Position Battles to Watch in Spring Training
The St. Louis Gaedels invited a total of 35 players to battle for 25 roster spots in spring training. Besides the 25 players that were on the roster after the free agency period, the team invited 1B/2B/SS Alonso Sanchez, 2B/SS Eric Patterson, 1B/OF Keith Jones, C Darrell Byers, OF Vicente Collazo, OF Matt Markley, P Anibal Moya, P Woody Simpson, P Dan Bertrand and P Gabriel Espinosa to spring training.
In this article we will take a look at a few key position battles that will shape the first 25 man roster of the St. Louis Gaedels.
With the top 4 spots in the rotation set with Larry Duplessis, Neil Turner, Nate Bingham and Robert White, there will be one open spot in the rotation. With the team going to a 6-man rotation for spring training, that leaves a pair of options, both who spent 2015 in AAA, Roberto Cortez and Gabriel Espinosa.
Cortez, 28, had a good year last year, as he posted a 2.58 ERA in 7 starts in AA before going 12-2 with a 3.32 ERA in 18 AAA starts. Cortez is not overpowering, topping out in the low-90s with his fastball, but he can also mix in any of 4 other average pitches. This resulted in a good strikeout rate last year, as he struck out 159 in 162 combined innings last year.
Espinosa, 24, struggled in his second run in AAA last year, as his ERA jumped from 2.31 in 14 starts with the team to 5.41 in 26 starts in AAA. Espinosa is highly projectable, with a fastball that can hit the mid-90s that he mixes with another 4 solid pitches. In 148 innings last year, Espinosa struck out 162, but also walked 69, showing Espinosa's main weakness, his control, which even on his good days is poor.
Who Will Win?
Espinosa may have more innings in AAA under his belt despite being 4 years younger, but his control problems will likely keep him in AAA for the start of 2016, giving the 5th starter spot to Roberto Cortez
Final Bullpen Spot:
After a busy free agency period, the Gaedels signed three relievers that are almost guaranteed a roster spot to start off 2016, Steve Smock, Jurgen Ackerman and Gerardo Martinez. Closer Leandro Bruni and reliever Julio Diaz are also guaranteed spots in the pen, which leaves one spot remaining between Woody Simpson, Anibal Moya, Dan Bertrand and Lou Whitehead.
Simpson, 25, is coming off of Tommy John surgery after tearing his UCL last season, and started off 2015 nicely, with a 2.35 ERA and 18 Ks in 15.1 innings of work. Simpson is a power pitcher, mixing his high-90s fastball with a hard-biting cutter and a mediocre changeup. In his major league career he's struck out 57 in 51.2 innings of work, but also walked 50.
Moya, 29, is a big wild card, as the soft-tosser has only 19 innings above AA in his 12 year professional career. Last year in AA he was quite good, going 13-5 with a 2.40 ERA while striking out 92 and walking 14 in 176.1 innings of work. Moya's main strength is his control, as scouts say he can put the ball in any corner at will. But, he won't fool anyone with his 4 below average pitches, which will likely put him in AAA to start off 2016.
Bertrand, 25, has spent the past two seasons in AAA, going a combined 21-15 with a 3.67 ERA over 52 starts. Bertrand mixes a low-90s fastball with a very good curveball and a below average changeup, but his control leaves a lot to be desired. Bertrand does an okay job of keeping the ball low, but is still a long-shot for the final spot.
Whitehead, 36, is the only reliever to spend extended time in the majors last year, as he went 7-12 with a 5.13 ERA in 156 innings between the bullpen and the rotation. Whitehead can't even hit 90 MPH with his fastball at this point, but can control it on either side of the plate very well.
Who Will Win?
We are going to assume that Moya and Bertrand will need more work in the minors. That leaves us with Simpson and Whitehead, and we feel that the team is more likely to keep the hard-throwing Woody Simpson
than the soft-tossing Whitehead.
For the majority of the past two seasons, the Gaedels have started Mike Wright at second base. But, with a pair of very talented youngsters knocking on the door in the form of Alonso Sanchez and Eric Patterson, as well as Paul Koch and Juan Rosas being able to cover second, let's see if this will be the end of Wright in St. Louis.
Wright, 30, doesn't have a lot of upside, as his .247/.303/.387 career line shows. Wright's major strength is his power to the gaps, as he has 79 doubles in the past two seasons combined, but other than that he doesn't have a lot of value. He's a below average defender at second, has average speed, below average power and not a very good eye.
