For a spot on the bench of the Arizona Diamondbacks, competition could be intense.
Here at the advent of spring training, it’s safe to say that the Arizona Diamondbacks have several moving parts. These are players considered versatile and yet unsecured.
Such players could be regarded as unsafe from the standpoint of a starter. While general manager Mike Hazen and field manager Torey Lovullo may have settled on key starters, competition for precious few slots on the bench remains a work in progress.
That’s because players signed in the off-season and ready to assemble at Salt River all seem to have the same abilities. There are no power hitters among those signed, no startling free agent, no sought-after player and no player of notable achievement.
For Hazen, his vision was to augment the bench with left-handed hitters. At this point, this seems to have been accomplished. Among those considered bench personnel, no one player stands out as giving a defining moment, or moments, coming off the bench.
Rather, the Diamondbacks appear like that gerbil on the wheel. The cage continues to spin and the results, more the most part, are veiled.
Signed to a one-year deal for $1.5 million, Descalso brings bench experience, but light production. A career .242 hitter over seven seasons, he maintains the role of strictly a utility player. As a left-handed hitter, Descalso could give relief to starters at second, third and short.
Don’t expect much power from Descalso, and he takes the roster spot held by Phil Gosselin. Last season, Gosselin was one of the top pinch hitters in the majors, and Hazen continues to look for that production from Descalso and others.
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A shortstop by trade, Marte was acquired over the off-season from Seattle for infielder Jean Segura and outfielder Mitch Haniger. At this point, the Diamondbacks like his bat and speed, but Marte is considered a liability with his glove. Though he spent the past two seasons with the M’s, Marte is expected to challenge Nick Ahmed for the reigning shortstop position.
In 119 games last season for Seattle, Marte committed 21 errors and finished with a .956 fielding percentage. Should he survive the final cut but lose out to Ahmed, Marte gives Lovullo speed and switch-hitting off the bench.
Last October, Hazelbaker was the first off-season signing for Hazen. This signing fulfilled a promise the day Hazen was hired as general manager. That was to acquire a left-handed bat off the bench, and an area which Hazen proclaimed as weak. With only one year of major league experience, Hazelbaker hit .235 in 114 games with the St. Louis Cardinals last year, chipped in with 12 homers and knocked in 28 runs. Primarily as a left-fielder, Hazelbaker provides still another left-handed bat off the bench.
Owings could be the “x” factor. A shortstop by trade, Owings was thrust into center field by then manager Chip Hale and left in the middle garden. Owings was thought as an immediate replacement for the injured A, J. Pollock, but then moved back to short when Nick Ahmed went down in late August with hip surgery. Should Owings not beat out Ahmed at short, he would likely fill a major utility role as a corner outfielder and right-handed bat off the bench.
After an eight-year, .258 career batting average with three teams, Blanco hopes to get a fresh start in the desert. Versatile, Blanco can play off three outfield positions and last season with the Giants, the 33-year-old played 34 games in left, 29 in center and 18 in right.
Given his age and lack of durability, Blanco is not likely to challenge for a starting outfield slot. Instead, Hazen is relying on his left-bat bat as bench support. First, Blanco must make the opening day 25 man-roster. Blanco accepted an invitation to camp and is a non-roster player.
By common thinking, Brito is a longshot to land a spot on the opening day, 25-man roster. During training camp two years ago, Brito opened eyes and ended on the Diamondbacks roster by the end of the 2015 season.
That year, he hit .303 in 18 games at the major-league level. He opened the 2016 season on the Arizona roster but was optioned to Triple-A Reno on April 17. On June 20, Brito was recalled, but three days later, he landed on the DL with a fractured right toe. Overall, Brito hit .179 in 40 games for the Diamondbacks and .294 in 73 games for Reno.
To gain attention, Brito will have to start hot, stay hot and end hot. To be fair, there is a traffic jam ahead. At the same time, the Diamondbacks seems to hold promise for Brito does occupy a spot on the current 40-man roster.
The competition begins next Thursday, Feb. 16. That’s when position players report to Salt River, the Diamondbacks’ spring training site.