MLB preview: NL Central position battles to watch

The National League Central continues to be one of the most competitive divisions in MLB.

Last season, the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs both secured playoff spots and won more than 94 games.

The St Louis Cardinals were also in postseason contention and the Pittsburgh Pirates finished with an 82-79 record.

All four of those teams have a chance to repeat their 2018 results while the Cincinnati Reds should be much improved.

Here is one position battle worth following for each NL Central team:

 

Cardinals — Right field

The Cardinals will have a decision to make in right field. Dexter Fowler, the current projected starter, signed a big contract with St Louis in December 2016 but he struggled last season and batted just .180. Meanwhile, Jose Martinez slashed .304/.364/.457 with 17 home runs and 83 RBIs in 2018.

Martinez could see time at first base and left field if he loses out to Fowler, who is a much better defender.

 

Brewers — Final rotation spot

The Brewers have one of the most reliable bullpens in baseball and also have multiple options to fill out their rotation.

Jhoulys Chacin is the team's ace while Chase Anderson, Zach Davies and Jimmy Nelson will likely slot in behind him. That means Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes are set to compete for the fifth starter spot.

 

Cubs — Bullpen

The Cubs have at least six pitchers, including Tyler Chatwood, Brian Duensing and Xavier Cedeno, fighting for the final few spots in their bullpen. Chicago will also need to sort out who will pitch in the late innings as closer Brandon Morrow is not expected to be ready for opening day because of a nagging arm injury.

Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., and Brad Brach will likely slot into the setup and closer roles until Morrow returns.

 

Pirates — Shortstop

Pittsburgh have two options to start at shortstop but neither one is super promising.

Kevin Newman – the team's 2015 first-round pick – made his MLB debut last season and hit just .209 in 31 games. He will be competing with Erik Gonzalez, who the Pirates acquired from the Cleveland Indians in a November trade. Gonzalez slashed .265/.301/.375 in 81 games for Cleveland in 2018.

 

Reds — Outfield

The Reds will have a crowded outfield this season after they added Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig in a December deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Those two will be in the mix for a starting job along with Jesse Winker, Scott Schebler and top prospect Nick Senzel. That is five players for three spots.

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