Dark Horses to Watch in Final Weeks of Spring Training Battles

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2014

Dark Horses to Watch in Final Weeks of Spring Training Battles

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Spring training performance is generally taken with a grain of salt, as most guys are simply trying to shake off the rust and work on a few different things before the start of the regular season.

    However, for the handful of guys on each team fighting for what are generally one or two open roster spots, spring performance can mean the difference between breaking camp with the big league club and being shipped to the minors.

    With a number of position battles still far from decided, here is a look at 10 dark horses to watch over the final weeks of spring training. These guys were far from the favorites to land their respective jobs entering camp, and most of them are still not the favorites at this point, but they have at least an outside shot at securing a spot on an Opening Day roster.

1B Eric Campbell, New York Mets

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Eric Campbell's Spring Stats: 6-for-16, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 K

    Other First Base Candidates

    • Brandon Allen (2-for-18, 1 RBI, 1 R, 3 K)
    • Matt Clark (4-for-15, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K)
    • Ike Davis (1-for-6, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 3 K)
    • Lucas Duda (2-for-7, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K)
    • Josh Satin (3-for-13, 1 2B, 1 R, 3 BB, 3 K)

    Position Overview

    It looked like first base would be a two-horse race for the New York Mets during the offseason between Lucas Duda and Ike Davis, with the decision perhaps being made by which player was traded before the start of the season.

    It may still be between those two, but Eric Campbell has done enough over the past year to at least warrant some consideration, and he's off to a nice start this spring.

    The 26-year-old was an eighth-round pick back in 2008, and he reached Triple-A for the first time last year. He did not put up big power numbers with just eight home runs in 341 at-bats, but his 66/60 BB/K ratio was good for a .314/.435/.475 line, and those on-base skills are hard to ignore.

SP Jesse Chavez, Oakland Athletics

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Jesse Chavez's Spring Stats: 3 G, 2 GS, 8.2 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 8 K

    Other No. 4 and 5 Starter Candidates

    • A.J. Griffin (2 GS, 5 IP, 5 ER, 10 H, 0 BB, 4 K)
    • Tommy Milone (3 G, 2 GS, 9 IP, 6 ER, 10 H, 2 BB, 4 K)
    • Drew Pomeranz (3 G, 3.1 IP, 3 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 4 K)
    • Dan Straily (2 GS, 5.1 IP, 3 ER, 6 H, 5 BB, 3 K)

    Position Overview

    Despite their struggles so far this spring, Jarrod Parker and Sonny Gray are likely locked into rotation spots alongside Scott Kazmir at this point in the spring. The final two spots on the Oakland A's staff are still up for grabs, though.

    None of the four candidates listed above have done much to separate themselves from the pack to this point, and if that continues, the team could seriously consider going with Jesse Chavez as its No. 5 starter.

    The 30-year-old pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in Oakland last season, posting a 3.92 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 8.6 K/9 in 57.1 innings of work over 30 appearances. In fact, he has just two career starts to his credit at the big league level, but he's been lights-out so far and likely has a roster spot as a long reliever even if he doesn't crack the rotation.

LF Collin Cowgill, Los Angeles Angels

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Collin Cowgill's Spring Stats: 7-for-22, 4 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R, 1 BB, 4 K

    Other Final Bench Spot Options

    • Brennan Boesch (5-for-17, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 3 R, 2 K)
    • Carlos Pena (3-for-16, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K)
    • Ian Stewart (4-for-17, 1 2B, 2 BB, 7 K)
    • Chad Tracy (3-for-16, 1 R, 5 K)

    Position Overview

    Last spring, J.B. Shuck played himself into a roster spot for the Los Angeles Angels, and that may be exactly what Collin Cowgill does this spring if he keeps hitting like he has.

    The team signed a handful of veterans to compete for the final bench spot alongside Hank Conger, Grant Green and Shuck in the offseason, in hopes that one of them could step forward and perhaps even push Raul Ibanez for DH at-bats. Brennan Boesch has been the best of the bunch so far, but no one has really separated themselves from the pack.

    Cowgill has bounced around the past few years, landing with the Angels in a June trade last year and hitting .231/.271/.374 over 91 at-bats. The 27-year-old was once a top prospect in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, hitting .354/.430/.554 with 13 home runs and 30 steals at the Triple-A level back in 2011.

