Thursday, March 06, 2008

What's at Stake: The Bench

The bench might be the most interesting of the pieces this Spring. Lots of guys fighting for just a few spots.

Assuming a 12 man staff and a 9 man lineup, that leaves just 4 bench spots open. And we know Willie is getting one of those. That leaves room for a backup catcher, a backup outfielder and one more guy. On to the candidates!

Backup Catcher
Jamie Burke - Burke hit 300 with little power or patience last year and handled himself reasonably well behind the dish. He's got the inside track on the job, but he's just keeping it warm for one of the two guys behind him. He won't repeat last year's performance.
Jeff Clement - Clement can hit (Pecota thinks he can put an ISO in the 150 range), and his defense is probably at least acceptable, but he's not ready for prime-time just yet. He'll likely start the year in Tacoma.
Rob Johnson - He's got the defensive reputation of our Tacoma catchers. He isn't going to hit in the big leagues though. If Burke had a terrible spring or got hurt, or hit 150 in April and May, Johnson might get the first look as a defensive replacement type backup.

Backup Outfielder
Jeremy Reed - After a very slow start, showed again last year that he can handle AAA pitching. I like Reed's chances here, he can handle the bat well enough and he can play all 3 OF spots. He makes a good 4th OF except for one small problem. He's left-handed, just like all the other M's outfielders. So he can't platoon with Wilkerson or Ibanez if you decide to go that route. He's also got an option remaining so he can be sent to AAA and kept as CF insurance
Charlton Jimerson - Toolsy OF picked up from Houston, he's big, strong and fast. And he can't hit. He's not even as good a minor league hitter as Reed, but he has more power and can steal a base or two. Plus he is right handed, so he makes a better caddy for Wilkerson/Ibanez in that respect.
Mike Morse - Has worked on his OF play to the point where he is respectable by most accounts. Has hit in 300 ABs in the majors, but probably isn't going to maintain that. Things in his favor are that he can play all the infield positions as well and he's out of options.
Wladimir Balentien - Made progress in AAA last year, cutting down on his strikeouts considerably. He could use some more time there to work on the holes in his swing, though. Might be ready by the All-Star break to be the right-handed half of a platoon. Would need an amazing spring to make the club out of the gate.

Last guy
There are a number of ways the M's could go with this spot. If Morse isn't the backup OF, you don't really have another 1b or 3b on the roster, so you would need one of those. Thus, Morse has a shot at this spot if Reed or Jimerson win the OF job. They could also keep Clement and have him backup Richie at first, steal some ABs from Vidro and catch once a week. They are in win-now mode after all. But the job is likely to go to one of these two guys:
Miguel Cairo - In theory he can play all the IF positions and provides a fallback if Lopez plays poorly. In reality, he sucks and would be a waste of a roster spot. Naturally, he's got the inside track.
Greg Norton - Can play both IF corners and the OF. Has the professional hitter label. Is comfortable in a bench/pinch hitter role for what that's worth. Would have to be added to the 40-man roster if he made it.

So that's it, three bench positions up for grabs is basically the most interesting thing in camp. And there's like a 90% chance the bench is Willie, Burke, Cairo and either Jimerson or Reed. Whoo!


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