With Opening Day quickly approaching – April 6 for Arizona and April 9 for Reno – key questions still loom in Spring Training for the Diamondbacks.
Where will Yasmany Tomas open the season? What position is he best suited to play? What’s wrong with Peter O’Brien’s throwing mechanics? Is him being behind the plate a thing of the past?
The solutions to those questions obviously haven’t been entirely answered. Tomas has seen time in the outfield after his defensive struggles at third. According to MLB.com Arizona beat writer Barry Bloom, first-year manager Chip Hale believes Tomas could open the season in the minors, despite receiving a 6-year, $68 million contract this off-season.
He did have a rather effortless-looking, game-tying blast on Monday against the Dodgers.
Arizona wants Tomas to learn third and lock down the position for the next decade. But a matter of want, and doing what’s right, certainly comes in to play. With Jake Lamb producing in Cactus League play, there’s no need to force the issue. Therefore, some seasoning at Reno may be in the cards.
Speaking of Lamb, he could be the spot-starter at first base on Paul Goldschmidt’s off days, says MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert.
As for O’Brien, the former Yankees catching prospect, has also started playing in the outfield at Spring Training. D-backs beat writer Nick Piecoro of Arizona Central Sports says throwing problems, including the inability to throw the ball accurately from home plate to the mound, in addition to throwing it around the horn after strikeouts, forced the change.
The power-hitting youngster has played in right field before, logging 12 total appearances there last year between Advanced-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton and Double-A Mobile. Since strictly catching in 2012, O’Brien, to his credit, expanded his defensive repertoire beyond game-calling. He played in 38 games at third base in 2013 before moving across the diamond last season, seeing time at first base in 27 games. In the face of learning new positions, O’Brien still raked last year, hitting a combined .271 with 34 home runs and 74 RBI in 106 games.
Again, Arizona wants O’Brien to stick behind the plate, especially with catcher being the biggest question mark regarding the D-backs’ Major League roster. But doing what’s right, rather than fulfilling a want, should be the focal point.
When it’s all said and done, some raw talent may be asked to chase down fly balls at Aces Ballpark.
Stay tuned for our last positional post “Inside Reno’s Roster: Outfielders” released this coming Monday.
One of the more intriguing positional battles for Arizona in Spring Training is third base. Therefore, who mans the hot corner in Reno remains in question.
2014 Ace Jake Lamb and Arizona’s offseason splash, Cuban signee Yasmany Tomas, are in play for the job. The likelihood that both open in the Majors seems favorable, given that the D-backs have played Tomas in the outfield corners as well.
That leaves three candidates for the Reno third base job. 2014 Ace Nick Evans has a great chance to receive the gig at Reno where he hit .354 (70-for-198) with 11 homers and 47 RBI in 51 games last year. Evans did eventually see some time primarily as a backup with Arizona last season, but he’s hitting just .211 (4-for-19) so far in Spring Training. He’ll be joined by 12-year minor league veteran Jamie Romak, who spent last season with Triple-A Albuquerque, and potentially youngster Brandon Drury, who has impressed this spring.
To date, Lamb, rated as Arizona’s No. 6 prospect and No. 78 overall by Baseball America, has asserted himself as the frontrunner to be the D-backs’ Opening Day third baseman. The 24-year-old has hit .282 (11-for-39) in 16 Spring Training games, crushing four doubles, one triple, and two home runs along the way. The 2014 Southern League MVP hit .500 (9-for-18) with four doubles, one homer and four RBI in five games for the Aces last year, ultimately forcing Arizona to promote him to the bigs. His first taste of Major League pitching proved difficult, as he hit just .230 with four home runs and 11 RBI in 37 games, but that didn’t deter the sweet-swinging lefty. Lamb’s main goal entering camp was to prove he belongs, says Kevin Zimmerman of Fox Sports Arizona.
With opposite field pop like this, Lamb shouldn’t have a problem making the Opening Day roster.
