Skip to main content

Monitoring MLB spring training: One player from each National League team to watch for the next month

Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

This afternoon, MLB hosts its first game of the 2024 spring, with the Los Angeles Dodgers playing the San Diego Padres in Peoria, Ariz.

In less than a month – March 20 and 21 – the Dodgers and Padres will be kicking off the regular baseball season with two games in Seoul, South Korea.

Yes, it’s coming that fast. By this weekend, every team will have played its first exhibition game.

We looked at 15 players to watch this spring from the American League. Now, it is time for 15 in the National League – one for each club.

Some are returning from injuries; some are joining new teams; and some are just players who have a lot riding on this spring.  

Related: Initial 2024 MLB power rankings

National League East

atlanta braves, chris sale
Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves

LHP Chris Sale

No team is better at getting the most out of a pitcher looking to rebound. There was a time when Sale was the most feared hurler in the American League. Injuries, however, have limited his success. Last season, he was 6-5 with a 4.30 ERA in 20 starts for the Boston Red Sox. The Braves, however, pounced this offseason, trading young infielder Vaughn Grissom for the 34-year-old lefty. Sale claims he feels better than he has in years. And the Braves don’t make a lot of mistakes, pitching-wise. This will be a fun marriage to watch.

Philadelphia Phillies

1B Bryce Harper

It’s not like Harper is completely new to first base. He played 36 regular season games there last year and 13 more in the postseason. Now, though, first base is Harper’s position going forward. He said he’s good with that. Given his athleticism, he’ll probably be an above-average defender before 2024 ends. Now the question is: Will he hit like a first baseman? It’s a spot where power is king, and Harper’s 3.9 percent home run ratio in 2023 was his lowest since he was a 21-year-old. He’s 31, and seemingly healthy. Let’s see if that translates into more bombs this spring.

Miami Marlins

RHP Sixto Sánchez

A key piece of the J.T. Realmuto trade in 2019, Sánchez had one of the highest ceilings of any young pitcher. Four years later, he is out of minor-league options and has logged 39 big-league innings, all in 2020 (when he had a 3.46 ERA in seven starts for the Marlins). Due to multiple shoulder surgeries, he has pitched one inning in pro ball since. Still only 25, Sánchez likely will begin the year in the Marlins’ bullpen if he’s not an IL stash. Or he could be part of a trade to a team that’s not as deep in pitching. Therefore, every scout in baseball will be watching as Sánchez takes the mound this spring.

New York Mets

RHP Edwin Diáz

The Mets’ 2023 season unofficially fell into the toilet last March, when their closer, Diáz, tore the patella tendon in his right knee while celebrating a Puerto Rico team’s win in the World Baseball Classic. He was lost for the season, a dagger for a club that had just signed Diáz for five years and $102 million. He has said he’s fully healthy, which means he should return as one of the game’s best closers despite not pitching in the majors since October 2022.   

Related: Washington Nationals 2024 MLB season preview

Washington Nationals

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Washington Nationals
Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

OF Dylan Crews

Crews has played just 35 professional games since being drafted second overall by the Nationals last July. And he slashed .208/.318/.278 in 20 games at Double-A. At 21, he’s not ready for prime time, and so he isn’t making this roster out of spring. Still, he’s an extraordinary talent and will get his first taste of big-league ball. That makes it worth checking in on the Nationals’ camp on occasion.

National League Central

Milwaukee Brewers

OF Jackson Chourio

We’ve already mentioned the other Jackson (Holliday) in the AL story and now it is Chourio’s turn. He doesn’t turn 20 until March, and the Brewers aren’t handing him a job yet. It’s likely he begins the year in Triple-A – he only had six games and 24 plate appearances there in 2023 – but Chourio has told MLB.com that his goal this spring is breaking camp with the Brewers. He’s obviously a huge part of their future after signing an eight-year deal for a guaranteed $82 million. He’ll be up this season, but let’s see if he can push the issue this spring.

Chicago Cubs

LHP Shota Imanaga

While baseball was focused on where 25-year-old Japanese import Yoshinobu Yamamoto landed this offseason, the Cubs focused on another Japanese pitching star, signing the 30-year-old Imanaga to a four-year deal worth a guaranteed $53 million that could ultimately pay $80 million for five years. The lefty, who started last year’s World Baseball Classic championship game against the United States, has an above-average, four-pitch mix and could be penciled in as the Cubs’ No. 2 starter. Before that is set, he’ll have a spring to adjust to the pace and talent of the majors.

