The crack of the bat, snap of the glove and roar of the crowd return to the Valley for another annual Spring Training. This year, Arizona hosts 15 teams for the Cactus League.
Fans from all over the United States—and the world—will flood in to see their favorite teams and players as the road to the 2017 World Series begins. Stadiums inhabit every corner of the Valley, from Surprise in the northwest to Mesa in the southeast — click here for our handy map. But no matter where the teams start in the spring, they all hope to finish their season in the Fall Classic.
College teams clash with the pros when Grand Canyon University plays the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday, February 22, and the University of Wisconsin plays the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday, February 24.
On the same day, the Badgers and Brewers battle it out, the Cactus League officially starts with the Cincinnati Reds taking on the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium. From that day until the end of March, the Cactus League is a daily attraction across the Valley. Click here for our complete game calendar.
The Diamondbacks were 69-93 in 2016, finishing 22 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and fourth in the NL West. Many of the D-backs’ offseason moves didn’t work out last season as pitchers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller failed to live up to expectations, and prospect Dansby Swanson shined after being traded to Atlanta. A disappointing year resulted in the firing of manager Chip Hale and front office members, so now it’s up to new GM Mike Hazen and fledgling manager Torey Lovullo to steer the ship in the right direction. The new regime will look to build around the tantalizing trio of Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock and Jake Lamb.
After a 108-year drought, the Chicago Cubs come to Spring Training as the reigning World Series champion. A 103-58 finish earned the Cubs first place in the NL Central and the best record in baseball headed into the postseason. A magical run was capped off by a historic Game 7 victory over the Royals in extra innings, a moment that generations of Cubs fans have been waiting for their entire lives. The Cubs bolstered their bullpen in the offseason and traded away Jorge Soler in the process, but this team still has nearly all of its central components from last season. They might even be better.
Chicago White Sox
On the south side of Chicago, the White Sox finished 78-84, fourth in the AL Central and 16 1/2 games behind the division champ and World Series runner up Cleveland Indians. It’s a full-blown rebuild for the White Sox, who dealt several their best contributors in favor of top prospects. This should make for an intriguing Spring Training product, but it’s a major league roster lacking in a number of areas. Cuban sensation and No. 1 overall prospect Yoan Moncada leads a list of bright young stars hoping to bring the White Sox back to prominence.
The Reds were cellar dwellers in the National League last season, finishing last in the NL Central at 68-94, tied with the Padres for the worst record in their league. It’s always tough sharing a division with the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates, and the Reds just didn’t have the talent to compete in 2016. They bring a slew of prospects and malleable young players to the Cactus League for a crucial spring in the rebuilding process for this franchise.
It was tight atop the American League in 2016, but the Indians prevailed after a 94-67 season that resulted in an ALCS victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. Although the Cubs came back from down 3-1 to prevent Cleveland’s second sports championship of 2016, last season was a major success. Like the Cubs, the Indians have kept their core together and even managed to add Edwin Encarnacion for three years and $60 million. Baseball fans can expect Cleveland to be among the best in MLB once again in 2017.
The Rockies finished 75-87 last season, third in the NL West behind the Giants and Dodgers. Colorado has big bats returning in Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon, as well as an exciting young shortstop in Trevor Story, who is hoping to stay healthy and productive this season. On the mound, the Rockies are young and in search of a solid fifth starter after the departure of left-hander Jorge De La Rosa. Solidifying their pitching will be a major key for the Rockies in 2017.
Kansas City Royals
After winning the World Series in 2015, the Royals finished 81-81 in 2016, eight games out of the final Wild Card spot in the AL. The 2017 season is of vital importance for the club with many key contributors coming up on free agency next offseason. The Royals picked up two members of the Cubs’ World Series team in Jorge Soler and Jason Hammel, so the K.C. faithful is hoping their success translates. The offseason was marked with tragedy for the Royals as promising young pitcher Yordano “Ace Ventura was killed in a car accident in his home country of the Dominican Republic. Kansas City will look to keep Ventura’s memory alive this season in what is sure to be an emotional journey.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels finished fourth in the AL West at 74-88, dealing with injuries to the pitching staff that derailed their season. Mike Trout continues to be one of baseball’s biggest stars, and GM Billy Eppler made some offseason moves that could help Trout and company crawl back into contention. The Angels’ pitching staff is almost entirely revamped, and fans can only pray the 2017 squad doesn’t rotate through seven left fielders as it did last season. New acquisition Cameron Maybin has the potential to solve that issue in left.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have been mainstays in baseball’s elite for most of the last decade, going 91-71 last season en route to a NLCS loss to the Cubs. The front office spent well into the luxury tax to retain the core of last year’s squad, bolstering their depth on the mound and in the batter’s box. Pitcher Clayton Kershaw is still the face of the franchise, L.A.’s lineup remains potent and the NL West is the team’s for the taking if it can hold off the Giants. Spring Training should provide some intrigue with quality depth at a multitude of positions.
Milwaukee ended up fourth in a stacked NL Central at 73-89 last season. Led by slugger Ryan Braun, the Brewers are rebuilding around prospects that fill their minor league rosters. Many of those prospects will be with the Brewers at Spring Training, showcasing their talents in an effort to make the jump to the big leagues sooner rather than later. Either way, though, it’s a youth movement in Milwaukee.
There’s a lot of movement in the Oakland sports world—The Golden State Warriors will soon move to a new arena in San Francisco the Raiders’ future is up in the air, and now the A’s are in search of a new, privately funded ballpark in Oakland. But there weren’t a lot of moves in the offseason by the 69-93 A’s. New players added to the A’s roster include Matt Joyce and Rajai Davis among others, with Joyce and Davis slated to make the biggest impacts among the new additions.
San Diego Padres
With the departure of the Chargers to Los Angeles, the 68-94 Padres are looking like the only show in town in America’s Finest City. The Padres spent much of last season making deals to strengthen their rebuild, and will be developing their acquired talent this season as that rebuild continues. The addition of four right-handers should help a pitching staff that struggled mightily in 2016. First baseman Will Myers was a first-time All-Star last season, so the Padres will build their squad around him.
San Francisco Giants
San Francisco went 87-75 before a NLDS loss to the Cubs, and this team is as talented as any in the majors. The area where the Giants lack is a solid bullpen, and the signing of closer Mark Melancon is an attempt to shore up part of that problem. Despite what may be lacking in the bullpen, a stellar rotation led by Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto is sure to be a force once again in 2017. The Giants want to strike up some odd year magic after an even year without a World Series.
It was a busy offseason for the Mariners after an 86-76 season that places them second in the AL West. Among the many moves was a late November trade with the D-backs for Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and prospects. This, along with a slew of free agent and trade acquisitions, could put Seattle over the top and get them in the postseason in 2017. A much-improved bullpen will be helpful in that endeavor, and the M’s will always have King Felix leading the way. Other key cogs like Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager make the Mariners a team to watch out for next season.
The Rangers stood atop the AL West at 95-67, but a sweep in the ALDS by the Toronto Blue Jays left Texas fans wondering what’s next. It was the second consecutive year that the Blue Jays eliminated the Rangers. Texas has had just one season in the last eight years with less than 87 wins, so the window is still open—if only slightly—for them to contend. The AL West is wide open in 2017 and the Rangers are looking to do more than just win the division. With the addition of Tyson Ross and David Rollins among others, they have a legitimate shot.
– Ryan Clarke, Phoenix.org