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2016 MLB Position Battles to Watch: Team by team

By
The Sports Xchange
Kansas City Royals' Christian Colon, the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, will get a chance to wrestle the 2B job away from Omar Infante in spring training. Infante, who turned 34 in December, is owed $15.75 million for the next two years, but the Royals need more offense from him. Photo by Ray Stubblebine/UPI
Kansas City Royals' Christian Colon, the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, will get a chance to wrestle the 2B job away from Omar Infante in spring training. Infante, who turned 34 in December, is owed $15.75 million for the next two years, but the Royals need more offense from him. Photo by Ray Stubblebine/UPI | License Photo

As position players begin to pour into spring training camps this week, the jockeying for regular roles is already underway for starting pitchers across Arizona and Florida.

The fifth (and in some cases fourth) spots in the rotation will be up for grabs on numerous teams.

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Even clubs with seemingly formidable pitching staffs, such as the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, must settle on their five starters over the course of the next month. On those teams, the task will be finding the best option among many strong candidates. On other teams, locating any kind of quality to man the back end of the rotation will be a struggle.

Here is a look at each team's most notable position battle to watch this spring, as assessed by The Sports Xchange's national network of baseball correspondents.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: The acquisition of SS Jean Segura opened a lot of possibilities in the middle infield. Does Segura start at shortstop, his primary position? What does that mean for premier defensive SS Nick Ahmed? Does Segura move to second base ahead of incumbent Chris Owings, who had a down year in 2015 as he worked back to 100 percent after shoulder surgery following the 2014 season? Ahmed "saved" 20 runs more than the average shortstop in 2015, according to baseball-reference.com, and the D-backs prize defense. They led the NL and were second to World Series champion Kansas City with 62 runs saved.

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COLORADO ROCKIES

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: SS Jose Reyes, the highest paid player on the team with a $22 million salary this season, is facing a domestic violence charge for an alleged incident last October in Hawaii. Commissioner Rob Manfred placed him on paid leave Tuesday. That creates an opportunity for prospect Trevor Story, who finished last season at Triple-A Albuquerque, where he hit .271/.324/.504 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs in 61 games. Manager Walt Weiss said he didn't think service-time considerations would affect Story's chances to earn playing time at shortstop. Daniel Descalso and Cristhian Adames, both versatile infielders, could fill in at shortstop if Story is not deemed ready to start the season in the majors.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: The main question new manager Dave Roberts will have to answer at some point this spring is who to bat leadoff. The Dodgers have no obvious choice, and Roberts said "any number of guys" could fill the role from one day to the next depending on pitching matchups -- Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Enrique Hernandez, Joc Pederson, even rookie SS Corey Seager. A leadoff hitter during his playing career, Roberts said analytics have put less emphasis on finding a specific type of hitter to fill that spot. "I think that nowadays it's just another spot in the order," Roberts said.

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SAN DIEGO PADRES

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: Rookie Austin Hedges spent a considerable amount of time behind the plate last season as Derek Norris played some first when the Padres were without both 1B Yonder Alonso and OF/1B Wil Myers. With Norris not needed at first this season, the Padres have three catchers in Norris, Hedges and Christian Bethancourt, who is out of options and figures to be the backup. Hedges, 23, hit only .168 in 137 at-bats as a major league rookie in 2015 and will likely start in Triple-A ... unless the Padres move Norris. Hedges is an excellent defensive catcher and favored by many San Diego pitchers.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: One of the first observations Giants manager Bruce Bochy had after greeting pitchers and catchers on Feb. 17 was how good veteran RHP Matt Cain looked. Then again, Bochy said the same thing multiple times last season, and Cain never demonstrated it in regular-season game action, going 2-4 with a 5.79 ERA as he battled a sore right forearm. The 31-year-old is penciled in to be the team's fifth starter this season, but he will be pushed by RHP Chris Heston, one of last year's biggest surprises (12-11, 3.95). It is a rare occasion when the veteran is the guy with something to prove.

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NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

CHICAGO CUBS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: The starting lineup appears set for now with CF Jason Heyward and 2B Ben Zobrist likely to land atop the order. The biggest battles might come for the No. 4 and 5 starting pitching slots, with plenty of options for manager Joe Maddon to choose from. RHP Kyle Hendricks went 8-7 with a 3.95 ERA last year in his second big league season. RHP Jason Hammel (9-9, 3.74 ERA) struggled in second half as he was apparently hampered by a sore left knee. LHP Travis Wood could be back the picture as a possible fifth starter after moving to the bullpen in 2015, and RHP Adam Warren also will get a look.

