Previewing the top positional battles in the NL
Posted: Monday February 21, 2000 02:07 PM
The Expos need Michael Barrett's bat but are still unsure of where to play him at third or at catcher. Jonathan Daniel/Allsport
By James Quintong, CNNSI.com
Spring training is finally here and it's time for a number of players to put up or shut up as they chase down an elusive starting job. Here are some of the top jobs up for grabs for each National League team. For the American League, click here.
Closer – Rudy Seanez vs. Kerry Ligtenberg: This may be a race for a one-month job or a full-time gig, depending on what the team wants to do with John Rocker. Seanez has been effective as a setup man and part time closer and appears to be healed from a stress fracture in his elbow that knocked him out at the end of last year. Surprisingly, Ligtenberg appears to be recovered from Tommy John surgery he had just last year. Ligtenberg had 30 saves last year and could be a good bet if his arm holds up this spring.
1B – Derrek Lee vs. Kevin Millar: Lee is supposed to have the potential to hit 30 homers, instead he spent most of the season in the minors, finishing the year .206-5-20. However, Lee is still just 24 and he could turn things around, although time could be running out for him. On the other hand, the 28-year-old Millar was a pleasant surprise, going .285-9-67 in a little more than half a season. However, those numbers don't really equate to a top-notch first baseman. Lee still has the upside but he's on the clock.
C/IF – Michael Barrett, Jose Vidro, Chris Widger, Wilton Guerrero: Barrett is the focal point of this discussion. He's got a nice lively bat -- .293-8-52 in 1999 – splitting time between catcher and third base. However, the Expos also have the solid Chris Widger behind the plate. At the same time, Vidro, who's an adept infielder, finally showed the offensive punch that made him a star in the minors, going .304-12-59. The Expos need places for all of them. Right now, the alignment should have Widger behind the plate, Barrett at third and Vidro at second. This murky situation should play itself out by the time the team breaks camp, though.
New York Mets
No. 5 starter – Bobby M. Jones, Bill Pulsipher, Dennis Springer: The Mets are set at just about every position, so this is the only main point of contention. Jones struggled as a starter in Colorado (but who didn't?), although it would be interesting to have him and Bobby J. Jones in the rotation at the same time. Pulsipher, one of the Mets' "can't miss" prospects of the mid-'90s, is back with the Mets after scrapping to get back to the majors with the Brewers. Springer, the journeyman knuckleballer, saw time with both Florida teams last season with little success.
LF -- Ron Gant vs. Pat Burrell: Gant stayed relatively healthy last year but still put up numbers far below his best days -- .260-17-77. They aren't bad totals, but they aren't great, especially with former No. 1 pick Burrell waiting for his shot. Burrell appears to be ready to become a star now. He ripped up Class AA Reading to the tune of .333-28-90. If he doesn't start the season as the starter, he could be up by the All-Star break.
3B – Shane Andrews vs. Cole Liniak vs. Willie Greene: Gee, what a surprise, the Cubs are struggling at third base. Andrews has some pop, hitting 41 homers over the past two seasons, but his average is an atrocious .220 over that span. Liniak, acquired in the Rod Beck trade, has some promise but will probably back up Andrews for now. Greene had some flashes of brilliance in recent years but is expected to be no more than a backup or pinch hitter.
Closer – Danny Graves vs. Scott Williamson: Despite all the potential starters that could've been lost in the Ken Griffey Jr. chase, the Reds are left with very much the same problems they had ending last year. The bullpen-by-committee actually worked for Jack McKeon's crew last year with Graves and Williamson sharing closing duties. Graves appears to be the primary closer, although it's hard to argue with Williamson's performance. Of course, it's very possible Williamson could move into the starting rotation, which thinned out with the trade of Brett Tomko to Seattle.
