Predicting the Winner of Every MLB Team's Biggest Position Battle

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2013

Predicting the Winner of Every MLB Team's Biggest Position Battle

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    For much of the roster, spring training is a time to shake off the rust and get ready for the season ahead. But it means very little from a performance standpoint.

    For a handful of guys on each team, however, spring training represents a chance to either lock down an everyday job or simply win a spot on the 25-man roster and break camp with the team.

    So here is a look at the biggest position battle for each MLB team this spring, as well as who I predict will come out victorious in the battle.

Baltimore Orioles

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    Position Battle: No. 5 Starter

    The first four spots in the Orioles rotation appear to be set, with Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez locked into their roles.

    The No. 5 spot will come down to Jair Jurrjens, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz, with Jake Arrieta and Steve Johnson also in the running.

    Predicted Winner: Zach Britton

    Though Jurrjens is the fun pick to land a rotation spot on a minor league contract, he's posted a 9.53 ERA so far this spring.

    Britton was 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA in 2011. If he continues to pitch well this spring, I think he comes away with the job. Matusz wins a bullpen spot.

Boston Red Sox

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    Position Battle: Utility infielder

    The utility infield spot is among the most frequent spring training position battles, and it will be an interesting one for Boston this coming season.

    Pedro Ciriaco performed well in the role last season, but he has some competition. Brock Holt was acquired from the Pirates in the Joel Hanrahan deal, and defensive stud Jose Iglesias is always an intriguing option as well.

    Predicted Winner: Pedro Ciriaco

    All three players in the running have hit well so far this spring. Surprisingly, it's Iglesias who has the best numbers, as he's 6-for-18 with a home run and five RBI.

    However, Ciriaco is out of options, so they would have to risk losing him if they opted to go with Holt or Iglesias. After he hit .293 over 259 at-bats last season, it will likely take a serious slump or injury for him to not land the job.

New York Yankees

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    Position Battle: Catcher

    With Russell Martin gone to Pittsburgh in free agency, the Yankees will fill the catcher's spot in-house from the trio of Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine.

    Stewart served as the primary backup to Martin last season, while Cervelli saw significant time as a backup in 2010 and 2011. Romine was once a top prospect, and he still has some solid upside.

    Predicted Winner: Francisco Cervelli

    None of the these three are capable of putting up the numbers that Martin did last season, and Martin wasn't exactly an offensive juggernaut.

    Cervelli has the most complete game of the three, as he has the ability to put up average offensive numbers and is a decent backstop, so my guess is he'll win the job. Stewart will once again fill the backup role as a defense-only catcher, and Romine will return to the minors to continue his development.

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Position Battle: Left field

    Rays manager Joe Maddon will likely shuffle his lineup early and often this season. But while an alignment of Matt Joyce in left field, Ben Zobrist in right field and Kelly Johnson at second base looks plausible on paper, it may not be that simple.

    Zobrist is most valuable playing second base, and the team may opt to use Johnson in a super utility role, with Joyce manning right field against right-handers and on the bench against left-handers.

    Predicted Winner: No clear-cut everyday starter

    My guess is Maddon will use left field as a way to rotate the aforementioned players. Joyce, Johnson, Shelley Duncan, Ryan Roberts, Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer could all see time out there during the season.

    Best-case scenario, Johnson locks up the everyday second base job and Joyce platoons with Duncan in left field, but I don't see that happening.

Toronto Blue Jays

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    Position Battle: Second base

    Prior to pulling off their blockbuster deal with the Marlins, the Blue Jays signed Maicer Izturis to a three-year, $9 million deal. The 32-year-old hit .256 and stole 17 bases last season.

    However, the team then acquired Emilio Bonifacio in the Marlins deal, giving them a pair of similar player to battle for the second base job.

    Predicted Winner: Maicer Izturis

    On spring play alone, Bonifacio is the clear winner, as he's gone 8-for-22 compared to the 0-for-15 performance Izturis has turned in.

    However, Bonifacio has spent more time in center field than he has at second base, and I expect that trend to continue once the regular season begins. Bonifacio is more valuable as a super-utility man, so it will be Izturis who winds up with more at-bats at second base this coming season.

Chicago White Sox

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    Position Battle: Third base

    Prior to acquiring Kevin Youkilis last season, third base was a black hole production-wise for the White Sox. With Youkilis gone in free agency, the team was forced to address the position this offseason.

    Jeff Keppinger was signed to a three-year, $12 million deal. He'll have every chance to be the everyday guy despite being a utility player for much of his career. Last season's Opening Day starter, Brent Morel, is the running well, along with Conor Gillaspie and Josh Bell.

