Let the position battles begin!
2013 Spring Training camps are open and many players will compete against teammates for jobs before taking on other baseball teams in April. Here are some position battles to keep an eye on this spring.
National League East
The trade of Randall Delgado to Arizona in the Justin Upton deal eliminates most of the questions surrounding the rotation. This team is pretty much set as far as regulars go. Waiver claim Jordan Schafer will be competing with Jose Constanza for a backup outfield spot and a chance to return to the major leagues with the team that drafted him in the third round in 2005.
Journeyman outfielder Justin Ruggiano enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, when he hit .313 with 13 homers in 91 games, and he will get the first crack at the starting job in center field. If he falters this spring, Gorkys Hernandez or former National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan will be there to pick up the pieces. Wade LeBlanc, who got a late-season look in the rotation, will fight it out with the likes of fellow lefty Brad Hand, righty Alex Sanabia and retread John Maine for the fifth starter’s spot. Former Cubs lefthander Scott Maine will compete with Rule 5 pick Braulio Lara and Sam Dyson among others, for a spot in the setup crew.
New York Mets
Amazingly for a team projected to finish so low in the standings, the Mets have few questions in the lineup and rotation, such as they are. With closer Frank Francisco ailing, there is an opening for closer, at least to start the season. Brandon Lyon with 79 career saves is the front runner. Bobby Parnell will be in the mix as well.
Roy Halladay will be highly scrutinized as he tries to rediscover the electricity on his pitches after an offseason spent reconditioning his high-mileage shoulder. While that drama plays out on the mound, rookie Darin Ruf will try to build on a remarkable year in which he hit 52 homers in three leagues on two continents. Blocked at first base by Ryan Howard, the less-than-fleet-footed Ruf is trying to become a left fielder at 26. If he can play the position and keep driving balls, he will earn some playing time. With the equally inept defensively Delmon Young coming off also in the mix, perennial prospect Dom Brown and John Mayberry Jr. will be necessary as defensive replacements.
With the rotation, starting lineup and bench basically set in stone, precious few battles remain in spring training for roster spots, but there could be opportunities in the Nationals’ bullpen. The Nationals have a decided preference for hard throwers, which means that righthander Christian Garcia, who impressed with his 100-mph heat last September, has an inside track for one of those spots, provided the Nationals don’t convert him to a starter. The Nats might look to add a situational lefty before Opening Day.
National League Central
There is a logjam for the final two positions in the rotation. Carlos Villanueva started 29 games for the Blue Jays the last two seasons. Travis Wood was second on the team with 156 innings pitched last year but now has to fight for a spot. Free-agent signees Scott Baker (who missed 2012 after elbow surgery) and Scott Feldman are other candidates. Feldman, a 17-game winner with Texas in 2009, was told he had a spot in the rotation before Jackson and Villanueva signed. In the outfield, David DeJesus will likely hold off prospect Brett Jackson for now, although Jackson is an intriguing combination of power and speed.
Aroldis Chapman and Mike Leake are vying for that No. 5 rotation spot, and it’s very possible the Reds use Leake at the start of the season and bring Chapman along slowly or some other creative strategy to utilize both pitchers. It will affect the bullpen makeup, as will the health of Nick Masset. Logan Ondrusek has had 60-plus appearances in three straight seasons and could easily wind up on the final 25-man roster. How catcher Devin Mesoraco develops also deserves attention. He won’t beat out Ryan Hanigan but needs to show improvement from last season.
With the league’s most potent starting lineup returning intact, there will be no spring training battles among position players, but if shortstop Jean Segura doesn’t convice manager Ron Roenicke he is ready for prime time, veteran Alex Gonzalez will pick up the slack. The Brewers hope Gonzalez will merely serve as a mentor this season. However, the starting pitching rotation is an entirely different matter. Only No. 1 starter Yovani Gallardo is a proven commodity. Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson have pitched well in stretches, but both battled injuries a year ago. Young arms Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers and Tyler Thornburg will also compete for starting roles, and even Hiram Burgos has a shot to crack the rotation. Kelvim Escobar signed a major league contract in January. He will get a look as a starter, as well.
