Keeping this whole spring preview thing rolling right along, we make our way today to the Diamondbacks’ outfield. Last year was, shall we say, not what they had in mind? A second busted elbow for a prized centerfielder derailed things before they ever got off the ground. Further injuries and ineptitude took their toll and when it was all said done, the team didn’t get anything close to the production they’d expected from the squad. The outfield collectively recorded a combined fWAR of 0.4 over the course of the season. When Michael Bourn, Peter O’Brien and Rickie Weeks, Jr. are getting reps, you’ve got issues. The team was short on talent and depth in the outfield when camp opened and as soon as injuries cropped up, they got exposed.
Getting caught with one’s pants down once is enough, and the organization has made moves to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Credit where credit’s due, I guess. There are plenty of new names in camp, and plenty of familiar ones, too. How it all shakes out remains a bit of a mystery, but I suppose that’s half the fun. Or half the misery. We don’t know just yet. Below are the guys that are locks for the Opening Day roster, those in limbo, and those who are on the outside looking in.
A.J. Pollock, 29
Welcome back, Mr. Pollock. Can we take your coat? Would you like a bottle of water? Don’t worry, the valet will park your car. The D-backs will welcome back Pollock with open arms in 2017, but questions remain. Will the time off leave him rusty? The team surely needs him to click form Day One if they’re going to make waves. The projections are slow-playing Pollock on the back of a lost season and how he reemerges is anyone’s guess. At least we can say this, we haven’t seen him be bad…
Yasmany Tomas, 26
Tomas is still around because, well, he’s not about to go anywhere. With Godly holding down first base and the lack of a DH in the National League, Tomas is relegated to patrolling the outfield like an underpaid security guard. He really doesn’t belong out there, but we’d be remiss to not mention the step forward he took at the plate last season. Slight strikeout drop, slight walk increase, huge power surge and more fly balls. These trends are encouraging. Is there another gear in Tomas’ game? The fielding is what it is, but if the bat can move forward again, that would help cover for his weakness in the field.
David Peralta, 29
Welcome back, Mr. Peralta. Can we take your coat? Would you like a bottle of water? Sorry, you can park your own car. Peralta missed significant time in ’16, and while he’s not A.J. Pollock, he’s still a very valuable piece. He didn’t reach expectations while playing between several DL stints, but the injuries likely played a large role in the production drop. He’s a valuable role player with a cannon of a left arm and plenty of power in a sweet left-handed swing. The team will lean on him again in right field for the bulk of games. Can he resurface as the player we saw in 2015? Like his counterpart in centerfield, a return to normalcy is crucial to the overall fortune of the team in 2017.
Chris Owings, 25
Owings figured into the infield conversation last week, but he also figures into the outfield mix. He’ll get time in the outfield corners this spring and could even, conceivably, serve as Pollock’s replacement in center. In fact, it’s perhaps likely that he’ll get more playing time in the outfield in 2017 than the infield. While these kinds of position changes are rare in today’s game, Owings acquitted himself well in center last season considering he was thrown straight into the fire. A utility role is in order for CO heading into 2017 where he’ll do his best poor-man’s Ben Zobrist impression. At just 25 and with his offensive game recovering from a shoulder injury, he’s another key cog for the D-backs, though in an unique way.
Stuck In Limbo
Perhaps no one’s on the bubble like Jeremy Hazelbaker, who was claimed from the Cardinals following his solid rookie debut at the age of 28. If you’re a 28-year old rookie, that says something. Hitting a dozen home runs in part time action also says something. Hazelbaker can fill in at either corner and being left-handed doesn’t hurt. But with Owings, Brandon Drury and others capable of filling that role, he’s got a big March ahead of him. The team could also consider carrying three catchers where Chris Herrmann could also eat into his opportunities, further complicating the situation. Hazelbaker has minor league options remaining, so he’s easier to send down than most of the competition, which may ultimately decide his fate.
Socrates Brito, 24
While unfair, Brito was thrust into action when Pollock went down last spring and he was in over his head. That was to be expected for a relatively raw 23-year old with big tools and bigger questions. He did his job in the field and can cover center with ease (though I still believe he’s best in right field). The hit tool has lagged and that was evident when he faced major league pitching. A return to AAA saw him get back on track offensively, though some further seasoning would do him well. It’s been a slow burn for Brito, but that was always the case despite what took place in early 2o16. He’s fringy to make the Opening Day roster, but should see action at some point in ’17.
