81.5.

Odds mentioned in this article were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.

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