Fourth in a series of previews leading up to the start of the Diamondbacks’ spring training camp in Scottsdale.
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt, second baseman Aaron Hill and third baseman Martin Prado return as incumbent starters, while three of the four players who spent time at shortstop last season — Didi Gregorius, Cliff Pennington and Chris Owings — also are back. Free agent Eric Chavez re-signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal to reprise his role as a key reserve at third base and first and as a top bat off the bench.
First baseman/outfielder Shelley Duncan and third baseman Andy Marte signed minor-league contracts with spring-training invitations.
Chavez missed time with knee, hip and oblique muscle injuries when he was ridden hard last season, but the D-backs plan to be more judicious with his time this year. Hill played like his old self in the second half and opted against offseason surgery on his fractured left hand.
Gregorius and Owings are expected to compete for the starting shortstop position, with Cliff Pennington to provide insurance at both middle infield spots. General manager Kevin Towers said late last season that a shortstop platoon also is possible inasmuch as Gregorius bats left-handed and Owings bats right, but it’s also possible that the loser heads to Triple A to start the season. Owings hit .291 with five doubles in 20 games as a September callup last year after being named the Pacific Coast League MVP and rookie of the year. He hit .330 with 104 runs and 81 RBIs at Class AAA Reno and seems to have nothing left to prove at the minor league level. … Goldschmidt brings a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and a second-place finish in the NL MVP race into camp after hitting 36 home runs and leading the NL with 125 RBIs last season. The only question appears to be his spot in the batting order, but No. 3 again seems almost a lock. Goldschmidt thrived there after the early injury to Hill caused a lineup change. … Prado showed his versatility while playing second base, third base and left field in 2013, but he is expected to be used almost exclusively at third base, barring injuries, after the acquisition of left fielder Mark Trumbo.
Chavez averaged an RBI every 5.2 at-bats in his first season with the D-backs; only Goldschmidt had a better ratio on the team. … Infielder/outfielder Willie Bloomquist signed a two-year, $5.8 million contract with the Mariners as a free agent over the winter. Injuries limited him to 48 games and 139 at-bats last year, when he hit .317. … Third base prospect Matt Davidson, who hit .237 with nine extra-base hits in 76 at-bats in a short stay last season, was traded to the White Sox for closer Addison Reed in the offseason. Davidson was blocked behind Prado, and the D-backs wanted to sell high. He will be given every chance to be Chicago’s starting third baseman this season. … Duncan, the son of D-backs pitching coordinator Dave Duncan, had three straight 11-homer seasons in part-time duty with the Indians from 2010-12, most of that as a left fielder/DH. He has played 41 games at first base in his six major league seasons. … Marte, considered one of the top prospects in the game in the mid-2000s, sat out the 2012 season but returned in 2013 with York of the independent Atlantic League before playing 26 games with Salt Lake, the Angels’ Class AAA affiliate. The 30-year-old hit .362 with six homers and 18 RBIs in 193 at-bats there.