D-backs have questions, options in outfield
SURPRISE, Ariz. — The Diamondbacks’ lineup for Saturday’s game against the Royals featured a few peculiarities, but they might end up being short-term regularities due to pair of injuries that have shaken up the team’s outfield situation.
With Cody Ross still rehabbing a leg injury and Adam Eaton now sidelined between six and eight weeks with a sprained left ulnar collateral ligament, the D-backs suddenly have multiple questions to answer in the outfield.
“It’s not how you want to start the season, but we do have depth,” manager Kirk Gibson said.
Saturday’s lineup served as a bit of an exploration into the D-backs’ options. Third baseman Martin Prado started in left field, where he played for most of last season with the Braves, and Eric Chavez took Prado’s place at third base. Gerardo Parra, originally slated as a fourth outfielder, started in right field, and A.J. Pollock started in center.
“I want to have options when we get into the season, so Prado does need to play left from time to time,” Gibson said.
Jason Kubel got the day off Saturday amid a frustrating offensive spring. Barring injury, he’ll be a starter on Opening Day, but where is to be determined. That’s one of a number of questions looming with seven days left in spring training. Here’s a look at those questions and potential answers.
WHO WILL START IN THE OUTFIELD ON OPENING DAY?
The answer here is still fairly unclear, as there are a few scenarios that could play out. Much of it depends on whether Ross is ready, which is becoming increasingly unlikely. With a little more than a week until Opening Day, Ross has not run full speed since straining a muscle in his lower left calf early this month. He has appeared in just four Cactus League games.
Assuming Ross isn’t in the mix April 1, the D-backs could go with Kubel in left field, Pollock in center and Parra in right, or they could shift Prado to left field. Prado played 119 games in left last season and 25 at third base, where the D-backs want him on a long-term basis.
“It could be Parra in center, Kubel in right — I played Kubel in right a time or two (last year) — and Prado in left,” Gibson said. “It’s an option.”
Kubel played two games in right field last season and 50 there the previous season with the Twins. In this scenario, the D-backs would likely keep Pollock as a fourth outfielder, giving them flexibility with Prado.
WHO PLAYS THIRD BASE IF PRADO IS IN LEFT?
Again, the D-backs have a wealth of options here, and Prado could play third if Pollock starts. But if Prado is dispatched for regular outfield duty, the D-backs would have to fill in at the hot corner.
Chavez is the natural option, but not an everyday one given his history of injuries; the D-backs don’t plan to play him on back-to-back days this season. That would necessitate Willie Bloomquist starting at third base pretty regularly.
The D-backs could also opt to keep an extra infielder on the roster temporarily. Veteran third baseman Mark Teahen could fill that role, though it seems a long shot, and his range at third base is limited. Veteran Eric Hinske also has experience at third base.
WILL THE D-BACKS KEEP A FOURTH OUTFIELDER?
Pollock is likely to be the fourth outfielder if Ross isn’t healthy on Opening Day. But if the D-backs keep Prado in the infield, Pollock would presumably be a starter, and that could open the door for a fourth outfielder.
Speedster Tony Campana is an option, though he is sidelined until the middle of next week after the stitches on his right hand from a spiking incident opened up Thursday. Prospect Alfredo Marte is a long shot, but the D-backs have been impressed by his progress this spring.
“He’s had a really good camp,” Gibson said. “He’s come on really fast.”
The D-backs could also go with a fourth outfielder by committee, allowing them to keep an extra reliever temporarily. If Prado starts in the outfield and Pollock isn’t kept around, Bloomquist and Hinske would be backup options. Hinske played 10 games in the outfield last season while Bloomquist appeared in the outfield twice, although he hasn’t played there at all this spring.
“I haven’t played Bloomquist out there yet,” Gibson said. “I’m not sure if I will, but I may.”
If that seems like a lot to take in, it’s because it is. The D-backs have enough options to make your head spin, and they will have to lay them all out and determine what gives them the best chance to win until Ross and Eaton are healthy.
“We’ll have to get through this, and hopefully Adam will come back and we’ll get him playing and he’ll come back and play the way he’s shown he can,” Gibson said.
With so little time left in camp, the D-backs will have to evaluate quickly. The team certainly didn’t expect such a test of its outfield depth this early, but it might be better they are faced with such decisions now than in the middle of the season or later.