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Arizona Diamondbacks 2017 Preview: Infield

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We bid adieu to our 2016 MVP. But fear not! Paul Goldschmidt is still on the team.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Arizona Diamondbacks Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Jean Segura was hands down the most electrifying player on the team’s 25 man roster last season. One of GM Mike Hazen’s first moves as the new captain in charge was trading Segura, Zac Curtis, and Mitch Haniger to the Seattle Mariners for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte. We wish him the best of luck in the Emerald City, but it is time for us to look ahead to the 2017 season.

Third Base

Jake Lamb

This will be Jake Lamb’s second season in a row as our starting third baseman on Opening Day. 2016 was the tale of two half seasons for him. In the first half through 85 games, he had a AVG/OBP/SLG slash line of .291/.371/.612 for a 151 wRC+. The 65 games he appeared in the second half were not as kind as we saw him hit .197/.283/.380 resulting in a 68 wRC+. Yikes. Maybe it was the disappointment of just missing out on the All Star Game in the final ballot vote. He did pull the ball significantly less in the second half, 50.5% in the first half vs. 33.7% of the time in the second half, which may partly explain the issue. One reason for optimism is the significant surge in power he saw during the first half of last season where he swatted 20 home runs, 7 triples, and 19 doubles before the Mid-Summer Classic resulting in an ISO of .322. If the Diamondbacks are going to have any chance of playing meaningful baseball in September, Lamb will need to show more consistency and not fall off of a cliff in the second half. His results this spring have been promising. Through 47 at bats he has put up a .350/.404/.702 slash line. However, that is fairly close to his career spring numbers. This season has the potential to be an even bigger breakout than we saw in the first half of 2016.

Shortstop

Better health in the outfield combined with the emergence of Brandon Drury has resulted in the positional battle between Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed that has been a few seasons in the making. The two seem poised to split time at the position, albeit only because of Owings’ positional flexibility.

Chris Owings

Chris Owings was tabbed as the Opening Day starter at CF in 2016 after a brutal elbow injury to AJ Pollock. He filled in admirably while playing multiple positions, and it should be noted that SS is not foreign to him as he played 68 games there after Nick Ahmed went down with hip surgery. Early reports seem to suggest that Owings will be in the lineup everyday depending on how he performs. Look for him to fill in at multiple spots again this season. Owings took a step forward offensively in 2016, and did not seem to be plagued by the recovery from shoulder surgery as he was in the 2015 season. Health is going to be key for Owings going in to 2017 as he only appeared in 13 games in June and July due to plantar fasciitis. Chris does not have tremendous power, but what he lacks there he makes up for in speed as he stole 21 bases, hit 24 doubles, and 11 triples. In fact, he was in a three man tie for the major league lead in triples between Brandon Crawford and Cesar Hernandez despite playing in 36 games less than both of them.

Nick Ahmed

Nick Ahmed is universally panned as one of the best defensive players in the game. He is not going to be featured on ‘Web Gems’ every night because he has the ability to make difficult plays look routine and, well, boring. He is always in the proper position, makes a quick glove to throwing hand transfer, and has a strong, accurate arm. Ahmed has already proved this spring that his defensive ability is not going to be limited due to last season’s hip injury. However, we have most likely seen all Nick is going to offer this point in his career. He can make himself the clear cut choice at SS if he can find a way to improve his OBP to somewhere around .300. That is easier said than done for him. Because he is so weak at the plate, pitchers will go right after him and he will not draw many walks as a result. He was rumored to be on the trade block earlier this spring, but recent roster moves seemed to put that to rest for the time being. The Diamondbacks are not in any rush to move him because he will hit his first year of arbitration in 2018 and has minor league options remaining should he under perform this season.

Second Base

Brandon Drury

It is interesting to note that Nick Ahmed, one of the players acquired in the Justin Upton trade, may ultimately be forced out of an everyday starting role due in part to the emergence of another player acquired in that same trade. One of the first topics of discussion mentioned by Torey Lovullo this spring was his desire to have Brandon Drury stick to one position rather than play all over the field. Last season Brandon played 61 games in LF, 32 games in RF, 28 games at 3B, 12 games at 2B, and 1 game at 1B. The idea is that allowing him to focus on one position should improve his mental focus at the plate and hone his defensive skill at one spot on the field. While the versatility to step into multiple positions last season was welcomed, Drury earned his playing time at the plate batting .282/.359/.458. He just might be the only player that is as dedicated to constant improvement as Paul Goldschmidt. Goldy has commented on Drury’s work ethic himself, and he has been known to spend previous offseasons working with Troy Tulowitzki. That preparation resulted in him shedding 10 pounds this offseason when asked to focus on agility and lateral movement. The similarities to Goldy in terms of size have been striking to me since he entered the league (Goldy listed at 6’3” 225lbs, Drury at 6’2” 210lbs), and if he can demonstrate the same dedication to improvement as Paul we might witness a special 2017 season for him.

First Base

Paul Goldschmidt

Saving the best of the starting infield for last. Paul is America’s First Baseman even if Jim Leyland does not appreciate him as much as we do. 2016 was rather pedestrian by Paul Goldschmidt’s standards due to a rough start during March and April in which he hit for a .247 average. We have come to know over the years that Paul is his biggest critic.

“I just want to hit the ball hard, that’s my simple goal at the plate — have good at-bats.”

Paying close attention to last season will confirm his own words. He was not driving the ball with the same authority that he has in the past. We know that balls that are hit harder tend to fall for hits more often. According to Fangraphs, his percentage of balls in play hit with soft speed in 2016 (14.2%) was his highest since his rookie season in 2011. Conversely, his hard hit percentage (37.5%) was the lowest since 2011. However, he still led the National League in walks (110), was third in OBP (.411), and improved his stolen base total to 32 which is astounding for a first baseman his size. Manager Torey Lovullo has said that he will look to get Goldy more days off throughout the season, which he hopes will translate into better focus for the All Star first baseman. Fans should expect another fantastic season from Goldy.

Bench

Daniel Descalso

Signed as a free agent for $1.5 million for 2017 and a $2 million club option in 2018. He will be replacing Phil Gosselin who was DFA’d to make room for Descalsco. The rationale behind this move was that he provided a left handed infield option off the bench for Lovullo. Descalso saw time at every infield position for Colorado in 2016 as well as some reps in LF. Daniel is a career .242/.315/.352 hitter in 729 major league games. As pointed out when he was signed, he appears to handle “high leverage” plate appearances better than Phil Gosselin throughout his career which would translate to being a better option off of the bench late in close games. Through 159 career at bats in those scenarios he has hit .308/.396/.421. In contrast, through 42 career at bats in such situations Phil has hit .262/.298/.357.

Ketel Marte

Ketel will begin the year in Reno, but will be the first to get the call should any of the middle infield options listed above play poorly. Marte was acquired with Walker in the Segura trade as mentioned above. Ketel took a bit of a step back last season with the Mariners in comparison to his debut 2015 season. If that sounds familiar to the player he was traded for, it should. It would be welcomed if he could experience the same turn around in Arizona that Jean Segura did in 2016, but he should be well served with some additional time in the minors being that he is only 23 years of age. Struggles last season can be attributed to a bout with mono. Improved health this season should allow him to demonstrate what his true capabilities are.