MLB Spring Training 2012: 8 Veterans Who Will Lose Starts to Younger Players

Ely SussmanCorrespondent IFebruary 25, 2012

MLB Spring Training 2012: 8 Veterans Who Will Lose Starts to Younger Players

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    There promise to be entertaining positional battles during MLB Spring Training 2012.

    In particular, much is at stake when a veteran player competes against an up-and-comer for a starting role.

    Secondary to winning the World Series but above most other things, MLB players are motivated by the possibility of playing everyday.

    Old-timers often have too much pride to accept reserve roles, while the young guys don't want to pass up opportunities to establish their legitimacy.

    All the following individuals will appear in the big leagues this season. That's a victory in itself.

    However, their performances over the next few weeks could dramatically affect their futures in baseball beyond this summer.

3B Jeff Baker (Chicago Cubs)

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    Jeff Baker has never totaled more than 300 at-bats in any season of his MLB career. Still, for a few weeks this winter, it looked like 2012 would be his year to crack the starting lineup.

    Aramis Ramirez declined his part of a $16 million mutual option to seek a long-term contract in late October. His return to the Chicago Cubs was considered doubtful when he officially became a free agent on Halloween 2011.

    Baker was the team's third baseman by default...until former Colorado Rockies prospect Ian Stewart was acquired December 8.

    The two have nearly matched each other in games played and plate appearances as well as on-base and slugging percentage. Stewart hits for more power, but Baker strikes out less frequently.

    Although Stewart is coming off a miserable season (.156 BA, 0 HR in 48 games), his odds of manning the hot corner are good considering that he is four years Baker's junior.

SP Felipe Paulino (Kansas City Royals)

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    For years, the Kansas City Royals have had a mediocre starting rotation. No wonder they have accomplished only one winning season since 1995!

    Better times appear to be on the horizon for K.C. as their young players—including 2011 rookie Danny Duffy—are poised to improve.

    Duffy will get every opportunity to join the starting five despite struggling to throw strikes in his first 20 MLB starts. Fair or not, preferential treatment is given to left-handers with mid-90s velocity.

    Felipe Paulino is actually a harder thrower than Duffy, among the best in the league for that matter.

    But at 28 years old, we have already seen what his ceiling is. Paulino is wild in the strike zone and without the ability to pitch into the later innings.

    His fastball-slider combination translates well to the bullpen, anyway.

    Manager Ned Yost has not made his decision yet. He will use a six-man rotation this spring.

C Jose Molina (Tampa Bay Rays)

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    Why did the Tampa Bay Rays sign Jose Molina?

    As Bill Chastain writes, he is a great defensive catcher with enough experience to "mentor the youngsters."

    The slow-footed veteran will be battling Robinson Chirinos and Jose Lobaton for playing time, although neither has proven much at the MLB level.

    Realize, though, Molina is accustomed to back-up jobs. He has never caught more than 750 innings. At 36 years old, I don't expect that to change.

    Either Chirinos or Lobaton will dethrone Molina atop the depth chart.

2B Yuniesky Betancourt (Kansas City Royals)

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    Yuniesky Betancourt returned to the Kansas City Royals one year after being dealt by the franchise to Milwaukee. And a lot has changed.

    Starting infielders Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas have become regulars in his absence.

    The only position he could start at—now that Escobar is hogging shortstop—is second base.

    His competition? Second-year player Johnny Giavotella.

    Betancourt is a long shot because of his poor plate discipline and erroneous defense.

    It looks like the Royals want him as a utility man.

C A.J. Pierzynski (Chicago White Sox)

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    The Chicago White Sox were 10-6 in late August 2011. Coincidentally, those were the 16 games starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski spent on the disabled list.

    He might be intentionally taken out of the lineup more often in 2012.

    Pierzynski is an awful battery mate who can't throw out attempting base-stealers (caught-stealing percentage below 26 percent in all seven seasons in Chicago).

    A very pedestrian batter, he doesn't take many pitches or get extra-base hits. He's in decline and pretty annoying, too.

    Tyler Flowers is a completely different player.

    Flowers is a more powerful backstop and a better fit for the rebuilding White Sox because he'll be under team control for years to come.

SS Mike Aviles (Boston Red Sox)

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    The Boston Red Sox finally cleared the way for highly-touted prospect Jose Iglesias. They shipped Jed Lowrie to Houston and Marco Scutaro to Colorado.

    Now, the Cuban shortstop must prove that he is more than just a good glove.

    The signing of Nick Punto was definitely a move to bolster the bench. Instead, Mike Aviles will be Iglesias' primary competition.

    The streaky ex-Kansas City Royal batted better than .300 in 2008 and 2010, and turned around his 2011 season after being traded to Beantown.

    Aviles isn't the polished shortstop that Iglesias is rumored to be, but he has versatility and experience on his side (400-plus MLB innings at three infield positions).

    Ultimately, a stellar spring will earn Iglesias the starting job.

SP Freddy Garcia (New York Yankees)

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    All New York Yankees fans celebrated when the A.J. Burnett trade was finalized.

    The move alleviated New York's overcrowding in the starting rotation so that the No. 5 spot has only two remaining candidates: Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes.

    Aside from being oft-injured, they are in different situations.

    Garcia—the older of the two—is taking his career one year at a time. The soft-thrower would be relieving for the Yankees if he loses this preseason battle. Such a demotion would likely prevent him from matching his current $4 million salary in future offseasons.

    Hughes, meanwhile, is two years away from his first free agency experience and seeking to restore his reputation after a disappointing 2011 campaign.

    The organization will be rooting for him. Having Hughes back in All-Star form gives the Yankees a formidable top four through the middle of the decade.

DH Bobby Abreu (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)

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    It's hard to say the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have a "problem" from adding Albert Pujols. The transaction arguably made them favorites in the AL West, even over the defending American League champion Texas Rangers.

    However, a sensitive situation is still unresolved concerning designated hitter Bobby Abreu and his trade demands.

    He wants a fresh start with another team if the Angels decide that Mark Trumbo and Kendry Morales are better options.

    The task of accommodating all three wouldn't be so daunting if Pujols were not signed to play first base.

    Frankly, Abreu ought to leave. Trumbo and Morales—when healthy—have far more power and bright, affordable futures.

    Abreu has come to terms with the fact that he will not play everyday in 2012.

    These other veterans, on the other hand, will fight for their right the start, but eventually come to the same realization.