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Diamondbacks Spring Questions: Off the bench

If the starting eight seems relatively settled, the bench still largely has to be decided.

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Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

The Cactus League starts on Sunday, February 28, which is also almost exactly a month before Opening Day for the Diamondbacks on April 1. Right now, it feels like most of the regular starters are largely settled - of course, subject to the usual health situations which may arise between now and then. Quite a few of the bench spots also appear virtually locked up. But let’s just see what positions remain, and who the potential candidates are. It looks like this year, there will be a 26-man roster on Opening Day, which will be smaller than last year’s COVID-affected figure. For now, I’m going to assume the D-backs go with five starting pitchers, eight relievers and 13 position players, though this is not 100% certain.

The certs

  • C. Carson Kelly
  • 1B. Christian Walker
  • 2B. ???
  • SS. Nick Ahmed
  • 3B. Eduardo Escobar
  • LF. David Peralta
  • CF. Ketel Marte
  • RF. Kole Calhoun
  • C. Stephen Vogt
  • IF. Asdrubal Cabrera
  • OF. Tim Locastro

I would say these are the ten position players whose Opening Day roster spot are all but assured. Obviously, positions are flexible, in particular for Marte, who could end up at second-base, with Locastro taking over in center. However, looking at the current 40-man roster, I notice how heavily it skews towards the infield. There are 18 position players listed: three catchers and only four outfielders, but no less than eleven infielders. That banquet of options makes me tend to think we will see Marte in the outfield, with Locastro as the fourth outfielder. That would give Arizona two left-handers (Peralta and Calhoun), a switch-hitter (Marte) and a right-hander (Locastro), which is not too unbalanced.

The possibles

This would give us three spots left. Here are the other eight position players currently on the 40-man roster. They’d seem the most likely candidates for the trio of slots, though we will take a look at the non-roster invitees in due course.

  • C/IF/OF Daulton Varsho
  • IF Wyatt Mathisen
  • IF Gerardo Perdomo
  • IF/OF Josh Rojas
  • IF/OF Pavin Smith
  • IF/OF Josh VanMeter
  • IF Andy Young
  • OF Stuart Fairchild

One regular feature of the Mike Hazen era has been the high value placed on positional flexibility. Speaking a few days ago, Hazen name-checked most of the above group, saying, “That group of guys that are all in competition, they all play certain positions and getting them the at-bats and figuring out … what gives us the best chance to win that baseball game that night and, in this context, score the most runs. Those are the variables that we’ll be talking about.” Reading between the lines, it feels that players who slot in at multiple spots will have an advantage over those who are more limited - though to what extent is to be decided. Is mediocre flexibility better than a guy who can play one position well?

There is something of a domino effect here. If Marte ends up mostly in center, than the team will need an everyday 2B. It appears Cabrera will see more playing time at the corner infield, though Torey Lovullo didn’t rule out using him at second. We could even potentially see Escobar moving to second, so that Cabrera can play third. The possible permutations are a bit overwhelming, and will certainly play into who ends up getting the remaining three spots. But I think that Varsho (pictured, top) and Rojas are perhaps the leading contenders. After a rough introduction, Daulton seemed to adapt well, and did particularly well when given regular starts in the final month. Rojas, meanwhile, can play just about anywhere.

His being a left-handed bat may well also factor in, with most of the regulars being right-handed or switch hitters. If that is another factor, then left-handed bats VanMeter and Smith could have an additional advantage. But it’s also worth noting that the Opening Day roster is only a starting point. Last year, in just 60 games, the D-backs still used twenty different position players, so just about everyone will get a chance.

Non-roster invitees

I’ll be getting into the position players here next week, so don’t want to end up stealing my own thunder. But of the non-roster invitees, I don’t see any of the catchers moving the needle much, except in the case of probably two of Kelly, Vogt and Varsho succumbing to injury over the next month. Similarly, the sheer volume of infielders already on the 40-man roster will make it tough for any of the non-roster infielders to crack the 26-man squad. The biggest area of opportunity might be the outfield. Trayce Thompson, who hit 24 homers in 89 games for Triple-A Columbus in 2019, could be a dark horse candidate, offering some right-handed thump off the bench.

However, it’s likely that few decisions have been made at this point, with performances over the next few weeks the biggest factor in determining who gets the spots. So everything will quite probably change, and it’ll be interesting to see whose fortunes rise and fall as spring training progresses.