Final Predictions for Each of MLB's Most Important Spring Position Battles
We are approaching zero hour for MLB teams to make roster cuts before Opening Day. Most of the top prospects know where they are going to start the year, while older veterans continue to battle for one more shot at glory.
Sometimes, whether it is because of injuries or performance or whatever, teams just want to take a chance with a player, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, thinking that it may be enough to propel them into the postseason and/or a championship.
Too often, we get caught up in spring training stats, assuming because a player is ripping the ball now that it will carry over into the regular season. Don't get fooled by the numbers. Teams aren't evaluating players by results, they are looking at tools, approach, quality of at-bats, etc.
So as we go through the biggest remaining position battles and predict winners for the jobs, our answers won't simply favor the player with better stats. A lot of time, effort and thought goes into what teams decide; therefore, it is only fair that we follow the same protocol.
Without further ado, here are our predictions for the biggest position battles left in spring training.
Note: All stats courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted. Stats used are through March 18.
Boston Red Sox CF: Jackie Bradley Jr. vs. Grady Sizemore
Grady Sizemore: 7 G, .381/.409/.429, 2B, BB, K, 3 R
Jackie Bradley Jr: 12 G, .189/.268/.324, 3 2B, 3B, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 11 K
When the Boston Red Sox signed Grady Sizemore to a one-year, incentive-laden contract in January, the move was largely dismissed as a team taking a flier on a former star who couldn't stay healthy.
It turns out they may have known something, or spring stats are the most deceptive in all of sports, because Sizemore has been fantastic for the Red Sox and is generating a lot of buzz as the starting center fielder for the team out of camp.
Sean McAdam of Comcast SportsNet New England noted how good Sizemore looked during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals on March 17:
It's official: Grady Sizemore is having a day. Two hits and two spectacular catches in CF— Sean McAdam (@Sean_McAdam) March 17, 2014
ESPN's Eric Karabell was also impressed with Sizemore, adding what we are all thinking when it comes to the former All-Star:
Grady Sizemore sure does look like a relevant player today. Three hits, three runs. Would be great if stays healthy.— Eric Karabell (@karabellespn) March 17, 2014
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports wrote about Sizemore's renaissance, with one Red Sox person saying, "He doesn't look like a player who hasn't performed since 2011."
On the other side of the coin, all the talk around Jackie Bradley Jr. has been quiet. He was deemed the heir apparent to Jacoby Ellsbury, but he hasn't hit this spring as expected and wouldn't be able to slot in the leadoff spot right out of the gate anyway.
Despite Bradley's struggles and Sizemore's surprising surge, it still doesn't seem plausible that the defending world champion Red Sox would trust their center field job to a player as volatile as Sizemore.
Bradley hasn't hit well this spring and only has 80 games of experience at Triple-A, so sending him down for a month or two wouldn't stall his development, but just his ability to play defense at an elite level and work counts matters to this franchise.
Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com reported that Red Sox manager John Farrell suggested Bradley still has the lead in the competition:
Farrell had suggested Jackie Bradley Jr. is leading the CF competition, but JBJ hasn't heard anything like that yet: http://t.co/QSDiMUFNwO— Jason Mastrodonato (@JMastrodonato) March 17, 2014
Sizemore will continue to press Bradley, and fans are going to push for Sizemore because of his performance this spring, but just remember last year when Bradley had an incredible spring and everyone wanted him to be the starting left fielder.
Bradley flamed out in April and was back in Triple-A by May. Spring numbers don't tell you much of anything. That's why Farrell's assessment makes sense and will hold true come Opening Day.
Prediction: Jackie Bradley Jr.
Arizona Diamondbacks No. 5 Starter: Randall Delgado vs. Archie Bradley
Archie Bradley: 8.1 IP, 8 H, 4.32 ERA, 6 BB, 10 K
Randall Delgado: 11.1 IP, 14 H, 5.56 ERA, 3 HR, BB, 7 K
This competition could turn out to be moot if Bronson Arroyo has to start the season on the disabled list with back problems. Combine Arroyo's issues with Patrick Corbin likely headed for Tommy John surgery, and suddenly the Arizona Diamondbacks rotation is in dire straits.
There is some good news, though, as the Diamondbacks have depth in the starting rotation, with Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy locks to be on the Opening Day roster. That leaves two spots open for Kirk Gibson to fill.
