With spring training officially underway, the excitement for baseball’s return is reaching its peak as organizations begin their quests to determine what Opening Day rosters will look like.
Here’s one position battle for every American League team to keep an eye on during spring training.
Angels – Luis Valbuena vs. C.J. Cron, 1B
Albert Pujols is likely to take over DH duties when he’s healthy enough to play this season after recovering from foot surgery. That opens the door for free-agent signing Valbuena and Cron to compete for reps at first base.
Astros – Evan Gattis vs. Brian McCann, C
The Astros upgraded at catcher after adding McCann into the mix while letting Jason Castro walk, and it seemed like Gattis had a starting spot at DH until the club acquired Carlos Beltran. It’ll be a dogfight for the starting catching gig in spring camp, with McCann expected to be the favorite.
Athletics – Ryan Madson vs. Sean Doolittle vs. Santiago Casilla, CL
Madson saved 30 games for the Athletics last season and enters camp as the defacto closer, but a few bad outings could mean Oakland enters the regular season with one of Doolittle or Casilla finishing out games. Manager Bob Melvin thinks the job is “wide open.”
Blue Jays – Ezequiel Carrera vs. Dalton Pompey, LF
The Blue Jays enter camp with Kevin Pillar and Jose Bautista entrenched in the outfield, while Melvin Upton Jr. appears to be guaranteed a spot in left as part of a platoon with either the veteran Carrera or youngster Pompey.
Indians – Austin Jackson vs. Abraham Almonte, OF
With the return of Michael Brantley, the Indians outfield is a crowded one. Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Tyler Naquin seem like sure things out of camp, while Brandon Guyer’s effectiveness against lefties will assuredly earn him a roster spot. Jackson and Almonte will presumably duke it out for one of the team’s last big-league roster spots.
Mariners – Danny Valencia vs. Dan Vogelbach, 1B
Valencia was acquired in one of many off-season trades, and the club hopes he can give them 500-plus plate appearances, but his positional versatility should open up some playing time for Vogelbach, who has raked at every minor-league level and deserves a chance to prove himself, according to GM Jerry Dipoto.
Orioles – Joey Rickard vs. Hyun Soo Kim vs. Michael Bourn vs. Craig Gentry, RF
Adam Jones is the obvious everyday center fielder, while Seth Smith is expected to roam the outfield. but who is going to be the Orioles third and fourth members in the rotation? Mark Trumbo could still get reps, although he’s probably going to DH most of the year, which means four candidates (Kim, Rickard, Bourn, and Gentry) will fight for two spots.
Rangers – James Loney vs. Josh Hamilton, 1B
Not only is Hamilton challenging Loney for a potential bench role, but he’s also in competition with his health. The former MVP has already had to leave camp to have his surgically repaired left knee examined, raising plenty of questions surrounding his durability. If Hamilton’s diagnosis is a bad one, Loney will almost certainly be the everyday first baseman for the Rangers.
Rays – Jose De Leon vs. Matt Andriese, SP
The Rays gave up a very well-liked and talented player in Logan Forsythe to acquire De Leon from the Dodgers, and they didn’t do it so he could pitch in the minors. He’ll battle with Andriese in spring camp for the fifth starter’s spot in the team’s rotation, which should be a strong one.
Red Sox – Drew Pomeranz vs. Steven Wright vs. Eduardo Rodriguez, SP
Speaking of strong rotations, the Red Sox front three of Rick Porcello, Chris Sale, and David Price may be the best top of the rotation in baseball. The two spots behind them, however, are up for grabs with Pomeranz, Wright, and Rodriguez all having strong chances to secure one.
Royals – Matt Strahm vs. Nate Karns vs. Chris Young, RP
After the Royals acquired Jason Hammel and Travis Wood, both Strahm and Karns lost their chances of slotting into K.C.’s starting rotation, which means the pair will likely battle with Chris Young for the long reliever spot in the team’s bullpen.
Tigers – Mikie Mahtook vs. Tyler Collins, CF
Instead of dropping dollars on a starting center fielder in free agency, the Tigers instead traded for Mahtook and put him in direct competition with Collins for the starting job in spring camp. Neither of the two are proven at the big-league level, but the Tigers apparently think one of the pair can be an everyday player.
Twins – Robbie Grossman vs. Eddie Rosario, LF
Max Kepler and Byron Buxton are locks for the Twins in right and center field respectively, but an interesting battle between Eddie Rosario (.269/.295/.421) and Robbie Grossman (.280/.386/.443) will take place. Grossman was impressive after signing with the Twins this past May, posting a .828 OPS in 99 games, while Rosario’s 2015 numbers (15 triples) were nothing to sneeze at.
White Sox – Yoan Moncada vs. Brett Lawrie, 2B
One of the most-talked about position battles set to take place this spring will be at White Sox camp when top prospect and newly acquired second baseman Yoan Moncada fights Lawrie – who took a pay cut to remain with Chicago after a so-so first season with the club – for the starting gig. Moncada is far from a finished product, but he’s one of the most talented prospects the game has seen in a long time, while this may be Lawrie’s last chance to prove himself as an everyday player.
Yankees – Chris Carter vs. Greg Bird, 1B
Tyler Austin’s fractured foot is expected to keep him out of action for at least six weeks. As such, the starting first base gig for the Yankees is now between Bird, who appeared to be ready for a breakout campaign last season before a season-ending shoulder injury, and the powerful Carter, who was tied for the NL lead in home runs in 2016.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)