In the first installment of the NL Position Battles, I am going to look at the NL position battles going on around Spring Training. Check out the AL Position Battles as well.
Every year there are battles that take place, some more intriguing than others. Well this year is no different. Most of these teams have real questions in their rotations. Others hoping some young kids can take over their positions.
Most of the time managers look to try a new lineup configuration, getting to know new acquisitions. Pitchers will try to perfect new pitches and get their command down before the games start to count.
We, as Fantasy Baseball owners, look at these battles and hope they resolve themselves before our annual draft.
Now let’s take a look at how I see these teams addressing their battles.
NL Position Battles
|Team||Position||Expected Starter||Warming the Bench||Notes|
|Arizona Diamondbacks||2B||Brandon Drury||Daniel Descalso
|After the Jean Segura trade, there is an opening at second base for Arizona. Brandon Drury looks like it is his job to lose. Drury, just 24 years-old, has the kind of bat that makes a manager want to get him into the lineup. It could go a long way to helping the Diamondbacks get some more power in the lineup to compliment Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb and Yasmany Tomas. If Drury cannot take the job and run with it, Daniel Descalso or Nick Ahmed would slot in as a safer, more defensive minded second baseman.|
|Atlanta Braves||P||Mike Foltynewicz||Matt Wisler
|The Braves went out and got veteran pitchers for the rotation, much to the chagrin of the young starters not named Julio Teheran. Atlanta added ageless wonder Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and through a trade with the Cardinals, Jaime Garcia. That leaves the last spot open for some young guns to take. As of right now, Mike Foltynewicz has the upper hand. But he will be pushed by several pitchers in Spring Training, which include Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, Lucas Sims and dark horse Sean Newcomb? I predict Newcomb gets a shot, but ultimately he will go back to Triple-A. The Braves will not want to shake the confidence of one of their Top 5 prospects.
Update: Blair gave up one run in 2.2 innings after missing some time with a bruised left hand he suffered in his last start. He also allowed five hits, struck out one and walked a batter. So far it looks like Folty is holding off the other young players for the fifth starter spot. Wisler and Blair could be mid-season callups or injury fill-ins if needed. Sims is a long shot and the Braves have re-assigned Newcomb to minor league camp.
|Having the Cubs problems are good problems to have. How are we going to get all of these bats in the lineup? Joe Maddon did a great job last year on the way to a World Series victory. But how will that success impact this year? Last year, Kyle Schwarber went down with an injury that may have been a blessing. It allowed Baez to get more run on the diamond. For strictly defensive purposes, having Javier Baez at second base and moving Ben Zobrist to left field would be ideal. And that does not mean they lack the firepower making that move. But the Cubs organization love Schwarber’s bat. So I see Zobrist at second, Schwarber in left field and Baez back in a super utility role.
As far as the fifth starter, the Cubs are hoping that Mike Montgomery can fill that void, since the oft injured Brett Anderson cannot be counted on. Chicago hopes an internal option emerges so they do not have to pay for a rental in the summer trying to repeat as champions.
|Right now, the Reds have many arms in the bullpen they thought would be staples of their rotation. Alas, Rasiel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen and Tony Cingrani are all going to be a part of a committee approach at closer. Drew Storen is also in that mix. Maybe one can emerge to hold the job down, but this looks like a messy situation going forward.
As for the fifth starter, Robert Stephenson looked to be the early favorite for the spot. Although he just got roughed up in his latest start. That could open things up for the college basketball player turned pitcher Amir Garrett. He looks to have an outside shot for the rotation. At Double A-Pensacola last season, Garrett had an ERA of 1.75 with 78 strikeouts in 77 innings pitched. That type of swing and miss stuff could be intriguing enough to land him in Cincinnati to begin the season.
Update: Garrett, in his first two spring games, has struck out four, walked one batter and allowed one run in 4.2 innings. However, in his start March 8, Garrett allowed five unearned runs on seven hits and a walk in 2.2 innings. He also had a wild pitch and committed two errors on the same play. Although the runs were unearned, they came as a result of his errors. Bryan Price said he hasn’t eliminated any of the main candidates for a spot in the rotation.
|Colorado Rockies||P||Jeff Hoffman
|This race is between two pitchers; Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez. Hoffman was part of the trade that sent Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto. He didn’t show great last year, but many can’t while working in Coors Field. Marquez is quite the opposite. He was not the big name pitcher Hoffman was, but he moved quickly through the minors to garner a September callup. As of now, whoever wins this job will only be serviceable in NL-only, or the deepest of leagues.
