I don't know about you, but I've pretty much had my fill of spring training already. We've been playing these games for more than four weeks now - our first game was February 25 - and I'm itching for something more meaningful. But this year, spring has been extended because of the World Baseball Classic: much as I'm entirely in favor of this event, it is simply extending the pre-season agony. Enough with the foreplay, already: let's get on to the juicy stuff! Still, nothing we can do except wait it out; more than two weeks to go, before the phrase "Of course, spring numbers are meaningless" will no longer need to roll off our lips.
A quick glimpse at the standings is not exactly good reading for local fans, with a record thus far of 7-13. Through Friday, the Diamondbacks had shown a startling lack of power, with only 12 homers in 21 games, tied with the Angels for the least in the Cactus League. The team's .275 batting average was also well below average, ahead only of the Rockies (.274) and Dodgers (.273) in Arizona. Even the much-vaunted attention to the running game hasn't shown much fruit. The D-backs have a dozen stolen-bases - less than half as many as Colorado and Los Angeles - and that's in 20 attempts, so the 60% success-rate is nothing much to write home about either.
However, it's really only down the stretch, that numbers will start to become anything like important. With the departures of John Hester, Trent Oeltjen and Brandon Watson today, the Diamondbacks have now reduced the numbers in camp to 38 - 17 pitchers, four catchers, nine infielders and eight outfielders. So those given a courtesy invite to Tucson Electric Park will no longer be cluttering up the box-score with their ohfers. It might not be a bad idea to throw out all the stats until now, and start paying attention purely to what happens going forward from this point. Before doing that, let's take a look at thing so far, and whether they shine a light on the roster decisions remaining. All stats exclude today's game, except where noted.
The 25th spot. There's really only one slot open for a position player on the roster. Beyond the eight starters, the bench looks set with Tony Clark, Augie Ojeda, Eric Byrnes and Miguel Montero. However, that would still leave one slot, probably likely to go to an infielder, since otherwise Augie will be the sole backup to Felipe Lopez, Stephen Drew and Mark Reynolds. James Skelton is still most likely to keep the spot, since his position as a Rule 5 pick means he has to stay on the 25-man roster or be offered back to Detroit. He hasn't exactly set the plate afire, going just 5-for-31, but his discipline has been as advertised, with five walks and only 3 K's. While drafted as a catcher, he has seen significant time in the infield, and that would certainly help his chances of sticking around.
His main rival appears to be Ryan Roberts, who has had a solid Cactus League, batting .310 (13-for-42), leading the team in hits, SB and total bases. In Bob Melvin's view: "He can play any position on the field and so he can give you that versatility with the 25th guy on a NL team that you're looking for, He's played second, third and left field, but we'll start looking at him in more spots, too, like shortstop, centerfield and left, just to see how he fits into those spots as well." Josh Wilson (10-for-37) is a fringe candidate, and it'll probably be Roberts or Skelton. Note, however, that some roster juggling is possible, with fifth starter Max Scherzer not needed until the 14th. His spot may be used elsewhere for the first week.
The bullpen spots. Chad Qualls, Jon Rauch, Tony Pena and Scott Schoeneweis have all inked their names in, but with Tom Gordon starting the season on the disabled list, there will be three spots open, at least initially. On Tuesday, Bob Melvin said "I couldn't even handicap it right now. I think we have enough going on to where it's still up for grabs, and I think the deeper you get into spring, the longer you see the first units out there/ I think you can get a better read on those guys when you're seeing a lot of the first units and facing a lot of big leaguers throughout the game." However, Yusmeiro Petit has done nothing this spring to suggest he won't be the long-relief guy, allowing only one run on six hits over eight innings of work.
Beyond him, things get murkier. Travis Blackley and Juan Gutierrez are both out of options, so if they don't make the roster, will need to be exposed to waivers before they can be sent to Triple-A Reno. However, neither man has done a great deal to stake a claim to remaining in the bullpen. Blackley pitched well enough for Australia in the WBC, but got slapped around for eight hits in the game today, jacking his ERA up to 7.88 in eight innings, on 13 hits and six walks. The results from Gutierrez have been no better, with 12 hits, three walks and nine earned runs in 9.1 innings. With those kinds of performances, waivers may not be an issue.
Better numbers by far have come from Billy Buckner (nine hits, three walks, four runs in 10.2 innings), and at the moment, he seems likely to get the other 'permanent' spot in the pen. I think Melvin would like to include Doug Slaten if possible, to give us a second left-handed option behind Schoeneweis. However, Doug isn't co-operating, having allowed nine hits and four walks in just 5.1 innings. You'd think he, and also Bobby Korecky (a 10.29 ERA) must have shares in a Reno timeshare, going by their apparent mutual intent on finding themselves there in the next couple of weeks. The date of Gordon's return is still highly uncertain, incidentally. It's been reported he has been throwing fine on flat ground, and his first bullpen session is scheduled for Monday. May looks more likely than April, I'd say.
I just looked at the box-score for today's game, and I think I'll quietly forget about writing it up tonight. Twenty-two hits allowed by the Diamondbacks' pitchers in total, including seven off Brandon Webb. No, I think tomorrow will do very well for that one.