There are two weeks left in Spring Training, the start of the time when the new season’s big league roster makes it way to being finalized. Gradually, players who are not destined for the major league club will be cut and sent to minor league camp and/or optioned to their final minor league destination. We have already seen such cuts taking place, as 13 players so far have been cut, including uber-prospect Oscar Taveras, and more are on their way.
So now the question remains, who will end up with one of the coveted 25 big league roster spots? Most of them are already a given but there are still a couple of spots up for grabs. Assuming the club goes with the normal breakdown of 12 pitchers, 8 starting position players, and 5 bench players, the makeup of the bench is where some of the uncertainty lies. Who will get those 5 spots?
One of those spots will naturally go to the back up catcher, who will more than likely be Tony Cruz, the keeper of that spot for the last two seasons. In addition, outfielder Jon Jay will likely take another spot, as the primary back up for newly acquired center fielder Peter Bourjos as well as the occasional back up in the corner outfield positions. New Cardinal Mark Ellis, acquired as back up at second base, and perhaps other infield positions on occasion, will more than likely get a spot as well. That leaves the final two spots up for grabs, with last year roster players, Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma, and Shane Robinson all vying for one of those spots. There could also be others in the mix who were not on the 2013 roster. Infielder Greg Garcia is certainly making a case for his candidacy, as is Xavier Scruggs, Scott Moore, and Joey Butler. Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk are making an impression as well, though both are likely headed for Memphis.
Let’s zero in on Descalso, Kozma and Robinson for now. At least one, and possibly two of these players are likely to get one or both of those remaining spots, but the likelihood of both of them being infielders is fairly low. Assuming Robinson, an outfielder, gets one of the spots, that leaves Descalso and Kozma vying for the other one. Who is going to be the winner?
Descalso has the versatility of playing multiple infield positions. This appears to give him an edge over Kozma, whose primary position is shortstop. It should be noted however, that Kozma played the majority of his 2012 Memphis season at second base, and he does have some innings at third base, though those innings are small in number. Descalso has much more time at second and third base and thus his versatility is more established. However, if you take stock at all in sabermetrics, Descalso’s defensive metrics put him below average at all 3 infield positions, and by far his worse numbers are at shortstop. Shortstop is likely the position at which he will get the most time, being the only back up for Peralta if Kozma doesn’t make the roster. On the other hand, Kozma, though lacking offensively, has an above average glove at shortstop, per his defensive metrics. Clearly, Descalso has the better bat of the two, but is it significantly better? Descalso’s OPS in 2013 was .656, whereas Kozma’s was .548. Neither one is impressive, but of the two, Descalso is clearly superior with the bat.
So, of the two, which is likely to get the spot? Will Kozma’s much superior glove be the deciding factor, or Descalso’s versatility and slightly better bat? Or will other factors be in play to put one or the other over the edge? I suggest factors such as Descalso’s tenure and salary are likely to be the factors which will make the decision easier, and Descalso will be the choice. While it is possible for both to be sent to Memphis, as both have options left (Descalso has 3 option years remaining, while Kozma only has one), I don’t see a trip to Memphis in the cards for Descalso at this juncture in his career. A trade is possible, but frankly, his trade value isn’t high.
The remaining question is the makeup of the bullpen. Of the seven positions available, Rosenthal, Siegrist, Choate and Maness will get 4 of those. One of the positions will likely go to whoever doesn’t win the 5th starter spot. Jason Motte is a question mark—will he begin the season on the DL or will he be the holder of the 6th bullpen spot? If he is headed for the DL, that leaves 2 spots up for grabs, to be taken by any of the following: Pat Neshek, Keith Butler, Tyler Lyons, Sam Freeman, Eric Fornataro, Angel Castro or Jorge Rondon. Castro has not had a good spring, and Fornataro and Rondon are likely headed back to Memphis. In my opinion, Neshek will get one of the spots, and of the remaining 3, Freeman would be my choice. If Motte is in the picture, then I think Freeman is headed back to Memphis.
The final roster will be shaping up soon, and we will have the answers to these questions within the next two weeks. Regardless of who makes the initial roster, it is probable that injuries will occur, and some of the non-chosen will see time in the big leagues for some part of the 2014 season.