The Diamondbacks have shuttled infielders around like nobody’s business over the last few years. There’s been little consistency, though there are holdovers from year to year. Gone are Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hill and Jean Segura. You can actually add Dansby Swanson to that list, too. There are plenty of new faces, and as of today, I count 11 infielders on the 40-man roster (with another non-roster invitee). For reference, there are only five outfielders listed. That means the group is deep and there are, once again, a bevy of options for the team to consider. Let’s jump right in and see who’s a lock, who’ll contend for playing time, and who’s on the fringes.
It’s a Stone-Cold Lock
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, 29
There’s a reason why Paul is America’s First Baseman. He’s consistently near the top of offensive players in baseball, even when things aren’t firing on all cylinders. When they are, he’s as good as they come, outside of Mike Trout. Goldy should log 150+ games again this year, provided he remains healthy.
Jake Lamb, 3B, 26
It was the tale of two seasons for Lamb in 2016. After a white-hot start, he cooled considerably in July and August, thanks in part to a hand injury that he attempted to play through. His defense was shaky during the first half, mostly due to throwing errors. He cleaned it up down the stretch, however, as he seemed to improve his footwork to put his body in a better position to make on-target throws. He’ll get the lion’s share of work at the hot corner again, but will he continue to face lefties?
More Likely Than Not
Ketel Marte, SS, 23
Marte was acquired along with Taijuan Walker in the Jean Segura trade, and while his name didn’t draw the headlines, he’s still very much a part of the D-backs’ future. At least for now. Marte had a blistering rookie campaign in 2015, then struggled mightily down the stretch last year after making some swing adjustments that didn’t seem to work in his favor. At just 23, there’s time to figure it out and the Diamondbacks will give him that time in 2017. The question is where that time comes. Will he play some second base? How much time does he get at short? He profiles as slightly below average defensively at short, but Marte can make most of the plays. Perhaps second base will fit him better, but things aren’t that easy…
Brandon Drury, 3B/2B, 24
Drury showed some real growth late in 2016, and while it was easy to miss, there were some adjustments to his set-up and approach that paid dividends late in the season. His best defensive position is third, but the club will continue to give him time at second this spring in hopes of adding some pop to the middle infield. How his defense at second plays over a longer sample remains to be seen, but the consensus is that it won’t be particularly good. Can his bat cover for it? And when he’s not at second, will he be stealing starts from Lamb at third? Let’s just hope that he’s been permanently removed from the outfield.
Chris Owings, SS/2B/OF, 25
Owings hit well in spurts last season and didn’t seem to mind covering for A.J. Pollock in the outfield. He logged most of his time at shortstop, however, after playing 115 games at second base in 2015. Word on the street is that he’ll get more time in the outfield this season, particularly in a corner spot to provide more range than Yasmany Tomas and/or David Peralta. He’ll still figure into the infield mix on some level, too, though we have no idea to what degree.
Nick Ahmed, SS, 27
Ahmed remains the teams best defensive option at shortstop, though it remains to be seen if he’ll show any lingering effects from a late season hip injury. With the Diamondbacks prioritizing defense to help a young pitching staff, Ahmed should expect to get plenty of time at short, even if his bat continues to lag. He’ll have competition, however, with Marte and Owings needing playing time at short, especially if the team experiments with Drury at second and doesn’t play Owings regularly in the outfield. If Ahmed can hit more like he did in 2015, it will help Torrey Lovullo fill out his lineup card with more certainty.
Daniel Descalso, INF, 30
Descalso was signed Monday to a one-year deal with an option for 2018. While he doesn’t rate as a plus defender anywhere, he’s played every position on the field aside from catcher and center field. The vast majority of that time has come at second, third and short, however, and that’s how he’ll likely be used going forward. While he’s not going to make a big push for starting duties, he’ll get his spot starts and server primarily as a pinch-hitter from the left side, helping balance a very right-handed collection of infielders.
One Step Away
Ildemaro Vargas, INF, 25
Vargas is like Descalso in that he can play just about anywhere on the infield, though he’s not particularly adept at any one spot. He’s a depth piece for a deep squad who offers an uncanny ability to make contact. Since joining the D-backs’ organization in 2015, he’s struck out just 55 times in 963 plate appearances. There’s little pop to speak of (just 11 home runs over that same span), but simply putting the ball in play at Chase Field isn’t the worst tactic one can take.
