Who Is Winning MLB's Top Position Battles in Spring Training?

Doug Mead@@Sports_A_HolicCorrespondent IMarch 19, 2013

Who Is Winning MLB's Top Position Battles in Spring Training?

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    With just over 10 days left in spring training, the battle rages on for position battles on many MLB teams.

    Coveted starting spots, rotation slots, bullpen openings and reserve roles have yet to be decided, and some may come right down to the final day.

    Prospects and veterans alike are fighting for their baseball lives and futures.

    Here is a look at some of MLB's top position battles as spring training starts to wind down.

    Note: All spring statistics courtesy of MLB.com.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Final Rotation Spot

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks had a trio of pitchers vying for the final rotation spot for much of spring training.

    It's now down to just two.

    Tyler Skaggs, the top Diamondbacks prospect according to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, was sent down to Triple-A Reno on Monday.

    Skaggs had been scuffling in Cactus League action, posting an 11.00 ERA in his four spring outings.

    The battle now is between Patrick Corbin and Randall Delgado. Delgado pitched five strong innings on Monday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, giving up two runs on six hits and striking out three. The outing lowered Delgado's spring ERA to 5.25.

    Corbin hasn't given up any ground, however. On Sunday, Corbin allowed nine hits in just 4.2 innings but limited the San Diego Padres to just one run, striking out four. Corbin has a 3.68 ERA in five outings.

    Advantage: Corbin, for now. Delgado will likely get one or two more shots to further impress manager Kirk Gibson. Unless Corbin completely blows up, he could be the man.

Atlanta Braves: Third Base

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    Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco have been waging war all spring for the right to be the everyday third baseman for the Atlanta Braves.

    As of right now, it might still be too close to call.

    We are seriously talking neck and neck here. Johnson has a .347 batting average with three home runs and nine RBI, while Francisco is hitting .353 with five home runs and 11 RBI.

    Apparently, it's been very enjoyable for manager Fredi Gonzalez to watch, even though he must make a tough decision.

    "They've both been great," Gonzalez told Steve Dorsey of MLB.com. "They give you good at-bats, they play third base better than average defensively."

    Advantage: None right now, and Gonzalez is still open to a possible platoon.

    "They're both, to me, on the club," Gonzalez said. "We'll see. I'm open to a platoon situation, but I'm also open to whoever wins it. For me, it's that close. It's not like one's going to go away and we've got to make a decision on [if] one stays and one goes down to the Minor Leagues or whatever."

St. Louis Cardinals: Fifth Rotation Spot

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    One of the three players in the hunt for the fifth and final spot in the St. Louis Cardinals rotation has already been eliminated. Trevor Rosenthal will start the season in the bullpen, leaving Joe Kelly and top pitching prospect Shelby Miller to duke it out.

    Kelly has been sharp, posting a 2.25 ERA in three outings and allowing just two earned runs on five hits in eight innings.

    Miller hasn't been quite as impressive, with a 7.04 ERA in three outings.

    Advantage: Kelly has the clear edge right now. He also has the benefit of throwing 107 innings last year with a respectable 3.53 ERA. Miller will likely get at least one more chance, but for now it's definitely Kelly.

Seattle Mariners: Final Rotation Spot

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    The Mariners will likely head north with four starters locked in place. Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Joe Saunders and Erasmo Ramirez are ready to roll.

    That leaves Jon Garland, Jeremy Bonderman, Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer.

    Maurer is the dark horse, but he's been outstanding, posting a 0.90 ERA in four outings, allowing just one run on 10 hits in 10 innings and striking out 11.

    Garland hasn't pitched since 2011 but has looked solid himself. Garland has a 1.50 ERA in three appearances. Beavan hasn't been terrible, with a 3.86 ERA in his four outings, and Bonderman is attempting a return to the majors since last pitching in October 2010.

    Bonderman is trailing behind with a 7.20 ERA in four appearances.

    Advantage: It has to be Maurer right now. He's been plagued with injuries since being drafted, with last year being his first fully healthy season. Now that he is healthy, the potential is shining through.

St. Louis Cardinals: Second Base

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    Daniel Descalso started the majority of games at second base for the St. Louis Cardinals last year, but his .227 average left the Cardinals looking for more offense.

    Enter Matt Carpenter.

    While not a natural second baseman, Carpenter worked diligently this offseason to learn the position. The Cardinals clearly want Carpenter's bat somewhere in the lineup.

    Carpenter has hit a sizzling .415 this spring. But Descalso has hit .311 with two home runs and five RBI.

    Advantage: Carpenter has the edge, even though Descalso at this point is a better defender. Descalso can also serve as an option at shortstop.

St. Louis Cardinals: Shortstop

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    When it was announced that Rafael Furcal would be lost for the year due to Tommy John surgery, a shortstop battle and a competition at second base became extra highlights at camp for the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Pete Kozma filled in admirably last season when Furcal was injured, hitting .333 in 26 regular season games and providing some key hits in the postseason. But his defense came up short when it mattered in the NLCS.

    The Cardinals signed Ronny Cedeno during the offseason. Cedeno has hit .290 this spring, while Kozma has posted a .341 average with just two errors in 51 chances.

    Advantage: Kozma. On Monday, manager Mike Matheny all but confirmed that Kozma had won the competition.

Tampa Bay Rays: Final Rotation Spot

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    With the trade of James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals, the Tampa Bay Rays entered spring training with an open competition for the fifth and final spot in the starting rotation.

    The original candidates were Jeff Niemann, Roberto Hernandez, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi. Archer and Odorizzi have already been reassigned to the minors, leaving Hernandez and Niemann to duke it out.

