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30 intriguing position battles -- 1 for each team


Monday, February 18, 2019 6:20 PM ET

Stars might put fans in the seats, but baseball is a sport that rewards the most complete clubs. That's what makes Spring Training more than a series of exhibitions; big league jobs are on the line, and they could end up having a major impact on the season-end standings. 

The next five weeks will see lots of shuffling on Major League rosters. Here are the most intriguing positional battles on each of the 30 MLB clubs. 

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::


Blue Jays: Left field
Teoscar Hernandez and Billy McKinney are set to battle it out for the starting job. Hernandez offers a lot more power after slugging 22 home runs in 134 games last season. McKinney is the vastly superior defender, someone who draws walks and frequently puts the ball in play. The early favorite might be Hernandez, but this is also a make-or-break year for him in the outfield. The Dominican native wants to avoid being labeled as a designated hitter and this will be the spring to do it. -- Gregor Chisholm

Video: TOR@TB: Hernandez slugs a solo homer in the 6th

Orioles: Right field
Trey Mancini is ticketed for left, and Cedric Mullins has the inside track on claiming the center-field job. The O's right-field situation, though, is wide open. Joey Rickard, Anthony Santander, DJ Stewart and Austin Hays are the four immediate candidates, with the runner-up likely cracking the roster in a backup role. All come with big league experience; Rickard is the only member of the group without options. They'll battle it out in the shadow of top prospect Yusniel Diaz, who could be up in Baltimore as early as this summer. -- Joe Trezza

Rays: First base
When the Rays traded away Jake Bauers to Cleveland, they knew they would learn a lot about their situation at first base during the spring. But despite not having a proven first baseman on the roster, Tampa Bay remains optimistic that it has enough options for it to not be a problem. Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz and Brandon Lowe will get the reps at first base during the spring. Choi, Diaz and Lowe all have the ability to play multiple positions for the Rays, which only adds to the versatility, but the big question of the spring will be which of the three steps up and solidifies a very important position for Tampa Bay. -- Juan Toribio

Red Sox: Catcher
The Red Sox have a wide-open race for the starting catcher spot. Last year, the club carried three catchers for most of the season in Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart. Vazquez and Leon essentially shared the position, with Swihart serving in more of a utility role. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and manager Alex Cora are both on record as saying that arrangement is no longer sustainable. One of the three will likely get traded, leaving the other two to battle for the top spot. Swihart has the most offensive upside in the group, and seems to be far more in the mix to win the job than he was a year ago. Swihart has made significant improvement defensively in the last year thanks to exhaustive work with catching instructors Jason Varitek and Chad Epperson. Leon is the best defender of the three, but his bat went nearly silent last season. Vazquez is coming off a down year at the plate but has a cannon arm. The area he needs to improve most at is game calling. -- Ian Browne

Video: Luke Voit primed for big 2019 season

Yankees: First base
Luke Voit has "a leg up" in the competition to serve as the Yankees' everyday first baseman, according to general manager Brian Cashman, by virtue of the terrific offense he provided in the second half of last season. Cashman has said that Voit was the most impactful bat moved ahead of the Trade Deadline, a group that included Manny Machado. Greg Bird will have an opportunity to reclaim the promise that he showed at the end of 2015, before injuries derailed his rise. -- Bryan Hoch


Indians: Left field
Although who will take the job is unknown, it's almost certain that the Indians will only consider in-house candidates and not look to the free-agent market to sign an outfielder. The Tribe could dip into infielders Bauers, Carlos Santana or Jason Kipnis (though he was named the starting second baseman on Monday) if they feel they need extra depth in left, but the true race will come down to returning outfielders Tyler Naquin and Greg Allen, new addition Jordan Luplow and non-roster invitee Matt Joyce. -- Mandy Bell

Royals: Right field
This will be the most intriguing position battle in camp. Jorge Bonifacio, Brett Phillips, Jorge Soler and Brian Goodwin all will compete for the job. Do the Royals go offense there? That would be Soler. Do they go defense, which has been their mantra for years? That would be the speedy Phillips, who has an 80-grade arm. Further complicating matters is that Terrance Gore, their designated late-inning pinch-runner, will occupy a roster spot as an outfielder, meaning the Royals will have to decide whether to keep five or six outfielders (Alex Gordon, Billy Hamilton, Soler, Gore and Goodwin are locks). Phillips and Bonifacio have options, which could work against them. -- Jeffrey Flanagan