CINCINNATI REDS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: The Reds tried to trade 2B Brandon Phillips at least a couple times, most recently to the Washington Nationals. However, rather than jump at the chance to toil for a contender, the 34-year-old veteran invoked his no-trade clause and sought a contract extension. Many believe the Reds acquired Phillips' replacement when they got 21-year-old Jose Peraza from the Dodgers in the three-team deal involving 3B Todd Frazier. If so, Phillips' power play puts a cramp in the Reds' rebuilding efforts. Some believe the club might decide to hand the bulk of the playing time to Peraza anyway to see what the young man can do.

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MILWAUKEE BREWERS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: Third base is the greatest concern, both at the big league and minor league level, where there currently is no prospect waiting in the wings. Hernan Perez saw action at third last season after he was picked up on waivers from Detroit, but like so many on Milwaukee's depth chart, he is more comfortable at a middle infield position. Veteran Aaron Hill, acquired from Arizona in the Jean Segura trade, is the leading candidate as camp opens with former Red Sox prospects Gavin Cecchini and Wil Middlebrooks also in the mix as non-roster invitees.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: If 3B Jung Ho Kang is not recovered by Opening Day from the broken leg and torn knee ligaments he sustained last September in a second base collision, 2B Josh Harrison will be needed at the hot corner. That will leave a number of players vying for playing time at second base, including veteran INFs Sean Rodriguez and Pedro Florimon and rookie INFs Alen Hanson and Gift Ngoepe. Rodriguez has logged more time at second base than any other position during his eight-year career. He hit .246 with four home runs in 141 games last season. Florimon is considered an above-average fielder, but he batted just .087 in 24 games in the major leagues in 2015.

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ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: It is go time for 1B Matt Adams, whose Cardinals career could arrive at a crossroads if he can't beat out veteran Brandon Moss for the starting job. Adams emerged from a slump late last May before he tore a quad muscle. He missed three months, finishing the season hitting just .240 in 175 at-bats over 60 games. Moss batted only .226 between Cleveland and St. Louis last season but showed flashes of the 30-homer power he has displayed during his career. The Cardinals believe Moss will be at 100 percent this year after rushing a return from hip surgery to be ready for 2015.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

ATLANTA BRAVES

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: 2B Jace Peterson needs a good spring to avoid splitting time with veteran INF Gordon Beckham, signed as a free agent. Peterson, acquired before last season from the Padres, started well at the plate in his first regular duty last year, but he struggled in the second half as he played through a torn tendon in his right thumb. The 25-year-old wound up hitting .239/.314/.335 with six home runs and 52 RBIs in 152 games. Beckham, 29, hit .209/.275/.332 with six homers and 20 RBIs in 100 games for the White Sox in 2015.

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MIAMI MARLINS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: RHP Edwin Jackson, who has career numbers of 88-107 with a 4.58 ERA, will have to fight off challenges from David Phelps (4-8, 4.50 ERA last season) and LHP Brad Hand (4-7, 5.30) to land a rotation job. It is an underwhelming list of candidates, and that includes the youngsters who may get a shot in spring training -- LHP Justin Nicolino (5-4, 4.01), LHP Adam Conley (4-1, 3.76), RHP Jose Urena (1-5, 5.25) and RHP Kendry Flores (1-2, 4.97). Other than Jackson, the other six candidates combined to make 64 starts for the Marlins, who are desperate to find a qualified fifth starter.

NEW YORK METS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: It is always good for a team when the most exciting position battle is for the last two spots in the bullpen. RHP Erik Goeddel, who made the National League Division Series roster last fall, has the inside track on one spot. He was 1-1 with a 2.43 ERA in 35 games last year. The Mets could go with a long man such as LHP Sean Gilmartin or RHP Logan Verrett in the final spot. Gilmartin and Verrett also could be stashed as rotation insurance at Triple-A Las Vegas if RHP Jim Henderson, a non-roster invitee, can reclaim the form that allowed him to collect 33 saves for the Brewers in 2013.

