Nancy Pearcey, an American author, once said, “Competition is always a good thing. It forces us to do our best. A monopoly renders people complacent and satisfied with mediocrity.” Competitions are happening on a daily basis. They are happening in the workplace, at the gym or even on the baseball diamond. Specifically, sometimes on the baseball diamond within own teams.
Entering 2017, there are key positional battles that will make or break the year for some organizations. It is good to have friendly team competition, especially this early in the season. It forces us to be the best we can be. Bart Starr explains, “Athletic competition clearly defines the unique power of our attitude.”
I am going to talk about my top five spring training position battles in no particular order. In a couple weeks, I will come back to the article to see what the specific updates on how the position battles are going in real time.
2017 Spring Training Position Battles
Boston Red Sox – Fifth Starter
I will start out with a segment that is near and dear to my heart. Coming into the season, the newly acquired Chris Sale becomes the Red Sox bonafide number one. After him, will most likely be Price, Porcello and Wright. The question mark is when it comes to the fifth starter. The two that will be battling for this position are Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez.
Both Pomeranz and Rodriguez had tales of two halves in 2016. Pomeranz was stellar with the San Diego Padres to get him a spot on the all-star team. While, Rodriguez got off to a horrible start and ended the season pretty well. From the first half to the second half, Rodriguez’s K/9 rate went up 2.71, his K% went up 9.3%, his batted average went down .105 and his WHIP went down .61. Pomeranz came to the Red Sox season and I believe put a lot of pressure on him. When he joined the Red Sox, his K/9 went down .84, his K% went down 3.7%, his batted average went up .079 and his WHIP went up .31.
Despite the difference in their second half statistics, I see Pomeranz winning the fifth starter position and Rodriguez being used as a long inning guy coming from the bullpen.
New York Yankees – First Baseman
With the retirement of Mark Teixeira, the first base position for the Yankees is up for grabs. The guys looking to take over this position are Greg Bird, Chris Carter and Matt Holliday. All are very interesting choices especially having the option to hit in Yankee stadium. Also, most likely will be late round fliers in most fantasy drafts.
Greg Bird is coming off of shoulder surgery. This is what makes him interesting and will have to be monitored throughout the spring to see if it is going to come out as expected. In comparing all three batters, they all have very good power. Carter and Holliday played in 2016 and last time Bird played in 2015, he had 178 plate appearances. In comparing four major hitting categories, Carter has the highest walk rate at 11.8%, Carter has the highest strikeout rate of 32.0%, Bird has the highest hard-hit ball rate at 44.8% and Bird has the highest fly-ball rate 51.4%.
Even with Bird’s small sample size, I see him winning out the position. Luckily in the AL, the DH position is available and I could see Holliday being the everyday DH.
Los Angeles Angels – Closer
I see this battle coming between Huston Street and Cam Bedrosian. The X factor could be Andrew Bailey, but I do not see him in the mix. Huston Street was horrible last year. He posted a 6.45 ERA in 22.1 innings. In most of the innings, he was injured. He certainly won’t be this bad in 2017, but as his 2015 numbers will show, Street is definitely on the decline in his career. He had the second and third worst strikeout and walk rate of his career in 2015. Also, he had an ERA of 3.18 and only posted 40 saves.
Cam Bedrosian is undoubtedly the best pitcher in the Angels’ bullpen. In 2016, Bedrosian came into 45 games. His groundball rate was almost 50%. His ERA was an astounding 1.12 and his K/9 was 11.38. While he did end the season on the DL with a blood clot, he is supposed to be fully recovered by the spring.
Even though Mike Scioscia does love his veteran players, I see Cam Bedrosian winning the closers role for the Angels in 2017.
Colorado Rockies – Leftfielder
With Gerardo Parra hurt for 2016, David Dahl was outstanding in left field for the Rockies. I have already written about Dahl in my 2017 Baseball Outfield Preview article, but will go into more detail about what he can provide for the Rockies. Parra is in line eight million dollars this year and is healthy. He should be able to battle Dahl for the left field position because the Rockies can’t afford to have that type of money sitting on the bench.
Parra has an average of .274 with nine homers and 52 RBIs in his 162-game average. These numbers are certainly not worthy of stepping into an everyday starters role. Dahl made up for this poor showing and injury to Parra. Dahl busted on the scene with a hit in his first 17 games. He ended up hitting .315 with 7 homers and 25 RBIs.
If I were a Colorado fan, I would still want a battle to happen for left field. This means you would still have an improving Parra and still outstanding Dahl. The battle is the only way that Parra could take over to take the left field position.
With all this being said, I still see David Dahl ending up with the starting position for the Rockies in 2017.
Detroit Tigers – Centerfielder
Coming into 2017, there is a lot to digest when it comes to the Tigers’ centerfielder. Last year, Anthony Gose opened up as their centerfielder, but was quickly demoted to Triple-A and actually ended up in Double-A. The Tigers traded Cameron Maybin, who they didn’t think was worth his high contract and is very injury prone.
I really see it coming down to Tyler Collins and Mikie Mahtook. Collins is a top option because of how well he can range in the outfield. The biggest question mark for him is his consistency at the plate. In the beginning of last season, he only hit .100 and was demoted to Toledo after April. Over a 24 game span, he hit .278 when returning in mid-July. Then in the final 22 games he hit .227.
Mikie Mahtook is another intriguing option. He was a first round draft pick out of LSU and is a proven five-tool player. The biggest question mark for Mahtook is if he can hit both righties and lefties in the majors on a consistent basis. Currently in his career, he hits .276 against lefties and .192 against righties.
The real question is if Anthony Gose does what he is capable of doing. He is the fastest guy out of them all and has the best glove too. He needs to have a better approach at the plate in order to win the position. Ausmus, the Tigers’ Manager, explained that he wants to see Gose be successful and early in camp they have been working with him to reach this goal. Other names that the Tigers are throwing out there to possibly play are Jacoby Jones (no, not the great football returner) and Austin Romine. This really is one of the bigger head scratchers this offseason.
Overall, I see Collins and Mahtook platooning with both having low experience in centerfield.