    Predicted Winner: Jeff Keppinger

    Keppinger is off to a hot start this spring, as he's 7-for-15. Given the contract he signed, the team will be looking to get the most out of him this coming season.

    Gillaspie has also had a strong spring after being acquired from the Giants for right-hander Jeff Soptic, going 5-for-15 with two home runs and seven RBI. He has a good shot at landing a bench job.

Cleveland Indians

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    Position Battle: No. 5 starter

    The Indians rotation will be fronted by a trio of veterans in Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Brett Myers this coming season. And Zach McAllister seems to have the No. 4 spot all but locked up.

    However, the final spot is up in the air, with Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Scott Kazmir all in the running.

    Predicted Winners: Daisuke Matsuzaka

    Both Matsuzaka and Kazmir have been impressive so far after signing minor league deals, and I think it will be one of them that comes away with the job.

    Given his history with manager Terry Francona and the fact that he has enjoyed success at the big league level more recently than Kazmir, I'll give Matsuzaka the nod for now.

    This one will likely come down to the wire, though, and one way or another, Triple-A Columbus is going to have a stacked rotation.

Detroit Tigers

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    Position Battle: Closer

    After letting Jose Valverde walk in free agency, the Tigers opted against signing a free agent to fill the ninth-inning role, instead going with an in-house competition to fill the void.

    Flame-throwing prospect Bruce Rondon was viewed as the front-runner entering camp, but Al Alburquerque, Bryan Villarreal, Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel are all possible options as well.

    Predicted Winner: Al Alburquerque

    Rondon has struggled so far this spring, allowing three runs and five hits in 3.2 innings of work, with five walks and six strikeouts.

    As a result, the team is now actively shopping for a closer on the trade market, according to Danny Knobler of CBSSports. With limited options to pursue, I think the Tigers will wind up having to go in-house. And of the arms they have to choose from, Alburquerque has the most overpowering stuff.

Kansas City Royals

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    Position Battle: Second base

    After shoring up their starting rotation this offseason, the Royals' only major question mark entering the season from a personnel standpoint is who will start at second base.

    Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella are the leading candidates, while Irving Falu and top prospect Christian Colon are in the mix as well.

    Predicted Winner: Chris Getz

    Giavotella was once viewed as the future at second base for the Royals, but he has failed to break through over the past few seasons. Now, it figures to be Colon who claims the job long-term.

    For the time being, Getz is the team's best option after he hit .275/.312/.360 and stole nine bases over 189 at-bats last season. If Colon hits well early on, don't be surprised if he finishes the season with the everyday job.

Minnesota Twins

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    Position Battle: Center field

    With the trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere this offseason, the question is, who will start alongside left fielder Josh Willingham?

    Center field, in particular, is wide open. Aaron Hicks, Darin Mastroianni and Joe Benson are competing for a chance at everyday at-bats.

    Predicted Winner: Aaron Hicks

    After a down season in 2011, Hicks put himself back on the top-prospect radar with a strong season in Double-A last year, as he hit .286/.384/.460 and stole 32 bases.

    The 23-year-old has yet to play above Double-A, but he has the potential to be an impact table setter. He's also off to a hot start this spring, going 7-for-22 with two doubles, a home run and six RBI.

Houston Astros

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    Position Battle: No. 5 starter

    Really, anyone who steps forward with a strong spring is capable of winning a starting job in Houston this coming season. But we'll call the final rotation spot the biggest spring battle.

    Erik Bedard was signed to a minor league deal and he appears to be the front-runner for the job at this point. But Dallas Keuchel, John Ely, Alex White and Jarred Cosart are in the running as well.

    Predicted Winner: Erik Bedard

    The Astros would love nothing more than for top prospect Cosart or really, any of the aforementioned guys to step forward and win a spot, but my guess is that won't happen.

    For what it's worth, Bedard was solid in his spring debut. If nothing else, he could be a decent trade chip come July if he is able to win a spot and pitch respectably.

Los Angeles Angels

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    Position Battle: Utility man

    The Angels' biggest question right now is the closer role, as it's unclear whether or not Ryan Madson will be ready to start the season. But in the event he is not, the job will simply fall to Ernesto Frieri.

    Their biggest roster battle comes in the utility role, where minor league free agents Bill Hall and Matt Young are the top candidates to land a roster spot.

    Predicted Winner: Matt Young

    Hall is certainly the bigger name in the competition, but neither player has provided much in the way of big league production over the past two seasons.

    The 30-year-old Young has just 58 big league at-bats under his belt, but he's been solid so far this spring (7-for-13), and there's no reason he can't win a job if he keeps that up.

