MLB: Every Team's Biggest Spring-Training Position Battles

Eli Marger@Eli_MargerCorrespondent IFebruary 2, 2012

MLB: Every Team's Biggest Spring-Training Position Battles

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    Oh, the wonders of spring. It's a time of rebirth, little bunnies prancing around in the meadows, colorful flowers blooming, and baseball. Mainly baseball.

    However, the part of spring that has the most importance is the position battle. During Spring Training, teams will be faced with crucial decisions about who plays where that could possibly have a major impact on how the team will fare during the regular season.

    Every team has a position battle, with the importance of these battles varying from team to team. No matter what, these battles are fun to watch as players duke it out for the right to get a majority of the at-bats or starts.

    Here is each team's biggest position battle heading into Spring Training.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Left Field

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    Competitors: Gerardo Parra and Jason Kubel

    This is a classic battle of a speedy defensive-minded outfielder against a power-hitting one. Kubel was a nice free-agent signing for the Diamondbacks, but he'll have to beat out Parra, an excellent fielder and great at getting on base, in order to get major at-bats in Arizona.

Atlanta Braves: Fifth Starter

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    Competitors: Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran

    With Brandon Beachy pretty firmly in the position of fourth starter, the five slot is up for grabs for a team with incredible pitching depth. Minor, Delgado and Teheran are all tremendously talented pitchers, but unless Atlanta chooses to go with the ever-popular seven-man rotation, not all of them will start this year in the majors. My early favorite is Minor.

Baltimore Orioles: Closer

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    Competitors: Kevin Gregg, Jim Johnson

    Gregg was ineffective last year (but then again, which Oriole wasn't?), and that may have cost him the "incumbent" label going into this year. Johnson, on the other hand, was very effective. In 69 appearances, he was 6-5 with a 2.67 ERA and nine saves. I doubt Gregg has such a firm grasp on the closer position that Johnson can't pry it away from him in March.

Boston Red Sox: Right Field

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    Competitors: Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Cody Ross

    All three of these guys have a legitimate shot at winning the starting job. You have to imagine that Josh Reddick would have been the favorite, but he's gone now and the door is wide open. The Red Sox like McDonald to be a platoon guy, but he could easily start. Kalish has been itching for a shot for a while now, but Ross has some good experience. This could be interesting.

Chicago Cubs: First Base

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    Competitors: Bryan LaHair and Anthony Rizzo

    This is an intriguing battle, mainly because both of these guys are pure power hitters who absolutely tore up minor league pitching but have struggled in the majors. Jed Hoyer loved Rizzo so much that he brought him to Chicago. That makes me think Rizzo might be the favorite going into Spring Training. Other than that, it's a wide-open race.

Chicago White Sox: Closer

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    Competitors: Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton

    With Chris Sale moving to the rotation to fill the void left by Mark Buehrle, the race for closer of the White Sox is wide open. The two clear favorites are Crain and Thornton, a pair of battle-tested and effective relievers. Neither of them is going to be a shutdown closer, but one of them has to assume the ninth-inning role. My early pick would be Thornton.

Cincinnati Reds: Catcher

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    Competitors: Ryan Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco

    The real factor in this battle is experience. Hanigan certainly has it, but Mesoraco is a young gun who would be seeing his first major experience in the bigs. However, after the Reds shipped off two top prospects to San Diego this winter, the Reds might want to put Mesoraco in the fire first to show fans that they are still committed to player development. Either would be a good option, though.

Cleveland Indians: Third Base

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    Competitors: Jack Hannahan and Lonnie Chisenhall

    These two guys split time last year at third base, and neither of them blew anyone away. Chisenhall is obviously younger and has a much higher ceiling than the veteran Hannahan. Right now, Hannahan is listed as first on the team's depth chart. However, a strong spring from Chisenhall might win him more at-bats and possibly even the majority of the playing time. He's certainly got the talent to do it.

Colorado Rockies: Multiple Rotations Spots

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    Competitors: Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Tyler Chatwood, Guillermo Moscoso

    The first two guys are the prospects acquired by the Rockies in exchange for Ubaldo Jimenez last July. The second two are former AL West products who will get their first taste of Coors Field this year. The favorites going in are probably Pomeranz and White, but Chatwood certainly has the talent to unseat one of them (probably White). Moscoso is a dark horse, but probably won't see much time starting.