    Niemann has been largely consistent, posting a 2.13 ERA in five starts with three walks and nine strikeouts in 12.2 innings. Hernandez isn't far behind, posting a 3.60 ERA in his five outings.

    Advantage: Niemann for now. While Hernandez has looked much better than he did in his later years with the Cleveland Indians, he simply hasn't done enough to overtake Niemann.

Detroit Tigers: Closer

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    The Detroit Tigers said goodbye to closer Jose Valverde at the end of last season. They then spent some time being wooed by agent Scott Boras. Boras was trying to convince the Tigers that his client—Rafael Soriano—was a perfect fit for the Tigers.

    The Tigers disagreed.

    They decided to enter spring with a competition between prospect Bruce Rondon and, well, Bruce Rondon.

    General manager Dave Dombrowski praised Rondon's abilities last October, thinking Rondon could be special for years to come.

    Rondon initially spit the bit early on, with his main issue being command. That had been somewhat of an issue for Rondon in the minors as well.

    But Rondon has righted the ship. After allowing three runs on five hits and five walks in his first 3.2 innings, Rondon has posted five consecutive scoreless appearances. He now has a 3.12 spring ERA with 15 strikeouts.

    On Monday, Rondon faced the heart of the order against the Washington Nationals. After walking Bryce Harper on a full count with one out, Rondon struck out both Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche to end the inning.

    Advantage: Well, it's Rondon. The five consecutive appearances must have given manager Jim Leyland a better feeling as spring training nears its end.

Toronto Blue Jays: Closer

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    Casey Janssen did an outstanding job as the closer for the Toronto Blue Jays last year, posting 22 saves with a 2.54 ERA.

    Janssen eventually became the closer following the injury to Sergio Santos, who had been acquired during the offseason from the Chicago White Sox. Santos eventually required surgery, which shut him down for the season.

    However, Janssen also required surgery at the end of the season to repair joint soreness. He finally faced live hitters in a Triple-A game on Sunday. Janssen could appear in another game this week, but with time running out, he'll need at least another three to four games to be ready by Opening Day.

    Santos has looked sharp in his return. In four outings, he has allowed just one run on three hits in four innings with three strikeouts.

    Advantage: At this point, Santos is clearly ready, while Janssen may need more time before he's able to go.

Texas Rangers: Final Rotation Spot

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    Many of the major position battles this spring involve the No. 5 starter role, and the Texas Rangers have their own battle brewing in that regard.

    It appears to be between Randy Wells, Nick Tepesch, Michael Kirkman and Kyle McClellan.

    McLellan was scratched from a start on Saturday with a strained lat muscle—he'll likely start the season on the disabled list.

    Kirkman threw three perfect innings on Sunday against the Seattle Mariners. Kirkman has now pitched in five games and allowed just three hits in nine innings for a spotless ERA.

    Tepesch has looked good, posting a 3.46 in five outings with 10 strikeouts in 13 innings. Wells comes in with a 4.15 ERA, allowing six runs on 17 hits in 13 innings.

    Advantage: It has to be Kirkman at this point. He's been the surprise of camp for the Rangers. While he was initially thought of as a bullpen piece, he may have changed some minds.

    “It’s been thrown out as a possibility,” general manager Jon Daniels told Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We really like the improvements he’s made. I see him as ready to step into a big role in our bullpen, but there may be some discussion."

    Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/03/17/4709075/rangers-lefty-michael-kirkman.html#storylink=cpy

Philadelphia Phillies: Corner Outfield

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    With Delmon Young likely to hit the disabled list at the start of the season, the Philadelphia Phillies are still trying to figure out their corner outfield picture.

    Domonic Brown, in whom the Phillies have invested much time and effort, is hitting .400 this spring with five home runs and 11 RBI.

    Manager Charlie Manuel has loved what he's seen from Brown and said that he's got the edge.

    Via Paul Hagen of MLB.com:

    "Definitely is -- I'd say right now he's got the lead. Kind of like Smarty Jones or Big Brown out front," Manuel said. "He had a big game, especially the ball he went for in the gap and dove. That's the best catch I've seen him make. He's definitely gotten better in the outfield, and his hitting is real good. He's got good balance at the plate. He's lowered his hands some. And he's catching the ball at an angle out front. That's when his power plays for him."

    The other candidates are lagging. John Mayberry Jr. is hitting .235 with one home run and five RBI, Laynce Nix is hitting .211 and Darin Ruf has one homer and eight RBI to go with a .224 average.

    Advantage: Obviously, it's Brown. And with Young on the shelf, Brown could be in right field on Opening Day. Ruf is coveted for his home run power—hitting 38 out of the park in the minors last year—but his defense is a clear deficiency. Mayberry just might get the nod for now in left field.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Final Rotation Spot

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers will head into the 2013 season with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett and Ryu Hyun-jin as the front four in their starting rotation.

    The last spot is a complete mystery.

    Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly and Stephen Fife are all in the mix. Billingsley might be scratched from his start on Tuesday with a bruised finger but will likely start later in the week. Billingsley has been inconsistent with a 7.04 ERA in three outings.

    Capuano could start in Billingsley's place on Tuesday. He has been rather unimpressive, with a 10.61 ERA in three appearances. Harang was banged around in his last start on Friday, giving up four earned runs on six hits and two walks in four innings. Harang's spring ERA now sits at an even 10.00.

    Lilly was set back by the flu and has logged only 6.2 innings thus far. He's more of a candidate for the disabled list at the start of the season as he works to stretch himself out.

    Fife has posted a 3.72 ERA in his three outings thus far.

    Advantage: At his point, it's likely to be Billingsley. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported on Monday that both Capuano and Harang are still on the trading block. Until Billingsley completely implodes, the job is his.