Every MLB Team's Most Compelling Spring Training Roster Battle

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2021

Every MLB Team's Most Compelling Spring Training Roster Battle

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    For established MLB players locked into spots on the Opening Day roster, spring training is a chance to shake off the rust and gear up for a long season.

    The No. 1 goal is to stay healthy.

    For other players, though, spring training is an all-out battle to win a place in the starting lineup or a spot on the roster.

    Ahead, we've highlighted the most compelling roster battle on each of the 30 MLB clubs at the onset of spring training games.

    We'll update this later in the spring with how things are progressing and with predictions for who will emerge as the winners, but this sets the scene of what to watch for.

        

    Note: NRI indicates that a player is in camp as a non-roster invitee on a minor league deal.  

Arizona Diamondbacks: Second Base/Center Field

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    Tim Locastro
    Tim LocastroMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    2B Asdrubal Cabrera vs. CF Tim Locastro vs. 2B Josh Rojas vs. CF Daulton Varsho

    Assuming Ketel Marte continues to shuttle between second base and center field, there could be two semi-regular roles available opposite where he starts.

    Veteran Asdrubal Cabrera and 26-year-old Josh Rojas, who Arizona acquired in the Zack Greinke blockbuster, are the leading candidates to see time at second base. The team could also shift Eduardo Escobar to second at times if it feels better about having Cabrera line up at the hot corner.

    In center field, speedy Tim Locastro could lead the majors in steals with regular action, while versatile catching prospect Daulton Varsho made his MLB debut playing primarily center field last year.

Atlanta Braves: No. 5 Starter

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    Kyle Wright
    Kyle WrightDavid J. Phillip/Associated Press

    RHP Kyle Wright vs. RHP Bryse Wilson

    Assuming he doesn't look overmatched this spring, Cristian Pache is a safe bet to break camp with the starting center field job. That would relegate Ender Inciarte to the fourth outfielder role where he'll serve as a late-game defensive replacement for Marcell Ozuna on a regular basis.

    That leaves the No. 5 starter spot as the position battle to watch with Mike Soroka set to start the season on the injured list while he recovers from a torn Achilles suffered last August.

    Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson are the front-runners for the job, and both made their case last October.

    Wright threw six shutout innings against the Miami Marlins in the National League Division Series before getting knocked around by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS.

    Wilson allowed one hita solo home run by Edwin Riosover six innings against the Dodgers as the winning pitcher in Game 4 of the NLCS.

Baltimore Orioles: No. 3-5 Starters

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    Felix Hernandez
    Felix HernandezMary DeCicco/Associated Press

    Dean Kremer vs. Jorge Lopez vs. Bruce Zimmerman vs. Mac Sceroler (Rule 5) vs. Matt Harvey (NRI) vs. Felix Hernandez (NRI) vs. Wade LeBlanc (NRI)

    Veteran John Means is a lock to take the ball on Opening Day for the Baltimore Orioles, and left-hander Keegan Akin likely solidified his place on the staff with a 4.56 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 25.2 innings in his debut 2020 season.

    That leaves three slots to fill in the starting rotation and a wide array of candidates to snag those jobs.

    Dean Kremer pitched well over his first four MLB starts last year and could have a leg up. Former All-Stars Matt Harvey and Felix Hernandez could both chew up innings early in the season if they throw the ball well this spring.

    Don't sleep on Rule 5 pick Mac Sceroler after he logged a 3.69 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 127 strikeouts in 117 innings at Triple-A in the Cincinnati Reds organization in 2019.

Boston Red Sox: First Base

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    Bobby Dalbec
    Bobby DalbecSteven Senne/Associated Press

    Bobby Dalbec vs. Michael Chavis vs. Marwin Gonzalez

    With Mitch Moreland gone, the Boston Red Sox are ready to turn the page at the first base position.

    Top prospect Bobby Dalbec slugged eight home runs in 92 plate appearances after Boston traded Moreland last summer, but he also struck out 39 times and has a significant amount of swing-and-miss to his game.

    Michael Chavis is not far removed from similarly bursting onto the scene with 18 home runs in 95 games as a rookie in 2019. A hot spring could easily win him the starting role to start the year.

