These position battles will turn heads this spring

February 8th, 2020

With the start to camp fast approaching, competition for roster spots is heating up. There are locks for certain teams, but much is still up for grabs with players ready to make their cases this spring.

Here are the most interesting position battles for all 30 clubs.


How will the Blue Jays structure their outfield?

Toronto’s three starting outfielders are set with Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernández, but their positioning -- and the depth outfielders who will back them up -- is up in the air. Deciding on their regular center fielder is the primary variable for the Blue Jays after both Hernández and Grichuk saw extensive time there in 2019. Looking beyond the three locks, the group of Anthony Alford, Derek Fisher, Billy McKinney and Jonathan Davis will compete for the expected two depth jobs behind them. Both Alford and Fisher are out of options, which could be a factor if the competition is tight, but it should be a competition in the truest sense of the word. Add in the likelihood that manager Charlie Montoyo cycles players through the DH spot, and the reserve outfielders should still play a prominent role. More >

Who will round out the starting rotation?

Unless they add a veteran starter to the mix, the Orioles are going into camp with a rotation of John Means, Alex Cobb … and a whole bunch of question marks. Asher Wojciechowski returns and free-agent right-hander Kohl Stewart was brought in this winter. Both are likely -- but not guaranteed -- to win mid-rotation jobs out of camp. The fifth spot is completely wide open, with No.11-ranked prospect Keegan Akin, Rule 5 picks Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker, and the returning David Hess in the mix. The reality, though, is that all are likely to start games for an Orioles team that cycled through 18 starters last year and traded rotation stalwart Dylan Bundy this winter. There will be plenty of innings to go around for the rebuilding Orioles. The question is: Who takes advantage of them? More >

Who will win the final roster spots?

With most of their young core returning in 2020, the Rays won’t have many position battles to sort out. But with rosters expanding, Tampa Bay will have to make a couple of key decisions before Opening Day. We know that Mike Zunino will be the team’s primary catcher in 2020, but manager Kevin Cash will have to decide who will back him up. Michael Perez, who was on the Opening Day roster last season, appears to be the front-runner for the job, but the Rays made sure to add depth during the offseason, signing veterans Kevan Smith and Chris Herrmann. In addition, the last two spots on the bench will be up for grabs during Spring Training. Randy Arozarena, acquired from the Cardinals, has an opportunity to fill one of those spots due to his above-average defense at all three outfield positions, despite having only played in 19 big league games. He could serve as a quality backup outfielder, or he could start the season with Triple-A Durham in order to get consistent at-bats. The infield situation is a bit more crowded. Nate Lowe, Brian O'Grady, Daniel Robertson and Michael Brosseau all have Major League experience and would be deserving of a place on the roster. More >

Who will join Moreland at first base?

The Red Sox have a stable veteran in Mitch Moreland back in the fold after he recently re-signed on a one-year deal that includes a club option. But there are two 24-year-old sluggers who will be trying to cut into Moreland’s playing time at first in Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec, who as right-handed hitters can complement Moreland’s lefty bat. Chavis proved what he was capable of in his first 106 at-bats in the Majors last season, belting 10 homers to go with a line of .283/.382/.585. He struggled after that due to an inability to hit the high fastball and there were also injuries, but he will have a chance in Spring Training to show he has taken the leap necessary to hold down a position in the Majors. As for Dalbec, he smashed 32 homers in the Minors in 2018 and 27 more big flies last season, starting at Double-A Portland (359 at-bats) and finishing at Triple-A Pawtucket (113 at-bats). There’s a chance the Red Sox will opt to give Dalbec more seasoning at Triple-A when the season starts. But the opportunity will also be there for Dalbec to prove that is unnecessary. More >

With Paxton sidelined, who will get the call?

