While not many of major headlines around baseball during spring training will be about where guys will bat, many of the major decisions being made right now are about who will simply be getting at-bats. Young players not ready for the majors and old players who can't quite cut it anymore are being moved down to the minors while position battles are starting to finally shake out as managers begin to settle on who will be manning positions that don't necessarily have clear cut starters. For many players, it's all about opportunity, so let's highlight some guys pulling for playing time in the 2011 season.
After going all offseason without a contract and amid speculation he could retire, Orlando Cabrera signed with the Cleveland Indians in February and suddenly finds himself in the starting lineup at second base. Shortstop is his natural position and he's only played 30 games at second base over his 13 year career, but Asdrubal Cabrera already owns that spot and the team wants Orlando Cabrera to learn the new position so he can be more useful to them, giving the Indians an all-Cabrera middle infield. Frankly, the 36-year old O-Cab has to be counting his blessings to be getting a starting gig at this point. So far he's playing well in spring training, batting .320 with two doubles and a triple, but he is far from a reasonable option in mixed leagues as his OPS was the fourth-worst among NL-hitters last season. There's even a chance he won't stick in the starting lineup the whole season and instead become a middle-infield utility man.
The three-way battle for the Kansas City Royals' right and center field spots is starting to become clearer due in large part to the blistering play of Melky Cabrera, who is batting .488 over 41 at bats this spring. It's starting to look more and more like the team will send young speedster Lorenzo Cain, who came over from the Milwaukee Brewers in the Zach Greinke trade, to Triple-A to begin the year despite the horrible spring Jeff Francoeur is having (.095 batting average, yikes). If he continues to slump through the early part of the year, look for the Royals to bring Cain back to play center and get regular at-bats perhaps as an end of the order speed threat. He could be a nice source of steals for Al-only leaguers if that happens as the lack of home run power in the lineup means the team will have to run often to create RBI opportunities.
The third base battle between Mark Teahen and Brent Morel has been complicated, with manager Ozzie Guillen doing his usual dance of saying something one day and the total opposite the next. Recently though, Ozzie said the job is "Morel's to lose" which would seem pretty clear if it weren't for Guillen's quote two days earlier in which he said calling the job Morel's would be a "slap in the face to Teahen." Not only are Ozzie's comments confusing, but GM Kenny Williams hinted at a possible platoon. Bernie Pleskoff goes into a lot more detail about this situation here, but the bottom line is you have to think the team will go with its young prospect who is well known for his stellar defense. His offensive deficiencies and low spot in the batting order do not really put him on the fantasy radar though unless he shows progress in adjusting to major league pitching. The White Sox finally made it official Sunday that Morel will begin the season as the starter.
The Washington Nationals rolled out an interesting lineup Thursday night against the Atlanta Braves, using Ian Desmond in the leadoff spot with Rick Ankiel batting second. From a real baseball perspective this would seem to be a puzzling move as Desmond's walk rate of 4.9-percent was one of the lowest in the majors, but from a fantasy standpoint a spot at one or two in the lineup would be huge for his value. According to Captain Obvious, there's a big difference between batting in front of Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Adam LaRoche than behind them. While we still have to guess that Nyjer Morgan will win the center fielder's job and bat first, there's a chance Manager Jim Riggleman is exploring other options in case he decides to go with Rick Ankiel or Roger Bernadina in center.
As reported by Mike Rutsey of the Toronto Sun, Jose Molina will catch for Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek this season. Manager John Farrell liked what Molina did for Brandon Morrow last season, helping the young pitcher use his full repertoire and turning him into a strikeout stud. Drabek's age and similar pitching style to Morrow's would be the reason to at least begin the season with this plan in place. The important part here is the limit it will put on catcher J.P. Arencibia's at-bats, a guy who has drawn interest in for his power potential. With this plan in place, Arencibia would only start in roughly three of every five games. He should still be drafted in AL-only leagues, but this pretty much takes him off the radar in mixed leagues as a late-round flyer with an extremely low batting average potential and now fewer opportunities to put up counting stats.
Luis Castillo's release Friday leaves a big hole at second base for the New York Mets. They have a bunch of underwhelming options to fill the spot, such as Brad Emaus, Justin Turner, Daniel Murphy and Luis Hernandez, and it's a little unclear at this point who will take the starting job as GM Sandy Alderson wouldn't comment on the situation. For what it's worth, Daniel Murphy started Saturday and batted second in the lineup, but those in the know are saying the Mets are likely to use him as more of a utility man. Still, he may end up manning the position out of necessity, as intriguing option Brad Emaus is batting just .207 with as many strikeouts as hits and Luis Hernandez is coming off foot surgery that ended his 2010 season in September and doesn't provide a ton of upside.