Brito, Clarke provide depth options for D-backs at positions of need
PEORIA, Ariz. — When Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen met with the media in October as the team’s offseason was underway, he was asked about some of the potential need positions of the roster.
Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock were set to be free agents, making center field and starting pitching priorities for the team to address if they left.
When it came to getting creative with those holes, Hazen mentioned some of the talent on the cusp of the major league roster.
That included starting pitcher Taylor Clarke and outfielder Socrates Brito. Clarke got the start Wednesday in the D-backs’ 5-5 tie against the San Diego Padres in spring training play while Brito hit lead-off for the second straight day.
A third-round pick in 2015, the 25-year-old Clarke spent his first full season in Triple-A for the Reno Aces last season. Clarke was 13-8 with a 4.03 ERA and produced a few stretches of strong pitching that had Hazen encouraged enough to call it a “great year.”
Clarke said the same.
“Very pleased with my year,” he said. “Overall, I felt like it was an up-and-down year but ended it strong.
“I was definitely pleased with it and just trying to take that momentum and kind of taking it into this year and seeing where it goes.”
In the two innings of his first start of the spring, Clarke gave up two baserunners on hits but allowed neither to reach scoring position. He struck out two as well.
“Was happy with [my outing],” Clarke said. “Able to get ahead of guys and throw strikes.”
“Taylor was fantastic,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “I thought he had a very, very solid outing for us today.”
This is Clarke’s second year playing in the spring for the D-backs.
“Little bit more knowing what you’re getting into and knowing how to handle it,” he said.
The D-backs’ rotation has spaces filled but has room for opportunity compared to last year.
Corbin and Shelby Miller left in free agency and Taijuan Walker had Tommy John Surgery in late April of 2018.
For this year’s group, Luke Weaver and Merrill Kelly are expected to round out the rotation behind Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray and Zack Godley. Names like Matt Koch and Braden Shipley should be in the discussion for a roster spot behind them as well.
Still, Clarke is in the mix.
“Any way I can kind of help out the club, whether it’s starting or relieving,” Clarke said. “It’s pitching in the big leagues so I can’t be too particular about it so just trying to wait for my opportunity, wait for my chance and make the most of it.”
At the end of the 2015 season, Brito immediately became a name to watch when he showed some real pop in his bat as a September call-up. He was the minor league player of the year for the organization that year and there was some well-deserved hype for him as a fourth outfielder in 2016.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t get it going, hitting .195 in 95 at-bats with injuries lingering.
He then injured a bone in his hand in November of 2016 before undergoing surgery for a dislocated finger during 2017 spring training and missed the whole year.
Lovullo called that a big blow at the time, as the D-backs wanted someone who could give Pollock days off or a replacement they felt safe about if an injury were to occur.
Brito had a terrific year for Reno last season, posting an OPS of .923 and hitting .318 with 17 home runs and 69 RBI.
On Wednesday, he was 1-for-4 from the plate.
With Ketel Marte preparing to become the D-backs’ everyday center fielder in a transition from the infield, that makes guys like Brito as depth options much more valuable.
After that rocky couple of seasons for Brito, it’s now about Lovullo seeing what he needs to see from the 26-year-old outfielder.
“It’s about getting that opportunity and embracing it and having consistent approaches at the plate and then taking charge of center field,” Lovullo said.
“Good routes, good angles and just playing good, smart baseball is somebody that you count on in the middle of the diamond.
“Yes, we know that he’s had an uphill battle because of injury — he’s a very tough kid, we like that, but now it’s a healthy Brito going out there and performing and we want to see what he can do.”
MARTE BACK ON THE DIRT
Marte’s move from the infield to the outfield had him back at second base on Wednesday after making his debut in center on Monday.
“At some point we’re gonna transition Ketel out there but I want to make sure we do everything first and hit all the checkpoints with him as an infielder before we transition him out there,” Lovullo said.
Marte had the day off on Tuesday, which had Brito starting at center field and Brito got the nod again on Wednesday.