Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Top 10 Spring Training position battles


"1. Red Sox closer
The Contenders: Joel Pineiro, Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Timlin
The Favorite: Pineiro

Joel Piniero will try to make the transition from starter to closer. (Jeff Gross / Getty Images)

Boston is nothing if not creative in digging up closers. This time around, they plan on giving converted starter Joel Pineiro a shot. He has the power fastball-slider arsenal to succeed, and he'll need to stick with those two pitches in order to thrive in his new role. Jonathan Papelbon, meanwhile, is bound for the rotation despite putting together — without exaggeration — one of the best closer seasons in history last year. However, team doctors have recommended that Papelbon's balky shoulder might respond better to starting detail. So that's what will happen. The fallback plan then becomes seasoned setup man Mike Timlin. Should Pineiro get hurt or fail to adapt, the save opps will go to Timlin. Right now, however, the job is Pineiro's to lose.

2. Mets fifth starter
The Contenders: Jorge Sosa, Philip Humber, Mike Pelfrey, Chan Ho Park
The Favorite: Sosa
The Mets missed out on the big names this winter, but they have plenty of arms in the mix headed into camp. It's likely that Jorge Sosa, barring a disastrous spring, will open the season as the fifth man, but he may not be there for long. Philip Humber and Mike Pelfrey, the Mets' top two pitching prospects, will emerge as strong candidates at some point, and don't be surprised if both are in the rotation before September. Of the two, Humber has the slightly higher ceiling. Chan Ho Park, meanwhile, is the "break glass in case of emergency" guy who'll probably spend most of his time in the bullpen. Sosa for now, one of the young guns for later.

3. Yankees fourth and fifth starters
The Contenders: Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, Jeffrey Karstens
The Favorite(s): Igawa and Pavano
We have three factors in play here: Carl Pavano's health, Kei Igawa's ability to keep the opposite side in check, and the possibility that the Yankees will sign Roger Clemens. Pavano, of course, has found a way to hurt just about everything on his body, but so far in 2007 he seems to be on target. The odds of a setback are quite high, though. As for Igawa, there's concern that the lefty may not be able to pass muster against stateside right-handed bats, so that'll be something to monitor in Spring Training. With that said, the Yankees intend to have Igawa open the season as a member of the rotation. If Pavano gets hurt and Clemens retires or inks elsewhere, then Karstens will be deployed as a starter. At least until they trade for someone. In the event of a Clemens signing, Igawa will probably get first crack at the five spot.

4. White Sox center fielder
The Contenders: Brian Anderson, Rob Mackowiak, Ryan Sweeney
The Favorite: Anderson
Brian Anderson was utterly awful in the first half of 2006, but after the break he compiled a not quite so utterly awful batting line of .257 AVG/.301 OBP/.393 SLG. That's far from optimal, but at least it's progress. The Sox still like Anderson's line-drive stroke and defense in center, so barring a miserable spring he'll likely open the season in center. Rob Mackowiak has a reasonable left-handed bat, but his glove in center won't play on a regular basis. If Anderson continues to struggle, then prospect Ryan Sweeney could step in. He's better defensively than Mackowiak, and he's a career .295 hitter in the minors. None of these options is ideal, but it's all the Sox have at this point.

5. Cubs fourth and fifth starters

If he can stay healthy, Wade Miller should win a spot in the Cubs rotation. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

The Contenders: Wade Miller, Jason Marquis, Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall
The Favorite(s): Miller and Marquis

These jobs depend in part upon the status of convalescing ace Mark Prior. If Prior's shoulder is well enough for him to open the season in the rotation, then this is a battle for fifth spot only. However, if Prior isn't able to answer the bell, then these five arms will vie for the final two rotation slots. With Prior, who really knows? If Miller's shoulder holds up in Arizona, he's likely to break camp as a member of the rotation. Marquis, in the absence of Prior, would likely fill the final spot (at least until the Cubs realize that he's thoroughly ill-suited to a homer-friendly park like Wrigley). If Miller struggles badly or pulls up lame again, then one of the young guns will get the nod. Among them, Angel Guzman might be the best bet.

