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MLB Spring Training

By Trevor McKey –

Opening Day Weekend has come and gone and it sure feels good for MLB Baseball to be back! For more information pertaining to the history of Opening Day, it can be found in a past article on this blog. Here are some headlines from Opening Day, as well as a letter from Commissioner Rob Manfred! Spring Training provides unparalleled access to Major Leaguers, a small personal feel of quaint ballparks, random veteran encounters, and sights, sounds and smells of endless possibilities ushered in with great weather and the start of Spring. Since the 2021 MLB Season is now in full swing, no pun intended, and Springtime is in the air, it is fun to look at Spring Training in both a historical and contemporary context to make an educated guess as to how this 2021 MLB season may play out.

History of Spring Training

Prior to the luxurious Spring Training facilities we’ve become accustomed to, franchises, particularly in the north and northeast, were unable to practice baseball before the season due to the cold climate, thus practicing inside local gymnasiums. When the weather allowed, teams traditionally played intersquad games separate from league teams within their city. The history of Spring Training’s start has a couple of theories. Evidence from baseball historians say that the first instance of travel occurred between the Cincinnati Red Stockings (Reds) and Chicago White Stockings (Cubs) when they took their franchises to New Orleans in 1870 to play against each other. Other baseball historians point to the Chicago White Stockings (Cubs) in 1886 who took the team to Hot Springs, Arkansas, known for the spa-like thermal waters and temperate weather. After the Chicago White Stockings won the league title that year, more teams decided to follow suit in order to take away the perceived competitive advantage. Other baseball historians argue that it was the Washington Capitols who pioneered Spring Training when they created a four-day camp hosted in Jacksonville, Florida in 1888. Whatever is the case for the start of Spring Training, it is pretty undeniable that Spring Training helps players who are up-and-coming ballplayers compete for roster spots while preparing seasoned veterans for a long and grueling 162 game season. In total, over 130 Major League Baseball Hall of Famers played in Hot Springs, Arkansas and Spring Training itself has produced many memorable and historic moments.

One of these moments potentially changed the game of baseball forever. When Babe Ruth reported as a pitcher to Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1918, he successfully lobbied his manager to let him hit more often after displaying such power during batting practice. On St. Patrick’s Day of that year, Babe Ruth was allowed to play first base after an emergency vacancy arose. In this game, Babe Ruth hit two home runs, with the second homer impressing everyone as a 573 foot home run. In 2011, Steve Arrison, CEO of Hot Springs National Park Convention and Visitors Bureau, hired an independent engineering firm, B&F Engineering, to investigate the acclaimed home run. Since Wittington Park and the alligator farm pond still existed with which Babe Ruth hit the home run ball into, B&F was able to determine the original location of home plate and accurately calculate the home run to be 573 feet in distance making it one of the longest home runs ever recorded.

Franchises would go on to experiment with other locations including Tulsa, Oklahoma, Phoenix, Arizona, Los Angeles, California, San Diego, California, West Palm Beach, Florida, Dawson Springs, Kentucky, and Honolulu, Hawaii. The Detroit Tigers appear to be the first ones to have played their Spring Training games in Arizona and today, there are two locations and leagues for Spring Training, the Grapefruit and Cactus League.

MLB’s Grapefruit League

The Washington Nationals in 1888 traveled the furthest south than any other team before but would go on to finish 37.5 games out of first place.This yielded negative reviews of whether team travel during spring training was worth it. The first signs of the Grapefruit League being established in Florida wouldn’t come for 15 years after in 1914 with the Chicago Cubs in Tampa, St. Louis Browns in St. Petersburg, St. Louis Cardinals in St. Augustine, and the Philadelphia Athletics in Jacksonville. Today, the Grapefruit League consists of 15 MLB Teams with locations all over Florida.

MLB’s Cactus League

In his autobiography, Bill Veeck, owner of the then-minor league Milwaukee Brewers of the AAA American Association, recounts a time when he was watching a spring training game in Florida while talking with fans in segregated seating and was interrupted by a sheriff who told him he could not sit in the area because of the laws surrounding segregation. After refusing to physically move and threatening to bring the situation public while moving his team’s spring training elsewhere, the mayor of Ocala, Florida would eventually caved to Veeck’s demands. Bill Veeck would go on to sell the Brewers and purchase the Cleveland Indians in 1946. After signing Larry Dobay in 1948 who was the first African American to play in the American League and second all-time at that point, Bill Veeck decided to move the Cleveland Indians’ spring training to what he thought was a more tolerant state, Arizona. Along with their move, Veeck was able to convince New York Giants to play in Arizona as well, thus starting the Cactus League. Today, the Cactus League is made up of 15 MLB Teams sharing 10 facilities scattered around the Phoenix metropolitan area. 

2021 MLB Spring Training Results

Spring Training not only allows teams to get back in the swing of things, but franchises can experiment with different lineups and provide opportunities for prospects to play for a roster spot. MLB has this article discussing early Statcast standouts in Spring Training. Although winning is always important because it drives athletic focus and abilities, Spring Training games are not always indicative of how the season will act. Here is a full breakdown of 2021 MLB Spring Training Results. Key takeaways include:

Grapefruit League

Marlins – 14-5

Blue Jays – 16-9

Red Sox – 16-11

Yankees – 14-12

Braves – 10-9

Tigers – 13-12

Mets – 11-11

All others below .500

Cactus League

Royals – 16-8

Cubs – 15-9

Athletics – 16-10

Brewers – 15-11

Dodgers – 13-11

Rangers – 14-12

Rockies – 14-14

Angels –  13-13

White Sox – 12-12

Mariners – 11-11

All others below .500

2021 MLB Projections

FanGraphs provides a full breakdown of the playoff likelihood of each team and MLB’s website provides a full synopsis discussing the rationale. The eye popping projections for 2021 include the following after Opening Day Weekend:

Top Tier:

Dodgers – 98.7%

Padres –  93.9%

Yankees – 90.3%

World Series Potential:

Mets – 82.1%

Twins – 66.8%

Blue Jays – 56.9%

Braves – 54.1%

White Sox – 43.1%


Astros – 79.3%

Angels – 45.5%

Brewers – 41.4%

Rays – 28.9%

Interesting Second/Third Place Teams:

Rays – 28.9%

Red Sox – 27.3%

Cardinals – 26.3%

Cubs – 25.3%

Phillies – 24%

Indians – 23.9%

Athletics – 23.3%

Nationals – 22.1%

Enjoyable Teams a Year Away:

Royals – 9.4%

Giants – 5.2%

Mariners – 3.2%

Tigers – 1.7%

Diamondbacks -1.3%

Always Next Year:

Marlins – 0.8%

Rangers – 0.4%

Pirates – 0.3%

Orioles – 0.1%

Rockies – 0.1%

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