Diamondbacks Infield: Unsettled at Shortstop

What I love about this series, this look at each team’s depth chart, is that we unearth a number of position battles that might not be on the radar of the casual fantasy player. In this case, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the infield appears to be well set heading into spring training. First, second and third base are locked down; as is behind the plate. But a deeper look brings us to a report on the team’s website that informs us that the starting shortstop job is actually up for grabs. The casual fantasy player will look at the depth chart and assume that Didi Gregorius owns the gig. After all, he’s the big name and didn’t Arizona trade a highly-touted Trevor Bauer to get him? That they did, but according to GM Kevin Towers, spring time for the Diamondbacks will feature an open competition between Gregorius and Chris Owings and the winner gets a place on the field come Opening Day.

Not many people had Owings on their radar and entering 2013, with the trade for the then 23-year old Gregorius, there seemed to be little reason to know him anyway. He showed some nice skills at the lower levels, but didn’t exactly dazzle anyone when he made the move to Double-A during the 2012 season. But in his first season at Triple-A, he batted .330 with 12 home runs and 20 stolen bases over 575 plate appearances and earned himself a late-season call-up.

Meanwhile up in the bigs, Gregorius had gotten off to a hot start in his new home and by the end of the first half, he was hitting .275 with five home runs and 19 RBI. He was struggling against left-handed pitching, but both his walk and strikeout rates were right about league average, so there was no real concern. The Diamondbacks had coveted him for his glove anyway, so the offensive production was well-received and was, more or less, gravy in many people’s eyes. However, his hot start rapidly cooled and a .197 average over 71 August at-bats left him hitting just .259 with the same five home runs, only two more RBI and still no stolen bases.

With little hope for a playoff run, the Diamondbacks opted to give Owings a taste of the big leagues and he rewarded them with a .291/.361/.382 slash line with five RBI, five runs scored and two stolen bases over 61 at-bats. A small sample size, for sure, but his walk and strikeout rates were solid, he never looked over-matched, and while some might be quick to point out his .359 BABIP, his above-average contact rate and 24.4-percent line drive rate were both in line with his minor league numbers. Throw in some sound defense and Gregorius’ .182 September sticks out like a turd in a punch bowl, in spite of the two extra home runs he managed.

So now heading into spring training, the two will fight it out for the starting job and may the best man win. Gregorius may have held the job for much of last season, but it should be a relatively clean slate to start. The winner of the the battle gets to stay while the loser will likely head to Triple-A Reno to at least play full-time. Should Gregorius win, Owings’ versatility could help him stay up as a utility player which would certainly keep the pressure on. Should Owings land the job, you can expect the leash to be short considering the team’s investment in Gregorius. This battle, even after spring training, is far from over.

As for the rest of the Diamondbacks’ infield…

Is there anything we need to say about first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt? I know he’s good, you know he’s good, and the fact that his ADP in the NFBC is at 3.13 right now means that everyone else knows he’s good too. He’s the top-ranked first baseman in every format that uses the NL player pool and if you need to hear more great things about him, including several play-on-words you can use around your league if you own him, then you can check out this piece I did on him back when we were looking at the position back in October.

Moving around the diamond, we’ve got Aaron Hill locked in at the keystone. It’s a bit tough to judge Hill on his 2013 numbers considering a broken hand suffered early into the season limited him to just 362 plate appearances, but all of his numbers, including peripherals, were all in-line with what he had done since arriving in Arizona back in 2011. The .172 ISO was a little down, but given the nature of the injury and the fact that it was still better than his career average, there’s little to criticize here at the moment. He’s currently the 11th second baseman off the board in the NFBC with an ADP of 112.47, but a strong spring is going to push him up the rankings very quickly.

Over at the hot corner, the Diamondbacks are sticking with Martin Prado as their primary third baseman. Power-wise, he’s definitely not your first choice for the job in fantasy, as his 14 home runs last year tied him for just 17th amongst third basemen and there’s little reason to believe he’ll ever hit for more. However, it’s his versatility that keeps him in the discussion and the reason behind his 102.41 NFBC ADP. With 30-plus games at both second base and in the outfield last year, he continues to endear himself to fantasy owners yearning for guys with multi-position eligibility.

And finally, behind the dish we’ve got ol’ reliable (or so we thought) Miguel Montero. Last season was a horribly disappointing year for Montero and his owners as his numbers continued their downward trend that we witnessed the year before. The difference wasn’t exactly sizable, but between the decline and the chronic back issues, many fantasy owners were jumping ship. You can hope for a rebound, but as I said in my last piece on him, it might just be time to move on. And considering he’s the 15th backstop off the board in the two-catcher NFBC and has a 224.22, I’m not alone in my thinking.

As for the back-ups, there’s really not much to love. Sure, Eric Chavez has had his moments here in the twilight of his career, but he’s more of a plug-and-play type guy if there’s an injury at one of the corners and he’s seeing some regular playing time. Backing up the middle infield, it could be the loser of the Gregorius/Owings battle or it could just be the light-hitting Cliff Pennington who at one point had some upside with his speed, but after witnessing last season’s two steals, it’s obvious that the speed only comes with consistent at-bats. And finally, behind the plate, it stays pretty ugly with 30-year old career minor-leaguer Tuffy Gosewisch and/or 42-year old Henry Blanco.

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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com

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What about Owings’ awful walk rates in the minors, all in the 2-4% range with the exception of High-A in 2012? Is his batted ball profile good enough that he can keep a decent average to help offset that?

Laremie Johnson
Laremie Johnson

Depends on if you like .280/.320/.440.