In Some Depth, Opening Week
Carson Cistulli did such a fine job in this column's inaugural season last year, and I will do my best to fill his shoes in 2012. I will take a good, long look at depth charts around the league on a weekly basis to try to identify those guys most likely to receive a playing time boost thanks to both their circumstance as well as their skill.
For Opening Week, let's take a look at some infield situations:
Cubs Third Base:
Starter: Ian Stewart
Challengers: Jeff Baker, Joe Mather, Blake DeWitt
Looming: Josh Vitters (Triple-A)
Third base had been a no-brainer on the North Side for the past half-decade with Aramis Ramirez penciled in, but now he calls the Great North home. Stewart might have been the Cubs' first big acquisition under the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer brain trust, but Mather was the story of spring training. Stewart should benefit from a change of scenery (and Wrigley Field when the wind blows out), but Baker or Mather could get some AB's if Stewart struggles against lefties.
Rockies Third Base:
Starter: Chris Nelson
Challengers: Jordan Pacheco, Jon Herrera
Looming: Nolan Arenado
Speaking of Ian Stewart, I bet the Rockies wish they had a guy like him to plug in at the hot corner heading into the regular season. Casey Blake was supposed to be the guy, but he is now currently in search of employment. Hence, third base duties have fallen to former top-pick Nelson and converted catcher Pacheco should split duties at the hot corner. Pacheco could be intriguing in Coors if his power ever filled out, but his poor defense could cost him at-bats. Utility guy Herrera could shift over here if both Nelson and Pacheco struggle.
Platoon-mates: Ryan Hanigan, Devin Mesoraco
Mesoraco is a top-20 prospect on an Opening Day roster, but a funny little thing called “Ryan Hanigan” stands in the way of solid palying time. Both men are right-handed, so Mesoraco's track on playing time may hinge on his prowess behind the plate and manager Dusty Baker's confidence in his ability to call a game. Hanigan's value may be a bit depressed compared to other catchers with his playing time just because Mesoraco is in tow.
Indians Third Base:
Starter: Jack Hannahan
Challenger: Lonnie Chisenhall
As someone who recently invested in Chisenhall in a keeper league, I was pretty upset when the Indians opted to carry Hannahan over him at the hot corner. Then again, I cannot blame them after the former prospect hit .205 in Cactus League play with just one walk and one extra-base hit in 40 plate appearances. He should be back in a Chief Wahoo cap within a month or two, assuming his stats improve against Triple-A pitchers. Hannahan hit four home runs in April last year, and he could be decent fantasy filler for owners in deeper leagues waiting for Hanley Ramirez to ripen at third.
Cardinals Second base:
Plantoon-mates: Tyler Greene, Daniel Descalso
Injured, Lurking: Skip Schumaker
This situation might be even stickier had Schumaker not suffered an oblique injury in camp. It looked like Greene had won the job out of camp, but then manager Mike Matheny announced Descalso would start Opening Day. We don't know enough about Matheny's managerial style yet to determine how he will manage the platoon, but Descalso's glove and right-handedness might give him the slight edge. Greene has yet to hit at the major league level through 300+ at-bats, but he could steal double-digit bags, even in a bit role.
Phillies Second Base:
Starter: Freddy Galvis
In the mix: Ty Wigginton, Pete Orr, Hector Luna
Injured: Chase Utley
Thanks to Utley's balky knees, Galvis will open 2012 as the Phillies' starting second baseman with just 33 games of Triple-A under his belt. The converted shortstop will probably have something of a long leash given Wigginton needs to cover first for the injured Ryan Howard, and Orr/Luna profile more as utility players than infield regulars. Seven of Galvis' 20 hits this spring have gone for extra-bases, but he has also struggled to put up a .274 OBP. That long leash will probably come in handy.
Royals Second Base:
Platoon: Chris Getz, Yuniesky Betancourt
Looming: Johnny Giavotella
Giavotella's late-March demotion to Triple-A Omaha means Getz and Betancourt will split duties there until he is recalled. Getz brought a new approach to the plate this spring, but he will wrap Cactus League play with a sub-.230 batting average, and he has yet to hit a MLB home run since joining the Royals pre-2010. Betancourt's glove will do less damage at second than at short, and he could be good for double-digit power until Giavotella returns.
Orioles First Base:
Starter: Chris Davis
Challengers: Nick Johnson, Wilson Betemit, Mark Reynolds
The Orioles will probably give Davis every chance to fail at first base after they acquired him from the Rangers last season, but can a team really win with two strikeout monsters at the corners? Are the Orioles really planning on winning anyway? Davis put up a 19:1 K:BB in Grapefruit League play while Johnson has a .393 OBP after not appearing in the majors in 2011. I could also see Betemit freed from his DH shackles if no one else is hitting.
Red Sox Shortstop:
Starter: Mike Aviles
Backup: Nick Punto
Lurking: Jose Iglesias
Aviles was the last man standing at short this spring/offseason, with Iglesias continuing to struggle at the plate and the Red Sox trading away Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro. This is not to say Aviles is not deserving of the role, as he OPS'd .775 in a utility role for the Red Sox in 2011 and posted good Grapefruit League numbers. Iglesias' stock may continue to fall if he cannot come up with a bat to match his glove.
Pirates First Base
Platoon: Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee
These two are supposed to align for your typical righty/lefty split this season. Jones offers more power than McGehee, but the latter has looked good in spring training play after playing at a below-replacement level for the Brewers in 2011. McGehee could shift across the infield if the team demotes the perpetually-disappointing Pedro Alvarez.