A.J. Pollock unexpectedly played a lot of center field in 2013. Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
For the first time since 2006, someone other than Chris Young started Opening Day in center field for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Young was traded in October 2012 for Cliff Pennington to make room for a guy nicknamed “Spanky”. However, Spanky wasn’t the one who took the field on April 1st.
A.J. Pollock: When Spring Training began, the former first round pick was thought of to be an extra outfielder who would be given an occasional start. However, a myriad of injuries to players in the outfield allowed Pollock to get 443 at-bats in 2013. Most of his game action came in center either as a starter or as a late replacement. He hit pretty well on the year with 8 home runs and 38 RBI’s with a line of .269/.322/.409. Early on, Pollock was among the league leaders in doubles; he finished the season with 28. His speed should have been able to generate more than the 12 stolen bases he ended up with for the season.
Adam Eaton: Young was traded because the team felt Spanky was ready to be the every day centerfielder. Unfortunately, an elbow injury prevented Eaton from arriving in Arizona until July 9th. Upon his arrival, he did play in center but also spent some time in left teaming with Pollock to provide speed at the top and the bottom of the lineup. The injury prevented Eaton from really cutting loose and uncorking throws like that one in San Diego two seasons ago. In 250 at-bats, the former 19th round pick hit three homers and drove in 22 runs with a line of .252/.314/.352 and only five steals.
Gerardo Parra: He won the Gold Glove in right field but Parra did start 28 games in center and also switched over to the middle during some games after starting in either right or left. We will analyze his season a little bit more when we review the right field spot.
What to expect in 2014: It seems the D’backs want to give Eaton every opportunity to be the guy in center. However, Pollock showed last season that he can handle the job, at least on a part time basis. If Eaton falters, the answer could be to platoon the two of them; it’s only natural since Pollock is a righty and Eaton swings from the left side. Last year was both men’s first extended periods of time in the Major Leagues so while their on base averages were low, they both can get better as they enter their second full seasons. Pollock turns 26 in December while Eaton turns 25 next month as well. It is right about the time one player should ascend past the other. If not, I think the team could live with a platoon and be successful.
Beyond 2014: The D’backs are thin in the outfield at the higher levels of their farm system. No player at any spot cracked the organization’s top 20 prospect list as rated by mlb.com. Whoever plays better between Pollock and Eaton in 2014 could end up patrolling center field in Arizona for the next few years. If neither player distinguishes himself next season, perhaps the D’backs dip their toes into free agency for a long-term solution.