Video: Goodrum glad for 2018 opportunity, looks to improve

Tigers: Second base
Niko Goodrum was a revelation as a super-utility player last spring but settled into regular duty at second down the stretch last year. The Tigers must decide what role he's more valuable in. Dawel Lugo, widely seen as the second baseman of Detroit's future, will push to move up his timetable. Another utility player, Ronny Rodriguez, is in the competition, as is former White Sox second baseman and non-roster invite Gordon Beckham. -- Jason Beck

Twins: 25th roster spot
With the defensively limited Nelson Cruz needing a spot on the Twins' roster, positional flexibility will be at a premium on Minnesota's bench. Behind utility infielder Ehire Adrianza, who is out of options and is expected to earn a bench role, the Twins could currently have fourth outfielder Jake Cave and backup catcher Mitch Garver. But there are several contenders for a possible fourth bench role, including first baseman/outfielder Tyler Austin -- who is also out of options and showed promising power last season -- utility infielder Ronald Torreyes and super-utility catcher Willians Astudillo, who impressed at the plate in September and could offer the Twins a second alternative to starting catcher Jason Castro, who hasn't appeared in a Major League game since his knee surgery last May. That's not to mention veterans Lucas Duda and Adam Rosales, who are in camp on Minor League deals and could also push for consideration. -- Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: Fifth starter
The White Sox traded for Manny Banuelos because they had enough interest to secure his services before he became a six-year free agent. The southpaw is out of options and could have a slight edge as Cactus League action approaches, but don't count out Dylan Covey or even Carson Fulmer, who is being viewed more as a reliever but has renewed confidence after returning to a delivery he used successfully at Vanderbilt. General manager Rick Hahn still might go out of the organization to find a more veteran candidate. -- Scott Merkin


Angels: Second base
The Angels will have a competition for the second-base job this spring, as David Fletcher is considered the favorite but will compete with prospect Luis Rengifo and veteran Tommy La Stella. Third baseman Taylor Ward is also in the mix, but if he wins the job it will mean Zack Cozart will open the year at third base. Cozart is practicing at third and second this spring to be prepared for both positions, depending on how the infield competition shakes out. -- Rhett Bollinger

Video: ALCS Gm4: James K's Devers on 5 100-plus-mph pitches

Astros: Fifth starter
The Astros filled one rotation spot by signing Wade Miley to a one-year deal a few weeks ago, but the spring will see an open audition for the fifth spot. The two to watch are hard-throwing Josh James and lefty Framber Valdez, both of whom weren't even in big league camp last year and pitched in key games down the stretch. Forrest Whitley, the top pitching prospect in baseball, is in the mix as well, but he'll probably make his debut later in the season. -- Brian McTaggart

Athletics: Rotation
At this point, only three starters in A's camp are guaranteed a rotation spot when camp breaks: Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada and Brett Anderson. The competition behind them is crowded. Daniel Mengden appears to be a leading candidate in a group that also includes the organization's top pitching prospect, Jesus Luzardo. Paul Blackburn, Parker Bridwell, Aaron Brooks, Frankie Montas and Chris Bassitt can also be found on this lengthy list. Complicating matters is the short spring schedule; the A's leave for Tokyo in less than a month, which will likely force them to speed up the decision process. -- Jane Lee

Mariners: First base
Ryon Healy is the returning starter, but he'll compete again this spring with Daniel Vogelbach as well as new veteran acquisitions Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion. Healy, 27, started 128 games last year and hit 24 homers with 73 RBIs, but he'll need to raise his .235 batting average and .277 on-base percentage to remain part of the Mariners' rebuilding plans. Vogelbach, 26, has been a big producer at Triple-A the last three years, but has yet to translate that to the Major League level and is out of Minor League options, so decision time is looming for his future with the organization. He could be a viable designated hitter contender should the Mariners trade Encarnacion, who will be the primary DH and see some time at first base as long as he remains with the club. Bruce will back up in the corner outfield spots, but also see some time at first as the club wants to keep his bat in the lineup as well in order to maximize his trade value. -- Greg Johns

Rangers: Fourth outfielder
This one is interesting because it could come down to Hunter Pence versus Willie Calhoun. Pence may be a better fit for the Rangers because he gives them a right-handed hitter to help balance a predominantly left-handed lineup. But the Rangers have also been impressed with how hard Calhoun worked in the offseason and how he looks coming into Spring Training. Pence is also coming off a poor offensive season, so he has to show that he can still swing the bat. -- T.R. Sullivan


