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Diamondbacks Pre-Winter Meetings Outlook: Catching and Infield

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One of the few strengths the team does have is middle infield depth and two potential All-Star talents bookending the infield. The team traded away their most consistent performer in the hopes of improving an area of weakness (starting rotation).

Catching

Welington Castillo is the undisputed starter, although I’m not convinced he’s returning after 2017. While Castillo’s bat has produced in his time in Arizona, his receiving abilities as a catcher are somewhat questionable and negative affects the pitching staff. Of course the reason he’s the starter is due to no catching depth behind him. Chris Herrmann is a nice bench bat, but I’m not so sure he’s more than that. Oscar Hernandez is a gifted receiver behind the plate with a questionable bat (don’t tell Jerry Blevins that). I’m not sure the team will be looking to sign

Welington Castillo: Castillo is the starter by default here with Chris Herrmann being a weaker receiver than he is at the plate. Castillo can do all the tangible things for a catcher such as throwing out baserunners, block pitches in the dirt, and hit, but struggles with the nuances that separate good from decent catchers. Castillo’s bat will make him a 1.5-2.0 WAR catcher, although I would like to see the front office execute their long term plan for the position as I wouldn’t be happy to see Castillo walk away for nothing.

Chris Herrmann: I see Herrmann as a big time bench bat that can spell Castillo at catcher twice a week while provided some pop at the bottom of the order. Preferably I would rather see Herrmann moved off of catcher to a backup 1B/corner OF, but that’s now unlikely with Tuffy Gosewisch now in Atlanta. Herrmann’s 2016 season flashed a spike in power backed up by a very strong batted ball profile, although he’s a prime candidate for regression although I’m not sure what type of hitter he is after contributing nothing in Minnesota prior to last season.

Óscar Hernández: Hernandez has decent pop and is a good receiver behind the plate. The only question is his long term viability as either a starter or backup. Hernandez started the year injured before hitting well in Class A-Adv Visalia before scuffling in AA Mobile. Between that, he went 2 for 11 at the MLB level including a GW home run (first career) in August. He still has questions about bat speed and ability to adjust to more advanced pitching as he scuffled in AA Mobile. Hernandez probably starts the year in Mobile and would be called up in case of an injury or natural progression in the minors.

Infield

The Diamondbacks have a surplus of middle infielders on the roster, albeit none of them very flawed. Chris Owings is the most well-rounded but lacks more than 2.0 WAR upside, Nick Ahmed is very hit or miss with his value depending on his bat not being awful, Ketel Marte having a very inconsistent start to his career, and if Brandon Drury will play 2B. The team can go a long way to answer those questions. The corner infield situation is very cut and dry, with Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb the undisputed starters at 1B and 3B.

Paul Goldschmidt: Paul Goldschmidt is still the team’s best player and most recognized name nationally, even though he didn’t have the season he normally did in 2016. Some of that due to teams pitching around him and a possible decline in bat speed. He should still perform at an All-Star level in 2017 barring significant decline, although his game I expect it to be more gradual than sudden.

Brandon Drury: With the outfield and 3B not ideal long term fits due to fit and personnel there, Drury’s best chance at being a regular may be 2B like I expected a year ago. Drury’s bat has the chance to make a big impact with a line drive swing that produces 20 HR power. Drury’s offense should tick up with more plate appearances and a more settled position. I have Drury projected for a 110 wRC+ in 2017.

Nick Ahmed: Can Nick Ahmed hit? That’s still a question more than two years after assuming the SS job in 2015. Ahmed was a 2 WAR player at SS in 2015, but injuries and decline in his bat made him a replacement level player in half of 2016. A healthy Nick Ahmed can produce a 2 WAR value with his glove alone, the question is if he can break even with the bat. The number I use for that is 70 wRC+, because his glove is significantly better than your average SS. If Ahmed can produce that much offense, he’s the best middle infield option there.

Jake Lamb: Lamb had a breakout season on the way in 2016, leading the team in HR, XBH, and 2nd in RBI. Most of the production came in the first half and up through the middle of July before a jammed thumb started to mess up his swing and his numbers suffering. Lamb is a great left-handed complement to Goldschmidt in the middle of the order. His defense suffered a hiccup in 2016, which I expect to be back where it was before Matt Williams messed with it. Lamb’s combination of power, patience, and solid defense makes him a safe bet for 3 WAR in 2017.

Chris Owings: The biggest issue with Owings is long term fit defensively to get his bat in the lineup. SS, 2B, or OF? Owings has the highest floor amongst the middle infielders with the bat with a pair of wRC+ seasons near 90. Owings doesn’t have the same upside as Ahmed due to being an inferior defender at SS but might get bumped off 2B in favor of Drury, who has a better bat even with inferior defense. If Ahmed isn’t healthy in Spring, Owings is a solid fill-in at SS.

Ketel Marte: Marte is in a similar mold as Chris Owings, with more team control and less proven production. I’m not sure where he starts the season given the crowded infield situation and really only 1 starting spot up for grabs. Barring a strong spring, Marte is probably going to get stashed in AAA Reno, where he can play everyday and be ready in case an injury or some other circumstance forces him into the lineup. Marte had a strong rookie campaign in 2015 followed by an inconsistent sophomore season marred by injuries and ineffectiveness.

Phil Gosselin: Gosselin is lost in the entire infield shuffle, although he can play 4 different positions (2B, 3B, 1B, LF) on a given day, albeit not well. Gosselin is purely a bench bat, one who is very good at starting rallies with the occasional start at 1B or 2B. In terms of bat, Gosselin doesn’t provide a ton, hitting just below league average. Given his positional flexibility and overall quality of ABs, he makes for a solid bat off the bench for the MLB club although I would like to see more RH power.

The overall infield situation is pretty decent with a lot of depth up the middle and franchise cornerstones on the corners. Catching is a bit of an issue with no long term depth outside of Hernández, who should be in AA in 2017. It will be interesting to see how Hazen handles the catching situation and if they trade from their surplus in the infield to fulfill other needs.