Let’s try and figure out what spots are up for grabs this spring. A lot of this will probably change quickly but consider this my attempt at a survey of how things look now. Also, with the WBC starting soon, we should see some new names getting more in-game opportunities.
Shortstop: Gunnar Henderson started seven games at SS last year, so he could play a little here. But it looks like he should settle in at third for the most part. Jorge Mateo was terrific defensively and picked up the Fielding Bible award, but his .646 OPS opens the door for him to lose playing time, which might mean a chance for Joey Ortiz or Jordan Westburg.
Ortiz is a contact hitter who peaked with 15 home runs last year across 111 games in Double-A.
Westburg has shown more pop and hit 18 home runs in 91 games with Triple-A Norfolk last year, although he might profile better defensively at second. Last year, he dropped his K rate from 27.3% in 47 games with Double-A Bowie to 21.3% across 91 games with Triple-A Norfolk. Maybe he was on to something?
CF: With Kiké Hernández back at shortstop, recently signed Adam Duvall should be the center fielder. Jarren Duran will also figure into the mix; he struggled last year with a 28.3% K rate, a .645 OPS, and a 78 wRC+ through 58 games. But, he’s bringing in a new swing this spring.
Rob Refsnyder posted a .881 OPS and 140 wRC+ last year in 51 games and will get a chance for a spot, too.
Masataka Yoshida seemed like a candidate to hit leadoff, given his plate skills. But it sounds like he might settle into the cleanup spot as Cora wants to avoid stacking Rafael Devers and Yoshida back-to-back. Last year, the leadoff spot was a revolving door, with Tommy Pham leading the way with 45 starts, followed by Hernández with 43 and Duran with 39. This past Sunday, Triston Casas hit leadoff in a lineup featuring mostly starters. Sounds like Alex Cora is still tinkering, so who knows?
Outfield: Boone has mentioned using Giancarlo Stanton in RF and Aaron Judge in LF. Stanton made 34 starts in RF last year and four in LF. Still, we know he should get most of the DH reps. Last year, he hit the skids late while battling an Achilles injury.
The third OF spot comes down to Aaron Hicks, who has a .702 OPS and 98 wRC+ over his last four seasons combined (275 games/1045 PA). The other option is Oswaldo Cabrera, who put up a .740 OPS and 111 wRC+ across 44 games last year (36 in the OF). Cabrera also covered all the infield spots last year, minus catcher, and given the injury history lurking on this team, he should play a lot.
Willie Calhoun is in the mix as a non-roster invitee.
Shortstop: Isiah Kiner-Falefa is the incumbent and had a .642 OPS and 85 wRC+ last year across 142 games. He stole 22 bases and didn’t strike out much, which is basically the only good thing that can be said for him offensively. I can’t rule out IKF, but Boone recently mentioned using IKF in the OF. Which more or less sounds like he doesn’t have the job.
Oswald Peraza had a .778 OPS and 106 wRC+ with 33 SBs across 99 games with Triple-A Scranton before getting called up in early September. He made 18 starts last year and held his own with a .832 OPS. Peraza’s glove is legit. This feels, to me at least, a little bit like Jeremy Peña last year. Although, in Peña’s case, we didn’t see him debut the previous year like we did with Peraza. Still, the current uncertainty makes him an interesting late-round gamble.
Anthony Volpe, the team’s top prospect, is the other option. He posted a 122 wRC+ and .820 OPS across 110 games in Double-A, but his K rate climbed to 30.3% after being promoted to Triple-A (22 games). He also totaled 50 SBs across both levels. He’s been making some nice plays at short and hit his first home run of the spring off Mitch Keller.
My best guess is that Volpe starts the year in Triple-A with the chance at a call-up later in the year, while Peraza is the Opening Day SS.
Outfield/DH: Josh Lowe posted a .958 OPS across 80 games in Triple-A but also had an ugly 32.8% K rate. Still, he’ll get plenty of chances to earn a roster spot and give the Rays another lefty bat to mix and match. Harold Ramírez should get the bulk of the reps at DH.
Third Base: With Yandy Díaz playing mostly first base this year, we’ll likely see some sort of a platoon between Isaac Paredes, Taylor Walls, and Jonathan Aranda. Paredes hit .205 last year across 111 games but showed some power with a .740 OPS, 20 home runs, and sharp K/BB rates.
