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Spring Training Job Battles: And We're Off

Clay Link

Clay Link is the MLB Editor at RotoWire. A fan of professional wrestling, 90s hip hop music and the Cincinnati Reds, he can be heard Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio. He also co-hosts the Prospect Podcast every Thursday.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Catcher: The Miguel Montero era is over in Arizona, and new GM Dave Stewart chose not to go out and spend on a proven replacement. Rather, the team has a mix of youngsters and veterans who will compete to fill both the starting job and the backup role. Tuffy Gosewisch, Peter OíBrien, non-roster invitees Blake Lalli, Gerald Laird, and Jordan Pacheco, and Rule 5 selection Oscar Hernandez are all candidates. Gosewischís experience perhaps gives him the early edge, but his offensive limitations are well established at this point, and for fantasy purposes, the 24-year-old powerhouse OíBrien makes for the far more intriguing option. There are legitimate questions as to whether OíBrien will be able to stick behind the plate, but the Diamondbacks have said that they will continue to develop him as a catcher, and a strong showing in spring training could sway the front office to give him an early audition. An important caveat to keep in mind here is that the Diamondbacks must keep Hernandez, the top pick in this winterís Rule 5 draft, on the major league roster all year in order to retain him. Hernandez probably isnít ready for a regular role -- he hasnít logged an at-bat above Low-A -- but itís possible they could keep him as the top backup or as a third catcher and give him only occasional starts.

Third base: Make no mistake about it; the organization wants Yasmany Tomas to be their starting third baseman in 2015. However, everything will depend on whether he can get comfortable playing the position against major league competition this spring. The 24-year-old did play the hot corner some while in Cuba, and there have been some positive reports out of Diamondbacks camp of late, but he played primarily in the outfield prior to defecting and left field will likely be the fallback in case he falters at third. Tomas will see some time in the outfield this spring with the team not only wanting to get him as many at-bats as possible, but also to get him reps in case they need to move him back. So, while Jake Lamb and Cliff Pennington may be technically part of the competition at third, their chances at a starting job hinge directly on Tomasí ability to handle the position. Lamb makes for an interesting speculative target, as heís displayed tremendous on-base skills in the minors (.406 OBP) as well as some pop, and the team would likely prefer to keep the veteran Pennington in a utility role.

Rotation: Arizona has a lot of holes to fill in the rotation, with Patrick Corbin and Bronson Arroyo both expected to miss the first few months while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Josh Collmenter and Jeremy Hellickson appear to be the only locks heading into Cactus League play, though GM Dave Stewart suggested recently that Chase Anderson has an inside track at a starting job. Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Vidal Nuno, Robbie Ray, Andrew Chafin and Trevor Cahill will all get to make their bid for one of the final two spots. Nuno impressed after coming over from the Yankees in a July trade but none of the options are worth more than an endgame dart in NL-only drafts.

Atlanta Braves

Left Field: Manager Fredi Gonzalez recently suggested the team could deploy a sort of loose platoon in left field, meaning Jonny Gomes will play against lefty starters and possibly some right-handers as well. Gomesí career numbers against right-handed pitching (.222/.307/.415) suggest Atlanta would be better off with a more strict split. Zoilo Almonte and Eric Young Jr. appear to be the frontrunners for the role alongside Gomes, though Young could factor into the second base mix as well. Young seems to be making a strong impression early in camp, and Gonzalez hinted that Young could be an option to lead off for the club. He seems like a good bet to earn a roster spot at this point. Joe Terdoslavich and waiver acquisition Eury Perez could also be options in left, but Perez figures to take over in center at least until Melvin Upton Jr. (foot) returns.

Second Base: Veteran Alberto Callaspo was brought in over the offseason, seemingly to take over at second after Tommy La Stella and Phil Gosselin both failed to put their stamp on the job last season. Callaspo still figures to see time at the keystone, but the team is reportedly considering a platoon at third base, with Callaspo spelling Chris Johnson against right-handed pitching. That would open up significant playing time at second. Phil Gosselin, Eric Young Jr., Jace Peterson and non-roster invitee Kelly Johnson could all be options. Top prospect Jose Peraza would likely win the job if ability were the only factor, but Super Two rules will likely dictate that he opens the year in the minors. Once the team has successfully delayed his service time, Peraza will likely force his way into the starting role at second, and he could also be an option to lead off against right-handers. Nick Markakis is expected to bat atop the order against lefties.