Tomas, Lamb’s main third base competitor, has struggled in camp thus far. Listed as the D-backs’ No. 4 prospect and No. 57 overall by Baseball America, Tomas is hitting just .214 (9-for-42) with 10 strikeouts in 14 Cactus League games. Despite his woes at the plate, where Arizona decides to put him in the field remains the most important decision because his bat is expected to play. With Lamb’s success, Tomas may be forced into the outfield corners. An assignment to Reno for some additional seasoning isn’t out of question either.
Romak, who could also see time at first base with Reno, is currently hitting .286 (6-for-21) with four extra-base hits in Spring Training. He hit .280 with 24 home runs and 85 RBI last year in PCL play for the Isotopes.
The 22-year-old Drury, rated as the D-backs’ No. 7 prospect by Baseball America, has hit better (.435 [10-for-23], 3 2B, 3 HR, 9 RBI) than any of the others in camp, but he was optioned to Double-A by the D-backs last Friday. He had been playing at second base as well with the current logjam of prospects at the hot corner.
Stay tuned for our last positional post “Inside Reno’s Roster: Outfielders” released next Monday.
A familiar face will more than likely be manning shortstop for the Aces Opening Day on April 9. Glove guru Nick Ahmed is currently listed third on the depth chart at short behind Chris Owings and Cliff Pennington for Arizona, meaning Reno could be very strong up the middle again in 2015.
Nobody questions that his glove is ready for the Majors.
Ahmed, rated as Arizona’s No. 10 prospect and “Best Defensive Infielder” by Baseball America, hit PCL pitchers very well last year. The 25-year-old batted .312 (127-for-407) with 26 doubles, four triples, four homers, 47 RBI, 57 runs and 14 stolen bases in 104 games before his first Major League promotion.
The jump to the bigs proved to be difficult for Ahmed. In limited playing time with the D-backs, he hit .200 (14-for-70) with one homer and four RBI.
Despite being third on the depth chart behind Owings and Pennington, Ahmed has found the most success in Spring Training. The 2011 second round draft pick is hitting .379 (11-for-29) with three doubles, one RBI, seven runs, two walks and two stolen bases. Meanwhile, Owings is hitting just .231 (3-for-13) with four RBI and three stolen bases, and Pennington still hasn’t recorded a hit in five games (0-for-13).
If Owings starts to find his groove (coming off of a shoulder injury), as he did last night with a clutch hit, Ahmed’s assignment to Reno becomes inevitable.
Listen to Arizona Manager Chip Hale’s postgame reaction following the D-backs’ 9-5 win over the Cubs.
Two other players who will likely see time at short for the Aces in 2015 include a pair of non-roster invitees, Walter Ibarra and Danny Worth.
Ibarra, a middle infielder for the Albuquerque Isotopes last season, joined the D-backs this offseason on a minor league deal. He hit .269 (91-for-338) in 97 games, clubbing 11 doubles and five homers along the way. He played in 42 games at both second and shortstop last summer. In Cactus League play, the 27-year-old is hitting .375 (6-for-16) with one double and six RBI.
The D-backs are hoping Worth is a worthwhile acquisition, although his career MiLB batting average of .244 would suggest otherwise. He saw Major League pitching during stints in each of the last five seasons with Detroit, but with an already-jammed-up infield situation in Arizona, Triple-A appears to be Worth’s calling. He hit .211 (47-for-223) with 15 doubles and one home run for Triple-A Toledo in 2014. This spring, Worth is hitting .286 (6-for-21) with two doubles, six RBI and five runs scored.
He picked up one of his doubles and two of his RBI with this beautiful swing.
Stay tuned for our post of “Inside Reno’s Roster: Third Basemen” released next Monday.
Last week, we covered six former Aces (Charles Brewer, Bobby Wilson, Adam Eaton, Cole Gillespie, Joe Paterson, and Mike Bolsinger) who have already cracked, or are hoping to crack the big leagues with other organizations. Let’s take a look at another half-dozen former Aces who are on similar quests.
The key prospect of a 3-team offseason trade involving the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians in 2012, Bauer now finds himself in the heart of the Tribe’s rotation as their No. 3 starter. Behind 2014 AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, Bauer finished 5-8 with a 4.18 ERA in 26 starts last season, throwing 153 big-league innings. Those numbers came after an impressive seven-start stint with Triple-A Columbus where he went 4-1 with a 2.15 ERA over 43 innings.