Randall Delgado will likely get the first crack at the No. 4 job even though last season showed his limitations in that regard (116 hits, 24 homers allowed in 116.1 innings).
Steve Gilbert of MLB.com wrote about Delgado as a potential starter for Arizona in 2014 and why the team is enamored with him as a reliever instead:
With a good fastball and outstanding changeup, Delgado would not need to rely on the inconsistent changeup out of the bullpen. In addition he would likely gain some velocity with his fastball, if he only has to throw it in short one- or two-inning relief stints.
(For the record, I believe Gilbert meant to write that Delgado has an inconsistent breaking ball, not changeup.)
Since the Diamondbacks use Josh Collmenter as a long reliever, the team could try him as an emergency fifth starter until Arroyo returns (assuming he goes on the DL or doesn't pitch until April 10).
Having Delgado take Collmenter's spot maximizes what he's capable of and gives Gibson another arm to use in high-leverage situations.
Bradley, meanwhile, has the stuff and upside to be an impact pitcher. He's the top-ranked pitching prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com, and he has shown flashes of that brilliance occasionally this spring.
Unfortunately, Bradley's last outing was his worst, when he gave up four runs on five hits with two walks and one strikeout in two innings against the Seattle Mariners. He's also learning to throw his changeup against advanced hitters and hasn't pitched above Double-A.
The Diamondbacks have something special with Bradley, who is just 21 years old, and he's good enough to hold his own against MLB hitters for the time being while working on the changeup and developing better fastball command.
It would be in Arizona's best interest to start Bradley in the majors, see if he can handle it, then make a decision when the time comes. If he sticks, the Diamondbacks have the impact arm to make up for Corbin's loss and stay with the Dodgers in the NL West.
Prediction: Randall Delgado
Arizona Diamondbacks SS: Didi Gregorius vs. Chris Owings
Chris Owings: 18 G, .273/.319/.364, 2 2B, 3B, 2 RBI, 5 R, 3 BB, 6 K
Didi Gregorius: 17 G, .205/.244/.256, 2 2B, 4 RBI, R, 2 BB, 4 K, SB
Neither Chris Owings nor Didi Gregorius have taken control of the shortstop job, despite both players getting ample playing time this spring to separate themselves from each other to make Kirk Gibson's life easier.
Despite their pedestrian starts, it's hard not to think Owings is in the lead. He dwarfs Gregorius in the slash stats, and Gregorius has to deal with the stigma of hitting .207/.314/.314 in the second half last year.
Gibson has been coy about naming a starter for the regular season, though he did tell Steve Gilbert of MLB.com that both players will be on the roster for the opening series against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Australia.
ESPN's Jim Bowden (Insider subscription required) says that he's heard Owings will be Arizona's starting shortstop.
That makes sense and is the right move, as Owings has shown more offensive upside than Gregorius ever has and can play a solid shortstop. He's going to have a low on-base percentage because of low walk rates, but Owings makes contact and can drive the ball with authority.
This one is an easy call.
Prediction: Chris Owings
St. Louis Cardinals No. 5 Starter: Carlos Martinez vs. Joe Kelly
Carlos Martinez: 10 IP, 5 H, 1.80 ERA, HR, 3 BB, 5 K
Joe Kelly: 9.1 IP, 13 H, 7.71 ERA, HR, 4 BB, 6 K
The Cardinals are taking their time naming a No. 5 starter and have no plans to make a decision anytime soon.
General manager John Mozeliak told Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post Dispatch that they "don’t have to make a decision today or tomorrow, so why should we?" It's sound logic from a smart man.
Neither Carlos Martinez nor Joe Kelly has been dominant this spring, though Martinez has been more effective at getting hitters out. Martinez also has better pure stuff, as we saw in the postseason, with a fastball that touches 100 mph and a slider that makes angels cry.
Kelly has been a good hybrid for the Cardinals, shifting from starter to reliever and vice versa when asked, but he's best suited to come out of the pen. In 30 career relief appearances, the right-hander has averaged 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings with a 3.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Kelly's ERA is better as a starter (3.03 to 3.25), but his WHIP is slightly higher (1.374 to 1.348) and strikeout-to-walk ratio is significantly lower (1.59 to 3.50).
Martinez doesn't have the track record Kelly does, only because he hasn't been given a chance to prove himself in the rotation. He's undersized at 6'0", 185 pounds, but sometimes the stuff is so good that it doesn't matter how tall you are.
