March Madness on the diamond

The hard-court isn’t the only place that is hosting some hotly contested match-ups over the last few weeks of March. Take a look at these battles going on this Spring in Florida and Arizona.

Grapefruit Bracket

Phillies RF

With Jayson Werth departing for the Nationals Philly has been left with a void in Right Field and searching to replace some of his power. The two most viable candidates are Domonic Brown and Ben Francisco. Each received about 50 AB’s in 2010 at the position and neither dazzled. Brown seemed to struggle against big league pitching but has been highly touted since his minor league debut in 2006. Prior to being called up Brown had 20 HR, albeit against lesser competition. The last time Francisco saw regular time was with the Indians in ‘08/’09 where he hardly dazzled, He did have flashes of power with 15 HR in just over 120 at-bats in ’08 and has the better numbers this spring.

Who should move on: Domonic Brown’s ceiling is too high to overlook

Red Sox SS

According to skipper Francona there is no debate here, Marco Scutaro has been named the starter. It’s no secret that this position has been a revolving door since franchise icon Nomar was traded away in 2004. GM Theo Epstein paid up for Scutaro after a spike in production in ’09, but his numbers last year were less than stellar. The alternative is often injured youngster, Jed Lowrie. He managed decent enough production late last season, including 9 HR. Keep an eye on potential Cinderella story Jose Iglesias. The prospect seems to have all the defensive tools but remains relatively untested against arms at the top level and has already been designated to the minors.

Who should move on: Jed Lowrie, veteran Scutaro is on the decline and Iglesias a year away from a full time role.

Braves 1B

In the wake of Bobby Cox’s retirement there will be a few decisions to make prior to Opening Day. In recent years they’ve had first basemen Mark Tiexiera and Derrek Lee briefly after midseason trades Adam LaRoche, and even Troy Glaus. They’ve invited journeyman Eric Hinske to camp but Freddie Freeman seems to be the better fit. Freeman tore through the minors, hitting .319 and adding 18 HR at AAA Gwinnett. After a fall funk in the majors he’s gotten off to a hot start down at Disney. Joe Mather and Martin Prado seem bound for utility or outfield roles.

Who should move on: Freddie Freeman, alongside Jason Heyward will form core of Atlanta order for years to come.

Mets 2B

With the departure of Luis Castillo this competition seems to be wide open now. Finally a sign of life from the Mets front office, perhaps they are ready to move on. There is now a laundry list of players who may fill this spot come Opening Day. One option is utility-man Luis Hernandez, a 4-year vet who’s never cracked 100 AB’s in the majors. The versatile Daniel Murphy is able to handle the position, but coming off an injury plagued ’10 season. A dark horse would be Brad Emaus. He batted close to .300 with 15 HR between AA and AAA last year.

Who should move on: Daniel Murphy has the big league experience and decent enough Spring stats to get the nod over Emaus.

Cactus Bracket

Royals 3B

Former Cornhusker Alex Gordon hasn’t lived up the hype and appears destined for the outfield. lists Mike Aviles as the guy at the top of the depth chart here. Outside undergoing Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss most of ’09 Aviles has had decent production with KC. He has above average speed, swiping 12 bags after the All Star break last year. Another option is one of the best prospects in the game, Mike Moustakas. The 2nd pick in the 2007 draft coasted through the minors last year, collecting 36 HR and batting .322.

Who should move on: Mike Aviles will probably win the opening day job, with Moustakas’s numbers forcing an early change a la Buster Posey with the Giants last year.

Reds Closer

Only Heath Bell and Brian Wilson had more NL saves than Cincinnati’s Francisco Cordero last year. Despite successfully closing 40 games he had 8 Blown Saves and ERA of almost 4.00. Waiting in the wings is International signee Aroldis Chapman. The young Cuban was expected to be a starter and has since been transitioned into the pen. In a brief call up last fall his K’s per 9 IP was impossible to ignore at 12.83.

Who should move on: Aroldis Chapman, just look at Arizona radar guns to find a 100 reasons why.

Indians 3B

Yes the Indians have lots of problems in their line-up, amplified by the injury to Jason Donald. Losing him isn’t a monumental impact, but they still do need to put 9 guys out there. Once highly touted Andy Marte is no longer with the club either, taking his paltry .218 career average on to Pittsburgh. This leaves journeymen Jayson Nix and Jack Hannahan to fill the job.

Who should move on: Hannahan based purely on a better Spring, though Roger Dorn would probably be their best bet.

Padres 1B

Franchise pillar Adrien Gonzalez was traded away during the off-season. An over-achieving squad even with him in 2010 the Pads have a serious void on the 1B corner. Indications from camp are that Brad Hawpe or Jorge Cantu will come away with the job. Neither are really full time first basemen. Cantu has some historic success against lefties that may earn him AB’s. The more interesting choice would be Anthony Rizzo who came over in the Gonzalez deal. Baseball America tagged him as SD’s 2nd overall prospect.

Who should move on: Brad Hawpe with Rizzo waiting in the wings more at least a late season call-up.

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