Arizona’s 2011 No. 3 overall pick pitched for Reno in 2012 and dominated PCL opponents along the way. He finished 5-1 and had a 2.85 ERA through 14 starts, striking out 97 batters in 82.0 innings.
Through three Spring Training starts, Bauer’s record is 0-0 and he owns an ERA of 3.00 (4 ER in 12.0 IP), having served up four home runs in Cactus League play.
2014 was a season of resurgence for Marte, once one of baseball’s top prospects (rated No. 9 overall entering the 2005 season by Baseball America). Signed as a free agent by the D-backs in December of 2013, Marte flourished with the Aces. He sits in the top six of seven single-season offensive categories in Aces history: .329 BA (No. 6), 155 hits (No. 3), 19 HR (T-No. 4), 80 RBI (No. 6), 250 total bases (No. 3), .531 SLG (No. 5) and .919 OPS (No. 6).
Despite his success in Triple-A and a brief call-up to the Majors, which included a pinch-hit home run in his first Major League at-bat since 2010, Marte is now playing overseas with the KT Wiz of the Korea Baseball Organization.
Traded to the Chicago White Sox in December of 2013 for current D-backs closer Addison Reed, Davidson struggled mightily with Triple-A Charlotte last year after a successful ’13 season with the Aces. With Reno, Davidson hit .280 with 17 homers and 74 RBI in 115 games. His average plummeted to .199 with Charlotte, however, and his strikeout rate hiked north of 30 percent (164 SO/539 PA). Even with a lost season, Davidson hasn’t lost a love for the game, says MLB.com White Sox beat writer Scott Merkin.
Davidson isn’t listed on the White Sox depth chart, meaning a return to Charlotte is in the cards. He’s currently hitting .143 (2-for-14) with one double, one walk, and four strikeouts in Spring Training.
The 23-year-old southpaw will be spending the entire 2015 season rehabbing from Tommy John after surgery last September. Shipped to the Angels in return for Mark Trumbo in a 3-team deal which included the White Sox, Skaggs went 5-5 with a 4.30 ERA in 18 starts for Los Angeles before his injury on July 31.
Skaggs had an up-and-down ride with Reno in 2012 and 2013. In nine ’12 starts, he went 4-2 with a 2.91 ERA. His record through 19 games (17 starts) in ’13 dropped to 6-10, and his ERA jumped to 4.59 over 104.0 innings.
Among single-season Aces strikeout leaders, Skaggs sits fourth with 107 strikeouts during the 2013 season.
2011 was a memorable season for Cowgill. The outfielder hit .354 (140-for-395) with 24 doubles, eight triples, 13 homers, 70 RBI, 95 runs and 30 stolen bases in 98 games for the Aces. He was rewarded with a July promotion to Arizona where he hit .239 in 36 games.
His 2011 season with Reno placed him in the top five of seven offensive categories including: batting average, runs, triples, stolen bases, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and OPS.
Cowgill, now an Angel (playing for his fourth organization), is projected to start in left field for Los Angeles on Opening Day with Josh Hamilton out with a shoulder injury. In Spring Training, he’s hitting .346 (11-for-26) with four doubles, four RBI and three stolen bases.
He also robbed former Ace and current Diamondback Tuffy Gosewisch of a base hit earlier this spring.
Selected off waivers and added to Toronto’s 40-man roster this past October, Schultz is now contending for a bullpen spot with the Blue Jays. The right-hander made 17 relief appearances for the Aces in 2013 before working primarily as a starter last year when he went 10-8 with a 6.18 ERA in 28 games (23 starts).
Schultz made his Major League debut last season with the D-backs on March 23. He threw a scoreless inning against the Dodgers during a game played in Sydney, Australia. His stateside debut came on July 29 at Cincinnati where he worked two shutout innings in relief.
Schultz has impressed in Grapefruit League play thus far, throwing 4.1 hitless innings in four appearances. He’s walked two and struck out two.
Catcher Blake Lalli is fighting for a spot on the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 25-man roster. The 31-year-old veteran spent all of 2014 with the Aces, compiling a .275 average to go along with 17 doubles, 3 home runs and 29 runs driven in.
