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Arizona Diamondbacks Spring Training Position Battles: Infield

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Concerning the infield log-jam, the 40-man roster and possible trades.

Coming into spring, it looked like the infield was going to be Paul Goldschmidt and Brandon Drury on the right-hand side, with Chris Owings and Jake Lamb the everyday starters on the left-hand side. Daniel Descalso had been brought in to provide a left-handed version of Phil Gosselin, while Nick Ahmed and Ketel Marte were expected to battle it out for the back-up shortstop’s role. To some extent, things have unfolded as expected: unlike the outfield or bullpen, say, there have no significant injuries to disrupt things on the infield.

But there have been a couple of wrinkles. Owings could end up once again seeing time in the outfield, especially with the likely loss of Yasmany Tomas, for an indeterminate period. There may also be the need to clear one or more spots on the 40-man roster, if the team decides to go with some of the non-roster invitees, particularly bullpen arms like Tom Wilhelmsen,, Jorge De La Rosa and J.J. Hoover. To help meet such an eventuality, the team is reported to be soliciting offers for one of its infield arms. But let’s start with the usual look at how the candidates remaining in camp, have performed at the plate so far in spring.

Pre-season performances

Infield candidates

Player AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
Player AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
Ahmed 45 3 10 3 2 0 8 1 9 .222 .234 .378 .612
Descalso 24 5 7 1 0 2 5 3 5 .292 .370 .583 .954
Drury 43 6 18 6 2 0 5 2 5 .419 .444 .651 1.096
Lamb 34 6 13 3 1 2 9 5 10 .382 .462 .706 1.167
Marte 40 6 11 3 0 1 6 4 5 .275 .341 .425 .766
Negron 39 8 10 1 0 1 2 3 11 .256 .326 .359 .685
Owings 38 5 15 1 2 2 8 2 3 .395 .425 .684 1.109

With the exception of Goldschmidt, who has been on World Baseball Classic duty, the anticipated everyday starters mentioned above have performed well. Indeed, all have delivered an OPS better than 1.000 thus far in spring, capped by Lamb’s impressive line of .382/.462/.706. Descalso has hit well too, albeit in playing time also limited by his stint with Team Italy. The lowest output has, not unexpectedly, come from Nick Ahmed. However, his spring was always going to be be about proving his health, and there seems to have been little or no hangover from the hip microfracture procedure which he underwent at the tail end of the 2016 season.

It appears the team wants to decide well before Opening Day, manager Torey Lovullo saying, “It will be sometime in the next week.” But as in the other areas, he has been reluctant to give any hints as to who might have the inside track on the shortstop position. "They offer different things in different ways. It's a boxing match and they're all slugging it out right now. I love that. That's why the decision hasn't been made. It's been hard on me. It's been hard on the front office, it's been hard on the staff. It's been hard on everybody to kind of separate that field. We're going take as much time as we possibly can to get that answer right."

The 40-man crunch

The injuries to Tomas and Socrates Brito leave the D-backs with only three true OF on the 40-man roster: David Peralta, A.J. Pollock and Jeremy Hazelbaker. In order for the team to add a replacement such as Gregor Blanco, as well as add any of the non-roster relief pitching candidates (Wilhemsen, Jorge De La Rosa or J.J. Hoover being most likely), they must clear a spot on the 40-man for each of the players concerned. The injured men aren’t much help, because if placed on the 15-day disabled list, they still occupy a 40-man slot. It requires a move to the 60-day DL to free that up, which would mean a major delay before they could be re-activated.

Taking anyone else off would mean exposing them to waivers and potentially losing them to another team. Looking at the current Diamondbacks 40-man roster doesn’t so much fat which can be trimmed. Leftie Steve Hathaway and Rule 5 pick Tyler Jones are perhaps the pitchers most in risk of losing a spot; on the position player side, we do seem somewhat overstocked on infield prospects, with Domingo Leyba, Dawel Lugo, Jack Reinheimer and Ildemaro Vargas all sitting there. But Nick Piecoro floats the other way of freeing up room: trading a player, saying Ahmed has “sparked interest from at least a handful of teams,” including the Padres, Rays and Yankees.

Potential trades

San Diego’s interest was previously noted, and New York are now having to find a replacement for Didi Gregorius. He’s expected to miss the first month of the season, after suffering a strained shoulder in the World Baseball Classic. Tampa are also short-handed with Matt Duffy struggling with his rehab from a nagging heel injury. Trading Ahmed would open up a slot on the 40-man roster, providing it was for prospects who didn’t need a spot there.

While not an infielder, Enrique Burgos is another man mentioned by Piecoro as potentially being available, and would similarly offer a chance to free some 40-man room. However, it would seem somewhat counter-productive in the longer term, for the team to trade away a young relief prospect (especially one with raw stuff that’s as good as Burgos’s), in order to make room for a veteran like Wilhelmsen, who would appear to represent a short-term fix. We’ll see how the team opts to handle this dilemma in the coming days.