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2006 Review, Part One: The Infield

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Catchers
Johnny Estrada: .302/.328/.444, 11 HR, 71 RBI
Chris Snyder: .277/.349/.424, 6 HR, 32 RBI
This was easily the most productive year ever for Arizona catchers, Estrada and Snyder, with a little help from Montero, combining for 17 HR and 106 RBI. This was a huge increase on 2005 (11 HR, 44 RBI), but while the OPS also shot up (.773, from .631), it was only seventh-best in the NL. Arizona has, it seems, never had a really good-hitting catcher: maybe Montero will change that in 2007? Because it seems all but certain that Estrada will be leaving the team; he never really seemed happy here, and as the season wore on, his comments became more and more critical.

Hopefully, a .300 hitting J-strada will be enough to lure teams, happy to overlook his woeful discipline, both with his mouth and at-bat. He had only six unintentional walks in over 450 plate-appearances this year, seeing only 3.19 pitches each time (among major-league hitters with 350+ PA's, that ranked 247th of 250). For 2007, I think we can expect to see a platoon between Montero and Snyder - though both hit right-handed pitching better this year, Snyder's OPS is 119 points better vs. lefties in his career as a whole.

First Base
Conor Jackson: .295/.369/.442, 14 HR, 76 RBI
Tony Clark: .194/.288/.347, 4 HR, 7 RBI

Jackson professed disappointment with his season, and it's true that our production from first-base was significantly below average - the .767 OPS ranked second-worst in the league. Some of that was due to Tony Clark's collapse, but even Jackson's OPS alone at the position (.811) would have been 11th. Though he wasn't helped by the often-errant throws of Tracy across the diamond, Jackson's defense was also often poor. His .988 fielding percentage was ahead only of Nick Johnson among major-league first-basemen, and while that's a subjective figure, most people would concur he had a lot to learn.

The good news is, Jackson improved dramatically at the plate as the year went on. He batted .310 in August, and .341 in September, for a post-All Star break figure of .312, compared to .272 before it. His post-break OPS was .850, and if that can be maintained for next year, will be a decent level of output. However, it did come at the cost of strikeouts: while before, he was walking more than he fanned (38:30), in the second half, the ratio shifted dramatically (16:43). Tracy got a couple of late-season starts at the position, and if Clark is not entirely better by Opening Day 2007, could spell Jackson at first if needed.

Second Base
Orlando Hudson: .288/.355/.457, 15 HR, 67 RBI

Hudson started 151 games at second, leaving little room for anyone else. He was a bit of an enigma; while his fielding was not up the Golden Glove level expected, particularly initially, he exceeded all expectations with the bat, setting personal bests across the board. He did seem to benefit from the Chase Effect, hitting .321 at home, compared to only .254 on the road, the latter being closer to expectations. But, like Jackson, he also surged after the All-Star break, increasing his average from .261 to .315.

O-Dawg's defense also seemed to improve. While always capable of the miraculous, there were far too many bone-headed gaffes, particularly early on, often in relatively simple plays. But as the year went on, these seemed to decrease in frequency, and there was no denying his range, as he vacuumed up pop-ups out to the warning track, it seemed. I doubt there'll be a Gold Glove for him in 2006, but given the adjustments he had to make (AL to NL, turf to grass), I wouldn't be surprised if he bounced back to contend next season.

Short-stop
Craig Counsell: .266/.327/.364, 4 HR, 30 RBI
Stephen Drew: .315/.358/.507, 4 HR, 22 RBI

When Counsell got injured in mid-July, one of the most eagerly-anticipated rookies in Diamondbacks' history was called up. And he did not just meet expectations, he surpassed them. His overall OPS of .874 ranked fourth among all major-league rookies with 200+ PAs. Among all NL shortstops, it was second only to Milwaukee's Bill Hall (.899). And his glovework, previously considered a weakness, was excellent, showing range and an arm that promise to make Drew and Hudson a feared double-play combination for years to come. Too many strikeouts would be about the only significant criticism.

Counsell started brightly, hitting .307 through the end of May, but a poor June followed, and the injury to his rib, after being drilled by a pitch from Colorado's Jose Mesa, derailed his season entirely. When Counsell came back, he could see the writing was on the wall and, basically, gave up, batting only .145 (9-for-62) after that point. There is still a chance he might come back to Arizona as a backup, but that will only be if he gets no offers to start elsewhere, still his first preference.

Third Base
Chad Tracy: .281/.340/.453, 20 HR, 77 RBI

Tracy's season was perhaps the most disappointing of any Diamondback, especially after signing to a three-year, $13.25 million contract extension, which takes him through 2009 (with a club option for 2010). Average: down; home-runs; down; strikeouts: way up; errors: frequent. As a result, what was expected to be a position of strength, turned into something of a liability. The OPS of .793 was 11th best in the league, and it's not as if Tracy's glove made up for the lack of output.

Towards the end of the year, however, it was revealed he'd been battling a knee problem; although it's unclear what effect this might have had on his season, it clearly couldn't have helped. Hopefully, the off-season will give him time to recover, and become 100% again, otherwise, action of some sort may need to be taken. This might involve a move to first-base, where his wayward throws will be less an issue, though this would perhaps cause more problems than it solves, both finding a 3B replacement, and deciding what to do with Conor Jackson.

Utility
Damion Easley: .233/.323/.418, 9 HR, 28 RBI
Andy Green: .186/.293/.267, 1 HR, 6 RBI
Alberto Callaspo: .238/.298/.310, 0 HR, 6 RBI

The bench wasn't exactly an area of strength for Arizona: our pinch-hitters batted only .194, with 7 HR in 232 at-bats. Andy Green saw most of the action in this role, and wasn't utterly awful (11-for-47), but his overall lack of playing time - 86 ABs and eight starts - left him disenchanted. He has asked to be sold to Japan, and I imagine the organization will do what they can to help, as games will be no easier to find for him in 2007. Damion Easley was the main back-up infielder, but didn't do much. Well, outside of one series in Atlanta at the start of June, that is - there, he went 7-for-12 with four homers, driving in ten runs.

Neither man will likely be back in 2007. We got a glimpse in August and September of what the future may hold in Albert Callaspo, named our organization's Minor-League Player of the Year for hitting .337 down in Tucson. He was the second-most difficult player in all of the minors to strike out in 2006, fanning less than once every twenty plate appearances. The deal in which we got him, from the Angels for Jason Bulger, looks like a steal, Bulger posting a mediocre 4.72 ERA in 27 games for their AAA affiliate. Though it's possible, with Drew and Hudson locking up the middle-infield, that Callaspo could be used for off-season trade-bait.