Most importantly, Lalli and Bobby Wilson handled a pitching staff that was in constant flux throughout the season. In games Lalli started, the Aces were an impressive 44-27 and Lalli finished third in the Pacific Coast League in gunning out would be base-stealers at a 41% clip.
Heading into today’s spring training game against San Francisco, Lalli is 3-for-9 with 4 RBI in limited time. However, an unexpected door opened for Lalli when Rule 5 Draft selection Oscar Hernandez fractured the hamate bone of his left hand. With former Aces catcher Tuffy Gosewisch entrenched as the starting catcher, there’s room for one more backstop, and that might be Lalli.
Aces: Spring Training is in full swing, how’s everything going with you down there in Arizona?
Blake Lalli: Things are going great down here in Arizona. The weather is awesome this time of year and on the baseball side, everything is going great.
Aces: Did you get a chance to get some rest over the offseason? And speaking of, what’s the schedule like for you over the offseason, when do you start to get back in “baseball shape?”
BL: I was able to get some rest. We had our second child in October so that kept us busy. I usually take a couple of weeks to just relax and then I start up working out again. I started hitting and doing other baseball stuff right after thanksgiving.
Aces: You re-signed with Arizona just a short time after the 2014 season ended. Was that an easy decision for you? What goes into your decision-making process?
BL: The Diamondbacks are a great organization to be with. The decision to be a part of this organization was easy. As a player I think the thing we look for is opportunity and a good organization. The D-backs were a great fit.
Aces: Last year in Reno it was you and Bobby Wilson splitting time behind the dish. It seemed like all the young guys gravitated towards you two, along with guys like Mike Jacobs and Andy Marte. How important were the veterans to last year’s club in Reno?
BL: Last year was a great year because of the guys we had in the locker room and the coaching staff in Reno. We had a very good team on the field, but the relationships in the locker room were even better. There wasn’t a day you weren’t excited to be around your teammates. I could name some guys, but really it was everyone all the way to the staff.
Aces: You’re a guy who has been to the big leagues. What fuels you to get back there again? Does spring training boost that desire even more?
BL: Every player that plays the game, plays to get to the big leagues. The hard thing is, is that it’s harder to stay there than to get there. Everything I do is to try and get back and stay there and help the team win. Major League spring training is great because it is the highest level of baseball played at that time. I would say it definitely boosts your desire to stay there.
Aces: There’s a good chance you start with Arizona when camp breaks. Do you try to not think about roster decisions like that and just go out and play?
BL: The best thing you can do as a player is take care of your part. I try to take care of my part because that’s what I can control. I don’t like thinking about decisions that aren’t mine. I just go out, have fun and play baseball.
Aces: One-word answers here…
Favorite offseason place to be:
Aces: Funniest guy on the 2014 Aces:
BL: Bobby Wilson
Aces: Playing for Phil Nevin is:
Aces: Spring Training has been:
Aces: 2015 will be:
Over the course of the 2015 season, at least three players will see time at second base for the Aces. Who emerges with the most starts there, however, remains to be seen.
The likeliest of candidates to earn the everyday second base job at Reno is Brandon Drury. At 23 years old, the D-backs’ No. 7 overall prospect (Baseball America) is stuck behind Major League veteran Aaron Hill on the depth chart.
Last season, Drury hit .299 with 23 home runs and 95 RBI in 136 games between Advanced-A Visalia and Double-A Mobile. Traded from the Atlanta Braves to the D-backs as part of the Justin Upton deal in January of 2013, Drury’s pop at the plate will play at the hitter-friendly confines of Aces Ballpark.
Despite being a long shot to crack Arizona’s Opening Day roster, D-backs Manager Chip Hale has been very impressed with the youngster in Spring Training, according to MLB.com beat writer William Boor.
Probably because his bat did this…
And his glove, even with little experience at second base, also did this…
Drury has just 12 starts (out of 428 total) at second base throughout his five-year Minor League career, compared to 351 starts at the hot corner. But with Jake Lamb and Yasmany Tomas locking down third base in the big leagues and possibly with Reno, a defensive switch may be Drury’s best option.