The Yankees had hoped left-hander James Paxton would be able to treat his lower back discomfort conservatively, but when the hurler continued to experience issues in February, surgery became the recommended option. Now veteran left-hander J.A. Happ figures to be elevated to the fourth starter slot, with an open competition to serve as the No. 5. Jordan Montgomery figures to be the front-runner, though the lefty will need to prove that he is all the way back from Tommy John surgery after pitching only four big league innings last year. Other contenders include Luis Cessa, top prospect Deivi Garcia, Michael King and Jonathan Loaisiga. More >


Who gets the two open slots in the rotation?

The Indians may have gotten used to having a clear-cut rotation heading into Spring Training, but this year, it may not be so simple. After trading Trevor Bauer at last year’s deadline and Corey Kluber over the winter, the starting five that broke camp with the Tribe last year has two glaring holes. Now, as we’ve seen with the organization’s impressive pitching depth, they certainly aren’t experiencing a lack of options. Carlos Carrasco, Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger return to anchor the starting group, while Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale and Adam Plutko are favorites to earn the last two slots. The team also has Logan Allen, Scott Moss, Triston McKenzie and others to keep an eye on in Spring Training and during the season to call on at any point. More >

Who's on first?

All around the diamond, the Royals appear set at every position except one -- first base, where the lone position battle will be between Ryan O'Hearn and Ryan McBroom. While new skipper Mike Matheny has raved about O'Hearn’s potential, the job hasn't been won. There seems little doubt that Matheny would like O'Hearn, who hit seven home runs and had a 1.025 OPS over the final 28 games last year, to grab the job. But the front office also was impressed with McBroom's short stint with the Royals last season (.293 in 23 games). More >

Who mans the hot corner?

Jeimer Candelario joined the Tigers organization as a near-ready prospect from the Cubs farm system as part of the Alex Avila trade on July 31, 2017. Thirteen days earlier, Dawel Lugo was a strong-armed infielder who was one of three prospects to join the Tigers from Arizona in the J.D. Martinez trade. Two and a half years later, both are still looking to establish themselves as big league players, but there's only room for one of them at third base on Opening Day. More >

Who will complete the starting rotation ... for now?

Michael Pineda and Rich Hill will eventually be in the Twins' rotation upon their returns from suspension and elbow surgery, respectively. José Berríos, Jake Odorizzi, Homer Bailey and (possibly) Kenta Maeda should hold down rotation spots in the meantime, leaving one temporary opening to be decided in Spring Training. It originally looked as though the Twins would need to rely more heavily on younger options like Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe or Devin Smeltzer to fill the void, but the reported trade for Maeda and the presence of Jhoulys Chacín at camp on a Minor League deal should make for a much tighter competition to crack the Opening Day roster. Each of the young pitchers could likely hold his own at the Major League level, and the depth is, frankly, a good problem for the Twins to have. There might not necessarily be one winner; pitching coach Wes Johnson has said that the Twins could rotate some of those options between the Majors and Minors based on matchups early in the season. More >

What's the story at second?

Nick Madrigal, the team’s top pick and fourth overall selection in the 2018 Draft, will become the White Sox starting second baseman at some point during the 2020 season barring something completely unexpected. He brings an elite contact skill offensively along with Gold Glove-caliber defense, needed within this lineup. But the question is whether the starting run for Madrigal begins on Opening Day. If not Madrigal, the No. 40-ranked prospect overall by MLB Pipeline, then Leury García or Danny Mendick stand as the best at second base even though they present even greater value in utility roles. General manager Rick Hahn mentioned all three players when asked about second base at SoxFest, but he quickly added to check with him again on March 25. More >


How does the bullpen shape up?

