MLB Spring Training Positional Battles: March 1
Dan Malin goes around the league, rounding up all the information you need to know on the positional battles within each team entering spring training this season.
Every week we will be diving into the latest position battles from around the league. Now they won’t be the same every week. Some position battles will have more updates, while others won’t. Heck we’ll likely introduce new battles along the way (as would be par for the course). This isn’t meant to be a subjective “Stock Up/Stock Down” article. We’ll do our best to break these matchups down objectively based on playing time and overall performance. This week since this is the first edition we’ll introduce some of the more notable position battles from around the league and follow up on these throughout the month.
Philadelphia Phillies Center Field – Well this was already a crowded outfield as it was. Andrew McCutchen likely plays every day in left field. However, the Phillies just agreed to terms with Bryce Harper on a record-breaking deal that’ll make him the everyday right fielder for the next 13 years. So that leaves Odubel Herrera , Nick Williams , Roman Quinn , and Aaron Altherr to battle for the center spot. Herrera’s certainly familiar with playing in center, and he managed to belt 22 home runs last year. However, he strikes out a lot more than he walks (big downgrade in points leagues) and his batting average dropped 26 points from 2017 to 2018. He likely wins the job to start the year, but I wouldn’t sleep on Williams or Altherr either.
Chicago Cubs Closer (to start the year) – With Brandon Morrow likely out for all of April and maybe a little of May, there’s an opportunity for saves in the early going for fantasy baseball. The bullpen has names like Pedro Strop , Steve Cishek , Carl Edwards Jr. , Mike Montgomery , and Brad Brach . They also have some other names from camp they’ve invited, but right now Strop or Edwards are the likely frontrunners to start the year as the closer. Strop logged 13 saves last season with a 2.26 ERA. Edwards has nice strikeout potential, but he also walks a lot of batters. If the Cubs get off to a hot start one reliever will find themselves in position to log a handful of saves until Morrow returns.
Red Sox Catcher – Sandy León , Christian Vázquez , and Blake Swihart were a bit of a three-headed monster last season. They each logged 200+ plate appearances, but Swihart showcased the best offensive potential of the three with a .229 batting average and he swiped six bags in a timeshare. It’s possible one of them gets traded during spring training. Swihart is possibly the best offensively of the three, Vazquez has a great arm that can throw out any runner, and Leon has the veteran experience. It’s hard to imagine a trade happening in the next week or so since Swihart (whose names has been rumored to be on the trading block before) is currently dealing with the tragic death of his brother. No matter who wins this starting job, they’ll likely hit towards the bottom of the order.
Cincinnati Reds Outfield – The Reds have a ton of names in their outfield and they’ll be able to mix and match names to give everyone opportunities during the season, but for fantasy purposes we only care about the guys who get the most playing time. Yasiel Puig , Scott Schebler , Matt Kemp , Jesse Winker , and Nick Senzel are all candidates for playing time. Puig seems the safest given he’s in his prime and the Reds would be wise to keep Jesse Winker in the lineup. His plate discipline improved from 2017 to 2018. His walk rate went up and strikeout rate went down, but that’s not a guarantee for playing time. Realistically it comes down to Kemp, Schebler, and Senzel and unfortunately Senzel may be on the outs due to his lack of experience even though he’s one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Both Puig and Kemp are free agents after this year so if there’s a silver lining for Senzel, he’ll definitely have more opportunities in 2020.
Milwaukee Brewers Starting Rotation – Every year it seems like the Brewers starting rotation is worth watching in spring training. To be fair none of these guys necessarily standout as an ace. In 2017 Chase Anderson did go 12-4 with a 2.74 ERA, but his follow-up in 2018 was a 9-8 record and a 3.93 ERA. Those are still serviceable numbers, but he’s never logged more than 160 innings in the big leagues. It seems like the organization is hesitant to let him go 6+ innings on a regular basis. Zach Davies is another guy coming off a bad season, but yet he seems like a lock for the rotation. Jhoulys Chacin is probably a lock after going 15-8 last year. If Jimmy Nelson is healthy he has a spot in the rotation, but he suffered a slight setback by tweaking his forearm earlier in the week. So that leave Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta , and maybe Brandon Woodruff for the last spot. Personally it would be nice to see Woodruff get the job. He throws pretty hard and while he looked better out of the bullpen last season, if Milwaukee isn’t going to utilize Josh Hader as a starter then it would be nice to see with Woodruff can do.
New York Yankees First Base – It seems like a foregone conclusion that Luke Voit should have a head start in the first base battle for the Yankees. After being traded from St. Louis to New York and then being brought up from Triple-A Voit went on a tear down the stretch. In 148 plate appearances over the last two months he hit 14 home runs and boasted a 1.094 OPS. Greg Bird is the other candidate for first base. While he’s somewhat of an afterthought, he’s still technically on the roster. He came on strong back in 2015, but three full seasons have happened since then and while he missed 2016 due to injury he hasn’t returned to form and it doesn’t help that Voit had such a strong finish in 2018. It’s not official yet, but Voit is the frontrunner as of right now.
St. Louis Cardinals Right Field – So the Cardinals acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt in the offseason did little to Jose Martinez ’s playing time. The infield is pretty much set, Marcell Ozuna will stay in left field with Harrison Bader in center. That leaves Dexter Fowler and his awful contract in right field or Martinez. Martinez profiles as a nice DH if he was ever to be traded to the American League, but alas that’s not the case here. He’s a liability on defense which is where Fowler gets the better of him. But Fowler’s coming off a season where he hit .180 and touted a sub-.600 OPS. So do they take the offensive upside of Martinez while sacrificing defense? Or do they stick with Fowler’s glove most days?
