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February 23, 2012

On the Beat

American League Spring Training Battles

by John Perrotto

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Last week, we looked at five spring training job competitions in the National League. This week, it is time to look at five job battles in the American League. We have a scout who follows each team closely break down the competition.

Red Sox shortstop: Mike Aviles vs. Jose Iglesias
Aviles hit .317/.340/.436 in 107 plate appearances with a 0.6 WARP last season after the Red Sox acquired him from the Royals at the trade deadline. That performance and the desire to clear payroll prompted the Red Sox to trade Marco Scutaro to the Rockies this winter. Iglesias has the defensive chops but just six plate appearances in the major leagues.

Scout's take: "Aviles will hit, but he's not going to catch the ball consistently, and for me, he's not a shortstop on a championship club. Iglesias is a potential Gold Glover, and I know Bobby Valentine is going to love him because he'll remind him of Rey Ordonez. I still think you need defense up the middle to win, and that's why I like Iglesias better than Aviles. I can guarantee you now that if the Red Sox are in contention on August 1, neither one will be the starting shortstop."

Rangers center fielder: Julio Borbon vs. Craig Gentry vs. Leonys Martin
Borbon was limited to 98 plate appearances because of injuries last season and hit .270/.305/.348 with 0.4 WARP. Gentry had a .271/.347/.346 slash line in 153 plate appearances with a 1.1 WARP. Martin was signed as a free agent from Cuba last season, began his professional career at the Double-A level, then played sparingly in the major leagues during a September call-up.

Scout's take: “Borbon is hurt all the time, and he doesn't get on base enough to take advantage of his speed. I like Gentry's speed and defense, but he just doesn't hit enough for me to consider him an everyday player. Martin is a wild card. It's hard to judge what he can do off part of just one season, but if I'm gunning for a third straight World Series, I'd be hesitant to just plug him into my lineup. I guess I'd take Gentry, but I wouldn't feel real confident about it."

Angels third baseman: Alberto Callapso vs. Mark Trumbo
Callapso hit .288/.366/.375 in 536 plate appearances with a 4.0 WARP last season. Trumbo was the starting first baseman but has been displaced by the signing of free agent Albert Pujols after finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. He posted a .254/.291/.477 slash line to go with 29 home runs and a 2.3 WARP in 573 plate appearances.

Scout's take: "This is very interesting. Callapso is a pretty good hitter, but he doesn't profile as a third baseman. Trumbo has holes in his game, but he does have pop and I think he'll play a passable third base. It would be hard to take a kid that hit 29 homers last year, send him back to Triple-A, and try to sell that to the fans. But I know Mike Scioscia, and I know Callapso is his kind of player, so I'd be really surprised if he started Trumbo ahead of Callapso."

Rays shortstop: Reid Brignac vs. Sean Rodriguez
Brignac hit an anemic .193/.227/.221 in 264 plate appearances with a -0.6 WARP last season. Rodriguez produced 1.2 WARP to go with a .223/.323/.357 line in 436 plate appearances.

Scout's take: "I've been waiting for Brignac forever, and I'm still waiting. Rodriguez is a pretty decent all-around player. He has a little power; his defense is okay. He won't be in the upper echelon of major-league shortstops, but I think he'll do a solid job if he plays there every day."

Blue Jays left fielder: Travis Snider vs. Eric Thames
Snider hit .225/.269/.348 with a -0.2 WARP in 202 plate appearances last season while Thames batted .262/.313/.456 with 12 homers in 394 plate appearances to go with a 1.5 WARP in his rookie year.

Scout's take: "You watch Snider in batting practice hit bomb after bomb and you can't help but be impressed, but he just doesn't carry it over into the game. Thames doesn't make your jaw drop like Snider does, but he's a good hitter. He didn't look intimidated at all last season, and he's got some upside. I think he deserves the chance to play."

****

Five random thoughts:

It is hard to understand why more than a month has passed since Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun had the appeal of his 50-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs heard, but a verdict has yet to be returned. Spring training has started and it's only fair to the Brewers and Braun for a decision to be made so they can prepare for the season accordingly.

In the same vein, it is also time for Major League Baseball to resolve whether the postseason will be expanded with an extra wild card in each league. Teams are getting ready for the season not knowing what their chances are of reaching the playoffs. That's just odd.

On the other hand, MLB should be praised for reaching out to Tony La Russa about working for the commissioner's office. La Russa is a polarizing figure, for sure, but no one can dispute his intelligence and passion for the game.

The Rockies were one of the major leagues' biggest disappointments last season, going 73-89. Despite this, manager Jim Tracy received an "indefinite" contract extension this week. As listeners of the Kevin Goldstein podcast know, I love Tracy. Still, it's hard to understand why he would get this kind of security now.

Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine insisting that all his players ride the bus to and from Grapefruit League games this spring might seem like a trivial matter. You can be sure, however, that it will upset the veterans; they hate making spring road trips to begin with and can't wait until they are pulled out of the game so they can hop in the car and drive home. It is an early sign that the Red Sox's ship is going to be more tightly run than it was under Terry Francona.

****

A few minutes with Yankees manager Joe Girardi:

On his revamped rotation that includes Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda: "I think we have a really good mix. We have different styles of pitchers, which is good. You don't want the opposing team to get used to seeing the same kind of pitcher for an entire series. We have a good blend of veteran starters and younger starters. It's good to have the younger guys have the veterans to look up to and help them through the tough times, but I think it also helps young players to have other young players to go through the same experiences. It gives them someone to relate to."

On how he plans to line up his batting order: "We have a lot of three, four, and five hitters and not enough spots to put them all in the middle of the lineup. You take a guy like (center fielder) Curtis Granderson. He hit 41 home runs last season and he's most likely going to hit second. We're very fortunate to have that kind of length to our lineup."

On if third baseman Alex Rodriguez can bounce back to superstar form after having the worst season of his career: "If he's healthy, I don't see any reason why not. He may not hit 45 home runs and drive in 140 runs a year anymore; that's hard for anyone to do. If Alex is healthy, and he wasn't for much of last year, I feel he has the ability to be one of the game's better hitters."

On the possibility of closer Mariano Rivera retiring at the end of the season: "That's really a personal matter for Mo, and I won't ask him to share his thoughts about it. Obviously, I'd love to have him pitch forever because every time he comes into a game I feel it's over. Even when he puts a runner or two on base, I never think we're going to lose. Of course, he'll blow a save here or there, but there has never been a time where I thought he would not get the save."

On if last year was a disappointment because the Yankees lost to the Tigers in the American League Division Series: "We won 97 games in the regular season, more than any team in the American League. I felt we played like a championship team all year. Certainly you want to win it all, but I thought we had a very good season and I don't think losing in the playoffs diminished that."

****

This week's Must Read is Robert Lipsyte's first-hand account for the New York Times of the first spring training in Mets' history 50 years ago.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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