Update: Sadly, Chad Bettis’ cancer that he thought was under control, has now spread. This is obviously not the type of news I like to report. We wish Bettis and his family all the best as he goes through treatments to get this disease under control. With this unfortunate news, there are now two spots open in the Rockies rotation. Chris Rusin was a starter, but did much better in his long relief role. He currently has an oblique injury that will keep him sidelined another 7-10 days. Meanwhile, Kyle Freeland and Harrison Musgrave have never thrown a pitch in the majors.
Marquez gave up four runs, only one earned, with three hits and two walks in 2.1 innings pitched. Given the inexperience of Freeland and Musgrave, Marquez could win the job with a couple more good outings. For what it’s worth, Freeland has a 3.86 ERA in seven innings pitched with four strikeouts. Musgrave has a 4.50 ERA in eight innings pitched with six strikeouts.
|Los Angeles Dodgers||OF||Andrew Toles
Scott Van Slyke
|Once again the Dodgers outfield is a muddled mess. The only sure player to start every day is Joc Pederson in center. Right now it looks to be Andrew Toles in left field and Yasiel Puig in right. But even I would write those in pencil. Then you also have Kike Hernandez, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke and newly acquired Franklin Gutierrez.
Update: Gutierrez has two hits in 26 spring at-bats. He will need to put some hits together soon or he could be in a platoon situation, or off the 25-man roster all together. Ethier finally took some ground balls at first base, he’s been dealing with hip and back discomfort. He was doing well before his issues. Both Hernandez and Van Slyke are hitting well enough to be in the reserve conversation.
|Miami Marlins||P||Adam Conley
|After the unfortunate and untimely passing of Jose Fernandez, the Marlins try to piece together a rotation. Edinson Volquez is a mortal lock for the rotation, barring injury. Same goes with Wei-Yen Chen and Dan Straily. After those three you have Adam Conley, Jose Urena and Tom Koehler vying for the last two spots. Longer shots to make the rotation are Jeff Locke and Justin Nicolino. The only thing that makes this a little interesting, are the options still remaining for Conley and Koehler. Maybe that plays into the Marlins’ plans.
Update: Urena has a 12.71 ERA in 5.2 innings pitched this spring. He does have six strikeouts as well. He is probably going to be in the pen for long relief. But with Koehler (8.31 ERA in 8.2 innings; eight strikeouts) and Conley (7.50 ERA in six innings; five strikeouts) struggling, it might be close. Nicolino has a 12.46 ERA in 4.1 innings with one strikeout. Don Mattingly has said that Jeff Locke will begin the season on the disabled list with bicep tendinitis.
|Milwaukee Brewers||P||Chase Anderson
|New York Mets||OF||Jay Bruce
|Currently it is Yoenis Cespedes in left, Curtis Granderson in center, and a Jay Bruce/Michael Conforto platoon in right. The recent Lucas Duda news may just untangle the mess of an outfield the Mets currently have. Bruce has been getting some work at first base, taking ground balls and trying to get comfortable. Even with this news, the Mets also have Brandon Nimmo who could make things interesting if he plays well. Look for Bruce to be someone that could be moved if the Mets do not live up to expectations this year.
Update: All parties are hitting well. Bruce is hitting .417 with a home run and five RBIs. Conforto is batting .360 with two home runs, three RBIs and a stolen base. Nimmo is batting .476 with one RBI. The way it’s going, Bruce is still the favorite to start, with the other two going to Triple-A. A trade would help sort this situation out, as Conforto is the future in New York. Nimmo suffered a right hamstring strain in Sunday’s WBC game. He is expected to be sidelined a couple of weeks, ruling him out for an Opening Day roster spot.
