Pittsburgh Pirates: 3 Most Intriguing Spring Position Battles

Andrew MeaseContributor IMarch 19, 2012

Pittsburgh Pirates: 3 Most Intriguing Spring Position Battles

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    When every season begins, there are roster spots to be won or loss. This goes with every team, not just the Pirates.

    This year, the Pirates have a majority of their 25-man roster locked up, but that doesn't mean that there aren't going to battles along the way for more playing time.

    The Pirates have a potential platoon working its way in at first base with Casey McGehee, a new addition from the Brewers this offseason, and the non-lefty hitting Garrett Jones. Will we see a platoon or will one man rise above the other before the season begins?

    How about battles for bench positions in the middle infield, catcher or even the last bench guy in general? How about some healthy competition in the bullpen?

    In the following three slides, I will highlight the three most intriguing position battles with the candidates, current front-runner, likely winner and some analysis.

Starting First Baseman

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    The Candidates: Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee

    The Front-runner: Garrett Jones

    Projected Winner: Garrett Jones

    Analysis: Jones all but has the position locked up heading down the stretch this spring as he has turned up the heat after spotting McGehee the early lead. McGehee still looks to split some time between Pedro Alvarez at third and Jones at first that he will see a significant amount of at-bats.

    Currently, Jones is hitting .308 with two homers and eight RBI, while McGehee is hitting .250 with 0 homers and five RBI.

    Is this battle even close at this point? Honesty, no, but if Jones goes ice cold the rest of the spring and McGehee goes on a power spree, McGehee could earn more playing time, but I still see Jones as the first baseman on April 5th.

Setup Man

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    The Candidates: Evan Meek and Juan Cruz

    The Front-Runner: Juan Cruz

    Projected Winner: Juan Cruz

    Analysis: Evan Meek was an All-Star in 2010, now he's struggling mightily to make the roster. Last season, he battled shoulder injuries, and so far this spring, he has not shown the 2010 form (7.71 ERA, 4.2 Innings, 4 K, 2 BB, .300 Batting Average against, 1.71 WHIP).  

    Cruz on the other hand, an offseason pick up from Tampa Bay, is performing phenomenally to the tune of a 1.50 ERA in 6 innings. Cruz has only allowed two hits for a .111 batting average against and has 4 K's to one walk and a WHIP of 0.50.

    Meek, I project, will start in Triple-A in an attempt to regain his 2010 form. As of now, he seems to have completely recovered from the shoulder ailments of 2011, but he needs to regain his form before he returns to the setup role.

Bench Catcher

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    The Candidates: Michael McKenry, Jose Morales and  Jake Fox

    The Front-Runner: Michael McKenry

    Projected Winner: Michael McKenry

    Analysis: McKenry bonded very well with the Pirates' fanbase last year, not because of his bat, but because of his style of play.  

    Morales figured to be the front-runner entering camp with McKenry having an option remaining, but an oblique injury has not allowed him to play at all.

    Jake Fox is on his fourth team in as many years. After spending several years with the National League Central rival Cubs, he went to Oakland, and last year was in Baltimore. Fox is hitting well this spring at .278 with two homers and five RBI.

    I make McKenry the favorite due to his likability in Pittsburgh and his reputation amongst the fanbase after a solid debut with the team last year. Fox should still find a spot on the bench as he has the ability to also play first.

    As always, you can follow Andrew Mease on Twitter @asmease