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MLB Opening Day 2016: How would the Arizona Diamondbacks replace A.J. Pollock?

It may or may not be necessary, but it probably makes sense for the Diamondbacks at least to have a contingency plan, in case All-Star outfielder A.J. Pollock is not ready for next Monday. What might that be? Now, unfortunately, I need to blow the dust off this piece...

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Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Will it be needed?

A.J. Pollock has been having problems with his elbow since his arrival in spring training. He was originally listed in the line-up for the opening warm-up against the University of Arizona on March 1, but was scratched from that, having already missed several days of batting practice at that point. Said manager Chip Hale at that point, "He has a little bit of a sore arm. He has it every spring, just from swinging a lot and throwing. It’s nothing major." However, subsequent events proved otherwise. While Pollock did get into a game on March 4, his final Cactus League appearance was on March 8, almost three weeks ago.

He has not been entirely sidelined, however, and has been getting some playing time in minor-league games. The advantage for this from the team's point of view is that they don't count for disabled list purposes. If A.J. does need to go on the 15-day6 DL, that could be back-dated to that last "paid admission" appearance, on March 8, effectively meaning he could come back to the team at any point. The disadvantage is, Pollock isn't facing major-league pitching, something which likely matters more at the beginning of the year, and also has had a lot fewer plate-appearances than would be normal.

Speaking on Saturday, Hale reckoned a minimum of 35 at-bats would be needed: "He has to get enough at-bats to feel ready. So if that's not possible, then maybe the DL is an option." Pollock played in minor-league outings on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and also tends to the view he may not need as much playing time as may be thought. ""I’m a big believer in the mind and I think that’s a bigger deal than actually stepping in there and physically getting at-bats. I know everyone, coaches and everyone, wants me to get a certain number of at-bats. I’m working toward something." But whether or not he will be ready for Opening Day, remains uncertain.

Sad update. A.J. Pollock was removed from the exhibition game at Chase Field this evening, after apparently re-injuring his elbow after a slide into home-plate for the tying run in the third inning. It looks like he hurt himself, not on the slide, but on bracing himself on the arm to get up afterward. He immediately grabbed his elbow, and a loud expletive was picked up by the on-field microphones as he headed into the dugout. We'll see what happens, but it would suck if hustle in a meaningless exhibition game resulted in a significantly longer absence than was originally necessary....

In center field

This decision is probably the easiest one for the Diamondbacks, with Socrates Brito the obvious candidate to take over from Pollock in center. Brito got a cup of coffee last September with the team, and has yet to start a major-league game in CF. He was also more a corner outfielder in the minors, most often in right field, but he has clocked over 1,700 minor-league innings at center. John Sickels of Minor League Ball ssaid Brito "a real asset defensively, above-average in center field and excellent in a corner due to plus range and arm strength," so while he may not quite be A.J, the 23-year-old should be fine, roaming the field.

Offensively, it's harder to be sure what we might get, because the only at-bats Brito has had above Double-A are the 33 he got during that September call-up last year. While those went well (a .303 average) and Socrates has also hit well this spring (.327), this has come with quite a high strikeout to walk rate. Between September and the pre-season, he has 92 plate-appearances, and a K:BB ratio of 18:3; with his speed, you'd certainly like to see him putting the ball into play a bit more. But there's a reason Jeff Sullivan called him "the newest underrated Diamondback," and if Pollock isn't ready, Brito's time could begin a week from today.

In the batting order

This gets trickier. With Pollock on the roster, it appears that Chip Hale was leaning towards a line-up with Jean Segura and A.J. at the top, hopefully getting on base ahead of Paul Goldschmidt and David Peralta in the #3 hole and batting clean-up. But with Pollock out, and Brito's on-base skills perhaps being questionable, as noted above, it's possible the team may look elsewhere for someone to bat second. I've brought up the suggestion before, but I'll happily make it again: Jake Lamb, who has walked more often this spring than anyone else on the team, and combined with his hitting ability should provide plenty of RBI opportunities for Goldy and the Freight Train.

However, we all know Lamb can't hit left-han... Oh, I'm sorry:

We all know Lamb can't hit left-handers.

There, that's better. When facing a southpaw starter, and presuming the team wants a right-hander to hit behind Segura, the picking are kinda slim. It's not going to be Goldschmidt, Segura, Welington Castillo or Yasmany Tomas, and the other two everyday righties, Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed seem unsuited for the role due to their low OBP. If Ahmed's spring isn't a mirage he could be useful there, but otherwise, we may see Brito hit second, just because.  Another possibility is Brandon Drury, if he ends up platooning with Lamb at the hot corner.

On the 25-man roster

The possibilities here wee thinned out fractionally yesterday, with Evan Marzilli being sent down to minor-league camp. He was perhaps the most "Pollockesque" of the alternatives, in terms of skill set and defensive talents, but he was not on the 40-man roster, and so adding him there would have meant dropping someone else. With A.J. not expected to be out for an extended period, burning a year of options for Marzilli (as sending him back down would then have required) was likely deemed unnecessary.

Other options generally remain as discussed when we covered the 25th man possibilities last week. One would still be likely to make the roster anyway, but if Pollock is absent, another slot would open up. It would make sense for him to be replaced by another outfielder, so my guess would be that Peter O'Brien is the most likely candidate 0 unless he makes it anyway, in which case we could perhaps see Rickie Weeks Jr there. Jason Bourgeois is another, and he has seen late spring action. However, neither he nor Weeks are on the 40-man either. The only other outfielder who is, is Gabby Guerrero and I suspect he is still too raw to be part of a major-league roster.

If I'd to guess, I think in the absence of Pollock (and Brito becoming the everyday CF), the five-man Diamondbacks bench would be Tuffy Gossewisch, Phil Gosselin, Chris Owings, Brandon Drury and Peter O'Brien. When Pollock returns, hopefully only a few days into the season, O'Brien gets sent to Reno to await further opportunities and/or a trade to the American League.