Posted: Wednesday February 22, 2006 4:35PM; Updated: Wednesday February 22, 2006 6:35PM
Kaz Matsui will battle Bret Boone for the Mets' second base job.
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By Jason Grey, Special to SI.com
A piece of good news out of Tigers camp is that Carlos Guillen has shed the brace he wore all last year, when his surgically repaired knee caused him to miss a good chunk of the season. He is being discounted by many, but Guillen is coming off a full campaign in winter ball where he reported no problems. A healthy knee should help him hit the ball with more authority. He hit .320 even while hurt last year.
Jim Leyland is hinting that Justin Verlander is close to locking up the fifth slot in the Tigers' rotation, as expected, unless he completely implodes this spring. Roman Colon is the other option. Jason Grilli and Wil Ledezma are longshots while Joel Zumaya is ticketed for Triple A. Verlander ranks in the top five minor league pitching prospects, and you could make a case for him in the top three.
Do not count out Kaz Matsui exceeding expectations. He has reported to camp in tremendous shape, and Bret Boone is saying he will retire if he doesn't earn the Mets' starting second base job. Injuries were a problem in Matsui's first two seasons, and he is hoping his new workout regimen makes those nagging problems a thing of the past.
The other positional battle in Mets camp will be in right field, between Xavier Nady and Victor Diaz. One key factor: Diaz has minor league options, while the Mets need to justify the Mike Cameron trade by giving Nady regular playing time. They can't platoon. Both are right-handed hitters and pretty similar players, but Diaz has more power upside and fewer problems with right-handed pitching. Nady is probably ideally suited to facing lefties in a platoon.
The Devil Rays are going to work Aubrey Huff at third base pretty extensively in camp, but that does not mean he's going to start the season there. Huff has had multiple opportunities to play third, and his defense has always pushed him to another position. He will continue to see time at first and in right field as well this spring.
Huff gives the Rays some Sean Burroughs insurance, and potential playing time to Joey Gathright early in the season -- no small fantasy consideration. He also helps Jonny Gomes keep his spot in the lineup if Delmon Young makes an appearance later this year. Huff has additional position flexibility in that he might grab third base eligibility during the season. We'll keep you posted on his defensive progress this spring.