The Cardinals ended last year saying Martinez would have an opportunity to start this spring. So far, nothing he's done warrants a move back to the bullpen.
Prediction: Carlos Martinez
Cleveland Indians No. 5 Starter: Carlos Carrasco vs Josh Tomlin vs. Aaron Harang
Carlos Carrasco: 7 IP, 6 H, 1.29 ERA, HR, BB, 9 K
Josh Tomlin: 14 IP, 13 H, 2.57 ERA, 2 HR, 2 BB, 14 K
Aaron Harang: 9 IP, 8 H, 2.00 ERA, 2 BB, 6 K
The Cleveland Indians have given themselves plenty of rotation options, with Trevor Bauer and Shaun Marcum joining Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Aaron Harang in the battle for the fifth starter job.
Bauer struggled in his last appearance against the Los Angeles Angels, allowing seven runs (six earned) in two innings, and still has to prove he can throw enough strikes to earn an MLB job. Marcum is still recovering from shoulder surgery and will need time to build up his arm strength.
One factor the Indians will consider, according to Terry Francona, via Jordan Bastian of MLB.com (which could change the race) is minor league options available:
I'd be lying if I said it didn't come into play. That's part of baseball. It's part of our obligation to not only set the roster, but to take care of the organization. That's more Chris than us, but I'm certainly involved in those conversations. They're a part of decision making. There's no getting around that.
Tomlin, who is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery late in 2012, has an option left. Harang is a non-roster invitee who can opt out of his deal if the Indians don't keep him. Carrasco has no options left.
That leaves the Indians in a bad position, because Carrasco has proven to be incapable of handling a starting job throughout his career (5.53 ERA in 224.2 innings) and Harang had a 5.40 ERA in 2013.
Tomlin has gotten the most work this spring and put up very strong numbers. His fastball rarely tops 90 mph, but his ability to throw strikes is an asset the Indians need in the back of their rotation.
Prediction: Josh Tomlin
Los Angeles Dodgers Second Baseman: Alex Guerrero vs. Dee Gordon
Alex Guerrero: 17 G, .300/.400/.500, 2B, 3B, HR, 9 RBI, 5 R, 2 BB, 5 K
Dee Gordon: 18 G, .286/.326/.476, 4 3B, 5 RBI, 4 R, 3 BB, 8 K, 9 SB
It's amazing to think how much money the Dodgers have spent in the last 18 months, yet they have been unable to do any better at second base than a failed shortstop prospect who has never hit and a $28 million investment in a player who elicited concerns from the team about his ability to play the position in January.
Despite lacking an MLB-quality starter for the position, Dee Gordon has emerged as the favorite to win the job.
Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times noted March 16 that the Dodgers likely fielded their Opening Day lineup, which included Gordon playing second base and hitting eighth.
At the beginning of March, ESPN's Jim Bowden noted that there was a clear front-runner for the job among Dodgers decision-makers:
Consensus in Dodgers camp is clear...based on what they've seen Guerrero should start year in AAA and Gordon for now is front runner for 2B— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) March 2, 2014
It's not a game-changing decision, unless Gordon magically starts to drive the ball against MLB pitching, but it is the right one. Guerrero has hit well this spring, but he's also played more games as a replacement against weaker pitching.
Prediction: Dee Gordon
Washington Nationals Second Baseman: Anthony Rendon vs. Danny Espinosa
Anthony Rendon: 11 G, .321/.412/.500, 2 2B, HR, 5 RBI, 4 R, 4 BB, 9 K, SB
Danny Espinosa: 12 G, .194/.306/.258, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 6 R, 2 BB, 5 K, 2 SB
There is no reason for this to be a competition. Danny Espinosa has always been a liability with the bat, despite hitting 38 combined homers in 2011-12, thanks to a career .230 average and .303 on-base percentage.
The bottom dropped out for Espinosa last year, when he played just 44 games and hit a paltry .158/.193/.272, opening the door for Anthony Rendon to take over on a permanent basis.
Rendon didn't have a stellar rookie season in 2013, hitting .265/.329/.396, but he was drafted out of Rice as an elite hitting prospect and has done a lot of work in the offseason to tap into his power.
James Wagner of the Washington Post reported that Rendon has added 18 pounds of muscle to handle the grind of a 162-game season.
