I can’t believe I’m saying this but Spring Training 2014 is almost here D’backs fans! Pitchers and Catchers report on February 6th and the full squad reports February 11th with the first full squad workout taking place the next day. When the Arizona players and coaches finally arrive at camp in Scottsdale, the Snakes will have many battles to solve and questions to answer before they begin the 2014 season in Sydney on March 22nd against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Here are the five battles to keep an eye on during Spring Training at Salt River Fields.
1. Outfield: After acquiring slugger Mark Trumbo from the Angels in a three team trade at this year’s winter meetings, the D’backs have four players to fill three spots. Cody Ross has been rehabbing from his hip injury ever since going down in August and according to a report from azcentral sports, is way ahead of schedule and could be ready to play by the time Opening Day roles around. Right now, as Ross continues to rehab, the D’backs projected Opening Day outfield is Trumbo in left, A.J. Pollock in center, and Gerardo Parra in right. That is a pretty good outfield. Trumbo is the power bat the team needed and he continues to get better defensively. Pollock really came on last year emerging as a great top of the lineup player. He has a cannon for an arm in the outfield, and he covers a lot of ground in center. Parra is a Gold Glove player who gets on base at the top of the lineup. Gibson and Towers have to be thinking about the latest news on Ross. If he is available to play on April 1st where are the D’backs going to play him if he returns to full health? Should he start every day over Pollock? That is a question the club will have to answer this spring. Ross is not in the majors to be a backup and depending on who the D’backs like, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Pollack or Ross get traded. The organization has a tough decision to make something that will probably take all spring to figure out.
2. Back end of the Rotation: The D’backs ended up not adding a starter this winter though there is a chance they could add Bronson Arroyo before Spring Training begins. Looking at the rotation as it stands now four of the spots are filled heading into camp: Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy, and Trevor Cahill. Like most teams the D’backs have a decision to make with the fifth starter. They could bring in Arroyo if it’s on a one year deal but to me the best option would be to choose the 5th starter from within the organization. The job will be a two man competition between Randall Delgado who performed well last season in limited action and Archie Bradley, the D’backs’ top pitching prospect who has the stuff and confidence to be a quality Major League starter this season. Towers has said the best guy will win and if it ends up being Bradley then the D’backs will break camp with him on the team. Delgado did perform fairly well last season so Towers doesn’t have to rush Bradley. Personally I would make Bradley the 5th starter but whomever management decides will be a good option in that role. If the hard-throwing Bradley is the guy, then the question becomes what to do with Delgado. I wouldn’t be surprised if they trade him: he isn’t meant to be in the bullpen or sit in the Minors.
3. Shortstop: The battle for the starting shortstop job will probably be the most heated and contested battle all spring. Didi Gregorius played the majority of time at the position last season tearing the cover off the ball early on but he really fell off when pitchers started to figure him out. He ended up hitting only .252 in 103 games but he does have great range at shortstop committing only 13 errors last season. Didi will have competition for the spot this year from top prospect Chris Owings. He showed flashes last season that he can play in the Majors but he still only has 20 games of big league experience. Owings certainly has the pop at the plate and the range at SS to make an impact over a full season at the next level. Cliff Pennington should see time at short this season mainly in late inning match ups. This is Didi’s job to win but expect stiff competition from Owings and don’t be surprised if Chris wins the job.
4. Backup Catcher: Miguel Montero, despite his struggles last season is the obvious starter. The question is who should be the backup catcher? After losing Wil Nieves this offseason, the front runner should be Tuffy Gosewisch who saw limited time at the position last season. The D’backs also signed 42-year old veteran Henry Blanco who played with the team in 2011 and 2012. Blanco does have more experience and he can still hit the fastball. This position is really up for grabs with no real clear cut favorite heading into Spring Training. If Blanco doesn’t win the job, he could become the team’s assistant hitting coach.
5. Back end of Bullpen: The D’backs brought in Addison Reed to be the team’s closer which is the only job that he wants. While there will be competition at that spot it’s pretty much Reed’s job already. The real question is who will land the 6th, 7th, and 8th inning jobs. Brad Ziegler who performed really well as a closer last season is the obvious choice to be the set up man but J.J. Putz who was the team’s closer in 2011 and 2012 saving 45 and 36 games respectively before injuries limited him in 2o13 will provide a stiff competition for that role. The real wild card is David Hernandez. In 2012 Hernandez was one of the team’s most reliable relievers but after a slow 2013 many people don’t even know if he can still perform. If Hernandez can return to his old form he could land the 7th or 8th inning job but expect him to start with the middle innings role until he can prove he is ready to be in the 7th or 8th inning.