Walls is a good, versatile glove, but the same cannot be said about his bat—.553 OPS (142 games).
The left-handed hitting Aranda didn’t do much in his 32-game stint in the majors last year but carried a .915 OPS and good K/BB rates in 104 games at Triple-A and should factor into the mix.
Second Base/OF: Not a competition but just to note that Whit Merrifield and Santiago Espinal are the top options at 2B, with the former getting reps in the OF. Cavan Biggio is in a reserve role and according to Schneider, he should get additional reps in the OF this year. His offensive struggles over the past two seasons are well-documented, but his defensive versatility is very valuable. He’s also been working on his swing this spring.
Another name to be aware of is Addison Barger. The 23-year-old lefty has plenty of power and has played mostly short, but can play across the infield, so he should have a shot at a spot. He’s certainly an interesting player who was a natural right-handed hitter. In 2021, he had a K rate of 32.9% in A ball (91 games), but last year, it dropped to 25.3% in Double-A (45 games).
Right Field: Gavin Sheets has the edge by being on the 40-man roster. A lefty bat with good power, he started 85 games in RF last year and posted a .706 OPS across 124 games overall.
However, Oscar Colas, the team’s #2 prospect via MLB Pipeline (85th overall), is an exciting name to monitor. Last year, the lefty posted a .928 OPS while hitting .306 across 51 games with Double-A Birmingham. The White Sox sent him to Triple-A Charlotte at the very end of September, where he knocked a pair of long home runs.
Colas posted a 6.2% BB rate in Double-A last year, so he’s an aggressive hitter. But he’s been working this past offseason adjusting his approach by trying to hit more to the opposite field. I think the expectation is that Colas takes the job at some point, although it might not happen right out of the gate.
Second Base: Romy González, who hit a lot with Colas in the offseason, was in line as the 2B starter, but then the White Sox signed Elvis Andrus to a one-year deal as another candidate. However, González can cover multiple spots; GM Rick Hahn likened him to Ben Zobrist. González struggled last year but noted that he had tonsil surgery, lost 30 pounds, and never felt right last year, especially early on. In 2021, González broke out with a .856 OPS, including 20 home runs and 21 steals in 78 games with Double-A Birmingham.
CF: Myles Straw is terrific defensively, but last year’s .257 wOBA and 64 wRC+ leave much to be desired.
Will Brennan has a shot at earning some playing time in center. He slashed .316/.367/.471 with 15 SB last year in 93 games with Triple-A Columbus. He didn’t show much power, but a 12.2% K rate stands out and he certainly has more offensive potential than Straw. Brennan also made the postseason roster after debuting late last year.
George Valera looks more like a corner OF, but he might be another prospect that could make some noise. The 22-year-old has shown great power, but a 25.1% K rate in 42 games last year with Triple-A Columbus is a red flag.
Third Base: Jeimer Candelario is gone opening up third. Colt Keith is a very interesting prospect who has shown terrific plate skills and OBP, one of the many things the Tigers need badly. But he’s probably not quite ready yet.
It opens the door for lefty-hitting Nick Maton and righty-hitting Ryan Kreidler at third. Matt Vierling will get most of his at-bats in the OF, but he might also pick up a few starts at 3B against lefties. Maton, a part of the deal that sent Gregory Soto to the Phillies, hasn’t shown much with the bat, but, then again, we don’t really have much of a sample to look at. Regardless, he’s played some 2B, SS, and OF, too, so the versatility should get him into the lineup.
Outfield: This sounds like a fluid situation, with A.J. Hinch noting that he doesn’t have a “regular lineup.” Austin Meadows in right and Riley Greene in center leaves Kerry Carpenter, Akil Baddoo, and Matt Vierling in the mix for the other corner spot/reserve role.
The lefty Carpenter flashed some power in the minors last year, totaling 30 home runs across 400 PA in Double-A and Triple-A.
Admittedly not a great sample size with Vierling (434 career PA), but he’s put together just a .682 OPS and an 88 wRC+ over parts of the past two seasons.
Baddoo bottomed out last year and might just be a platoon bat, but his speed (18 SBs in 124 games in 2021) makes him an interesting player to monitor.
Second Base: Michael Massey and Nicky Lopez are the two contenders at 2B. Lopez will be playing for Team Italy, giving Massey an extended audition. He’s shown some pop and had a .987 OPS in 26 games with Triple-A Omaha last year.
