The most important thing we learned from each team this spring

3:19 AM UTC

It’s that time of year when every player is just itching to get the season underway. After six weeks of spring camp and nearly a month’s worth of exhibition games, everyone is filled with anticipation for the start of the regular season.

But ahead of Opening Day on Thursday, let’s take a moment to reflect. Here is the most important thing we learned about each team during Spring Training.

AL EAST

Blue Jays: They are focused on silencing the doubters

So many of the names and faces are the same, and they all remember how 2023 ended. There’s been a tone shift in Blue Jays camp this spring as this roster embraces being doubted for the first time, something that Bo Bichette brought up early in camp. No longer the darlings of the American League nor a hot pick for the World Series, the Blue Jays want to play with the “urgency” Bichette called for in ‘23 and he’ll be at the front of this charge. Improvements will need to come internally and there’s been no grand overhaul here, but reality has come knocking, and the Blue Jays are acknowledging that the clock is ticking. — Keegan Matheson

Orioles: Jackson Holliday should be in the big leagues soon

Even though the 20-year-old infielder didn’t break camp with the O’s — getting reassigned to Minor League camp on Friday — he showed he’s “very, very close” to the Majors, as general manager Mike Elias put it. MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect hit .311 (14-for-45) with seven extra-base hits (including two homers) in 15 Grapefruit League games. Once he gets more reps at second base and faces more upper-level left-handed pitchers, he’ll be storming through the MLB door. He’s already knocking on it quite loudly. — Jake Rill

Rays: You can never have too much depth

They have a shocking amount of quality depth, as usual, but it’s already being tested by injuries. Over the last few weeks of Spring Training, the Rays lost outfielders Jonny DeLuca and Josh Lowe, starter Taj Bradley and infielder Jonathan Aranda, all of whom are expected to play key roles for the club. None of their injuries are expected to be long-term issues, but they forced the Rays to dip into their depth sooner than expected — especially since they entered the spring knowing they’d be without Shane McClanahan, Shane Baz, Jeffrey Springs, Drew Rasmussen and Taylor Walls on Opening Day. Still, the Rays always seem to have an answer, and that appears to be the case again this year as players like Ryan Pepiot, Curtis Mead and Richie Palacios step into bigger roles. — Adam Berry

The veteran shortstop had his first healthy offseason in years and was able to add strength that could make him more productive and durable. Boston’s infield defense, shoddy last season, improves markedly just by having Story for a full season at shortstop. Look for Story to hit third in the lineup, after Rafael Devers and in front of Triston Casas. That should allow him to face a decent number of lefties late in games due to the three-batter rule, and Story feasts against lefties. — Ian Browne

Yankees: Juan Soto is going to destroy baseballs in a town near you

The 25-year-old’s offensive prowess was no secret; he’s a three-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger and World Series champion, among his many accolades. Yet Soto may still be underappreciated. That won’t be the case for long; an MVP award is very much in play as Soto slugs toward a staggering payday. As Gerrit Cole said earlier in camp: “I knew I would enjoy watching him. But like, I love watching him.” — Bryan Hoch

AL CENTRAL

Guardians: The future is bright

Maybe the Guardians will have some hiccups as they transition to a younger roster (yet again) and attempt to try some players in new positions. But regardless of whether they get off to a hot or slow start, we got a glimpse of just how exciting this team is going to be in the near future. Cleveland’s top two prospects (as ranked by MLB Pipeline), Chase DeLauter (No. 1) and Kyle Manzardo (No. 2), were the talk of camp. DeLauter hit four home runs in 13 spring games. Manzardo went 8-for-21 (.381) in his 13 contests. No, spring stats don’t tell the full story, but they are enough to get fans excited for what’s to come. — Mandy Bell