The Angels were set to have a competition for the last spot in the rotation, but they reportedly acquired right-hander Ross Stripling from the Dodgers -- in a deal that has not yet been finalized -- less than a week before pitchers and catchers were due to report. The Angels should now have some rotation depth and a few of those pitchers who were going to compete for a spot in the rotation could be headed to the bullpen. Right-hander Matt Andriese will come into camp stretched as a starter but now seems more likely to be a reliever, while right-hander Félix Peña is also now ticketed for a relief role. Younger pitchers such as Patrick Sandoval, Jose Suarez and Jaime Barria can remain starters at Triple-A Salt Lake. Hansel Robles is a lock as the club's closer, while Ty Buttrey, Cam Bedrosian, Keynan Middleton and Noé Ramirez also return. Others in the mix include Justin Anderson, Luke Bard, Taylor Cole, Kyle Keller, Parker Markel and Mike Mayers. More >

Large group vying for fifth starter

The Astros are set at the top of the rotation with 2019 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, plus the return of Lance McCullers Jr., who missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery. It's expected that Jose Urquidy will be the fourth starter, but the race for the fifth starter will be wide open. The candidates include familiar names in Josh James, Brad Peacock and Framber Valdez, up-and-coming prospects Forrest Whitley, Bryan Abreu and Cristian Javier, and a fresh face in Austin Pruitt, who was acquired in a trade with the Rays last month. James and Peacock could go between the bullpen and the rotation. Valdez struggled with his control last year. Could this be the season Whitley, their top prospect, finally puts it all together? More >

Who wins the second base job?

With Jurickson Profar now a member of the Padres, the A's enter Spring Training with a handful of candidates who could take over at second base, but there is no clear frontrunner. Franklin Barreto, Jorge Mateo, Sheldon Neuse, Tony Kemp and Vimael Machin are all expected to be in the mix. Barreto and Mateo are both out of Minor League options, further complicating things as the two youngsters have not received a real shot in the Majors, despite impressive Minor League numbers, and they would easily be claimed off waivers by another club were they not to make the Opening Day roster. Machin was acquired through the Rule 5 Draft and would have to be offered back to the Cubs if he does not make the club. The likely outcome would be some form of a platoon from the group of right-handed hitters Barreto, Mateo, Neuse and left-handed hitters Kemp and Machin. As of right now, there’s no telling which of those players will come out on top. More >

It'll be a battle of youth in right field

Until Mitch Haniger’s recent setback, it was fairly easy to pencil in a projected Mariners lineup heading into Spring Training. But Haniger’s sports hernia surgery changes the picture as right field now is up in the air in Seattle’s rebuilding scenario. In another sharp reminder of how quickly things can change, instead of keeping an eye on Haniger’s comeback from an injury-plagued 2019, this spring will now feature an intriguing battle in camp between rookies Jake Fraley, Braden Bishop and the recently acquired José Siri, as well as an increased opportunity for an early peek at prize prospects Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic. Fellow rookie Kyle Lewis appears ticketed for the other corner spot, leaving 26-year-old Mallex Smith in center as the only “veteran” in the outfield until Haniger returns. More >

More questions than answers

The Rangers don't have one big position battle. Instead, they have multiple mysteries to resolve. Are they committed to Danny Santana in center? If so, why do they keep saying he is valuable as a utility player? Are they committed to Ronald Guzmán at first base? If so, why the courting of Nick Castellanos and the signing of Greg Bird? If the Rangers love Nick Solak so much, where are they going to play him? Who are all the young relievers they are so enamored with that led to them hardly touching the bullpen this season? And, backup catcher ... Jeff Mathis or Robinson Chirinos? More >


Rounding out the rotation

Félix Hernández will attempt to extend his career and Sean Newcomb will try to prove he still should have one as a starting pitcher. Their battle for the final rotation spot will also influence exactly how Atlanta's bullpen will look at the start of the season. Hernández, 33, is far removed from his days as one of the game's best pitchers, but he still has a chance to revive his career like Aníbal Sánchez did in Atlanta just two years ago. Newcomb finally tasted success after being moved to the bullpen last year. But the Braves will give the former top prospect at least one more chance to prove he can show the consistent command necessary to be a successful starter. Waiting in the wings are Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson, a couple of highly regarded prospects who could both be ready to join Atlanta's rotation at some point this year. More >

