With Brandon Drury locked in at 2B, only SS job remains open in D-backs’ infield

Mar 21, 2017, 5:43 PM | Updated: Mar 22, 2017, 11:27 am
Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon is tagged out by Arizona Diamondbacks' Brandon Drury trying to stea...

Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon is tagged out by Arizona Diamondbacks' Brandon Drury trying to steal second during the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 21, 2017, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
LISTEN: Torey Lovullo, D-backs' Manager

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — As a rookie last season, Brandon Drury saw time all over the field.

Left field? Check. Right field? Yeah. Third base? Sure. Second base? Indeed. First base? A little.

One of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ better young prospects, the 24-year-old Drury now is locked into a single position — second base — and has been thriving throughout Cactus League play.

On Tuesday, D-backs manager Torey Lovullo, who has promoted competition all over the diamond, conceded that any battle for second base that was happening is all but over.

“I would say so,” he said when asked if the job was Drury’s. “He’s had a great camp. He’s addressed a lot of needs.

“For his own comfort level at second base, I know it was something that was going to be new to him and we brought that idea to him this offseason so he was able to prepare for it mentally and physically. It’s translated.”

Drury, who batted .282 with 16 home runs and 53 RBI last season, has posted a .419 average with six doubles and five RBI.

“Offensively he’s having a great spring, but we knew he was built around offense and that was going to be, really, the non-issue for him,” Lovullo added. “So he should be proud of himself for how he’s addressed the needs defensively, he’s been really good.”

Drury joined the Diamondbacks organization in 2013 as part of the trade that sent Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves. He has hit at pretty much every stop along the way in his career but had not really found a home anywhere on the diamond.

That held true in his first full major league season, but now, though he said he is most comfortable at second or third, is happy with the idea of staying at one spot.

“I’d say it’s easier to get all my work in knowing one position, not having to switch positions and get work in at different places and hitting and all that other stuff,” he said. “Just to have one position that I’m focused on, it’s nice.”

With the comfort of having one position as well as a season’s worth of big league experience, Drury went into this spring looking to build on last season’s success and continue to improve at the plate and in the field. His work is not yet done, of course, but he has shown enough to win a job and a spot in the Opening Day lineup.

“That’s everything you work for, to be out there on Opening Day, starting out there Opening Day,” Drury said, adding the ultimate goal is to win a World Series.

With Drury locked into second base, Paul Goldschmidt at first and Jake Lamb penciled in for third base, there is now just one starting infield job left up for grabs.

If Lovullo has someone in mind for shortstop, he’s not saying.

The manager said the competition for that spot, which is between Chris Owings, Nick Ahmed and Ketel Marte, is ongoing.

“We like all three; they offer different things in different ways, and they’ve answered the challenge of my message when I said you have to go out there and compete,” he said. “The spirit of competition brought out the best in them.

“It’s a boxing match and they’re all slugging it out right now, and I love that. I love that. That’s why the decision hasn’t been made — it’s been hard on me, it’s been hard on the front office, it’s been hard on the staff. It’s been hard on everybody to kind of separate that field, and we’re going to take as much time as we possibly can to get that answered right.”

Handicapping the competition is a difficult task given how all three bring different strengths to the table.

In Owings, the D-backs have a 25-year-old who has started at the position before but has also shown an ability to play second base as well as in the outfield. He is a proven hitter, and last season batted .277 with five home runs and 49 RBI.

Ahmed, on the other hand, is less of a threat at the plate with a .221 career average, but is a wizard with the glove. The 27-year-old posted a defensive WAR marks of 2.8 and 1.8 over the last two seasons, according to ESPN.

Then there’s Marte, who was brought to Arizona in the deal that also landed the Diamondbacks pitcher Taijuan Walker. The 21-year-old spent the majority of last season starting at shortstop for the Mariners, but can play both middle infield spots well and has shown some ability with the bat, hitting .259 with 50 RBI in just more than one season’s worth of at-bats.

As the spring slate nears its end, Owings has emerged as the presumptive favorite, with a .395 batting average to go along with two home runs and eight RBI. He has received some work in the outfield, though.

Owings said he prefers shortstop given that was his position coming up, but will play wherever he is needed if it helps the team win. As for the depth at his position of choice, that’s standard.

“Name another season where it wasn’t like this — it’s always been like this,” he said. “Nothing really changed, mindset-wise, for me.

“We’ve got a lot of talent here, and that’s good. You can give guys off days and kind of get everybody in the mix, and be healthy the whole season.”

It really comes down to what Lovullo wants out of the position, though with Drury’s bat at second base, in theory the team could perhaps afford to go with defense at short and still have enough offense from the middle of the infield.

The first-year manager said Drury playing second will not impact what happens at short because he is confident the Diamondbacks will have no trouble scoring runs either way.

“We’re going to put the best shortstop out there that’s going to help us win games, bottom line,” he said. “That competition is still running thick, so we’re going to try to figure that out here in the coming week.”

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With Brandon Drury locked in at 2B, only SS job remains open in D-backs’ infield