Fifth starter: The Braves have named four candidates for the final spot in the rotation; Eric Stults, Wandy Rodriguez (knee), Mike Foltynewicz and Manny Banuelos. Rodriguez, whoís in camp on a non-roster invite, is coming off a strong showing in winter ball and seems to be close to 100 percent after undergoing knee surgery in late June. He will start the Bravesí Grapefruit League opener Wednesday. Stults wasnít especially impressive in his final year with San Diego, but it seems the team is hoping one of the two lefties claims the job and provides a veteran presence at the back of its young rotation. Foltynewicz can consistently hit the mid-90s with his fastball but has struggled with his control, and will probably need to outperform both Stults and Rodriguez by a sizable margin to get the job. Banuelos returned from Tommy John surgery last year and posted decent numbers with the Yankeesí minor league affiliates, but he seems like a distant fourth in the competition. Both Foltynewicz and Banuelos could be bullpen options if they fail to earn a starting job.

Catcher: With Evan Gattis shipped off the the Astros, there is an opening behind the plate in Atlanta. Christian Bethancourt, 23, is a defensive wizard, but he proved to be a major liability with the bat -- especially against right-handed pitching -- in his 31-game audition with the big club last season. While Bethancourt did hit .283 at Triple-A in 2014, there are major concerns with his approach and his defensive abilities alone may not be enough for him to carve out the primary role. A.J. Pierzynski was brought in on a one-year deal and will technically push for the starting job, though it seems likely both are kept out of camp and deployed in a platoon to start the year.

Setup Role: Promising right-hander Shae Simmons succumbed to Tommy John surgery last month, narrowing the field for the top right-handed setup role to Jason Grilli, Jose Veras and Jim Johnson. Grilli is the odds-on favorite, having inked a two-year, $8 million contract after his successful run with the Angels over the final three months of last season. That said, Veras seems like a strong bet to earn a back-end job, while fellow non-roster invitees Matt Capps and Todd Coffey are just looking to prove they still have what it takes to compete at the major league level.

Baltimore Orioles

Second Base: Jonathan Schoop is the incumbent, and there has been little to suggest his role is in jeopardy. However, Everth Caberaís addition makes things slightly more interesting. The team has said Cabrera will see time in the outfield this spring, but he will work mostly in the infield early on, and itís possible he could start nipping at Schoopís heels if he gets off to a fast start. While Schoop hit 16 home runs last season, he slugged just .354 and drew a mere 13 walks in 488 plate appearances. Cabrera had a .355 OBP in 2013 and would provide some speed to a lineup that is desperately lacking in that department.

Rotation: Baltimore has three players vying for the final two rotation spots; Ubaldo Jimenez, Kevin Gausman and Miguel Gonzalez. Year 1 of Jimenezís four-year, $50 million contract was a disaster, as the right-hander struggled to a 4.81 ERA, 1.52 WHIP and 116:77 K:BB over 125.1 innings. It looks like he will get a clean slate this spring, but the team may be better off going with Gausman and Gonzalez in the rotation, and deploying Jimenez as a long man in the bullpen. Granted, Jimenez was even worse in his relief appearances last year, but his days as an effective starter appear to be over, and the Orioles may decide they canít afford to let him continue taking the bump every fifth day in the competitive AL East.

Backup Catcher: Caleb Joseph had an incredible run in August where he homered in five straight games, but it seemed like a distant memory even by late September, with Joseph finishing the regular season on an 0-for-30 slide. Nick Hundley left via free agency, but the team brought in J.P. Arencibia on a minor league deal with a spring training invite to compete with Joseph for the backup role, and Steve Clevenger is still lingering. The 28-year-old Joseph remains the favorite despite the poor finish to 2014, but he will need to perform during Grapefruit League play to solidify his hold on the job. Itís a situation to monitor, with Matt Wieters (elbow) still working himself back from injury.

Boston Red Sox

Center Field: This is arguably the most intriguing job battle of spring training. After inking a record six-year, $72 million contract with the Red Sox in late August, Rusney Castillo arrived to Boston less than a month later and impressed in a 10-game stint with the big club. He flashed his much-hyped power and speed, smacking two homers and swiping three bases in 40 plate appearances. It was widely assumed that the contract would lock him into a starting role to begin 2015, but manager John Farrell announced that Castillo will face competition from Mookie Betts for the job in center field. Betts posted a .386 on-base percentage over the final two months of last season, the seventh-best mark in the AL over the span, and Farrell has routinely mentioned him as a top candidate to bat leadoff. It will all become moot if Shane Victorino gets hurt again, but itís looking like Castillo and Betts will split time in center throughout the spring as long as Victorino is healthy, with the loser of the competition perhaps heading to Triple-A Pawtucket to start the year.