Detroit Tigers: Left Field

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    Competitors: Andy Dirks and Don Kelly

    By far Detroit's weakest position, the spot in left field will belong to one of these two guys, neither of whom will put up big numbers. This battle might honestly come down to who has the better spring, but Jim Leyland may also choose to platoon the two based on lefty/righty splits. With Delmon Young now likely to DH, this position battle will be Detroit's only one.

Houston Astros: Many Battles

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    Positions: Right Field, Third Base, Catcher, etc.

    The Astros are obviously still searching for somewhat of an identity, and much of the product they put on the field on Opening Day will be determined by Spring Training. It's going to be interesting, but the Astros have a good amount of talent and, if anything, these battles should make players better.

Kansas City Royals: Catcher

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    Competitors: Brayan Pena and Salvador Perez

    Neither of these guys lit it up in 2011, but of the two, Perez was the one who hit slightly better. However, it wasn't nearly convincing enough for me to think he has a firm grasp on the starting job. Depending on how the Royals feel about their respective defensive abilities and what they can contribute offensively, either of these guys could probably win.

Los Angeles Angels: It's Complicated..

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    Competitors: Mark Trumbo, Bobby Abreu, Kendry Morales, Vernon Wells

    Here's the deal—with Albert Pujols at first base, Trumbo and Morales are suddenly displaced (cue ASPCA commercial music). Trumbo will probably be moved to third, which means that Morales is still homeless. If he plays DH, Abreu will have to battle Vernon Wells in left field. If not, Abreu will be DH, Wells will play left field, and Morales is the odd man out. It's an awkward situation, but one most teams would die to have.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Closer

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    Competitors: Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen

    Guerra assumed the closer's role last year, and did remarkably well for someone with little prior closing experience. However, Jansen was by far the Dodgers' most effective reliever, and showed that he deserves a shot at closing. Jansen and his 16.1 K/9 ratio might unseat Guerra sooner rather than later, but how each guy pitches in spring might determine who starts as closer.

Miami Marlins: Third Base

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    Competitors: Hanley Ramirez, Hanley Ramirez's ego

    This is more about whether Hanley can really play third base. It was a move that had to happen the moment Jose Reyes was signed. The mystery now is whether Ramirez can handle the switch.

    We know the offense will still be there, but Ramirez may or may not be a defensive liability. Plus, will being kicked out of his natural position cause Ramirez to beg for a trade? We'll have to see.

Milwaukee Brewers: None of Note

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    The biggest question will be who fills in for Ryan Braun while the slugger is suspended, but in all likelihood, that will probably be Carlos Gomez. Mat Gamel will fill in at first base for Prince Fielder, and aside from that, most positions are firmly settled. This is a very solid team, but don't confuse not having position battles with being an elite team.

Minnesota Twins: Shortstop

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    Competitors: Jamey Carroll and Tsuyoshi Nishioka

    Carroll hit .290 last year in 140 games for the Dodgers, which is solid production from a solid shortstop. Nishioka hit .226 in his 68 games last year. On paper, it seems to not be a contest. But the Twins do love Nishioka, and perhaps bringing in Carroll would serve as encouragement for the Japanese import to play to his potential. Either of these guys could start Opening Day.

New York Mets: Closer

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    Competitors: Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Bobby Parnell, others

    That the website has Francisco penciled in as closer is a joke to me. He was hardly effective in Toronto last year, and to call him the closer already is pretty foolish. The Mets should at least give Rauch and Parnell a shot. And though I think Francisco will ultimately win the job, it should not be a foregone conclusion by any means.

New York Yankees: Fifth Starter

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    Competitors: A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia

    Now that the front four of New York's rotation is set, the focus will turn to filling the fifth spot. With three viable options, one of whom is owed more than $10 million this year, the Yankees will face a tough decision. Burnett, Hughes and Garcia are all good pitchers, but it's going to be tough to pick just one, especially early. This will likely be a season-long battle that will be constantly changing based on how they pitch.

