Position Battles: Yankees, Pirates, Indians, & Rockies

I’m going to focus on position battles until the season starts and possibly into the season. Most of the early season breakouts happen because of additional playing time.

Pirates Third Base

Jung Ho Kang vs Colin Moran

Pirates 3B
Depth Chart Spring Training
Colin Moran 490 .264 .325 .409 .734 24 0.509 474
Jung Ho Kang 140 .257 .335 .444 .779 22 1.035 442

Other analysts and I probably didn’t give Kang enough love but he’s coming out firing with an OPS twice that of Moran. The 31-year-old Kang had a couple of acceptable seasons with double-digit home runs and an OBP near .350. He didn’t play any last season because of a DUI in South Korea and wasn’t able to obtain a visa. He seems to have not missed a beat.

As for Moran, he was the favorite at third base coming into the season but it’s not looking good for him. When two hitters are in a battle, the team is going to take the hot hand and a .500 OPS is not hot. Besides not hitting now, he has struggled against left-handed pitching with a .569 OPS. Finally, he has minor league options available.

For now, I don’t see it as a battle and see Kang coming out ahead but many projection systems still have Moran with the lead. The community is noticing the change with Kang’s NFBC ADP at 441 and Moran’s at 474 in March. I’d not be surprised one bit to see Moran’s ADP drop 100 points.

Yankees First Base

Luke Voit vs Greg Bird

Yankees 1B
Depth Chart Spring Training
Luke Voit 420 .263 .340 .466 .806 22 0.930 189
Greg Bird 105 .225 .316 .439 .755 26 1.029 481

Coming into the preseason, this wasn’t really supposed to be a battle after Voit’s breakout last season and Bird’s injury influenced struggles. The difference can easily be seen in the projections. Voit has been a better hitter than Bird. Until this spring.

Bird took off with a higher OPS than Voit and now there seems to be battle, but there really isn’t one. In four fewer plate appearances, Voit is still posting a .930 OPS. Bird hasn’t done enough to push Voit off first base.

Also, the Yankees will only carry one first baseman according to manager Aaron Boone.

With the Yankees projected to begin the season with a 13-man pitching staff, manager Aaron Boone said on Thursday that it is unlikely his roster would feature two first basemen, since utility infielder DJ LeMahieu is expected to serve as the primary backup at the position.

“It’s tough for me to envision us having two first basemen, especially when I feel like LeMahieu would be that guy that gets backup reps there,” Boone said before the Yankees’ 6-0 Grapefruit League victory over the Phillies on Thursday. “I’m excited where they both are. I feel like we have two impact players that are part of our organization right now.”

For Bird to get the spot, he needs to keep hitting and Voit needs to fall off. I’m betting on Voit.

Rockies Second Base

Garrett Hampson vs Ryan McMahon

Rockies 2B
Depth Chart Spring Training
Ryan McMahon 490 .269 .327 .445 .772 32 1.253 387
Garrett Hampson 175 .286 .347 .413 .760 26 1.033 178

As of right now, I think the battle is going to end up in a platoon for the left-handed McMahon and right-handed Hampson. Their projections are almost identical. They both have an OPS over 1.000 in spring training. Hampson’s scouting fielding grades are just a bit better. It’s basically a dead heat.

Another option would be for one to play elsewhere in the field with Hampson playing some center field.

Hampson stayed in the game in center field, and in other games has played shortstop and third base. McMahon played second on Friday, but has seen action at first and third.

So manager Bud Black has plenty of ways and reasons to play both, no matter who starts on a particular day. What began the spring as a competition for one position is looking more like an opportunity for both to contribute as starters, or off the bench.

Rockies fans have to be thrilled they have Ian Desmond and his contract patrolling center field instead of Hampson. Desmond is like the jelly-of-the-month club, it’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.

Indians Outfield

Jordan Luplow vs Tyler Naquin vs Greg Allen vs Leonys Martin vs Bradley Zimmer vs Jake Bauers

Indians OF
Depth Chart Spring Training
Jordan Luplow 490 .242 .318 .404 .722 21 0.446 648
Tyler Naquin 553 .260 .317 .401 .718 27 0.512 641
Greg Allen 420 .243 .310 .338 .648 22 1.071 308
Leonys Martin 490 .247 .304 .392 .696 25 1.063 346
Bradley Zimmer 126 .225 .300 .367 .667 DNP DNP 516
Jake Bauers 616 .243 .334 .411 .745 28 0.670 236

What a nightmare figuring this group out and it just got more confusing with the addition of Hanley Ramirez possibly pushing Bauers to the outfield. And the Spring Training results have just muddled the situation. Those with the best projections are struggling and those who have bad projections are hitting the best.

First, I find it interesting that Greg Allen has one of the higher ADPs but his but is projected the worst. While some owners can dream on his steals, they might as well pick up Jarrod Dyson who is going 300 picks later. I can’t gamble on Greg Allen.

Note: I see the stolen base gambles getting pushed higher and higher in drafts. I’d prefer to gamble on Delino DeShields who has a full-time job and is going at a huge discount to Hampson and Allen at pick 340.

Second, I think Leonys Martin will be the full-time center fielder especially with his Spring Training results.

Third, if Bauers must play in the outfield, he’ll man one of the corner spots.

Fourth, Zimmer is out and not an option for a couple of months but going before Naquin and Luplow in drafts.

Finally, that leaves Luplow and Naquin battling for the last spot. Both are mirror images in projections, Spring Training results, and ADP. I think this is where the “battle” will be held but neither one seems to want the job, Even if the Indians decide to go with Allen instead, both have minor league options so they could head down. I’m still betting against Allen.

Overall, I’d only roster Martin and Bauers and see how the rest shakes out before betting on the other weak bats.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR once, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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3 years ago

Can the Yanks really afford to use DJ as a super-utility guy unless Tulo really closes out spring strong? You have to think Torres at short and DJ at 2nd is their best line-up. Tulo could just as easily back up at first etc. in a pinch.

3 years ago
Reply to  SucramRenrut

I agree with you, but all the Yankee beat writers say Tulo is definitely the full time SS.

3 years ago
Reply to  Robert

“full time” but with a LOT of time off. But yes, if he’s healthy (and he certainly seems to be at least for now), he’s rightly the starting SS.

3 years ago
Reply to  SucramRenrut

In the few ST games I’ve seen, Tulo has looked great defensively, and it’s hard for me to imagine him (if healthy) being outhit by DJ.

That said, DJ’s really going to play a lot. Tulo is going to get a ton of rest (in which Torres will move to short and DJ plays 2B), and Andujar will likely DH against lefties with Stanton playing LF as Gardner sits (with DJ at 3B). Just between those two scenarios, DJ’s probably playing 2/3 of the time.

Then add in other off-days, injuries, the random game at 1B (which I completely disagree with, unless he somehow continues to hit as if he was in Coors) and maybe even some time in the OF, and DJ’s essentially going to be a regular.