Chicago Cubs

Third Base: Luis Valbuena was dealt in the offseason in anticipation of top prospect Kris Bryant eventually taking the job and running with it. However, itís unrealistic to think Bryant breaks camp on the major league roster, as the team figures to keep him down until the Super Two deadline to preserve his service time. So, it seems fair to assume there will be a short-term opening at the position to begin the year. Arismendy Alcantara and Mike Olt could all be potential options, though Alcantara has little experience at the position as a professional. Perhaps the team could move Javier Baez or Starlin Castro to third and play Tommy La Stella or Alcantara at the keystone. Alcantara could also be an option in left or in center if an injury befalls Dexter Fowler. Manager Joe Maddon suggested Alcantara will play all around the field this season, similar to how Ben Zobrist was deployed under Maddon in Tampa.

Fifth Starter: Kyle Hendricks pitched lights out down the stretch last season and is fully expected to break camp with a rotation spot, meaning there will only be one spot available between Tsuyoshi Wada, Jacob Turner, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson. Jackson endured his worst season in 2014 and seems destined for the bullpen to open this season. Turner could make a push with strong performances in his first couple outings of the spring, but the mere fact that he's right-hander will hurt his chances, as the Cubs have just one southpaw (Jon Lester) among their top four. Wada was also impressive in his time with the major league team last season while Wood struggled, but Woodís xFIP was just one point higher than it was in 2013, when he had a 3.11 ERA over 200 innings.

Left Field: This may not be a position at which there is a competition in name, but Chris Coghlanís leash on the starting job may be relatively short. If he struggles during spring training, the team could look to get Alcantara, Chris Denorfia or Ryan Sweeney some reps.


Chicago White Sox

Second Base: Emilio Bonifacio is penciled in to serve as the top reserve outfielder for the White Sox this season, but he will also compete with Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson for the starting job at second base in spring training. Sanchez has compiled a rather underwhelming .267/.319/.352 batting line in parts of three seasons at Triple-A, and though he has reached 26 steals in a season in the minors, he canít come close to matching Johnson in the speed department. Johnson swiped 84 bags between three levels in 2013 and owns a .366 OBP for his minor league career. That mark fell to .314 upon his promotion to Triple-A last season, but Johnson also trimmed his strikeout rate to just 13.9% after the move up. Johnson is far more interesting than Sanchez from a fantasy perspective given the stolen base upside, but keep in mind that whoever wins the job will likely bat at or near the bottom of the order so long as Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera are healthy.

Backup Catcher: Tyler Flowers recently received a strong endorsement from GM Rick Hahn as the teamís starter, but there is an opening for the No. 2 role. Veterans Geovany Soto and George Kottaras were brought in on minor league deals with spring training invites to compete with Rob Brantly, Adrian Nieto and Kevan Smith. A knee injury cost Soto the first half of last season, and he battled other various ailments throughout the second half en route to .250/.302/.363 batting line in 24 games between Texas and Oakland (87 PA). However, he is a former All-Star and should have the inside edge with improved health. Nieto may very well head back down to the minors for regular at-bats to begin the year after seeing limited time last season as a Rule 5 draftee.

Third Base: It is widely expected that Conor Gillaspie will be the White Soxís Opening Day third baseman, but the team did bring Gordon Beckham back on a one-year deal and have Carlos Sanchez and Leury Garcia to fall back on at the position. Gillaspie will not just be handed the job.

Fifth Starter: Chris Saleís foot injury may create a temporary opening in the rotation, one which 2014 top draft pick Carlos Rodon, Scott Carroll, Francellis Montas, Chris Beck or Brad Penny could fill. Carroll re-signed with the team on a minor league deal with a spring training invite, after posting a 4.80 ERA, 1.49 WHIP and 64:45 K:BB over 129.1 innings with the club last season. Rodon will take Saleís spot in the teamís Cactus League rotation, but manager Robin Ventura cautioned that Saleís injury does not necessarily improve Rodonís chances of earning a roster spot. Montas is the most appealing non-Rodon option from a fantasy standpoint, but his 2.60 FIP at High-A Winston-Salem last season was 130 point higher than his ERA. He figures to have to prove himself against advanced competition for an extended period before getting a run in the major league rotation.

Cincinnati Reds

Fourth and Fifth Starter: Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon were dealt in the offseason, creating two openings at the back of the Cincinnati rotation. Manager Bryan Price named Tony Cingrani and Anthony DeSclafani as the early favorites, but Dylan Axelrod, Daniel Corcino and David Holmberg will be on hand to keep them on their toes. Cingrani battled shoulder issues throughout 2014 but has been throwing without any issues so far in spring training. While DeSclafani struggled mightily in his first cup of coffee with the Marlins last season, he had a 3.49 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 59.1 innings at Triple-A, which is very impressive considering he was just 24 years old. Could Raisel Iglesias earn a spot? The Reds have expressed some concern about him taking on a starterís workload at this stage, but itís certainly not out of the question.

