This is the sixth in a 10-part series that will break down the storylines at each position in advance of spring training. At the plate today: second base.
What happened last year: Veteran Freddy Sanchez started 84 games at the position. A contract extension couldn't be worked out, and he was shipped to the San Francisco Giants after the All-Star break. Delwyn Young was given the chance to make a position switch from the outfield and claim the starting role.
Young hit reasonably well - .266 batting average, seven home runs and 43 RBI in 124 games. But despite extended hours of practice, the 27-year-old struggled in the field, a fact that convinced team officials that he would have more value as a moveable piece off the bench.
Ramon Vazquez (18 starts), Luis Cruz (four) and Brian Bixler (three) also spent time here. Cruz and Bixler are not currently with team.
In the hunt this year: Vazquez, Young and Akinori Iwamura. General manager Neal Huntington filled an urgent need for an established second baseman in December, when he acquired Iwamura from the Tampa Bay Rays in return for pitcher Jesse Chavez.
At 30, Iwamura provides some qualities that the offense hasn't had in awhile, namely, an experienced, athletic type at the top of the order. In three seasons with the Rays, he had a .281 batting average and .354 on-base percentage. He averaged 56 bases on balls, 38 extra-base hits and 11 stolen bases per 500 at-bats.
Last season Iwamura sustained a partial tear of his left anterior cruciate ligament that required surgery. He returned to hit .250 in the final six weeks of the season.
Vazquez and Young will compete for a back-up spot. Vazquez can fill in at any of three infield positions, but the fact that he is in the final year of his contact could work against him. Young is a candidate in right field as well.
The leader in the clubhouse: Iwamura. His experience with championship teams here and overseas could help.
Iwamura was a key member of the Tampa Bay Rays team that captured the American League pennant two years ago. In the ALDS, the first postseason series in team history, he may have been the best player on the field. In the three-game sweep, he had a .389 batting average, four RBI and three extra-base hits.
Known as Japanese Lightning in his native country, Iwamura was a six-time Gold Glove selection at third base before he made a successful transition to the right side.
Player to watch: Iwamura. If for no other reason than he uses a custom-built glove made of alligator skin, one of the few major leaguers to do so.
The big picture: If prized prospect Pedro Alvarez has a future at third base, then Andy LaRoche could move to second base. In that case, Iwamura might be traded to a contender later this season. He is in the option year of his contract.
Chase d'Arnaud is considered to be the top prospect in the farm system, but by most accounts, the 23-year-old is at least one year away from the big leagues.