MLB: AZ Diamondbacks Spring Training
The Arizona Diamondbacks pitchers and catchers will be reporting next week for the start of Spring Training. That means the 2014 Major League Baseball season is right around the corner. For die-hard baseball fans Spring Training is the start of the baseball season. It is when we start to analyze our teams and players and start to determine which teams we believe have a shot at the playoffs.
The Diamondbacks had a busy off-season with trades and signings and while the lineup is close to being set for the season, there are still several roster spot battles to be settled… Those spots include a number 5 starter in the rotation, a backup catcher, and a closer.
I believe the most contested position to watch for during Spring Training will be at shortstop, between Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings, and Cliff Pennington.
Didi Gregorius is one of the more exciting young players in the game. His defense continues to get better, but it is his offensive game that has exceeded expectations. He hit .252 and with 7 home runs in 357 at-bats during the 2013 season. Gregorius did have a much better first half of the year than he did the second, so we will have to see if he can be consistent throughout the 2014 season. Didi’s second year could be a make-or-break season for him, especially considering that the Diamondbacks have another young shortstop to throw into the mix in Nick Ahmed.
Chris Owings has steadily risen through the Diamondbacks farm system, spending last season primarily at Triple-A Reno. After winning the Pacific Coast League MVP in 2013, Owings was a late season call-up to the club. He did get 55 Major League at-bats and hit .291. He will likely see some playing time at second base during the season. The Diamondbacks will be looking to see if Owings can function as a regular second baseman with the intention of having both he and Gregorius on the field regularly in 2014. Owings is a natural shortstop, but played 11 games at second base in the minors last season. During Spring Training he will be taking ground balls at second base, so when Gibson gives regular second baseman, Aaron Hill, a day off the hope is that Owings will be ready to step in.
The other shortstop to keep an eye on during Spring Training is Cliff Pennington. Pennington is an above average fielder, but is below average with the bat. If Pennington makes the team we can expect him to be the backup at second and third base, as well as shortstop like he was last year.
On a typical 25-man roster there is only room for two shortstops, the starter and a backup. Does that mean Pennington will be traded? Does Owings go back to AAA? Could Gregorius end up on the trade block?
We know the Diamondbacks cannot afford to have a 22-year old like Owings, who needs to continue to grow, on the bench. In fact, both Gregorius and Owings need regular appearances at the plate to be able to identify their weaknesses and make adjustments. We also know what happens when you have too many players at the same position. Remember Jason Kubel? Not enough playing time led to his worst season in baseball.
Pennington will make $3.2 million this year before heading into his third year of arbitration in 2015. The market to trade him may not attract any attention.
If Pennington stays, who goes? Gregorius could be a future gold glove player at a premium defensive position whose hitting should continue to get better, so trading him will be a difficult choice to make. Owings might turn into a top-notch shortstop. He has the potential to have a .280 to .300 batting average with a 15-20 home run capability. Trading him is also a difficult decision, but we know lately the Diamondbacks have been trading their younger players.
They might be waiting to see if they make it through Spring Training without any injuries to any of their infield position players. Trades are made on a regular basis during Spring Training and the Diamondbacks could be waiting to see if other teams will call them with an offer.
We will have to see what happens when Spring Training starts in the coming weeks, but don’t be surprised to see the Diamondbacks pull off a trade involving any of these three players.
Can’t wait to see you back out at the ballpark.
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