Setup role: Jumbo Diaz reached the bigs last season after 12 years in the minors, blessing Major League Baseball with one of its finest names in recent memory. He also provided the Reds with 34.2 highly useful innings (3.38 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 9.6 K/9), racking up eight holds with one blown save over the final three months. The right-hander averaged better than 97 mph on his fastball and projects to open the year as the top arm in front of Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen. That said, groundballer Burke Badenhop was brought in to bolster the teamís back-end depth, and Iglesias and Sam LeCure could be options if Diaz takes a step back with his control. Manny Parra will likely be the top situational lefty, with Sean Marshall still working himself back from shoulder issues.

Cleveland Indians

Fifth Starter: Technically, there are four candidates for the final rotation spot in Cleveland; Danny Salazar, T.J. House, Josh Tomlin and Zach McAllister. However, thinking realistically, Tomlin and McAllister can likely be ruled out, with Tomlin having two options remaining and McAllister proving more successful in the bullpen last season. That leaves Salazar and House. Salazar allowed a lot more contact last last year than he did in 2013, with his swinging-strike rate plummeting from 14.6% to 11.0%, while House finished with a 2.53 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 17.0% K-BB% over his final 10 starts (57 innings). Watch this one closely.

Colorado Rockies

Catcher: Wilin Rosario reported to camp early to get a head start on his work at first base, as the Rockies appear intent on reducing his role behind the plate this season. A platoon at first base seems ideal, with Rosario spelling Justin Morneau whenever a left-hander is on the mound for the opposition. Rosario could still catch some against right-handers, but there should be significant playing time available for either Nick Hundley or Mike McKenry. McKenry was great last season but thereís little in his profile to suggest he can sustain performance anywhere near that level moving forward, and Hundley has far more experience catching in the major leagues.

Rotation: Tyler Matzek appears fairly well locked into the rotation, and Jordan Lyles is the presumptive favorite to cap off a starting corps that also includes Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Kyle Kendrick. David Hale and Gus Schlosser were brought in from Atlanta to provide some insurance, and Christian Bergman and Yohan Flande will also be fallback options. Top prospects Eddie Butler and Jon Gray will get to make their case for an early promotion in spring training, but both may need a bit more seasoning in the minors, and again, service time considerations factor in.

Detroit Tigers

Shortstop: Jose Iglesias is fully expected to open the year as the Tigersí starting shortstop, but GM Dave Dombrowski suggested back in October that Iglesias will have to earn the job in spring training. Everything will hinge Iglesiasí health and ability to hold up to the day-to-day grind of the Grapefruit League schedule, after he missed all of last season with stress fractures in both of his shins. Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez will be waiting in the wings in case he experiences any more lower-body issues.

Houston Astros

Closer: GM Jeff Luhnow hit the free agent market to bolster a bullpen that ranked dead last in ERA last season (4.80), signing Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek to multi-year deals. Both players figure to occupy prominent spots at the back end of the bullpen, but their exact roles are still up in the air. Chad Qualls racked up 19 saves for the club last season but also blew six chances, including two in his final five appearances of the year. While Qualls is now 36 and has never had the swing-and-miss stuff of a prototypical closer (career 6.9 K/9), he may have a slight leg up heading into spring action as the incumbent. Between Gregerson and Neshek, Gregerson seems like the better bet to unseat Qualls, considering his track record of sustained success in the majors and Neshekís flyball tendencies (career 50.9% GB%).

Fifth Starter: Non-roster invitee Roberto Hernandez has been held up by visa issues, perhaps giving Dan Straily a circumstantial early edge at the No. 5 starter job. However, Hernandez is expected to report this week and manager A.J. Hinch said he has been assured the right-hander will be ready to go upon arrival. Acquired from the Cubs in the Dexter Fowler trade, Straily was knocked around to the tune of a 6.75 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 14 appearances (8 starts) between Oakland and Chicago last season, but heís averaged better than a strikeout per inning in parts of three seasons at Triple-A (9.9 K/9). If he can show improved control in spring training, Straily could separate himself from the veteran, but keep in mind that he has a 46.6% flyball rate for his career.