Royals: There’s quality depth

The Royals never want to go through a season like 2023 again, when they lost 106 games and finished second-to-last in the American League. General manager J.J. Picollo and his team made significant changes to the roster. What that has done is force some tough decisions at the end of camp. In Triple-A to start the season, the Royals will have lefty Daniel Lynch IV, who didn’t win a rotation spot but is still a young pitcher the Royals think highly of, and first baseman Nick Pratto, who mashed this spring but is blocked by others for everyday playing time. The Royals have turned up the urgency dial this year, and if they have MLB-ready players in Triple-A, they’ll be more ready to make changes if needed throughout the season. — Anne Rogers

Tigers: The pitching staff is deep

The Tigers now have an army of pitchers throwing hard fastballs and sharp breaking pitches thanks to offseason work and Spring Training tweaking. Detroit had more deserving candidates than spots in both their rotation and bullpen, and it led the Majors in strikeouts for most of the spring. That might not totally translate to the regular season as hitters lock into scouting reports, but behind a stronger Tarik Skubal, a seemingly rejuvenated Jack Flaherty and a healthy Casey Mize, this staff has the chance to keep scoring low and give a young lineup a chance to win games. — Jason Beck

Twins: Brooks Lee might be even closer to impacting this team than previously thought

MLB’s No. 18 prospect had a fantastic camp before he was reassigned Friday, going 12-for-36 (.333) with a homer, triple and five doubles (.962 OPS). Though he struggled a bit upon his promotion to Triple-A last season, Lee was always thought to be advanced and not long for the Minors. With a recovery from the back spasms at the end of spring, he looks close to ready. — Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: Offseason changes have produced promising signs

General manager Chris Getz didn’t like the ‘23 version of this team that lost 101 games, so he understandably made significant changes. The White Sox focused on better defense, playing fast with stronger fundamentals and a more cohesive clubhouse with the addition of veterans who had previously experienced winning. The results have been extremely positive, even if the Cactus League won-loss record has been far from perfect. The White Sox aren’t rebuilding in the sense of a long-term teardown, even after trading Dylan Cease to the Padres for a four-player return, but they are trying to build a culture at the base of what they hope is sustained success. — Scott Merkin

AL WEST

Angels: They will attack on the basepaths and in the strike zone

The Angels will be playing a different style of baseball under manager Ron Washington, who has preached the importance of defense and aggressive baserunning. The Angels didn’t run much last season but were among the leaders this spring. They’re also emphasizing getting ahead in counts with the pitching staff, an area the Angels struggled in last year, issuing too many walks. It’s a return to the fundamentals under Washington, who built a winner in Texas and is trying to instill his brand of baseball into a young Angels club. — Rhett Bollinger

Astros: Joe Espada is the right man for the job

Espada bided his time under a pair of World Series-winning managers in Houston – A.J. Hinch and Dusty Baker – and finally gets his shot after serving as bench coach the previous six years. The hiring of Espada was met with approval in every corner of the clubhouse, and the vibe at camp was more loose and relaxed than it had been in several years. Espada has a top-notch coaching staff around him and has said the club will play aggressively on the bases. — Brian McTaggart

Athletics: There is a light at the end of the tunnel

Coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons, there is a feeling in camp that the rebuilding A’s will take a sizable step forward in 2024. Will they challenge for the playoffs? That’s unlikely, especially given the tough division they play in. But with improvements on the pitching side, a promising young core on offense headlined by Zack Gelof, Lawrence Butler and Ryan Noda, and other top prospects who are close to Major League-ready, the A’s believe they can challenge for a .500 season, which would be a huge improvement from the previous two years. — Martín Gallegos

Mariners: The new-look lineup is legit

The overhauled lineup has looked the part of what management had envisioned when subtracting many key-yet-strikeout-prone run producers then reinvesting in others, such as designated hitter Mitch Garver, right fielder Mitch Haniger and second baseman Jorge Polanco. Specifically, it’s been a more pointed effort of communication and messaging within pre- and in-game adjustments, credited by many to new offensive coordinator Brant Brown. As Julio Rodríguez said, “Basically having a really good process in the way of how we talk about, how we approach practice.” — Daniel Kramer

When Mitch Garver departed for Seattle in free agency this offseason, the Rangers had a glaring hole at designated hitter. It really appeared to be the only hole in the lineup. But Texas only made two additions on the position player side this winter: adding backup catcher Andrew Knizner and re-signing outfielder Travis Jankowski as a fourth outfielder/pinch-runner. Entering camp, it was clear the Rangers needed a designated hitter. They always wanted it to be Langford.

