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The 2024 MLB regular season is only a month away and teams around the league will use these next four weeks to evaluate their players and eventually finalize their Opening Day roster. Spring training games don't count, but they do matter. For many players, this spring training is their best opportunity to win a big league roster spot. It might be their only opportunity.

With that in mind, let's break down 10 important position battles taking place around the league this spring, with an emphasis on teams aiming to reach the postseason. These aren't the only position battles this spring, but they're arguably the most important.

Atlanta Braves: No. 5 starter

Although the Dodgers had a splashier offseason, the Braves project to be the best team in baseball in 2024 (at least according to FanGraphs). They're so good they have Elder, a 2023 All-Star, competing for a rotation spot this spring. Admittedly, Elder was much better in the first half (2.97 ERA) than the second half (5.11 ERA) last year, but for most teams, this guy's in the rotation no questions asked, not having to battle for a job in spring training.

"I think you see it day in, day out with some of the best players in the world," Elder told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this spring. "There's nothing guaranteed in this game, so you got to go out every day and make it happen. It's not that you gotta think that, that's how it is. So you gotta go do it."

Smith-Shawver, who made five starts and one relief appearance as a 20-year-old last season, is the distant third candidate in this race. It's Elder vs. López, and Atlanta is giving López a chance to start after he spent the last two seasons (and most of the last three seasons) as a one-inning reliever. López has started in the past and the Braves will see whether he can use what he learned in the bullpen to transition back to the rotation.

The frontrunner: I would say Elder right now but this race feels wide open. López signed a three-year, $30 million contract over the winter, so he'll be on the MLB roster one way or another. Elder could find himself back in Triple-A if he doesn't win the No. 5 starter's job though. A spot in the bullpen is not assured. Of course, the Braves will need all these guys to get through 162 games worth of innings, especially with some age (Charlie Morton) and injury (Max Fried, Chris Sale) risk in the top four rotation spots.

Baltimore Orioles: Second and third bases

The only thing we know with absolute certainty about Baltimore's infield is reigning AL Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson will be in it somewhere. It could be shortstop, it could be third base. Shortstop seems most likely, though the Orioles could put Henderson at third and Mateo at short, or even Holliday at short. Holliday is the game's top prospect and the brain trust did not close the door on the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft making the Opening Day roster.

"We're going to put the best team on the field," GM Mike Elias told the New York Post early in spring training. "We're not going to do it if we feel like it's going to damage (Holliday's) long-term development. Putting the best team on the field is even more of a priority now than it was when we brought Adley (Rutschman) and Gunnar up."

Holliday played mostly shortstop in the minors last season but did see some action at second base, and he's working out there this spring. Westburg played second and third in his big league stint last year. Urías is a former Gold Glover at third base. Mateo will see time in the outfield this spring in preparation for a super utility role. There's also Coby Mayo and Connor Norby, two other touted infield prospects knocking on the door. The O's definitely do not lack infield options behind Henderson.

The frontrunner: Holliday turned 20 in December and he played only 18 games in Triple-A last year. I have a hard time believing he will make the Opening Day roster, though I don't think it's impossible. If he does make the roster, then Holliday and Henderson will be in the lineup everyday no questions asked. Otherwise I think it'll be Westburg at second most days, with Mateo at short or Urías at third depending where Henderson is on a given day until Holliday is called up.

Chicago Cubs: Third base

Cody Bellinger's return figures to close the door on the Cubs signing Matt Chapman, meaning one of these three fellows will be the primary third baseman going into 2024. Madrigal and Wisdom split playing time almost 50/50 at the hot corner last year, but Morel is getting reps there this spring as the Cubs continue looking for his best position. He can hit -- .821 OPS and 26 home runs in 107 games in 2023 -- it's just not clear where he'll play, and at 24, the Cubs don't want to relegate Morel to DH just yet.

"Christopher's done so much with the bat that it's our job to figure out the best way to deploy him," new manager Craig Counsell told The Athletic early this spring. "My idea at the start of camp is to kind of focus mainly at third base. Let's see where we're at. Let's evaluate that as we go. But let's give him a chance at third base. Let's give him some consistency at third base and see where we're at roster-wise at some point in camp, and then go forward from there."

Madrigal's bat is light for a corner spot and Wisdom has struck out in 36.9% of his plate appearances the last three years. Morel's glove is a question, so there's no great option here. No matter who the Cubs put at third, they're robbing Peter to pay Paul. Do you sacrifice offense to get Madrigal's glove, defense to get Morel's bat, or contact to get Wisdom's power? Of course, whoever gets the job may only be a placeholder for quick-moving top infield prospect Matt Shaw.

The frontrunner: Probably Madrigal with four weeks to go in spring training. He is their best defensive third baseman and Morel could still get plenty of at-bats at DH. Wisdom is best used in moderation, such as a righty complement to lefty-hitting rookie first baseman Michael Busch. But again, don't be surprised if Shaw finishes the season at third base for the Cubs. Whoever wins this spring training position battle may not keep the job through September.

