by Joe Giglio
At some point, Major League Baseball figured something out about, well, you, the MLBDepthCharts reader: If live baseball is on, viewers will consume it. Years ago, exhibition games were barely blips in the next day’s local sports section. Now Twitter is abuzz during the first inning of Grapefruit and Cactus League games. It’s still determined what that says about our sports society, but if you’re going to watch or follow along leading up to the real games, here are four roster battles to pay attention to along the way:
Royals second base
Chris Getz vs. Johnny Giavotella
Kansas City went through a radical change this off-season. Adding James Shields, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana -- at the expense of dollars and highly touted prospects -- sent a signal to the AL Central that Kansas City thinks they are ready to win. That fits in line with manager Ned Yost’s view on the second base battle: "I know what I'm looking for," Yost said. "I'm looking for the guy that gives us the best opportunity to win every single day -- it's as simple as that."
If only it was for Royals fans. Getz, 29, is the more established major-leaguer. For all his experience -- 2013 will be his sixth year in the show -- he’s never cracked more than two home runs or better than a .324 OBP in a season. His composite WAR since ‘08: 0.8. He’s primarily in the sport because of reliable defensive ability.
Giavotella, 25, fits in with the current Royals group. He’s homegrown, young, and has an upside -- especially with the bat. Although it hasn’t played out through a smattering of plate appearances in ‘11 and ‘12, Giavotella can get on base. During his minor league career, he boasted a .380 OBP clip across all levels. To put that into perspective, Robinson Cano led all major-league second baseman in OBP last season with a .379 mark. If Giavotella could translate his skills to the big league level, he’ll play everyday.
Francisco Cervelli vs. Chris Stewart vs. Austin Romine
According to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, the team is “going to score less runs” in comparison to previous years. Adding to the gravity of the situation: that was said before Curtis Granderson fractured his forearm. Gone is Russell Martin’s 20+ home run power. In his place: a trio of catchers with nine combined big league homers. Clearly, defense is going to be the priority for Joe Girardi’s backstops in 2013.
Cervelli and Stewart -- Yankee second string catchers since ‘09, respectively, have the upper-hand heading in the exhibition season. Both are familiar with the veterans and young pitchers on the roster. Both are respected for their defensive prowess by Joe Girardi. Both are below-average hitters.
If not for a back injury that sidelined him during most of 2012, this job could have been Romine’s to lose. He’s come into camp trimmer, healthy, and ready to pick up as a big-leaguer after a nine-game stint in 2011. According to the NY Daily News, Girardi wouldn’t go as far as labeling this a three-way race, but didn’t rule out Romine having an impact.
“I don’t see why at some time he couldn’t help us this year. I just don’t know exactly when it will be,” said the manager.
Orioles starting rotation
Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, Steve Johnson, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Jair Jurrjens, T.J. McFarland, Tsuyoshi Wada, Dylan Bundy, and Kevin Gausman
15 names for five spots. Despite a magical season that led to the first postseason baseball in Camden Yards since the late-90’s, Baltimore’s rebuilding project is still ongoing. In fact, no matter how the Opening Day rotation looks for Buck Showalter, it will most certainly change along the way.
Somehow, someway, the 2012 Orioles won 93 games without a single starter giving them 200 innings. Twelve arms -- including luminaries such as Dana Eveland and Randy Wolf -- took the mound for at least one start last summer. Joe Saunders -- despite dominating the Texas Rangers in the AL Wild Card Game -- didn’t get the ball in the ALDS. Depth and quantity led the way last season.
At this point, the depth is better and the quantity is larger for Showalter in Baltimore. Adding a middle of the order bat or top-flight starting pitcher seemed to be a point of emphasis for some Oriole followers this off-season, but it simply wasn’t in the cards. Despite the success of last season, a foundation is still settling. The best Oriole team of this run likely wasn’t the 2012 group and probably won’t be the 2013 group. With all their pitching depth, 2014 and 2015 look very, very promising.
In Tillman, Britton, Arrieta and Matusz, Baltimore has former top prospects hoping to find themselves. In Bundy, the best pitching prospect in the game is nearly ready. Gausman, last year’s first round pick, is advancing quickly. In everyone else, there’s a guy who can either lead a rotation -- Hammel and Chen did that in ‘12 -- or provide depth.
Keep an eye on the pitchers in Sarasota. Odds are they’ll all make an impact in 2013.
Rangers center field
Leonys Martin vs. Craig Gentry vs. Julio Borbon
Make no mistake, Gentry or Borbon could win this job. Texas can’t be thrilled if they do. Baseball sat around and wondered when, not if, the Rangers would pursue Michael Bourn or Justin Upton or any other outfielder on the open market. After letting Josh Hamilton walk to Los Angeles, a reinforcement would be needed. That player didn’t come this off-season. Texas general manager Jon Daniels is hoping it came a few years ago.
Texas signed Martin, a Cuban defector, in May of 2011. When he arrived, they described him as a future leadoff hitter and impact defensive center fielder. At times, he’s been that in the minor leagues. Injuries have cost him time, though.
This spring will give him the chance to show that his ability can offset some of the lost runs that Hamilton took with him to L.A. and his defense can save some of the runs that Bourn is known to do. If he doesn’t, the juggernaut Rangers will trust CF to Gentry or Borbon.
Joe Giglio is a sports talk host at WFAN in New York, former intramural coordinator at DeSales University, husband, and baseball fanatic willing to argue Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame candidacy at a moment's notice. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports and check out his blog at joegiglio.blogspot.com.