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PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: LHPs Brett Oberholtzer and Adam Morgan and RHPs Vincent Velasquez and David Buchanan will compete to be the No. 5 starter. Oberholtzer and Velasquez were two of five players acquired from the Houston Astros in the December trade for closer Ken Giles. Oberholtzer, 26, was 2-2 with a 4.46 ERA in eight starts for the Astros last year. Velasquez, 23, went 1-1 with a 4.37 ERA in 19 games, including seven starts, for Houston. Morgan, 25 and Buchanan, 26, split last season between the Phillies and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Morgan went 5-7 with a 4.45 ERA in 17 starts during his first crack at the major leagues, while Buchanan was 2-9 with a 6.99 ERA in 15 starts for the Phillies.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: Michael A. Taylor and Ben Revere could compete to be the starting center fielder. Taylor saw a lot of action in center in 2015 as veteran Denard Span (now with San Francisco) missed a lot of time due to injuries. Taylor flashed his power and speed but also struck out too much -- 158 times in 138 games -- to be an ideal leadoff hitter. Revere, which much more experience, was acquired in a trade from the Blue Jays in January for former closer Drew Storen. Revere led the National League in hits with 184 in 2014 and then batted .306 with 31 steals last year with the Phillies and Blue Jays. Taylor hit .229 with 14 homers for Washington.

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AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

HOUSTON ASTROS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: With Chris Carter non-tendered this offseason and Marwin Gonzalez better suited in the designated super-utility role, Jon Singleton will face his third, and likely last, opportunity to claim the first base job. He scuffled following his 2014 debut, hitting .168/.285/.335 with 134 strikeouts in 362 plate appearances, and failed to make the Opening Day roster last season before hitting .191/.328/.298 over just 19 games. While there are other available options, namely top prospect A.J. Reed and accomplished minor-leaguers Tyler White and Matt Duffy, Singleton enters his age-24 season with the inside track despite his lagging production.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: OFs Craig Gentry and Daniel Nava are the latest candidates to fill the Angels' void in left field. Neither journeyman compiled impressive statistics last year. The 32-year-old Gentry spent most of the season in the minor leagues and batted just .120 in 26 games for the Oakland Athletics. Nava, who turns 33 on Feb. 22, managed only a .194 average in 60 games with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. Though the Angels plan to platoon the duo, Nava has played more career games in left field and offers some needed left-handed power. If neither perform to expectations, look for the Angels to pursue midseason help, as they did last year.

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OAKLAND ATHLETICS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: Yonder Alonso, a left-handed hitter, and Mark Canha, who bats right-handed, are expected to platoon at first base, but Canha has the potential to hit his way into a bigger role. As a rookie last season, Canha hit .254 with 16 home runs and 70 RBIs in 124 games. He had five home runs during an 11-game span from Aug. 31 to Sept. 12, and he hit .309 in August. Alonso is a skilled defensive first baseman and a .273 career hitter in 508 major league games, but he hit only five home runs last season for San Diego and has never hit more than nine homers in a season.

SEATTLE MARINERS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: This time last year, the Mariners had one of the most productive closers in baseball (RHP Fernando Rodney) and a young closer of the future (RHP Carson Smith). Both are no longer with the team, so now Seattle is looking toward veteran RHPs Steve Cishek and Joaquin Benoit as possible closers. The inside track belongs to Cishek, who had 39 saves with the Marlins in 2014 but blew four of seven save chances last season before being dealt to the Cardinals. Benoit, 38, had 24 saves with the Tigers in 2014 but has spent most of his career as a setup man.

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TEXAS RANGERS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: Josh Hamilton should be the answer for what turned into a revolving door in left field last season. However, because of Hamilton's health, that door could still be swinging open. Hamilton was limited to 50 games in 2015 because of injuries, and he has played in just 139 at-bats over the last two years. He had two surgeries on the left knee last year and was still having issues with it as he showed up to camp. The Rangers brought in LF Justin Ruggiano, who could spell a balky Hamilton. Texas also used Joey Gallo some in left last year but would prefer to play him at third base in Triple-A. Top prospect Nomar Mazara is an option for the future.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: INFs Tyler Saladino and Carlos Sanchez each head into spring training with the goal of winning the starting shortstop spot, which was vacated when the White Sox parted ways with veteran Alexei Ramirez. Saladino, 26, played mostly shortstop in the minors but made his major league debut at third base last season. He flashed some great defensive skills there with his athleticism, but hit just .225 with four home runs and 28 RBIs. Sanchez, 23, is a capable defender but not as athletic. He is a switch hitter who batted .224 with five home runs and 31 RBIs last season, playing mostly as the White Sox's starting second base.

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CLEVELAND INDIANS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: It appeared as though third base was going to be a question mark as spring training began. However, on the day pitchers and catchers reported, the Indians reached an agreement with Juan Uribe on a one-year contract. Assuming he signs, Uribe would immediately become the favorite to win the position. Uribe, 36, hit .253 with 14 home runs and 43 RBIs last year. The incumbent at third base was Giovanny Urshela, who as a rookie last year was outstanding defensively but invisible offensively, hitting .225 with a .279 on base percentage. Urshela, 24, probably would need a monster spring to be the Opening Day starter.

