Spring Training games are officially underway, making today an excellent chance to examine what BluGrass Baseball players are battling for specific roles on major league squads and roster spots. I’ve outlined relevant battles I can think of below, but feel free to include any you would add in the comments section.
Toronto Blue Jays: Closer
- University of Kentucky and PRP alum Scott Downs is in a three-way battle for the Blue Jays closer position. Toronto manager Cito Gaston has said he might use a closer-by-committee approach if none of the three candidates step up. Downs saved nine games in 13 opportunities last season.
- Other candidates: Jason Frasor, Kevin Gregg
St. Louis Cardinals: Fifth Starter
- 2009 Louisville Bats starting pitcher Ben Jukich is in Cardinals camp as the team’s Rule 5 pick. Jukich must be on the 25-man roster all season for the Cardinals to avoid giving him back to the Reds, so he may be given added chance to make the team out of camp. If he doesn’t earn a starting spot he could be considered for a left-handed reliever spot.
- Other candidates: Rich Hill, Mitchell Boggs, Kyle McClellan
Los Angles Dodgers: Right-handed reliever
- Kentucky Wesleyan alum Cory Wade is looking to regain his spot in the Dodgers bullpen one year after shoulder pain led him back to AAA. Wade is in an open competition for a right-handed setup role after Ronald Belisario’s visa trouble getting into the country, but he would probably take a spot in middle relief if it means leaving the minors.
- Other Candidates: Ronald Belisario, Ramon Troncoso, Charlie Haeger
Hit the jump to see more spring position battles.
San Francisco Giants: Fifth starter
- Louisville-native and Bellarmine alum Todd Wellemeyer is a non-roster invitee in Giants camp just two years after 13-9, 3.71 ERA season with the Cardinals. The Giants will give top prospect Madison Bumgarner every chance to win the fifth starter’s job this Spring but if he falters Wellemeyer could step up. Todd also has a good shot at a long-relief spot if he doesn’t make the rotation.
- Other candidate: Madison Bumgarner
Cleveland Indians: Left fielder
- The Indians fear they are too left-handed in their lineup so a spot for a right-handed reserve outfielder is wide open, and if top prospects Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley struggle in camp a starting job could be in the picture for Lexington-native Austin Kearns. The former Louisville Bat is a non-roster invitee in camp so he’ll have to hit his way onto the team.
- Other candidates: LaPorta, Brantley, Shelby Duncan
Seattle Mariners: Relief pitcher
- Louisville-native Shawn Kelley has the inside track for one of the Mariner’s right-handed relief positions after posting a 5-4 record and 4.50 ERA last season. Kelley’s spot isn’t assured as he’s likely the last short reliever in the pen right now and will face challenges from several prospects and non-roster guys.
- Other candidates: Josh Fields, Chad Cordero, Jason Vargas
New York Mets: Relief pitcher
- Louisville Male alum Sean Green likely will have a job in the Mets pen if he doesn’t struggle in Spring Training, but since almost every Mets reliever underachieved in 2009 none can be confident in their standing. Green is one of the last right-handed pitchers in a right-handed heavy bullpen so if a young lefty were to step up this spring he might be in trouble.
- Other candidates: Bobby Parnell, Kelvim Escobar, Josh Fogg
New York Mets: Infield reserve
- Lexington-native and UK alum Andy Green is a non-roster invitee in Mets camp this spring and will compete for a reserve infield position. He’s behind Alex Cora, who is on the 40-man roster, but with a strong spring he might be able to work his way into a roster spot because of his defensive versatility.
- Other candidates: Cora, Anderson Hernandez, Frank Catalanotto
Washington Nationals: Left-handed reliever
- Non-roster invitee Ryan Speier, born in Frankfort, will compete for the second lefty reliever spot in the Nationals’ pen this season. Obviously the Nationals aren’t very good so the team will have a tough time excluding anyone who posts a strong spring.
- Other candidates: Ross Detwiler, Eddie Guardado, Ron Villone
Pittsburgh Pirates: Long-reliever
- Chris Jakubauskas is the only Florence Freedom alum to ever reach the major leagues. Jakubauskas faced a long road from the Independent Frontier League to the Mariners in 2009, and will now compete for the long-man spot in the Pirates pen after being claimed off waivers from Seattle. Jakubauskas could start in a pinch and would probably make the squad with a strong spring.
- Other candidates: Jeff Karstens, D. J. Carrasco, Joel Hanrahan
Cincinnati Reds: Left field
- The Reds left field spot is wide open and the likelihood is a recent Louisville Bat will take the job. Chris Heisey, Jonny Gomes, Chris Dickerson and Wladimir Balentein are the top candidates for the job, but Somerset-native, Eastern Kentucky University alum and former Lexington Legend Josh Anderson will have a chance to make the team as a non-roster invitee to camp. Heisey isn’t likely to stick as a reserve, so if he doesn’t win the starting job he’ll be back in Louisville in 2010.
- Candidates: Heisey, Gomes, Dickerson, Balentein, Anderson
Cincinnati Reds: Utility reserve
- The last spot on the Reds bench will also likely go to a 2009 Louisville Bat or Kentucky native. Non-roster invitee and St X alum Chris Burke still has a shot at the job despite an early camp injury, and 2009 Louisville Bat Drew Sutton will also get a shot at an infield reserve spot. Burke can play the outfield too which may help him.
- Candidates: Burke, Sutton, Aaron Miles, Paul Janish
Cincinnati Reds: Fifth starter
- Top Reds prospects and 2009 Louisville Bats Matt Maloney and Travis Wood will be given a chance to break the rotation out of Spring Training. Veterans Justin Lehr and Kip Wells, who both appeared in Louisville last season, will also compete for the job.
- Candidates: Maloney, Wood, Lehr, Wells, Aroldis Chapman