Seven Battles to Watch This Spring
Spring training is an exciting time for baseball nerds. We get to hear stories about how so many players are in the greatest shape of their lives, while we count down the days until meaningful games begin. The position battles are the most interesting things to watch over the next several weeks, and while it seems like there aren’t a lot of battles to grasp onto, here are a handful that I know that I am going to monitor.
The Cleveland Indians Rotation:
With the additions of Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka on minor league deals, the healing elbow of Carlos Carrasco, and the acquisition of Trevor Bauer from the Arizona Diamondbacks, the club has gone from having very little pitching depth to a possible abundance. It would be safe to assume that new manager Terry Francona has Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Brett Myers penciled into the first three spots, while youngster Zach McAllister has a leg up on the No.4 spot, though it isn’t guaranteed. The possible battle for one spot between four solid arms is definitely an intriguing battle.
The Detroit Tiger Left Field Job:
When the Tigers signed Torii Hunter to a two-year deal, they created a logjam of corner outfielders. Andy Dirks seems to have the best shot at the every day job, but he still has Brennan Boesch, Quentin Berry, and youngster Avisail Garcia who could steal some at-bats over the course of the season, while prospect outfielder Nick Castellanos could also push for at-bats later in the season. With Victor Martinez returning from an ACL injury, the DH spot is on lockdown. The Tigers could look to make a deal for a veteran relief pitcher, as Bruce Rondon looks like the potential Opening Day closer after 52 appearances over three minor league levels in 2012. We’ll see if a club decides they could use some offensive help, especially if any PED suspensions come down from MLB from the Biogenesis case out of Florida.
The Toronto Blue Jays Second Base Job:
Gone is Kelly Johnson, who signed a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, and added were Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis. The Jays are absolutely loaded this season and the club will take advantage of a Alex Rodriguez injury and a re-tooling Boston Red Sox club to make a run at the AL East title. Bonifacio is a speedster that can play several positions. He posted a .360 OBP in 2011 and stole 30 bases in just 64 games in 2012 for the Miami Marlins. Izturis can’t really play short or third well anymore and he doesn’t do any one thing incredibly well, but he is 32 years old in 2013 and the Jays could expect about 30 doubles, 6 to 8 home runs, and 10 to 15 stolen bases over 450 to 500 at-bats. The club is in a great position with this “problem”.
The Atlanta Braves Third Base Job:
Well, Chipper Jones is gone and the Braves don’t have a third baseman for the first time since 1995. Atlanta added Chris Johnson as an extra part in their mega-deal with Arizona for Justin Upton and the right-handed hitting, 28-year-old brings a little bit of power with his career .746 OPS. He could be battling Juan Francisco, a powerful, left-handed hitting, soon-to-be 26-year old who has struggled to make consistent contact in his career, posting a 121:22 K:BB in 361 career at-bats. He has a lot of potential, but he is on the weak side of a platoon and doesn’t have a track record to rely on to this point. It will be a sad day in Atlanta without Larry Jones running out there, but the club should be prepared after dealing with all of Jones’ injuries over the years.
The Washington Nationals Catching Job:
Kurt Suzuki was once a very consistent performer, averaging 14 home runs and 67 RBI per season from 2009 to 2011 before totally crashing and burning in 2012, seeing his OPS drop all the way to .605 over 405 at-bats between Oakland and Washington. With Wilson Ramos coming back from an ACL injury, Suzuki could get the every day job for the first month or two of the season, and with solid producers around him in the lineup in Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, and Jayson Werth. Ramos was outstanding in 2011, hitting 15 home runs and posting a .779 OPS at the age of 23. Can he regain his form and confidence after a leg injury? How long until Ramos is a real factor in the position battle?
The Cincinnati Reds No.5 Starter Job:
The sky is the limit for Aroldis Chapman if he is able to transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation. After posting a ridiculous 122:23 K:BB in just 71.2 innings in 2012, Chapman could, potentially, reach 200 strikeouts by averaging 13 K:9, which is still lower than his 14.1 K:9 career average. He could, legitimately, be the clubs best starter, even with Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos in front of him in the rotation. However, Mike Leake is still in the picture and the Reds could leave Chapman in the bullpen for part of the season to limit his innings before stretching him out. If that is the case, could Chapman then pull a Kris Medlen in 2013 and go on to post a 0.97 ERA while going 9-0 in 12 starts for the Braves after joining the rotation on July 31. Leake, who posted a 4.58 ERA over 30 starts in 2012 after posting a 3.86 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 2011, is very athletic and is a very good rotation filler, but with Chapman, Tony Cingrani, and Daniel Corcino coming up behind him, he could be a long-relief pitcher or trade bait as early as this spring.
The St. Louis Cardinals No.5 Starter Job:
With Chris Carpenter‘s continued neck issues, which could force him to miss the entire 2013 season, the Cardinals are suddenly lacking pitching depth, as they lost Kyle Lohse to free agency this winter, although he does remain unsigned. In their place, Lance Lynn, who was fantastic before hitting a wall last August, looks like the No.4 starter, but the Cardinals look to have an interesting battle between Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, and, postseason superstar, Trevor Rosenthal. Miller has top-of-the-rotation stuff and could be the team’s ace in the next couple of seasons, while Rosenthal’s triple-digit fastball could be dominating out of the starting rotation. If the club wants to continue to develop Miller and Rosenthal, though, Kelly was solid in 2012, posting a 3.74 ERA over 16 starts, and he doesn’t turn 25 years old until June, so it isn’t like he is a veteran option, either. With Carlos Martinez, another top-of-the-rotation type of prospect on the way, the Cardinals seem to have the depth to overcome their current “shortage” of pitching.
Certainly there are many other battles that will come about due to injuries, suspensions, or additional free agent signings, but these seven look like the biggest as spring training gets underway.
Are there any battles you’re interested in watching over the next couple of months?