A.J. Pollock was the Arizona Diamondbacks’ center fielder on opening day last year pretty much by default.
Adam Eaton, who was expected to have the job, was injured, as was right fielder Cody Ross.
The team had little choice but to play Pollock.
The rookie responded by hitting .279 with four home runs, 17 RBI and six stolen bases in the season’s first two months.
From there, he was an integral part of the lineup.
Pollock finished the season hitting .269 with eight home runs, 38 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 137 games — 443 at bats — while seeing time at all three outfield positions.
But his primary position is in center field, which is where he projects to start the season once again, albeit this time because the team wants him there, not because it needs him there.
The offseason trade that saw the team ship Eaton to Chicago pretty much ensured that, though it is not changing how he is approaching the season.
“I know coming in you can’t prepare like you’re a backup and you always have to prepare like you’re the guy because you’ll be the most ready if you do that,” he told the Doug and Wolf Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Friday. “Because things happen. Things happen so quick. Really, that needs to be your mindset every season.”
That’s not to say Pollock doesn’t understand the team’s offseason has basically been a big vote of confidence as him as the team’s primary center fielder.
“You can’t just brush it away,” he said of the Eaton trade. “Obviously it’s opportunity. That’s the one thing for me. They’re never going to give you anything, I know that from them, and that’s what I appreciate.”
So, Pollock does not look at this like the D-backs giving him a job so much as them giving him a chance to earn it.
“This isn’t them handing me anything,” he said. “It’s going to be me going out there — maybe I get a couple more opportunities — but I still have to do stuff with it and help contribute to the team, hopefully get some more wins and get in the lineup more.”
A 26-year-old former first-round draft pick, Pollock was productive in the minor leagues but was never really looked at as one of the team’s top prospects, at least in terms of hitting ability. Not that he ever doubted himself, but last season did nothing to hurt his confidence.
Getting to play nearly every day, Pollock learned a lot in his first full season as a big leaguer.
“Stats aside, I think it’s really kind of a dumb thing just to look at stats because I feel like I got better and better throughout the year with the quality of my at bats,” he said. “I learned a lot just being with the team and being with the coaches, and coming into spring training I just feel like I’m in a better spot than I was last year.”
Yes, he’s a major league baseball player now who is fighting for a spot in the lineup instead of a spot on the 25-man roster.
And that spot might be atop the team’s lineup as the leadoff hitter.
“I just want to be in the lineup,” he said when asked if leading off is important to him, adding that it’s up to manager Kirk Gibson to make those decisions. “I would love to have a role. If he tells me that’s my role I would love to kind of try to master that and do my best at it, but no matter where you are in the lineup, I just want to become a better hitter.
“Getting on base, hitting doubles, hitting the gaps, getting runners in. That works anywhere in the lineup.”