MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

10 players with the most spring intrigue

10 players with the most spring intrigue

A list of some of the most interesting players in baseball in the upcoming spring camps can go any number of ways.

Yes, Chris Sale will have his spring stats closely scrutinized after being acquired by a particularly high-profile club, but he's going to make the Red Sox's roster regardless of his Grapefruit ERA. Bryce Harper's bid to bounce back from a bizarre fall from grace is a storyline unto itself, but his spring performance will tell us precious little about whether he's going to recapture his MVP-level production.

So here are 10 players who have a spring-specific source of fascination attached to them, be it a position switch, injury recovery or a spot to win.

1. Matt Harvey, Mets
The Mets could have a once-in-a-generation type of rotation, or they could -- as an extension of 2016's travails -- just have a bunch of pitchers with sore arms. And while Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz are both coming off elbow procedures, it is Harvey's return from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery that comes draped with an added layer of uncertainty and, therefore, scrutiny.

Biggest difference makers

How hard do the Mets push Harvey this spring, and how does a guy who has had issues with the New York media in the past handle an even more finely-tuned microscope?

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
The Bucs spent a portion of the offseason listening to trade proposals involving the 2013 National League MVP Award winner. And then they asked him to move from center field to right. Both situations were defensible, because the Pirates' budget demands that they not let emotion overtake common sense should a "too good to turn down" deal come along and because McCutchen graded out terribly in center field last season and Starling Marte's time has come.

McCutchen has handled the move to right with characteristic class, but there are a lot of potentially uncomfortable elements coming to a head in Bradenton, Fla., where Cutch will begin his quest to prove he can adapt to a new position and still make elite contributions on both sides of the ball.

3. Sonny Gray, A's
It's not just that Gray is trying to recover his status as one of the elite arms in the game after a down and injury-marred 2016, but that he'll be doing it while pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. That will provide an early look at how Gray, who battled a strained right trapezius, a strained forearm and a stark jump in homer rate last year, fares against legit competition.

Though every organization is understandably nervous when a star player -- especially a star pitcher -- participates in this event, the A's are hoping the Classic experience helps Gray sharpen his focus in advance of Opening Day.

4. Kyle Schwarber, Cubs
Back in the beginning of 2016, when the Cubs were still lovable losers and Schwarber had two healthy knees, the plan was for Schwarber to serve as the personal catcher to Jason Hammel. And then Schwarber tore his ACL and LCL in the first week of the season, and that was that. He didn't resurface until the World Series, as a DH.

Now that Schwarber is fully mobile again, he's talking about his desire to catch in addition to his left-field duties. Will the Cubs let him do it in Cactus League play? And for that matter, will manager Joe Maddon go forward with his plan of using the slugging Schwarber as a leadoff hitter?

Schwarber's huge role in 2017

5. Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Does the former five-tool talent have anything left to offer a big league ballclub?

The Rangers signed him to a Minor League deal to find out, and the early word is that Hamilton, who didn't appear in the Majors last year and has played just 139 games since the start of 2014, has made a strong recovery from an ACL reconstruction in his left knee. But until he appears in Cactus League games, there's no telling if the '10 American League MVP Award winner is a viable option to help Texas in at least a platoon role.

Remember: The Angels are still paying Hamilton $26.4 million(!) this year.

6. Garrett Richards, Angels
If the Angels stay healthy this year, they could contend in the AL West, but that's an "if" among "ifs," and Richards is the biggest "if" of all. He tore his ulnar collateral ligament last May, leading to the assumption that he'd have Tommy John surgery. Instead, Richards tried a stem-cell treatment aimed at healing ligament damage with bone marrow and fat tissue, with a 12-week recovery period instead of 12 months.

Richards was cleared to throw last August, and he enters camp intent on nailing down his place atop the Halos' rotation. Richards is a fascinating figure not just on his own club but the league at large, as he'll be an important case study in the value of regenerative therapy as an alternative to Tommy John.

7. Ian Desmond, Rockies
This was, without question, the biggest surprise signing of the offseason, as Desmond got five years and $70 million as a first baseman. Desmond was athletic enough to make a fine transition from shortstop to the outfield with the Rangers last year, but one of the criticisms of this move -- beyond the possibility that Desmond doesn't provide traditional first-base power -- is that the range that rated as his strongest defensive asset at shortstop and in the outfield is wasted at first base.

Desmond on his versatility

Desmond obviously isn't going to prove or disprove any theories about the value of his contract this spring, but it will be interesting to get our first looks at him at his new spot.

8. Alex Reyes, Cardinals
Reyes is 6-foot-3, has a high-90s fastball and a 12-to-6 curve. Last year, he came up to the big leagues and struck out 52 guys in 46 innings while allowing just eight runs on 33 hits in 12 appearances, including five starts.

But get this: There's no guarantee Reyes will crack the Cards' rotation.

In fact, there's a decent chance the Cardinals will defer to Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn as they monitor Reyes' innings, perhaps putting him in the 'pen. Reyes, who can be added to the Dominican Republic's World Baseball Classic roster in the later rounds, has the pure stuff to make his roster status a hot topic in Jupiter, Fla.

9. Yoan Moncada, White Sox
The key acquisition in the Sale trade -- and the most notable prospect to change hands this offseason -- Moncada won't be opening the season on the White Sox big league roster, especially with the club in rebuilding mode.

But how much does Moncada at least force the issue? He got a brief turn in Boston last year and looked largely overwhelmed in 19 at-bats. Moncada has yet to set foot in Triple-A, so he's ticketed for Charlotte at the start of the year, but it will be fun to see Moncada's power-and-speed combo on display in Cactus League play.

Moncada named No. 2 prospect

10. Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox
Sandoval shed pounds while rehabbing from shoulder surgery last year, and he has kept the weight off, so that's a great start at redeeming himself after losing his starting third-base job to Travis Shaw with a lackluster camp last year. The Red Sox moved Shaw in the deal for reliever Tyler Thornburg, making it clear they are committed to the Panda at the hot corner. And David Ortiz's departure makes Sandoval's rebound more essential. What will he do with the opportunity? Just as last spring was a window into how far Sandoval had fallen, this one could reveal whether he's back on track.

Honorable mention: Wily Mo Pena, Indians
Pena is on a Minor League contract, which didn't even come with an invite to big league camp. But at some point this spring, there should be at least one Pena at-bat in Cactus League play -- and the combination of thin, dry air and Pena's potent power make for great theater.

For all Pena has been through and as long as he's been off the radar (he hasn't played in the bigs since 2011 and didn't play anywhere last season), he is "only" 35, and he earned this opportunity after Cleveland followed up on a request of newly signed slugger Edwin Encarnacion and scouted him in winter ball.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.