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Seizing the open spots

3/23/2006 - MLB

Spring training has been more competitive than usual thanks to the World Baseball Classic, and thanks to so many battles for positions on major-league teams.

Here are several position battles, not including spots in the back end of rotations. Otherwise, there would be many more.

Second base, Reds: Rich Aurilia, Ryan Freel, Tony Womack, Frank Menechino and Matt Kata are all battling for this spot. But in reality, this likely is going to be a nightly mix-and-match for manager Jerry Narron. Don't expect any Reds second baseman to play 140 games this year.

Aurilia will likely play the most games, but he's also the fallback plan at third base if rookie Edwin Encarnacion labors defensively. Freel can back up at third, and can play three outfield positions, where he'll be needed after the Reds traded Wily Mo Pena to the Red Sox Monday. Womack has been made available, if any team wants to make a trade for him.

Shortstop, Twins: This is between Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett. For developmental purposes, it would be better for Bartlett, who is younger and home grown, to win the job. But whoever plays better will play the most.

Right field, Twins: Lew Ford, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer are vying for the spot. Ford may be the leader. Kubel hasn't played in over a year because of an injury to his left knee, which is still tender. Cuddyer is also an option at third base if Tony Batista fails to produce.

Second base, Mets: Kaz Matsui, Jeff Keppinger and rookie Anderson Hernandez are all in the mix for this spot. Matsui was the leader, but he injured his right knee while sliding, and might not be ready for Opening Day. Matsui likely will be the starter when he heals, but if he doesn't hang in longer on the double play, if he continues to get booed at Shea Stadium and if he doesn't hit, he won't be the regular for long. Hernandez, 23, is terrific defensively, but there's a question whether he'll hit.

Second base, Padres: A terrific spring by rookie Josh Barfield has made him the front-runner for the starting job, with veterans Mark Bellhorn and Eric Young also vying for the spot. The Padres began the spring thinking that Barfield would be better off starting the season in the minor leagues since he got to a slow start last year at Triple-A. But his spring has changed their thinking slightly.

Center field, Tigers: Curtis Granderson, who can run and has decent power and great instincts, is the clear leader over Nook Logan, whose swing is a little long from both sides of the plate. Batting left-handed this spring, Logan has bunted at least four times back to the pitcher.

Center field, Nationals: This is a key spot because whoever wins it likely will be the leadoff guy. Brandon Watson hasn't seized the job this spring, making Marlon Byrd the slight leader. The Nats have also asked about acquiring the speedy Logan from the Tigers.

Center field, Orioles: Corey Patterson and Luis Matos could end up platooning unless Matos is traded -- the Cubs are interested in him. Patterson has a slight edge over Matos because he hits left-handed, but if both stay with the club, the guy who plays better defensively will play the most.

First base, Red Sox: For now, Kevin Youkilis is going to get the majority of the at-bats, maybe 400 out of 600, with J.T. Snow getting the rest. But the first base situation could change depending on third baseman Mike Lowell, who has struggled this spring. If the Red Sox determine that Lowell is done -- that will not be a rash decision because they owe him $18 million -- they'll move Youkilis to third and find a right-handed hitting first baseman to go with Snow.

Closer, Devil Rays: No one has stepped forward to replace Danys Baez, so the D-Rays might go with the guy with the most experience, Dan Miceli. He has been better this spring than Jesus Colome and Chad Orvella.

Catcher, Dodgers: Dioner Navarro is going to be out another week with a hamstring injury, but if he is healthy by Opening Day, as expected, he'll get the job over Russ Martin. But Martin remains a big-time prospect. Few teams have two catchers this good, and this young.

Multiple positions, Marlins: The primary catcher for now is Josh Willingham, who has moved ahead of Miguel Olivo because of his bat. Willingham's defense has also improved this spring through extensive training. He was supposed to get a look in left field, but that hasn't happened this spring. Others have, including first baseman Jason Stokes, third baseman Wes Helms and real outfielder Chris Aguila. Center field is between Reggie Abercrombie (87 strikeouts in 299 at-bats last year in high Class A) and Eric Reed. The Marlins' closer job also is not certain, but veteran Joe Borowski seems to be ahead of rookie Travis Bowyer.

Right field, Mets: Xavier Nady's quick start in spring training, and the fact that he was traded for Mike Cameron, gives him the slight lead over Victor Diaz.

Left field, Cardinals: So Taguchi likely will be the right-handed part of the platoon, but might play more if Larry Bigbie, who is slowed by an Achilles strain, doesn't play better this spring. John Rodriguez can't be discounted given what he did last season and in winter ball, but he might end up back in the minor leagues. The dark horse is Skip Schumaker.

Closer, Reds: They have lots of relievers, and no closer. If the season opened today, it would be a right-handed/left-handed combination of Rick White and Kent Mercker. Todd Coffey is a set-up guy, but he could close, as could Ryan Wagner and Matt Belisle, among others.

Second base, Cardinals: Junior Spivey appears to be the leader without playing overly well this spring. He has been better than Hector Luna, who remains valuable because he's the Cardinals' backup shortstop. Aaron Miles was the third guy at second base to start camp, but didn't help his case by hurting his left wrist, preventing him from hitting right-handed.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

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