Spring training games are set to begin, giving us box scores and recaps to pore over amid the rest of our draft prep. It's not just for the fun of it. While spring training is mostly about building up for the regular season, with all performances needing to be taken with a monolithic grain of salt, there are actual evaluations taking place. Not all roles are so clearly defined yet, and some of them are pertinent to Fantasy Baseballers. The following position battles aren't the only ones that matter but they're the 25 that I think matter most. In each instance, the "likely choice" marks the presumptive favorite while the "preferred choice" is the one we'd like to see win the job.
Note that there may be some disagreement as to what actually qualifies as a position battle. For instance, I don't see any way the Rays break camp with a single closer and, thus, don't feel compelled to address that situation here. I also don't know how many times manager Aaron Boone has to say Clint Frazier is the starting left fielder before Yankees fans finally believe him, but I'm convinced. No need to bring it up again.
Likely choice: Urias
Preferred choice: anyone as long as it's one
Truthfully, this mess won't be sorted out in spring training. All three are up-and-comers who have known nothing but success in the majors so far. All three would be starting for most any other team, but because the Dodgers have the means and motive to prioritize starting pitcher depth, only one can be in the rotation at any one time. Early reports have Urias as the heavy favorite, but he would also be the most useful out of the bullpen. Chances are all three will hop in and out of the rotation as needed, with none having a chance to accumulate a full allotment of innings.
Likely choice: Vaughn
Preferred choice: Vaughn
Virtually every high-ranking member of the White Sox has touted the organization's top prospect as a possible answer at DH, and given the lack of viable alternatives, it's becoming a foregone conclusion. But it still probably depends on Vaughn, the third overall pick in 2019, doing his part during the exhibition season, especially since there's so little minor-league data to go on. Ultimately, the White Sox may send him down for service time reasons -- especially if he gives them an easy excuse to do so -- but even in that scenario, he's probably debuting within a couple weeks.
Likely choice: Melancon
Preferred choice: Pomeranz
It's possible the Padres go the committee route here, but manager Jayce Tingler doesn't seem to be wired that way. Last year, he stuck with Kirby Yates until the elbow injury and then stuck with Pomeranz until the Trevor Rosenthal trade. Each stint may have been short-lived, but there was always a set closer. Pomeranz is clearly the most talented of this bunch, but he's also the only left-hander, which presents a problem. Melancon has the most closing experience, including last year with the Braves, and Tingler has already singled him out as a candidate.
Likely choice: Cronenworth
Preferred choice: Kim
As much as we'd prefer these three to have well-defined roles, the truth is they're all probably super utility players. The same one who mans second base one day will find himself in the outfield the next day and on the bench the day after that. Opportunities will be matters of matchup and merit. Cronenworth and Kim will be the ones more often manning second base since they have less outfield experience, and Cronenworth was good enough last year that he probably has the leg up. Kim may have more upside, particularly as a base-stealer, but it's possible he's overmatched this spring and gets sent down.
Likely choice: Marte
Preferred choice: Varsho
Marte is obviously going to play every day, whether it's at second base or in center field. It seemed likely to be the latter after the Diamondbacks signed Asdrubal Cabrera, but the latest reports suggest Cabrera is there to back up the corners rather than start up the middle. The door remains open, then, for Varsho, an athletic catcher hybrid with five-category potential, to claim the center field job, but he did underwhelm in his first major-league showing last year. Seeing as he bats left-handed, he may have to platoon even if he wins the job.
Likely choice: Kirilloff
Preferred choice: Kirilloff
Alex Kirilloff is widely presumed to be the starter -- the Twins wouldn't have non-tendered Eddie Rosario if they didn't think the top prospect was more or less ready -- but as with Vaughn in Chicago, Kirilloff still has to do his part to win the job. And even if he does, the Twins could still play the service time game with him. They have some pretty interesting alternatives should they require them, including displaced second baseman Luis Arraez and young slugger Brent Rooker. But the job will be Kirilloff's sooner than later.
Likely choice: Rodgers
Preferred choice: Rodgers
All things being equal, the Rockies would prefer to keep Hampson in a super utility role since he's capable of playing virtually anywhere and lacks the sort of high-end bat that demands everyday duty, but Rodgers has to earn it. The once elite prospect has barely made a whimper in the majors so far and has seen shoulder injuries wreck his past two seasons, but at 24, he still has his whole career ahead of him. Coors Field of course has star-making ability if he makes good on his opportunity.
