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Spring Training Job Battles: Recapping the AL Battles

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Director of Media for, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire's shows on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210).

With less than a week to go in spring training, he's a look back at the job battles from the American League that have been decided (or are nearing a conclusion).


Closer With Scott Downs' injury, Fernando Rodney appears to have sewn up the closer's role to begin the season. If he struggles early, Kevin Jepsen and Jordan Walden remain the best bets to get an opportunity to replace him.

Third Base Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis are in position to share time at third base, even though neither player has the power most teams covet from the corner infield. Callaspo has posted better numbers against right-handed starters in his career, and a platoon situation should yield more at-bats for him.

Catcher Jeff Mathis is hitting well this spring and will open the year as the Angels' starter. Depending on how much he struggles at the plate when the games begin to count, Bobby Wilson or even prospect Hank Conger could eventually wrestle away at-bats, but manager Mike Scioscia is very comfortable with Mathis handling his pitching staff despite a career OPS below .600.


No. 5 Starter Tyson Ross and Brandon McCarthy are still in contention for the job, although McCarthy appears to have the slight edge heading into the final days of spring training. If McCarthy wins the job as expected, Ross could be used in a long relief role. Depending on how Josh Outman pitches at Triple-A Sacramento, he could earn a look in the back of the Oakland rotation again at some point this season.

Blue Jays

No. 4 and No. 5 Starter With Brandon Morrow landing on the DL this week, the Jays will be able to keep all three of Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litch and Jo-Jo Reyes in their rotation to begin the season. It's likely that early performance will dictate which of the trio gets bounced into a long relief role (or back to Triple-A) upon Morrow's return.

Closer Health permitting, the job belongs to Frank Francisco. If he's unable to close, Jon Rauch now appears to be the first in line ahead of Octavio Dotel and Jason Frasor in the pecking order for save chances.


Third Base With Jason Donald (cracked finger) opening the season on the DL, Jack Hannahan appears to be the frontrunner for playing time ahead of Jayson Nix and Luis Valbuena. It's very likely that Valbuena will be sent to Triple-A Columbus to open the year as the starting shortstop there.

No. 5 Starter Josh Tomlin appears to have won the final rotation spot with less than a week remaining in spring training.


Closer Brandon League will get the opportunity to close while David Aardsma works his way back from hip surgery. Manny Delcarmen and Daniel Cortes were optioned to minor league camp, while sleeper Chris Ray is currently in line for a setup role upon his addition to the 40-man roster. If League were to struggle, Ray's experience makes him an intriguing speculative pickup as the Mariners' potential closer-in-waiting.

Left Field/Center Field Milton Bradley is now on track to open the year in left field by default, since Franklin Gutierrez's stomach issues are going to sideline him for the early part of the season. As a result, Michael Saunders is now is expected to be the Mariners' primary center fielder after re-tooling his swing during spring training.

No. 5 Starter With Nate Robertson going down with an injury in March, Michael Pineda appears to have locked up the final spot in the Mariners' rotation over Luke French.


No. 4/No. 5 Starter - Baltimore announced that Jake Arrieta will be the fourth starter, but the fifth starter position is still up for grabs between Zach Britton, Bradley Bergesen, Chris Tillman and Ryan Drese. Britton has been the best of these by far, but the Orioles likely want to keep him in the minors for a while. The Orioles don't need a fifth starter until April 10, but Justin Duchscherer is now targeting an April 21 return. Manager Buck Showalter said that does not mean the team will use two of the aforementioned options. Instead, the team may use someone from the bullpen to make the start. Of the relievers, Mark Hendrickson has the most starting experience.

Closer - There has been no buzz around anyone but Kevin Gregg as the closer. Koji Uehara may have been able to apply some pressure this spring if he had not been his normal fragile self. Gregg has allowed eight earned runs in 5.1 innings this spring.

Left Field - Neither Luke Scott nor Felix Pie has been very impressive this spring. Nolan Reimold's numbers are more impressive than either, but it still looks like Scott will be the starter, Pie will be the fourth outfielder and Reimold is fighting for the last roster spot.