    If neither up-and-coming player seizes the opportunity this spring, veteran utility man Marwin Gonzalez could fill the void on Opening Day.

Chicago Cubs: No. 4-5 Starters

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    Adbert Alzolay
    Adbert AlzolayNam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    RHP Alec Mills vs. RHP Trevor Williams vs. RHP Adbert Alzolay vs. RHP Kohl Stewart

    The first three spots in the Chicago Cubs rotation are set with Kyle Hendricks the clear-cut ace, followed by free-agent signing Jake Arrieta and then Zach Davies, who the Cubs acquired in the blockbuster Yu Darvish trade.

    Chicago signed Trevor Williams to a one-year, $2.5 million deal. In 2018, he went 14-10 with a 3.11 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 170.2 innings with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay both showed flashes last season when given the opportunity. The 26-year-old Alzolay has a chance to be the team's best homegrown pitcher in a long time after logging a 2.95 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 21.2 innings last year.

    Kohl Stewart, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2013 draft, is also in camp and a member of the 40-man roster.

Chicago White Sox: No. 5 Starter

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    Carlos Rodon
    Carlos RodonRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    LHP Carlos Rodon vs. RHP Reynaldo Lopez vs. RHP Michael Kopech

    After a non-tender at the start of the offseason, the Chicago White Sox re-signed Carlos Rodon to a one-year, $3 million contract. He enters camp as the front-runner to round out the starting rotation, but he has been far from reliable in recent years.

    The oft-injured left-hander has pitched 42.1 innings since the start of 2019, struggling to a 5.74 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.

    A rocky spring would open the door for Reynaldo Lopez to reclaim his spot on the starting staff, while a healthy Michael Kopech is also a factor despite a likely innings limit in his return from Tommy John surgery.

    The addition of Lance Lynn takes some pressure off the back of the White Sox starting rotation, but they still need someone to fill the No. 5 starter job.

Cincinnati Reds: Shortstop

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    Jose Garcia
    Jose GarciaJeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Kyle Farmer vs. Kyle Holder vs. Dee Strange-Gordon vs. Jose Garcia

    If the Cincinnati Reds had no intention of making a move to upgrade the shortstop position, why not re-sign Freddy Galvis? He joined the Baltimore Orioles on a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

    Instead, the team will choose among veteran utility man Kyle Farmer, glove-first Rule 5 pick Kyle Holder and 22-year-old top prospect Jose Garcia, who looked overmatched making the jump from High-A to the majors last season.

    Speedy Dee Strange-Gordon is also in camp on a minor league deal. He has experience at the position, though he hasn't lined up at shortstop on a regular basis since 2013.

    If no one steps forward, the team could consider shifting Eugenio Suarez back to shortstop, where he began his career, or trying Nick Senzel at a position he played occasionally in college.

Cleveland: Shortstop

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    Andres Gimenez
    Andres GimenezRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Amed Rosario vs. Andres Gimenez

    Re-signing Cesar Hernandez to serve as the everyday second baseman means former New York Mets teammates Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez will once again battle for playing time at shortstop.

    Gimenez, 22, hit .263 and tallied 1.1 WAR in 49 games as a rookie last season, finishing seventh in National League Rookie of the Year voting. His hit tool and glove are solid, but it's fair to wonder how much offensive upside he has after posting a punchless .398 slugging percentage with eight extra-base hits in 132 plate appearances.

    The 25-year-old Rosario has a higher ceiling, and he showed significant upside in 2019 when he hit .287/.323/.432 with 30 doubles, 15 home runs, 72 RBI and 19 steals in a 2.4-WAR season. However, he took a step back in 2020, and he's the inferior defender.

    Both could find their way into the starting lineup if Rosario moves to the outfield, but for now, they're competing for one starting spot.

Colorado Rockies: Center Field

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    Sam Hilliard
    Sam HilliardCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Sam Hilliard vs. Garrett Hampson vs. Yonathan Daza vs. Bret Boswell

    The decision to non-tender David Dahl creates a hole in center field for the Colorado Rockies, and they have a number of options to consider this spring.