First Base: Jonathan Singleton failed to hit above the Mendoza Line in any of his four months with the big club last season, but GM Jeff Luhnow recently gave him a lukewarm vote of confidence, saying he thinks Singleton will ďdo the things he needs to do to make this club.Ē Matt Dominguez will work out at first base throughout camp, and Chris Carter and Evan Gattis could also be fits at first base if Singleton fails to meet the teamís expectations.

Kansas City Royals

Backup Catcher: The secondary role in Kansas City figures to yield slightly more playing time this season, with manager Ned Yost suggesting Salvador Perezís workload behind the plate will be reduced. Behind Perez, thereís Erik Kratz, Francisco Pena and non-roster invitee Jean Boscan. Perez will still dominate the workload no matter who emerges and may very well lead the league in innings caught again even with the reduction in playing time. Perez caught 1,249 innings last season, the most in baseball and 67 more than Jonathan Lucroy (1,182).

Los Angeles Angels

Four and Fifth Starter: Despite his considerable progress from knee surgery, Garrett Richards is expected to miss the start of the season, meaning the Angels will have two holes to fill in their Opening Day rotation. Andrew Heaney and Hector Santiago seem like the early favorites, though Nick Tropeano and Cory Rasmus will both get to make their case. The decision regarding who to bump upon Richardsí return will likely be based solely on who fares better in their first couple starts of the regular season. Heaney struggled with the long ball in his 29.1 innings with the Marlins last season, surrendering six home runs, but his HR/FB was up at 18.2% which seem anomalous given his 0.5 HR/9 mark in the minors.

Left Field: Most assumed the Angels would platoon Matt Joyce and Collin Cowgill in left field in Josh Hamiltonís absence. While that seems like the most logical route and is still very much an option, itís sounding like the team will give Joyce an opportunity to earn the everyday job in spring training. The plan is reportedly for him to not only get ample at-bats against southpaws during Cactus League games, but to also get extra work in the cages and on the breaking ball machine. Joyce went 5-for-34 against left-handers last season (.147 average) and owns just a .189/.258/.316 batting line against lefties for his career, albeit over a mere 358 plate appearances. He will need to handle them considerably better for everyday deployment to be a realistic option for manager Mike Scioscia.

Backup Catcher: Hank Congerís departure in the offseason will not mean an increased role Chris Iannetta, as Scioscia said that he envisions the 31-year-old catching between 100-115. Drew Butera, Carlos Perez and Jett Bandy will compete for the leftover playing time.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Center Field: The starting role in center field has been gift-wrapped for Joc Pederson. Pederson, 22, is coming off a 30-30 season at Triple-A Albuquerque and the Matt Kemp trade to San Diego paved the way for him to man the position in Los Angeles for years to come. Manager Don Mattingly will still make him win the job in spring training, however, and Pederson will need to fare better than he did in his 18 games with the major league club last season to cement his spot in the Opening Day lineup. Itís alway possible, if Pederson underwhelms a bit this spring, the team could opt for a platoon in center, with Scott Van Slyke receiving the starts against left-handed pitching.

Interim Closer: Kenley Jansen will be out to begin the season after undergoing foot surgery in mid-February, and the Dodgers donít currently have a clear replacement. The team could always spend on a Rafael Soriano, but if the Dodgers decide to stay in-house, it will likely come down to Joel Peralta, J.P. Howell or Chris Hatcher. Peralta was delayed a bit at the start of camp by shoulder issues, but he returned to mound work Monday and manager Don Mattingly has expressed confidence that the right-hander will open the season on time.

Sixth Starter: Considering Hyun-Jin Ryu has been battling some back issues early on and Brett Andersonís nightmarish health record, itís not hard to imagine a scenario in which the Dodgers have to turn to a backup to fill a rotation spot for the start of the season. Juan Nicasio, Zach Lee and Joe Wieland would presumably be the top candidates, with Brandon Beachy (elbow) not expected back until sometime around the All-Star break.

Miami Marlins

Utility Infielder: Donovan Solano probably has the inside track given his decent contact and defensive skills, as well as the fact that heís the incumbent. However, Miguel Rojas should at least get a chance to compete. Neither player figures to have much, if any, fantasy utility this season, as the Marlins simply will not have a lot of moving parts in their lineup.

Fifth Starter: Until Miami gets Jose Fernandez (elbow) back, the team will have to rely on at least one of the following to fill a rotation spot; Tom Koehler, David Phelps, Justin Nicolino, Brad Hand or Adam Conley.