Cleveland Guardians: Shortstop

Amed Rosario handled shortstop duty capably for the first two and a half years following the Francisco Lindor trade. Once Rosario was traded last summer, Arias got the majority of the playing time at short (38 starts), with Rocchio (14 starts) the primary backup ahead of Tena (six starts) and Freeman (two starts). Freeman and Tena are deep depth options here. For all intents and purposes, the shortstop battle is between Arias and Rocchio this spring.

"I don't have any hate with anybody here," Rocchio recently told MLB.com about competing with Arias, his good friend, for a job this spring. "... I said, 'Hey bro, if you win shortstop, if I win shortstop, we just want to go have the best season ever.' Just keep as a unit and keep competing against each other."

Neither Arias nor Rocchio has hit much early in their big league careers -- Arias has posted the more impressive contact quality (exit velocity, etc.), but a high ground ball rate mutes his production -- but they're both regarded as very good defenders. Arias is a righty hitter and Rocchio switch-hits, so a platoon is possible, plus Arias has played all over the infield and even some outfield. There's a path for Arias to get regular at-bats as a super utility player even if he loses the shortstop competition.

The frontrunner: All signs point to Arias being the favorite for the job with Opening Day still four weeks away. This is definitely one of those spring training competitions that won't end in spring training though. No matter who wins the shortstop job, either Arias or Rocchio, that player will have to perform in the regular season to keep it. The other player will be ready to step in should the winner falter. Depth and a little internal competition isn't a bad thing. It's can be good when young players push each other.

Milwaukee Brewers: Third base

This is one of the most fascinating position battles of the spring. The Brewers are so deep in outfielders that Frelick is working out on the infield -- he played infield sparingly in college and during summer ball -- just to see whether he's a viable option at third base. He's seen game action there already in Cactus League games. Frelick being able to play third base even part-time, say two or three times a week for 6-7 innings before a defensive replacement comes in, would be a game-changer.

"(Frelick has) embraced this," new Brewers manager Pat Murphy told MLB.com earlier this spring. "He wanted to do it. I think he can help his career and I think he can help the Brewers. There are not too many guys on a Major League roster who can make that change. He's a very capable young man."

Black played mostly third base in the minors last year, though there's some thought he'll fit best in the outfield long-term. Ortiz came over in the Corbin Burnes trade and will factor in somewhere, potentially even at shortstop if Willy Adames gets traded. Monasterio led the club in starts at third base last season but, like Miller, he's best used as a platoon bat against lefties rather than as an everyday player. It seems Milwaukee has a lot of third base options, but not any great ones.

The frontrunner: Unless Frelick really takes to third base these next few weeks, it figures to be Ortiz. He is MLB ready and his glove is plenty good enough to prop up his bat as he finds his way at the big league level. Monasterio is the obvious backup plan with Black likely to start the season in Triple-A. An Adames trade would change everything, of course, and that includes potentially bringing back a more obvious third baseman as part of the package.

New York Yankees: Leadoff hitter

There might not be a more cushy lineup spot in the game than leadoff hitter for the Yankees. Juan Soto and Aaron Judge are going to hit second and third in some order every single day. If you're a believer in lineup protection, there is no better protection in the sport than those two. LeMahieu has been New York's primary leadoff hitter the last five years, though his bat is beginning to slow. Torres and Verdugo both have some leadoff experience and are the obvious alternatives.

"When I'm going, I think I can really help us in the leadoff spot," LeMahieu told MLB.com after reporting to spring training. "We'll just kind of see how the lineup shakes out, but I'm just excited to be part of this lineup in general. More excited to be part of this lineup than in a little while."

Give the Yankees a truth serum and I think they'd tell you they're hoping Anthony Volpe will ascend to the leadoff spot by the end of 2024, but that time is not now. Volpe hit 21 homers and stole 24 bases in 2024, though he also had a .283 on-base percentage, and that won't work in front of Soto and Judge. The Yankees lack a classic on-base/speed leadoff threat, so whoever they put up there won't have the typical profile.

The frontrunner: It's LeMahieu. He had a strong second half last season -- LeMahieu hit .273/.377/.432 after the All-Star break -- as he got further away from the 2022 toe injury that effectively ended his season in late August. He's the incumbent and the Yankees figure to give him every opportunity to set the table for Soto and Judge. Verdugo and Torres are waiting in the wings in the event the Yankees have to make a change atop the lineup.

San Diego Padres: Two outfield spots

There are a few other names in this mix -- Bryce Johnson, Tirso Ornelas, etc. -- which goes to show just how wide open the outfield competition is at the moment. There has been chatter Fernando Tatis Jr. could slide to center field, though he just won a Platinum Glove in right, and seems likely to remain there. Azocar is the club's best non-Tatis outfield defender and not by a little, which would seem to make him the favorite for the center field job.

San Diego's most interesting outfield candidate is Merrill, one of their top prospects, and also a natural infielder. He played five games in left field last season and is playing there this spring, and will be given a chance to make the Opening Day roster. "It's an athlete position, you know. It's just something you just do," Merrill told the San Diego Union-Tribune about the position change. The 20-year-old has not yet played above Double-A, but since when have the Padres been shy about promoting prospects?

