One of the most exciting aspects of Spring Training games getting underway is watching all the position competitions develop. You’ve got players that struggled in 2022 looking to bounce back, swing, delivery, pitch mix adjustments, and phenom prospects looking to make their mark. It’s a special time in player development that sets the course for seasons and careers. Below I’ll touch on some of the most intriguing position competitions to watch this spring, including potential All-Star hitters, and top prospects striving for the starting shortstop throne in New York.
But before we get to that I wanted to highlight a few potential competitions that aren’t listed below. First, the Braves shortstop position as I believe the job belongs to Vaughn Grissom already, but that could always change. They say he’ll have to win the job, but they didn’t bring in anyone to compete with him. I’d imagine a José Iglesias signing happens before we see Orlando Arcia man the position full-time. The Rangers left field position looked to be shaping up as a Bubba Thompson, Ezequiel Duran, and Josh Smith competition, but they recently signed Robbie Grossman who figures to be the primary option. At least for now. And does Ryan Noda carve out a full-time role at either Jesús Aguilar or Seth Brown’s expense in Oakland? Does Esteury Ruiz earn the full-time center field spot? Let’s get into it.
Most Intriguing Spring Training Competitions
1. Cardinals RF/DH
If you’re familiar with Jordan Walker it will come as no surprise that this competition is the most intriguing of Spring Training. If you’re unfamiliar, Jordan Walker is a potential superstar five-tool player and is regarded by many as a top-five prospect in all of baseball. Last year in Double-A at the crisp age of 20 (which is young for the level) he nearly went 20/20 with 19 home runs and 22 stolen bases slashing .306/.388/.510. If you needed any more convincing Walker went to the AFL and raked some more. Yeah, but there are so many hitting options so he’ll start in the minors you might say. Well, maybe not so fast as the Cardinals have multiple WBC participants so he should get plenty of opportunity to showcase his talents in spring games. And if he can feast on the pitching that usually features a variety of skill levels, watch out. I’m not going to say this guy is the next Julio Rodriguez, but he has extremely loud tools (only seven minor league players with 400+ PA in 2022 had a higher 90th percentile exit velocity: 107.9 mph) that make for a potential perennial All-Star. The sky is the limit.
Then add in your favorite analysts’ favorite sleeper, Lars Nootbaar, and we’ve got a spicy competition cooking. The reason for that is likely Nootbaar’s combination of elite quality of contact (43.3% Hard-hit rate, 12.1% Barrel %, 89th and 90th percentile max, and average EV), and plate discipline (98th percentile BB%, 92nd percentile Chase rate). Plus he went back to the lab this off-season to improve his swing velocity and overall game even more. There are still some questions on if he can handle left-handed pitchers and off-speed, but the makings are here for a breakout. Well dang! This guy sounds amazing, and he could be. Both of these guys should play, right? It’s possible they do if St. Louis feels comfortable with one as the primary DH. But that would come at the cost of one of their other young sluggers namely Juan Yepez (95th percentile max exit velocity), and Nolan Gorman who’s also got big power and is just 22 years old. There’s also Alec Burleson who could have a big spring and carve out a role, and Paul DeJong who is reported to have reworked his swing. The Cardinals aren’t short on options.
Given the plethora of options the Cardinals do have, there is a decent chance Walker starts the season at Triple-A. But it would be a lot of fun to see him have success in spring games and force himself onto the roster. In 2022, a player had to be on the major league roster by April 14th to accrue a full year of service time so there is a chance Walker could have a brief stint in Triple-A and be called up in time to receive draft pick compensation if he wins Rookie of the Year. If it were me and Walker performs in spring the way I think he can I would start Walker and Nootbaar between RF and DH with Yepez getting the next biggest share of at-bats. That would leave Gorman without a real role unless they change their mind about him playing second base, but events always come up that create more playing time.
2. Yankees SS
Ever since the position was graced by Derek Jeter’s wizardry the Yankees have been searching for their next long-term shortstop, shoutout Didi Gregorius though he had his moments. This past off-season, we saw the Yankees pass on a lot of free-agent shortstop talent, creating one of the most intriguing spring competitions between potential rising stars Oswald Peraza, Anthony Volpe, and veteran Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Oswald Peraza is my choice for who will win this competition as he looked to be able to handle his own upon his call-up to the big leagues late last season. He slashed .306/.404/.429 in 57 PA and while the batting average might not be that high I do expect him to maintain his quality bat-to-ball skills and contribute with speed and growing power being only 22 years old. At Triple-A in 429 PA he put up 33 stolen bases and 19 home runs.
