5 MLB storylines to follow as pitchers and catchers report to spring training

Shohei Ohtani and the loaded Dodgers lead the top MLB storylines entering spring training

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The sound of baseball gloves popping can be heard across Arizona and Florida.

That's right, pitchers and catchers have started to report to their respective spring training camps in preparation for the 2024 MLB season.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were the first team to begin their spring training work, with pitchers and catchers reporting two days before the Super Bowl. The San Diego Padres followed suit on Sunday and the rest of the clubs are kicking things off on either Wednesday or Thursday.

The position players won't be too far behind and then the action in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues will get underway. The Dodgers and Padres are scheduled to play this year's first spring training game on Feb. 22.

So as baseball makes its return, here are five storylines to follow throughout spring training and into the new season:

Shohei Ohtani and the loaded Dodgers

Shohei Ohtani was the story of the offseason and is set up to be the story of the 2024 campaign as well. After six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani signed with the crosstown Dodgers on a record-smashing 10-year, $700 million deal. And the structure of Ohtani's contract, which contains a whopping $680 million in deferrals, helped allow the Dodgers to continue to add to their already loaded roster.

Check out our breakdown of Shohei Ohtani's historic and record-breaking contract.

After securing the two-time unanimous AL MVP's signature, the Dodgers acquired Rays ace Tyler Glasnow and inked him to a five-year, $135 million extension. Los Angeles then further strengthened its rotation by signing top free agent pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who was part of Japan's 2023 World Baseball Classic title-winning team with Ohtani, to a record-breaking 12-year, $325 million deal. And one-time All-Star outfielder Teoscar Hernández joined Los Angeles on a one-year, $23.5 million deal as well.

While Ohtani won't take the mound in 2024 as he recovers from elbow surgery, the baseball world should finally get to see him in a playoff setting. The Dodgers are riding one of the longest playoff streaks in MLB history at 11 straight and it would be a massive disappointment if that run came to an end this season.

But will all of this talent be enough to push the Dodgers to their first title in a full season since 1988?

International stars debut in MLB

The 25-year-old Yamamoto, who sported a 1.82 ERA over seven seasons in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), isn't the only international star joining MLB in 2024, either.

After the Dodgers spending spree this offseason, we couldn't help but wonder how many concessions we could buy with all that cash.

The San Francisco Giants signed Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee to a six-year, $113 million contract. Lee, 25, was the 2022 KBO MVP after hitting .349/.421/.575 with 23 home runs, 113 RBI and a .996 OPS.

The Chicago Cubs, meanwhile, landed Japanese pitcher Shōta Imanaga, inking him to a four-year, $53 million deal. The 30-year-old southpaw boasted a 3.18 ERA over eight NPB seasons.

Juan Soto and revamped Yankees

While the Dodgers dominated the offseason headlines, the New York Yankees were also aggressive in upgrading their roster. After missing the postseason for the first time since 2016, the Bronx Bombers made several splash moves/.

The biggest of which was a blockbuster trade with the San Diego Padres that brought four-time Silver Slugger winner Juan Soto to the Big Apple. New York's lineup will now feature two of the game's most feared hitters in Soto and 2022 AL MVP Aaron Judge. Soto has sported an on-base percentage above .400 in each of his six MLB seasons, while Judge has done so in each of the last two seasons.

The Yankees added even more offense to their outfield via a rare trade with the Boston Red Sox, acquiring Alex Verdugo. And New York bolstered its rotation behind reigning AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole by signing Marcus Stroman to a two-year, $37.5 million deal.

The AL East sure looks like the best division in baseball this year with the Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays all boasting playoff-caliber clubs.

Major League Baseball approved new rules for 2024 that include the widening of the runners lane and more changes to help speed up the pace of the game

Rangers gear up for title defense

The 2023 season was a historic one for the Texas Rangers. In their first postseason appearance since 2016, Texas won its first seven playoff games, six of which were on the road, en route to a 2-0 ALCS lead over the defending champion Houston Astros. After then dropping three straight, the Rangers rebounded to win Games 6 and 7 in Houston to reach the World Series. Texas would go on to finally capture the franchise's first World Series title, defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks in five games.

Entering 2024, there's a different type of history in front of the Rangers. Bruce Bochy's club will now look to become the first repeat champion since the Yankees won three straight titles from 1998-2000.

While the Rangers lost some key pieces from their championship team like Mitch Garver, the club still has enough to make another run. The Rangers return a strong core of Adolis García, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Jonah Heim and Josh Jung, and they'll have postseason sensation Evan Carter as an everyday player from the jump this season. Texas will just need to hold down the fort on the pitching front, as Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Tyler Mahle won't join the rotation until midseason as they recover from injuries.

When does Jackson Holliday debut with Orioles?

The Orioles selected Jackson Holliday with the first overall pick in the 2022 draft, and the 20-year-old middle infielder enters the 2024 season as the consensus top prospect in baseball.

Holliday, the son of former seven-time All-Star Matt Holliday, reached as high as the Triple-A level during his first full season in the minors last year. He hit .323/.442/.449 with 12 homers and 75 RBIs overall, with a slash line of .267/.396/.400 across 18 Triple-A appearances.

It seems like a matter of when, not if, Holliday gets a call to the bigs this season. But can he crack the reigning AL East champions' Opening Day roster?

Bonus: Where do the top remaining free agents land?

The Giants added ex-Miami Marlins slugger Jorge Soler on a reported three-year, $42 million on Monday, roughly a week before San Francisco's full squad is due to report to camp. And Soler was far from the last notable player left on the free agent market.

Reigning NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell headlines the players still looking for a team. Other top available names are Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, Jordan Montgomery, J.D. Martinez, Tim Anderson and Tommy Pham.

So even though spring training has arrived, there will be more impact signings coming in the leadup to the season.

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