2012 MLB Spring Training: 5 Hottest Position Battles

John Altamura@@JohnAltamuraBRContributor IIMarch 20, 2012

2012 MLB Spring Training: 5 Hottest Position Battles

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    The MLB season is a mere two weeks away and teams are finalizing their rosters in anticipation of their migration north to their home cities. The unseasonably warm weather is reminding all of us of what we have in store as baseball season approaches.

    There are many burning questions being faced by managers as they pencil in their starters. Who will be able to take advantage of these final crucial games before teams conclude their spring schedules? Let's take a look at five intriguing position battles as the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues come to a conclusion.

Boston Red Sox: Who Is Going to Play Right Field?

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    Once upon a time in Red Sox Nation, there was a right fielder who provided timely hitting, great defense and a little bit of pop. For 19 years, Dwight Evans patrolled the area right in front of the short green-padded bullpen fence. He was a mainstay of the Red Sox teams of the 1970s and 1980s. Most importantly, he provided lineup protection for future Hall of Famer Jim Rice.

    The 2012 squad will have three players vying for playing time in right field. It's safe to say Red Sox fans would love it if one of them could end up like "Dewey."

    The first candidate is Ryan Sweeney. He is now entering his seventh season in the league. His best season came in 2009 with the Oakland A's when he posted ordinary numbers (.293 BA, 6 HRs, 53 RBI). He has had a very poor spring, posting a dismal .083 BA.

    His main competition is Cody Ross and Darnell McDonald.

    Ross has had some success during his eight-year career. He had his best seasons with the Miami Marlins, where he belted 80 homers and drove in 297 RBI over five seasons. Ross has had a strong spring (.455 BA, 2 HR, 5 RBI).

    McDonald has had limited major league experience, but is having a good spring (.429 BA, 2 HR, 3 RBI).

    Who wins the right-field job?

    You have to give the nod to Ross.

Los Angeles Angels: Who Is Going to Play Center Field?

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    The battle for the starting job in center field is not as cut-and-dried as the batttle at first base. Obviously the first-base job belongs to Albert Pujols, and Angels fans hope it will stay that way for years to come.

    There are two main contenders for the starting center field job.

    The frontrunner is Peter Bourjos. He had somewhat of a breakout year in 2011 when he posted decent numbers (.271 BA, 12 HR, 43 RBI). His speed was a valuable asset as he swiped 22 bases. Although he has yet to show any of that base-stealing speed this spring, Bourjos has put up respectable numbers with a .296 BA.

    His main competition is the venerable Vernon Wells. It seems Wells is not only in a battle with Bourjos but also with Bobby Abreu for the left field job. Wells has seen his average decline in the last few seasons and some wonder whether he is approaching the twilight of his career. Still, Wells put up respectable home run and RBI numbers despite his poor .218 BA.

    Who is going to win the Angels' center field job?

    From a perspective of youth and upside, expect Bourjos to get the nod over Wells. The only caveat here could be his health. If Bourjos has continued issues with his hip, expect Wells to get more play.

Atlanta Braves: Who Is Going to Play First Base?

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    The Atlanta Braves have had some real good first basemen over the years. Names like Dale Murphy, Fred McGriff and Sid Bream have at one time held the position. The 2012 Braves have two main candidates for the position—Eric Hinske and Freddie Freeman.

    Hinske has bounced around a bit during his decade-long career. He has never quite lived up to his Rookie of the Year reputation, but he has put up some good power numbers. Hinske is not having a good statistical spring, hitting a poor .167.

    The good news for Hinske is that his main competition for the first base job, Freeman, is not doing much better. If Freeman has any chance of beating out Hinske, he is going to have to improve on his paltry .195 BA this spring.

    Who wins the first base job for the Braves?

    Both Hinske and Freeman are having poor statistical springs. The nod will go to the player who has the most potential to drive in runs and that player is Hinske.

Chicago Cubs: Who Is Going to Play Third Base?

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    Who will be manning the hot corner now that Aramis Ramirez is gone? That is the question on the mind of many die-hard Chicago Cubs fans. The race is between two players—Jeff Baker and Ian Stewart.

    Baker is entering his seventh season and has had a very pedestrian career. He has had a decent spring, hitting .280 through 11 games. His main competition, Stewart, is hoping to rekindle some of his Mile High magic. He had a good season for the Colorado Rockies in 2009, hitting 25 HRs and driving in 75 runs. Stewart has done well this spring, hitting .333 in six games.

    Who wins the starting third-base job for the Cubs?

    Statistically, both players are performing at about the same level. It may come down to career resume. If it does, Dale Sveum will give the nod to Stewart.

New York Yankees: Who Is Going to Play Right Field?

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    The New York Yankees rarely have positional battles. Starting jobs are usually sewn up long before the conclusion of spring training. Yet, this year the Yankees have three candidates vying for the starting right-field job. There are incumbents Nick Swisher and Andruw Jones, and the newly acquired Raul Ibanez.

    Let's break it down.

    Swisher played in 150 games with the Yankees last year and put up respectable numbers (.260 BA, 23 HR, 85 RBI). He was spelled on occasion by Jones, who hit 13 HRs and drove in 33 runs in limited action. Ibanez had two decent years after having a very strong season for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009 (.272 BA, 34 HR, 93 RBI). 

    Who wins the starting right-field job for the Yankees?

    The nod right now will have to go to Swisher. He is the only one of the three candidates having a decent spring with a .263 BA. Both Ibanez and Jones have struggled mightily with sub .200 BA. Swisher will start the season as the Yankees everyday right fielder as long as his groin doesn't put him on the shelf for a prolonged period of time.