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March 24, 2006

Fantasy Focus

AL Spring Job Battles

by Peter Schoenke

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[Ed. Note: Peter Schoenke compiled and edited the following report from RotoWire's beat reports--JDE]

Baltimore Orioles

CF: Corey Patterson vs. Luis Matos vs. Nick Markakis. Matos's extended absence while he played sparingly for Puerto Rico seems to have put him behind Patterson for the starting center field job--that, and Patterson's tools. Markakis was hot early in spring but now has cooled off, and it seems most likely the team will send him to Triple-A.

1B, LF, DH: Javy Lopez vs. Kevin Millar vs. Jeff Conine vs. Markakis. The Orioles would like Lopez to play 1B on a regular basis, but he's still having trouble making the switch from C. Millar has been torrid this spring and he'll get a spot in the lineup regardless, but his defense is pretty bad--he'd be ideal for DH. Conine will start the season in left field unless the team decides to keep Markakis, and then Markakis would start in left and Conine would likely be the odd man out. There's a slight possibility the team could go with Matos in center and Patterson in left, but that's unlikely at this point.

Backup C: Lopez vs. Geronimo Gil vs. Eli Whiteside. To back up Ramon Hernandez, the Orioles are leaning towards using Lopez the 2 days a week they sit Hernandez. They're debating keeping a 3rd catcher, to help Lopez focus more at 1B (or if they decide to use him at DH). Gil has missed most of camp due to the WBC, but Whiteside hasn't done much to earn the 3rd spot.

2B: Is Brian Roberts healthy? If Roberts, who will make his first spring appearance Tuesday, can't go when the season starts, Chris Gomez would likely start at 2B until Roberts is healthy.

Boston Red Sox

Backup C: Josh Bard appears to have the inside track on the backup catcher job since John Flaherty retired. Ken Huckaby is also in camp, but a knee injury has hurt his chances. This job is important because the winner will be Tim Wakefield's personal catcher (and serve as an every fifth-day day of rest for Jason Varitek, now age 34). Bard's one outing with Wakefield went well earlier this spring (i.e., no passed balls).

4th OF: This appeared to be Dustan Mohr until the Red Sox traded for Wily Mo Pena. Mohr has had a nice spring (three homers), but Pena is now considered the right-handed platoon mate for Trot Nixon in right field.

5th OF: This essentially will be a backup center fielder/speed off the bench role. The Red Sox must begin the season with Adam Stern on the 25-man roster for at least 17 days in order to fulfill last year's Rule 5 commitment. So Stern will be the man early on. Willie Harris may emerge after that. Harris' contract calls for Boston to release him if he's not on the major league roster at some point in April. He gives Boston flexibility in that he can also play 2B.

Closer: Keith Foulke is expected to make his spring debut this weekend. He insists he'll be ready for Opening Day, but RotoWire is waiting to see the results of this weekend's outings. If he's not ready for the season, then it looks like Jon Papelbon or Mike Timlin will be the closer to start the season.

Chicago White Sox

Primary Set-Up Man: With Dustin Hermanson potentially out for an extended period due to back problems, Cliff Politte, Neal Cotts and Brandon McCarthy should move into prominent roles behind closer Bobby Jenks.

Cleveland Indians

3B: The job was given to Aaron Boone early on, as GM Mark Shapiro announced Andy Marte would be the starter at Triple-A Buffalo, not Cleveland.

Last spot in the bullpen: Danny Graves, Steve Karsay, Andrew Brown and Jason Davis have all come with huge question marks this season, but given how many innings the winner will throw; this is not a bad group from which to pick. Of the quartet, only Karsay has really struggled in Grapefruit league play. The former Yankee has an ERA over 8.00, giving up three home runs in nine innings pitched. Graves, Brown and Davis all have pitched well (all under 3.75 ERA), leaving this one up in the air.

Backup C: Top prospect Kelly Shoppach has been woeful thus far, hitting .083 with three total bases. Unfortunately for Shoppach, his primary competitor, Einar Diaz, is making us all think it's 2001. The veteran is hitting .364 with a home run in 22 ABs. It's not out of the realm of possibility to see Shoppach begin this season where he did last, in the minors.

Detroit Tigers

CF: Curtis Granderson has all but officially been named the starter over Nook Logan. Granderson could be a 20-20 guy this year and a great value as a result.

1B, LF and DH: Four guys are competing for three spots (Chris Shelton, Dmitri Young, Carlos Pena and Craig Monroe). It looks like Pena is the odd man out with talk of the Tigers possibly trading him before Opening Day.

5th Starter: Justin Verlander vs. Jason Grilli. The contest is close right now with Verlander probably slightly ahead because of his potential. Joel Zumaya and Roman Colon appear to be out of the mix. With the release of Matt Mantei, Grilli could move to the bullpen if he loses out on a rotation spot.

Kansas City Royals

4th OF: Chip Ambres and Aaron Guiel are going to battle down to the wire for this job. Guiel, once the starter in Kansas City before suffering vision problems, is the veteran favorite, but Chip Ambres, brought over from Boston last year, is very much alive for the job. Guiel has more power and patience at the plate. Ambres is younger and is expected to develop more than the gap power he has shown thus far during his career. Both have seen action in center field during the spring and have shown an ability to cover the field. Ambres isn't hitting this spring, but he isn't striking out, either, which is a good sign. Guiel, who played for Canada in the World Baseball Classic, is probably the winner--at least for Opening Day.

Utility infielder: Entering camp, general manager Allard Baird said Esteban German would have to severely trip up to lose out in the race for the utility job. He hasn't, hitting well and playing decently at second, third and in the outfield. Joe McEwing, however, has put on a display by hitting around .500 and is among the major-league leaders in doubles. McEwing is making the choice tough, but the Royals see German as a potential future starter at second. German will probably win this race, but don't count out McEwing, who may have earned a trade to stay in the majors.