“I don’t think we were hoping, I think we knew,” manager Bruce Bochy said. — Kennedi Landry

NL EAST

Braves: Youngsters have boosted their rotation depth

Top prospect AJ Smith-Shawver’s improved changeup and natural maturity give the Braves more confidence in the starting pitching depth they’ll need with both Chris Sale and Reynaldo López entering the year knowing they can’t handle a normal, full-season workload as a starter. The 21-year-old Smith-Shawver needs a little more seasoning. But he and Bryce Elder, who was an All-Star last year, give Atlanta quality depth options when there is a need to adjust the original rotation. Both could end up making 15-plus starts despite beginning the season at Triple-A. — Mark Bowman

Marlins: The pitching depth soothes injury concerns

Despite setbacks to Braxton Garrett, Edward Cabrera and Eury Pérez, Miami hasn’t panicked because of its pitching depth. Leading the way is A.J. Puk, who was converted into a starter in a proactive offseason move.

“Some guys [are] making really positive impressions, and I feel really excited about what we can do one through five, even with some injuries and some guys coming back from being hurt that we expect to be back fairly soon,” new president of baseball operations Peter Bendix said. — Christina De Nicola

Mets: Competing for now, building for later

The Mets truly are trying to “thread a needle,” as president of baseball operations David Stearns put it, between competing for a playoff berth and building for the future. Never was that more evident than at the end of camp, when Stearns signed J.D. Martinez to become his primary DH. Mark Vientos was optioned to the Minors in the wake of the signing, but the Mets still intend to spend this summer seeing what they have in Vientos, Brett Baty and — eventually — their young crop of starting pitching prospects. It’s a delicate balance that will affect the Mets’ decisions all summer. — Anthony DiComo

Nationals: The bullpen is deep

In spite of facing the injuries of returning relievers Mason Thompson and Jose A. Ferrer, so many bullpen hopefuls performed well in camp that the final decision came down to the wire. Washington saw veterans including Jacob Barnes, Matt Barnes, Richard Bleier and Derek Law step up on Minor League deals. The team also was able to identify numerous candidates to pitch multiple innings in relief, an asset that helped them tab only eight starters last season. — Jessica Camerato

Phillies: They are ready to run it back

The Phillies have been asked about “running it back” a lot, like it is a bad thing. Yes, they fell two wins short of a World Series championship in 2022. Yes, they fell five wins short in 2023. But the Phillies brought back almost everybody this season because they believe they are good enough to win a championship, especially if everybody is healthy. They are mostly healthy as the season opens. (Taijuan Walker and Orion Kerkering will open the season on the IL.) They think it will help them start fast, and contend for the NL East. — Todd Zolecki

NL CENTRAL

Brewers: The kids will have to step up

The Brewers’ young talent will have to shine if Milwaukee wants a playoff repeat in 2024. Twenty-year-old phenom Jackson Chourio is coming to the big leagues on Opening Day. Sal Frelick, Brice Turang, Joey Ortiz, DL Hall and Abner Uribe are all expected to play key roles from the start — all are 25 or younger and in their first three seasons. Heck, even star catcher William Contreras is only 26. — David Adler

