As pitchers and catchers unload their gear and take their physicals, the Diamondbacks open spring training camp this week likely with more questions than answers.
As the first workouts are slated for this Thursday at Salt River, the mood and atmosphere in the clubhouse should be quite different than recent years. Given off-season acquisitions and signings and the experience of improving 15 games in the standings over the 2014 season, the level of optimism has clearly risen.
Behind the high-profile signing of free agent pitcher Zack Greinke and acquiring pitcher Shelby Miller and infielder Jean Segura in trades, some compare the Diamondbacks transition as moves made by the San Diego Padres before last season.
From the perspective of a year ago, the Padres picked up several high profile players, shelled out big dollars and received marginal results. Acquiring James Shields, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Craig Kimbrel, Wil Middlebrooks and Wil Myers did nothing to improve the Padres and elevate the team through the National League West Division standings.
To be fair, spring training has not started and teams have a month and a half to try and find answers. For the Diamondbacks, several intriguing story lines are on the front burner, and resolution of these questions could answer some pressing dilemmas.
The competition factor should be the most compelling. Here, two areas are deemed important.
First, the shortstop job could be up for grabs. While the Diamondbacks like Nick Ahmed’s glove and continue to rave about his defensive abilities, Ahmed could be a liability with his bat. With only 35 extra base hits in 491 career at-bats over two years, Ahmed usually saves more runs with his glove than delivers with his bat. In acquiring Segura from the Brewers, the Diamondbacks hope for more offense and at least for Segura to play an adequate shortstop. The competition level here could be exacerbated by the energy and commitment from Ahmed.
Then, there is the competition for the final two spots in the starting rotation. While it’s a given Greinke will be anointed the number one starter and Miller number two, lefty Patrick Corbin slides comfortably as the number three starter. From there, there are a number of candidates for the final two starters.
At the winter meetings at Nashville in December, manager Chip Hale said the rotation, at least at the start of spring training, would likely be Greinke, Miller and Corbin along with Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray. At this point, it’s likely De La Rosa and Ray’s spots are theirs to lose, and if that happens, the slight opening may be big enough for Archie Bradley to kick down the door.
Bradley was off to great start in 2015, but his season was shattered when the right-hander as hit in the face with a line drive in late April. From that point, Bradley never recovered and now after a winter of rehabilitation, he will likely receive a chance to influence Hale and other Arizona decision-makers. Others which will get a look could be Tyler Wagner, who came over from Milwaukee in the Segura trade, and Zack Godley, who was impressive as a spot starter last season.
Another compelling story line will be results turned in this spring by second baseman Chris Owings and third baseman Jake Lamb. At the winter meetings, Hale told reporters he expects big seasons from both Lamb and Owings, and more power from Lamb’s bat. Owings, who could find himself in competition with Segura for the second base job, is coming off a season in which he hit .227 and never recovered from off-season shoulder surgery. Owings compromised his swing and that mechanical adjustment influenced his ability to put up decent numbers. Lamb, who spent April 19 to June 5 on the disabled list with stress reaction in his left foot, needs to drive the ball and land a few Rawings in the bleachers, according to Hale.
Then, there’s the issue of Yasmany Tomas.
Overwhelmed by the Diamondbacks’ desire to make him a third baseman from his normal outfield position last spring, Tomas had a difficult time adopting, from his native Cuba, to life in North America and adjusting to major league pitching. Now, Tomas completed a thorough off-season training and conditioning commitment in the Phoenix area, and the Diamondbacks are looking for more production than his .273 batting average, nine home runs and 48 RBIs for 406 plate appearances. Plus, decision-makers are thinking about moving Tomas to left field and that’s where David Peralta turned in a solid season.
Coming into spring training, the popular scenario has Tomas platooning with Socrates Brito in right field and also to give Peralta a rest from time to time. The experiment with Tomas playing third is likely over, but could surface. That’s in the event Lamb does not fulfill expectations, and improve power numbers at the plate.