Under the scenario of Lamb and Tomas both opening their 2015 seasons in the Majors, Drury would most certainly be handed the reins to play third at Reno. As a result, a lefty-righty platoon at second base involving Mike Freeman and Garrett Weber would be very likely. For Aces skipper Phil Nevin, that task would be much easier than last year when 10 different players started at second base at least one time, led by Didi Gregorius’ 35, now slated as Derek Jeter’s successor as the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees.
Freeman, who tied a California League record with a seven, yes, 7-hit game in 2012, made 19 starts at second for Reno last season. In 123 games between Mobile and Reno, the left-handed-hitting utility man hit .263 with 18 doubles, 10 triples, six homers and 41 RBI. He also swiped 13 steals in 14 attempts.
2014 Aces teammate Garrett Weber could also see more time on the right side of the infield after making 18 starts there a year ago, including an additional eight during Reno’s playoff run. Small in stature at just 5’10”, 165 pounds, Weber raked in both Double- and Triple-A. In 57 games for the BayBears, Weber hit .282 with 12 extra-base hits. After his mid-season promotion to the Aces, Weber saw action in 54 games and hit .353 with 23 extra-base knocks, cementing himself as the regular at second down the stretch.
No matter who handles the second base duties, whether it’s Drury, Freeman, or Weber, it should be a position of strength for Reno in 2015.
Stay tuned for our post of “Inside Reno’s Roster: Shortstop” released on Friday.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a number of positions that are up for grabs as Spring Training rolls along. First base, however, is not one of them.
Despite missing 53 games last year due to a fractured left hand (In 109 G: .300 BA/19 HR/63 RBI), Paul Goldschmidt is locked in at first base as the face of the franchise. It would take another injury for someone else to take over the job.
As for Reno, Mike Jacobs, their regular at first and in the heart of the lineup last year, is no longer a member of the D-backs system. The 34-year-old led the PCL in RBI last season (97), mashing 19 home runs in the process.
With his absence, this means the other first basemen receiving playing time in Spring Training (non-roster invitees Danny Dorn, Nick Evans and Jamie Romak) will likely platoon the position at Reno, with corner infielder Brandon Drury – currently on the 40-man roster – C/1B prospect Peter O’Brien, and super utility man Jordan Pacheco possibly working their ways into the mix.
Dorn (age 30) and Evans (29) are two familiar names who will likely return to Reno for 2015. Last season, Dorn made 24 starts at first base while Evans made 13. The Aces went 16-8 in Dorn’s first base starts, compared to a 5-8 mark during Evans’.
Coming off of a 98-loss season, Evans and teammate Matt Pagnozzi are taking Spring Training in stride with hopes of helping the Major League club, says Stephen DeLorenzo of the Cronkite News.
In 73 total games with Reno, the left-handed hitting Dorn hit .304 (75-for-247) with 13 doubles, six triples, 12 home runs, and 47 RBI. Meanwhile, Evans raked to the tune of a .354 average (70-for-198), slugging 18 doubles, two triples and 11 home runs. He also drove in 47 runs. As a result of his Triple-A success, Evans earned a brief call-up to the D-backs. Now both are making cases in Spring Training this year to crack Arizona’s Opening Day roster.
Evans launched a go-ahead, RBI double Wednesday against the Angels.
And back on March 5, Dorn went yard to give the D-backs a lead over the Rockies.
A new face to the D-backs but no stranger to the minors, Romak, a 12-year minor league vet, finally got a crack in the majors last season with the Dodgers. The Canadian-born 29-year-old didn’t let hockey get in the way of his big league dreams, according to MiLB.com’s Ashley Marshall. Now playing with his sixth organization (previously with the Braves, Pirates, Royals, Cardinals and Dodgers), Romak’s return to the majors may have to come as a utility player. With Albuquerque last year, the journeyman hit .280 with 30 doubles and three triples, in addition to setting career highs in home runs (24) and RBI (85).
Listen to Chip Hale’s postgame remarks following Arizona’s 12-4 loss to Cincinnati yesterday.
