D-backs’ full spring camp opens with clear face of franchise in Ketel Marte
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — This time last year, it was easy to pin down the identity of the Arizona Diamondbacks. They wanted to be the scrappy, sustainable roster constructed around one of the best defensive lineups in MLB.
As for the face of the team, well, take your pick.
Paul Goldschmidt had been traded in the offseason. Ace Zack Greinke entered camp as easily the highest-payed player. The personality of reliever Archie Bradley still had clout with fans, and outfielder David Peralta was the heart of the team.
Flip forward a year in the calendar, and minus Greinke’s midseason departure, all of that is the same. The one difference: There’s no question that none of those aforementioned players — not even current D-backs Bradley or Peralta — are the fan favorite.
Ketel Marte couldn’t stroll off the practice fields and into the Salt River Fields clubhouse without making multiple stops.
“That’s what happens when you’re an All-Star player. I really love the fans. I have time for the kids. I’m here for them,” Marte said Monday after the first full-squad practice of the D-backs’ spring training schedule.
“It’s fun. I have my mind ready to be at the All-Star Game this year again. I will do whatever I have to do to be over there.”
It’s not really surprising without the perspective of last spring.
After all, Marte was tied for the second-best batting average (.329) in the majors last season and was top-10 in hits, Wins Above Replacement and total bases. He finished fourth in National League MVP voting.
Consider that Marte found himself in center field (94 games) more than his natural second base (72 games) because of circumstance, and it was even more impressive he produced his first MLB All-Star season.
The question is whether the 26-year-old can replicate his stellar season. And then it’s a wonder if he can even improve.
“I think he has to maintain what he’s done and continue to grow and learn,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “Continue to be himself and do the exact same things he has done. I know that experience and conversation with veteran players will help him gain maybe a little bit of an edge.”
The exciting part for Arizona is hoping Marte can return to play mostly at second base and do more with less on his plate. Marte offered to Lovullo that he would still play in center field when needed, but the acquisition of outfielder Starling Marte will likely push Ketel to do as he did in his breakout 2018 campaign, when he and shortstop Nick Ahmed formed one of the more athletic middle infielder combos in the game.
The D-backs extending Ahmed this offseason spoke to how much they value the duo — Marte as a top 10 Offensive WAR player from a year ago and Ahmed a top 10 Defensive WAR player.
“I think that’s something I’m looking forward to watching,” Lovullo said. “Watching those two guys in ’18 develop the rapport that they did and playing as good as they did was something we got spoiled by. We asked a lot of them last year. I know primarily playing one position is going to help anybody.”
As for the notable crowds that followed Marte’s every step Monday, Lovullo believes it’s well-deserved.
For a team that in the past few years that has risked dumping a fan favorite in Goldschmidt and reinvented itself in Lovullo and general manager Mike Hazen’s image, having a clear franchise face at Day 1 of a season certainly is worthy of pointing out.
“I think he is earning that every step of the way,” Lovullo said of Marte’s popularity with fans. “He had a tremendous year last year … he’s a good kid. He’s the right guy that we’re all focused on for the right reasons. I think he embraces that. I know he wants to get his work done.
“I can tell where he was (on Monday). That’s where the crowds were. But he’s earned that and we’re proud of him for that.”