Oakland Athletics

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    Position Battle: Second base

    The additions of Hiroyuki Nakajima and Jed Lowrie this offseason have improved the A's crop of infield talent, but the question remains as to who will play second base.

    Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks are the primary options, while Adam Rosales and prospect Grant Green are options as well.

    Predicted Winner: Jemile Weeks

    Entering the 2012 season, Weeks appeared to be one of the few bright spots in the A's lineup after he hit .303 over 406 at-bats as a rookie in 2011. Instead, he struggled to a .221 average and spent a good portion of the season in the minors.

    He's off to a good start this spring (6-for-11), and while Sizemore figures to have a decent shot of making the team either way as a bat with some pop capable of playing second and third, Weeks returning to form would be a huge addition to the A's lineup.

Seattle Mariners

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    Position Battle: First base

    The Mariners had a busy offseason, bringing in Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay to bolster their offense.

    The biggest question right now seems to be whether Justin Smoak can lock up the everyday first base job after back-to-back disappointing seasons. If he can't, Morales could move from DH to first and open up everyday at-bats for Ibanez at DH.

    Predicted Winner: Justin Smoak

    The power is there, as Smoak had 19 home runs in 483 at-bats last season. The trouble is the rest of his offensive game, as he hit just .217/.290/.364.

    The 26-year-old has looked good so far this spring, going 8-for-16 with two home runs and five RBI—perhaps he's turned a corner in his development. Either way, the Mariners aren't ready to give up on him just yet, so expect him to get everyday at-bats to open the season. 

Texas Rangers

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    Position Battle: Center field

    A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman were signed to replace Mike Napoli and Michael Young, but the Rangers will have to replace Josh Hamilton in the outfield with someone in-house.

    Leonys Martin, Craig Gentry and 2010 and 2011 Opening Day starter Julio Borbon are all in the running for the center field job this spring.

    Predicted Winner: Leonys Martin

    A Cuban defector, Martin signed a five-year, $15.5 million deal with the Rangers in May of 2011, and he's done nothing but hit so far in the minors.

    He likely would have pushed for playing time even if Hamilton was still in the mix, as he hit .359/.422/.610 in Triple-A last season. An 8-for-21 start to the spring certainly doesn't hurt his cause either.

Atlanta Braves

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    Position Battle: Third base

    With the retirement of Chipper Jones and trade of Martin Prado, third base is wide open in Atlanta heading into the 2013 season.

    Incumbent Juan Francisco will battle with Chris Johnson, who was acquired in the Prado trade. While the two could platoon, there will no doubt be one player who steps forward.

    Predicted Winner: Chris Johnson

    Johnson is 8-for-22 with two home runs and four RBI this spring, and he hit .281 with 15 home runs and 76 RBI last season, so he would appear to have the upper hand.

    Francisco is 9-for-25 with a home run and four RBI so far in spring training. He's also playing well, but Johnson has the higher upside, and I think he'll quickly emerge as the everyday starter.

Miami Marlins

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    Position Battle: Center field

    One of the few bright spots for the Marlins last season, Justin Ruggiano hit .313 with 13 home runs and 14 steals in just 288 at-bats.

    However, he's been out since late February with back stiffness and, as a result, does not have the everyday center field job locked down. Gorkys Hernandez is his biggest competition for the job, while top prospects Jake Marisnick and Christian Yelich have gotten a look in big league camp as well.

    Predicted Winner: Justin Ruggiano

    Hernandez was acquired from the Pirates at the deadline last season for Gaby Sanchez. He also impressed this winter while playing in Venezuela, hitting a league-best .367 over 226 at-bats.

    Despite that, the job remains Ruggiano's to lose once he gets on the field. And while I think they'll both see a decent amount of playing time this season, Ruggiano will win the starting job.

New York Mets

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    Position Battle: Right field

    To put it bluntly, the Mets outfield is an absolute mess right now. Lucas Duda figures to be entrenched in left field, but the other two spots will come down to some combination of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Marlon Byrd, Collin Cowgill, Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin.

    Provided he's healthy after injuring his knee, Nieuwenhuis figures to get the majority of the at-bats in center field. But right field is wide open.

    Predicted Winner: Collin Cowgill

    After being traded from the Diamondbacks to the A's last offseason in the Trevor Cahill/Jarrod Parker deal, Cowgill was on the move again this winter, as the Mets acquired him for prospect Jefry Marte.