Of the aforementioned trio who may see spot starts at first (Drury, Pacheco, and O’Brien), Pacheco is the likeliest of the three to clean up the leftovers. Drury, most often at third base throughout his minor league career, has been seeing significant time at second base in Spring Training. As for O’Brien, catching comes first and foremost with the D-backs’ catcher situation in flux.
Stay tuned for our “Inside Reno’s Roster: Second Basemen” post, released this coming Monday.
As we count down the days to Opening Day, let’s take a look at six former Aces who are currently pushing toward major league spots with other organizations.
An Ace rotation member for the majority of the past three summers, Brewer now finds himself battling for a big-league spot with the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe purchased Brewer’s contract from the Diamondbacks on November 23, 2014, and ultimately, placed him on the 40-man roster. While with Reno, Brewer etched himself among the Top 10 Aces all-time in many single-season categories including: wins, losses, ERA, innings pitched, total starts, complete games and strikeouts. For all-time Reno records, Brewer sits No. 1 in wins (24), losses (29), innings (399.2) and strikeouts (307).
In two Spring Training appearances for the Indians, Brewer has allowed four earned runs on four hits and one walk in four innings of work, along with three strikeouts.
A valuable catcher last season for Reno, Wilson signed a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason. Last year, the salty vet hit .267 for Reno in 76 games and played in a pair of games for the Diamondbacks. Now with his fourth organization (third in three years), Wilson is battling with a handful of Rays catchers in the Grapefruit League, hoping to earn a big league spot. He is currently 1-for-6 with two walks and two runs scored in Spring Training.
Once regarded as one of Arizona’s top prospects, Eaton was among the three-team trade which brought Mark Trumbo to the Diamondbacks. The center fielder was sent to the White Sox as part of the deal and after starting 121 games last year for Chicago, is projected to start in center again on Opening Day.
2012 was a very memorable season for Eaton as an Ace, as he cemented himself at or near the top of many single-season categories. He sits No. 1 in the following single-season categories (all from 2012, all led the PCL): batting average (.381), runs (119), hits (186), doubles (46), stolen bases (38), total bases (263) and OBP (.456). He is also among the all-time Aces leaders in runs, hits, doubles and stolen bases.
He’s currently 5-for-10 with two doubles, two walks, two stolen bases and three runs scored in the Cactus League.
Traded from the Brewers to the Diamondbacks in July of 2009, Gillespie continues to plug away in hopes of a major league return. The 25-year-old is already with his seventh organization after signing with Miami this winter. Gillespie ranks in the Top 10 of nearly every single-season and all-time Reno category after spending time with the Aces from 2009-12. He holds all-time records for most games (374), at-bats (1,327), runs (272), hits (399), doubles (86), triples (30), walks (211), stolen bases (51) and total bases (647). He also ranks No. 2 all-time in RBI (221) and No. 3 in home runs (38). He is one of two Aces with an eight-RBI game, his coming on June 29, 2012 vs. Fresno at Aces Ballpark.
Currently playing in the Grapefruit League, Gillespie is 3-for-9 with two doubles, two walks, three runs scored, one RBI, and has a stolen base for the Marlins.
Drafted by the D-backs in the 2010 Rule 5 Draft from San Francisco, Paterson spent three full seasons in the Aces ‘pen, aside from very brief call-ups in 2013 and 2014. He is the Aces all-time leader in games (152) and holds (31). His best season with Reno came in 2013 when he went 3-1 with a 1.89 ERA in 48 relief outings, limiting PCL opponents to a .221 batting average.
In two Spring Training appearances with the Royals (his third organization), the southpaw has thrown two shutout innings, allowing just one hit.
Purchased by the Los Angeles Dodgers from Arizona this offseason, Bolsinger now finds himself on the 40-man roster with LA. According to MLB.com Dodgers beat reporter Ken Gurnick, the 26-year-old is in pursuit with a few others to be the “Next Man In” in the Dodgers’ rotation. Coming off of a roller coaster season in which he bounced back and forth between Reno and Arizona, the righty is hoping for more stability in 2015. Last year with the Aces, Bolsinger went 8-3 with a 3.93 ERA in 17 games (16 starts). However, the jump to the majors proved to be difficult, as he went just 1-6 with a 5.50 ERA in 10 games (9 starts).