The results have been excellent for Rendon so far this spring, as he's driving the ball with authority and looks more comfortable from at-bat to at-bat.
Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams told Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider that there would be an open competition between Rendon and Espinosa. Based on performance, Rendon is winning.
If you want to consider raw talent and upside, Rendon is miles ahead of Espinosa. I don't like the idea of Rendon at second base with his history of ankle injuries in college, but the team knows his medicals better than I do and clearly believes he can handle it.
Prediction: Anthony Rendon
Baltimore Orioles Second Baseman: Jonathan Schoop vs. Ryan Flaherty
Jonathan Schoop: 14 G, .400/.424/.633, 4 2B, HR, 6 RBI, 6 R, 2 BB, 9 K
Ryan Flaherty: 12 G, .290/.361/.484, 3 2B, HR, 4 RBI, 5 R, 4 BB, 8 K, SB
There may not be a decision between Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty for the Baltimore Orioles to make when camp breaks. Manny Machado isn't certain to be ready for the regular season since he hasn't been cleared for games and is dealing with scar tissue in his surgically-repaired knee, according to Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com.
If Machado starts the year on the disabled list, Flaherty is expected to be the third baseman, per Ghiroli, leaving that hole at second base. The Orioles do have Jemile Weeks and Alexi Casilla on the roster if they don't feel Schoop is ready.
However, Buck Showalter told Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun that Schoop has been everything the team could have hoped for and his status hasn't changed:
Nothing has changed. He came in here with an opportunity to make our club, and he has not taken a step back at all. I'm glad we've got some more time for things to separate themselves a little. Because he has [minor league] options or whatever, that doesn't have anything to do with it. He is in a very competitive situation right now.
The Orioles expect to compete this season after making the playoffs two years ago and winning 85 games last year. They spent money on free agents Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz, so the window is open.
If that's the team's thinking, it's hard to see Schoop not starting the year in Baltimore. He's a better option than Weeks or Casilla, and because he has options left, the Orioles wouldn't stunt his development if he struggles in the big leagues and needs seasoning in Triple-A.
If Machado is healthy, that will likely push Schoop to the minors when the season starts.
Prediction: Jonathan Schoop
New York Yankees No. 5 Starter: Michael Pineda vs. David Phelps vs. Adam Warren
Michael Pineda: 9 IP, 8 H, 0.00 ERA, BB, 14 K
David Phelps: 13.2 IP, 15 H, 2.63 ERA, 2 HR, 2 BB, 11 K
Adam Warren: 8.2 IP, 8 H, 2.08 ERA, HR, 2 BB, 9 K
Being able to talk about Michael Pineda as a candidate for the New York Yankees starting rotation is good news by itself, but seeing how the 25-year-old has looked in his three spring outings is exciting.
Pineda has been dazzling everyone with his effort this spring, showing good velocity on the fastball and an excellent breaking ball:
Michael Pineda is done for the day. 5K's on 47 pitches. He gets a standing ovation at GMS Field. #NYYvsBAL— Delia Enriquez (@dfiregirl4) March 13, 2014
Mark Teixeira told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News after Pineda's last appearance against Boston that "if he's the’s the guy we traded for a couple of years ago, he’s a top of the rotation starter, and those guys don’t come around easily."
Of course, getting excited about Pineda comes with the caveat that at any moment he could snap. Joe Girardi understands how much time Pineda has lost and told Joel Sherman of the New York Post that the Yankees won't get 200 innings from the right-hander this season.
If they are able to get anything from Pineda, it's a huge step in the right direction. Girardi told Bryan Hoch of MLB.com that everyone competing for the fifth spot has thrown well and all that matters is being able to help the team:
The other guys are throwing pretty well, too. We've got to figure out what's best for our team as a whole. We'll sort that out as we move forward here, but I'm sure we'll start having a lot of discussions when we get some home games here and talk about how everyone fits.
Phelps has been significantly worse as a starter in his career, with a 4.39 ERA, 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.341 WHIP than as a reliever (3.55 ERA, 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings, 1.216 WHIP).
Warren has started three games in the big leagues and has a career WHIP of 1.51 in 79.1 innings.
Pineda has the ceiling you want from a starter, but he also has the huge asterisk of not pitching in an MLB game since 2011. Considering the rave reviews he's drawn so far, as well as the Yankees' need to contend in 2014 after spending a fortune to add Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, the upside will end up outweighing the risks.
Prediction: Michael Pineda
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