LF/RF – Moises Alou, Richard Hidalgo, Daryle Ward, Lance Berkman: The Astros still have too many outfielders, even after dealing Derek Bell to the Mets. Alou should be ready to go after missing all of '99 with a torn ACL, although his numbers may not reach his All-Star levels because of the time off. Hidalgo slipped a bit (.227-15-56) because of knee problems but appears to have the RF job to himself. This leaves us with Ward and Berkman, two former first basemen converted to outfielders because of Jeff Bagwell. Both have lots of power and both are still blocked, this time in the outfield. Ward hit eight homers in a brief stint with the Astros last year. Both could be backups and decent bench help, but both need to show what they're all about.
1B – Sean Berry vs. Kevin Barker: The 24-year-old Barker got his chance late in the year and showed off a good bat, hitting .282 in 117 at bats. He's got promise as a decent major league hitter, although not necessarily to the levels of the game's elite first basemen. However, there are still question marks and he could be challenged by the veteran Berry, who has been hit hard with injuries since leaving Montreal.
3B/RF – Wil Cordero, Aramis Ramirez, Chad Hermansen: The former is a solid major-league hitter whose defense is very questionable. The latter two are perennial prospects still waiting for their shot at proving themselves. All three offer plenty of offensive firepower but no real place to play them. For now, it appears as Cordero will play right, Ramirez third and Hermansen in limbo. But all of that is subject to change.
St. Louis Cardinals
RF – Eric Davis vs. Brian McRae: The rest of the St. Louis lineup looks solid except for here, where two veterans are on the downswing of their careers. Davis should be the starter out of camp, especially if he can repeat his performances of 1996 and 1998. However, he is still injury prone, missing most of the second half of '99 with a shoulder injury. If he should falter, McRae could be ready to step in, although he's looked very mediocre the past three seasons.
RF – Travis Lee vs. Bernard Gilkey vs. David Dellucci: The emergence of Erubiel Durazo at first base has Arizona scrambling for a play Lee, one of the early foundations of the franchise. Tony Womack will be moved from right to shortstop and it appears Lee will take over in right after a disappointing season (.237-9-50), although he did have 17 steals. Both Gilkey and Dellucci were decent when given a shot in the lineup last year. In particular, Dellucci hit .394 in limited action before undergoing emergency wrist surgery in July. This race will be one of the more intriguing battles of the spring.
C – Ben Petrick vs. Brent Mayne vs. Scott Servais: Petrick should flourish as a power hitter in the thin air of Coors as he hit four homers there during a brief callup late last year. He is the supposed catcher of the future, although he needs to hit more for average (before 1999, he was hitting in the .240 range in the minors). The questions about his glove and bat are actually having team officials considering starting either Mayne, who had a nice .301 average with the Giants last season, or Servais, a journeyman catcher, who hit .273 as Mayne's backup.
Los Angeles Dodgers
SS – Alex Cora vs. Jose Vizcaino: The continuous fielding woes of Mark Grudzielanek forced the team to move him to second, paving the way for Joey Cora's brother to take the job. Cora is a good glove man, but hasn't been a proven offensive commodity – doesn't hit for average often and lacks much speed or power. The veteran Vizcaino is still a capable backup infielder, but his offensive skills have diminished in recent years as well.
San Diego Padres
3B – Phil Nevin vs. Ed Sprague: After years of being labeled a bust, Nevin, a former No. 1 overall draft choice, broke through in '99, going .269-24-85, nearly matching his career totals in the process. However, the Padres did sign Sprague, the Pirates' lone All-Star last season. Sprague went .267-22-81 after struggling the past few years before that. Nevin gets the edge because he still has some potential while Sprague tries to prove last season was no fluke.
San Francisco Giants
3B – Bill Mueller vs. Russ Davis: Mueller is a solid hitter (around .290) with a decent glove and a knack for getting on base. However, he doesn't have much power, which is some cause for concern. Enter ex-Mariner Russ Davis, who has averaged 20 homers the past three seasons but has seen his average and defense fall off dramatically. Put the positives of the two together, you've got a quality third basemen. Instead, the two will be battling it out in one of the more intriguing battles of the spring.
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