Blog Entry

Spring position battles: National League Central

Posted on: February 9, 2012 4:51 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 10:47 am
 


By C. Trent Rosecrans


The National League Central is often looked down upon, but it produced both teams in the National League Championship Series last year, as well as the World Series. Both the Cardinals and Brewers have large voids in their lineup due to free agency, but all the teams have some questions when pitchers and catchers report to camp. Here's the NL Central spring position battles:

Chicago Cubs
Old vs. Young: Bryan LaHair and Marlon Byrd vs. Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson

For so long the Cubs' motto has been "wait 'til next year" -- that may have been changed to "wait 'til a couple of years" as Theo Epstein has fully embraced the rebuilding effort. The question is whether the braintrust thinks it's better for some of their younger players to learn at the big-league level or continue in the minors. The two biggest choices will be Rizzo and Jackson. Rizzo, 22, struggled in his call-up last season, hitting .141/.281/.242 with a homer in 153 plate appearances, but that was as a 21-year-old in San Diego. LaHair may only have 65 games in the big leagues, but that doesn't make him young -- just inexperienced. LaHair turned 29 in November and spent eight years in the minors. He hit .288/.377/.508 in his 20 games with the Cubs last season, but he's hardly anyone's idea of a long-term solution. Epstein drafted Rizzo while with the Red Sox and then traded for him when he took over the Cubs. It's Rizzo's job to lose. Meanwhile, Byrd is in the last season of his three-year, $15 million contract, so he's more likely to get traded than to be unseated in spring. The 23-year-old Jackson put up a .297/.388/.551 line at Triple-A Iowa with 10 homers in just 48 games after being called up from Double-A. The team's first-round pick in the 2009 draft will have a chance to show he's big-league ready. If the team does go with Rizzo and Jackson, it could be a sign of the team's future and the patience that Chicago will show going forward.

Cincinnati Reds
Left field: Chris Heisey vs. Ryan Ludwick

The Reds signed Ludwick to a bargain deal, hoping he can find the stroke he left in St. Louis. The 33-year-old has always hit well at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, putting up a .276/.321/.600 stat line with nine homers in 30 games and 112 plate appearances in his new home park. Both Ludwick and Heisey are right-handed batters who fare better against right-handed pitchers. Ludwick is a career .272/.339/.464 hitter against righties and .237/.316/.435 against lefties. Heisey's split is more extreme -- .288/.346/.539 against right-handers and .180/.248/.300 against lefties. One thing that helps Ludwick's case may be Heisey's strength as a pinch-hitter. Last year the 27-year-old Heisey hit .324/.333/.529 with two homers as a pinch-hitter. There's another option here, as well. If Drew Stubbs struggles at the plate, Hesiey could be an option to play center alongside Ludwick in left. That's a remote possibility, though. The Reds are high on Stubbs' power/speed combination and he is an excellent defender in center.

Houston Astros
Third base: Brett Wallace vs. Chris Johnson vs. Jimmy Paredes

The fact that the Astros are looking to move Wallace to third base may tell you what they think of Johnson and Paredes. If Wallace shows he can play third, he's the likely favorite. Johnson struggled in 2011 after showing promise in 2010. Paredes hit .286/.320/.393 after taking over the position for the last two months of the season, but he's not seen as a long-term solution. Wallace could be.

Milwaukee Brewers
First base: Mat Gamel vs. himself

With Ryan Braun's status resolved, the Brewers don't really have many question marks. All five starters return, as do its closer and top set-up man. The lineup, with a platoon of Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan and newcomer Aramis Ramirez at third base seems pretty much set -- barring injury. The only hole is a big one -- the one left by first baseman Prince Fielder. The position is Mat Gamel's to lose. The 26-year-old played in just 10 games last season, getting 27 plate appearances. His only extensive big-league experience came in 2009 when he hit .242/.338/.422 with five homers, primarily playing third base. However, he's never been able to establish himself and after playing both third base and the outfield, he played primarily first base at Triple-A Nashville last season, while making six errors in 20 games at third base. He's a first baseman now and a first baseman only. He's hit  well at Triple-A, hitting .301/.374/.512 in parts of four seasons at the top level of the minors, hitting 28 home runs for Nashville last season. Gamel will probably start at first on opening day even if he struggles in spring, but right fielder Corey Hart could be used at first if Gamel struggles even more. The team did sign Japanese outfield Norichika Aoki, who could play right if Hart moves to first.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Third base: Pedro Alvarez vs. Casey McGehee

Acquiring the veteran McGehee from Milwaukee could be seen as a kick in the pants for the second-overall pick of the 2008 draft. Alvarez hit just .191/.272/.289 in 74 games last season and the team may be getting worried about whether he'll ever develop into the star as expected. McGehee is coming off a rough season of his own, hitting just .223/.280/.346 with 13 homers after hitting 23 homers and 104 RBI in 2010. McGehee was replaced by Jerry Hairston Jr. at third base during the playoffs and by former Pirate Aramis Ramirez after the season.