5th Starter: It's down to Denny Bautista and Jeremy Affeldt after J.P. Howell was shipped to Triple-A this week. Bautista has been solid this spring and is throwing strikes, so he is almost a certainty for the job. Affeldt has struggled with control and the long ball, so his best bet is the bullpen. Affeldt may remain in the mix until more is known about Mark Redman's knee, which has kept him out for much of the spring. The Royals don't need a fifth starter until mid-April, so if Redman can't make it back by then, Affeldt will likely be the guy. Once Redman returns, Affeldt will be back in the pen.

Last spot in the bullpen: After Andrew Sisco, Mike MacDougal, Elmer Dessens and Ambiorix Burgos, there are a number of guys fighting for one or two spots in the pen. One of the spots will likely go to Jeremy Affeldt once he falls out of the rotation battle. The other will come down to Joel Peralta, Jimmy Gobble, Leo Nunez, Luke Hudson or Steve Stemle. Peralta has been tough this spring and showed enough with the Angels last season to earn a major-league job. Hudson is a wildcard. After coming over from the Reds, Hudson needs to throw strikes to impress the Royals. Steve Stemle has pitched very well this spring and could win the job. He pitched equally well last year but didn't win a job (he was called up in late May). The final two weeks will be the determining factor.

Los Angeles Angels

DH: Juan Rivera vs. Garret Anderson vs. Tim Salmon. Rivera was a lock until Garret Anderson's strained plantar fascia. If Anderson is healthy enough to hit, but not play the field then he'll open the season as primary DH with Rivera assuming duties in LF. This would hurt Salmon's chances of making the Opening Day roster.

3B: Chone Figgins vs. Edgardo Alfonzo vs. Dallas McPherson. McPherson has already lost this battle--barring a miracle, he'll start the season at Triple-A Salt Lake. The Angels don't want to move Figgins, as he was less than adequate defensively at third to start the spring, but he's grown more steady recently. Alfonzo seems destined for two to three starts a week between second and third.

Final Bench Spot: Assuming the Angels break camp with 12 pitchers, that would leave two roster spots between four players: Darin Erstad, Robb Quinlan, Kendry Morales and Dallas McPherson. Here are the current odds for making the Opening Day roster: Erstad 3-2; Quinlan 3-1; Morales 7-1; McPherson 20-1.

Minnesota Twins

RF: Michael Cuddyer is having a strong spring, hitting .500 (14 for 28) with two home runs, and appears to have won the job. Jason Kubel has shown he's back from a knee injury, but hasn't looked comfortable at the plate and the team feels he needs time to find his stroke again at Triple-A. Cuddyer is nursing a strained oblique muscle, so that could change things. But longer term, Kubel could still take over this job as early as May with a hot start in the minors.

5th Starter: Scott Baker has all but been named the 5th starter. The only question is if Francisco Liriano opens the season in Triple-A or in the bullpen.

Last spot in the bullpen: The bullpen needs a lefty and Liriano could fill that role. Both Darrell May and Dennis Reyes have struggled this spring, so it's not clear the Twins will keep both veterans on the roster. If not, William Eyre could win the final spot.

New York Yankees

3rd - 5th Starters: Shawn Chacon & Chien-Ming Wang have beaten out Jaret Wright & Aaron Small for the first two available spots in the rotation. Both Wright and Small are injured. Carl Pavano's continued injury problems mean he may not be healthy by the first time the Yankees need a fifth starter, so they may have to turn to Wright or Small if they are healthy enough, or perhaps Ron Villone or Tanyon Sturtze as a last resort.

Oakland A's

DH: Frank Thomas has looked healthy enough to run the bases and may make his spring training debut soon, which means he'd get the majority of time at DH. This means less playing time for Jay Payton.

Seattle Mariners

2B: Jose Lopez vs. Willie Bloomquist vs. Fernando Vina. This is a battle in name only. Lopez will start. Willie's glove is valuable as a utility player. Vina, who's been injured most of spring training, likely won't make the team.

Last spots in the bullpen: George Sherrill vs. Luis Gonzalez vs. Jake Woods vs. Francisco Cruceta vs. Emiliano Fruto vs. Scott Atchison. Sherrill has it virtually locked up, though he hasn't pitched well this spring. The others are vying for the last spot in the bullpen. Gonzalez is a Rule 5 pick, which gives him an advantage.

Backup Catcher: Rene Rivera vs. Corky Miller. For some reason the M's are entertaining the thought of Miller. There's no chance he makes it. Rivera will win the job.

Last bench spot: Mike Morse vs. Greg Dobbs vs. Roberto Petagine. None will make it if the M's keep 12 pitchers, which is likely. Joe Borchard will take the last of four bench spots (Willie Bloomquist, Rene Rivera, Matt Lawton). If they keep five (which means 11 pitchers and that Luis Gonzalez, Jake Woods, Francisco Cruceta and Emiliano Fruto are out), then Morse has the edge. Petagine has impressed and could get a call-up later in the year.

Texas Rangers

2B: Ian Kinsler has all but officially won the job over Mark DeRosa and D'Angelo Jimenez.

Toronto Blue Jays

RF: It looks like a platoon between Alexis Rios and Eric Hinske.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Closer: This race is still up in the air. Chad Orvella is in the lead, but Dan Miceli and maybe Jesus Colome could save games as well. Shinji Mori is now out for the year with a torn labrum.

3B: Aubrey Huff's move to 3B looks successful so far this spring, which allows the Rays to start the year with Joey Gathright in the outfield.

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