A look at who may be in line for an Opening Day job in light of some Spring Training injuries.
There have been several injuries that have taken place since the beginning of Spring Training. Let's take a look at some of the more notable injuries and who may be filling in for the fallen players.
Center Field, New York Yankees
Brett Gardner will get a chance to play his natural position, center field, to open the season. Thanks to a J.A. Happ fastball that fractured Curtis Granderson's forearm and sidelined him for 10 weeks in only the team's second game, Gardner will slide over from left. Gardner is an excellent center fielder, but who will take his place in left field? The Yankees have a few options but none of them give Yankee fans the warm and fuzzies. The Yanks signed Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz to minor league deals this offseason and they will compete this spring for the left field job on opening day. I would also think Eduardo Nunez has an outside chance at the job as he played a few games in left field last year, although he wasn't very good defensively.
Juan Rivera is most likely to win the job because he's the best outfielder of the three and he has some power - something the Yankees will be missing without Granderson. Moving from Dodger Stadium to Yankee Stadium should help Rivera but it's a shame he's right handed and can't take advantage of the short right field porch. Rivera makes a lot of contact but hits too many ground balls to take full advantage of his plus power. Still, he's had a couple of 20 plus home run seasons and could be a source of cheap pop in an AL only league. He's also a decent play in leagues that use OBP.
Starting Pitcher, Texas Rangers
To keep with the broken forearm theme, the Rangers need to fill their 5th starter role. Projected #5, Martin Perez, went down when he was hit by a line drive in Sunday's game against the Mariners. Starting pitching has been a concern for the Rangers all offseason. Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz will both start the season on the DL and they failed to sign Zack Greinke. They may explore signing Kyle Lohse but may opt to again look inside the organization. Robbie Ross and Justin Grimm are the two most likely candidates to replace Perez.
This is a tough call, but I think Justin Grimm ends up with the gig. Ross pitched well out of the bullpen last season and some scouts worry about the effort in his delivery. Grimm was called up for a spot start last summer and although he didn't fare well giving up 22 hits in 14 innings, he only walked 3 while striking out 13. Grimm throws a low 90s fastball that he's run up to 96 and complements it with a slow 12-to-6 curve that has potential to be a plus pitch. He also throws a changeup that has come a long way since he became a pro and it has shown to be a valuable pitch against left-handed hitters. He has the potential to be a mid-rotation starter.
Also, be sure to check out this article to see what Craig Goldstein has to say on the issue.
Shortstop, St. Louis Cardinals
The last injury I'll cover came not this spring, but last August. Rafael Furcal tore his ulnar collateral ligament last season and opted to try and rehab it rather than get the Tommy John Surgery that usually follows. This is turning out to be a disaster as Furcal's elbow has not healed like he had hoped and he is visiting Dr. James Andrews today. Cardinals GM, John Mozeliak, said that "The probability of him being able to play Opening Day is a long shot." The Cardinals have several options to fill in for Furcal in Ronny Cedeno, Pete Kozma and Ryan Jackson.
Jackson is the best defender of the three and a plus-plus defender at the position. However, he doesn't offer much with the bat. I think that Jackson should win the job but I don't see it happening right away. Ronny Cedeno is a 30-year old journeyman who was once a prospect but he's never hit enough to be very valuable. In turn, I think that Pete Kozma gets the first crack at it after he filled in for Furcal last year and did pretty well. Kozma is well below average offensively, so don't get caught up in his performance down the stretch. He's a career .223 hitter in Triple-A and he's never hit more than 13 home runs or stolen more than 13 bases in any season. Kozma's value lies alone in the fact that he's a warm body for those of you in NL-Only leagues.