Oakland Athletics: Closer

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    Competitors: Grant Balfour, Brian Fuentes, Fautino De Los Santos

    Any of these guys could honestly win the job, but Fuentes sticks out as an early favorite to me because of his prior experience. However, it should be a wide-open race to start. In a season where the A's probably won't be competing, this might be a time to experiment with De Los Santos in the closer role.

Philadelphia Phillies: Left Field

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    Competitors: John Mayberry, Domonic Brown, Laynce Nix

    This should be a really interesting competition to watch, especially because of Brown. In a sense, he is at risk of losing his "blue-chip prospect" status simply because he hasn't gotten playing time and when he has, he hasn't produced. This could be his make-or-break year, but he'll have to beat out Mayberry, who is the likely favorite, and the outsider Nix.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Third Base

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    Competitors: Pedro Alvarez, Casey McGehee

    I think the early favorite here has to be McGehee, the former Brewers third baseman who can put up some good offensive numbers. Alvarez, though, is a homegrown product who has shown flashes of brilliance in the majors. He's a good player, but so is McGehee. If the Pirates give them both equal opportunities this spring, the winner may be determined during the month of March.

San Diego Padres: First Base

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    Competitors: Jesus Guzman and Yonder Alonso

    This is going to be interesting because of the price the Padres paid for Alonso. Guzman had a great year in limited time last year, showing a good bat and a tremendous glove. However, Alonso is a blue-chip prospect with the potential to be a middle-of-the-lineup fixture for years. The longer they wait on him, the more of a chance that he gets upset or stagnates. We'll have to see.

San Francisco Giants: First Base

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    Competitors:Aubrey Huff and Brandon Belt

    With the talk of Belt moving to the outfield, this might become a noncompetitive battle. However, I think Belt's best fit is at first base, and an aging Aubrey Huff might have to give way to Belt. It's going to be a battle for a while, but I think the Giants are itching to give Belt the full-time job at first base. If there's any sort of slump from Huff, I'd watch for Belt to get more and more playing time.

Seattle Mariners: Back of the Rotation

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    Competitors: Blake Beaven, Charlie Furbush, Hector Noesi

    Right now, Beaven and Furbush have the fourth and fifth slots in the rotation locked down. However, Noesi, the former Yankees pitcher, is now in the mix. He could definitely unseat one of the two, depending on how he pitches during the spring and early in the season. I wouldn't count on it being a real heated battle, but Noesi could surprise.

St. Louis Cardinals: Where to Play Allan Craig

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    Craig, one of the Cardinals' big-time postseason heroes, will enter 2012 without a starting job. He is going to be on the bench to start the year, but you know Mike Matheny would love to get him some playing time. Craig is a great player who is simply in a situation where there are better players ahead of him. He could platoon, but that might be the only way for him to get significant at-bats.

Tampa Bay Rays: Fourth and Fifth Starter

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    Competitors: Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Alex Cobb

    With baseball's best rotation (yeah, I said it), the Rays have a happy problem here. James Shields, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson are firmly the top three pitchers in the rotation. Beyond that, there are four good options for two spots. Many people have wanted Moore to start the season in the minors, but personally, I'd put him in the majors. The other spot is likely Niemann or Davis, and Davis is probably the more likely choice.

Texas Rangers: What to Do with Alexei Ogando?

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    The flame-throwing righty is in a precarious position. He did very well last year as a starter in the regular season and as a reliever in the postseason. With the addition of Yu Darvish and the possibility of Neftali Feliz moving into the rotation, Ogando could be either a starter or a reliever. To start, I think the Rangers will put him in the bullpen, but with an injury or slump in the rotation, the big righty could easily become a starter again.

Toronto Blue Jays: Left Field

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    Competitors: Travis Snider and Eric Thames

    Thames saw a majority of the playing time last year, and probably will enter Spring Training as the favorite. But Snider is a better hitter and probably will be a more valuable player. This could be a platoon, especially with Snider being a lefty, but one of these guys could very easy catch fire and secure the job all to himself.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper

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    Here's the thing— everyone wants the Nationals to let Bryce Harper start the season in the majors. The question is where to put him. The obvious choice is to unseat Roger Bernandina in center field, shift Jayson Werth to center, and put Harper in right field. However, whether that's in Washington's best interest remains to be seen. The Nationals higher-ups have a big decision to make on Harper, and we'll know soon what will happen with the super prospect.