MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Intrigue for 2017: 30 players to watch

Intrigue for 2017: 30 players to watch

Opening Day is less than three weeks away, and every Major League team has at least one player who is intriguing to watch throughout the season.

Here is MLB.com's list of 30 players to keep an eye on in 2017:

Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks
After signing a six-year, $206.5 million deal last offseason, Greinke didn't pitch like an ace, sporting a 4.37 ERA in 26 starts. He will be the D-backs' Opening Day starter again and hopes to be better this year.

Brandon Phillips, Atlanta Braves
As a player with 10-and-5 rights, Phillips nixed trades to Atlanta and Washington prior to last season. But this offseason, he accepted a trade to the Braves. Phillips will be 36 in June, so the question is, how much does the second baseman have left in the tank? He is coming off a productive season in which he hit .291 with 11 home runs and 64 RBIs.

Chris Tillman, Baltimore Orioles
Tillman won 16 games last year, but he dealt with shoulder problems during the final month of the season. Spring Training is here and he still has shoulder discomfort, receiving a cortisone shot Wednesday. Tillman is now likely to start the season on the disabled list. The timing could be better: He will be a free agent after this season.

Pablo Sandoval, Boston Red Sox
This World Series hero for the Giants signed a five-year, $95 million deal with the Red Sox in November 2014. The first two years of the deal were wasted, as Sandoval played a combined 129 games and had a WAR of minus-1.1, according to Baseball-Reference.com. After losing weight this offseason, he is showing this spring that he is back to being the player he was with the Giants.

Sandoval's two-run smash

Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs
After signing an eight-year, $184 million contract last offseason, Heyward ended up having the worst year of his career. How bad was it? He had an OPS+ of 70 and a WAR of 1.5. This offseason, Heyward moved near the Cubs' Spring Training facility. According to club president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, Heyward worked every day on retooling his swing. So far, Heyward still hasn't found his swing, going 5-for-32 (.156) through Thursday.

Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox
For the past two years, Giolito was considered the Nationals' top prospect. When he reached the big leagues last season, he was hit hard in limited action. Giolito was then dealt to the White Sox as part of the Adam Eaton trade. Now getting a chance in Chicago's rotation, Giolito is showing he belongs.

Jose Peraza, Cincinnati Reds
They finally traded Phillips to free up the second-base job for Peraza. Cincinnati has regarded him highly ever since acquiring him from the Dodgers in a December 2015 trade. Peraza is off to a hot start this spring, hitting .342 with five RBIs in 38 at-bats.

Peraza on his good spring start

Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians
Imagine if Brantley didn't miss most of last year -- the Indians might have won the World Series. He is still recovering from the shoulder injury, but he has started playing in Minor League games, a key step.

Ian Desmond, Colorado Rockies
Desmond signed a five-year, $70 million deal this offseason, but he will not show his worth to start the season after suffering a broken hand on Sunday. He was initially expected to miss the first month of the season, but there is optimism he could return by mid-April.

Justin Upton, Detroit Tigers
It took the second half of the season to show Upton could live up to the six-year, $132.75 million he signed after the 2015 season. Now, he needs to be consistent all year.

Upton's three-run home run

Brian McCann, Houston Astros
While with the Yankees, McCann lost his starting job behind the plate to Gary Sanchez. Now, McCann has a change of scenery after the trade to the Astros. He is expected to produce better offense than Jason Castro provided last year.

Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
After signing a four-year, $72 million contract a year ago, Gordon had an injury-plagued season. A healthy year for him could mean 20 homers and 80 RBIs.

Gordon's two-run home run

Danny Espinosa, Los Angeles Angels
Espinosa is back at second base, and no one questions his defense. It's Gold Glove-caliber. Espinosa and Andrelton Simmons are going to make a great double-play combination, but offense is another story. Espinosa hit .209 and struck out 174 times last year with the Nationals.

Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
Puig hasn't played like an All-Star since 2014. In a low point last year, he was sent down to Triple-A Oklahoma City. When Puig returned to the big leagues, he was playing off the bench.

Puig's two home runs

Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
After signing a 13-year, $325 million deal heading into 2015, Stanton has been plagued by injuries, averaging 96.5 games the past two seasons. A healthy Stanton in '17 could mean big things for the Fish.

Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Braun is trying to lead the Brewers back to respectability. Having the MVP numbers like he put up in 2012 would help. Braun hasn't driven in 100 runs in a season since then.

Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
Brian Dozier needs help on the Twins' offense. Time will tell if former top prospect Buxton has figured things out at the plate. After a slow start, the center fielder hit .287 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs during the last month of the season.

Buxton on improving consistency

David Wright, New York Mets
Dating back to 2013, Wright has dealt with hamstring issues, spinal stenosis and a herniated disk. During that period, he has averaged about 80 games a year. And it's unknown if Wright will be ready for Opening Day because of shoulder discomfort. His injuries came after signing an eight-year, $138 million extension after the '12 season.

Sanchez, New York Yankees
The rookie phenom did a lot of damage at the plate the final two months of last season and was arguably the Yankees' MVP. Will he continue to be that productive this season? Based on Spring Training, Sanchez will help the Yanks perform at a respectable level in 2017.

Sanchez's solo home run

Khris Davis, Oakland Athletics
The A's are hoping last year wasn't a fluke. Davis set career highs in homers (42) and RBIs (101).

Howie Kendrick, Philadelphia Phillies
The second baseman turned outfielder received his wish and was traded from the Dodgers this offseason. Keep in mind that Kendrick is coming off his worst season and is off to a slow start this spring.

Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
McCutchen's name was in trade rumors all offseason. But McCutchen, who could be a free agent after this season if his option is not picked up, is still a member of the Pirates. It would not be a surprise if his name is bandied about before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
Wainwright showed last season that he was recovered from Achilles tendon surgery, but he had a 4.62 ERA over 33 starts. He led the National League in hits allowed and earned runs.

Wainwright on his changeup

Wil Myers, San Diego Padres
Myers is clearly the face of the franchise after signing a six-year, $83 million deal this offseason. Now, it's time to lead San Diego back to respectability.

Denard Span, San Francisco Giants
It took until midsummer for Span to recover from hip surgery. Now, he looks to be the leadoff hitter he was with the Nationals in 2014, when he scored 94 runs and set a career high in hits with 184.

Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
All Hernandez needs to do is stay healthy and be the dominant pitcher he is known to be. Last year, injuries limited him to 153 1/3 innings -- his lowest total since his rookie 2005 season. A healthy King Felix could have sent the Mariners to the postseason.

Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays
Known for defensive prowess and hustle, Kiermaier appears close to signing a six-year contract extension. But he must improve on offense. Kiermaier is coming off batting a career-low .246, but he did hit .274 with runners in scoring position.

Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
This is a contract year for the right-hander, who is looking to play a full season for the first time since 2014. Most of the time Darvish missed was recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Darvish on his pitch count

Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Bautista had his worst year as a member of the Blue Jays, producing a WAR of 1.0. It didn't help that he was hampered by injuries. As a free agent this offseason, Bautista had a tough time finding a job before re-signing on a one-year, $18 million deal with options for 2018-19.

Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Coming off the 2015 NL MVP Award season, Harper took a big step back. After a productive month of April, he hit .235 with 15 home runs, 62 RBIs and a .367 on-base percentage. There were reports that Harper was dealing with a shoulder injury. Others said he was never the same after the Cubs walked him 13 times in a four-game series last May. Based on his Spring Training numbers, Harper looks ready to have a comeback season.

Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002 and does a podcast, Newsmakers. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.