St. Louis Cardinals
Second base: Skip Schumaker vs. Daniel Descalso vs. Tyler Greene

General manager John Mozeliak has insinuated he'd like to see Greene win the job. The 28-year-old has yet to produce at the level expected of him, hitting just .218/.307/.313 in 150 games and 359 plate appearances. Descalso filled in for the injured David Freese last season and responded with a .264/.334/.353 line, while Schumaker is the incumbent having hit .283/.333/.351 while starting 89 games at second, but none in the World Series. All three have some positional versatility.

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Comments

Since: May 17, 2007
Posted on: February 28, 2012 7:30 pm
 

Spring position battles: National League Central

Man, there's one guy on here who will have to push a peanut from Milwaukee to Chicago with his nose.

I read it, I did.

Also, I can't find any real logic (other than self-induced) that says a team losing the best hitter of the past 20 years will probably do all right without him.




Since: Jun 22, 2009
Posted on: February 28, 2012 1:15 pm
 

Spring position battles: National League Central

LMFAO!!  Check out the Pittsburgh fan puffing his chest out.  I'm sorry, but there's 30+ years of history working against that one.  Even in the rare year in which they seem like they're actually making a push, like last year, they inevitably finish below .500.  I should have said well below .500, as that's what 70-92 really is.  It was a total flop to complete what appeared to be a promising year.  So yeah, the Pirates are going to win the division.  Perhaps it will be them and the Royals in the World Series, as long as we're telling tales.



Since: May 22, 2007
Posted on: February 28, 2012 12:16 pm
 

Spring position battles: National League Central

This projection probably will not come close. I projected the Pirates to finish 3rd or maybe 4th. Reds or cards might battle for first. Brewers going to be there because the league messed up for not suspending Braun. Pirates might even finish behind the lowly astros that is how much i think of the pirates this year.



Since: Dec 13, 2011
Posted on: February 28, 2012 11:56 am
 

Spring position battles: National League Central

That would be really awesome. Not sure I'm gonna bet on it tho'.

I've been predicting the Pirates in the World Series every year since 1979. Sooner or later I'll have to be right (I hope, after all, the Cubs have already proven that any team can have a bad century).



Since: Oct 9, 2008
Posted on: February 28, 2012 11:28 am
 

Spring position battles: National League Central

2012 Projected Finish

NL Central

1. Pittburgh Pirates
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. St Louis Cardinals
5. Chicago Cubs
6. Houston Astros


Book it
If  you were to bet that in Vegas and it happened you would be a very rich man!

  



Since: Apr 8, 2009
Posted on: February 28, 2012 9:42 am
 

Spring position battles: National League Central

You may have forgottent the Craig factor in St. louis. The kid hit well last year and can play a decent 2nd base. If the knee heals and it appears as though he is coming around. I give a better than average chance of becoming an everyday 2nd basemen with power.



Since: Feb 23, 2012
Posted on: February 26, 2012 4:46 pm
 

Spring position battles: National League Central

dream on



Since: Dec 31, 2007
Posted on: February 26, 2012 11:47 am
 

Spring position battles: National League Central

2012 Projected Finish

NL Central

1. Pittburgh Pirates
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. St Louis Cardinals
5. Chicago Cubs
6. Houston Astros 


Book it 



Since: Aug 22, 2006
Posted on: February 23, 2012 6:41 pm
 

Spring position battles: National League Central

Braun not out fifty because somebody screwed up some procedure.  Not necessarily the test, but how they did it.



Since: Dec 12, 2007
Posted on: February 20, 2012 10:59 am
 

Spring position battles: National League Central

I have a pass to any I-Cubs game in DSM and I had the privilege to see 2 of Brett Jackson's 10 tripleA homers in one game... both of them no doubters, with one being in excess of 420 feet! This kid is legit and I would not at ALL be sad to see him get in there every 3rd day or more as we go Byrd shopping. And keep an eye on that Campana kid... He could be the first Cub to have a legitimate shot at the stolen base crown since that guy we traded to the Cards for a bag of balls in the 70s...


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