Updating the Favorites for 10 Heated Spring Training Roster Battles

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2013

Updating the Favorites for 10 Heated Spring Training Roster Battles

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    Spring training performance doesn't mean much for players who are locked into a starting job and roster spot, but for a handful of players on each team battling for a job, it means everything.

    Most spring battles come down to filling out the end of the bench or naming someone to the final bullpen spot, but there are a handful of key spots up for grabs this spring.

    Here is an updated look at the current favorites for the 10 biggest spring training battles.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Starting Outfield

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    The Diamondbacks dealt center fielder Chris Young and right fielder Justin Upton this offseason, improving the rest of their roster in the process but leaving their outfield in question.

    After signing a two-year, $15 million deal last offseason, Jason Kubel led the team with 30 home runs and 90 RBI. He'll be back slotted in left field and hitting in the cleanup spot.

    Top prospect Adam Eaton, who hit .259/.382/.412 and scored 19 runs in a 22-game audition last September, appears to be the front-runner to hit leadoff and play center field. But he'll need a strong spring to lock up the position.

    Cody Ross was signed to a three-year, $26 million deal after turning in a solid performance on a one-year deal in Boston last season.

    He'll compete with incumbent Gerardo Parra, who won a Gold Glove in 2011 but served as fourth outfielder last season. At 25, Parra still has room to improve and become a solid everyday player.


    Candidate 2012 Stats

    Adam Eaton (.375/.456/.523, 7 HR, 48 RBI, 130 R in minors)

    Jason Kubel (.253/.327/.506, 30 HR, 90 RBI, 75 R)

    Gerardo Parra (.273/.335/.392, 7 HR, 36 RBI, 58 R)

    Cody Ross (.267/.326/.481, 22 HR, 81 RBI, 70 R)


    Predicted Battle Winner

    LF Jason Kubel, CF Adam Eaton, RF Cody Ross

Atlanta Braves: Third Base

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    The retirement of Chipper Jones has left the Braves with a hole at third base for the first time since 1995. While they will be without star power at the position, they do have some decent options.

    The expected contingency plan was to slide Martin Prado in at third and sign an outfielder, but Prado was dealt to the Diamondbacks in the Justin Upton deal.

    Incumbent Juan Francisco saw 192 at-bats as the backup third baseman last season, and one way or another he should see a solid amount of playing time.

    He'll contend with Chris Johnson, who was acquired in the Upton deal and is coming off the best season of his career last year.

    The Diamondbacks acquired Johnson at the deadline last season, and he had seven home runs and 35 RBI in 44 games in Arizona. If he can continue to play at that level, he'll come away with the everyday job.


    Candidate 2012 Stats

    Juan Francisco (.234/.278/.432, 9 HR, 32 RBI, 17 R)

    Chris Johnson (.281/.326/.451, 15 HR, 76 RBI, 48 R)


    Predicted Battle Winner

    Platoon to open the season, Johnson as the everyday starter by June.

Baltimore Orioles: No. 5 Starter

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    The Orioles starting rotation was a carousel of arms last year, but they appear to be in a much more stable position this coming season.

    Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez are all but locks to be part of the rotation, but the fifth spot is up for grabs.

    Former top prospects Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton may have the best chance of earning the job if they can produce this spring, while former starters-turned-relievers Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter are options as well.

    Steve Johnson came out of nowhere to turn in a solid rookie season, but after going just 50-52 with a 4.17 ERA in 165 minor league appearances, he may have been playing over his head in 2012.

    The most intriguing option is Braves cast-off Jair Jurrjens, who was non-tendered by Atlanta after a rough 2012 season. He was an All-Star in 2011, going 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA, and a return to form would make him an absolute steal after he signed a minor league deal.


    Candidate 2012 Stats

    Jake Arrieta (24 G, 18 GS, 3-9, 6.20 ERA, 109 K, 114.2 IP)

    Zach Britton (12 G, 11 GS, 5-3, 5.07 ERA, 53 K, 60.1 IP)

    Steve Johnson (12 G, 4 GS, 4-0, 2.11 ERA, 46 K, 38.1 IP)

    Jair Jurrjens (11 G, 10 GS, 3-4, 6.89 ERA, 19 K, 48.1 IP)


    Predicted Battle Winner

    Jair Jurrjens

Cleveland Indians: No. 5 Starter

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    The Indians rotation is led by a trio of veterans in Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Brett Myers, and Zach McAllister is all but a lock for a rotation spot as well.

    The fifth starter spot is entirely up in the air, though, and there are a solid six candidates vying for the spot.

    The biggest names are veterans Daisuke Matsuzaka and Scott Kazmir, both of whom were signed to minor league deals and coming off of rough seasons.

    David Huff is out of options, but he is more likely to wind up as the team's long reliever than fifth starter. Corey Kluber was passable in 12 starts as a 26-year-old last season, but he is little more than organizational depth.

    Top prospect Trevor Bauer was acquired from the Diamondbacks, and he will be in the rotation one way or another this coming season.

    The best option may be 25-year-old right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who missed all of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He went 8-9 with a 4.62 ERA in 21 starts back in 2011, and while he still has an option, he could very well emerge as the best of the group.


    Candidate 2012 Stats

    Trevor Bauer (22 GS, 12-2, 2.42 ERA, 157 K, 130.1 IP in minors)

    Carlos Carrasco (Injured-did not play in 2012)

    David Huff (6 G, 4 GS, 3-1, 3.38 ERA, 19 K, 26.2 IP)

    Scott Kazmir (14 GS, 3-6, 5.34 ERA, 51 K, 64 IP in Indy League)

    Corey Kluber (12 GS, 2-5, 5.14 ERA, 54 K, 63 IP)

    Daisuke Matsuzaka (11 GS, 1-7, 8.28 ERA, 41 K, 45.2 IP)


    Predicted Battle Winner

    Carlos Carrasco

Los Angeles Dodgers: Starting Pitching Depth

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    The first three spots in the Dodgers rotation are set in stone, with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Josh Beckett penciled in atop the staff.

    Chad Billingsley will have a spot as soon as he proves healthy after battling shoulder problems last season. After throwing two innings in his spring debut without any setbacks, that may be Opening Day.

    Hyun-Jin Ryu was signed to a six-year, $36 million deal out of Korea and will be given every chance to earn a rotation spot as a polished arm with a proven track record of success overseas.

    Veterans Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang held down rotation spots last season after being added in free agency, but they may well be shopped this spring or forced to settle for bullpen spots.

    Ted Lilly was terrific through eight starts last season before a shoulder injury ended his run, and making $12 million, the team will be forced to find something to do with him.


    Candidate 2012 Stats

    Chad Billingsley (25 GS, 10-9, 3.55 ERA, 128 K, 149.2 IP)

    Chris Capuano (33 GS, 12-12, 3.72 ERA, 162 K, 198.1 IP)

    Aaron Harang (31 GS, 10-10, 3.61 ERA, 131 K, 179.2 IP)

    Ted Lilly (8 GS, 5-1, 3.14 ERA, 31 K, 48.2 IP)

    Hyun-Jin Ryu (27 GS, 9-9, 2.66 ERA, 210 K, 182.2 IP in Korea)


    Predicted Battle Winner

    No. 4 starter: Chad Billingsley; No. 5 starter: Hyun-Jin Ryu; Bullpen: Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly; Traded: Chris Capuano.

Oakland A's: Second Baseman

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    The A's middle infield situation was a rough one last season, and while they brought aboard shortstops Jed Lowrie and Hiroyuki Nakajima, the second base situation hasn't improved much.

    Jemile Weeks was expected to hold down the position for years after hitting .303 over 406 at-bats as a rookie in 2011, but that average plummeted to .221 last year, and he was sent down to the minors.

    The other front-runner for the job this coming season appears to be Scott Sizemore, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. He was expected to be the starting third baseman last year after hitting 11 home runs with 52 RBI in 93 games with the team in 2011.

    Adam Rosales appears to be little more than a utility infielder moving forward, while Grant Green has shown plenty of offensive skills in the minors but has yet to find a position.