Cardinals: They are persevering amid injuries to important pieces

“Baseball happens,” as Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said when addressing the club’s injuries to right-hander Sonny Gray, middle reliever Keynan Middleton and outfielders Tommy Edman and Lars Nootbaar. The Cardinals named Edman, Nootbaar and Jordan Walker as their starting outfield in early November and signed Gray in late November only to see many of those pieces go down in recent weeks. Middleton, a free agent signed following a strong 2023 with the Yankees, was also supposed to be a key cog in the bullpen. Fortunately for the Cards, others such as Dylan Carlson, Alec Burleson, Matt Carpenter, Miles Mikolas and Riley O’Brien performed well in the spring to soften the losses. Gray and Nootbaar should be back soon, but the prognosis for Middleton and Edman is murkier. St. Louis will need Carlson to play well to replace the glove and hustle of Edman, who has yet to hit following offseason surgery on his right wrist. — John Denton

Cubs: Many roles are not set in stone

This spring was all about beginning to learn how new Cubs manager Craig Counsell will operate. The main takeaway out of the chute is his focus on flexibility. Chicago’s lineup could go through an evolution. There is an idea of how the bullpen will work, but Counsell has been careful not to lock in any firm roles. The back of the rotation could feature multiple arms, including a group moving between Chicago and Triple-A or the bullpen. — Jordan Bastian

Pirates: Henry Davis looks like he can be a Major League catcher

After losing Endy Rodríguez to a winter ball injury, all eyes went to Davis to see if he could handle the responsibilities of the job, especially defensively. He worked extensively with the coaching staff this winter and has shown better receiving and blocking skills. — Alex Stumpf

Reds: Offseason decisions are already paying off

Focusing on depth in the offseason really helped after a tranquil Spring Training turned turbulent midway. Top prospect and expected third baseman Noelvi Marte is out 80 games because of his PED suspension. Center fielder TJ Friedl (right wrist) and second baseman Matt McLain (left shoulder) will miss Opening Day and beyond. Those losses certainly hurt but they can be mitigated somewhat. By signing Jeimer Candelario and not trading Jonathan India, Cincinnati has a chance to weather the storm and stay competitive until they return to full strength. — Mark Sheldon

NL WEST

D-backs: They remain a confident bunch after their surprising run to the World Series

Rather than run from the expectations that are on them this year, they seem to be embracing them. Whereas last year the expectation was to be competitive deep into the season, this year the vibe is postseason or bust. How they handle the heightened expectations will be key, and so far they appear to be doing well. — Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: There’s still work to do

After a historic offseason, the Dodgers came into camp with a lot of expectations, and rightfully so. It’s a clubhouse full of talent. But over the last six weeks, it’s also clear that the Dodgers have some holes on the roster and will need to fix them over the next couple of months. The infield defense is still a real concern. Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s struggles up to this point, especially his performance in his Major League debut, allowing five runs in just one inning, is also very concerning. The Dodgers have a stacked lineup and will still win a lot of games. But this season will be judged by whether or not they win the last game of the season. There’s still work to do. — Juan Toribio

Giants: They are going for it

San Francisco committed over $320 million to six free agents – Jung Hoo Lee, Blake Snell, Matt Chapman, Jorge Soler, Jordan Hicks and Tom Murphy – and took on an additional $74 million by acquiring Robbie Ray from the Mariners, resulting in a revamped roster that will be intent on returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2021. — Maria Guardado

Padres: They are relying on their prospects

In Seoul, they made Jackson Merrill the youngest Opening Day center fielder since Ken Griffey Jr. They also promoted Graham Pauley to the roster less than two years after they’d taken him in the 13th round of the 2022 Draft. And while the Dylan Cease trade clears up some questions in their rotation, their starting-pitching depth is almost entirely predicated on young, unproven arms. It’s still a star-studded roster. But rather than filling in the edges with aging veterans, as they did a year ago, they’ve chosen to do so with youngsters this year. — AJ Cassavell

Rockies: They are making baby steps toward being competitive

This can be shown in terms of depth. There are final decisions for first baseman-outfielder Michael Toglia and newly acquired infielder-outfielder Greg Jones. Recent Draft products outfielder Jordan Beck and right-handed relief pitcher Jaden Hill performed well enough that we could see them sooner than later. And there is relief depth. However, the big issue is the rotation depth is not at the point to support a contender. — Thomas Harding