Likely choices: Long, Moore
Preferred choice: Moore, Kelenic
Kelenic has made charges of service time manipulation amid a firestorm created by now-departed team president Kevin Mather, leading some to wonder if the Mariners have to put the top prospect on the opening day roster just to save face. But they don't and probably won't given the state of their rebuild. He could make things interesting, though, while the Mariners decide where to play 2020 surprise Dylan Moore. How Shed Long bounces back from an injury-plagued 2020 will have a say in that.
Likely choice: Gimenez
Preferred choice: Gimenez
We've had a good enough look at Rosario by now to know that we could live without him in Fantasy Baseball. Meanwhile, Gimenez shows the sort of stolen base potential that would make him a genuine asset in 5x5 leagues. He's also the superior defender of the two, so the Indians may be eyeing Rosario more for a super utility role or as a fallback option if Gimenez's bat doesn't appear quite ready. It's also possible they hand Rosario the job to up his trade value before switching to Gimenez later on.
Likely choice: Bass
Preferred choice: Garcia
Marlins reporters have been quick to point out that manager Don Mattingly mentions Anthony Bass' name first when discussing the team's closer options, but I remember Cardinals reporters hyping Ryan Helsley for the same reason last spring. We see how that one turned out. Bass did spend some time closing for the Blue Jays last season but was shaky in the role. Garcia, meanwhile, had a 0.60 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 11.4 K/9 in 14 appearances for the Marlins.
Likely choice: Smith
Preferred choice: Smith
With last year's closer, Mark Melancon, having moved on to San Diego, manager Brian Snitker has said the Braves may not have a set closer, but most in his position pay lip service to the closer committee this time of year. His history suggests he'll ultimately settle on one guy, and that guy will almost certainly be Smith, who was recently an All-Star closer, is already being paid like a closer and won't be missed in setup duty given the Braves' surplus of left-handed relievers. Chris Martin's right-handedness is working against him here.
Likely choice: German
Preferred choice: Garcia
Though German showed real potential for the Yankees as an 18-game winner in 2019, a domestic violence suspension has derailed his career and tarnished his image. He'll be given every opportunity to win the job this spring but didn't look good in a Dominican winter league showing this offseason. Meanwhile, rookie Deivi Garcia was efficient and mostly effective in a late-season trial last year and presents an easy alternative if the Yankees are willing to let him accumulate innings early on.
Likely choice: Soria
Preferred choice: Soria
Soria might seem an unlikely front-runner to close given that he has been mostly out of the role for the past decade or so, being used there in a pinch from time to time, but he's a more suitable choice than Stefan Crichton, who just so happened to be in the right place at the right time when he recorded his five saves late last year. Crichton doesn't really have bat-missing ability to stick in the role, and the Diamondbacks seem to recognize as much.
Likely choice: Garrett
Preferred choice: Garrett
If the Reds closer role seems like an even bigger deal to you than the Diamondbacks closer role, well, you're not wrong, but this particular battle seems all but officially decided already. The right-handed Sims may have been a suitable alternative to the left-handed Garrett given that the two had more or less identical numbers last year, but then he came down with an elbow issue that will hold him back at the start of spring training. The signing of Doolittle, also a left-hander, more or less confirmed that the Reds want to free up the left-handed Garrett for the role.
Likely choice: platoon
Preferred choice: Tellez
The Marcus Semien signing reconfigured the Blue Jays lineup such that there's no longer room for both Grichuk and Tellez, who both deserve at-bats. Grichuk has long been a useful power hitter, and Tellez appears on the verge of a breakthrough after cutting down on his strikeouts last year. Because Tellez bats left-handed and Grichuk right-handed, the too-easy answer would be to platoon them even though neither has particularly strong platoon splits. Kirk, who's expected to back up Danny Jansen behind the plate, will likely factor here as well given how much the Blue Jays like his bat.
Likely choices: Dahl, Calhoun
Preferred choices: Dahl, Calhoun
Having shown signs of decline the past two years, the 33-year-old Khris Davis is most likely with the Rangers to push Dahl and Calhoun, maybe even spell them against tougher lefties. But unless he lights up the scoreboard this spring or the other two fall flat on their faces, he's not claiming the everyday DH job. It sounds like the Rangers still have confidence in Willie Calhoun's bat and aren't ready to confine the 26-year-old to DH duty, which opens the door to Dahl being the one who platoons with Davis rather than Calhoun.