    Cowgill has yet to get an extended look in the majors, but he's proven capable of putting up numbers in the minors and is off to a good start this spring at 9-for-20 with three doubles and a home run.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Position Battle: Left field

    The Phillies outfield will have a completely new look in 2013. Ben Revere was acquired to play center field, and Delmon Young will play right field once he's healthy following ankle surgery.

    Left field remains a bit of a question, though, as Darin Ruf, John Mayberry, Domonic Brown and Laynce Nix are all competing for at-bats.

    Predicted Winner: Darin Ruf

    Ruf is off to a slow start this spring (3-for-23), but after launching 38 home runs in Double-A last season, he'll be given every chance to come away with a starting job.

    Brown will likely man right field until Young returns to the lineup, which will likely be after the start of the season. So for Opening Day, I like Ruf to be the left fielder.

Washington Nationals

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    Position Battle: Starting catcher

    After hitting .267 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI to finish fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2011, Wilson Ramos was expected to be the Nationals' long-term answer at catcher.

    However, a torn ACL ended his 2012 campaign after just 25 games, and as a result, the Nationals traded for Kurt Suzuki at the deadline to fill the void.

    Predicted Winner: Kurt Suzuki

    Ramos is expected to be ready to go for Opening Day, but he may not be at full strength until later on in the season. All indications point to the Nationals bringing him along slowly.

    Suzuki improved his numbers across the board last season after leaving Oakland, and as long as he is producing at a solid rate, he'll likely remain the starter.

Chicago Cubs

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    Position Battle: Third base

    Throughout the team's long and storied history, third base has been a consistent problem area for the Cubs. After Aramis Ramirez left in free agency last season, it is once again an issue.

    After trading Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu to the Rockies for Ian Stewart, the team wound up giving Luis Valbuena the bulk of the at-bats when Stewart went down with an injury. Those two will compete for the job this spring, alongside prospects Junior Lake and Josh Vitters.

    Predicted Winner: Luis Valbuena

    Though Valbuena hit just .219 last season, he showed solid plate discipline with a .310 on-base percentage and he seems to be a favorite of manager Dale Sveum.

    He's 5-for-12 with two doubles and a home run this spring, while Stewart has yet to take the field this spring with a quad strain. So Valbuena has to be considered the front-runner.

Cincinnati Reds

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    Position Battle: No. 5 starter

    This is not a position battle in the traditional sense, but it remains the biggest question mark entering the season for the Reds.

    Aroldis Chapman will be given every opportunity to win the job as he transitions from reliever to starter. But if the team decides against making the move, the job will fall to Mike Leake.

    Predicted Winner: Aroldis Chapman

    So far, so good for Chapman, as he's allowed three hits and one run over four innings of work. But the real test will come when the team stretches him out to five-plus innings.

    Leake has done his part to remain in the conversation, allowing one run in five innings of work over two starts, striking out five.

Milwaukee Brewers

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    Position Battle: No. 4 and 5 starters

    With Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf gone from last season's Opening Day rotation, the Brewers have some question marks beyond ace Yovani Gallardo entering the season.

    Marco Estrada and Michael Fiers figure to have spots locked up after Gallardo, but from there, Chris Narveson, Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg, Hiram Burgos and Mark Rogers are all vying for the final two spots.

    Predicted Winner: No. 4 Chris Narveson, No. 5 Wily Peralta

    Of the above mentioned group, both Narveson and Rogers are out of options, so they figure to be on the roster one way or another.

    Narveson is my pick for the No. 4 spot. He battled injuries last season, but won 23 games in 2010 and 2011 combined and is the only other real veteran option.

    The fifth spot will likely come down to the wire, but Peralta is not too far removed from being the team's top prospect. He looked good in his debut last season with 2.48 ERA over 29 innings of work, so the job is his to lose in my mind.

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Position Battle: Right field

    With budding stars Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte locking down left and center field, respectively, the Pirates still need to figure out the right field situation.

    After signing a six-year extension, Jose Tabata looked to be a key piece of the team moving forward. But he has struggled to duplicate his rookie-year success. He'll be competing with Travis Snider, Jerry Sands and Alex Presley for the job.

    Predicted Winner: Travis Snider

    Snider, once among the most promising prospects in the game, never really figured it out in Toronto and was traded to Pittsburgh at the deadline last year. He's never been given a full season of at-bats to prove what he can do, and the Pirates may simply opt to hand him the job for better or worse just to see what he's capable of.

    Another option could be Gaby Sanchez stepping forward into a starting role and pushing Garrett Jones into the everyday right field job. But I wouldn't expect that move to be made until after the season starts.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Position Battle: No. 5 starter

    With Kyle Lohse gone in free agency and Chris Carpenter sidelined indefinitely, the Cardinals will need to take advantage of their pitching depth more than ever this season.

