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AZ Diamondbacks Infield: Depth Chart Discussions

In the coming weeks, we’ll be covering each team’s potential depth charts in an effort to shine a spotlight on the interesting playing time battles that will be waged this spring. Obviously none of these depth charts are set in stone — rather they should function to focus your attention in the right places to find cheap fantasy value.

The Arizona Diamondbacks should boast fantasy starters at four of their five infield positions. That may not allow much room for sleepers, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any interesting story lines surrounding the team. Newly acquired third baseman Martin Prado will be utilized primarily at one position for the first time in his career, and Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt will have to prove that their performances last season were not a fluke. Things might seem clear upon first glance, but significant questions prevent nearly the entire team’s infield from being a sure fantasy pick.

The only player that doesn’t apply to is catcher Miguel Montero. Montero has blossomed into one of the better fantasy catchers over the last couple of seasons. He’ll hit for a decent average, add about 15 home runs and should slot into a run-producing role in the team’s lineup. He also showed an improved walk rate last season, which could boost his value in OBP leagues if he can retain it. There’s a strong argument that Montero should be the fifth best fantasy catcher this year, behind Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, Carlos Santana and Yadier Molina. If you miss out on those four guys, it’s easy to make a case for Montero.

We also basically know what Martin Prado is going to do offensively. He’ll contribute a little in every category, but he’s not going to flash any elite skills. Prado’s biggest draw in season’s past was his ability to gain eligibility at a ton of spots, which enabled teams to move Prado around when they lost players at scarce positions. With the Diamondbacks, Prado will have a tough time moving around the diamond. Prado is likely to qualify as an outfielder in most leagues, and should get third base eligibility shortly after the season begins depending on your league’s rules, but he’s probably not going to see time at second or short this year. He would be one of the better players at up-the-middle spots if he gained eligibility there, but he’s a lesser starter as just a third baseman or outfielder. Know your league’s eligibility rules before ranking Prado this year.

Aaron Hill is notorious for following up great years with disappointing performances. He was an absolute steal last season, belting 26 home runs, and being effective in all five major stat categories. But he’s done similar things before, namely 2007 and 2009, and saw big drop-offs the next year. Nothing about Hill’s stat-line cries “fluke,” and he’s only 31-years-old, so it’s tough to stop a reason for pessimism outside of his track record. Given the state of second base, Hill is probably ranked somewhere between fifth and eighth entering the season. Even if he regresses, he has a good chance of being a useable player at such a terribly shallow position.

Paul Goldschmidt has also seen a meteoric rise on draft boards after a strong performance last season. Goldschmidt quashed the concerns of analysts, lowering his strikeout rate to an acceptable level and making a lot more contact. So, while that seems to validate his performance, there are still some reasons to think he’ll decline a bit. Goldschmidt was unreal against lefties last season, hitting them to a tune of .343/.423/.645, good for a 175 wOBA. Against righties, he hit a pedestrian .257/.326/.412. The chance that he destroys lefties at the same pace again is unlikely. And unless he shows some improvement against right-handers, his slash line will probably drop a bit. Goldschmidt still has power, speed and should hit in a good spot in the order, but his slash line could drop a little bit.

Cliff Pennington is known for his defense, which isn’t going to help you in fantasy. Unless he starts racking up the steals, like he did in 2010, he’s not going to be an asset in mixed leagues. The Diamondbacks would have you believe they solidified that position this offseason by dealing for Didi Gregorius, but he’s got to show improvement in order to become fantasy-relevant. That’s going to be even more difficult now that it looks like he’ll have a late start this year. Gregorius has experienced elbow issues recently, and could start the year on the DL. Unless he comes back and flashes more power or speed, he’s not likely to be a fantasy factor even if he’s in the majors.

Either John McDonald or Willie Bloomquist will backup Pennington to begin the year. McDonald is a glove-only player, and shouldn’t be used in fantasy leagues. Bloomquist might hit for a decent average, and would steal bases, but does nothing else to make him worthwhile in a full-time role. With Prado in the fold, Eric Chavez has been relegated to an occasional backup/interleague DH. He might perform well in that role, but can’t be counted on to stay healthy if he has to play everyday. He also can’t hit lefties anymore.

Early depth chart:

Catcher: Miguel Montero, Wil Nieves
First base: Paul Goldschmidt, Eric Chavez, Eric Hinske
Second base: Aaron Hill, Willie Bloomquist, John McDonald
Shortstop: Cliff Pennington, Willie Bloomquist, John McDonald, Didi Gregorius
Third base: Martin Prado, Eric Chavez