Video: Duvall on his offseason work, Braves' exciting core

Braves: Bench
The primary question is whether the Braves will choose to carry Adam Duvall as a bench player again this year. The veteran outfielder produced a second consecutive 30-homer season in 2017 and he is regarded as an above average defender. But while he has the tools to be a productive backup, he didn't make a good impression with the bat or the glove as he hit .132 with a .344 OPS over the 57 plate appearances he compiled after being traded from the Reds to the Braves before last year's Trade Deadline. If Duvall continues to create concerns during camp, the Braves might take a chance on Ryan LaMarre, a 30-year-old outfielder who showed some potential when he hit .303 and produced a .809 OPS over 71 plate appearances for the White Sox last year. -- Mark Bowman

Marlins: Shortstop
Miguel Rojas' versatility created enough playing opportunities for himself and JT Riddle at shortstop in 2018. But this Spring Training may determine if the club settles on just one. Last year, Rojas played in 153 games, but moved around to third base, second and was a late-innings defensive replacement at first. Riddle, who played in 103 games, opened the year on the injured list as he recovered from shoulder surgery. Riddle is fully healthy, and is a left-handed alternative at short. -- Joe Frisaro

Mets: First base
While the Mets could use some clarity in center field and the bullpen, their foremost competition will unfold at first base, where top prospect Peter Alonso hopes to make the roster as a rookie. Service-time considerations may come into play here, because the Mets can ensure an extra year of team control by keeping Alonso in the Minors until mid-April. But manager Mickey Callaway and GM Brodie Van Wagenen have both been outspoken in saying they plan to bring the best 25 players north with them -- including Alonso, if he proves he's among that group. If not, Todd Frazier makes the most sense to start regularly at first base, given the fact that Jed Lowrie appears to have displaced him at third. With a strong spring, Dominic Smith could also crack the roster as the left-handed half of a platoon with Frazier. Much remains unsettled at the position. -- Anthony DiComo

Phillies: Outfield
The Phillies have a few position battles this spring, but the outfield battles might be more intriguing than third base or the bullpen because of the personnel involved. Andrew McCutchen will play almost daily in left field, putting Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr in an open competition for playing time in center field and right field. Herrera has to be considered a slight favorite in the foursome because of his track record. Williams might be No. 2 for now. Everything changes if the Phillies sign Bryce Harper in the coming days or weeks. If that happens, the Phillies might try to trade Williams. -- Todd Zolecki

Video: Addition of Hellickson all about rotation depth

Nationals: Fifth starter
While Dave Martinez acknowledged Jeremy Hellickson has the "upper hand" in the battle for the Nationals final rotation spot, the team plans to hold an open tryout. That means Joe Ross, Erick Fedde and Henderson Alvarez will all have an opportunity to win the job in camp, making each of their Grapefruit League outings worth keeping an eye on. Hellickson performed well in the role last season, and with a solid spring showing he will be the Nats likely fifth starter. -- Jamal Collier


Brewers: Rotation
The Mike Moustakas signing means the Brewers' position player group is set, but there are plenty of spots up for grabs on the pitching staff. Jhoulys Chacin is the only real lock in the starting rotation, though Chase Anderson and Zach Davies have a leg up by virtue of their experience, and Jimmy Nelson will have a spot if healthy. Then it comes down to a group of promising young pitchers like Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta, or veteran non-roster invitee Josh Tomlin. The Brewers used 11 different starters last year, so just because a player doesn't make the cut on Opening Day does not mean he won't contribute during the season. -- Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: Right field
Dexter Fowler will get every opportunity to re-earn the starting right-field job this spring. That's Plan A for the Cardinals. However, two things could complicate that decision. One is Jose Martinez, who was the team's most consistent offensive performer last season. A strong spring from Martinez could give the Cards pause. The team may also have to reconsider its plans if Fowler does not show the sort of offensive bounce back expected on the heels of a career-worst year. -- Jenifer Langosch

Video: Maddon discusses Cubs' bullpen, starting rotation

Cubs: Bullpen
With closer Brandon Morrow (right elbow) likely to be out for all of April, the Cubs have a long list of arms in the hunt for spots in the bullpen. The only sure things appear to be Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery and Brad Brach. Behind that group, Tyler Chatwood, Brian Duensing and Brandon Kintzler enter camp with something to prove. Chicago also signed Tony Barnette and Xavier Cedeno, and has a considerable amount of rostered and non-roster candidates jockeying for position. That gives manager Joe Maddon a lot of things to consider for a competition that will likely take the entire Spring Training to shake out. -- Jordan Bastian

