Earlier this month I posted a Spring Training position battle primer for Kentucky fans looking to keep track of their native sons hoping to make MLB rosters. These were the borderline major leaguers and players assured of making the roster but fighting for a bigger role, not established players. With one week left before Opening Day I thought I’d update each battle so you have a better idea of where the official Kentuckians in the majors count will stand in 2010. A special kudos goes to PLD alum and Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis who appears ready to start the season with the big league club after starting catcher Russell Martin suffered a groin injury.
Toronto Blue Jays: Closer
University of Kentucky and PRP alum Scott Downs is all but eliminated in the three-way closer race that will go to righties Jason Fraser or Kevin Gregg. Downs recently commented to a Toronto newspaper he prefers pitching in the eighth inning anyway.
San Francisco Giants: Fifth starter
Louisville-native and Bellarmine alum Todd Wellemeyer has all but wrapped up the fifth starter position after star prospect Madison Bumgarner was sent to AAA this week. Wellemeyer is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA this spring.
Cleveland Indians: Left fielder
Lexington-native Austin Kearns has likely lost the starting job to top prospects Michael Brantley and Matt Laporta, but should still stick with the Indians as a reserve. The team is very left-handed, so Kearns’ right-handed bat is needed for balance.
Seattle Mariners: Relief pitcher
Louisville-native Shawn Kelley appears destined to make the team per this MLB.com blog post, but hasn’t had a great spring. Kelley has given up eight runs in 12 innings, but does have 14 strikeouts compared to just one walk.
New York Mets: Relief pitcher
No one in the Mets bullpen has really stepped up this Spring so Louisville Male alum Sean Green remains firmly in the mix for an Opening Day spot despite a 6.75 ERA and eight walks compared to four strikeouts this spring.
Cincinnati Reds: Utility reserve
Despite an early camp injury, non-roster invitee and St X alum Chris Burke is still hanging on to a big league Spring Training spot. Burke is batting just .188 in eight games, so he’ll have to sell the Reds on his defensive versatility to avoid spending 2010 in his hometown with the Bats. 2009 Louisville Bat Drew Sutton is still in the mix.
Candidates: Burke, Sutton, Aaron Miles, Paul Janish
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
The always useful Baseball America has published the full list of minor league free agents. As you might expect several players with Kentucky ties are looking for work this offseason. I’ve listed them below, with their 2009 organization, classification and Kentucky tie.
2B Chris Burke — Louisville, Ky. — Braves (AAA)
RHP Greg Atencio — Louisville Bats — Reds (AAA)
RHP Frederico Baez — Louisville Bats — Reds (AAA)
RHP Jeff Kennard — Louisville Bats — Reds (AAA)
LHP Camilo Vazquez — Louisville Bats — Reds (AAA)
C Korey Feiner — Louisville Bats — Reds (AAA)
1B Wes Bankston — Louisville Bats — Reds (AAA)
2B Luis Bolivar — Louisville Bats — Reds (AAA)
OF Lew Ford — Louisville Bats — Reds (AAA)
RHP Ryan Speier — Frankfort, Ky. — Rockies (AAA)
RHP Matt Wilhite — Franklin, Ky. — Rockies (AAA)
SS Ronald Ramirez — Lexington Legends — Astros (Hi A)
It’s a long list so I might have missed one or two. If you see an omission shoot me an email or comment on the post.
Friday wasn’t a good day for Kentucky major leaguers. The Colorado Rockies designated relief pitcher Ryan Speier for assignment this afternoon. Speier joins Tigers outfielder Josh Anderson as Kentucky natives designated for assignment today.
Speier was just activated from the disabled list on Tuesday. He had been on the injured list since April with a strained hamstring. The Frankfort, Ky., native did not pitch for the Rockies since being activated. He was removed from the roster to make room for newly acquired relief pitcher Rafael Betancourt and top prospect Jhoulys Chacin.
Speier is 7-2 with a 3.99 ERA in 90 career games, all out of the bullpen.