In his only Spring Training start to date vs. Cleveland, Bolsinger needed just nine pitches to get through two innings. He allowed one run on two hits and took a no-decision.
Stay tuned on our blog for another edition of “Where are they Now?” next week.
Much like Arizona’s unsettled rotation, their catching situation is similar. According to MLB.com D-backs beat writer Steve Gilbert, up to eight players have a shot at two to three big league catching spots.
With Arizona’s need to potentially carry an extra arm, rather than a catcher on the 25-man roster, Reno could see three active catchers on their Opening Day roster. The remaining two or three may be designated for assignments at Double-A Mobile, or worse, released by the end of Spring Training.
Of the eight catchers, the likeliest candidates to open the season in Arizona are Tuffy Gosewisch and Oscar Hernandez.
Gosewisch, Miguel Montero’s primary backup last season, will likely be handed the keys to start 2015. Gosewisch’s last minor league stint came in 2013 with the Aces when he hit .284 in 72 games, earning him 14 MLB starts. As the full-time No. 2 backstop in Arizona last year, the 29-year-old struggled to the tune of a .225 average in 41 games, but with Montero now with the Cubs, it’s Gosewisch’s job to lose.
His likely backup, Hernandez, selected first overall in the Rule 5 Draft by the D-backs this past December, must be kept on the 25-man roster all year. If the Diamondbacks are unable to do so, they must return him to his initial team, the Tampa Bay Rays. His defense is big-league ready, but his bat is far from serviceable. At just 21 years old, the Venezuelan hasn’t played higher than Low-A. Last year at Bowling Green (Midwest League), he had 32 extra-base hits including nine home runs, but he hit just .249. Hernandez’s attention to detail is something that could keep him in the big leagues, says Steve Gilbert.
If Arizona decides to keep a third catcher on the roster, veteran Gerald Laird may be the most reliable of the bunch. Over his 12-year MLB career, Laird has hit .244 along with 38 homers. Reno could be a destination for Laird as well. His last Pacific Coast League stint came in 2008 with Oklahoma, the then Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.
Listen to Chip Hale’s reaction to Arizona’s 10-5 win over San Francisco yesterday:
Five other names in the Reno catchers mix include: Blake Lalli, Jordan Pacheco, Peter O’Brien, Matt Pagnozzi, and Mark Thomas.
Lalli, the most familiar name of the group, signed with Arizona as a MiLB free agent again this offseason after hitting .275 in 93 games last year for Reno. He spent majority of the last three seasons in the PCL with four different organizations (Cubs, Athletics, Brewers, Diamondbacks), earning brief big league promotions with Chicago and Milwaukee. Lalli spent all of 2014 with the Aces, splitting time with Bobby Wilson, now with the Rays organization.
Pacheco, signed off of waivers from the Colorado Rockies last June, can play first, second, and third base, in addition to spot-duty catching. He’s viewed as more of an emergency catcher than anything, but his versatility is certainly valuable.
The surest bat and most intriguing player according to Arizona Sports writer Chris Courtney is O’Brien who joined the D-backs system via Martin Prado being sent to the New York Yankees last summer. Now ranked as a Top 10 prospect (No. 8, Baseball America; No. 9, MLB.com) for Arizona, O’Brien clubbed 34 home runs, drove in 74 runs, while hitting .271 last year combined between Tampa (Advanced-A) and Trenton/Mobile (Double-A).
The two remaining contenders, Pagnozzi and Thomas, are long shots to open in Reno. Pagnozzi has spent portions of five seasons in the PCL, in addition to short appearances with St. Louis, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Houston, and Milwaukee. Over the last three years spent mainly in Triple-A, the 32-year-old has hit just .216 in 240 games.
Over the offseason, Aces Manager Phil Nevin attributed much of Reno’s success to having either Lalli or Wilson behind the plate every game. If O’Brien opens the season in Reno, it will be of equal importance to have veterans like Lalli and/or Laird to teach him the finer points of catching.
