D-backs’ outfield depth brings intrigue to final roster decisions
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A wealth of outfield options for the Arizona Diamondbacks in spring training presents both good news and bad news.
The good news is that the D-backs will have multiple options to select from and boast depth in the outfield that they haven’t had in recent memory. The bad news is the possibility that a capable player is left off of the opening day roster. The offseason additions of both Starling Marte and Kole Calhoun are partly to blame for that.
“I think that at one point in time we were a little thin,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said Friday. “And we have two additions with Calhoun and Marte. We know what’s going to happen there: They’re going to be playing the bulk of the innings.
“But behind that, there is a competition. There [are] some open spots that we’re evaluating every single day. So I’m very comfortable with the guys that we have that will get the bulk of the innings, and I’m even more comfortable with the guys that are fighting for the next position.”
So who are those guys? David Peralta, Marte and Calhoun seem like obvious outfield starters. Beyond them, there’s offseason signing Jon Jay — who has already played for the D-backs in 2018 — second-year big leaguer Josh Rojas and speedster Tim Locastro. Other outfielders are in camp, as well, and prospects Daulton Varsho and Andy Young have taken some outfield reps.
Ketel Marte, who played 96 games in center field last year, is expected to primarily play at second base, although that may not be entirely exclusive.
In speaking with the media on Friday, Lovullo used the word “versatile” multiple times, which is a term that would seem to fit Rojas the best out of the bunch. Just last season with the D-backs, he played left field, right field and second base, but he’s also appeared at shortstop, third base and even first base in his minor league career.
“We’ve got to make sure that we have as many positions covered with backups,” Lovullo said. “We’ve got to make sure we have some versatility, not just playing one position. So we’ve had a lot of conversations about who those candidates should be and will be, but they’ve got to go out and perform.”
Jay, on the other hand, is a veteran with a career .285 batting average and .350 on-base percentage. He played 84 games for Arizona in 2018. Lovullo knows him well.
“He’s come into camp in extremely good shape, ready to go,” Lovullo said. “He’s healthy, which is crucial for him. He’s competing and he knows that. But I just enjoy having the guy around. There’s just such good conversation around him, he’s helping everybody get better around him, he’s a great teammate.
“And we’re going to evaluate the entire body of work when it’s the right time. But he’s getting an opportunity and that’s the really the most important thing for him.”
Then there’s Tim Locastro, who was on the Diamondbacks’ major league roster often last season and has a knack for getting on base, stealing bases and getting hit by pitches. He hit .250 with a .697 OPS 17 stolen bases and 22 hit by pitches last year, which was fourth-most in the major leagues despite him playing only 91 games.
“[I see the] same thing that everybody sees: A ton of energy, an understanding of what he’s supposed to do per at bat,” Lovullo said of Locastro. “He’s a great teammate and he’s an offensive catalyst. When he gets on base, there’s a really good chance we’re going to score a run.
“Everybody wants to talk about his speed and how fast he can cover ground and the outfield and on the bases, but he’s a really good baseball player. He’s improving as a hitter. I’m anxious to see where this season goes for him.”
A rule change that allows teams to carry 26 players on the active roster this season could allow for an extra outfielder on who might not otherwise make the team. Lovullo said the team hasn’t decided who they’ll utilize that extra spot.
Elsewhere in camp, there’s Ildemaro Vargas, who played 92 games for the D-backs last year and saw limited outfield time, as he is primarily an infielder. The team also has Travis Snider, Yasmany Tomas, Trayce Thompson and other potential outfield options in camp.
MIKE LEAKE INJURY PROGRESS
Mike Leake pitched live BP on Thursday but is still recovering from a fracture in his non-throwing wrist.
“We know that he’s dealing with a difficult set of circumstances but he’s making the absolute most of it and said he felt comfortable yesterday and that’s the bottom line,” Lovullo said.
“He had four innings of work and built up his pitch count, and we’re hoping obviously he continues to progress, which he is. He’s just a tough man. He’s grinding through this time right now to make sure that he’s as ready as he can be.”