However, it’s good to have competition, and Peraza won’t be handed the position. That’s where Anthony Volpe comes in who has plenty of his own hype being regarded as a top-10 prospect in baseball. Volpe played 132 games between Double-A and Triple-A so there’s an argument to be made that he’s plenty ready for a shot at the SS throne. Volpe has the power-speed combination fantasy managers look for as he stole 50 bases and hit 21 home runs in 2022. There are some questions about the hit tool that could hold him back initially against major league pitching. There is no denying the talent and there’s a chance the development of both will indicate whether Gleyber Torres gets traded. There is also a report that all three will play different positions throughout spring so we might get some indications early. For example, if Volpe is being moved around while Peraza is staying at short. Isiah Kiner-Falefa is likely the safety option and will serve a utility role for the team. Something has gone wrong if he is the starting shortstop on Opening Day.
3. Cubs 3B
Maybe the Cubs are gearing up for Manny Machado next off-season, but they’ve still got to field a third baseman for 2023. It appears it will either be an internal option or the recently signed Edwin Ríos, though he’s likely better suited for a 1B/DH role. I would think the organization would want to allow Christopher Morel an opportunity to play without the platoon pressure of performing on an inconsistent playing time basis, but they didn’t seem to give him that opportunity in 2022 when he slumped after his hot start. There’s major swing-and-miss in his game (1st percentile Whiff %), but he’s a quality athlete that brings power and speed to the lineup. We would need to see how he can handle third base as he didn’t play there much in 2022 posting a -3 Outs Above Average (OAA) in 56 attempts. That’s too short of a sample to rule him out, and he does have the arm for it (99th percentile Arm strength). David Ross is quoted as saying defense is a priority so I’m not sure if that rules out Morel. Something to watch for this spring.
If it does rule out Morel it likely rules out Patrick Wisdom as the primary third baseman as well. Wisdom is 1st percentile in Outs Above Average which is not the side you want to be on. Wisdom does possess power, but he seems more suited for a position share at DH. Then we get to the dark horse of the competition: Nick Madrigal. Coming off some tough injuries Madrigal is likely a forgotten man by most, and it’s hard to say if he just won’t reach his potential or if he just needed more time to get fully healthy. I’m intrigued to see how he looks in spring after an assumed normal off-season as he was previously projected to be an elite contact hitter with some speed and defensive prowess. He projects as the best defender of the group, but that’s before we factor in Madrigal has to learn the position so that’s something we will have to observe. Christopher Morel would be more choice to win this position competition.
4. Dodgers LF/CF
The Dodgers were also relatively quiet for a big market team this off-season which opens up pathways to playing time for some of their young players and invites spring training position competitions. Before spring camp started we had questions about where Miguel Vargas, Max Muncy, Gavin Lux, and Miguel Rojas would play, and that’s before we get to the outfield. Despite Vargas nursing a hairline fracture in his finger, he projects to be the primary second baseman with Muncy and Lux on the left side, and Rojas serving in a roving backup role. That means for now Chris Taylor figures into the outfield, likely in left field though he does have experience in centerfield as well. They did sign David Peralta who could platoon in left field, but that would effectively put Taylor on the short side of the platoon unless he shifts over to center. I would imagine the Dodgers want Taylor’s bat in the lineup so how they manage that in spring is something to watch.
If Taylor doesn’t play much in center that will be because Trayce Thompson or James Outman have demonstrated they deserve playing time. Both have shown considerable power, and flashes of speed, but do have their flaws so there is reason to believe a platoon could make sense. Thompson is the one with more MLB experience having accrued 255 PA in 2022, and he did put up some power numbers with 13 home runs, .860 OPS, and 80th percentile max exit velocity (111.9 mph). But that came with a 36.5% K% which is less than ideal. Outman got an extremely small cup of MLB coffee with a 16 PA sample so take the following with a grain of salt, but he did slash .462/.563/.846 with 6 hits including a home run. He got much more action between Double-A and Triple-A where he hit 31 home runs and slashed .294/.392/.586 in 559 PA. Like Thompson, Outman also has contact issues so this does feel like a natural platoon situation, with the chance of Chris Taylor getting some action there too. And that’s before I mention Jason Heyward and Bradley Zimmer are in camp competing for a spot. Heyward has reworked his swing and is impressing people in camp. Could Jason Heyward really be the starting center fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers on Opening Day? That would be wild.