Pirates: Shortstop
The Pirates will spend Spring Training evaluating their internal options at shortstop before picking a starter. It could be Kevin Newman, the former first-round pick who struggled in his late-season debut last year. Or it could be Erik Gonzalez, the Indians' former super-utility man who joined the Pirates in an early offseason trade. Pittsburgh is high on the slick-fielding Gonzalez, believing he could thrive with the everyday opportunity that he couldn't secure in Cleveland. The Bucs still believe in Newman, too, and he reported to camp in good shape after dropping 15 pounds before his debut last season. Also keep an eye on shortstop prospect Cole Tucker, who could make his debut later this year if all goes well in Triple-A. -- Adam Berry

Reds: Center field
By far the most interesting position battle on the Reds will be who becomes their regular center fielder. After non-tendering Billy Hamilton, the front office looked at the trade and free-agent market but did not make an acquisition, choosing instead to look in-house. Scott Schebler and Yasiel Puig -- both natural corner outfielders -- have some experience in center field. Then there is No. 1 prospect Nick Senzel (No. 6 overall according to MLB Pipeline), an infielder who is learning center field and competing for the job simultaneously. The club has no starting spots for Senzel besides center field, so if he can earn the spot it would solve the problem of finding him a place to play. -- Mark Sheldon


D-backs: Closer
Archie Bradley appeared to be the de facto closer until the D-backs signed free agent Greg Holland at the end of January with the promise that he would get to compete for the role. As camp started, the race appeared to be wide open. The D-backs also have Yoshihisa Hirano slated for the back end of the 'pen, but when it comes to the closer role it's a two-man race between Bradley and Holland. -- Steve Gilbert

Video: Can Martin be an everyday catcher for the Dodgers?

Dodgers: Catcher
The departure of Yasmani Grandal has left the catching position up for grabs. Austin Barnes returns after a dreadful offensive season, and he'll need to beat out former Dodger Russell Martin, who just turned 36 and has tailed off offensively as well in recent years. The Dodgers' rumored pursuit of J.T. Realmuto is a sign that neither Barnes nor Martin has the full faith and confidence of management. Will Smith, the most advanced of a deep prospect pool, is ready defensively and figures to open the season at Triple-A -- but he could arrive any time. -- Ken Gurnick

Giants: Backup catcher
The Giants are searching for Buster Posey's new backup after allowing Nick Hundley to depart via free agency this offseason. It will be a key competition to watch this spring, as the Giants want to be cautious with Posey as he works his way back from major hip surgery. Rookie Aramis Garcia impressed after being called up in September last year, but he will be challenged by veterans Rene Rivera, Cameron Rupp and Stephen Vogt, all of whom are in camp as non-roster invitees. Vogt's ability to handle multiple positions aligns with the Giants' desire for more versatility, but he is coming off shoulder surgery and likely won't be ready to play in Cactus League games until mid-March. -- Maria Guardado

Padres: Outfield
On the current Padres roster are six outfielders who have seen time as regulars over the past three seasons. There's a chance that as many as two of those big league caliber outfielders open the season in Triple-A. The competition will be particularly fierce in the corners, where Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, Franmil Reyes and Franchy Cordero are all set to compete for playing time. Cordero could fight for starts in center field, too, but Manuel Margot and Travis Jankowski are options in center as well. -- AJ Cassavell

Rockies: Second base
Ryan McMahon brings left-handed power potential. Garrett Hampson is a right-handed hitter with above-average speed and a line-drive swing. Pat Valaika had a strong 2017 as a right-handed pinch-hitter, although he didn't accomplish much last season. Brendan Rodgers -- the Rockies' No. 1 prospect and the No. 10 prospect overall per MLB Pipeline -- has power and solid defensive tools. Unless one player is so dominant this spring that the Rockies count on him excelling immediately when the season begins, expect this to at least begin as a two-man job. One issue is this group has a total of two years and 44 days of big league experience, and Rodgers has yet to debut. If they all prove unready, the Rockies could always slide non-roster veteran Mark Reynolds into the position. -- Thomas Harding

Matt Kelly is a reporter for based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.