Derek Carty

Preseason Position Battles

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Spring Battles: Reds, Orioles

Friday, February 29, 2008

Team: Cincinnati Reds
Position: First Base
Combatants: Joey Votto, Scott Hatteberg

Hatteberg is the veteran, heralded for his ability to take a walk, and Votto is the youngster, heralded for his power and potential. Both play first base and both have some talent.

Right now, it looks like manager Dusty Baker is leaning towards using Votto as his primary first baseman. This week, Baker said, "What's Hatteberg? Thirty-eight? Votto's the future here. I talked to Hatteberg about Votto. He thinks he's going to be a heck of a player … I think [Hatteberg] understands to be part of the club that Votto might have to be a major part of it. It might be Votto's time."

It certainly sounds like Votto is the favorite, but Baker also said, "[Hatteberg]'s not conceding his position." He also seemed less than convinced when he said, "[Votto] performed pretty well in September. You don't take nothing away from that, but September is a little different than April."

Hatteberg recently said that he doesn't think there will be much "fighting for a job," that it's "purely going to be a decision on which way they want to go." I have to agree with him. Baker has seen both of these guys play and has preconceived opinions about each. What they do over the next couple of weeks probably won't hold too much weight. Baker is going to need to decide whether or not he wants to go young now. Given his quotes above, it seems that he's leaning this way, but still a little unsure.

My money is on Votto winning the job out of spring training. If he doesn't, he could still wind up starting by June or July unless Hatteberg tears it up. And if Votto does win the job, he could be a fantastic sleeper in fantasy leagues. According to the Average Draft Position (ADP) reports found in the Rotoworld Online Draft Guide, Votto isn't one of the 20 first basemen that are getting drafted in the top 250 picks.

He did, however, put up a 15% homer-per-fly ball rate across Triple-A and the majors last year to go with a 78% contact rate and .343 batting average on balls in play, boding pretty well for both his future power output and batting average. My advice: There's very little downside to drafting Votto as your corner infielder or for your bench late on draft day, but tons of upside.

Team: Baltimore Orioles
Position: #4 and #5 Starting Pitchers
Combatants: Garrett Olson, Steve Trachsel, Troy Patton, Hayden Penn, Matt Albers
Long Shots: Brian Burres

With Erik Bedard gone, there are two open spots in the Baltimore rotation. It was expected that the youngsters would battle it out, but the O's went out and signed Steve Trachsel to a minor league deal a couple of weeks ago. This could simply be a move to motivate the young guys, but battling each other seems like it would be motivation enough. Trachsel's experience and former position with the team may just earn him a spot.

If Trachsel does get a spot, he should not be drafted except in the deepest of deep fantasy leagues. He was quite possibly one of the worst pitchers in baseball last year with a 3.2 K/9 and a 4.3 BB/9 in 158 innings with the Orioles. If you do draft him, be prepared to have your ERA and WHIP decimated.

Garrett Olson seems like the most logical choice of any candidate to earn a spot. He started seven games for the Orioles in 2007 and struck out nearly eight batters per game. He also walked nearly eight, but his numbers in the minors – an 8.6 K/9 and a 2.8 BB/9 in 125 Triple-A innings – indicate that he could be a decent major league hurler. He probably has the greatest chance of claiming a spot in 2008 and would make a worthwhile flier in deep mixed leagues.

Troy Patton is widely considered the next most likely to win a spot, but his numbers have not been very impressive and he's a question mark due to an arm injury. Even if he does earn a role, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he's back in the minors by May. In 91.2 Double-A innings, he struck out just 6.2 batters per nine innings and walked 3.1. In 47.2 Triple-A innings, his strikeout rate fell to 4.7, although his walk rate improved to 2.1. Still, a pitcher cannot survive very long in the majors with those kinds of numbers.

Hayden Penn might not make the rotation out of spring training, but if he pitches well enough there and in Triple-A in April, he could find himself a permanent member of Baltimore's rotation. He was injured for much of 2007, but in 2006 he had an 8.7 K/9 and a 2.8 BB/9 in 87.2 Triple-A innings. He definitely has some talent, and if he proves that he's healthy and fully effective he might be a nice waiver wire pickup for someone in 2008.

Matt Albers is the final legitimate candidate and has the most major league experience of any of the young guys, although his numbers haven't been very good. In 50.2 Triple-A innings last year, he posted a decent 7.6 K/9 and an unspectacular 3.9 BB/9. He also threw 110.2 major league innings, 93 of them as a starter, but had just a 5.6 K/9 and a 3.6 BB/9. Plus, that was in the pitcher-friendly National League.

Overall, I would draft Olson in AL-only and deep mixed leagues and might speculate on Penn in certain situations, but I would probably avoid everyone else except in really deep leagues. We might see Olson and either Trachsel or Patton out of the gate, but the latter two probably won't be able to hold down a spot for very long.

Spring Training Stock Report

Stock Rising

Justin Morneau | 1B | MIN – Manager Ron Gardenhire recently said that he expects Morneau to hit fourth, as opposed to fifth like last year.

Nomar Garciaparra | 3B | LAD – A couple of days ago, manager Joe Torre told Nomar that he "has the inside track" for the third base job. If he wins, he might not keep the job for more than a couple of months, but it's better than starting on the bench.

Danny Richar | 2B | CHW – Richar is finally in camp. His chances of winning the second base job have fallen, and he'll have to compete with Alexei Ramirez, Pablo Ozuna, and Juan Uribe – who the Chicago Sun Times recently said was the new frontrunner – but at least he's in the States to do so now.

Jeff Baker | 2B | COL – The Rocky Mountain News said on Tuesday that Baker has "emerged as the main challenger for Jason Nix at second base."

Brad Wilkerson | OF | SEA – Manager John McLaren said that he plans on letting Wilkerson play every day as opposed to platooning him. This could have been surmised given Wilkerson's career against lefties, but now there is some assurance of it.

Stock Falling

Brad Lidge | RP | PHI – After the injury to his knee this week, Lidge could be out for the first couple of weeks of the season, leaving Tom Gordon to fill in.

Scott Kazmir | SP | TB – A recent elbow injury has Kazmir sidelined for a couple of weeks, although his MRI came back negative and he's still hoping to be ready by Opening Day.

Clay Buchholz/Jon Lester | SP | BOS – The Sox signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal this week, meaning that Buchholz and Lester could have some competition for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. GM Theo Epstein seemed to indicate that Colon will start in the minors, but he can opt out if he's not up by May 1.

Coco Crisp | OF | BOS – Epstein recently said that he won't trade Crisp from a "position of weakness," as it seems that there isn't a large market for center fielders right now. It would really hurt Crisp's value if he had to share time with Jacoby Ellsbury or come off the bench.

Adam Dunn | OF | CIN – There was some hope that Dunn would be moved up in the order, but manager Dusty Baker announced that he will continue to bat fifth in 2008.

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