    While Sam Hilliard has yet to break through in the big leagues, he raked at Triple-A in 2019 with an .893 OPS to go along with 29 doubles, 35 home runs and 101 RBI in 126 games. He has two minor league options remaining but little left to prove in the minors.

    Garrett Hampson is also in the mix for playing time at second base, and his elite speed makes him a viable candidate in center field as well.

    Plus defender Yonathan Daza fits best in the fourth outfielder role, and Bret Boswell is a versatile infielder/outfielder who needs to prove he has the hit tool to be an MLB contributor.

Detroit Tigers: No. 5 Starter

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    Tarik Skubal
    Tarik SkubalPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    Casey Mize vs. Tarik Skubal vs. Tyler Alexander vs. Daniel Norris vs. Julio Teheran (NRI) vs. Derek Holland (NRI)

    Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal are significant pieces of the long-term puzzle for the Detroit Tigers, but that doesn't mean they are guaranteed a rotation spot after shaky MLB debuts in 2020.

    Two-time All-Star Julio Teheran is in camp on a minor league deal as he looks to get his career back on track following an ugly 2020 season with the Los Angeles Angels.

    "It is a minor league deal, but for me, it's a challenge," Teheran told reporters. "I accept the challenge."

    Ideally, the Tigers could squeeze some quality innings out of Teheran during the first half of the season and then flip him at the trade deadline before working the younger guys into the mix to keep their innings under control.

    Swingman relievers Daniel Norris and Tyler Alexander will also be in the rotation picture, along with veteran Derek Holland, a non-roster invitee who is vying for a spot on the staff.

Houston Astros: Final Bench Spot

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    Taylor Jones
    Taylor JonesJeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Steven Souza Jr. vs. Taylor Jones vs. Chas McCormick

    The Houston Astros' starting lineup, starting rotation and key bullpen spots are sorted out, assuming Myles Straw will be the guy in center field.

    Catcher Martin Maldonado, infielder Abraham Toro and infielder/outfielder Aledmys Diaz will occupy three spots on the bench, leaving one roster spot open for a handful of players.

    A healthy Steven Souza Jr. will make his case on a minor league deal as he looks to prove he's still the player who hit 30 home runs in 2017.

    Taylor Jones hit .291/.388/.501 with 22 home runs and 84 RBI in 125 games at Triple-A in 2019, and his towering 6'7" frame has plenty of untapped power potential.

    Chas McCormick might be the best fit on the roster as a true fourth outfielder, and he posted an excellent .386 on-base percentage in the upper levels of the minors in 2019.

Kansas City Royals: Second Base

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    Nicky Lopez
    Nicky LopezCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Nicky Lopez vs. Hanser Alberto

    Nicky Lopez has not shown the offensive ability to be an everyday player in the big leagues.

    The 25-year-old has hit .228/.279/.307 for a 57 OPS+ in 594 plate appearances the past two years, failing to showcase the hit tool that produced a .296/.378/.403 line over four minor league seasons.

    It will take a productive spring for him to hold off Hanser Alberto.

    Signed to a minor league deal after the Orioles non-tendered him, Alberto is one of the best contact hitters in baseball and a versatile defender across the infield.

    The 28-year-old was a .299/.322/.413 hitter the past two seasons and has worn out left-handed pitching throughout his career. With arbitration control through the 2022 season, he could be a useful stopgap on the infield until Bobby Witt Jr. arrives in the big leagues.

Los Angeles Angels: Final Bench Spots

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    Franklin Barreto
    Franklin BarretoJae C. Hong/Associated Press

    IF Franklin Barreto vs. vs. IF Matt Thaiss vs. IF/OF Taylor Ward vs. IF Luis Rengifo vs. IF Jack Mayfield vs. IF Phil Gosselin (NRI) vs. IF Kean Wong (NRI) vs. OF Juan Lagares (NRI) vs. OF Jon Jay (NRI) vs. OF Scott Schebler (NRI)

    With Kurt Suzuki and Max Stassi set to share catching duties and Jared Walsh pushing Albert Pujols into a part-time role, two spots on the Los Angeles Angels bench are decided.

