Latest Winners and Losers of MLB's Biggest Spring Training Position Battles
Every day that passes brings Major League Baseball closer to Opening Day of the 2018 season. Players who are already locked into jobs can feel both relieved and excited about that.
Players who are still battling for jobs, however, should feel nothing but anxious.
We took a look at the early winners and losers of the biggest position battles of spring training back on March 5. Given much has changed since then, it's time to take a fresh look and assess who's winning and losing each competition, with Opening Day set for March 29.
Let's get to it.
Houston Astros: 1st Base
Because of hand surgery and a suspension, Yuli Gurriel won't return to the Houston Astros' lineup until the middle of April. That presents a chance for Tyler White, J.D. Davis or A.J. Reed to add to his major league resume.
At last check, White was sitting pretty with a 1.108 OPS, and Davis was sitting even prettier with a 1.433 OPS. Both have cooled off, however. Davis' OPS is down to .997, while White's is down to .893.
This wouldn't be the worst news for either of them if Reed were still lagging far behind in the OPS department. But he isn't.
The 24-year-old former top prospect had an OPS south of .300 through his first seven games. He's since gone 13-for-29 with two home runs and four doubles. That's shot his OPS up to .876.
For Astros manager A.J. Hinch, this is just another layer on a good problem to have.
"They've all played in the big leagues, so this level won't scare them," Hinch said on March 8, according to Zak Kerr of MLB.com. "They know what's in front of them. We got a few more weeks to decide what to do."
Yet Reed doesn't just have helium working for him. He may also have an edge by virtue of being a left-handed hitter who could help balance out an Astros lineup that skews right-handed. Neither White nor Davis would have that effect.
Latest Winner: A.J. Reed
Latest Losers: Tyler White and J.D. Davis
Colorado Rockies: 1st Base and Outfield
The Colorado Rockies began the spring with an opening in their outfield because they seemed to have moved on from Carlos Gonzalez following his career-worst 2017 season.
Not so much, as it turns out.
The Rockies officially re-upped with Gonzalez, 32, on March 12. That not only filled the team's hole in right field but also pushed Gerardo Parra back into a fourth outfielder role and downgraded the need for Ian Desmond to play left field on a daily basis.
This is bad news for David Dahl, Raimel Tapia and Mike Tauchman. They are left-handed-hitting outfielders who are trying to crack an outfield depth chart that has three of those in Gonzalez, Parra and Charlie Blackmon.
Elsewhere, it's not the best news for Ryan McMahon either.
With a 1.117 OPS through his first nine spring games, he had put himself on an early track for everyday action at first base. With McMahon's OPS down to .875 and Desmond free to platoon with him at first base, everyday action no longer seems guaranteed.
All told, the Gonzalez signing improved just one person's job prospects: Gonzalez's.
Latest Winner: Carlos Gonzalez
Latest Losers: Ryan McMahon, Gerardo Parra, Ian Desmond, David Dahl, Raimel Tapia and Mike Tauchman
New York Yankees: 2nd Base and 3rd Base
When the New York Yankees first opened camp in February, it seemed entirely possible top prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar would exit with starting jobs in hand.
The Yankees put one roadblock in front of Torres and Andujar when the Yankees traded for Brandon Drury on February 20. Then came another roadblock on March 12, when the team agreed to a free-agent deal with Neil Walker.
Drury, 25, is a competent right-handed hitter who can play third base. Walker, 32, is a good left-handed hitter who's been a mainstay at second base for nine years. Once they were on New York's roster, any room there might have been for Torres or Andujar effectively disappeared.
Thus, they have disappeared from the club's major league camp. Torres was optioned to Triple-A on Wednesday. Andujar, who had been slumping after a red-hot start to the spring, joined him Sunday.
It's not all bad news for the Yankees' incumbent infielders. There's still a job as a utility infielder to be gained, and nobody wants it as much as Tyler Wade. He's hitting .313 with a .452 on-base percentage this spring, which is apparently what can happen after you spend a winter working with Albert Pujols.
"I feel like I'm finding the barrel a lot more often," Wade told Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. "I'm swinging at good pitches, and I'm controlling the strike zone now. I feel like a different player."
Latest Winners: Brandon Drury, Neil Walker and Tyler Wade
Latest Losers: Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar
Chicago Cubs: Outfield
If the Chicago Cubs weren't paying Jason Heyward $23 million per year to play right field, his .642 spring OPS would be merely the latest excuse to demote him to a part-time role.
But they are, so that's not happening. That means there are still only two outfield spots for Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr. and Ben Zobrist to fight over.
Almora didn't have a hit or a walk at the time of our first check-in, while Zobrist had yet to play because of a bad back. Almora has gotten going with seven hits (including two homers) in his last 28 at-bats. Zobrist only has a .654 OPS in eight games, but that beats an empty ledger.
Still, this much hasn't changed; neither has anything on Schwarber or Happ.
Happ was hot out of the gate and hasn't cooled off as his spring at-bats have piled up. All told, he's taken 35 at-bats in 13 games and put up a 1.399 OPS with five homers.
For his part, Schwarber has boosted his OPS to 1.234 in part thanks to the three homers he's cranked since March 7. That's solid proof his power survived his offseason weight loss. Meanwhile, his four stolen bases are evidence he gained some speed.
The catch here is Cubs manager Joe Maddon is sure to find ample playing time for all four of these guys. Nonetheless, there's a clear pecking order developing that favors Schwarber and Happ.
