Every year, players across the majors use spring training to get their timing down and prepare for the regular season. What is seen as a time for preparation to some is a time of urgency for others. Position battles are a major part of spring training. Accordingly, let’s take a look at the most contested position battles in spring training.
Detroit Tigers: Center Field
With an aging roster and two straight seasons without postseason baseball, the Tigers were looking like a rebuilding team entering the offseason. They acted like one too, sending center fielder Cameron Maybin to the Angels for pitching prospect Victor Alcantara. Many believed this was the first of a flurry of moves to come. The Tigers stood pat the rest of the offseason with a gaping hole left in center field.
Even though Maybin only played 91 games in center in 2016, he was worth a 1.9 WAR. The Tigers will struggle to find that type of production from what they have on the roster.
New addition Mikie Mahtook is listed as the starter in center, but don’t count on that being set in stone. Tyler Collins and JaCoby Jones will look to make the most of their spring training at-bats, as all three are in contention for the starting job.
Houston Astros: First Base
As loaded as the Astros are, you would believe that first base, the most offensive minded position in baseball, would be a lock entering spring training. Not so much.
First base has been a hole in the Astros lineup for years. Entering 2016 they have Cuban import Yulieski Gurriel penciled in as the starter. With all of five career starts at first base, he’ll have to perform well in spring training to keep his starting spot.
First base is a five-man competition, with Gurriel leading the pack. Behind him are Colin Moran, Marwin Gonzalez, A.J. Reed and Tyler White, listed in that order on the Astros’ depth chart. Moran is the only one not to play first base in the majors. The former sixth overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft certainly has some talent.
It will be interesting to see if Gurriel will be able to hold off the competition, or if former top prospects Moran or Reed overcome him.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Second Base
After a season of disappointment in the desert, Arizona hopes that 2017 brings better fortune. The roster has talent, but underperformed in last year.
One bright spot in 2016 was the play of second baseman Jean Segura. He put up a 5.7 WAR season for Arizona, solidifying second base. With his trade to Seattle in the offseason, second base is again in question for the Diamondbacks.
The answer could be Brandon Drury. The utility man batted .282 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs in 2016. After playing five different positions for Arizona, Drury will look to stick as the full-time starter at second.
He will have competition in the form of Chris Owings. While Owings did have a below MLB average 89 OPS+ last year, his speed and defense are highly valued in the middle of the infield.
Drury is the incumbent, but could be unseated by Owings if he can turn it on this spring training.
Atlanta Braves: Fifth Starter
Two seasons of rebuilding have left fans in Atlanta longing for a return to glory. The team has 19 playoff appearances since moving to Atlanta in 1966, but don’t expect them to make it 20 in 2017. Even so, the Braves brought in three veteran starting pitchers to try and stabilize their rotation. Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia will fill in behind ace Julio Teheran. That leaves the fifth rotation spot up for grabs.
Starter Mike Foltynewicz leads the competition, as he will go up against Matt Wisler, Lucas Sims and Aaron Blair. Foltynewicz is the most established, having logged 228.2 innings pitched in his major league career. He has also put up a 4.92 ERA in that span, so his spot in the rotation is certainly in question. Sims may give him the biggest competition. As the 21st overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, Sims has the talent and the minor league experience to overtake Foltynewicz in the starting rotation.
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