The latest on key position battles

Van Slyke continues torrid spring start; Andujar belts walk-off homer

February 27th, 2018

With Spring Training action underway, several players are battling for positions or spots on 25-man Opening Day rosters. Each pitch, each plate appearance and each defensive play could leave an indelible impression as clubs wrestle with these decisions with the regular season drawing near.
Here are some noteworthy performances on Monday from players looking to make their mark in Cactus League and Grapefruit League play.
, Marlins, OF/1B
Since turning in a strong season off the bench for the Dodgers in 2014 (157 OPS+ with 11 homers in 246 plate appearances), Van Slyke has struggled to re-create that type of production. Over the past three seasons, he slashed just .222/.303/.353 in 177 games for Los Angeles.
The Dodgers traded Van Slyke to the Reds last July, but he never appeared in a big league game for Cincinnati. The Marlins signed the 31-year-old veteran to a Minor League deal this offseason and invited him to Spring Training, where he's been raking, and he went 2-for-3 with a double against the Astros on Monday.
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In Friday's exhibition opener against the Cardinals, Van Slyke belted two homers, including a grand slam, driving in five of Miami's six runs. Overall, he's 5-for-7 in early Grapefruit League action. With the Marlins rebuilding, a continued surge from Van Slyke could provide veteran depth behind the team's young outfielders and at first.
, Yankees, 3B
The Yankees traded for , who has the inside track on the starting third-base job for New York, but Andujar, the club's No. 5 prospect, had a big game against the Phillies on Monday. Andujar went 2-for-2 with a double and a walk-off home run to lift the Yankees to a 4-3 victory in Tampa, Fla.
Andujar, who turns 23 on Friday, slashed .315/.352/.498 with 16 homers in 125 games between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes/Barre last season.
Drury went 1-for-2 with a triple on Monday. In three seasons with the D-backs, he slashed .271/.319/.448 with 31 homers in 289 games.
, Phillies, SP
Competing for the role of fifth starter in what will likely be the Majors' youngest rotation, Lively looked sharp in two scoreless innings on Monday against the Yankees. He struck out three, including 2017 home run leader , while giving up one hit.
Lively made his Major League debut last season for Philadelphia, and posted a 4.26 ERA in 15 starts. Other candidates for the fifth rotation spot are Zach Eflin, , and .
Phil Hughes, Twins, SP
When the Twins acquired Jake Odorizzi from the Rays, they added a third starter to slot behind and . figures to follow that trio, but the fifth slot is up for grabs. With Santana likely to miss the first few weeks of the season recovering from surgery on his right middle finger, the competition to fill out the rotation is a high priority.
Hughes, a former first-round Draft pick of the Yankees who has missed significant time due to injuries the past three seasons, hopes to prove healthy and effective this spring. He tossed two scoreless innings against the Cardinals on Monday, yielding one hit and striking out one in his first appearance since surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome in August.

Hughes' fastball velocity was 90-91 mph, an improvement from his average of 89.7 mph during last season and 88 mph last spring. He's competing against veteran right-hander and 24-year-old lefty .
, Indians, 3B
With left fielder recovering from surgery on his right ankle, it's unclear whether he'll be in the Tribe's lineup on Opening Day. That leads to the question of who would start in his place if he's not ready. If it's , that opens the question of who would play third base, given that would likely move to second.
The candidates for the hot corner in that scenario would be Urshela and . Urshela broke a tie in the sixth inning of Monday's contest against the Brewers with an RBI double off the wall in center field, and he's now 2-for-5 to open camp. Diaz went 0-for-2 with a strikeout on the afternoon.

, Padres, 3B
With first base () and shortstop () set on San Diego's depth chart, there are four players competing for what will likely be three remaining infield roster spots: , , and Villanueva.

Villanueva started at third base against the Angels on Monday, and went 2-for-3 with a homer and an RBI single. The 26-year-old hit .344 with four homers in 32 at-bats following a September callup last season, and would need a very strong offensive performance throughout camp to make the roster.