DETROIT TIGERS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: Cameron Maybin and Anthony Gose will compete to see who mans center field the majority of the games this season. Maybin hits right-handed and Gose bats left-handed, so a platoon is not out of the question. Maybin is the more experienced and has an edge in power, while Gose is much faster. Both pass the eyeball test defensively, but neither stands out in the defensive metrics. Maybin was originally acquired to give Detroit an option in left, a hole that was closed with the signing of Justin Upton. Maybin would seem to have the edge, with Gose giving the Tigers a left-handed bat and speed off the bench.

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KANSAS CITY ROYALS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: 2B Omar Infante, who turned 34 in December, is owed $15.75 million for the next two years, but the Royals need more offense from him. His .220 batting average, .234 on-base percentage and .318 slugging percentage last year will not cut it. Christian Colon, the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, will get a chance to wrestle the job away from Infante in spring training. Colon hit .290 in 43 games last season with Kansas City. Infante underwent right elbow surgery in November, but he had no restrictions at the start of spring training. If he hits, he keeps the job.

MINNESOTA TWINS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: C Kurt Suzuki was an All-Star two seasons ago and was so good the Twins signed him to a two-year contract extension worth $12 million at midseason. However, Suzuki struggled mightily at the plate in 2015, hitting .240 and reaching base at a .296 clip. He wasn't much better defensively, and at 32 years of age, his best years are probably behind him. Without a sure thing in the minors, Minnesota decided to trade OF Aaron Hicks to the Yankees to acquire their potential catcher of the future, John Ryan Murphy. It is expected that he will challenge Suzuki for the starting job as soon as this season.

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AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: Right field figured to be the most unsettled position coming into the spring, but that all changed Tuesday when the Orioles reportedly agreed to a three-year, $35 million deal with free agent Dexter Fowler. The veteran center fielder figures to slide to right field with four-time Gold Glove award winner Adam Jones firmly established in center. Mark Trumbo could see some action in right field, although most expect him to spend the majority of his time at designated hitter. Nolan Reimold and Dariel Alvarez were also in the right field mix prior to the Fowler news.

BOSTON RED SOX

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: While just about everything was set for the Red Sox entering spring training, there could be a battle for the starting catcher spot, with Blake Swihart getting the bulk of the time last year when Christian Vazquez was out following Tommy John surgery. Vazquez, the superior defender, could force Swihart to another position. Vazquez said in early February he was ready to go, adding that he learned a lot watching the game during his recovery. The Red Sox are likely to want Vazquez to start the season in Triple-A, with veteran Ryan Hanigan a capable backup to Swihart.

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NEW YORK YANKEES

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: The Yankees have six healthy starting pitchers at the moment, and they could have a competition for the fifth spot between LHP CC Sabathia and RHP Ivan Nova. Sabathia pitched better in his final few starts before entering rehab for alcohol right before the playoffs. Nova struggled in his return from Tommy John surgery and seems more suited to fill the relief/spot starter role that RHP Adam Warren previously occupied. It seems unlikely Sabathia would go to the bullpen since he is owed $25 million this year. His recent numbers (3-4, 5.28 ERA in 2014; 6-10, 4.73 in 2015) do not correlate to someone being paid so well.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: The deepest position battle looks to be first base, where James Loney returns as a starter but faces challenges from two solid bats acquired in the offseason, Logan Morrison and Steve Pearce. The Rays must decide what to do with Loney, who could be traded for bullpen help. Morrison hit a career-low .225 last season with Seattle but has shown power potential, like his 23 home runs in 2011 with the Marlins. Pearce, who hit .293 with Baltimore in 2014, saw that average drop to .218 last season, but he too has a power swing, producing 21 home runs in 338 at-bats in 2014.

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TORONTO BLUE JAYS

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: RHP Jesse Chavez seemed to have the inside track to the No. 5 spot in the rotation after being obtained from the Oakland Athletics. The 32-year-old often loses form in the second half of the season, however, and there could be intriguing developments at spring training that push him to the bullpen. RHP Drew Hutchison, 25, showed enough in 2014 to be named Opening Day starter in 2015, but he had a horrible season before moving to the bullpen late in the season. A return to form at spring training could put him back in the rotation. RHP Aaron Sanchez, 23, also will be viewed as a potential starter after ending the 2015 season in relief.

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