    The other two could not be more wide-open.

    Former top prospect Franklin Barreto is out of minor league options, so unless he flops this spring, he'll get the first crack at the utility infield job.

    That leaves Matt Thaiss, Taylor Ward, Luis Rengifo and Jack Mayfield as the leading candidates to snag the other Opening Day spot among players on the 40-man roster. They will be pushed by a handful of non-roster invitees.

    Defensive standout Juan Lagares is a good fit in the fourth outfielder role, while veteran Jon Jay has been a useful piece on contenders in recent years. If Barreto is shown the door, Phil Gosselin and Kean Wong will push Rengifo and Mayfield for the backup infield spot.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Second Base

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    Gavin Lux
    Gavin LuxRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Gavin Lux vs. Chris Taylor vs. Zach McKinstry

    Is Gavin Lux ready?

    The Los Angeles Dodgers' top prospect entered camp as the NL Rookie of the Year favorite last year, but he found himself at the team's alternate site after a shaky spring, and he never found his footing after he was finally promoted.

    That disappointing season has done little to erase the potential he showed in hitting .347/.421/.607 with 59 extra-base hits in 113 games in the upper levels of the minors in 2019 to force his way to an MLB call-up.

    Versatile Chris Taylor has handled regular second base duties in the past and would be the obvious choice if Lux returns to the minors.

    However, Zach McKinstry hit .414 with three home runs last spring, and he is a dark horse to play his way onto the roster if Lux struggles and the team prefers to keep Taylor in his utility role.

Miami Marlins: Closer

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    Yimi Garcia
    Yimi GarciaJulio Cortez/Associated Press

    Anthony Bass vs. Yimi Garcia vs. John Curtiss

    Veterans Brandon Kintzler, Brad Boxberger and Nick Vincent anchored the Miami Marlins bullpen last season, but all three signed elsewhere in free agency.

    Six newcomers are projected to earn spots in the nine-man bullpen to start the year, and sorting out the closer will be a priority after Kintzler filled that role in 2020.

    Yimi Garcia is the team's top returning reliever after posting a 0.60 ERA and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 14 appearances last season, and he has the stuff to close.

    He'll be pushed by Anthony Bass, who signed a two-year, $5 million deal that includes a 2023 club option. He converted seven of nine save chances with a 3.51 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 26 appearances with the Toronto Blue Jays last season.

    John Curtiss has the traditional fastball-slider pairing that fits well in the late innings. He tallied a pair of saves with a 1.80 ERA and a 25-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 innings with the Tampa Bay Rays last year before making nine appearances in the postseason.

Milwaukee Brewers: Third Base

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    Luis Urias
    Luis UriasDuane Burleson/Associated Press

    Luis Urias vs. Travis Shaw (NRI)

    After starting the season with a platoon of Jedd Gyorko and Eric Sogard at third base last year, the Milwaukee Brewers are once again searching for answers at the hot corner.

    Their pursuit of Justin Turner came up empty, so they settled on bringing back Travis Shaw on a minor league deal to compete with Luis Urias for the starting role.

    The 30-year-old Shaw was worth 7.7 WAR in 2017 and 2018 while posting consecutive 30-homer seasons for the Brewers, but they non-tendered him following an ugly 2019 season, and he spent last year with the Toronto Blue Jays.

    Urias, a middle infielder by trade, was lauded for his elite hit tool throughout his time in the San Diego Padres minor league system. He came to Milwaukee last offseason in the deal that sent Trent Grisham and Zach Davies the other way.

    The 23-year-old is a .226/.315/.320 hitter in 422 plate appearances in the majors the past three seasons. Hope remains that he can develop into the player many expected when he hit .308/.397/.433 in 2,401 plate appearances in the minors.

Minnesota Twins: Left Field

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    Alex Kirilloff
    Alex KirilloffBrace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

    Alex Kirilloff vs. Luis Arraez vs. Brent Rooker

    Most have assumed the Minnesota Twins' decision to non-tender Eddie Rosario was in part to clear a path for top prospect Alex Kirilloff.

