As camps kick into high gear, questions remain to be answered

The Orioles have worries about ace pitcher Chris Tillman’s shoulder and questions about rotation depth. Shortstop J.J. Hardy has back issues and, while Seth Smith will play right field, manager Buck Showalter has to figure out left field.

The Nationals aren’t sure if the stress fracture in the knuckle of ace pitcher Max Scherzer’s right ring finger will allow him to pitch on opening day. And there’s the never-ending question about who is going to pitch the ninth inning - Blake Treinen, Shawn Kelley or someone outside the organization.

Questions are typical this time of year.

Here are storylines from other teams as spring training hits full throttle in Arizona and Florida:

Q: Where will Kyle Schwarber play for the World Series champion Cubs?

A: He was a World Series hitting hero against Cleveland last year. He averaged .412 in the World Series after injury limited him to two regular season games. Now, at 23, he’s a player without a position. He’s listed as the third catcher behind Wilson Contreras and Miguel Montero. Schwarber could play left, but Ben Zobrist is there. Schwarber could play second, but that is Javier Baez’s job. Cubs manager Joe Maddon says he’s going to find regular at-bats for Schwarber. Maddon is probably wishing the National League had the DH.

Q: Cardinals pitcher Alex Reyes found out in the first days of camp that he needed elbow surgery. What does this do to the Cardinals rotation?

A: Reyes, 22, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball with an upper-90s fastball, was expected to be in the rotation, which goes into Grapefruit League games with a question at every slot except Carlos Martinez. Can Adam Wainright, 35, bounce back and how will Lance Lynn come back from elbow surgery? Mike Leake had the worst ERA (4.69) of his career last year and Michael Wacha, 25, is coming back from a shoulder injury. The team is thinking about making former closer Trevor Rosenthal a starter. The Cardinals have the best chance of beating the Cubs in the National League East, but not without a solid rotation.

Q: How much will the Blue Jays miss Edwin Encarnacion, who signed with Cleveland?

A: The Blue Jays will miss Encarnacion’s 42 home runs, but if new DH Kendrys Morales hits 25-30 home runs, as he did with Kansas City in each of the last two seasons, the Blue Jays will be fine. They have plenty of firepower in Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki. And Devon Travis is a sleeper for offensive production. The Blue Jays’ focus will be on a strong rotation and defense, a new twist from past powerhouse teams. Their rotation has Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Francisco Liriano and Marcus Stroman.

Q: What are the Indians going to get from outfielder Michael Brantley?

A: Last year, injury limited Brantley, the left-fielder, to 39 at-bats, but the Indians are confident he’s going to be healthy and making a contribution from the middle of the lineup. He could be a huge help to an Indians team with a deep rotation and an even a deeper bullpen. The Indians hope for a .300 average with 18-20 home runs and 15 stolen bases from Brantley. Add those numbers to a lineup that has Encarnacion and it is easy to see why the Indians are the favorite to win the AL Central.


Q: Is this the season prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano kick it into gear for the Twins?

A: The Twins, triple-digit losers last season, hope so because the rebuilding takes a major step back without them. Twins manager Paul Molitor is “cautiously optimistic’’ that Buxton’s performance in September - .287 average, .357 on-base and nine home runs - is a sign of things to come. Buxton is 23 and could be one of the fastest players in the majors if he sticks. He has been going up and down ever since he came to the majors two years ago. Sano, who will be moving from right field to third base, has shed 30 lbs. Sano’s power improved from 18 home runs in 2015 to 23 last season, but his average dipped from .269 to .236.

Q: What can the Yankees expect from catcher Gary Sanchez?

A: Sanchez came up in the final two months of last season and hit .299-20-42 with a .376 on-base percentage, leading to the trade of catcher Brian McCann to Houston. Sanchez is young and talented, but catching a full season in the big leagues and leading a pitching staff puts incredible wear-and-tear on a catcher’s body. That will be the challenge. The Yankees are in a rebuilding mode, so the question will be whether management can be patient with the growing process.


Q: Will outfielder Jay Bruce rebound with the Mets?

A: If he does, the Mets are going to have an explosive outfield with Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Yoenis Cespedes from right to left. Bruce hit .219 in the final two months of 2016 after a trade from the Reds. He’s ready to not be a distraction, especially after the Mets spent all winter trying to trade him. The power hitters on the market prevented that transaction. Bruce could be moved to first base to make room for sweet-swinging Michael Conforto in right. Bruce hit 30-plus home runs in three consecutive seasons for Cincinnati from 2011-2013, including 43 in 2013.

Q: What do the Red Sox get from Pablo Sandoval?

A: Sandoval is 30 and in the third year of a five-year, $95 million contract with the Red Sox. In two years, he’s given them 10 home runs in 129 games. He’s had weight issues and was defiant about them. He injured his left shoulder last season. This spring, Sandoval has lost 30 pounds and come into camp with a new attitude. Sandoval was a two-time National League All-Star with the Giants. In 2009, he hit .330-25-90 and two years later, .315-23-70. The Red Sox have Mitch Moreland at first base and Hanley Ramirez is the DH. So if Sandoval hits, he has to play third base. If he plays as well as he looks, that’s good news for Boston.

Q: Speaking of players that need to kick into gear, will Yasiel Puig be the Dodgers’ right fielder?

A: The Dodgers would love nothing better. Puig, 26, is an amazing all-around talent without discipline. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says Puig’s defense should be considered among the best in baseball, especially with his arm. Puig says he wants to play every day, but he has to prove himself as a consistent player who follows the rules. Last year, he was demoted to the minors. He came back in September and hit .281 in 23 games. Puig’s strong arm allowed him to lead Dodgers outfielders in 2016 with six assists.

Q: Will the Braves’ Matt Kemp be able to support Freddie Freeman in the lineup?

A: If the last two months of 2016 were any indication, the one-two punch of Kemp and Freeman will be dangerous. After coming in a trade last season from San Diego, Kemp hit .350 with a .408 on-base percentage in 56 games and that helped Freeman to finish the season with 34 home runs, 43 doubles and six triples. The Braves offense was among the NL leaders in second-half runs last season.

Q: How will former National Ian Desmond handle first base in Colorado?

A: For the second consecutive spring, Desmond, 31, will be learning a new position. Last year, he learned center field in the spring with the Rangers. The Rangers gave Desmond a $70 million contract, so they are confident he’ll be fine. Desmond is athletic and even though he’ll likely strikeout out 170 times, he’ll hit at least 20 home runs playing in Coors Field.