Both corner outfield spots are open, and it will likely come down to two competitions — Starling Marte vs. Alex Presley for left field and Jerry Sands vs. Travis Snider vs. Jose Tabata for right field. Presley and Tabata began last season as the starters but lost their jobs to Marte, a highly touted prospect, and Snider, who was acquired from Toronto in a late-July trade. Sands is a wild card after being acquired from Boston in the offseason. Six young pitchers will compete for one spot in the starting rotation. Lefthander Jeff Locke and righties Kyle McPherson and Jeff Karstens are the favorites, but lefties Andrew Oliver and Justin Wilson will get a look as well.
St. Louis Cardinals
Despite winning 18 games and being an All-Star in 2012, righthander Lance Lynn will enter spring training with no guarantee of leaving it as a starter. The Cardinals are throwing open two spots in the rotation for auditions, inviting Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller to make their claim. Lynn has the edge, but the three young righties have starter’s stuff. The World Baseball Classic will allow playing time for prospect Kolten Wong, who will get a long look at second base, where Pete Kozma, Ryan Jackson, Matt Carpenter and incumbent Daniel Descalso will compete. That contest will carry into the season before Cards have an answer.
National League West
Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs, who have been paired most of their careers since coming to the D-backs from the Angels in the 2010 Dan Haren deal, will battle for the final spot in the starting rotation along with Randal Delgado, acquired from the Braves in the Justin Upton trade. Cliff Pennington could face a spring challenge from rookie Didi Gregorius, but the D-backs appear inclined to have Gregorius open the season at Class AAA Reno. Cody Ross enters spring as the starting center fielder, but it will be interesting to see how rookie Adam Eaton fits in the mix. The speedy 24-year old made a strong impression with his defense and energy in a September call-up after hitting .381 with 46 doubles and 38 steals in 488 at-bats at Triple-A last summer.
With the return of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Rutledge will slide back to second base, where he will challenge DJ LeMahieu for the starting job. LeMahieu played well last season and improved as a hitter. The Rockies have to choose a third baseman from among Jordan Pacheco, Chris Nelson and newcomer Ryan Wheeler. The latter is a left-handed hitter, creating the possibility of some platooning at the position. Lefties Drew Pomeranz and Christian Friedrich and righthander Tyler Chatwood, all of whom struggled with the Rockies last year, will compete for the fifth starter’s spot in the rotation.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The most important battles will take place in the trainer’s room. The Dodgers’ fortunes in 2013 will be affected heavily by the health of a handful of key players — outfielders Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford and righthander Chad Billingsley chief among them. Kemp (shoulder) and Crawford (wrist and elbow) are recovering from serious surgeries during or following the 2012 season. Billingsley spent the offseason rehabbing and working out in hopes of avoiding surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his pitching elbow.
San Diego Padres
The only position battles will be for the middle infield spots. Everth Cabrera, Alexi Amarista, Logan Forsythe and prospect Jedd Gyorko are in the mix. Heading into camp, Forsythe is penciled in as the starting second baseman and Cabrera at shortstop, with Amarista on the bench. Gyorko is one of the organization’s top prospects. His development is one of the reasons the Padres haven’t given third baseman Chase Headley a long-term extension. There will also be the usual battles at the back end of the rotation and bullpen. Casey Kelly, who made his big-league debut on Aug. 27, and Robbie Erlin will be considered for rotation spots.
San Francisco Giants
Gregor Blanco might have been the most impressive player in the Cactus League a year ago while winning a spot on the Giants’ Opening Day roster. He’ll need another big spring performance to hold off Andres Torres as the starting left fielder. Although the Giants system has plenty of young pitching, not much of it is big-league-ready. So prospects like Chris Heston and Michael Kickham will get a long look in exhibition games. With the lineup and rotation set, this spring will be about staying healthy and deciding on a final spot or two on the bench and in the bullpen.
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