    That doesn't mean he's guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster.

    The team could easily break camp with Jorge Polanco as the everyday second baseman and Luis Arraez in left field following the offseason addition of Andrelton Simmons at shortstop. Otherwise, Arraez is destined for a utility role.

    Brent Rooker also can't be ruled out as an option after he hit .316/.381/.579 with two doubles and one home run in 21 plate appearances in his MLB debut last season. The 2017 first-round pick has big raw power and little left to prove in the minors.

New York Mets: No. 5 Starter

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    David Peterson vs. Joey Lucchesi vs. Jordan Yamamoto

    Until Noah Syndergaard returns, and unless a last-minute addition is made in the form of Jake Odorizzi or one of the other starters still looking for work, the New York Mets will need to settle on a No. 5 starter.

    David Peterson has earned the first crack at the job after going 6-2 with a 3.44 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 40 strikeouts in 49.2 innings as a rookie last season, but he'll have some competition.

    The Mets acquired both Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto via trade this offseason, and both are not far removed from strong 2019 seasons.

    • Lucchesi: 30 GS, 10-10, 4.18 ERA, 158 K, 163.2 IP
    • Yamamoto: 15 GS, 4-5, 4.46 ERA, 82 K, 78.2 IP

    Either could seize the job with a strong spring. Starter-turned-reliever Robert Gsellman and non-roster invitee Jerad Eickhoff are also worth keeping an eye on.

New York Yankees: No. 5 Starter

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    Deivi Garcia
    Deivi GarciaJae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Domingo German vs. Deivi Garcia vs. Clarke Schmidt vs. Jhoulys Chacin (NRI)

    The New York Yankees added Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon to help ease the loss of Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ in free agency. Those two join Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery as locks for the starting rotation.

    The fifth spot will go to Luis Severino once he returns from Tommy John surgery, but he's not expected to be ready for Opening Day.

    On paper, Domingo German is the best option, but he's not guaranteed a place on the team.

    "I'm not sure German makes it to Opening Day with the Yankees at this point," wrote Mike Axisa of CBS Sports, pointing to a recent interview in which veteran reliever Zack Britton seemed less than thrilled to have German back following his domestic violence suspension.

    If they do decide to cut ties, exciting young right-handers Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt will battle with non-roster invitee Jhoulys Chacin to round out the starting staff.

Oakland Athletics: Second Base

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    Tony Kemp
    Tony KempMichael Wyke/Associated Press

    Tony Kemp vs. Chad Pinder vs. Jed Lowrie (NRI)

    With deadline pickup Tommy La Stella now suiting up for the San Francisco Giants, the Oakland Athletics again face uncertainty at second base.

    Tony Kemp tallied more walks (15) than strikeouts (14) while posting a .363 on-base percentage in 114 plate appearances last season, so he could provide some of the same things La Stella did in his short time with the team.

    He'll be pushed by utility man Chad Pinder and 36-year-old Jed Lowrie, who is back on a minor league deal after playing nine games in the past two seasons with the New York Mets.

    This could be an area where Oakland looks to scoop someone up on the waiver wire as rosters start to take shape and guys are cut loose.

Philadelphia Phillies: Center Field

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    Scott Kingery
    Scott KingeryChris Szagola/Associated Press

    Scott Kingery vs. Roman Quinn vs. Adam Haseley vs. Odubel Herrera

    Roman Quinn (37 games) and Adam Haseley (24 games) saw the bulk of the action in center field for the Philadelphia Phillies last season.

    The result was a .246/.303/.333 line for a .646 OPS that ranked 26th in the majors. But despite those struggles, that duo is still in the mix to handle the position again in 2021.

    The Phillies' decision to re-sign Didi Gregorius means Scott Kingery could once again see significant playing time in the outfield, and Odubel Herrera is trying to play his way back onto the team as a non-roster invitee following a domestic violence suspension.

    All things considered, center field looks like it could once again be a weak spot for the Phillies.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Shortstop

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    Kevin Newman
    Kevin NewmanGene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Kevin Newman vs. Erik Gonzalez vs. Cole Tucker

    There are open spots up and down the Pittsburgh Pirates roster, but the most compelling battle will be for the starting shortstop job.

    Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker both have the potential to play their way into being long-term pieces amid the rebuild, and they could also factor in at second base if the Pirates trade Adam Frazier.

    Erik Gonzalez broke camp as the starter last year, but he failed to hold onto the job. He'll be fighting for a spot on the roster this spring.

    Ideally, Newman would return to the form he showed as a rookie in 2019, when he hit .308/.353/.446 with 20 doubles, 12 home runs, 64 RBI and 16 steals in 130 games while racking up 3.1 WAR.

San Diego Padres: Second Base

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    Ha-Seong Kim
    Ha-Seong KimCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Jake Cronenworth vs. Ha-Seong Kim vs. Jurickson Profar

    Barring something unexpected, all three of these players will break camp with a spot on the Opening Day roster. But who will start Game 1 at second base?

    Jurickson Profar saw more time in left field than he did at second base last season, but he was the everyday second baseman for the Oakland Athletics in 2019, and that is his natural position defensively.

    Jake Cronenworth made a serious run at NL Rookie of the Year honors, settling into the starting second base job after opening the year in a utility role. His versatility could mean he shifts around the infield while still seeing regular playing time.

    The wild card here is Ha-Seong Kim, who signed a four-year, $28 million contract after hitting .306/.397/.523 with 30 home runs, 109 RBI, 23 steals and more walks (75) than strikeouts (68) for the Kiwoom Heroes in the KBO in 2020.

San Francisco Giants: Closer

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    Jake McGee
    Jake McGeeAustin Ginn/Associated Press

    Matt Wisler vs. Jake McGee vs. Reyes Moronta vs. Tyler Rogers

    The San Francisco Giants had 13 saves recorded by five different pitchers last season, with Trevor Gott (four) and Tyler Rogers (three) leading the way.

    Gott is in camp as a non-roster invitee, and Rogers looks like a solid bet for a spot in the bullpen, but a healthy Reyes Moronta better fits the closer profile with his power stuff.

    However, he'll have to win the job over newcomers Matt Wisler and Jake McGee.

    Wisler had a breakout season in the Minnesota bullpen last year, logging a 1.07 ERA and 12.4 K/9 in 18 appearances. McGee bounced back after joining the Los Angeles Dodgers following his release by the Colorado Rockies, and he has 45 career saves in 11 MLB seasons.

    Regardless of roles, the Giants should boast an improved relief corps.

Seattle Mariners: Left Field

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    Jake Fraley
    Jake FraleyChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Jake Fraley vs. Jarred Kelenic vs. Braden Bishop

    It's only a matter of time before the Seattle Mariners have an enviable young outfield of Jarred Kelenic, Kyle Lewis and Julio Rodriguez anchoring a young roster on the rise.

    For now, they'll need to sort out their left field spot this spring.

    Seattle could feel compelled to put Kelenic on the roster as an act of good faith after the asinine comments that now-former team president Kevin Mather made. But he would still have to earn his way onto the roster with only 21 games at Double-A under his belt.

    Jake Fraley was a prospect on the rise in 2019 when he hit .298/.365/.545 with 19 home runs, 80 RBI and 22 steals in the upper levels of the minors, but he went just 4-for-26 with 11 strikeouts in limited action last year.

    Braden Bishop fits best as a fourth outfielder with good wheels and the ability to play all three outfield spots, but he's in the mix as well.

St. Louis Cardinals: Closer

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Jordan Hicks vs. Giovanny Gallegos vs. Andrew Miller vs. Alex Reyes

    With four potential closer candidates, the St. Louis Cardinals have a lot to figure out with regard to roles on the pitching staff. But they have four relief pitchers good enough to be considered late-inning options.

    Flamethrower Jordan Hicks is the obvious candidate with his triple-digits fastball, but he has some rust to shake off. He made his most recent appearance on June 22, 2019.

    Giovanny Gallegos and Andrew Miller each saved four games in a closer-by-committee situation last year, and the Cardinals will heavily lean on them in setup roles at the very least.