Phillies SP #5 – This position competition could easily have been in the top 4 based on the sheer upside 19-year-old phenom Andrew Painter possesses. Phillies GM Dave Dombrowski said he would be a strong consideration to open the season with the major league team, and now there are reports Painter added a cutter to his already devastating arsenal. Kyle Schwarber recently raved about Painter, and while he may be restricted at times in order to keep his innings in check, he looks like a future ace. Bailey Falter is the other potential pitcher for the spot and does some things well, but he doesn’t have the upside Painter does. Falter’s pathway to winning the job is pitching well and the Phillies deciding to go extremely slow with Painter in hopes of keeping some innings saved for the playoffs. Painter might be too much of a force to stop.
Braves SP #5 – The Braves have four great pitchers, but their fifth spot is wide open with a primarily three-pitcher race. Ian Anderson has shown he can get big-league hitters out in the past but has struggled to get back to that pitcher. The good news is he worked on his delivery so he’s at least making an effort to get right. Mike Soroka is coming back from multiple Achilles injuries and has had other setbacks in the past, but when healthy he also showed the ability to get big-league hitters out. It will be exciting to see what he looks like this spring. And the likely third option is Bryce Elder who showed flashes in 2022, especially after a pitch mix change. If Anderson struggles, and Sorokoa does too or is slowed by injuries it could easily be Elder getting the nod. My guess is Ian Anderson’s off-season work bears fruitful at least in spring and wins the job.
White Sox RF – This is another very intriguing competition due to Oscar Colas‘ potential. The 24-year-old crushed in his first season in pro ball climbing three levels and hitting .314/.424.645 with 24 home runs in 536 PA. The signing of Andrew Benintendi should cover left field, and the departure of José Abreu allows Andrew Vaughn to slot back into his natural position of first base. There have been a couple of conflicting reports, but I think I can speak for everyone when I say we hope Eloy Jiménez will be the primary DH. That leaves Gavin Sheets as the primary counterpart to Colas. Colas did struggle with spin last year so that is something to watch in spring, but if he has success I have a hard time believing he won’t be the starting right fielder.
Mariners LF – Does the once-stud prospect Jarred Kelenic take the job and run with it, or will he need AJ Pollock to take some of the left-field duties? Taylor Trammell being out with a broken hamate bone does take away one of the projected options. Maybe that opens the door for Cade Marlowe to win a spot.
Marlins LF – Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Jorge Soler figure to be in CF and DH respectively. That leaves Avisaíl García, Bryan De La Cruz, and Jesús Sánchez for the two corner outfield positions. The news sounds like it’s a left-field competition between De La Cruz and Sanchez. Two exciting young players to watch here.
Diamondbacks 3B, OF, and DH – This is a messy one, and it could just end up being multiple platoons, but we can try to sort it out. Evan Longoria and Josh Rojas probably share third base with Longoria potentially getting some DH appearances, and Rojas moving around the diamond including the outfield. Corbin Carroll and Jake McCarthy should occupy two of the outfield spots. This leaves Alek Thomas, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Kyle Lewis, and Pavin Smith to compete for the remaining outfield spot and DH duties. SP #4 and #5 roles could be a competition between Zach Davies, Drey Jameson, Ryne Nelson, Brandon Pfaadt, and Tommy Henry. Based on skill, it should be Jameson and Pfaadt, but if we’re going to play that game Nelson should probably take Madison Bumgarner’s spot. If they go conservative I could see Davies, and Jameson getting the first opportunities. We won’t even touch on the closer situation. Mark Melancon, Kevin Ginkel, Joe Mantiply, Scott McGough, Miguel Castro, and Jeurys Familia could all ride a strong spring into a prominent role.
Padres SP #4 and #5 – Before the Padres signed Michael Wacha I was starting to think they might think the playoffs start in April and only need three starting pitchers. Wacha should slot into the #4 spot with Nick Martinez, and Seth Lugo also competing for rotation roles. There is a report of potential for a six-man rotation and then all would likely start the season in the rotation. I’d imagine Lugo, and maybe even Martinez will need extra bullpen help in some outings.
Angels C – Logan O’Hoppe is likely the one most are hoping wins the job, and he certainly has the most youth and upside of the group. But Max Stassi is likely to occupy one of those catcher spots on Opening Day, and Matt Thaiss is out of options meaning he has to stay on the active roster unless the team designates him for assignment which makes him available to the other teams. O’Hoppe may need to force the issue with a strong spring performance in order to break camp with the big league club.
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