6. Dodgers right fielder
The Contenders: Andre Ethier, Marlon Anderson, Matt Kemp
The Favorite: Ethier
The departure of J.D. Drew has, of course, left a void in right field. Andre Ethier enters camp as the favorite, but his second-half slump in 2006 means that he'll be on a reasonably short leash. In all likelihood, the Dodgers will wind up platooning Ethier, the lefty, with Matt Kemp, who bats right-handed. Should Ethier struggle badly in Florida, then Marlon Anderson will likely step in as the left-handed half of the platoon.

7. Tigers fifth starter
The Contenders: Mike Maroth, Wil Ledezma
The Favorite: Ledezma
At the time of his elbow injury last season, Mike Maroth had a respectable 4.19 ERA in 53.2 innings. Wil Ledezma, meanwhile, posted a 3.58 ERA in 60.1 innings, working both as a starter and a reliever. If Maroth stays healthy this spring, manager Jim Leyland may opt to play the veteran hand. However, Ledezma's higher upside and superior performance in 2006 will likely hold sway. It's an open competition, but Ledezma has more in his favor at this moment in time.

8. Royals third baseman

Alex Gordon's future is bright, but is he ready to produce right now? (Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty Images)

The Contenders: Alex Gordon, Mark Teahen
The Favorite: Gordon

Alex Gordon is the best prospect in all of baseball, the favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2007 and a future MVP. However, incumbent Mark Teahen is coming off a nifty season in his own right: .290 AVG/.357 OBP/.517 SLG, 18 homers in 393 at bats. Right now, the plan is for Teahen to transition to an outfield corner spot and hand the third base job to Gordon. Of course, if Gordon fails badly in Spring Training, then the Royals will likely dispatch him to Triple-A to marinate a bit further. Otherwise, the Gordon era in Kansas City begins on Opening Day.

9. Indians first baseman
The Contenders: Casey Blake, Ryan Garko
The Favorite: Blake
The signing of Trot Nixon means that Casey Blake is now a man without a position. That puts him up against Ryan Garko for playing time at first base. Blake is the more proven talent, and he'll be making $3.75 million next season. Garko, meanwhile, has an impressive minor league dossier, but his defense leaves something to be desired. Since both are right-handed, it's an either-or situation. Barring injury or a vastly more impressive showing by Garko in Spring Training, the job is likely Blake's to lose. One wrinkle could be that the Tribe opts to play Blake in right field when a lefty's on the mound, which would mean Garko would start at first base on those occasions.

10. Marlins closer
The Contenders: Taylor Tankersley, Ricky Nolasco, Matt Lindstrom, Henry Owens, Kevin Gregg
The Favorite: Tankersley
GM Larry Beinfest has already stated that the Fish will fill their closer vacancy from within. Considering the current disrepair of the Florida rotation, Ricky Nolasco will almost certainly be deployed as a starter. That makes Taylor Tankersley the favorite. Should he falter, unproven internal candidates like Matt Lindstrom, Henry Owens and Kevin Gregg could enter the fray. Also, since Tankersley is a lefty, there's the possibility that the Marlins will opt for committee arrangement, playing matchups in the final inning rather than relying on a single closer. For now, though, expect Tankersley to pick up the saves. "

Now me as a Met fan, I can't believe they think Jorge Sosa will win the #5 spot. I think its between Chanho Park, and Mike Pelfrey. If you don't agree with something they said leave a comment with your opinion.


RollingWave said...

I have to agree, if you want to live in Sosa's flukey 05 season why not live in Park's past too, periphal wise, if Park stays healthy (which he really hasn't for the last 4 years) he should still be a effective pitcher.

Another interesting position battle is the Dodger's 5th starter, seem to be Kuo, Billingsly, Tomko, Hendrickson. Kuo had the best result as a starter last year as Mets fan probably should be quiet impressed with his debute (late season against the Mets)

C-Dog said...

I totally agree with the mets starting pitching..

and I was impressed with Kuo but what lefty couldnt shut the mets down last year? now with the added lefty killer Moises Alou leftys should be no problem.

Anonymous said...

great post, I am interesting in it!