Latest Winners: Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ
Latest Losers: Albert Almora Jr. and Ben Zobrist
Los Angeles Dodgers: Left Field
The Los Angeles Dodgers likely didn't have an everyday left field job in mind for Matt Kemp when they re-acquired him from the Atlanta Braves in December. But that continues to be the way the wind is blowing.
Kemp thickened the ice beneath his feet merely by showing up to camp much leaner than he had been. He's since been proving his improved physique is good for something, as he owns a 1.076 OPS and four homers in 14 spring games.
In theory, this puts Kemp on track for at least a platoon role. In reality, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts may be thinking bigger.
"He is definitely not, nor has he ever been, a platoon guy," Roberts said, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. "With Matt, certainly, platoon doesn't even come into play."
Without context, this doesn't bode well for Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, Andrew Toles, Trayce Thompson or Alex Verdugo. Throw in a little context, however, and it bodes worse for some than for others.
Hernandez (1.090 OPS), Verdugo (.979 OPS) and Toles (.951 OPS) are at least hitting well enough to keep themselves on the radar. Pederson (.477 OPS) and Thompson (.687 OPS) aren't doing the same. And despite the fact the former has plenty of experience and the latter is out of minor league options, the Dodgers have to put their best team on the field.
Latest Winners: Matt Kemp, Enrique Hernandez, Andrew Toles and Alex Verdugo
Latest Losers: Joc Pederson and Trayce Thompson
Milwaukee Brewers: Outfield and 1st Base
Other managers would love to have the problem Milwaukee Brewers skipper Craig Counsell has on his hands: how to find enough at-bats for Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana and Eric Thames.
Those are five All-Star-caliber players who only fit in the outfield or at first base. It's a tricky juggling act that, unfortunately for them, doesn't leave much room for Keon Broxton, Brett Phillips or Jesus Aguilar.
Broxton and Phillips aren't doing much this spring to force Counsell to make room for them. The former started hot but has just a .737 OPS. The latter has yet to get going, as he's put up just a .354 OPS through 19 games.
Aguilar, on the other hand, is coming on strong.
The righty-swinging first baseman has eight hits (including two homers) in his past 25 at-bats. Throw in how he's out of options and how, by his own admission, Braun isn't feeling too comfortable at first base, and a case is developing for Aguilar to be included in Milwaukee's Opening Day roster.
In the meantime, Braun (1.290 OPS) is doing plenty to hold off Santana (.705 OPS) and Thames (.569 OPS) for the bulk of the at-bats Yelich and Cain don't take this season.
Latest Winners: Ryan Braun and Jesus Aguilar
Latest Losers: Keon Broxton, Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana and Eric Thames
Milwaukee Brewers: Starting Rotation
Elsewhere in Brewers camp, the race to claim the final two spots in the club's starting rotation is progressing toward a resolution.
By optioning right-hander Aaron Wilkerson to Triple-A on Wednesday, the Brewers cut the list of combatants down from five to four. Veteran left-hander Wade Miley, who's on a minor league deal, may be the next to go if he doesn't recover from a seven-run stinker against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday.
"It was just one of those days," Miley said, according to Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "You just try to find some positives, correct the negatives, then flush it and move on. You can't read too much into it. Obviously it's not the best time for this, but it's baseball."
Also on the bubble is Brandon Woodruff. The righty is one of Milwaukee's top prospects, yet he owns a 7.04 ERA that encapsulates how rocky he's been this spring.
Doing just fine, meanwhile, are Junior Guerra and Brent Suter.
Guerra has taken the mound six times this spring and allowed just four earned runs in 14.2 innings. The caveat is he's allowed 18 hits and walked four, yet he showed in 2016 he doesn't necessarily need to be overpowering to be effective.
For his part, Suter finally allowed some runs (four in four innings, to be exact) last time out but still has a 3.00 ERA over 12 spring innings. Following a year in which he averaged just 85.8 mph, his spring has also been marked by improved fastball velocity stemming from an offseason weight gain.
Latest Winners: Junior Guerra and Brent Suter
Latest Losers: Aaron Wilkerson, Wade Miley and Brandon Woodruff
New York Mets: Starting Rotation
The New York Mets arrived to spring training with two starting rotation slots available.
Now, it might be three.
Jason Vargas was supposed to fill a slot after signing a two-year deal with the Mets in February. But then the veteran lefty took a line drive off his right (i.e., non-throwing) hand Friday that fractured his hamate bone and put his availability for the start of the season in doubt.
According to Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News, Zack Wheeler will be taking over Vargas' turns in the Mets' spring rotation. If nothing else, it's a golden opportunity for him to rebound from his five-run clunker against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday.
In the meantime, Steven Matz is already enjoying a rebound of his own. He allowed 10 runs and recorded just five outs in his first two starts this spring. He's since allowed two runs in 8.1 innings.
Elsewhere, Vargas' injury presumably only strengthens Harvey's case to make the cut for New York's rotation. Although his 5.52 spring ERA would indicate he's still a fallen ace, he's occasionally looked the part. To wit, he's fresh off whiffing eight Miami Marlins in five innings on Thursday.
Technically, Robert Gsellman (3.75 ERA in 12 innings) and Seth Lugo (3.86 ERA in 11.2 innings) are also still in the mix. But if the Mets must pick three guys to round out their Opening Day rotation, it's a safe guess they will select Harvey, Matz and Wheeler, at least until they show they are not worthy.
Latest Winners: Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler
Latest Losers: Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo