Position battles are quite the tricky situation for MLB clubs during spring training. In a true position battle, no one is ever really sure how the situation will resolve itself.
And sometimes the outcome of who wins the starter's job can become a side plot to the process of getting there.
Some battles create a positive environment, rich with healthy competition that brings the best out of each player. Others do not. Sometimes players on the outside publicly take sides, causing tension inside the clubhouse. Other times the silence of teammates can be deafening.
Luckily for the Toronto Blue Jays, battles for playing time are few and far between this spring. Blue Jays fans' only source of position battle drama will come from the backup catcher’s role, second base and the bullpen.
Let’s start with the backup catcher, where the acquisition of knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has complicated the issue slightly. J.P. Arencibia has the starter’s job locked up, but he may be forced to sit every fifth day when Dickey toes the rubber.
The Blue Jays also have Henry Blanco and Josh Thole battling it out for the rights to catch Dickey and assume backup catcher duties. Both have experience catching Dickey’s knuckleball.
The initial reports were that the Blue Jays were going to give Dickey a personal catcher, but J.P. Arencibia has made it very clear that he wants to catch the NL Cy Young winner. Arencibia has even been playing catch with Dickey without a cup to force himself to concentrate on catching the ball.
Arencibia and Dickey will be teammates at the World Baseball Classic in March, and the Blue Jays are now more likely to take a wait-and-see approach to see how the two mesh during the tournament.
If Arencibia does not catch Dickey, the backup catcher role will most likely be decided by who gets to be Dickey’s personal catcher. The frontrunner right now is Josh Thole, who has more experience catching Dickey, including most of last year’s Cy Young season.
The situation in the bullpen is not strictly a position battle, but things are beginning to heat up. Just like at all MLB training camps, the Blue Jays have invited a number of players trying to earn themselves a spot in a big league lineup.
There are reportedly four players who have a bullpen spot locked up: Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Esmil Rogers and Darren Oliver. That leaves players like Aaron Loup, Jeremy Jeffress, Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar, Brad Lincoln and Michael Schwimer battling for the final spots.
A few of those players are a lot closer to earning a spot than others, but the fact remains that John Gibbons has not made a decision on the majority of his bullpen yet.
If we throw J.A. Happ’s name into the ring as a potential long reliever, this situation gets even more crowded.
Who will be the Blue Jays starting second baseman?
The most interesting position battle in spring training is currently at second base. Finally, a battle with a starting position on the line.
In one corner is newly acquired middle infielder Maicer Izturis. In the other, super-utility player Emilio Bonifacio.
The Blue Jays are being pretty secretive with who they think will get the job, but it looks like Izturis is the early favorite. Bonifacio has a lot of experience playing all around the diamond, and his versatility may be better used filling in for players rather than tied up at second base.
John Gibbons has also noted that Izturis’ past as a regular middle infielder probably gives him a slight advantage.
At this point in camp, the second baseman’s job is completely up for grabs between Izturis and Bonifacio. A lot can change in the coming month though.
When Opening Day rolls around on April 2nd, all of these competitions will be finished and a winner will be declared. Keep in mind that what may end up being more important than the outcome for the Blue Jays is the process of how these players get there.
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