Ah spring, when a young player’s fancy turns to proving himself on the field all over again. As the 2023 season gears up for opening day on March 30, here are five players facing pivotal moments in their careers.
Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres
The flashy San Diego shortstop was well on his way to superstardom two seasons ago with a winning combination of generational talent — a National League-leading 42 homers in 2021 at just 22 years old — and loads of flair. Then came a PED-related suspension that not only wiped out Tatis’ 2022 season, it ruined his image. Set to return in mid-April, Tatis will have to win over fans from his new perch in the Padres outfield after the team signed star shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
Gleyber Torres, Yankees
Like Tatis, Torres was widely considered one of the game’s rising young stars, a power-hitting shortstop who deepened an already-lethal Yankees lineup. But after smoking 38 homers in 2019 at just 22, Torres lost his power stroke — and his position — in 2021, hitting just 9 homers with an OPS under .700. He bounced back somewhat last season with a solid 24 HR, 76 RBI performance after the Yankees made him the everyday second baseman, giving the team hope Torres can regain his stature as a middle of the lineup force.
Yet the Venezuela native may end up as collateral damage in a shortstop battle going on this spring. New York boasts two hot young prospects in Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza, and it’s not farfetched to consider both could wind up in the middle of the Yankee infield sometime this year, leaving Torres the odd man out.
Julio Rodriguez, Mariners
Right now the sky’s the limit for Rodriguez, who broke into the Seattle lineup last year as a 21-year-old centerfielder and helped lead the Mariners to their first postseason berth in 21 years — yes, the Dominican native wasn’t even 1 year old yet. His 28 homers, 75 RBI, 25 stolen bases and a .284 average in 132 games was more than enough to win the AL Rookie of the Year award, place seventh in MVP voting and earn his first of many likely All-Star nods. But history has often been unkind to hot young rookies hellbent on avoiding the sophomore jinx.
Carlos Correa, Twins
The winter started out sizzling for Correa, the ex-Astros star who, after playing just one season with Minnesota, opted out of his contract and scored a humongous 13-year, $350 million contract with the Giants. But after San Francisco balked when a physical raised raised questions about Correa’s surgically repaired ankle, the free-spending Mets swooped in and gave the Ponce, Puerto Rico, native a 12-year, $315 million deal.
That didn’t work out either thanks to the same concerns over the ankle, so Correa went back to the Twins, cap in hand, and had to settle for a six-year, $200 million deal that will still earn him more than $33 million a year after hitting .291 with 22 HR in 136 games in 2022 for Minnesota.
Bottom line: The Correa contract soap opera only proved how ridiculous baseball salaries really are — and maybe exposed Correa as a less-than-elite player. He may be one of the better-hitting shortstops in the game, but Correa has never had more than 26 homers in a season, or knocked in more than 100 RBI, to warrant the kind of money he was initially offered.
The Giants and Mets — and certainly Correa, whose ankle may not hold up over the years, according to teams doctors — should consider themselves lucky how it all played out. And maybe the Twins, too, if a healthy Correa is hellbent on proving he’s a premium shortstop worthy of the money.
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
As he approaches 40 next month, there’s no doubt injuries and age have slowed the future first-ballot Hall of Famer down considerably. Not counting the 2020 pandemic-shortened season, the Tigers icon has only amassed a total of 35 homers in his last four years, a number he easily reached in a typical year during his prime.
The Venezuela native may not have a strong swan-song season left in him like his fellow superstar Albert Pujols, but watching one of the best hitters in history climb up the all-time lists and add whatever he can to his 507 home runs, 3,088 hits and 1,847 RBI career totals is still worth the price of admission.