The Diamondbacks entered the season with a logjam in the outfield, despite the fact that they moved Justin Upton to Atlanta. Given what he’s done thus far for the Braves, I won’t mention him again. I can’t be the only one who doesn’t want to talk about it.
The four outfielders destined to make the Opening Day roster were Cody Ross, Jason Kubel, Adam Eaton and Gerardo Parra. An injury to Ross kept him out for the first 10 games and just when he was ready to return, Kubel went down and has been out for the last 13 games and counting. Eaton hasn’t played at all and is likely still out for two or three more weeks with an elbow strain. In case you aren’t counting along, that leaves Gerardo Parra as the only constant in this equation.
And what a constant he’s been. Through 22 games, he’s hitting .315/.374/.461 primarily from the leadoff spot while continuing to play outstanding outfield defense. His OBP is jumpstarting the offense and he’s scored 15 runs already. Of his 28 hits, he’s racked up eight doubles, a triple and a homer, making good use of his gap power. He’s been the team’s most valuable position player thus far and it’s safe to say that they wouldn’t be battling for first in the division without him.
So what happens when Adam Eaton returns?
We have to assume that Ross will stay in right and Kubel will resume his duties in left when he’s healthy. That leaves centerfield as the only open slot on a regular basis. We’ve seen that Parra can definitely get the job done, but Eaton was supposed to be the new centerfield star before his injury. Assuming that Alfredo Marte and AJ Pollock both head back to the minors once everyone’s healthy, who goes to the bench, Eaton or Parra?
While Parra has been the super-sub the last few years, he’s 26 and hitting his prime. I’m not sure the team can afford to take his bat out of the lineup. Eaton was essentially promised a starting job, but Parra very well may have stolen it from him. Perhaps Eaton becomes the defensive substitute late in games, moving Kubel to the bench and Parra to left when the team has a lead late in games. And given the frail nature of Kubel and Ross, both of whom have missed their share of games to the DL over their careers and aren’t getting any younger, there will likely be starts to pick up along the way for whoever assumes the super-sub role.
We have a few more weeks to monitor this situation, but it’s looming on the horizon and might be the most important roster decision made by that point in time. Unless Parra plays his way out of the lineup between now and then, I can’t imagine Gibby yanking him from the lineup and putting him on the bench in favor of a guy who hasn’t played a regular season game this year. Maybe it’s just me, but Parra is likely the best option for the team in center given what he’s done to date, even when Eaton returns.
Maybe Parra will hit a slump. Maybe Eaton begins the year by hitting .350 when he makes it into the lineup and never looks back. Who knows what the future holds? All we know is what we’ve seen thus far, and thus far, Gerardo Parra has shown that he deserves to be a starter.
*Stats accessed 4/26 via FanGraphs