Top 5 NL spring training battles

5. Washington Nationals, Catcher

The Nationals have two plus defensive catchers in Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki. Kurt Suzuki is the incumbent starter since being acquired from the A’s at the deadline last year after Wilson Ramos tore his ACL last May. Just because Suzuki is making $6.45 million this year does not mean he will get the bulk of playing time behind the plate as the Nationals view Ramos as their catcher of the future and he was playing well before his injury, posting a (.265/.354/.398, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 11 R) batting line before his injury. Ramos is clearly the more talented player and also has a higher ceiling. It would not be surprising to see Suzuki traded sometime this year as $6.45 million is a lot to pay a back up catcher as the Nationals have other viable options at backup.

4. Atlanta Braves, Third Base

After trading Martin Prado as one of the pieces in the Justin Upton deal, the Braves have a vacancy at third base that they will try to fill by using newly acquired Chris Johnson and former power prospect Juan Francisco. Rather than have one player win the position outright it seems that the Braves will use the two as a platoon. This could turn out to be a very cost-effective strategy because when you combine their 2012 stats they would have posted a (.258/.302/.442, 24 HR, 108 RBI, 65 R) slash line while making a combined $975,000 good for a 2.5 WAR (FanGraphs). This year they will make a combined $3,355,000. It is looking like it will be a 60-40 time share with Johnson getting the majority of the playing time and Juan Francisco getting a good chunk of at bats against righties.

3. Philadelphia Phillies, Right Field

The Phillies brought in former MVP candidate and top prospect Delmon Young to see if he could return to his former self this year while also providing power off the bench and pushing Domonic Brown. The Phillies need for Brown to live up to his former top prospect status as they must inject youth and speed into their lineup after losing Shane Victorino at the trade deadline this past season. Not to mention a duo of Domonic Brown and Ben Revere would be a pair of formidable table setters for a lineup, that when healthy, has the potential to score a lot of runs.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks, Center Field

Even after trading Center Fielder Chris Young and former MVP candidate Justin Upton this off-season, the Diamondbacks still have a surplus of depth with the signing of Cody Ross. Despite already being a three year MLB veteran Gerardo Parra appears to be the one who will start the year as the fourth outfielder as his defense and arm would play up at every outfield position. The club likes what they have in young prospect Adam Eaton who posted .259/.382/.412 slash line and scored 19 runs in a 22-game audition last September. He has worked hard to get his defense to the point where he would be an above average center fielder and has the kind of plate discipline and speed teams want in a lead off hitter as evident by his .445 OBP and 106 stolen bases over the course of 3 minor league seasons. Just because Parra is slated to be the fourth outfielder as of now doesn’t mean he won’t get playing time; he racked up 430 plate appearances last year while appearing in 133 games and posting a (.273/.335/.392) slash line.

1. St. Louis Cardinals, 5th starter

The Cardinals are the envy of many organizations throughout baseball as they have 3 young fire ballers ready to come in and compete for the 5th rotation spot. The returning starter, Joe Kelly, posted a 3.51 ERA and a 6.31 K/9 through 107 innings pitched last year and is also one of the most athletic players on the Cardinals roster who is often used as a pinch runner for what it is worth. The second candidate is top pitching prospect Shelby Miller, who after a rough first half in AAA in 2012, turned it around and ended up being called up during September and pitching out of the bullpen to the tune of a 1.32 ERA and a 10.54 K/9 through 13.2 innings while also making the playoff roster. As of right now Shelby seems to be the favorite to win the spot as he came into camp with a little extra weight to help him stay durable through the hot St. Louis summer. The third candidate is Trevor Rosenthal who spent the majority of 2012 at AA as a starter pitching to a 2.79 ERA and a 7.98 K/9. He was then called up in late August and impressed many while pitching out of the bullpen as he regularly topped 100 mph in his late inning appearances. He also pitched well enough at the end of the year to make the play off roster and gave up no runs and only allowed two hits through 8.2 innings off post season action.

Big Tony will be publishing the top 5 AL position battles later tonight.

Ryan Kiernan

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