Likely choice: Taylor
Preferred choice: Lux
At this point, I'm not even sure which would be preferable for Fantasy Baseball purposes. Taylor has been a suitable contributor when given the playing time, offering moderate power and a little bit of speed, and there's something to be said for that. But seeing as Lux was at this point last year a consensus top-five prospect, I'd rather him get on with it already. The Dodgers seemed to grow increasingly disenchanted with him last year and certainly aren't handing him anything this spring. Part of the reason this battle doesn't rank higher is THAT I'm skeptical a full-time role is even available to him.
Likely choice: Cron
Preferred choice: Cron
Fuentes got extensive playing time at first base late last year, and Bird was once a player of some renown. But this job is clearly Cron's to lose. Manager Bud Black praised the signing, and other than last year, when he was derailed by a knee injury, Cron has been a reliable source of power. Coors Field is of course a boon for any hitter, but particularly one like him who makes contact at a respectable rate. Its BABIP-inflating effects reward putting the ball in play and could make him a nifty little sleeper.
Likely choice: Skubal
Preferred choice: Skubal
Mize and Skubal are of course the upside plays here while Teheran is the old guy running interference. It's possible the Tigers go with a six-man rotation to start the year, but in that scenario, it's still probably just one of Mize and Skubal making it. Skubal had more success in the little bit we saw of the two last year and showed improvement over the course of his stay. He also worked with Driveline Baseball to develop a splitter this offseason, which might unlock even more potential.
Likely choice: Leclerc
Preferred choice: Hernandez
With Rafael Montero out of the picture, Leclerc has yet another opportunity to claim the closer role he has been unable to keep the past two years. Last year, a shoulder strain took him out of the running early, and so the Rangers aren't promising him anything. The only viable alternative is Jonathan Hernandez, though, who may be too valuable as a multi-inning setup guy to merit serious consideration. Maybe Demarcus Evans becomes a factor when he recovers from his own shoulder issues, but it's Leclerc's job to lose right now.
Likely choice: platoon
Preferred choice: Mejia
It wasn't too long ago that Mejia was considered the top catcher prospect in baseball, but it was two organizations ago, which tells you how his development has gone since then. The Padres had too many viable alternatives to give him an honest chance, but the Rays have suffered through Zunino long enough. Mejia has a cannon for an arm, and the Rays seem willing to work through his defensive shortcomings otherwise. It's worth noting that when he got his chance to play more extensively in 2019, his bat did come around, leading to a particularly strong finish.
Likely choice: committee
Preferred choice: Gallegos or Hicks
This competition might rank higher for some, and I'll hear the argument, but I think it's actually less a competition than a stall tactic. We all know the Cardinals want Jordan Hicks back in the closer role once they're confident he's in the clear, free of all restrictions after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2019. They never could decide between the other three last year, when Hicks was sidelined, and I suspect they won't this spring either. Maybe they won't have to, depending how Hicks performs. For whatever it's worth, I think Gallegos is actually the best of the four.
Likely choice: Martinez
Preferred choices: Martinez
Reyes claiming a rotation spot from the get-go is at this point probably wishful thinking. You may have noticed he was also listed as a closer candidate and has proven to be effective enough in the bullpen that the Cardinals would almost certainly have him start out there, if only to preserve his innings. Once the top pitching prospect in baseball, Reyes has seen his stock plummet due to injuries, but at 26, the stuff is still salivating. Martinez, of course, actually has a pretty good history as a starter and deserves a pass for his struggles during a weird season.
Likely choice: Garcia
Preferred choice: Soto
Garcia's 1.66 ERA earned him a chance to close for the Tigers late last season even though his 5.0 K/9 suggests it was a total fluke, and it stands to reason the more sabermetrically-minded A.J. Hinch won't defer the same criteria that now-departed manager Ron Gardenhire did. But the Tigers didn't acquire anyone else to fill the role, and Hinch has said there's room for Garcia to grow as a pitcher. Cisnero's or Soto's ratios would make them more appealing for Fantasy, but Hinch may well stick it out with Garcia.
Likely choice: Farmer
Preferred choice: Suarez (or more realistically, anyone but Farmer)
Suarez-to-shortstop has been getting some chatter in Reds circles, with David Bell having not completely shot down the idea, but the slugger returning to his former position is a pipe dream, especially now that Nick Senzel is confirmed to be the team's starting center fielder and doesn't need an opening at third base. Garcia is the Reds' future at shortstop but looked overmatched in a late-season trial last year. Farmer is a place-holder who offers little upside offensively, so our best hope is for Strange-Gordon to perform well enough this spring that he reemerges as a viable stolen base threat.