2B Chris Getz, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

    Chris Getz's Spring Stats: 5-for-16, 1 2B, 1 3B, 3 RBI, 2 R

    Other Second Base Options

    • Ryan Goins (4-for-20, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K)
    • Maicer Izturis (4-for-14, 2 R, 1 BB)
    • Steve Tolleson (4-for-17, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 K)

    Position Overview

    After the Toronto Blue Jays cut ties with Emilio Bonifacio last September, it looked like there was a good chance the team would go after a second baseman either in free agency or via trade this offseason. When that didn't happen, it looked like the slick-fielding Ryan Goins all but had the job locked up entering camp.

    However, Goins hit just .252/.264/.345 over 119 at-bats down the stretch last season, and he has never showed much in the way of an offensive game, as he hit .257/.311/.369 in Triple-A prior to being called up.

    Chris Getz was signed to a minor league deal after being non-tendered by the Kansas City Royals, and he has at least put his name on the list of candidates for the job this spring. Getz is not the defender Goins is, but he is slightly above average and may be able to provide more offensively if given the chance.

CF Reed Johnson, Miami Marlins

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Reed Johnson's Spring Stats: 9-for-17, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 2 R, 1 K

    Other Center Field Candidates

    • Brian Bogusevic (2-for-15, 1 RBI, 1 R, 2 K)
    • Jake Marisnick (5-for-15, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB 1 K)
    • Marcell Ozuna (3-for-18, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 2 R, 4 BB, 9 K)

    Position Overview

    The right field job for the Miami Marlins is locked up with Giancarlo Stanton penciled in, and it is safe to assume that Christian Yelich will fill one of the other two outfield spots, though it remains to be seen if that will be in left field or center field.

    MLBDepthCharts currently has Marcell Ozuna pegged for the Opening Day center field job, with newly acquired Brian Bogusevic earning the fourth outfield job.

    That said, if Reed Johnson keeps hitting like he has, it will be hard to justify not at least giving him a bench job out of camp. The 37-year-old hit just .244/.311/.341 for the Atlanta Braves last season, but he had put up a line of .299/.342/.431 line over the previous two seasons as one of the better fourth outfielders in the game. If nothing else, his ability to get on base and veteran leadership would be useful in a reserve role.

SP Jeff Manship, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Jeff Manship's Spring Stats: 3 G, 1 GS, 7 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 6 K

    Other No. 5 Starter Candidates

    • David Buchanan (2 G, 1 GS, 3 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 3 K)
    • Miguel Gonzalez (2 G, 2.2 IP, 5 ER, 6 H, 6 BB, 2 K)
    • Ethan Martin (1 G, 0.0 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 0 K)
    • Sean O'Sullivan (2 G, 1 GS, 5 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 5 K)
    • Jonathan Pettibone (N/A)

    Position Overview

    With Cole Hamels bothered by a sore left shoulder and likely to start the season on the DL, there is an open spot at the back of the Philadelphia Phillies' rotation this spring.

    There were hopes that Cuban defector Miguel Gonzalez could fill a spot, but it looks like he'll need some time in the minors to work on his command before making his way to Philadelphia. A pair of incumbent former prospects in Ethan Martin and Jonathan Pettibone have also done nothing to justify a job, as Martin failed to record an out in his lone spring appearance, and Pettibone has yet to pitch while dealing with a sore shoulder.

    That actually leaves Jeff Manship in a fairly decent position to break camp as the team's No. 5 starter. The 29-year-old spent last season with the Colorado Rockies, posting a 7.04 ERA in 11 games (four starts) before agreeing to a minor league deal with the Phillies back in December.

SP Tyler Matzek, Colorado Rockies

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Tyler Matzek's Spring Stats: 3 G, 6 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 7 K

    Other No. 5 Starter Candidates

    • Christian Friedrich (2 G, 1 GS, 3.2 IP, 3 ER, 7 H, 3 BB, 6 K)
    • Jordan Lyles (2 GS, 5 IP, 1 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 3 K)
    • Franklin Morales (3 GS, 7.1 IP, 3 ER, 9 H, 2 BB, 9 K)
    • Juan Nicasio (2 GS, 7 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 7 K)

    Position Overview

    The No. 5 starter spot was already wide open in Colorado when spring training began, and a strained shoulder by Jhoulys Chacin could leave the Rockies needing to fill a pair of rotation spots behind Jorge De La Rosa, Brett Anderson and Tyler Chatwood this spring.

    Franklin Morales and Juan Nicasio have both pitched well this spring, and former top prospect Christian Friedrich and reliever/spot starter Franklin Morales are in the mix as well. The dark horse to keep an eye on here, though, is another former top prospect in Tyler Matzek.