The frontrunners: It feels like another move may be coming here. Maybe a Michael A. Taylor type of signing? A legitimate center fielder who can push Azocar into a bench role? In that case, the Padres could trot out Profar in left, the new addition in center, and Tatis in right most days. As a fan of exciting young players, I hope Merrill wins an outfield job. It just seems like it's asking a lot. I think there's a pretty good chance an outfielder not currently in the organization is in the starting lineup on Opening Day.

San Francisco Giants: Shortstop

Stalwart Brandon Crawford is now a Cardinal, meaning someone other than Crawford will be the Giants' Opening Day shortstop for the first time since Miguel Tejada in 2011. San Francisco signed Ahmed to a minor-league contract earlier this week to provide additional depth behind Luciano, one of their top prospects, and Schmitt, who saw time at shortstop last year. I suppose Thairo Estrada could be in this mix too, though he seems locked in at second base.

"You never come into camp with a rookie and say this is your job, period," new manager Bob Melvin told MLB.com early in camp. "We want Luciano to grasp it and take it, but he's going to have to do that. There's some other guys that can play that position and we'll see how it goes. As we sit here right now, it's a great opportunity for Marco."

Luciano, 22, played 14 MLB games last year and didn't impress in the small sample, plus he's played only 18 games in Triple-A. A little more minor-league seasoning wouldn't be the end of the world. Ahmed and/or Schmitt could hold down the position for a few weeks. That said, Luciano has far and away the most upside of San Francisco's shortstop candidates, and the Giants sorely need an infusion of youth and athleticism. Luciano would be a breath of fresh air for an aging roster.

The frontrunner: The Ahmed signing, even though it's only a non-roster deal, makes me wonder if the Giants aren't fully sold on Luciano being ready for everyday big-league duty. With Opening Day still a month away, I think Luciano remains the frontrunner here, though I think the job is far from locked up. It wouldn't surprise me if the Giants make a move for a one-year stopgap shortstop -- Willy Adames? Kyle Farmer? -- between now and the start of the regular season.

Texas Rangers: Designated hitter

Corey Seager's sports hernia surgery and Josh Jung's calf strain could mean Duran will begin the season at shortstop or third base, but when the Rangers are at full health, he's penciled in as a super utility guy and DH candidate. DH may be Foscue's only path to regular playing time with Texas considering their infield that is above-average at every position. Langford is simply one of the best prospects in the game. The No. 4 pick in last summer's draft could force his way to the big leagues in a hurry.

"He's gonna get his time," manager Bruce Bochy told MLB.com about Langford early this spring. "You'll see him. He needs reps in the outfield. That's how you get better. He is early in his professional career here, but it is critical for him to get play out there."

DH can be tricky because a lot of teams like to rotate players through that position, and with Mitch Garver no longer around, the Rangers are a candidate to employ the revolving door DH approach. It could be Duran one day, Seager the next day with Duran at shortstop, Adolis García the next day with Duran in right field, so on and so forth. This is a competition for a roster spot more than a competition for the DH spot. Just make the team and the at-bats will follow.

The frontrunner: My guess -- and I emphasize this is only a guess -- is Foscue will get the Opening Day roster spot over Langford, and factor into the mix along with Duran and all the regulars who will get a proverbial half-day off as they cycle through the DH spot. I suppose the Rangers could do something unexpected like sign J.D. Martinez. It just seems like, if they do spend money, it will be on pitching, with Jordan Montgomery the most obvious target.

Toronto Blue Jays: No. 5 starter

Manoah went from finishing third in the 2022 AL Cy Young voting and starting Opening Day in 2023 to competing for the No. 5 job in spring training 2024. That's quite a fall, which tends to happen when you throw 87 1/3 innings with a 5.87 ERA and opponents hit .269/.388/.460 against you. Manoah was demoted to the minors twice last season, then he received an injection for a shoulder ailment after the season. For all intents and purposes, he's a reclamation project.

"Looking in real-time, the delivery was where it should be (during his bullpen sessions early in spring training)," manager John Schneider told The Athletic about Manoah recently. "His stuff looked correct. Movement on his fastball, shape of the slider, all that stuff. And then when you match it up with the numbers, it was right where we should be. He's 90-92 in his first bullpen of the year, which is pretty damn good."

Francis and White are depth options more than legitimate rotation candidates -- Francis can be stashed in Triple-A but White is out of minor-league options and figures to fill a long relief role -- so Rodriguez is Manoah's primary competition. The Cuban right-hander signed a four-year, $32 million contract a few weeks ago and will get a look as a starter after spending the last few years as a top setup man with the Chunichi Dragons in Japan. Rodriguez will be a factor one way or another.

The frontrunner: It's Manoah. Of all the spring training position battles in this post, Manoah is the candidate most locked into a job. The Blue Jays want Manoah to be in the rotation, and unless he gets hurt or completely falls on face this spring, he'll begin the regular season in the rotation. And if he pitches poorly again, the Blue Jays will adjust. To put it another way: Manoah will be given every opportunity to lose this job.