MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Mookie's future in the field tops burning spring questions

Red Sox's crowded outfield puzzle among most pressing issues for clubs going into camp

Mookie's future in the field tops burning spring questions

At about the time that Fred Lynn was putting together his American League double-double, John Kay was hitting the big time as the voice behind Steppenwolf.

While "Born to Be Wild" would be their calling card, they were not a one-hit wonder. In one of the songs that would get a lot of airplay, Kay howls "… sookie, sookie, sookie, Sue!"

That's like the sound that will be heard around Fort Myers, Fla., in March -- except this will be more like "Mookie, Mookie, Mookie, woo!"

Also, Mookie, Mookie, Mookie … where?

How the Red Sox handle Mookie Betts is at the heart of one of the most intriguing positional battles shaping up for Spring Training.

As a rookie, the 5-foot-9 kid from Tennessee split his time between center field, right field and second base. He wasn't called up until late June and still posted a 2.1 WAR, which is why the 3.6 projection this season by Baseball Prospectus doesn't look completely out of whack.

But still, that's more projected value than that particular model gives Dustin Pedroia (3.5), Hanley Ramirez (3.4) and Pablo Sandoval (2.4), and it's clear what role they will play. But with Pedroia at second base, Ramirez in left field and Rusney Castillo as the primary center fielder, Betts needs a strong spring to claim an unlikely position.

Betts doesn't fit the physical profile for right field, but he will look to win the everyday job over veterans Shane Victorino and Allen Craig, who are owed almost $40 million combined. Daniel Nava and Jackie Bradley Jr. are in that outfield crowd, too, but Bradley, a sensation two springs ago, is likely to return to Triple-A Pawtucket to try to regain some of his confidence as a hitter.

Betts, a line-drive machine with the speed to steal 20-30 bases, makes the imagination race after hitting his way from Class A to Fenway Park in a year and a half. There are a lot of right answers in this mix, so it's going to be fun to watch it play out.

Here are some other intriguing situations to be resolved in Florida and Arizona:

Outlook: Baez, 2B, CHC

Cubs second base: The job is Javier Baez's to win, but Joe Maddon recently made it clear Baez won't have it handed to him. That means making contact after compiling a 44.6 percent strikeout rate in his rookie season and continuing that trend in Puerto Rico during winter ball. If new hitting coach John Mallee can't get quick results, Arismendy Alcantara or former Brave Tommy La Stella could grab the job. The fallback plan is switch-hitting veteran Jonathan Herrera, a non-roster invitee.

Mariners shortstop: Can you platoon at the most important position on the field? Jack Zduriencik and Lloyd McClendon will spend a lot of time on that question in March as they study the left-handed-hitting Brad Miller and the right-handed-hitting Chris Taylor. Miller's got more pop in his bat, but Taylor did a better job getting on base last year. Ideally, one of them will stand out and earn the starting spot.

Outlook: Pederson, CF, LAD

Dodgers outfield: Trading Matt Kemp does nothing to clear up the crowded picture if Joc Pederson does, as expected, take over in center field, shifting Yasiel Puig to right field. Carl Crawford is the primary left fielder, leaving Andre Ethier again as the odd man out. He was a good foot soldier off the bench late in 2014, but he has made it clear he wants a chance to play every day, and it's hard to see how that's going to happen without another trade. The outfield mix also includes Scott Van Slyke, Chris Heisey and Enrique Hernandez. And, oh, Ethier is still owed $56 million.

Angels second base: Mike Scioscia's team has few questions, but it's not clear who will replace Howie Kendrick, who was traded to the Dodgers for lefty Andrew Heaney. The most intriguing infielder in Tempe, Ariz., will be young Cuban Roberto Baldoquin, but Jerry Dipoto didn't want him to catch Scioscia's eye, so he'll be in Minor League camp. That leaves Josh Rutledge, Johnny Giavotella, Grant Green and Rule 5 Draft pickup Taylor Featherston to compete for the job. Keep an eye on Giavotella, who is cut from the same cloth as former Angel David Eckstein.

Tomas progressing at third base

D-backs third base: Can Yasmany Tomas play well enough in the field to stay there? There's little doubt he'll be a strong addition to the lineup, wherever he plays. Jake Lamb could push Tomas to the outfield, but that situation gets really crowded if Tomas winds up in the mix with corner guys Mark Trumbo, Ender Inciarte, David Peralta, Nolan Reimold and Cody Ross, who is owed $9.5 million.

Rookie Prg: O'Brien

D-backs catcher: Kevin Towers was the GM when Arizona grabbed power-hitting catcher Peter O'Brien from the Yankees for Martin Prado at the Trade Deadline last season, but Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart might like him more than Towers did. They're giving him a chance to jump from Double-A to Phoenix after dealing Miguel Montero to the Cubs. The fallback option is 31-year-old Tuffy Gosewisch, a .213 hitter in 55 big league games.

Top Prospects: Robertson, TB

Rays middle infield: With Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar both gone, rookie manager Kevin Cash figures to play Asdrubal Cabrera at short and Nick Franklin at second base. But Franklin could be an option at short, too, and players like Logan Forsythe, Alexi Casilla and the Hak-Ju Lee could force their ways into the conversation. No Tampa Bay middle infielder will be studied closer than 20-year-old Daniel Robertson, who is viewed as the long-term answer at shortstop.

Outlook: Kang, SS, PIT

Pirates shortstop: Jordy Mercer is the known quantity -- he made just one throwing error in 144 games last season -- but homer-hitting Korean Jung Ho Kang is looking to grab the job. Kang will also be used some at third and second base, according to general manager Neal Huntington, but imagine the impact he could have if he can be adequate at shortstop while hitting 25-plus home runs.

Top Prospects: Lindor, CLE

Indians shortstop: Jose Ramirez was solid after the Tribe dealt away Cabrera and might have a future somewhere. But it's not in Cleveland. Francisco Lindor, one of the best prospects in the Minors, is going to be the guy soon. He will be trying to make the case that his future starts on Opening Day.

Middlebrooks on joining Padres

Padres third base: Which Will Middlebrooks will show up in San Diego? If it's the confident, solid hitter who took Kevin Youkilis' job in 2012, the Padres will be that much closer to catching the Dodgers and Giants. If it's not, Yangervis Solarte will probably keep the job he took over when he was acquired for Chase Headley.

Rangers land Ludwick

Rangers outfield: About the only given is that Shin-Soo Choo will be the Opening Day right fielder, assuming he is fully recovered from surgeries on his left ankle and left elbow. Incumbent Leonys Martin is penciled in as the center fielder, but the crowd of guys fighting for the left-field job could cause someone like Michael Choice or Rule 5 Draft pick Delino DeShields Jr. to crowd his turf. The overall mix includes 2014 rookies Ryan Rua, Jake Smolinski and veterans Ryan Ludwick and Nate Schierholtz. The sleeper in the group is Carlos Peguero, a left-handed hitter who homered once every 12.3 at-bats for the Royals' Triple-A squad last season.

Mets shortstop: Wouldn't it be something if Matt Reynolds stepped up to grab the job after poor Wilmer Flores heard all winter that the Mets were about to trade for one shortstop or another? That could happen, as the previously unsung Reynolds hit .343 between Double-A and Triple-A last year to jump onto the radar. The best thing for Flores would be to get a chance to show his talents on the field, just like everyone else.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.