Cincinnati Reds

cincinnati reds' elly de la cruz
Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

INF Elly De La Cruz

There are plenty of young Reds to watch this spring as several morph into big leaguers following their debuts in 2023. From the outside, De La Cruz, 22, is the most intriguing. The switch-hitting shortstop/third baseman took the league by storm last year, debuting in June and hitting .307 with an .881 OPS and nine steals in his first 21 games. He then suffered inevitable growing pains, failing to post an OPS above .700 in any of his following three months in the majors. The talent is phenomenal, but he has plenty to learn heading into 2024.   

Pittsburgh Pirates

RHP Paul Skenes

Skenes, 21, isn’t making the Pirates’ Opening Day roster. He’s had five pro appearances – and 6 2/3 innings — since being drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft out of Louisiana State University. There’s no reason to rush Skenes, who has a triple-digit fastball and is widely considered the best pitching prospect in the minors. He’ll be given an opportunity to pitch some this spring, and his bullpens and side sessions already have been highly anticipated in Bradenton, Fla., especially when he throws to catcher Henry Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in 2021.

Related: St. Louis Cardinals 2024 MLB season preview

St. Louis Cardinals

RHP Sonny Gray

A makeover was needed in St. Louis, and so the Cardinals signed three starters early in the free-agent process. The headliner is Sonny Gray, the 34-year-old right-hander who was second in the 2023 AL Cy Young race. Gray agreed to a three-year deal worth a guaranteed $75 million to be the ace of the Cardinals. He has the credentials for the title – a career 3.47 ERA in 11 seasons – but much of his time has been spent in smaller markets such as Oakland, Cincinnati and Minnesota. His one foray in the spotlight, two seasons with the New York Yankees, was a struggle. Now, he’s pitching in baseball-crazy St. Louis, where fans hang on every pitch.

Related: MLB trade rumors – Latest MLB rumors

National League West

MLB Spring Training Los Angeles Dodgers
Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Dodgers

DH Shohei Ohtani

Can there really be anyone else? The Dodgers signed Yamamoto to a record deal for a free agent coming over from Japan, and it was a bucket-drop compared with Ohtani’s 10-year, $700 million contract. Reporters are literally counting every Ohtani swing in batting practice. Ohtani’s not pitching but every time he steps in the box this year, it’s a mini event, even in February.

Arizona Diamondbacks

LHP Eduardo Rodríguez

This might be my favorite move of the offseason. Four years and $80 million for a 30-year-old who has thrown more than 160 innings in a season once in his career appears to be an overpay. But free agent pitching is usually an overpay, and it’s usually done by the big boys like the Yankees and Dodgers. This time, the NL defending champion Diamondbacks reached for Rodríguez, who can really pitch when healthy. Chances are Arizona won’t get four clean seasons from Rodríguez, but they took that chance while on an upward swing. I like it. Now, will Rodríguez be injury-free this spring?

San Diego Padres

INF Xander Bogaerts

Notice the “INF” next to Bogaerts’ name. It’s the first time since 2015 that “SS” wasn’t the sole label for Bogaerts. He played some third base for the Red Sox to start his career, but in the past nine years he has been his team’s primary shortstop. This year, the Padres have announced that Ha-Seong Kim will seize that role with Bogaerts moving to second, a spot he’s never played as a pro. At 31, he has the skills to master second base. The question is whether coming off shortstop will be helpful or hurtful for him at the plate.

San Francisco Giants

OF Jung Hoo Lee

This is a really intriguing one. Making the transition from the Korea Baseball Organization to the big leagues has not been easy for hitters who aren’t used to such consistent, high-velocity offerings. The learning curve seems to be much sharper for KBO players compared with those who played in Japan. Still, the Giants believe so much in Lee’s ability to make contact that they gave him a six-year deal worth a guaranteed $113 million. Lee, 25, is an outstanding defender who is expected to be the Giants’ starting center fielder for the rest of this decade. But will his hit tool – a lifetime .340 average in Korea – carry over immediately?

Related: Colorado Rockies 2024 MLB season preview

Colorado Rockies

OF/1B Kris Bryant

The Rockies are an anonymous ballclub who have few players who can move the needle this spring. That brings us to a fallback position: Bryant, and whether this is the year he at least lessens the boulder-to-ankle contract he signed with the Rockies before the 2022 season (seven years, $182 million). He’s played only 122 games in the first two years of the deal and has posted a .740 OPS and 15 homers in 516 plate appearances. The Rockies are hoping the less demanding position will help Bryant, 32, stay off the injured list.

Mentioned in this article:

More About: