MLB.com Columnist

Fred Zinkie

10 Spring Training battles still up for grabs

Closer jobs, rotation spots, starting infield roles remain undecided

10 Spring Training battles still up for grabs

Remember those Spring Training stories your grandfather recited way back when? Well, times have changed.

No longer do stars and scrubs alike enter March looking to get fit. In fact, an increasing number of players each year enter camp declaring "I am in the best shape of my life!" Given that trend, many have argued that the Grapefruit League and Cactus League schedules are too long these days, with players training hard year-round.

Too long? Don't tell that to teams still sorting out position battles.

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A handful of clubs are actively deliberating on key roster spots, with final clarity still a big TBD away. Whether you're a fantasy player or just a fan of the game, keeping tabs on the following battles should be fun as well as thrilling.

Blue Jays' closer
Competitors
: Drew Storen, Roberto Osuna

After producing 20 saves and a 2.58 ERA as a rookie last season, Osuna can make a great case to be the Blue Jays' long-term closer. But Storen has 95 career saves, and he struggled when the Nationals asked him to shift from the ninth inning to a setup role last season. Both pitchers have been effective this month.

Zinkie's prediction: Storen opens the season as the closer, and Osuna combines with southpaw Brett Cecil to handle high-leverage situations in earlier frames.

Storen discusses relief outing

Phillies' closer
Competitors
: David Hernandez, Andrew Bailey, Dalier Hinojosa

Hernandez entered Spring Training as the heavy favorite for early-season save chances, but he has dealt with triceps tendinitis. The right-hander recently returned to game action, but Bailey (89 career saves) has turned heads by throwing four scoreless innings. Cuban-born Hinojosa has emerged as an intriguing option by posting a 7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio across six innings this spring, but he has just 24 2/3 career innings on his resume.

Zinkie's prediction: Hernandez opens the season as the closer, but Hinojosa receives some save chances late in the campaign. Meanwhile, Bailey works in a setup role unless Hernandez experiences additional injuries during the first half of the season.

Astros' first baseman
Competitors
: Jon Singleton, Tyler White, Matt Duffy, A.J. Reed

The favorite to win Houston's first-base job at the outset of Spring Training, Singleton has continued his free-swinging ways by hitting .146 with 16 strikeouts across 41 Grapefruit League at-bats. Meanwhile, White -- who owns a .311 average and a .422 on-base percentage as a Minor Leaguer -- has improved his chances of winning the job by hitting .333. With three homers, Duffy has remained in the competition despite a .194 average.

Zinkie's prediction: White wins the job before giving way to Reed by the beginning of June.

D-backs' left fielder
Competitors
: Yasmany Tomas, Socrates Brito

Tomas has hit .400 so far this spring, but he has been limited to 15 at-bats because of a left knee injury. Tomas' extended absence has given Brito a chance to shine, and the 23-year-old has done just that by hitting .378 with a .978 OPS across 39 plate appearances. The D-backs' reigning Minor League Player of the Year, Brito could make a major impact in his first full big league season despite bypassing the Triple-A level.

Zinkie's prediction: Brito forces his way into the lineup on a semi-regular basis during April and begins playing more frequently than Tomas by the beginning of May.

Top Prospects: Brito, ARI

D-backs' middle infielders
Competitors
: Jean Segura, Chris Owings, Nick Ahmed

Acquired from the D-backs during the offseason, Segura is expected to earn a starting role. The question is: where? Segura can man both middle-infield spots, and where he lands could dictate the second half of Arizona's double-play combo. If Segura starts at second, then Ahmed -- who has never played second in the Majors -- could win the shortstop job. With Segura at shortstop, Owings could find himself starting at the keystone. The decision may be tough as all three competitors have thrived this spring, with Segura hitting .541, Owings batting .316 and Ahmed raking at a .429 clip.

Zinkie's prediction: Despite his strong spring and stellar defensive skills, Ahmed may end up as a utility player. The 2013 Pacific Coast League Player of the Year, Owings will need to fare well in April to hold on to regular at-bats.

Royals' second baseman
Competitors
: Omar Infante, Christian Colon

Coming off a disappointing 2015 season, Infante opened Spring Training in a battle with Colon for Kansas City's second-base job. Hitting .261 in Cactus League play, Infante has failed to either distinguish or embarrass himself. But Colon has not seized the opportunity for promotion, batting .182 with a .482 OPS.

Zinkie's prediction: A lifetime .272 hitter with a sizable contract, Infante opens the season as the regular second baseman.

The battle to man second in KC

Padres' left fielder
Competitors
: Melvin Upton Jr.Jabari Blash

Upton has the longer Major League track record, but his spring stats have been unimpressive (.233 on-base percentage, .633 OPS). Selected in the Rule 5 Draft this past December, Blash has opened eyes by using a patient, powerful approach to produce a .368 on-base percentage and a .768 OPS in Spring Training. However, Blash has also struck out 14 times across 38 plate appearances.

Zinkie's prediction: Blash uses his strong spring results to earn an Opening Day roster spot, but Upton draws the majority of early-season starts given his long big league tenure and sizable contract. To usurp Upton, Blash will need to make an impact during regular-season games.

Twins' fifth starter
Competitors
: Tommy Milone, Ricky Nolasco

Milone and Nolasco have already outlasted youngsters Jose Berrios and Trevor May, who were recently sent to the Minors and bullpen, respectively. Milone -- the owner of a respectable lifetime 3.97 ERA -- has registered a 2.00 ERA and an 8-to-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio across nine innings this spring. After posting a 5.64 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP over his first two seasons with Minnesota, Nolasco has logged a 7.36 ERA across 7 1/3 innings.

Zinkie's prediction: Milone emerges as the fifth starter, and Nolasco becomes an afterthought among the Twins' rotation options. Meanwhile, Berrios gets the call when the need arises during the season's first half.

Blue Jays' fifth starter
Competitors
: Aaron Sanchez, Gavin Floyd, Jesse Chavez, Drew Hutchison

With a strong desire to be a starter, Sanchez has posted a 1.98 ERA and a 15-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 13 2/3 innings in Spring Training. Floyd has also excelled this month, holding opposing hitters to a .196 average en route to a 2.19 ERA. Chavez (4.50 ERA) and Hutchison (3.97 ERA) have been neither dominant nor terrible.

Zinkie's prediction: Given his long resume as a starter, Floyd opens the season in the rotation. Meanwhile, Sanchez returns to being a major asset in high-leverage relief situations.

Gibbons discusses rotation

Mariners' fifth starter
Competitors
: Nathan Karns, James Paxton

Acquired by the Mariners in the offseason, Karns has posted mediocre results (3.29 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 8-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 13 2/3 innings) this spring. But Karns has been more effective than Paxton, who owns a 9.00 ERA across 11 innings this month.

Zinkie's prediction: Karns opens the season in the rotation and Paxton returns to Triple-A.

All statistics are accurate through the completion of Monday's games.

Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.