This was the main position battle anticipated, with current young incumbent Didi Gregorius facing a challenge from even younger challenger, Chris Owings. Neither have exactly covered themselves in glory offensively this spring:
Gregorius: .250/.300/.321 = .621 OPS
Owings: .278/.316/.333 = .649 OPS
Given the sample size, we're talking a difference of less than one bloop falling in - an extra hit for Didi would jack his batting average alone up by 36 points. Considering it was Owings' hitting that is generally considered superior, the virtual tie here probably has to favor Gregorius. And with only two walks in 38 PAs thus far, the biggest question-mark over Chris, his plate discipline, still seems to loom large. On the other hand, Gregorius is 2-for-5 vs. left-handers this spring. If you can commit to that in any shape or form, you're a much braver pundit than I.
However, offensive production appears to be secondary. GM Kevin Towers said at the start of the month, "To me, that position more than anything I think it's probably defense No. 1. Defense is a big part of our game, so if I had to add weight to it, it's probably the better defender, who do we think is going to be the better defender. Just making the consistent, the routine plays, that's what we want to see." So far, Owings has two errors in 76 innings of work; Gregorius one in 59. Hardly much difference here either, although errors are a particularly blunt tool with which to measure pre-season defense.
Conclusion. It looks like both will be on the plane Sunday, Kirk Gibson telling reporters, "I think probably we're looking at taking both of them to Australia, along with Penny. You look at it in two phases, Australia and beyond. So we're on Australia right now." With Arizona facing two lefties, in Kershaw and Ryu, we may well see Owings start both games, but that won't necessarily mean he is the winner. This one still looks likely to be close to the last decision made before American Opening Day on March 31.
Henry Blanco will be employed by the Diamondbacks one way or another, since it appears he has been promised the job of assistant hitting coach, if he doesn't make the 25-man roster. Blanco would prefer the latter: "I’m going to stick with Plan A for right now. But, yes, Plan B is still there. I’m not thinking about Plan B, though. Hopefully, we can just stick with Plan A, because I really want this." Mark Grace would probably like Plan A better too, since it seems he is the likely Diamondbacks' Plan B for Plan A. Er, if you see what I mean...
How have Machete and Lord Tuffy Gosewisch performed this spring?
Blanco: .200/.200/.200 = .400 OPS
Gosewisch: .222/.222/.444 = .667 OPS
Yeah, I know we weren't expecting much at the plate, but still... Yuk. Blanco has seen most of the playing time, with 37 innings. Gosewisch was originally hampered by a calf injury, which cost him over a week of games. As a result, he has only played 20 innings - outsider Blake Lalli benefited most in Tuffy's absence, though went 1-for-9 with no walks, so hardly forced his way into the conversation. There should still be time for Gosewisch to get back up to speed, especially considering the expected light playing-time.
Conclusion. While there's no hard information, I get the feeling Blanco will probably end up winning the job. This might be as much because of his positive influence on Miguel Montero - I don't think it's coincidence that Montero severely regressed last season, while Henry was away in the American League. As with the shortstop battle, I can see both men possibly going to Australia. However, the media buzz currently appears to be focused significantly more on Blanco than Gosewisch, as if fans are being prepared for the former.
Cody Ross's return from his fractured hip and subsequent surgery, seems to have been quicker and smoother than anyone expected. However, it still would seem a stretch for him to be 100% ready for the end of the month. He has been getting at-bats in minor-league games, and last week, slid for the first time since the injury - he was also reported to be "running at 90%" out of the batter's box. He played in his first intra-squad contest yesterday, going 3-for-6 with a pair of doubles. He could appear in his first Cactus League action this weekend, and will presumably stay behind to get more rehab work in.
In his absence, for however long it might be, we'll have an outfield of Mark Trumbo, A.J. Pollock and Gerardo Parra. There'll certainly be one more outfielder on the regular 25-man roster, and possibly two, depending on how the D-backs opt to use the final spot. Here are the five outfielders with 10+ spring at-bats for us:
Tuiabacca [hat-tip: Kishi] has certainly been given every opportunity to win the position - only Owings and Paul Goldschmidt have had more at-bats this spring. However, even by the most restrained of expectation, the results have been truly awful. While the position flexibility he offers is nice, and he has hit some balls right at people, it'd be hard to justify giving a roster spot to someone whose batting average starts with a zero. Campana has hit better - okay, he could hardly have hit worse - and has shown his wheels, going 5-0 on the bags - only Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton have as many SBs without being caught this spring.
The other three are probably still rank outsiders to make either roster. Still, those are decent numbers for Inciarte: coming on the back of him hitting .363 in the Venezuelan Winter League, it seems safe to say his stock has probably risen significantly since the end of last season. While Marte is better still, that is in a mere 11 at-bats, and has to be weighed against his sub-Uecker line performance over 22 regular season games last year. Duncan has pretty much been what we expected.
Conclusion. I think Campana may well be a beneficiary of the additional roster spots for Australia, opened up as the result of Arizona not needing to carry a full rotation of starting pitchers. Yes, his offensive upside is limited, but that speed would be a nice weapon for use off the bench late in games, to get a crucial runner into scoring position. He may be the favorite to make the longer-term roster, at least until Ross returns. Whether he gets to hang around after that depends on other options. It's not as if there are any hot offensive prospects who have been tearing up the Cactus League at an irresistible pace for the D-backs, though Jake Lamb and Andy Marte have both played well.
I've already burbled on rather more than I anticipated, so I'll pause for now. Tomorrow, we'll look at some of the questions which have arisen of late, and see if those have come with obvious answers.
All stats above exclude those from this afternoon's contest.