    The X-factor here is former top prospect Alex Reyes, who finally returned to action last year and racked up 27 strikeouts in 19.2 innings spanning one start and 14 relief appearances. He could get a look for a spot in the rotation, but if he's back in the bullpen, he undoubtedly has the stuff to close.

Tampa Bay Rays: No. 5 Starter

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    Josh Fleming
    Josh FlemingMike Carlson/Associated Press

    Michael Wacha vs. Josh Fleming vs. Luis Patino vs. Trevor Richards vs. Shane McClanahan

    The Tampa Bay Rays will have a new-look starting rotation in 2021 after they traded Blake Snell to the San Diego Padres and Charlie Morton departed in free agency.

    The Rays signed veterans Chris Archer ($6.5M), Rich Hill ($2.5M) and Michael Wacha ($3M) to one-year deals in an effort to fill the void, but that trio is far from a sure thing to make 30 starts in 2021.

    After struggling to a 6.62 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 34 innings with the New York Mets on a one-year deal last year, Wacha is far from guaranteed a spot in the rotation. He does have some experience pitching out of the bullpen, where he could fill a bulk role.

    If Wacha fails to stake a claim to the No. 5 starter job, Josh Fleming should get a long look. He posted a 2.78 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 32.1 innings as a rookie last season before working 5.2 innings in the postseason.

    Top prospects Luis Patino and Shane McClanahan both got their feet wet in the big leagues in 2020, while Trevor Richards is useful organizational depth capable of filling multiple roles.

Texas Rangers: Catcher

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    Jose Trevino
    Jose TrevinoStephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Jose Trevino vs. Sam Huff vs. Jonah Heim vs. Drew Butera (NRI) vs. John Hicks (NRI)

    Jose Trevino hit .250/.280/.434 with eight doubles and two home runs in 83 plate appearances last season while splitting catching duties with glove-only veteran Jeff Mathis.

    Top prospect Sam Huff eventually joined the catcher mix and hit .355/.394/.742 with three doubles and three home runs in 33 plate appearances over a 10-game audition.

    Huff, 23, is the catcher of the future, but the organization may want him to get a bit more seasoning on defense in the minors.

    That would leave a likely platoon of Trevino and Jonah Heim, whom the Rangers acquired from the A's in the Elvis Andrus-for-Khris Davis swap. Veterans Drew Butera and John Hicks are also in camp on minor league deals as potential backup options.

Toronto Blue Jays: Nos. 2-5 Starters

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    Nate Pearson
    Nate PearsonJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    Robbie Ray vs. Nate Pearson vs. Tanner Roark vs. Steven Matz vs. Anthony Kay vs. Ross Stripling vs. Trent Thornton vs. Thomas Hatch vs. Tommy Milone (NRI)

    This collection of starting pitching options will ultimately determine whether the Toronto Blue Jays are legitimate contenders in 2021.

    Hyun Jin Ryu is a bona fide ace atop the staff, but every other spot in the rotation is up for grabs.

    Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark and Steven Matz all underperformed in 2020 relative to expectations and their past track records. Top-tier prospect Nate Pearson struggled to throw strikes in his MLB debut before suffering an arm injury. Anthony Kay, Ross Stripling and Trent Thornton might fit best as multi-inning relievers.

    There's enough quantity here to think some semblance of quality could come out of the other side when spring training wraps up, but the Jays still have a lot to figure out.

Washington Nationals: No. 5 Starter

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    Joe Ross
    Joe RossJeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Joe Ross vs. Erick Fedde vs. Austin Voth

    After opting out of the 2020 season, Joe Ross will need to win his spot in the rotation this spring.

    The Washington Nationals have a trio atop the rotation that rivals any in baseball with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. They added seasoned veteran Jon Lester this offseason to replace Anibal Sanchez as the No. 4 starter.

    That leaves Ross to compete with Erick Fedde and Austin Voth for the final spot on the staff.

    Ross and Voth are both out of minor league options, so expect them to make the Opening Day roster even if Fedde walks away as the winner in the rotation battle.

         

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.