Gregor Blanco, 33
After a calamitous fall from grace last season, Blanco found himself looking for a job for the first time in a long time. Mike Hazen was happy to make contact and Blanco joins the D-backs on a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. With his defensive acumen and the team’s priority to improve fielding, he’s a legitimate candidate to break camp with the team. He’s capable of backing up center field and is an easy late-inning replacement for Yasmany Tomas in left while snagging some starts against right-handed pitching. One doesn’t have to squint too hard to see Blanco making the cut, but he’s not on the 40-man roster, so that complicates things. It may also be dependent on how the infield shakes out and how Chris Owings is ultimately used.
Life On The Fringe
Oswaldo Arcia, 25
Another minor league signing, Arcia will be in camp with the club as a left-handed power bat. He was once one of Minnesota’s top prospects but has found tough sledding in the majors after debuting at 22. Arcia can pile up the strikeouts, but he’s capable of launching some long balls, too. He’ll likely be a depth stash in the minors come Opening Day, but he’s at least intriguing should a whole crop of injuries take place.
Reymond Fuentes, 26
Fuentes can play all over the outfield, but doesn’t profile as a major league hitter. He’s yet another minor league sign who’ll likely head to AAA Reno and hope for the call. There’s no real power to speak of, but he has a speed element to his game and can fill in with ease for a short period of time.
Jason Pridie, 33
Pridie is joining his seventh major league organization. He’s only played more than 100 games once, and that was for the Mets back in 2011. Since then, he’s played in 21 major league games, never reaching double digits in a single season. At that rate, it’s fair to say that he’s yet another left-handed depth option that can fill in at any spot in the outfield should the need arise.
Questions, As Per Usual
There is a bevy of outfield questions to consider this spring, so let’s just list them.
- Do A.J. Pollock and David Peralta hit the ground running?
- Can Yasmany Tomas continue to become a better hitter?
- Where does Chris Owings pick up his playing time?
- Does the club have room for Gregor Blanco and/or Jeremy Hazelbaker?
- Where is Peter O’Brien?
The answer to the last question is Surprise — not like gotcha-surprise, but Surprise-Surprise because he’s in the Royals’ camp. The answers to our other questions are far less clear and far more vital. Pollock and Peralta need to get off to a fast start simply because everyone needs to get off to a fast start. The team’s direction will likely be decided by the All-Star break, so if anyone’s planning to turn it on in September, they may be doing it somewhere else. Tomas is Tomas in the field, but while he’s had his challenges at the plate, he’s also made some improvements. Slotting in Chris Owings could be difficult if everyone stays healthy, but he could be leaned upon should injuries arise. Meanwhile, Gregor Blanco has had a steady track record of production, outside of 2016, and could be a sneaky improvement for the club while Jeremy Hazelbaker does offer some left-handed pop, though his sample of MLB playing time is precariously small.
I’d argue that we know who the starting three outfielders will be barring some kind of disaster. Beyond that, it’s just about anyone’s guess. Will the team keep Owings as their backup outfielder and roll with three catchers? Maybe Owings gets enough infield time that they want a fourth dedicated outfielder. The fringes of the outfield picture are unclear and the limitations of the 40-man roster will manifest themselves on the situation. For those in limbo, a good spring can push the odds in their favor just as quickly as a bad one can push them to the minors or their release. There isn’t time to waste. Keep an eye on these battles as March rolls around.
2017 Spring Previews
In case you missed any of the other installments in this series, you can find links to each preview piece below:
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- Best part of Peralta’s 108 mph fliner over the fence, IMHO: that he got that much leverage despite scooping it out… https://t.co/ivBrl76adF, Apr 08
- RT @OutfieldGrass24: If you're bored of watching Patrick Corbin get dudes out, you can check out my latest for @TheAthleticAZ. https://t.co/k1DymgY7zO, Apr 04
- Of course, they may have overtaken the league lead for outs on the bases just now, also... But in 2017, Arizona ha… https://t.co/38MBrr2D4b, Apr 04
- Prior to the games today, there had only been 5 steals of 3rd this season (and no CS) in the National League. The… https://t.co/gVVL84vPQ5, Apr 04
- RT @OutfieldGrass24: Patrick Corbin has a WPA of .318 and it's only the fifth inning., Apr 04
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