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In Some Depth: Bumpy Comeback Trail

Ryan Eisner

Ryan has been writing for Rotowire since 2007. He currently writes about baseball and covers the White Sox.

You know what is not very fun? Packing and cleaning up an apartment in 90-degree Midwestern humidity. You know what is fun? Being an everyday position player for an MLB team. Actually, I can only speak from experience on that first statement, while the second is just something I imagine being true.

Without any further ado, here are 10 observations from around the majors:

Cleveland First Base
Starter: Casey Kotchman
Next: Matt LaPorta, Carlos Santana, Jose Lopez

Kotchman is one of just two AL first basemen to have posited a negative WAR thus far in 2012 (according to Fangraphs' calculations). But while Eric Hosmer of the Royals (-0.4 WAR) seems to have picked things up lately, Kotchman (-0.8) has slashed a .214/.241/.321 over the last two weeks. However, he does not appear to be losing much of a hold on the Indians' starting first-base gig despite the resounding ineptitude at the plate. He has started 47 of the team's 59 games and 15 of their last 20. Matt LaPorta started two straight after the Indians recalled him last week, but he has been on the bench for the Indians' last four. He slugged .608 in 166 at-bats for Triple-A Columbus earlier this season, so he should challenge Kotchman sooner rather than later.

Miami First Base
Starter: Gaby Sanchez
Others: Logan Morrison, Greg Dobbs, Austin Kearns

Gaby Sanchez returned from a 19-game sojourn in the minors Sunday, and he hit an RBI double as the Marlins' starting first baseman in his return. It looks like things clicked at Triple-A New Orleans, as he reached base in nearly half of his plate appearances (.494 OBP), and his 10 RBI in New Orleans were one fewer than the 11 he recorded in Miami prior to the demotion. That OBP number is important, as he was taking walks at a career-low clip prior to the demotion. Logan Morrison should shift back to left field with Sanchez back on the roster.

New York (N) Shortstop
Starter: Omar Quintanilla
Injured: Ronny Cedeno, Ruben Tejada, Justin Turner

Omar Quintanilla has made 12 consecutive starts at short for the Mets despite dealing with a fracture in his left index finger, which is 12 more games than I could have started with a healthy index finger. Quintanilla entered the season having logged all of 522 major league at-bats over seven seasons, which makes his current .314/.442/.514 slash line all the more surprising. He may not have much more playing time to regress though, as Ronny Cedeno (calf) is on the precipice of a rehab assignment, and Ruben Tejada (quadriceps) is set to return to the minors soon after a minor setback last week. Either one of those guys should grab the starting shortstop gig from Quintanilla, but the latter may have done enough to at least stay on the squad as a reserve infielder.

New York (A) Left Field
Starter: Raul Ibanez
Next: Jayson Nix, Raul Ibanez, Dwayne Wise
Injured: Brett Garnder

The 40-year-old Raul Ibanez has been the Yankees' primary left fielder since Brett Gardner. It is worth noting Ibanez has not hit a home run since May 20, and seven of his nine on the season came before May 12. He has hit .174 without an extra-base hit in 23 June at-bats (small sample size disclaimer), which could suggest the extensive play in the outfield could be wearing on him. That being said, no Yankee other than Ibanez has started consecutive games in left since Dwayne Wise did May 18-20. Brett Gardner (elbow) recently suffered a setback in his recovery, so this could be a spot where the Yankees add from the outside.

Kansas City Catcher
Platoon: Humberto Quintero, Brayan Pena
Injured: Salvador Perez

Humberto Quintero's antics after Saturday's win may have made headlines around the Twittersphere, but it is Salvador Perez's impending return from the disabled list that poses a bigger threat to his (and Brayan Pena's) playing time. Perez has gone 7-for-17 through four rehab games at Triple-A Omaha, but he has yet to catch in consecutive games. He could use a large chunk of his allotted 20-day rehab assignment before returning, but we are talking about a return to the Royals' roster in terms of games, not weeks. The Royals' brass have yet to tip their hand as to which catcher will catch the axe once Perez is 100 percent, but there has been talk of carrying three catchers. They must whittle down to two eventually, and selecting a backup between Quintero and Perez might be tough. The two are within .030 OPS of each other in a similar number of at-bats (113-101 in favor of Quintero). The backup gig may not be a joke either, considering it may take Perez a little while to become a five or six-day a week catcher.