Center field of attention

The spotlight will squarely be on Lewis Brinson this spring. Now 25 years old and entering his third season with Miami, the organization is ready to see results. If they don't, center field will be up for grabs. Brinson is a .183 hitter in 205 MLB games, including a .173 average with no home runs in 75 games last year. The Marlins have remained ultra-patient for the player who was the centerpiece in the Christian Yelich trade with the Brewers after the 2017 season. Brinson is certainly not a lock to win the center-field spot. If he doesn't, it's anyone's guess who will. Magneuris Sierra, who is out of options, will get a look, but the left-handed-hitting speedster profiles more as a No. 4 outfielder. Harold Ramirez, more suited to play a corner outfield position, could get a shot, as might Jon Berti. Prospect Monte Harrison will be in the mix, but he may be more of an option to take over at some point during the season. Jonathan Villar is a candidate, but he has eight career games in center and is more of an infielder. Villar would seem like a last resort, because he's expected to play third base. More >

Battle brewing for two rotation spots

The Mets addressed their lack of starting pitching depth in a significant way this offseason, signing Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha to Major League deals. That could create an awkward situation this spring, however, with no fewer than six pitchers vying for five spots. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman are locks, ostensibly leaving Porcello, Wacha and Steven Matz to fight for the other two jobs. Seth Lugo has been outspoken about his desire to start, while Robert Gsellman plans to stretch out as a starter. For the Mets, it's a good problem to have, and one that could sort itself out organically over the course of Spring Training. Still, it's a problem that's unsolved heading into camp. More >

Will Kieboom seize the opportunity?

The starting third base job is up for grabs, and the Nationals view their number of options to fill the role previously held by Anthony Rendon as a positive. “We don’t see it as a hole. We see it as a strength," general manager Mike Rizzo said last month. Even though Washington didn't land a headliner third baseman in free agency -- the Nats were linked to Josh Donaldson before he signed with the Twins -- it has possibilities ranging in experience. Carter Kieboom, the team's No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, will have the opportunity to earn that spot as he shifts from playing shortstop in Triple-A last year. If the Nationals don’t believe the 22-year-old is ready, veterans Asdrúbal Cabrera, Starlin Castro and Howie Kendrick can step in. More >

Who plays second base?
The Phillies signed shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year contract in December, which means Jean Segura will be playing somewhere else in 2020. Will it be second base? Maybe, but Phillies fans would love to see Scott Kingery play there because he has Gold Glove potential. Manager Joe Girardi said he is open to exploring the possibilities, but whatever happens this spring, it will not be the end of it. Top prospect Alec Bohm could be pushing for a promotion by summer, which means Kingery and Segura will need to play well (wherever they are) to keep their jobs. More >


Shortstop battle on hold

The Brewers’ most compelling position battle will have to wait. Luis Urías vs. Orlando Arcia for Opening Day shortstop duties was supposed to be Milwaukee’s marquee battle in Spring Training, but that changed when Urías underwent surgery on Jan. 28 for a broken hamate bone in his left hand, a procedure expected to sideline him from games for eight weeks. With Opening Day set for March 26 against the Cubs at Miller Park, and Urías certain to need some exhibition games to get ready for Major League competition, it’s unlikely he will be active to start the season. So, Arcia gets a head start on what was expected to be an intriguing matchup of young players with much to prove. More >

Who will be the fifth starter?

While the outfield is crowded and the pressure is on to produce some offense there this season, there’s also an intriguing competition building in the rotation. It seems as though the first four starters are set in Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright, although anything can happen in the spring. But the fifth spot is up for grabs, with Carlos Martínez and newest Cardinal Kwang-Hyun Kim as the frontrunners. Martínez was a two-time All-Star as a starter, but he’s been limited with shoulder weakness the past two years and took over the closer role last season. He will have to make the leap to 70-80 pitches for the Cardinals to know where his health and performance stand. Kim was signed as a starter back in December, but the Korean lefty knows he must first win the job. It will be interesting to see how his stuff translates from the Korean Baseball Organization to the Majors, given that he has the look of a pitcher who could do well in relief. While those two lead the charge for the fifth spot, there’s also a number of other starters vying for the rotation, including John Gant and Ryan Helsley, who were both important in relief last season, and Daniel Ponce de Leon and Austin Gomber, who both could be seen as Triple-A aces or bullpen pieces. More >

Who will play second?

