Sunday, February 20, 2011

Spring Training Preview: Position Battles

Second Base
Second base is one position on the diamond where they Cubs have some flexibility. They are not locked down with a big contract, so if someone at the minor league level gets hot they could find themselves starting in the bigs. Last year, Blake DeWitt came over in the Ryan Theriot trade and took his spot in the middle infield. DeWitt hit .250 in 53 games with the Cubs and .261 for the season. Jeff Baker, a left handed hitter, will compete against DeWitt in Spring Training, but a platoon situation is the most likely. Baker hit .272 in 2010 but is not quite the all-around player that Blake is. Youngster Darwin Barney (.241 in 30 games) and non-roster man Augie Ojeda (.190 in 59 games) could also be in the mix, but will most likely battle for a spot on the roster, not in the starting lineup.

Lead-off Man
Some of the same candidates for the second base position are possibilities for the top spot in the lineup. Once Mike Quade took over in August, Blake DeWitt saw a lot of time there. Q has said that Kosuke Fukudome is probably the guy that makes the most sense there when he is in the lineup. There has been some speculation about Starlin Castro moving up a spot, but most likely he'll stay second. There have been reports out of Mesa that Marlon Byrd is also in the mix. Chances are, there will be no set lead-off man, giving Quade a chance to tweak the lineup and find out what works.

Right Field
Another battle where we may not see a winner declared at the end of camp. Kosuke has more experience, the bigger contract and the better glove. Tyler Colvin's numbers were far better than his Japanese teammate in 2010. Colvin has more power, puts the ball in play more and hits for a better average. Kosuke is known for his hot starts, so he may see the bulk of the time in right to start the season. If he experiences his usual June swoon, Kosuke will become the fourth outfielder and Colvin will start.

Fifth Outfielder
There are a lot of names in the mix, but it looks like it will come down to Reed Johnson and Fernando Perez. For the first time in years, the Cubs can carry five outfielders because they don't have a pinch hitting specialist like Daryle Ward or Micah Hoffpauir to take up a roster spot. Perez, who came over in the Matt Garza trade with Tampa Bay, has great speed but is trying to come back from an injury. Reed Johnson's number at the plate declined in 2010 with the Dodgers, but he is a clubhouse leader and a fan favorite. If Johnson does not beat out Perez, he will be released. Perez still has an option remaining so he could be sent to Iowa, which could be the deciding factor in this battle.

My Take: I would lead-off with DeWitt and Kosuke depending on who is in the lineup, platoon Barney, DeWitt and Baker at second base, start Colvin in right every day and give Reed the nod as the fifth outfielder.

Tomorrow I will preview the battles on the pitching staff.

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