Chicago White Sox Closer – This battle largely comes down to Álex Colomé and Kelvin Herrera and the edge has to go to Herrera as of right now. Herrera registered 17 saves with Washington and Kansas City with a 2.44 ERA. Colome registered most of his saves with Tampa Bay before being traded to Seattle where he was limited to a set-up role. Herrera walked fewer batters last season, which is typically a better indicator for a closer. You can’t have your shutdown reliever allowing free passes. They’ll both get the chance to show that they deserve the closer’s job.
Kansas City Royals Outfield – Alex Gordon seems to be a lock in left field. Hell, he’ll likely be there until he retires after being the homegrown prospect that helped Kansas City with a World Series championship back in 2015. So that leaves Billy Hamilton , Jorge Bonifacio , Brett Phillips , Jorge Soler , and Brian Goodwin will fight for playing time in center field and right field. Now Kansas City is going to be very aggressive on the base path this season. So because of that and his defense, Billy Hamilton seems like a lock to start in center field. But how long will the Royals tolerate his propensity for striking out as well as his inability to draw walks? After four straight seasons of 55+ steals with the Reds he regressed to 34 last year. If Kansas City wants an offensive weapon in the lineup then Jorge Soler probably garners most of the starts in right field, but time will tell what the Royals want to do.
Boston Red Sox Closer – With Dave Dombrowski coming out and saying they likely won’t make any relief pitching signings heading into the season it appear Craig Kimbrel ’s time with Boston is done… For now. That leaves the door wide open for Boston to find a new closer and they don’t have a big name attached to the position just yet. However, Boston’s coming off a World Series championship last season and they produce a ton of wins. That present save opportunities and while none of the names are as sexy as Kimbrel, this is a tremendous opportunity for a Boston relief pitcher. Right now the two leaders in the clubhouse are Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier. Both guys can hit 95-97mph on the gun, but Barnes does have the higher strikeout potential. All in all you have to imagine it comes down to these two and if I had to guess I’d say it goes to Barnes based on his long tenure and resume with Boston.
Seattle Mariners Cluster of Positions – Currently there are four players for three positions: first base, left field, and the designated hitter. Jay Bruce , Edwin Encarnación , Ryon Healy , Domingo Santana , and to an extent Daniel Vogelbach is in contention. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnación didn’t see a healthy amount of playing time. To be honest, Encarnacion makes the most sense as the designated hitter. He’s 36 and the power is starting to diminish even though he hit 32 home runs last year. Hard to imagine his power numbers increasing in T-Mobile Park (formerly known as Safeco Field) especially if he plays first base. The DH spot could serve him well. Jay Bruce and Ryon Healy seem like the best options in left field and first base based on experience especially after Domingo Santana had a disappointing 2018 campaign in Milwaukee after a 30-home run season in 2017. It’s not a guarantee, but these names for the Mariners are worth monitoring this spring.
Arizona Diamondbacks Closer – Once again the Diamondbacks throw a monkey wrench into the steady machine that was helping Archie Bradley ride to the closer’s job. In 2017 Bradley finished with a 1.73 ERA, a 9.74 K/9, and a stellar 0.49 HR/9 as a setup man in the Arizona bullpen. He seemed like a lock to get the closer’s job and then it went to Brad Boxberger . Bradley’s numbers regressed mightily in 2018, but you had to believe he was on track to the be closer prior to the Greg Holland signing. For whatever reason, the DBacks love making Bradley earn his workload. Holland didn’t have a great 2018 season, but when healthy he’s one of the best closers in the game. Keep an eye on this one as the Diamondbacks are one of the teams to watch after trading away Paul Goldschmidt . It’ll be interesting to see how many wins they find themselves in position for.
Tampa Bay Rays Rotation – As of right now, who the hell knows what the Rays will do with their rotation? They have three definite started in Blake Snell , Charlie Morton , and Tyler Glasnow . They’ll likely have a few games with a relief pitcher in two start the game and then work the rest of the bullpen in. They’ll give Ryan Yarbrough , Yonny Chirinos , and Jacob Faria the chance to earn rotation spots. It’s hard to believe the fall from grace Faria has had the past few seasons. Just two years ago he came on very strong. In his first 45 innings of work he had a 2.00 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 45 innings. Once he had his struggles last season there were some reports that he had gotten a little cocky and felt a bit entitled to automatically be named a starter. Yarbrough quietly went 16-6 last season while Chirinos touted a 3.51 ERA (with a matching 3.51 FIP) so they may have somewhat of a leg up on Faria at the start of spring training.
New York Mets First Base – The job right now belongs to Todd Frazier with Jed Lowrie likely starting a third base. In his first season with the Mets, it was a rather forgettable one for the Toddfather. In 115 games he hit just 18 home runs and drove in 59 runs. He built a slash line of just .213/.303/.390, which is fairly disappointing for someone of Frazier’s talents. Right now he’s the starter. But don’t be surprised if Peter Alonso claims the job by May or June, depending on how the Mets are doing. Last season in 132 games across Double-and-Triple-A Alonso hit 36 home runs and drove in 119 runs. The average dropped from .314-to-.260 when he made the jump to Triple-A so there is concern he could struggle initially at the big league level, but he still possesses amazing power.
Kansas City Royals Closer – Once the Royals traded Kelvin Herrera they had a void at the closer position that hasn’t quite been filled since the midseason departure. This position battle is largely down to Brad Boxberger who does have experience as a closer after getting 32 saves with Arizona last season and 41 with the Rays in 2015 and then Wily Peralta who totaled 14 saves once Kelvin Herrera was traded last season. Peralta’s 3.67 ERA is a bit high for a closer, but his 6.03 BB/9 is the real eyesore.