Sanchez, 21, had a very good season in AAA last year, hitting .333/.402/.457 with 8 homers and 74 RBI. Sanchez's strength is his patience, as he works the pitcher hard and draws plenty of walks. He has also shown some extra-base power, as his 35 doubles last year shows, and scouts are confident that it will eventually develop into above-average home run power in the majors.
Patterson, 24, spent last year split between AA and AAA, hitting .300/.354/.453 in 150 AA at bats before hitting .324/.391/.469 in 339 AAA at bats. Patterson spent last year at shortstop, but also has good instincts at second. He has solid extra-base power, with 40 doubles and 13 triples between the two levels last year, but isn't disciplined enough at the plate and will likely find himself in AAA to start of 2016.
Who Will Win?
will be getting the majority of starts at second during spring training, and after posting a .402 OBP in AAA last year, we predict he'll get the starting spot over Wright and Patterson.
With the departure of Jesus Jaramillo to free agency, the Gaedels will have to decide whether they want to fill the open left field spot with a youngster like Keith Jones or Vicente Collazo, or someone with more major league experience like Adrian Franklin or Alex Castillo.
Jones, 22, is probably the best hitter of the group, as he hit .378/.422/.560 in his first 339 AAA bats, showing good power with 30 doubles and 10 homers. Jones has plus raw power and a solid, but unspectacular eye. His main weakness is the fact that he was a 1B for the majority of his career, but with Julian Manuel solidified at first, he has been trying to learn to play the outfield. Unfortunately, he still has a lot of work to do defensively, and will likely be back in AAA to try and hone those skills.
Collazo, 24, saw his numbers dip in his second straight year in AAA, as he saw his slugging drop from .428 to .400 while his OBP stayed at .354. Collazo projects as an above-average hitter with a solid eye and above-average power. He's a slightly better defender than Jones, but isn't anything special. He still has work to do in AAA, and will likely find himself back there to start off 2016.
Franklin, 30, signed a three-year deal with the Gaedels this offseason after hitting .273/.338/.455 in Los Angeles last year. He is one of the best defenders out of all the left field options, and combines very good gap-power with plus speed. He needs to work on his plate discipline and doesn't have much home-run power, but still is the favorite entering spring training.
Castillo, 29, didn't have the greatest year in 2015, hitting only .227/.300/.324 coming off the bench. The majority of those at bats came off the bench, but when he had to step in for an injured Jose Cano. He plays great defense at the corners, and also is above average in center, mixing in his above-average speed with excellent instincts. He will likely find himself backing up the outfield again in 2016.
Who Will Win?
While Jones and Collazo have the most potential out of any of these options, they each have glaring flaws that will keep them in AAA to start off 2016. That leaves 4 outfielders to battle over one starting spot and two bench roles. We feel that Adrian Franklin
is the best option to get the starting spot, with Castillo backing up all three outfield positions.
Backup catcher might not seem that important, but with the amount of talent the Gaedels have at the catching position coming up, the backup catcher spot will have a domino effect on the rest of the minors. The two candidates are Manuel Nieves, the incumbent backup and Darrell Byers, the fast-rising prospect.
Nieves, 24, was not impressive as a backup last year, hitting only .160/.229/.255 in 106 at bats. Nieves is a better defender behind the plate than Byers, and has solid power, but makes infrequent contact and can't lay off the high stuff.
Byers, 22, rocketed through the minors in his first professional season, hitting a combined .383/.457/.556 between AA and AAA. Byers is an average defender behind the plate, and adjusts very quickly to the pitchers he faces. He also has average power, but isn't disciplined enough at the plate to use his power consistently. His eye is average, but he had solid peripherals last year, with 57 walks and 66 strikeouts.
Who Will Win?
The performance of Nieves last year was definitely not impressive, but he was rushed into a backup role after only 205 mediocre at bats in AAA where he hit .239/.314/.322. Despite this, we predict that Manuel Nieves
will get the backup spot again, but Byers will be up in the majors by the All Star Break as he will prove he has mastered AAA.
We hope you've enjoyed this look at the position battles to watch in spring training. Please join us in our next issue when we'll break down spring training and reveal the first ever 25-man roster in St. Louis Gaedels history.