The Cubs received a taste of life after Ben Zobrist last year, when the veteran missed much of the season while tending to a family situation. Now, with Zobrist on the open market and pondering his future, the Cubs are left working through how to handle second base in 2020. David Bote offers an experienced option, but Chicago also will be weighing whether this is the right time to hand the keys over to top prospect Nico Hoerner. Hoerner was summoned to the Majors unexpectedly in September to be a fill-in shortstop while Javier Báez was injured, and the rookie held his own offensively and in the field. The Cubs will use Spring Training to see if Hoerner is ready to stick in the bigs, or if more seasoning at Triple-A Iowa would be beneficial. Daniel Descalso and Robel Garcia also offer options for second base. Ian Happ can also play second, though he appears poised for innings in center field in 2020. There is also a chance that the Cubs are not done adding external alternatives to the up-the-middle mix. More >

Hot corner battle to be heated

With a new management team and coaching staff preparing for their first Spring Training together, the Pirates haven’t rushed to name starters at any position. But general manager Ben Cherington recently said they expect third base “to be a competitive situation where we want to give some others a chance to show what they can do.” In other words, Colin Moran isn’t guaranteed the starting job heading into the season. Moran could earn the Opening Day nod after slashing .277/.322/.429 with 13 homers and 80 RBIs last year, or the Pirates could look to install a more dynamic defender (or a more powerful bat) to upgrade their infield. Among the internal candidates are slick-fielding Erik Gonzalez, corner-utility man Jose Osuna and non-roster invitee Phillip Evans. The presence of free-agent addition JT Riddle would free up Gonzalez from his backup shortstop/super-utility man duties to settle in at one spot. But remember, things can change in a hurry after Opening Day; Jung Ho Kang was the Pirates’ third baseman to start last season, only to be released in early August. The name to watch at third base for the long haul, of course, is No. 41 prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes, a defensive whiz who is bound to claim the starting job as soon as his bat is deemed Major League-ready. Odds are he’ll begin the season in Triple-A Indianapolis to prove himself offensively. More >

That’s one crowded outfield

The Reds went into the offseason with several outfielders already, but each brought a level of uncertainty to the mix. That prompted the front office to seek a more established track record and sign power-hitting corner outfielder Nick Castellanos to a four-year, $64 million contract. In December, Japanese star Shogo Akiyama was signed to a three-year, $21 million contract. The two join a group that already included Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino, Phillip Ervin, Travis Jankowski, Josh VanMeter and more. Senzel and Winker ended their last seasons early because of injuries. Aquino had two months of extremes as a rookie in 2019, with 14 homers and 1.158 OPS in August before he struggled while hitting only five homers with a .619 OPS in September. Both the lefty-hitting Winker and righty-hitting Ervin are more fitting of a platoon. No specific spots have been assigned as manager David Bell believes versatility will be key. Castellanos could be in left field or right field while Akiyama -- a center fielder for nine seasons in Japan -- will be used in all three spots and likely be the leadoff hitter. Senzel, a natural infielder who learned on the job in center field last season, could be used there or at second base. Winker, Ervin, Jankowski and comeback candidate Scott Schebler can play all three spots also. The one outfielder who could get squeezed most is Aquino, who has a Minor League option and solely played right field. More >


What do they do with all the starters?

