With pitchers and catchers reporting in less than two weeks, the 2014 Major League Baseball season is right around the corner. For the true baseball fans, spring training is the start of the season and is the bridge that gets us through the dead period until opening day. With most of the offseason moves done and over with, we already have a good idea of what shape the 2014 teams will take.
For the Arizona Diamondbacks, their offseason was pretty busy (with a heartfelt attempt at making it even busier), acquiring Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed to bolster areas of need for the team. While the lineup is mostly figured out, it may take some spring training to sand off those edges and finalize some of those roster spots.
5th starter: Randall Delgado vs Archie Bradley
Given how publicized the Diamondbacks’ pursuit for a frontline arm was, it is a common misconception that the starting pitching for the Snakes is in dire peril. Not quite true, as with Corbin, Miley, Cahill and McCarthy, the first four spots are actually quite competitive in the grand scheme of things. Throw in Randall Delgado, who pitched 116 innings for the Diamondbacks last season and you’ve got an experienced enough rotation to make the playoff push D-backs fans have been waiting for.
Delgado may be a victim of circumstance though, as Archie Bradley, the consensus best pitching prospect in the majors will almost certainly receive a spring training invite and a chance to compete for a roster spot right out the gate. While Arizona would like to pamper its prized prospect as long as possible, Bradley was dominant in Double-A Mobile last season, sporting a 12-5 record with a 1.97 ERA. If he’s good enough to make the jump right now, there’s no use keeping him in Triple-A. But first, he needs to beat out Delgado for that to happen.
Shortstop: Chris Owings vs Didi Gregorius vs Cliff Pennington
When Kevin Towers traded away Trevor Bauer for Didi Gregorius, it was met with much criticism. Sure, Bauer had overstayed his welcome, but the scouting report on Didi was very mild. He was an athletic albeit erratic fielding shortstop with a non-existent offensive game, hardly worth trading a prospect with the ceiling that Bauer had.
Fast forward a year into the future and Didi Gregorius is one of the more exciting young players in the game. His defense is exciting and can get better still, but it is his offensive game that has exceeded expectations. With a .252 average and 7 home runs in 357 at-bats, Didi’s sophomore campaign will be a make-or-break season for the Dutch infielder, especially considering that Arizona has another young shortstop to throw into the mix.
Chris Owings has steadily risen through the Diamondbacks farm system, spending last season primarily in Triple-A Reno. After winning the Pacific Coast League MVP in 2013, Owings saw a late season call-up to the show, accruing 55 Major League at-bats. In 2014, Owings promises to compete for the starting shortstop job with Didi and veteran Cliff Pennington in the mix.
Because Owings is still a work in progress defensively at shortstop, it is unlikely he’ll beat out Didi for the starting gig, but will still likely beat out Pennington due to his offensive upside and his ability to play second whenever Aaron Hill needs an off-day.
Closer: Addison Reed vs. J.J. Putz vs. David Hernandez
It’s easy to assume that Addison Reed will come in and take the closer role uncontested. After saving 69 games in two seasons, Reed is a young, promising talent and looks to get better in his third year in the League.
But J.J. Putz is still the incumbent. After blowing four saves in April and a stint on the disabled list in 2013, Putz came back with a vengeance, thriving in the setup role. Since his return in late June, Putz was stellar, allowing only 3 earned runs in 21.2 innings and ending the season with a 2.36 ERA. He was a bright spot in an otherwise abysmal bullpen for the D-backs, and if he can still close games like he has throughout his career, he should close over Reed.
I mention David Hernandez only to remind Diamondbacks fans (and myself) that Hernandez was a solid set-up guy prior to his inconsistency last season. After pitching a 2.50 ERA with 98 strikeouts in 68.1 innings in 2012, home runs plagued Hernandez in 2013, as he allowed 10 home runs in 62.1 innings, en route to a 4.48 ERA and a demotion to the minors. He probably won’t win the closer job, but he may be a factor in the set-up role.
Player to watch: Cody Ross
Prior to his hip injury in early August, Cody Ross was starting to heat up for the Diamondbacks. His absence was missed, as Arizona skidded downward from there, eventually ending 81-81. Not that Cody Ross was the reason everyone else slowed down, but Ross will enter 2014 low on the radar. A strong spring for him will do wonders for his confidence and by extension, the club psyche.
His fielding is nowhere close to that of Parra or Pollock, so it’s unlikely he’ll push for an everyday starter job, but if his bat catches fire like it did prior
to his injury, you can bet that Kirk Gibson will notice and find ways to get Cody to the plate.