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Friday, March 15, 2013
Spring training position battles update

By David Schoenfield

Let's take a quick look at some interesting spring training position battles. Maybe we'll check back later in the day with another report.

Cardinals: Fifth spot in the rotation
With Trevor Rosenthal moved to the bullpen last week, the fifth spot is down to Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller. Both pitched on Thursday against the Braves. Kelly allowed one run, three hits and no walks in four innings, getting two double-play balls; Miller allowed three runs and six hits in 2.2 innings, but struck out four.

Miller, No. 21 on Keith Law's top 100 prospectsInsider, certainly has more long-term potential, but as Derrick Goold reports, he's still working on refining his changeup and breaking ball. Kelly is more of a groundball guy but has to eliminate a large platoon split from last year (.236 versus righties, .318 versus lefties).

Favorite: Kelly. His solid performance for the Cardinals last year (3.53 ERA in 107 innings) means Miller has to beat him out for a job. But in eight official spring innings, Kelly has five walks and just two strikeouts. In fact, both were outperformed by Michael Wacha, last year's first-round pick, who pitched 11.2 innings, allowing just one unearned run with 15 strikeouts and one walk. He was just optioned to minor-league camp but his performance shows the Cardinals may have struck gold with another college hurler.

Blue Jays: Closer
Casey Janssen saved 22 games in 25 opportunities last year as the Toronto closer after replacing the injured Sergio Santos, but had minor offseason shoulder surgery. Mike Rutsey of the Toronto Sun reports that Santos is closer to being ready, but to keep an eye on Steve Delabar. Delabar came over from Seattle last season for Eric Thames and finished with 92 strikeouts in 66 innings. Among pitchers with at least 60 innings, he ranked sixth in strikeout percentage (behind Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Ernesto Frieri and David Hernandez). He gave up 12 home runs, but just three of those came in his 29.1 innings with Toronto.

Favorite: Rutsey says Santos is the favorite with Janssen still on the mend. Santos saved 30 games with the White Sox in 2011, fanning 92 in 63.1 innings, so he has the ability to hold the job if he's healthy. The Jays' bullpen may have some question marks, but there is ability there.

Tigers: Closer
Rookie Bruce Rondon had a good inning on Thursday, although retiring Collin Cowgill, Brian Bixler and Jamie Hoffman isn't exactly like getting through Trout, Pujols and Hamilton. In 6.2 innings, Rondon has allowed nine hits and five walks but has fanned 10.

Favorite: Rondon still looks too unrefined to me. With only a handful of innings above Class A, why put the pressure of the ninth-inning role on him, 100-mph fastball or not. I'm going with bullpen-by-committee to start the year, although I suspect Phil Coke's good work in the postseason means he may get first crack at saving games, leaving Joaquin Benoit in the eighth-inning role and Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque and Rondon in the middle innings.

Rays: Right field and rotation
Wil Myers expects to be told any day that he'll be reassigned to minor league camp, writes Marc Tompkin. No surprise, since the Rays want to delay his service time. Maybe if Myers had exploded during camp he would have forced a decision, and while he's hitting a solid .300/.353/.467, he hasn't homered and has eight strikeouts in 30 at-bats.

Favorite: The Rays will have Desmond Jennings in center and Matt Joyce in left or right. If Kelly Johnson and Ryan Roberts platoon at second, that pushes Ben Zobrist to right field; Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer are around as well. In other words, manager Joe Maddon has plenty of options.

As for the rotation, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi have been sent down to Triple-A. I'm a huge Archer fan and think he'll be back up before long. That leaves the fifth spot between Jeff Niemann, whose velocity was down on Thursday, topping out at 88 mph, and Roberto Hernandez (the former Fausto Carmona). Hernandez has looked better this spring, allowing seven hits in 10 innings, walking four and striking out seven.

Favorite: I'll stick with Niemann. You never want to read too much into 10 innings and while I know the Rays tend to pull a rabbit out of a hat at times, Hernandez has been bad in four of the five past seasons. Has he really figured things out?

Mariners: Rotation
The Mariners optioned out Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, as expected, but the one rookie starter who remains is right-hander Brandon Maurer. He pitched last year at Double-A Jacksonville (9-2, 3.20 ERA, 117 SO, 48 BB in 138 IP) and entered camp as the team's No. 6 prospect -- behind those other three pitching prospects, plus Mike Zunino and Nick Franklin. Maurer is battling retread veterans Jon Garland and Jeremy Bonderman and Blake Beavan for a spot behind Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Joe Saunders (whose velocity has been way down this spring and has been hit hard) and Erasmo Ramirez.

Maurer has a mid-90s fastball, a good slider and work-in-progress curveball, but what makes him intriguing is his extensive injury history (elbow in 2010, shoulder in 2011). Since being drafted in 2008, last year was the first one he was healthy all season. He may only have so many bullets in his arm and so the Mariners may want to use them in the majors instead of Triple-A.

Favorite: Still wide open, but Maurer easily has the best arm of the bunch. Garland has pitched OK, but Maurer's potential may gave him that final slot.