No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 Starter With Tommy Hunter now sidelined with a groin strain and Brandon Webb headed to the DL as he continues his return from shoulder surgery, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland have secured rotation spots. Neftali Feliz will return to the closer's role, leaving Dave Bush and Alexi Ogando as the two options to secure the final rotation spot to begin the season.


Closer It's going to be a committee for manager Joe Maddon's club to begin the season. Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta are the right-handed options, while Jacob McGee offers a left-handed presence. One candidate could emerge as the primary option, but it's worth closely monitoring how the ninth-inning chances are distributed during the final week of spring training and the early weeks of the regular season to determine if a clear-cut option will surface.

1B/2B/RF Ultimately, it's four players working between three spots. If Dan Johnson is playing first base, Ben Zobrist will play second or right field while Sean Rodriguez or Matt Joyce (RF only) handle the remaining spot. Johnson's journeyman status would lead us to believe that his leash won't be long if he's struggling, which could put Zobrist at first regularly, leaving Rodriguez to collect most of the playing time at the keystone and giving Joyce an opportunity to keep Desmond Jennings at bay in right. Simple, right?


No. 5 Starter Vin Mazzaro has won the final rotation spot over Sean O'Sullivan, but he was sent to Triple-A Omaha to stay stretched out since the Royals do not need a fifth starter until April 16.

Center Field Reports just over a week ago suggested that Lorenzo Cain would be sent to Triple-A to start the season while Melky Cabrera handles the bulk of the playing time in center field. Given the Royals' reliance on Jeff Francoeur in right, it's possible that Cain emerges early in the season and Cabrera moves to a corner spot.

Second Base Since Mike Aviles is now healthy enough to handle the defensive rigors of playing the left side of the infield, he'll start at third base to begin the year. As a result, Chris Getz has been named the Royals' starting second baseman. He offers cheap steals for those in AL-only leagues, but little else at this point.


Second Base Will Rhymes is the Tigers' starting second baseman while Carlos Guillen (knee) is on the DL. Scott Sizemore was optioned to Triple-A Toledo and doesn't appear to have a place in the team's short-term plans.

Left Field Ryan Raburn remains the starting left fielder as Opening Day approaches, but Casper Wells and Brennan Boesch could be threats to take away at-bats if he shows any signs of struggling in the early weeks of the season.


Closer Joe Nathan looks healthy this spring and is now pitching on consecutive days, but Matt Capps could still be used as part of a short-term committee for save chances as the Twins will probably be reluctant to overwork Nathan in April.

No. 5 Starter Scott Baker secured the final spot in the rotation, leaving Kevin Slowey to work in relief (if he's not traded) with Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn getting the No. 3 and No. 4 spots this spring.

Shortstop Although no official announcement has been made, all signs point to Alexi Casilla handling the everyday shortstop duties, leaving Tsuyoshi Nishioka to play second.

DH Since Justin Morneau (concussion) appears healthy enough to open the season at first base, Michael Cuddyer will be the primary right fielder leaving Jason Kubel and Jim Thome to share time in the DH role. Delmon Young could also be a part of that rotation as well, opening up a few extra at-bats for Kubel in left field when he needs a day off.

White Sox

Closer Matt Thornton was named the closer by manager Ozzie Guillen, leaving Chris Sale in a left-handed setup role.

Third Base Brent Morel was named the starter over Mark Teahen, so Teahen begins the season in a utility role after putting up good numbers during Cactus League play.

No. 5 Starter Phil Humber has impressed pitching coach Don Cooper this spring and is essentially the last man standing to grab Jake Peavy's starts in April while Peavy continues to work his way back from a torn lat.


No. 4 and No. 5 Starter Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia were chosen as the final two members of the Yankees' rotation, while the Yankees are now planning to move Bartolo Colon to a long relief role despite his encouraging velocity and strong overall performance this spring.

Backup Catcher Austin Romine and Jesus Montero continue to battle, while Romine's more advanced defense seems to be giving him the slight edge at this point even though he's struggled at the plate. Once Francisco Cervelli returns, it's very likely that the winner of the Romine/Montero battle is headed back to Triple-A.

Bench Spots Eric Chavez appears to have earned one of the final two spots, while the decision to keep Ramiro Pena versus Eduardo Nunez could simply be decided by the Yankees' desire to get Nunez everyday at-bats in the minors until a more regular role becomes available with the big club.