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Figuring Out the Diamondbacks Middle Infield Jam

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Will Nick Ahmed be the Diamondbacks starting SS in 2016?
Will Nick Ahmed be the Diamondbacks starting SS in 2016?
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Diamondbacks have a giant log jam in their middle infield, which is both a good and bad problem depending on what angle you approach it from. The Diamondbacks will be returning incumbent starters Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings, both of whom disappointed with the bat in 2015. Ahmed hasn't been able to shed the light bat label and from what I've seen in 2015, he might never do so. Owings came back from a torn labrum that required surgery and looked uncomfortable with his new swing in 2015, which caused his numbers to bottom out. Both players are primed for an improvement in 2016.

The Diamondbacks also have options at the position with Brandon Drury, Phil Gosselin, and the recently acquired Jean Segura. One big problem here is all these players bat right-handed, which means that the team could serve to find a left-handed bench bat at the deadline if they are still in the race. Segura is the only one of the three that can play shortstop at an acceptable level. Each player comes with their own flaws with Drury and Gosselin's questions surrounding defense and the small sample size label. For Segura, it's shaking off back-to-back seasons of awful production at the plate and getting back to the All-Star level player he was in 2013. For Segura, the ballpark he will play his home games in heavily favor his talents at the plate. With deep gaps in center, that will allow for him to utilize his speed in taking extra bases, which the Dbacks love doing.

For the Diamondbacks Opening Day roster, I believe the team should take the best 4 players of that group. Of the entire middle infield group, Owings have proven to be a reliable glove at both SS and 2B. I believe he'll make the team, with his 2014 numbers likely being a better indicator of his possible production than 2015. Ahmed has the highest floor of the SS options with a Gold Glove caliber glove that I believe is worth at least 2.5 WAR on its own. Ahmed is a candidate for a breakout if he can find a way to improve his quality of contact and raise his BABIP from his 2015 mark of .257. Segura and Owings both have plate discipline issues, although with the former it's being too aggressive at the plate early in the count and putting himself in bad counts and the latter due to recovering from shoulder surgery, changing his swing, and the inability to recognize breaking balls breaking away from him. The Diamondbacks should give Segura opportunities at 2B in order to get his bat into the lineup should Nick Ahmed earn his place on the roster.

The biggest question mark of the group will be Brandon Drury, who is a 3B by trade but is likely trying out at 2B given the team likes Jake Lamb's upside. Drury has the best overall bat in terms of upside and has already proven himself in the minors. Drury isn't a big strikeout or walk guy and his power is more through line drives in the gap for extra base hits instead of home runs. Overall I believe Drury could sustain a career BABIP around my .315 projection mark once he's more acclimated to MLB pitching. His numbers in September 2015 look bad, but are supported by an unsustainable .217 BABIP and you can basically chalk it up to small sample size. I consider his absolute floor to be Jake Lamb's platoon partner and if he can play 2B and 1B along with his natural 3B position he could be valuable to the team moving forward.

For the final roster, I expect Ahmed and Segura to be the starters going into the season with Phil Gosselin as the backup 2B and Owings as the backup SS. Before today, I was expecting to see Ahmed penciled in at SS and the winner of the Owings-Drury camp battle be the starting 2B and the loser being the top primary backup IF. Gosselin's ability to possibly complete platoons at 3B and LF will keep him on the 25-man roster, especially since his bat has graded positively over his short career. Having the ability to play both SS and 2B bodes well for Owings going into camp and he has all three minor league options available in case the team wants to give him ABs instead of using him primarily as a bench player. Drury likely starts the year in Reno again, although I'd be willing to give him a shot at the 2B position. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Diamondbacks trade from their middle infield depth, even though these players come with serious flaws.