Jack Reinheimer, SS, 24
Another former Mariner now in the desert, Reinheimer held his own in AAA last season as he hit .288/.353/.384 for the Aces. He doesn’t project to hit nearly as well in the majors, but his value lies in his ability to make most of the plays at shortstop where he isn’t flashy but is consistent. While Arizona clearly has other options should Nick Ahmed go down, Reinheimer may represent the best defensive replacement and may be the first to get the call if an injury arises.
More Like Two Steps Away
Domingo Leyba, SS/2B, 21
Leyba has shot up the prospect rankings for the Diamondbacks thanks to a rebound 2016 campaign and the absence of, frankly, better prospects. A switch-hitter, he can barrel up the baseball and rip the occasional extra-base knock. With just half a season of AA baseball under his belt, he’ll need further seasoning, though Leyba could warrant a call-up late in the season should he keep the positive momentum moving forward. The upside is that or a second division starter that bats down in the lineup.
Dawel Lugo, 3B 22
Like Leyba above, Lugo found his way to AA midway through the 2016 season after destroying baseballs in the California League. While Lugo has some pop, he has some noise in his set up/swing and has shown inconsistency in the quality of his at-bats. More refinement is needed and the Diamondbacks have plenty of options at third base. If he plays extremely well, however, he could force the team’s hand down the road, allowing them to move another player to make room. Consider that scenario less-than-likely in the near-term, though.
Kristopher Negron, INF, 31
Negron is the lone non-roster invitee on the list. With three different MLB stints with Cincinnati under his belt, the team will hope to keep him as yet another depth piece in the minors. He offers some flexibility in his ability to play all over the diamond, much like Descalso and Vargas above.
In Limbo — For Now
Phil Gosselin, 2B/1B, 28
The signing of Daniel Descalso meant the DFA’ing of Phil Gosselin. It remains to be seen if he gets claimed on waivers, but if he survives, he may reemerge in AAA. He may also seek his release, something the club can grant him if they wish. After filling his role primarily as a pinch-hitter, it’s clear that his defense, or lack thereof, made him expendable as Arizona realigns their priorities.
Position Battles and Lingering Questions
In the middle infield, there are four names for two spots. That’ll work itself out in some way, but just how so is unclear and likely won’t be sorted out until the end of Spring Training. Some questions to keep in mind:
- How much will Chris Owings factor into the infield mix?
- Does Ketel Marte get consistent time at second base?
- Will Brandon Drury get consistent time at second base?
- Is Nick Ahmed fully healed?
There are some additional scenarios that have opened up thanks to some useful platoon options. Keep an eye out for answers to these questions:
- Does Nick Ahmed sit against right-handed pitchers, allowing the switch-hitting Ketel Marte to face them?
- Does Jake Lamb sit against left-handed pitchers, allowing Brandon Drury to face them?
With this much infield depth and positional uncertainty, look for the D-backs to unveil a bevy of combinations throughout Spring Training as they seek to find the best fits. Into the season, I don’t expect that to change too much, as there are plenty of opportunities to mix and match. Complicating matters further, the outfield will factor into the equation as Owings, and even Drury, could be pressed into duty frequently enough to change up the infield rotation. Outside of Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb when righties are on the mound, this is simply a quagmire that will take some time to figure out.
2017 Spring Previews
In case you missed any of the other installments in this series, you can find links to each preview piece below:
- Sequencing Matters: Which D-backs Pitches are Fooling Hitters?
- Which D-backs Pitches Work Well Together?
- Taijuan Walker’s Hot Spring Has a New Look
- Zack Greinke’s Velocity is Trending in a Predictable Direction, Sadly
- Statcast and a New Era for Evaluation
- 2017 Spring Preview: A Wide Open Bullpen
- How the Diamondbacks Landed in Baseball’s Toughest Situation and Don’t Have a Clear Way Out
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Previously on The Pool Shot, the guys explained some of their favorite advanced stats. Hitting, including wRC+, HHAV and batted ball; pitching (38:00), including FIP, xFIP and SIERA; and baserunning and defense, including UBR, UZR and DRS (58:00).