With less than a month of Spring Training left, I wanted to take a look at the position players and who might be manning each spot on the diamond. In this article, I am going to put a heavy emphasis on my opinion on whom I think should be the starters; if you disagree let me know in the comments as I always love reading another person’s point of view.
When you have a player like Paul Goldschmidt, there isn’t much of a discussion on who will be the starter at first base. Goldschmidt is a future hall of famer and an all around great guy in the clubhouse. He is most known for his bat, but he brings so much more to the table, such as gold glove defense at a position where defense is often overlooked. In 2016, he stole 32 bags, hit 24 home runs, and hit for an average of .297, and this was a down year for him. I predict that in 2017 he will be a 30-30 player (30 home runs and 30 stolen bases) and once again be in the run for National League MVP.
When we traded Jean Segura to Seattle, it left a big gap at second base. Segura had a career year for the D-Backs in 2016, and I don’t expect the same production in 2017 for whomever takes over second base. In my opinion, the front-runner to start at second base is Brandon Drury. Drury did very well last year for the D-Backs, and he was moved around to different positions throughout the year. He has above average defense, power, and hits for a good average. Last year, in 134 games, he hit .282 with 16 home runs and 53 runs batted in. Drury can easily hit 20+ home runs for us if he gets a full time job at second. Another player looking to secure a starting spot is Chris Owings. Owings saw some time at second the last couple seasons and last year even played some center field. He is a different style player than Drury in that he is speedy (21 stolen bases in 119 games in 2016) and less of a power bat. I would rather see Drury get more time at second and Owings get time at his natural position which is shortstop.
The Diamondbacks have two players to look at when deciding who gets playing time at shortstop. As discussed above, Chris Owings is a natural shortstop and is an all around good player. He is more known for his offense, while his biggest competition at shortstop, Nick Ahmed, is known for his defense. Ahmed is arguably the best defensive shortstop in the National League, but his bat leaves much to be desired. He has a career .221 batting average and strikes out at a high rate. While defense is very important at the shortstop position, it’s hard to justify putting Ahmed’s bat in the line up. If it was my decision, I would start Owings at shortstop and use Ahmed as a defensive replacement and/or filler at shortstop when Owings has a day off or is shifted to another position.
I expect Jake Lamb to be the starting third baseman for the D-Backs again this year. Lamb’s first half was outstanding and he should have been an All-Star. His defense was below average in 2016, but he has been working on it this spring and I expect it to be much better. Lamb ended 2016 with a .249 batting average while hitting 29 home runs and knocking in 91 runs. If Jean Segura was still in AZ, I would say Drury would be competing with Lamb for third base, but with Drury most likely taking the second base job, I believe that Lamb has third locked down. I would be surprised if Lamb has under 30 home runs and a .260 average in 2017.
The catcher position will be a revolving door in 2017 for the Diamondbacks. Our new management told media that they wanted to have a defensive minded catcher who is good at pitch framing. On December 5th, the Diamondbacks signed Jeff Mathis. Mathis was the best pitch framing catcher available as a free agent. I would like to see Mathis get at least half of the playing time for the catcher position. He should be a huge boost for our young rotation and is the key to a bounce back season for Zack Greinke. The remaining playing time will be split between Chris Iannetta and Chris Herrmann. Iannetta is a veteran catcher known for his defense and having a below average bat; in my opinion, when it comes to Iannetta, the Diamondbacks know what they are going to get. Chris Herrmann is much more interesting to look at. He only played in 56 games in 2016 because of injuries, but he showed that he can play the outfield which will allow him to get more playing time. Herrmann had a .284 batting average and hit 6 home runs in only 148 at-bats in 2016. I would like to see the catcher position be 50% Mathis, 25% Iannetta, and 25% Herrmann. I am excited to see what Mathis can do for our pitching staff.
Outfield – Left
I expect left field to be manned by Yasmany Tomás, if only because of his bat. Tomás gets a lot of hate because he was given a sizeable contract by the D-Backs and was compared to Jose Abreu but with more power. After a poor 2015 season where Tomás only hit 9 home runs, there really was only one way to go for him, which was up. In 2016, his salary was $4 million and he hit 31 home runs in 140 games and had a .272 average. $4 million is cheap for a 31 homer and 83 RBI player. I was pretty happy with his offensive breakout and I fully expect him to make even more strides. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tomás hit 40 home runs in 2017 (while only making $6 million). The biggest [fully deserved] knock on Tomás is his below average defense. Only time will tell if he can improve his defense, but I’ll take his poor defense if he can improve on his offensive numbers from 2016.
Outfield – Center
Much like first base, center field is locked down by A.J. Pollock. After his MVP type year in 2015, fans were looking forward to seeing him build on it in 2016. Unfortunately, Pollock injured his elbow sliding into home during a 2016 Spring Training game. He missed all but 12 games because of it, but he is looking good so far this year. Look for Pollock to bounce back to his 2015 form and swipe 40 bags and knock 20+ home runs.
Outfield – Right
Right field will more than likely be manned by David Peralta. Peralta dealt with injuries in 2016, and was limited to only 48 games. He is back and healthy and doing well so far in Spring Training. In 2015, Peralta had a batting average of .312 while driving in 78 runs and leading the league in triples. He has above average defense in right which will be a welcome sight after the revolving door we saw in 2016. I expect Peralta to be productive at the plate and bat around .300 while hitting 20+ home runs.