It might feel like just yesterday that the Houston Astros clinched their first World Series title, but the 2018 Major League Baseball season is coming up quickly on our calendars. Spring training has begun, and there will be competitive games happening across the state of Florida for much of the next two months.
Six different teams make their winter homes near the Villages of Citrus Hills, and we have put together a few reasons that each are worth visiting during the next few weeks. So, whether you are a passionate baseball fan or just looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon, we will have you up to speed when it comes to the spring training games happening nearby.
New York Yankees, Tampa
It's no secret that our hometown Rays suddenly become second-class citizens in Tampa while the Yankees are in town for spring training. And there will be plenty of excitement at George Steinbrenner Field this winter after the Bronx Bombers came up just short of another World Series appearance in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
To build on the talented young core that the Yankees put together last season, they went out and traded for power-hitting outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who will now team with sluggers Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez to create one of the most intimidating offenses that baseball has seen in years.
Philadelphia Phillies, Clearwater
After the Philadelphia Eagles shocked the world by winning the Super Bowl with a backup quarterback last month, anything seems possible in the City of Brotherly Love this year. However, a deep playoff run still seems a bit ambitious for a Phillies team that was one of the worst in all of baseball last season.
One bright spot that will be worth watching this spring will be outfielder Rhys Hoskins, who came out of nowhere in the middle of last summer to smash 18 home runs in only 50 games. If Hoskins can continue to develop his skills while other key players like Maikel Franco also improve, the Phillies could be one of the most pleasant early surprises of the year.
Toronto Blue Jays, Dunedin
The Toronto Blue Jays are another local spring training destination where you won't find many honest World Series believers. But with that said, there is still going to be plenty of excitement wherever the Blue Jays go with power hitters like John Donaldson and Justin Smoak in the lineup.
Donaldson proved that he is still one of the best hitters in baseball last season while Smoak had a stunning breakout campaign. Those two have taken over the power hitting from aging slugger Jose Bautista, who will find himself in a position battle with Curtis Granderson and Randal Grichuk this spring.
Detroit Tigers, Lakeland
With long-time veterans like Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Upton all finding new homes over the course of the 2017 season, the Tigers that reported to Lakeland this winter have a completely different look from the ones we are used to seeing.
What the Tigers are counting on is continued production from aging veterans like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. They are also
looking for guys like James McCann and Nick Castellanos to step into leadership roles in the clubhouse.
If those things happen, and some of the young players received in trades last season blossom into major league prospects, the Tigers could actually be one of the most fun teams to watch this spring.
Pittsburgh Pirates, Bradenton
The Pirates shocked the baseball world this winter when they dumped ace pitcher Gerrit Cole and former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen for pennies on the dollar in trades with the Astros and the Giants. Those sudden moves created some friction in the clubhouse that will be the biggest story of spring training in Bradenton this year.
Players like Josh Harrison have made it clear that they are not happy with the front office, but we have seen manager Clint Hurdle work miracles with the Buccos before. The big question will be whether any of the players that general manager Neil Huntington received as compensation for Cole and McCutchen can contribute in a meaningful way. If so, those contributions need to start right away.
Baltimore Orioles, Sarasota
Orioles fans can understand what the Pirates fans are going through as they have watched their front office attempt to shop stud third baseman Manny Machado for the better part of the past year now.
Fortunately for them, Machado is still around, and he is planning to move back to shortstop for the upcoming season. How he adjusts to his old position will be interesting to watch this spring.
We will also be keeping a close eye on the performances of center fielder Adam Jones and closer Zach Britton. Along with Machado, both are slated to be unrestricted free agents following the season, so all three will be playing hard for new contracts and will become potential trade targets in July.
No matter how good or bad they might look on paper, every major league team has plenty of interesting things to watch for during spring training. And with these six teams all making their winter homes within a short drive of the Villages of Citrus Hills, we recommend scheduling a visit with each of them over the next few weeks.