Bruce got the start at first base Tuesday, but still projects as the everyday right fielder.
|Philadelphia Phillies||SS||Freddy Galvis||J.P Crawford||This one is more of a ‘hold the spot for the Phenom’, type of situation. J.P. Crawford is the Phillies top prospect. He did not have a great 2016 season. In 123 games between Double-A and Triple-A, Crawford hit .250/.349/.339 with seven home runs and 43 RBIs to his credit. Freddy Galvis has the position right now, but he is no threat to hold onto the job once Crawford heats up. It’s just a matter of when for the youngster.|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||P||Chad Kuhl
|This one looks like more of a competition than I believe it is. If Tyler Glasnow pitches well, he will join his rotation mate from Indianapolis, Jameson Taillon. And after he struck out six Orioles regulars in two innings on February 26, I think he’s making a great case for himself. Other pitchers that could rival Glasnow for the spot is Drew Hutchison, Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault. In the end, I see Glasnow securing the spot, and the others being injury fill ins or in long relief roles.
Update: Glasnow was roughed up by the Dominican Republic squad to the tune of six earned runs on five hits. The real issue was the four walks in the 2.1 innings pitched. Meanwhile, Hutchison struck out four in three clean frames, albeit against the Orioles backups. Brault pitched three scoreless out of the pen, and Kuhl struck out three in two scoreless against the Red Sox. If Glasnow doesn’t get the walks under control, he will find himself in Triple-A to start the year.
Glasnow was touched up again by the Braves for five runs in 2.2 innings. He’s almost certainly headed to Indianapolis to begin the season.
|San Diego Padres||P||Christian Friedrich
|This situation is among the worst I have ever seen. Jhoulys Chacin, Clayton Richard and newly signed Jered Weaver are probably starters come the new season. But Weaver isn’t necessarily a beacon of health. The other two, there’s not exactly a lot of faith there. Then you have Christian Friedrich, Luis Perdomo, Jarred Cosart, Trevor Cahill, Zach Lee or Tyrell Jenkins. There may be even more vying for a position, but in the end, this could go a multitude of ways.|
|San Francisco Giants||P||Matt Cain||Ty Blach
|Looking at the roster, Matt Cain would look to be the favorite. But he hasn’t exactly done well with his opportunities. His last good season was in 2012 when he was an All-Star. Right now it looks like Ty Blach, Tyler Beede and Albert Suarez as a long shot. My money would be on Blach to come out of this competition. Beede has the most upside, but having never pitched above the Double-A level, he needs more time in the minors.
Update: Cain pitched 3.1 innings, giving up two runs on two hits. Blach continues to impress with another solid outing with two strikeouts in 2.2 frames of shutout ball against the Indians. Cain is going to have every opportunity to get the fifth starter job, but Blach may just force their hand if he can keep this type of pitching up.
|St. Louis Cardinals||P||Michael Wacha||Trevor Rosenthal
|The Cardinals were dealt a real blow to their rotation when Alex Reyes had to undergo Tommy John surgery. Now it will be between Luke Weaver, Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal, who is being stretched out this spring to be a starter after losing his ninth inning role. Wacha just might seize the opportunity. He was once a part of the rotation, and did well in 2015 when he went 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA. Then in 2016, the wheels came off. He went 7-7 with a 5.09 ERA. He’s already been there before; it’s just a matter if he can recapture what he once had.
Update: Weaver was pulled from his start due to back spasms. He is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Monday Mar 13. Wacha is still in the lead for the rotation spot. And after throwing another three scoreless innings, it looks like he’s going to lock it up. Especially with Rosenthal not slated to pitch until this weekend.
Update: Rosenthal was scratched from his start Monday with a sore lat muscle on his right side. The Cardinals will evaluate in a few days. Rosenthal was probably headed back to the pen with the way Wacha has pitched anyway.
|Washington Nationals||Closer||Shawn Kelley||Joe Blanton
|Well the Nationals added to their bullpen depth when they signed Joe Blanton. But that just means it is another pitcher that is not guaranteed the ninth inning. Blanton will more than likely settle into the setup role. That leaves Shawn Kelley in the closer role for now. Other options include Blake Treinen, Trevor Gott and sleeper Koda Glover that could possibly take over the role should Kelley falter. All of this means nothing if Washington goes and gets an established closer at the trade deadline, just like they did last year with Mark Melancon.
Update: While Kelley is still the front-runner for the closer job, Glover is doing what he can to make it interesting. Glover now has seven strikeouts and zero earned runs in three innings this spring. Dusty Baker has said he will not use a committee, and Glover does not have the experience that Kelley does. But if this type of production continues, he just might find himself in the closers role sooner rather than later.
So there are all of the NL position battles for Spring Training. Which ones are you most interested in tracking this spring? Hit us up in the comments.
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