Spring Training Positional Battles


With only six days remaining until the first spring training game, we will start to see the Cardinals camp shrink down to the 25 men that will start the season as St Louis representatives in its quest for a twelfth World Series championship. The Cardinals enter the season with a relatively small amount of questions, but there is still some drama to unfold over the next month. In today’s article, I will look at the Cardinals roster and determine where the battles for positional supremacy will take place.

Catcher – Yadier Molina
First Basemen – Lance Berkman
Shortstop – Rafael Furcal
Left Field – Matt Holliday
Center Field – Jon Jay
Right Field – Carlos Beltran

In the starting lineup, these are the six position that I feel there are absolutely no questions. These six players are not only proven at their position, but really have no rivals.

Second Base – Tyler Greene vs Dan Descalso

Second base is the first area in the infield that there exists competition. It is actually a fairly interesting battle, also, as the offensive upside of Tyler Greene is matched up against the defensive prowess of Dan Descalso. Greene has long been overlooked and given very short stints at the major league level to prove his worth, so this could be his first shot at winning a starting role with the team. Descalso proved to be very valuable to the Cardinals in the playoffs as he is a very versatile infielder who may be better suited in a utility role.

Third Base – David Freese vs Matt Carpenter

This is a much more lopsided battle than second base and some may say it isn’t a battle at all. Where as Greene and Descalso probably each have a 50-50 shot at making the team, this battle depends solely on Freese’s performance. Carpenter came very close to winning the job last season in spring training, but was relegated to AAA. Since then, Freese had a star-making performance in the playoffs and Carpenter did not perform well in a cup of coffee with the major league team. It will take a very poor spring training for Freese and stellar performance out of Carpenter  for him to win the job.

Backup Catcher – Tony Cruz vs Bryan Anderson

The Cardinals made no efforts towards signing an aging veteran to back up Yadier Molina as they have done in the past. The only notable signing in the offseason at the position was a minor league deal for Koyie Hill. Many viewed this signing as a depth move to fill the AAA roster, but Hill still has a shot at winning the job if he performs well. Realistically, though, the competition is between the two youngsters. Cruz is a solid defensive player with limited offensive upside. Anderson is an offensive-minded catcher with the ability to hit for a .270 average and ten home run upside.

Infielder – Greene/Descalso vs Matt Carpenter vs Alex Cora vs Eugenio Velez vs Pete Kozma

This is the first wide open field. There is actually a chance that two of these players make the team if Skip Schumaker‘s presence convinces the team to not carry a fifth outfielder. Whoever doesn’t win the starting second base job will probably have the inside track, but a strong performance in spring training by any of the listed players could change things. Carpenter has the biggest challenge ahead of him as he only has the ability to play third base and lacks the versatility of the others.

Fourth Outfielder – Allen Craig
Fifth Outfielder – Erik Komatsu vs Adron Chambers

Craig’s job is a lock as long as he shows a solid recovery from off-season surgery. The true competition is between speedsters Komatsu and Chambers. The two players have very similar skill sets, so it makes sense that they would be battling for a spot on the team. Komatsu obviously has the inside track, since he is a rule 5 player and would have to be returned if he does not make the 25 man roster. If Chambers shows an ability to hit as well as run, he could force the Cardinals to return Komatsu and take the $25,000 loss.

Utility – Skip Schumaker

Starting Pitching
1 Chris Carpenter
2 Adam Wainwright
3 Jaime Garcia
4 Kyle Lohse
5 Jake Westbrook vs Adam Ottavino vs Shelby Miller

This is battle similar to the starting third base position. Realistically, as long as Westbrook has a solid spring, the job is his. However, the Cardinals pursued moving either he or Lohse in the offseason and considered moving him to the bullpen to make room for Roy Oswalt, so his job is anything but safe. A strong spring by a prospect could force the Cardinals to push Westbrook into the pen.

Closer – Jason Motte
Setup – Eduardo Sanchez
Setup – Fernando Salas
Middle Relief – Kyle McClellan
Middle Relief – Lance Lynn
7th and 8th Relievers – Marc Rzepcsynski vs RJ Swindle vs JC Romero vs Mitch Boggs vs Scott Linebrink

One of Scrabble, Swindle, and Romero will win a job for sure as the Cardinals will need a lefty in the bullpen. If Tony LaRussa was returning, I would say Scrabble has a job for sure and Swindle and Romero battle for the second lefty job, but there is no telling whether views two lefties as a necessity. If he views Scrabble as a strong enough option for a LOOGY pitcher, then Boggs, Linebrink, and Ottavino could battle for the long-man job. Linebrink seems to be the least likely to win a job as he is not left-handed and doesn’t have the stamina to be a spot starter or mop-up man. This could be the battle that is decided last.

Many have said that the 2012 Cardinals look like a stronger team on paper than the 2011 World Champion Cardinals. I, for one, agree, as at this time last year there were a ton of question marks in spring training and many of the players that were locks at their position were only locks due to lack of options. This year, the team brings a lot of depth to the Grapefruit League. It will be fun to see the team whittled down to the 25 men who will compete for supremacy in the MLB.

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