Milwaukee Brewers

Left Field: Itís not a job battle in name -- Khris Davis is viewed as the primary left fielder entering spring training -- but it will be interesting to see how the playing time in left trends throughout March. Davis showed some encouraging signs with his plate discipline over the final months of last season, trimming his strikeout rate from 24.2% in the first half to just 18.6% after the All-Star break, while also improving his walk rate by more than a percentage point. His OBP dipped in the second half to .294 and he posted just a .579 OPS in September, but Davis fell victim to the BABIP Gods (.246 in second half) and he can erase the memory of those struggles with a hot start to spring training. That said, Gerardo Parra brings Gold-Glove caliber defense to the table and would provide a left-handed complement to a batting order that is heavy with right-handers.

Second Base: With former platoon mate Rickie Weeks leaving via free agency in the offseason, the door may be open for Scooter Gennett to take over the everyday role at second base for Milwaukee. Gennett went just 4-for-39 against lefties last season, but manager Ron Roenicke said in December that he didnít see any reason why Gennett shouldnít be able to hit lefties if given a fair chance. While Gennett may be a candidate to bat high in the order against right-handers, he would likely fall to the a bottom third spot against southpaws if the team does indeed abandon a timeshare. If Gennettís play in the spring necessitates a platoon at the keystone, Luis Sardinas, Luis Jimenez and Hector Gomez would be the top candidates for the short-end role.

Minnesota Twins

Shortstop Danny Santana played mostly in center field while with the Twins last season, but the team will move him back to short this spring, the position he played primarily throughout his minor league career. Technically, he will compete with Eduardo Escobar for the starting role, but Santana would either have to get injured or completely fall apart for Escobar to emerge with the job.

Center Field: Santanaís move back to short opens the door for Aaron Hicks and Jordan Schafer to compete for the starting job in center field. Hicks has the pedigree as a former first-round pick (14th overall in 2008), and got on base an impressive .341 clip over 225 plate appearances last season. His power and speed are relatively modest, however, and Schafer made a strong impression after coming over from Atlanta at the deadline. Schafer should garner interest in AL-only and deeper mixed leagues, as he has proven he can make an impact on the basepaths even in a reserve role.

Backup Catcher: Josmil Pinto, Eric Fyer and Chris Herrmann will compete for playing time behind Kurt Suzuki. Although Pinto is a well below-average defender who has struck out in more than a quarter of his major league plate appearance thus far (25.7%), his offensive upside is easily the highest of the bunch. The 25-year-old has compiled a .288/.366/.464 batting line in 79 games at the Triple-A level, and would also be an option to DH if anything were to happen to Kennys Vargas.

Fifth Starter: The final spot in the Minnesota rotation appears to be wide open, with Alex Meyer, Tommy Milone, Trevor May and Mike Pelfrey all thought to have a chance at the role. Pelfrey entered camp without any major restrictions after undergoing elbow surgery June and Meyer is one of the teamís top prospect, but Milone should make a strong case if at full health. The pitchers who donít claim the job will be bullpen options.

New York Mets

Reserve Outfielders: Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker can both play all three outfield positions, and while Eric Campbell cannot, he can play the corners as well as all four infield positions. Itís sounding like the Mets will keep two of the three to begin the season. Nieuwenhuis has had the most success in the majors and is out of options, so he figures to stick around barring an injury. Den Dekker posted an .857 OPS in September but Campbellís versatility and on-base skills (.380 OBP in minors) may be enough for him to land the job.

New York Yankees

Closer: Aside from the Red Soxís center field showdown, this may be the most fantasy-relevant position battle of spring training. Manager Joe Girardi said that Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller will both get a chance to earn the closer role, but also acknowledged that the team could go with a tandem closer system. That may actually be the best option for both playersí fantasy value, as it would allow them both to collect saves yet also provide the flexibility for each to pitch far more innings than the typical closer. For players with elite ratios and strikeout rates, innings are generally more valuable than save opportunities.

First Base and DH: Where is Alex Rodriguez going to play? Girardi said A-Rod will work out at first base throughout the spring, and he figures to also spell Garrett Jones at DH against left-handed pitching frequently. Rodriguez will be under the microscope this spring after the long layoff. Any signs of trouble would give the Yankees reason to limit his opportunities.

Oakland Aís

Rotation: Behind Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, the Aís rotation is wide open. Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz entered camp as favorites to claim starting roles, but they will face competition from the likes of Jesse Hahn, Barry Zito, Sean Nolin (groin), Chris Bassitt and Kendall Graveman. Hahn flashed dominance in his 14 appearances (12 starts) with the Padres last season, using his unfair curveball to strike out 70 batters in 73.1 innings. He should force his way into the rotation to begin the year, but keep in mind Hahn will likely be on some sort of innings limit, and moving him to the bullpen at some point would be the most logical way to manage his innings. Graveman generated a lot of hype in the offseason and has impressed early in camp, but everything will hinge on Cactus League performances.