The signing of free-agent lefty Madison Bumgarner, along with the decision to hang on to Robbie Ray, has left the D-backs with more starting pitchers than they have spots for in the rotation. Along with the pair of lefties at the top, right-handers Luke Weaver and Mike Leake figure to have spots sewn up heading into camp. That leaves the fifth spot open, and the organization is high on righty Zac Gallen, who was acquired from the Marlins at the Trade Deadline. That still leaves the team with at least two starters in Merrill Kelly and Alex Young who had seasons last year that generally would make them frontrunners for rotation spots. And that doesn’t even include Taylor Clarke, who pitched well at times, or Jon Duplantier and Taylor Widener. That leaves the team with some decisions to make this spring in terms of which pitchers they move to the bullpen and which they send to Triple-A Reno to start as depth, because no team uses just five starters over the course of a whole season. Kelly can’t be sent to the Minors without his permission, so he likely gets moved to the bullpen or finds himself in the rotation. As for Young, do they want to keep him as a second lefty in the bullpen? Or did he show them enough as a starter last year that they want to let him continue to be stretched out in that role in Triple-A? While the rotation seems almost all but set, there are still big questions to be answered. More >

What about that starting rotation?

It’s asking a lot for David Price to replace Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Ross Stripling, who combined for 30 wins and 83 starts, but all are expected to be gone once the Mookie Betts deal is completed. Dodger starters led the Majors with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP, while leading the NL with a .225 opponents’ batting average. Los Angeles starters allowed just 1.13 home runs per nine innings (third in MLB) and logged 893 2/3 innings, fifth in the Majors.

So, when the Dodgers set aside the euphoria of the Betts acquisition (whenever that becomes official), their top Spring Training priority will be to find fourth and fifth starters from a group of candidates with plenty of questions, all guided by new pitching coach Mark Prior. More >

Focus on second base

The Giants have veterans seemingly entrenched at every infield spot except for second base, which figures to see a healthy amount of competition this spring. Mauricio Dubón appeared to be the frontrunner to take over the starting role after a promising September showing last year, but the Giants would like to experiment with him in center field, which could set him up for more of a super-utility role in 2020. San Francisco added another versatile piece by reportedly signing Wilmer Flores to a multi-year deal earlier this week, though he can play all over the infield and could be used primarily against left-handed pitching. Fellow newcomer Yolmer Sánchez, who won the American League Gold Glove Award at second base last year, will also be in the mix after signing a Minor League deal with the Giants. A switch-hitter, Sánchez turned down two Major League offers for a chance to compete for the starting job, so he could push the rest of the field if he shows that he can hit better than his career OPS+ of 80 would indicate. Veteran Donovan Solano emerged as a reliable backup middle infielder last season and could fill a similar role for the Giants in 2020. More >

Magnificent 7 in the outfield

The Padres didn’t get Mookie Betts, but they still might field a very productive outfield in 2020. The addition of Tommy Pham gives the club an everyday force in left field, leaving two starting jobs available (and probably two more bench spots, as well). Six outfielders will compete for those four spots this spring. Wil Myers and Manuel Margot have a fairly secure place on the roster, but they haven’t yet earned a starting role. It seems more likely that those two right-handed bats form a platoon with two other lefty hitters. Josh Naylor, Franchy Cordero and Trent Grisham could be competing for two roster places this spring -- with fellow left-handed hitter Taylor Trammell lurking among the prospect ranks. More >

Three-way battle in left

Left field seems like a nice place for a platoon: left-handed hitting Raimel Tapia finished with middle-of-the-road overall numbers but showed he could turn hot when in the lineup regularly, and right-handed hitting Ian Desmond put up strong numbers against lefty pitchers (.297/.350/.626). But left-handed hitting rookie Sam Hilliard showed impressive power during a late-season callup. He also had several plays that put him on the Statcast sprint-speed leaderboard -- eye-popping considering his size (6-foot-3, 238). Hilliard had strikeout issues in the Minors and for part of his big league callup, but he finished the year making consistent contact. Could he supplant Tapia as the lefty component in a platoon, or make himself a regular, regardless of the opposing starter? More >