BY: ED COLE
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale is a big fan of competition amongst the 67 players he has on his Spring Training roster.
There’s only a few of the 25 Opening Day roster spots that Hale would say are locked up, with all of the names being very familiar to the Dback Nation.
“I hate to say anything’s set, because we can always change our minds,” Hale said. “I would say, obviously, (first baseman Paul) Goldy’s (Goldschmidt) pretty set, and I’d say (center fielder) A.J.’s (Pollock) pretty set. I think Welington Castillo will be our starting catcher. As long as we do a good job of keeping him healthy, and fresh this spring, he should be our starter.”
“David Peralta, we’re going to move (him) over to right field. We’ve had a talk with him, and Yasmany’s (Tomas) going to move to left (field),” Hale said. “I think David has proven he’s a Major Leaguer and an every day guy, so I would say his spot is pretty good, but you never know. We have a lot of competition with Yasmany and Sócrates Brito. It’s going to be a good fight, so I don’t think too many are locked in.”
An unusual amount of position players are already in house at Salt River Fields, even though their official report date isn’t until this coming Monday.
With so many non-pitchers and non-catchers in the house, it’s shown Hale that these men are serious about their craft, and that they know something special is brewing with this team. They know the extra work they put in will pay off soon enough.
“I felt that way last year. I felt within my first year coming in, I was amazed at the amount of guys that are here,” Hale said. “We have the facility that, if I’m a player in this organization, I would be here also. It is great to have them here. I’ve sometimes talked to them about maybe taking some days off because it’s a long season, so you want to keep them fresh. It’s great to have them around each other, to make sure that personal relationship is good between each other.”
Of course everyone on this Spring Training roster won’t be on the final 25-man roster, hence the competition theme that’s circulating the team. Hale would like to go into the regular season with 12 pitchers and 13 position players. Cutting 67 to 25 is going to be very difficult, but that’s why there’s a nice slate of Spring Training games for each and every player to show Hale why they deserve to be a part of the team come Opening Day.
One of the most fiercest position battles will come at both shortstop and at second base. The men up for the challenge are Nick Ahmed, the newcomer Jean Segura, and Chris Owings at shortstop, and at second base, Segura, Owings, Phil Gosselin and Brandon Drury will fight it out for that spot in the infield.
“I don’t think anyone has a leg up. I think it’s going to be a good fight,” Hale said. “We traded for Jean Segura, who’s been an All-Star. To go with the attitude of our guys, I called Nick Ahmed immediately, and the first thing he said is, “I’m glad that we were able to get talent on our roster, and I look forward to competition,” and that’s the way these guys feel about it.”
“I believe with Nick Ahmed, Chris Owings and Jean Segura, we have three above-average Major League shortstops, all three of them, with varying ceilings defensively,” Hale said.
Hale likes the bat Gosselin brings, and the fact that he’s been in the system since last season. Drury’s ability to play both third base and second definitely has him in the mix for both spots.
Circling back to the switch in the outfield with Peralta and Tomas, it was a simple matter of Peralta moving back to his natural position in right field. Peralta’s capable of playing all three positions in the outfield, but Hale believes that right field is the best place for Peralta to man.
“We just felt like putting David (Peralta) in right (field) full-time, we would have a better outfield,” Hale said. “We wouldn’t move him unless we thought it would make our team better. We wanted to do it now, so Yasmany (Tomas) gets as many reps as he can in left (field), and David will get them all in right (field).”
Others who are in the mix for playing time in the outfield are Brito, Peter O’Brien, Jason Bourgeois and Evan Marzilli. Hale also said Gosselin could spend some time out in left field, because his bat “does play” quite well for the team.
The starting rotation is going to be a fun one for Hale to construct. There’s no doubt about it: Zack Greinke will be the Opening Day starter, as Hale confirmed on Wednesday. There was never any doubt about that (when you invest $206 million in Greinke, he better be your ace). After Greinke, Hale says the other four starters will be laid out according to matchups, and who’s best served to start on a given afternoon or evening.
“I don’t say one guy’s a 2, (and) one guy’s a 3. It’s 2 and 2a,” Hale said. “We’ll figure out where they’re gonna start, but every day any of these guys start, they’re our No. 1.”
Shelby Miller was another big pickup by Arizona in the offseason from the Atlanta Braves. He pitched 205.1 innings for Atlanta last season, showing that he’s got the ability to go out and put in the work every fifth day, and hopefully keep the bullpen fresh.
That’s one of the biggest things Hale expects Miller to do is continue to stay healthy and throw the pill.
“I know, just talking to him (Miller), how excited he is to be here with our club,” Hale said. “He’s been here for a while now throwing, and looks great. I think the 200 innings, and the wins and losses should take care of themselves.”
When it comes to working Patrick Corbin in the rotation, Hale says Corbin was going to be their No. 1 if the team didn’t make any personnel moves. Corbin was carefully watched last season, after coming off Tommy John surgery, to the point where Hale said Corbin was frustrated because he wasn’t allowed to throw like he wanted to because he had a strict pitch count.
This season, Corbin will be free to pitch however long he wants to, with a caveat or two from Hale.
“We’ll just watch it, and watch the health of his (Corbin) arm, and be careful,” Hale said. “I can’t imagine if he were to get up to 200 innings, maybe in the World Series. We have to be a little careful with all of our pitchers, and we’ll watch them. It’s more of his body now, and (him) letting us know how he feels.”
On the back end of the rotation, Arizona has Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray, who Hale calls “the incumbents.” They’ll have some other arms to deal with in Zack Godley, Archie Bradley and Tyler Wagner, whom the team got in the trade with the Brewers.
“There’s a number of guys that have opportunities to make this team in that starting rotation,” Hale said.