    Candidate 2012 Stats

    Grant Green (.296/.338/.458, 15 HR, 75 RBI, 73 R in minors)

    Adam Rosales (.222/.297/.333, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 12 R)

    Scott Sizemore (Injured—did not play in 2012)

    Jemile Weeks (.221/.305/.304, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 54 R)


    Predicted Battle Winner

    Scott Sizemore

St. Louis Cardinals: No. 5 Starter

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    With Kyle Lohse gone in free agency and Chris Carpenter on the shelf indefinitely, the back end of the Cardinals pitching staff is a question entering the season.

    Lance Lynn will step into one rotation spot behind Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook, but the No. 5 spot is up for grabs.

    Top prospect Shelby Miller has the highest upside of any option, but he left his throwing session last Wednesday with shoulder tightness, and the team may opt to bring him along slowly (h/t MLB.com).

    Flame-throwing Trevor Rosenthal was terrific out of the bullpen down the stretch last season, but he was a starter in the minors. The team will likely stretch him out and give him a chance to start this spring, but he may be too valuable a setup arm at this point for them to pull him out of the 'pen.

    In the end, it's the least heralded of the three who could wind up with the job in Joe Kelly, as he quietly turned in a fantastic rookie season last year.


    Candidate 2012 Stats

    Joe Kelly (24 G, 16 GS, 5-7, 3.53 ERA, 75 K, 107 IP)

    Shelby Miller (27 GS, 11-10, 4.74 ERA, 160 K, 136.2 IP)

    Trevor Rosenthal (19 G, 0-2, 2.78 ERA, 25 K, 22.2 IP)


    Predicted Battle Winner

    Joe Kelly

Texas Rangers: Center Field

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    With the departure of Josh Hamilton and without a key acquisition in the outfield, the Rangers will choose from a trio of in-house options to join David Murphy and Nelson Cruz as starters in the outfield.

    Speedster Julio Borbon was the team's Opening Day starter in center field in 2010 and 2011, but he spent all of last season in the minor leagues, and at 27 he'll be looking to get his career back on track.

    Craig Gentry was solid in the fourth outfield role last season, hitting .304 and stealing 13 bases in 240 at-bats, but he may be better suited to remain in that role.

    The front-runner has to be Leonys Martin, who signed a five-year, $15.5 million deal in May of 2011. After putting up a 1.033 OPS in Triple-A last season, he appears ready to take a step forward.


    Candidate 2012 Stats

    Julio Borbon (.304/.349/.433, 10 HR, 56 RBI, 78 R in minors)

    Craig Gentry (.304/.367/.392, 1 HR, 26 RBI, 31 R)

    Leonys Martin (.359/.422/.610, 12 HR, 42 RBI, 48 R in minors)


    Predicted Battle Winner

    Leonys Martin

Toronto Blue Jays: Second Base

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    Before their wave of major acquisitions this offseason, the Blue Jays signed former Angels infielder Maicer Izturis to a three-year, $9 million deal.

    Expected to be the starting second baseman, Izturis will instead contend with Emilio Bonifacio, who was acquired in the Marlins' blockbuster trade.

    Bonifacio swiped 30 bases last season in just 244 at-bats, with 103 over the past four seasons —but he is not the defensive player Izturis is. He is more versatile, though, capable of playing all over the infield and outfield.

    Both will likely see significant playing time, but Bonifacio may be better suited for the utility role off the bench.


    Candidate 2012 Stats

    Emilio Bonifacio (.258/.330/.316, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 30 R)

    Maicer Izturis (.256/.320/.315, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 35 R)


    Predicted Battle Winner

    Maicer Izturis

Washington Nationals: Catcher

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    After hitting .267 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI, the Nationals looked to have a budding star on their hands behind the plate in Wilson Ramos.

    Ramos was acquired from the Twins at the deadline in 2010 for reliever Matt Capps, and he was on his way to another strong season last year when he went down with a torn ACL.

    However, he may have to at least share time with veteran Kurt Suzuki this coming season as he is eased back into playing time.

    Suzuki was acquired from the A's at the deadline. After hitting just .218/.250/.286 prior to the trade, he finished the season with a .267/.321/.404 line in 43 games in Washington.


    Candidate 2012 Stats

    Wilson Ramos (.265/.354/.398, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 11 R)

    Kurt Suzuki (.235/.276/.328, 6 HR, 43 RBI, 36 R)


    Predicted Battle Winner

    Suzuki to open the season, Ramos by midseason.