    Lance Lynn will fill one spot, but the No. 5 job will come down to Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly in one of the more significant battles of the spring.

    Predicted Winner: Joe Kelly

    He's certainly the least exciting pick of the three, but Kelly was solid in his debut last season, going 5-7 with a 3.53 ERA in 24 games (16 starts). He's thrown two scoreless innings so far this spring.

    Rosenthal will likely wind up with a roster spot either way, as he was terrific as a setup man last season and may be most valuable returning to that role. Miller will have a rotation spot at some point in 2013, but I think he opens the season in the minors.

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Position Battle: No. 5 Starter

    The Diamondbacks have a solid group of arms set to make up their rotation this year. Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley and Brandon McCarthy are locked into jobs, but the No. 5 spot is up in the air.

    Top prospect Tyler Skaggs is the front-runner for the job, but Patrick Corbin, Randall Delgado and Josh Collmenter are in the running as well.

    Predicted Winner: Patrick Corbin

    While Skaggs has the highest ceiling of the group in the running for the No. 5 spot, Corbin has a bright future ahead of him as well.

    He went 6-8 with a 4.54 ERA last season in 22 appearances (17 starts), and he has allowed just four hits in five innings while striking out eight this spring.

Colorado Rockies

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    Position Battle: Third base

    Third base is a problem area throughout the league, as there are just not that many true everyday players at the position these days.

    While the Rockies' everyday starter has yet to be determined, they find themselves in a better position than most. A pair of solid incumbents in Chris Nelson and Jordan Pacheco are battling with a top prospect in Nolan Arenado.

    Predicted Winner: Chris Nelson

    There's no question Arenado has been the most impressive of the group thus far—and perhaps the most impressive player in Rockies camp—as he's gone 7-for-17 with four home runs and eight RBI.

    However, he's yet to play above Double-A, and Nelson really earned the Opening Day job last season, as he hit .301 with nine home runs and 53 RBI in 345 at-bats.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Position Battle: No. 5 starter

    There may be no team in baseball with a deeper crop of veteran starting pitching than the Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Josh Beckett are sure bets to front the rotation, and Korean import Hyun-Jin Ryu is all but assured a a spot as well.

    From there, Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley are all in the running for the No. 5 starter job.

    Predicted Winner: Ted Lilly

    The clear choice for the job seems to be Billingsley, but he'll be pitching this season with a partially torn elbow ligament that he opted not to have surgery on this offseason. And as a result, he may be brought along slowly.

    Capuano gives the team a second left-hander out of the bullpen, so he seems headed for that role. Meanwhile, Harang may well be on the move before the season starts.

    That leaves the forgotten man, Lilly, who will make $13.5 million in the last year of his contract. He was 5-0 with a 1.79 ERA over his first seven starts last season before getting shelled in his final start and then being shut down for the season at the end of May.

San Diego Padres

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    Position Battle Second base

    The Padres' two middle infield positions were a carousel of players last season. While Everth Cabrera seems to have shortstop locked down, second base remains up in the air.

    Logan Forsythe saw the bulk of the at-bats last season and hit .273/.343/.390. But he'll have to beat out Alexi Amarista, as well as slugging prospect Jedd Gyorko.  

    Predicted Winner: Logan Forsythe

    Gyorko is certainly the sexy pick of the bunch. He has posted back-to-back 100 RBI seasons in the minors and already has three home runs and nine RBI this spring as he continues his transition from third base to second.

    However, my guess is Gyorko opens the season in Triple-A, where he continues to fine-tune his defense, and Forsythe keeps the position warm for him in the meantime after a respectable performance last season.

San Francisco Giants

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    Position Battle: Final bench spot

    The Giants bench figures to be made up of catcher Hector Sanchez, first baseman/outfielder Brett Pill, infielder Joaquin Arias and outfielder Andres Torres. The fifth bench spot seems to be up for grabs, though.

    If the team opts to go with another infielder, Kensuke Tanaka, Wilson Valdez and Nick Noonan could vie for the spot. Meanwhile, another outfielder could result in prospects Gary Brown, Roger Kieschnick or Francisco Peguero making the team.

    Predicted Winner: Francisco Peguero

    Considering how wide open the spot is, the team may very well base its decision on spring performance and Peguero has been the best hitter in camp thus far.

    The 24-year-old doesn't offer much in the way of power, but he's capable of hitting for a solid average and providing some decent speed off the bench as well. He's 11-for-20 with two doubles and a triple so far this spring.