While Reno’s starting rotation members remain in question, the bullpen has a little more certainty. The Aces ‘pen will likely contain a handful of 2014 Aces relievers who are near a big league promotion. Those arms will be joined over the course of the season by fast-rising relievers who have pushed the pedal while working up through the Diamondbacks’ farm system.
With (what could be) a strong rotation that may include newcomers Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Robbie Ray, along with two returnees in Andrew Chafin and Chase Anderson, the bullpen could be equally as strong. As azcentral’s Zach Buchanan writes, the only uncertainty is the health of many pitchers Chip Hale considers near-locks for his bullpen.
Potential returners to the Aces bullpen include: Derek Eitel, Kaleb Fleck, Kevin Munson, and Willy Paredes, and closer Jake Barrett. Right-hander Matt Stites may also return to Reno for continued seasoning after a stint with Arizona. Stites was impressive in 17 outings as the then-closer for Reno. The 24-year-old was a perfect 12-for-12 in save opportunities, along with a 2.25 ERA.
Upon Stites’ mid-season promotion, his ninth-inning replacement filled in admirably. Barrett, the third-round pick of the D-backs in 2012, posted a 3.72 ERA in 30 games. In save situations, Barrett was 16-of-18 after converting 12-of-15 save chances at Double-A Mobile.
Here’s the latest from Chip Hale before the Diamondbacks take on Oakland today:
However, Munson, the oldest of the trio at 26, has a good shot at earning a spot in the D-backs’ bullpen out of Spring Training. He may join former Ace Evan Marshall who was with Arizona for four-plus months last season. In 2014, Munson’s improvement was staggering. He more than doubled his appearances (56) and nearly cut his ERA in half (2.60) from the previous season. He also struck out 11.8 batters per nine innings (82 K’s in 62 1/3 innings), the second highest rate of his five-year minor league career. The D-backs rewarded Munson after the season by placing him on the 40-man roster.
With that being said, the likeliest of the four to open the season near the back end of the Aces bullpen is Fleck. But he may not be far behind Munson either. As FOX Sports Arizona’s Jack Magruder describes, Fleck is on a fast-track to Arizona. Additionally, if Barrett works his way into the Arizona ‘pen, Fleck could be a prime candidate to take over the Reno closing reins.
Eitel, who was injured on the day he was named a PCL All-Star last year, will likely find himself working in high-pressure innings for Reno to start 2015. Last year, the 27-year-old began as Reno’s long reliever but worked his way into more important innings due to his success. Before his season was cut short because of injury, the 6’4” righty went 5-1 with a solid 2.70 ERA in 30 relief outings. He also struck out 60 batters in 46 2/3 innings (11.6 K/9 IP).
Depending on spring training results, anywhere from five to seven new faces will round out the Aces bullpen. The list includes right-handers Enrique Burgos, Tim Crabbe, RJ Hively, JC Ramirez, Jimmie Sherfy, and Seth Simmons, along with left-hander Will Locante.
Burgos, added to the 40-man roster this offseason, spent all of last season at High-A Visalia. He posted the second lowest ERA (2.47) of his seven-year career, converted 29 of his 30 save opportunities, and struck out a whopping 83 batters in 54 2/3 innings of work (13.7 K/9 IP). The Diamondbacks are extremely high on Burgos, who is oozing with potential.
No longer stuck in the California League, Simmons has an excellent chance to begin the season in the Aces bullpen. In 35 appearances last year with Mobile, the small-statured righty went 1-1 with a 1.51 ERA (8 ER in 47 2/3 IP). Over four minor league seasons, Simmons’ K/9 IP rate is 12.4, having peaked at 15.4 in 2011.
Locante, 25, spent all of last season in the Midwest League (Low-A) and was named a MWL All-Star. He has carried last year’s success into Spring Training, impressing front office members and coaches.
Three major league vets could see time in the Reno bullpen while rehabbing from injuries as well. Brad Ziegler (microfracture knee surgery), is expected to be ready for Opening Day, but may make a few early season appearances with the Aces. Matt Reynolds and David Hernandez, both returning from Tommy John surgeries, will also likely get a few Reno outings under their belts before returning to Arizona.