Philadelphia Phillies

Fifth Starter: The Phillies appear intent on starting Cody Asche and Freddy Galvis on the left side of the infield, leaving the final spot in the rotation as the only really relevant position up for grabs in spring training. Granted, the backup catcher role and some of the final bullpen spots are still fluid, but those competitions are largely moot for fantasy purposes. The final rotation spot is, too, really given the team context, but anyone with a rotation spot should at least be monitored in ďonlyĒ leagues. Manager Ryne Sandberg recently indicated David Buchanan is the favorite to round out the rotation, but Chad Billingsley and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will be options as well.


Pittsburgh Pirates

First Base: Pedro Alvarez is still in the process of getting acclimated to first base, but the Pirates donít seem to have any real concern about his ability to play the position. Given his offensive ability, Alvarez will merely have to hold his own defensively to justify giving him the primary role. Corey Hart should at least see some of the starts at first against left-handed pitching, assuming he can avoid any more hot tub accidents.

Fifth Starter: Itís not exactly Hogan-Andre, but the battle between Vance Worley and Jeff Locke for the final rotation spot in Pittsburgh should be interesting. Worley turned his career around after joining the Pirates last season, going 8-4 with a 2.85 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 79:22 K:BB over 110.2 innings. Meanwhile, Lockeís 2013 second-half struggles carried over to 2014, but he took a major step forward with his control, trimming his walk rate from 4.5 BB/9 to 2.7 BB/9. Further, Locke improved his swinging-strike rate to 9.4%, from 8.3% the year before. The loser of the competition will likely be ticketed for long-relief duty to begin the season.

San Diego Padres

Third Base: Yangervis Solarteís ability to make consistent contact from both sides of the plate likely gives him the inside track over Will Middlebrooks, though spring training performances will ultimately dictate roles for both players.

Fourth Outfielder: Will Venable and Cameron Maybin can both play all three outfield spots and both are coming off dismal offensive performances in 2014, so itís difficult to gauge which of the two may be the early favorite. While Venable hit 22 home runs and stole 22 bases in 2013, and is a left-handed swinger on a team without an abundance of lefty options, Maybin is still just 27 and there may still be an ounce of hope that he can turn a corner this season.

Shortstop: Veteran Clint Barmes was brought in on a one-year deal and will compete with Alexi Amarista for the starting job at short this spring. Neither player has much offensive upside to speak of, but Amarista at least has speed, which alone may be enough to earn the gig. Barmes can provide value with his glove and versatility and will be a utility option if he falls behind, but Cory Spangenberg will also be competing for a bench role.

Fifth starter: Brandon Morrow, Odrisamer Despaigne, Robbie Erlin and Casey Kelly (groin) will all be candidates to round out the Padresí rotation, unless new GM A.J. Preller ups his offer and lands Cole Hamels from Philadelphia.

San Francisco Giants

No significant job battles this spring.

Seattle Mariners

Fifth Starter: Taijuan Walker had a short leash last season but will get a fair shake at the No. 5 starter role this spring, as will Roenis Elias and Erasmo Ramirez. The 22-year-old Walker has ditched his touted cutter in favor of a slider, and will need to show a strong feel for the pitch to keep hitters off his mid-90s fastball. With 53 major league innings under his belt, Walker is no longer considered a prospect, but he would likely rank in among our top 10 prospects, perhaps ahead of the Metsí Noah Syndergaard, if he were. The lefty Elias finished with 2.31 ERA and .251 BAA in his final 10 starts for the Mariners last season (50.2 innings) before succumbing to an elbow injury. Assuming both players are at or close to full health, Walker and Elias should remain neck and neck throughout spring training, with Ramirez a distant third in the competition.

Shortstop: The loser of the competition between the incumbent Brad Miller and Chris Taylor will likely head to Triple-A to begin the year, with GM Jack Zduriencik suggesting Willie Bloomquist (knee) will maintain a roster spot even after the addition of Rickie Weeks. Miller is widely regarded as the better hitter, but his success has yet to carry over to the major leagues. Taylor, the better defender, compiled a very impressive .328/.397/.497 in his first exposure to Triple-A pitching last season (346 PA) and could close the gap in a hurry with a fast start against major league competition this spring.

