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spring is here! spring is here! life is skittles, and life is beer!

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well, baseball has returned, if not to the lou, at least to jupiter. and with real actual baseball, viva el birdos can resume being the best live-baseball-covering website named for a spanish malapropism on the web since "caramba a mi pantalones."

with the desperation of courtney love enjoying some china white after 28 days in rehab, the usual cast of characters on VEB have lapped up every minute of doesn't-actually-countball. the excitement of our first real baseball in months has led to some slightly overheated discussion of what the two games played so far mean for our team. i just want to remind everyone that nothing even during the regular season determines whether somebody does or does not play with the team. in a sample size of the last four games, both matt holiday and ruben gotay will be hard-pressed to make the final cut.

this is the point where i could remind you of khalil greene's performance in spring training last year, or how awfully someone who was good played in spring training, or . . . well . . . i don't feel like digging those stories up right now. suffice to say that the whole of spring training says very little about whether someone is ready to play ball well or poorly. francisco samuel's performance did not inspire any hope for me, but was far less concerning than his long track record of walking way too many people. even if he'd struck out 9 players straight, i'd still think we should be cautious with him.

in fact, the flexibility in the team is very limited. those actually contending for a roster spot are few and far between. as i count it - and this is very subjective - there are six spots in flux. there's even a certain symmetry which i want to throw out there.

so here goes . . .

the infield

the catcher corps and most of the infield are fixed (molina/larue/pujols/skip/freese/lopez). barring injury, i don't see a way those guys don't come north. there are two spots in play -- the starting shortstop and a utility position. if brendan ryan is healthy, he gets the former. in the mix for the two spots are lugo and tyler greene. there's only even a competition here if brendan is healthy. among the NRIs, i think gotay's chances went down the tubes, not with a thrown away ball on thursday, but when lopez signed. the infield is not really that exciting.

the outfield

obviously, ludwick, rasmus, and holliday are the starting three barring injury, no matter if jon jay hits 1.000 all spring. the two OF spots in play have a trio of serious contenders - mather, craig, and jay. again, health is as much a question as talent. a healthy mather could bump either craig or jay back to memphis.

the pitching staff

i will combine the rotation and the bullpen to limit our variables. carpenter/wainwright/lohse/penny are in the rotation in black ink, and franklin/motte/miller/reyes are in the bullpen in a little blue sharpie that dave duncan uses for this purpose. in addition, kyle mcclellan and mitch boggs are going north, either in the bullpen or rotation. that leaves two slots - either one each in the rotation in the bullpen or two in the bullpen. rich hill, jaime garcia, lance lynn, blake hawksworth, jukich, kinney, charlie zink, and pj walters figure to contend for a spot, in something like that order. you could quibble here and there about whether eduardo sanchez or pete parise or whomever should be in there, but that is really the closest to a good list that i can make. i will grant there's room for a surprise candidate here.

if there is a spot of real competition in spring training, it's on the mound. in the field, the real question is the health of brendan ryan and joe mather. the those who remain unmentioned are mostly playing to make a good rep with the team for consideration later in the season or in the event of injury (ottavino, samuel, daryl jones, etc.).

* * *

almost passing my notice was that minorleaguesplits finally posted their full season TZR for the minor leagues in 2009. i looked all winter for something to talk about that had something to do with real baseball and each time found only that the midseason numbers were up. still, it's worth keeping up with the numbers on our more interesting prospects. also exciting was that i looked these numbers up in a chrome browser.

before i begin, i will cover myself by saying that one season's defensive numbers are not very telling.

for someone whose calling card is allegedly his defense, tyler greene has gotten poor reviews for two years running. he amassed a -1 run score in 297 chances at SS in memphis for a -2/150 rating. his 2008 numbers were poor as well (-6/150), though that followed two excellent years including a 22/150 at springfield. i still believe in his defense, but the trend is a little concerning.

allen craig was ranked a solid zero in LF. given that this was his first year in the OF, that's a tolerable if uninspiring number.

jon jay posted a seriously inspiring +7 in CF in 220 chances for a +20/150 ranking - a stellar follow up to a +25/150 ranking in 2008. moreover, in a small sample size in LF he posted a raw +12 (i.e. NOT projected over 150 innings) in 163 chances; while a small sample size, this suggests that his corner OF defense would just be off the charts, which makes sense for someone presenting excellent numbers in center. if he figures out how to hit at a ML level he could be extremely valuable.

daryl jones followed a superb +17/150 performance in 2008 with an injury-hampered +2/150. that he, even with a serious leg injury, put up an okay number gives me a little hope for the future. still, it's on him to show improvements at the plate and in the field this year.

david freese too was rebounding from injury, but played too little and at multiple levels to make it worth recounting his stats.

joe mather also filled out the ranks of the recovering, without posting any positive numbers at any level. his samples were terribly small; the largest was a 152-chance stint at memphis in RF where he racked up a -9 raw rating.

ruben gotay managed a +2/150 at 3b in 156 chances at reno. a lot of his fielding data is at the major league level. his minor league numbers are unimpressive, suggesting a passable fielder at best.

pete kozma has reason to be proud, putting up a +10/150 at springfield to follow a +19/150 last year. maybe he really did deserve that best fielder in the texas league award. permit me this cautious moment of optimism.

dan descalso put up his best defensive numbers yet, with a +4/150 to follow two seasons of negative numbers.

donovan solano spent time at numerous levels and numerous positions, but his small sample of time at SS was very unfavorable. he previously had had some much better numbers at SS.

tyler henley had a fine +5/150 at RF in springfield, which seems in keeping with earlier years of positive but not great numbers.

shane robinson had a very good year on defense at +17/150 to follow several years of good numbers in CF and RF.

nick stavinoha had negative numbers across the board at numerous positions, surprising no one. steve hill did not do much better. mark hamilton had an inexplicably low number of chances at 1b in memphis without much success.

adron chambers, who got a little bit of prospect ranking love this spring, posted a +14/150 at palm beach and good numbers in CF as well, matching exceptional numbers from LF last year.

my pet prospect matt carpenter posted some exciting small sample size specials: raw scores of +8 in 66 chances at quad cities and +6 in 86 chances at palm beach.

no huge surprises in the numbers here. they should all be taken with large grains of salt. numbers that conflict with scouting reports, like tyler greene's and joe mather's, i am happy to take not as gospel but mere cautions for more scrutiny or concern. numbers like jon jay's or kozma's that match with scouting reports i feel free to revel in.

added bonus - ex-cardinal division: brett wallace followed up a raw +2 from memphis with a -6 at sacramento at 3b. a small sample size, but it looks like a move to 1b makes sense for him. jarrett hoffpauir improved his TZR from disgusting (-15/150) in 2008 to merely disappointing (-3/150) in 2009.