For an outfield filled with no-doubters for the 25-man roster, the Arizona Diamondbacks' outfield present a number of intriguing questions.
Okay then, let me just get this out of the way up front. Once A.J. Pollock is cleared to resume full baseball activities, he is the team's starting center fielder. This goes without question. As one of the best players in the entire game over the last two years, Pollock brings the best bat, the best defense, and arguably the best base running to the outfield. However, as the calendar creeps closer and closer to April 4th, the likelihood of Pollock opening the season on the DL increases. That means the team may need to tab a replacement. Even with a healthy Pollock in the mix though, there are still a few burning questions.
If the Diamondbacks enter the season with their all-star center fielder on the shelf, who are the options to fill in and what does that do to the outfield?
David Peralta: Of all the outfielders not named Pollock, David Peralta stands alone as the next sure thing to be an everyday starter. When the left-hander first came up during the ill-fated 2014 season, one of the surprising attributes he showed was the ability to play all three outfield positions at least competently. While it is certainly not ideal to have Peralta in CF, he could slide there in a pinch. If the DL stint is short enough, look to Peralta to slide into the #2 spot on the CF depth chart.
Socrates Brito: Called up late last season, Brito has picked up right where he left off, having a strong enough spring to elevate his discussion from that of solid potential 4th outfielder to possible starting left fielder. Like Ender Inciarte before him, Brito possesses the speed and tools to play all three outfield positions at a high level. With Inciarte now in Atlanta, Brito looks to replace him one-for-one. Whether Brito ends up the starting left fielder or the 4th outfielder, a short stint for Pollock on the DL likely slides Brito into center field for a short while.
Evan Marzilli: Marzilli is a glove first center fielder with great speed. Outside of Pollock, Marzilli is clearly the best defensive center fielder the Diamondbacks currently have floating aruond. Unfortunately for Marzilli, his bat isn't quite MLB-ready yet. Nor is he on the 40-man roster. Still, should Pollock require something of an extended stay on the DL, it is not entirely out of the question that Marzilli comes up and fills in as a fourth outfielder that simply starts in center 4 days a week, with Brito taking the other days.
Yasmany Tomás: Of all potential Diamondback outfielders, there is probably none that has more to gain by Pollock going to the DL than Tomás. The presumptive starting left fielder when the Diamondbacks came to camp in February, Tomás has nursed an injury while watching from the sidelines, as Socrates Brito made the absolute most of his playing time. In five games since returning from his time out, Tomás has managed to bat .400. This sort of hitting will not only keep him on the 25-man, but keep him as the starting left fielder over Brito. What happens if he begins to struggle though, batting sub .250 the rest of March? With Pollock on the shelf, Tomás makes the cut and is the team's starting left fielder. With a healthy Pollock though, the team may exercise other options before the end of April.
Peter O'Brien: Peter O'Brien is something of a dark horse for the outfield. It is tough to look at Tomás' performance in the outfield last season and believe that O'Brien could be any worse. While that is not much of a glowing recommendation, the Diamondbacks already did everything they could to not bring him up in 2015, despite it being a lost season. Now, at age 25, O'Brien is at the point where the Diamondbacks need to make a decision with him one way or the other. If he is not a part of the 25-man roster, then he needs to be traded to a team that can use him as a LF/1B/DH. The young man really has nothing left to gain by spending significant time in Reno again unless it is working as the everyday starting catcher. Even this though, may not be enough to warrant keeping his bat out of someone's MLB lineup. With Yasmany Tomás on the roster, there is no logical fit for O'Brien. Should Tomás begin to struggle in spring or even in early April, it is not outside the bounds of reason to think that the two could be swapped, with the Cuban headed to Reno, and the thunderous bat ticketed for Phoenix.
Outside-the-Box: While there are at least two other outfielders in the system that will probably get looks at some point this season (Zach Borenstein and Todd Glaesmann) it is unlikely either of these young men come up before September unless injuries simply cripple the outfield. The team need not make the "replacement" a traditional outfielder though. Both Phil Gosselin and Brandon Drury are getting time in as super utility players. Both are capable, in a pinch, of playing left field. Both also bring the added benefit of being able to play first, second, and third. With Brito and Peralta both present to play center field, the team could elect to make the extra outfielder(s) utility players instead. This would increase the chances of said players getting more, regular at-bats. It would also allow the team to push any other decisions about the outfield back a bit more. This sort of move would provide the team the absolute maximum window of opportunity for things to shake themselves out and make the firm decisions for them.
The Take: The Diamondbacks are fortunate to have the depth they do in the outfield. Not only were they able to turn Ender Inciarte into Shelby Miller (regardless of what one thinks of the deal), they were able to do so without missing a beat. Socrates Brito is forcing the issue. Yasmany Tomás is still around and appears to be playing improved ball, and Peter O'Brien is waiting to make his mark as the next big thumper in the Arizona lineup. While Yasmany Tomás has done nothing to play himself out of a position, it is almost impossible to ignore Brito's superior skillset across the board. While I still believe Tomás will open the season in left field, I will be rather surprised if he is a regular starter come May (assuming everyone is healthy). If or when the time comes that he has been pushed out by the play of others, I think chances could be 50/50 that he is sent to Reno so that he can continue to get very regular at-bats, in order to improve his game. This would open the door for O'Brien to then be brought up and get close to full-time at-bats in a 4-man/3-position weave with Pollock, Peralta, and Brito in the outfield.