St. Louis Cardinals

Fifth Starter: Flamethrower Carlos Martinez will start the Cardinalsí Grapefruit League opener and appears to have the inside track at the final rotation spot. Martinez had a 4.45 ERA and 1.64 WHIP in seven starts last season, compared to a 3.79 ERA and 1.28 WHIP out of the bullpen. He will need refine his secondary offerings (slider and change) and see better results to fend off the likes of Tyler Lyons and Marco Gonzales, otherwise he might end up back in a back-end bullpen role.

Tampa Bay Rays

Closer: Jake McGee was dominant last season, but new manager Kevin Cash will be without McGeeís services to begin the year after the lefty was forced to undergo arthroscopic elbow surgery in mid-December. Brad Boxberger is an obvious candidate to serve as McGeeís replacement in the ninth inning given his ability to miss bats at an extraordinary clip (42.1% K% last season), but he may face competition from the likes of trade acquisition Kevin Jepsen and perhaps embattled former endgamer Grant Balfour.

Fifth Starter: Alex Colome is another player whoís been held up by visa issues, but the expectation is that he will make it to camp in time to make a strong case for a rotation spot. Nate Karns and Matt Andriese will also be options, and perhaps Enny Romero as well. Matt Moore (elbow) isnít expected back until June or July.

Second Base: Nick Franklin was afforded minimal time while with Seattle last season, and he saw all of 38 plate appearances after coming over to Tampa at the deadline in the David Price deal. However, heís tentatively penciled in atop the depth chart at second base for the Rays, ahead of Logan Forsythe. That doesnít mean much, but Franklin, a former first-round pick, has flashed his power, speed and on-base skills at Triple-A and could pay significant dividends as a late-round target.

Texas Rangers

Left Field: There are five candidates, all with a legitimate shot at the job; Michael Choice, Ryan Rua, Jake Smolinski and non-roster invitees Nate Schierholtz and Ryan Ludwick. The veterans Schierholtz and Ludwick have reportedly been making a strong impression early in camp, but Schierholtz owns just a .302 OBP for his career and has reached double-digit homers once in eight major league seasons. The final two years of Ludwickís tenure in Cincinnati were plagued by shoulder issues, and with improved health, he may be the slight favorite to emerge with the job. Rua makes for the most intriguing candidate for fantasy purposes given his power upside, and with Choice so far unable to carry over his success from Triple-A to the majors.

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Aaron Sanchez will start the Blue Jaysí first spring game but his role is to be determined. His success in the late innings down the stretch last season led many to assume he was the favorite for the closer job, but it seems Sanchez will factor into the competition for the No. 5 starter role first and foremost. Left-hander Brett Cecil showed marked improvement against right-handed hitters last season, holding them to a .213/.315/.254 batting line, down from .212/.341/.394 the year before. Cecilís numbers against lefties went in the wrong direction, but the splits figure to level out this season, making him a viable candidate for the ninth inning.

Second Base: Devon Travis (abdomen) packs a heck of a punch for a 5-foot-9 second baseman, as evidenced by his .487 slugging percentage in the minor leagues. He hit nine homers over the final three months with the Tigersí Double-A Erie affiliate last season after returning from injury, a strong showing to follow up his 16-homer 2013 campaign. If Maicer Izturis, Steve Tolleson, Ryan Goins or Munenori Kawasaki earns the job out of spring training, they will likely prove to be little more than a placeholder for Travis.

Designated Hitter: Like most switch hitters, Justin Smoak has fared better from the left side of the plate throughout much of his career, but he took a big step back against right-handers last season (.186/.275/.336). Dayan Viciedo was brought in on a minor league deal with a spring training invite and figures to push into a short-end platoon role.

Left Field: Michael Saundersí recovery timetable was shortened dramatically with the news that he opted to have most of his meniscus removed rather than repaired, but the Jays will still need a replacement for the first couple weeks of the season. Kevin Pillar is an obvious candidate for playing time in Saundersí absence, but Viciedo, Chris Dickerson, Caleb Gindl and perhaps Andy Dirks (back) could all see reps in left during spring training.

Rotation: Marco Estrada, Daniel Norris, Aaron Sanchez and Johan Santana are all candidates. This should be fun.

Washington Nationals

Fourth Outfielder: Early reports regarding Yunel Escobarís transition to second suggest he should be able to capably handle the position, which leaves the fourth outfielder role as the only real open job besides those toward the front end of the bullpen. And the fourth outfielder role should belong to Nate McLouth assuming heís healthy, but that canít be taken for granted with McLouth still in the process of working himself back from shoulder surgery. Michael Taylor, who hit 23 homers and stole 37 bases between Double-A and Triple-A last season, makes for an excellent bench stash in NL-only leagues but he will likely only get a chance if a long-term injury befalls a Nationals starter.