As we inch closer to Spring Training, one thing to look forward to every year is position battles. Last season, Toronto’s roster was pretty much locked in. That’s not the case this year, as there are a few positions that are up in the air.
Here’s a few spots where compeition may heat up:
1. STARTING ROTATION: Obviously, Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and Gustavo Chacin are locks. John Thomson has also been given a starting job, which is his to lose this spring, as well. So that leaves the No. 5 spot up for grabs.
Leading candidate: RHP Shaun Marcum — He started for the first time as a rookie last year and impressed Toronto down the stretch.
Other candidates: RHP Casey Janssen, RHP Josh Towers and RHP Dustin McGowan.
2. BULLPEN: Six spots seem set with closer B.J. Ryan, and relievers Brandon League, Jason Frasor, Jeremy Accardo, Scott Downs and Brian Tallet. That leaves one spot open.
Leading candidates: There doesn’t appear to be one pitcher that’s a frontrunner for this job. It could be RHP Francisco Rosario, who is out of options, or LHP Davis Romero, who impressed Toronto last year, but would give the Jays four lefties in the ‘pen.
Darkhorse: RHP Geremi Gonzalez — Toronto manager John Gibbons said recently that Gonzalez could be a candidate for a bullpen job. He’s had a good showing in the Venezuelan Winter League and has Major League experience as a starter and as a reliever. He could provide a veteran arm to an otherwise young bullpen.
3. BACKUP CATCHER: Gregg Zaun signed a two-year deal to be Toronto’s starter and he has a vesting option for 2009 based on games caught. So he’ll garner most of the playing time. But the backup job appears to be a battle between two veterans.
Leading candidate: Jason Phillips appears to be the frontrunner for the job. He spent much of 2006 at Triple-A, but spent some time up with the Jays. One plus with Phillips is he can also be a backup at first base.
Other candidate: Sal Fasano recently signed with the Jays and would like to compete for the backup job. He doesn’t mind playing at Triple-A for Toronto, if needed, though. The reality is that the Jays will likely need a third catcher at some point during ’07 and Toronto’s top catching prospect, Curtis Thigpen, isn’t Major League ready, yet.
4. FOURTH OUTFIELDER: Toronto is set with Reed Johnson, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios in left, center and right, respectively. The fourth outfield job could become a competition this spring, though.
Leading candidate: Matt Stairs — Toronto signed Stairs to a Minor League deal in December with the hope that he could be their fourth outfielder. It seems likely that he’ll make the roster, but as with anything, things could change.
Other candidate: Adam Lind — With Johnson set to play everyday in left, Toronto would prefer to get Lind more at-bats at Triple-A. That doesn’t mean that Lind, who impressed Toronto last season, won’t try to crack the Major League roster. If the Jays wanted to platoon in left, Lind would likely split time with Johnson. That doesn’t appear to be an option at this point, though.
5. UTILITY INFIELDER: Toronto is set around the horn with 3B Troy Glaus, SS Royce Clayton/John McDonald, 2B Aaron Hill and 1B Lyle Overbay. Beyond that, though, the Jays could have a few players vying for a job.
Leading candidate: Jason Smith — Toronto picked Smith up in the Rule 5 Draft, hoping he could emerge as their 25th guy — a player who could provide depth at third, short, second and maybe even first. With Smith, though, third base lacks a true backup for Glaus.
Other candidates: Maybe John Hattig? He was decent in his short stint with the Jays last year and he would provide a switch-hitting option off the bench. Toronto also recently claimed switch-hitting shortstop Ray Olmedo off waivers from the Reds. In all likelihood, though, the super utility infielder job is Smith’s, barring something happening this spring. Russ Adams could also have an outside chance at making the roster. He’s set to start the year at Triple-A and Toronto manager John Gibbons sees him as a second baseman now, but he could play either short or second off the bench. He’ll have to show a lot this spring to have a shot at the Opening Day roster, though.
Of these, the starting rotation, bullpen and catcher jobs appear to be the only ones with competition set to take place. The fourth outfielder and utility infielder jobs appear set, but things could change. It’ll be interesting to see how they all pan out, though.
How do you think it will all play out? And who do you like as the top candidates for these positions?
ON ANOTHER NOTE: Congrats to my hometown Chicago Bears on making it to Super Bowl XLI. Maybe after the big game in two weeks, Chicago can have something else to talk about other than the ’85 Bears. I’m very much looking forward to seeing Manning vs. the Monsters.