    The No. 11 pick in the 2009 draft, Matzek reached Double-A for the first time last season after dealing with serious command issues early in his career. All signs pointed to him turning a corner in 2013, though, as he went 8-9 with a 3.79 ERA in 142.1 innings. More importantly, his walks were down to a career-best 4.8 BB/9, and while he's a long shot at this point to make the roster, he's worth keeping tabs on the rest of the spring.

LF Steven Moya, Detroit Tigers

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    Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

    Steven Moya's Spring Stats: 7-for-17, 2 2B, 1 3B, 5 RBI, 3 R, 1 BB, 5 K

    Other Left Field Candidates

    • Ezequiel Carrera (4-for-19, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 4 R, 2 BB, 3 K)
    • Trevor Crowe (2-for-17, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 5 K)
    • Rajai Davis (7-for-20, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 4 R, 2 BB, 4 K)
    • Don Kelly (7-for-16, 3 2B, 3 RBI, 5 R, 4 BB, 3 K)

    Position Overview

    Left field for the Detroit Tigers seemed to be locked in with a platoon of Andy Dirks and newly signed Rajai Davis expected to man the position in 2014. However, back surgery will cost Dirks roughly 12 weeks, and the team is now looking for a new platoon partner for Davis.

    You could make a case for simply giving Davis the bulk of the at-bats, but he is really best served as a platoon player. Last season, he hit .319/.383/.474 against left-handed pitching compared to just .228/.273/.321 against right-handed pitching.

    Utility man Don Kelly has had a nice spring so far and looks like the front-runner to see expanded playing time at this point, while Ezequiel Carrera and Trevor Crowe are looking to win a bench job as non-roster invitees.

    The X-factor is 22-year-old prospect Steven Moya, who has put up the best numbers of the bunch so far. He has yet to play above the High-A level, but if he continues to produce, the team could give him a serious look, at least as a stopgap until Dirks returns.

RP Pat Neshek, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Pat Neshek's Spring Stats: 4 G, 4.1 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 7 K

    Other Final Bullpen Spot Candidates

    • Keith Butler (4 G, 5.1 IP, 2 ER, 2 H, 3 BB, 5 K)
    • Angel Castro (2 G, 2.2 IP, 7 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 2 K)
    • Sam Freeman (4 G, 4 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 4 K)
    • Tyler Lyons (4 G, 5.2 IP, 8 ER, 8 H, 1 BB, 5 K)
    • Jorge Rondon (4 G, 4 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 2 K)

    Position Overview

    Five of the St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen spots look to be locked up this spring, with Randy Choate, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal all likely to break camp with the team. One of the two remaining spots will most likely go to a spot starter/long reliever, leaving one spot up for grabs among the middle men.

    Jason Motte likely won't be ready for Opening Day as he continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery, though he could be ready to make an impact shortly after the start of the season. The team has a handful of incumbent options to consider for the final spot, but it may wind up being a non-roster invitee who breaks camp with the team.

    Submarine/sidearmer Pat Neshek spent last season with the Oakland A's, appearing in 45 games and posting a 3.35 ERA in 40.1 innings of work. The 33-year-old has enjoyed a solid seven-year career to this point with a 3.07 career ERA in 226 appearances. Signed to a minor league deal in early February, the veteran will make $1 million if he earns a big league job, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

2B Miguel Rojas, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Miguel Rojas' Spring Stats: 7-for-18, 3 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K

    Other Second Base Candidates

    • Alex Guerrero (6-for-24, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 3 R, 1 BB, 5 K)
    • Dee Gordon (5-for-27, 2 3B, 3 RBI, 3 R, 3 BB, 6 K, 8 SB)
    • Chone Figgins (3-for-23, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 3 R, 8 BB, 8 K, 2 SB)
    • Justin Turner (7-for-19, 3 2B, 4 R, 4 BB, 1 K, 1 SB)
    • Brendan Harris (3-for-19, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K)

    Position Overview

    With the departures of Mark Ellis, Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto via free agency and the retirement of Michael Young, the Los Angels Dodgers' infield depth took a serious hit this offseason.

    Cuban defector Alex Guerrero was signed to a four-year, $28 million deal, and many expected him to be plugged in as the everyday second baseman to start the season. That may still wind up being the case, but as Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reported, early signs point to Guerrero opening the year in the minors as he adjusts to life in the States and a new position in second base.

    That leaves speedster Dee Gordon as the front-runner for the job, but he has not had the best spring to this point and has hit just .229/.289/.285 over 397 at-bats the past two seasons. That leaves veteran Chone Figgins and slick-fielding prospect Miguel Rojas. The 25-year-old Rojas hit just .233/.303/.307 in a full season at Double-A last year, but his bat has looked good in the early going this spring, and he could have an outside chance at holding things down until Guerrero is ready.