The Diamondbacks had their first Spring Training game yesterday. Aside from the fact that the game itself is pretty meaningless, it did signal a return to something we all love: baseball competition. The game also included a couple of non-roster invitees, and while we looked at all of those guys a while back, it seems smart to zero in on those that are real prospects who could make some waves this spring. The roster is pretty full, but there are some battles already raging and it wouldn’t be the first time if a prospect played his way into the conversation like Brandon Drury and Archie Bradley did last season. So, let’s have us a look, shall we?
Brandon Drury, 2B/3B: Once again, Drury will be in the picture. Despite the fact that he’s likely the best hitter of the second base candidates, if not immediately at least not too far down the road, he’s far from a lock to make the 25-man roster. Jean Segura will obviously see a lot of time at short this spring, but should play second base, too. Chris Owings is coming off of a disastrous campaign but will look to get back on track despite his continued use of a two-handed finish to his swing. Nick Ahmed matters here, too, as his primary replacements would open up time at second if Nick didn’t, for some reason, make the roster. Add Phil Gosselin to the mix and you can see that things are crowded up the middle, plus Jake Lamb deserves every rep he can be afforded at third base.
Put all of that together, and you can easily see Drury heading back to Reno to start the season. And that’s okay. Looking at the bigger picture, he’ll get his shot. The odds of one of Ahmed, Segura and Owings playing poorly or getting injured is strong. Drury will get a chance, but he’ll have to be patient.
And when that chance comes, look out. By restarting in Reno, he should face pitching that he can handle and really lock himself into a groove. The question will be whether or not the power comes back as he hit just five home runs last season. He’s always been a doubles machine and makes plenty of loud, hard contact, but the line drive swing just doesn’t put many balls over the fence at this point in time. Will he change that and start looking to do more damage with his contact? That’s something we can watch for this spring. The odds of him making the Opening Day Roster might be slim, but the odds of seeing him at some point, say post-May, are indeed strong.
Socrates Brito, RF/CF: This is the other major position player issue – who fills in behind A.J. Pollock as the team’s backup center fielder? David Peralta should be an emergency-only choice, but keeping Pollock healthy all year is imperative and the team could strategically look to spell him from time to time should they open up a big lead in a game or just give him a few more occasional days off. Brito is probably a better option than Peralta, but he’s surely no Ender Inciarte. And if the plan is to give A.J. something like 15 games off over the course of the year, then giving those 15 games to Brito is probably just fine.
The rub, of course, is that Brito is in need of playing more than 15 games this season. He’d have to take another 10-15 away from David Peralta to spell the Bus Driver on occasion and take something like 20-25 from Tomas, which could make for a nice, lightly-used platoon. If this were the case, we’re still just looking at 45-ish games started. That leaves 117 games for him to come off the bench as a defensive replacement, pinch-hitter or pinch-runner. That seems like a light workload for a player who has the potential to have average to plus grades across board, however.
Stunting his development by limiting his exposure seems risky and the team is surely high on him. Therefore, it won’t come as any shock to see him head to Reno with Drury to receive regular playing time. He skipped the level entirely in 2015 and seeing AAA pitching day in and day out might still prove to be challenging for him. There’s plenty of buzz around Brito, but in the end, we’re probably at least a half-season away from seeing him in the majors.
Peter O’Brien, 1B/LF: There’s no fit for O’Brien to be an everyday player for the Diamondbacks. There just isn’t. It doesn’t matter how long his home runs are – there just isn’t space at the moment and it’s hard to see him pushing Yasmany Tomas out of left field and to the bench. He could, however, draw considerable interest as a bench asset himself. Consider this: he can fill in at first base when Goldy gets some rest, he can fill in in left field a dozen times and he can catch at least… Okay, he can’t catch, but you can see an avenue where he gets some starts at first, in left field and as a DH during interleague play. And for everything he’s not, he is the kind of guy that can change the game with one well-timed swing of the bat. If he can keep his strikeout rate in check this spring, there’s an avenue for him to make the club as a bench guy given that Chip Hale would like 13 position players on the roster. It’s a slim avenue for the slugger, but there’s a path to the 25-man roster for O’Brien who really just needs to face major league pitching at this point.
Evan Marzilli, CF: I’ve been high on Marzilli for a while now and while his ceiling isn’t that of Brito’s, there’s plenty there to think he could become a second-division starter or a strong fourth outfielder option. That’s exactly where he fits in this scenario. A bit like Ender Inciarte in terms of profile, it’s not hard to envision him as a backup all over the outfield, keeping the regular guys fresh and getting plenty of defensive substitution and pinch-running opportunities along the way. With the ceiling being a bit lower, there might be less concern over stunting his development and instead focusing on what he can provide to the roster right now. If fully healed (he was injured for much of 2015), he could be a darkhorse candidate to break camp with the team. Jason Bourgeouis may be his stiffest competition, which is to say that if you don’t see Marzilli immediately, he could be up in relatively short order. Keep your eyes on him this spring – if he plays well, this discussion may intensify.
Zach Borenstein, LF: Most of everything said about O’Brien applies here, except there are two key distinctions. First, Borenstein is a slightly better defender than O’Brien when it comes to patrolling left field. Second, Borenstein bats left-handed and provides a different type of pinch-hitting option for Chip Hale. If Brito heads to AAA, then Borenstein’s odds improve as a very occasional starter and very routine pinch-hitter coming off the bench. His handedness in relation to the rest of the roster is paramount to determining his odds of joining the club on Opening Day.
Jack Reinheimer, SS/2B: There are a lot of reasons to like Reinheimer. He’s got a smooth, simple swing that should make for reasonable gap-to-gap power and he runs pretty well. Defensively, he can handle shortstop and projects as a plus defender at second base. Unfortunately, that’s where the roster is clogged most and he’s just not going to get many looks this spring. Fast-forward a year from now and it might be a different story. We’d do well to expect some attrition from the Ahmed/Segura/Owings/Gosselin group and just to be clear, even being something like a just-less-than league average hitter would likely make him the best of the group. There’s a way to see Reinheimer join the fray, but we’re a year early.
Oscar Hernandez, C: Look, the Hernandez situation went about as expected last season. He hid on the DL, got just enough active days on the roster to be retained without having to be offered back to the the Rays and didn’t hit a lick. He’s in camp but he’s just not anywhere near ready to be a major league contributor. Despite some strong receiving skills, Hernandez will head to either Visalia or Mobile to begin 2016.
While we can surely argue that guys like Drury and Brito have the talent to be major league players early in 2016, this is also about making sure that the team manages their service time so as not to make them more expensive down the road, and more importantly is able to keep some of the veterans on the roster. By choosing youth over experience, the team would expose some players to waivers where they may get claimed. This is probably more prevalent on the pitching side of the equation, which we’ll explore next week, but bears a shout out here as well.
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