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March 7, 2014

Painting the Black

Spring Flings

by R.J. Anderson


With the first week of the exhibition season in the books, teams now have less than a month before their Opening Day rosters are due. Most clubs have an open spot or two up for grabs, typically in the bullpen or off the bench, but a few are staging auditions of greater importance this spring. Here are 10 intriguing positional battles along with a prediction of who we believe ought to win the jobs.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Shortstop
Didi Gregorius vs. Chris Owings
Gregorius, the prize of the Trevor Bauer trade, opens his sophomore season in Arizona with his second spring competition. Last season he started hot then stalled around midseason, batting just .207/.314/.314 after the All-Star break. Once September rolled around the D'Backs split playing time between the young shortstops, with Owings providing an offensive spark.

Who should win? Owings. Gregorius' second-half fade obscures his status as a decent starting option. Despite the offensive struggles, he remained a solid defender who performed fairly against right-handed pitching. Still, Owings profiles as the better hitter—even if PECOTA suggests otherwise—and possesses enough defensive ability to avoid giving the advantage back in the field. Kevin Towers has made overtures about a potential shortstop-for-catcher trade this spring, so whoever finishes second could be on his way out of town.

Baltimore Orioles, Second Base
Ryan Flaherty vs. Jonathan Schoop vs. Jemile Weeks
After losing Brian Roberts to free agency, and failing to close a trade for Daniel Murphy, the Orioles will turn to an unproven talent to fill their second-base hole.

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9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Matt Trueblood

In the cases of De Aza/Viciedo and Owings/Gregorius, I continue to say that a platoon is the best solution. Too many teams platoon as a last resort, the way the Tigers did in left field, leaving one guy exposed if the other gets hurt. Each of the pairings we're talking about contain two guys who can at least handle everyday duty, so the injury risk is mitigated. Yet none of the four are without either serious question marks (R.J., you and I have talked about the sketchy profile on Owings) or obvious deficiencies (Gregorius's stick versus LHP, De Aza's, too, Viciedo's defense).

To me, both situations scream for a proactive, extremely productive platoon. Owings can slide to second base if Aaron Hill gets hurt. The presence of both Martin Prado and Eric Chavez (with Trumbo in an emergency, I guess) means neither guy should ever have to slide to third, where they would, admittedly, be stretched. De Aza can play center or right as needed, too. Heck, Viciedo should be able to play right, since his arm is his best defensive tool anyway.

Teams set the bar too low for themselves, and tag players as either everyday guys or bench guys too quickly. That leads to giving away useful players, then finding insufficient depth. It's self-defeating. These are platoon options that don't really even cost a roster spot, the way the Pirates' would, for instance, because of the versatility of the players involved. I hope the executives in charge of those decisions can see that.

Mar 07, 2014 06:25 AM
rating: 0
 
GrinnellSteve

If the White Sox were worried about this year, De Aza would be the better choice. However, they are in full retooling mode. De Aza is older and will probably never again have as much trade value as he has now. Viciedo has been a disappointment, but he still carries possible upside. The influence of a new hitting coach and perhaps the mentoring capabilities of older fellow Cuban, Jose Abreu at least provide a glimmer of hope that Viciedo can tap into his potential. Plus, next year the DH spot will be open for him.

The Sox are in a roster bind because of resigning Paulie to be the short half of a DH platoon. Ideally they shouldn't carry both De Aza and Viciedo. De Aza should be dealt for a young catcher or pitcher with upside. Danks, who can play all three OF positions, should be the fourth outfielder.

Mar 07, 2014 07:53 AM
rating: 1
 
Nojsztat

There can be a big difference between "who should win" and "who will win". Will the Cubs actually go with Olt, or will they decide he needs more AAA time? Will the Dbacks go with Owings a year after making Gregorius the main acquisition for Bauer? It's hard to know, and I don't know how to predict the results.

Mar 07, 2014 08:17 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Trueblood

It's pretty easy to say that if Olt shows ANYTHING, he's a Cub right away. Chicago has a solid prospect who spent all of 2013 playing 3B in Double-A, in Christian Villanueva, and they intend to keep playing Kris Bryant at 3B as he starts the season at Double-A. There's nowhere for Olt to go but the regular third-base job on the parent club.

Mar 07, 2014 08:55 AM
rating: 0
 
Nojsztat

I do agree with you, and I think Theo and Jed are smart enough to know that it's sink or swim time for Olt, especially because of Villanueva, Bryant, and even the possibility that Baez may become their 3B of the future, if Castro can rebound. Many front offices are not as smart.

Mar 07, 2014 10:15 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Trueblood

Any front office looks smarter when they have no choice but to do the smart thing. I think that's the situation here.

Mar 07, 2014 12:02 PM
rating: 0
 
mblthd

Lemahieu versus Rutledge in COL?

Mar 07, 2014 08:33 AM
rating: 2
 
Todd Stevens

Feliz vs. Soria?

Mar 07, 2014 19:07 PM
rating: 0
 
mdthomp

What about Astros 1B?

Mar 09, 2014 15:41 PM
rating: 0
 
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