Outfield: Drew Waters is out with an oblique strain, leaving MJ Melendez in LF, Kyle Isbel as the CF, and Nate Eaton and Edward Olivares, both right-handed hitters, in RF. Olivares has been interesting for at least a couple of years now. Hey, maybe this is finally it? The soon-to-be 27-year-old Venezuelan had a .743 OPS and 110 wRC+ last year across 53 games—not earth-shattering, but there’s speed and power potential based on his minor league numbers and he has a career K rate of 20.7% (386 PA).
Nate Eaton debuted last year and played 44 games, split between OF and 3B. For now, the Royals seem content to give 3B to Hunter Dozier. That leaves the righty Eaton’s path to at-bats as Isbel’s backup in center and in RF. Eaton had a .884 OPS and stole 11 bases across 54 games with Triple-A Omaha last year.
First Base: Rocco Baldelli recently said he doesn’t have a first baseman. There are a few names to watch but the most interesting is probably Alex Kirilloff, who is coming off two wrist surgeries that have held him to 104 MLB games over the past two seasons, during which he’s carried a .694 OPS. The former top prospect has participated in fielding drills but hasn’t faced live pitching. However, he’s noted a “lot of improvement” as he continues to go through his progression. His status for Opening Day is still TBD, but if he does miss it, it doesn’t sound like it will be a long delay, at least for now.
Joey Gallo could also play some first. Other possibilities include Donovan Solano, Nick Gordon, and Kyle Farmer. But basically, this feels like the Twins want to give Kirilloff a long shot to see what he can do. The question is how much time he misses at the beginning of the year.
Trevor Larnach could earn some DH at-bats. He’s shown good power, but a 33.5% K rate through 130 games (481 PA) might prove too much to overcome.
Chas McCormick and Jake Meyers are competing at CF and getting additional reps in LF. Neither did much offensively, but based on what we saw last year, the clear edge goes to McCormick, who at least had a decent .332 OBP as opposed to .269 for Meyers.
Catcher: The Angels seem pretty much set right now with the only remaining question at catcher, which Phil Nevin noted at the start of camp was an open competition. Logan O’Hoppe has gained a lot of steam as a late-round option in two catcher leagues, given his .889 OPS and sharp K/BB rates in 75 games in Double-A Reading with the Phillies. After the trade, he banged out 11 home runs in only 29 games with the Trash Pandas. The 23-year-old rookie has been getting extra reps catching Shohei Ohtani while the team elects to manage Max Stassi’s early workload.
The Padres dealt Ruiz to the Brewers in the Josh Hader deal. And then the Brewers shipped him to the A’s this offseason as part of a three-way deal involving Sean Murphy. Across 114 games in Double-A and Triple-A, Ruiz stole 85 bases (caught 14 times) and a .973 OPS.
JJ Bleday was the Marlins’ fourth overall pick out of Vanderbilt in 2019. He played 65 games with the Marlins last year and struggled to say the least. But he hit 20 home runs last year in Triple in only 85 games, along with a 16.3% walk rate. He also worked on fixing some flaws in his swing.
Cristian Pache, who had a 35 wRC+ in 91 games last year, is on the outside looking in and is out of minor-league options.
Catcher: Manny Piña and Shea Langeliers will split most of the catching duties but this is just to note that top prospect Tyler Soderstrom picked up his first spring training start. We probably won’t see him for a while, but he also played a lot at first base last year.
Outfield/DH: Jarred Kelenic will get the nod as the starting LF against RHP, with AJ Pollock getting some ABs against LHP. Not a competition but, given his pedigree, if Kelenic continues to have a productive spring we’ll probably see his ADP move up.
Another lefty OF on the 40-man roster, Cade Marlowe, should get some extra looks, especially with some of the team’s regulars participating in the WBC. Marlowe had a .864 OPS with 36 steals across 120 games in Double-AA last year but his K rate spiked to 38.3% in Triple-A.
OF/DH: With Leody Taveras in center and Adolis García in right, switch-hitting Robbie Grossman, who recently signed a one-year deal, looks like the leader for at-bats in left. Grossman has shown better numbers as a righty, but manager Bruce Bochy hesitated to call it a strict platoon situation. Brad Miller, who compiled a .590 OPS and 69 wRC+ in 81 games (31 in the OF) last year, could get some at-bats against righties.
Photo by Debashis RC Biswas/Unsplash | Featured Image by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)