Los Angeles (N) Second Base
Starter: Jerry Hairston, Jr.
Next: Adam Kennedy, Elian Herrera

Elian Herrera and Ivan DeJesus got first cracks at this one after Mark Ellis (leg) hit the DL, but Jerry Hairston has been the main man since May 31. He has logged eight starts in 11 games at second since that date, and he owns an uncharacteristic .400/.456/.560 slash line since his own return from the DL on May 25. Sustainable? Not in the slightest. Will playing time be guaranteed moving forward? That is not as easy to answer. The high-OBP'ing Herrera will need a new position to call home when Juan Uribe is activated early this week. Manager Don Mattingly suggested Herrera and Hairston could begin to see additional time in the outfield with the infield becoming more crowded, but either could drop from regular duty once the bat goes cold.

Minnesota Second/Third Base
Starters: Jamey Carroll, Trevor Plouffe
Next: Alexi Casilla

Trevor Plouffe may have a sub-.300 OBP on the season, but a .387 batting average since the calendar changed to June has re-earned him the tag as the Twins' starting third baseman. His strong play has pushed Jamey Carroll back over to second base, and Alexi Casilla's weak play (5-for-his-last-28) has pushed him to a reserve role. The titles and at-bats should be somewhat flexible moving forward, but Plouffe and Carroll are the guys to own in the short run.

Chicago (N) Center Field
In the mix: Tony Campana, Joe Mather, Reed Johnson

On first glance, it would look like the gig should be Campana's completely. He has stolen 42 bases at the major league level the past two seasons despite having an empty base in front of him 126 times (a rate or 33 percent). Jose Reyes' 78 steals in 2007 were the most of the last decade, and he achieved that at a rate of 32 percent. In other words, Campana has got some wheels. However, he has had a hard time getting on base lately, and he has had a hard time getting in the lineup against left-handed starters. Joe Mather has been nothing special this season, but an .813 OPS against lefties makes for a nice platoon-mate.

Oakland Closer
In the Mix: Ryan Cook, Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour

Ryan Cook was likely one of the more-FAAB'd after players in the most recent free agent bidding cycle after news broke Saturday that Brian Fuentes would no longer be the A's sole closer. It is tough to fault those bidders, as Cook's 8.7 K/9IP leads the entire Oakland pitching staff, and he has allowed only two runs in 26 innings this season. It is also worth noting that manager Bob Melvin said he might prefer to continue to use Cook in the eighth inning rather than possibly messing with success and placing him in the ninth. Assuming Fuentes' recent run of blown saves has lost him opportunities in the immediate future, then eyes could be on Grant Balfour, who lost the job at the end of April. He has held opposing batters to a .188 batting average over his last 14 appearances, but he continues to walk batters at an ugly 3.9 BB/9IP clip. This could truly be a committee effort until one man emerges.

Baltimore Second Base
Starter: Robert Andino
Injured: Brian Roberts

Brian Roberts (concussion) is set to come off the DL this week, which would means he is set to log his first MLB at-bat in nearly 13 months (he last played May 16, 2011). He has gone a measley 10-for-42 (.238) over the course of his minor league rehab assignment. More importantly, he does not have a steal attempt in any of those 13 games. While there had been some thought earlier in the season that Robert Andino could hold onto the second-base job even after Roberts returned, manager Buck Showalter's recent comments make it seem like Andino will instead shift into an uber-utility role, logging innings in both the infield and outfield. As mentioned above, Roberts has not played in a "real" game in 13 months, so he might initially receive frequent days off.

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