Winter success prepares D-backs' Peralta, Inciarte for encore
PHOENIX -- Any list of pleasant surprises for the Diamondbacks last season includes rookie outfielders David Peralta and Ender Inciarte. Many would consider them one-two -- with right-hander Chase Anderson also in the mix.
So perhaps it is no surprise both Peralta and Inciarte continued to thrive in the Venezuelan winter league this offseason, and both are considered integral parts of the 2015 team regardless of the configuration of the remainder of the roster pieces, including where Cuban power hitter Yasmany Tomas plays.
"If Yasmany can play third base, we have the perfect scenario with both those kids being able to play the outfield for us," D-backs general manager Dave Stewart said. "Somebody is going to say, 'What if he can't?' If he can't, then we will have to figure it out. But those kids have earned the right, both of them, to be part of our team moving forward."
The D-backs appear determined to give Tomas every opportunity at third, which would leave the five outfield returners -- Mark Trumbo, A.J. Pollock, Peralta, Inciarte and Cody Ross -- positioned for spots on the 25-man roster. Given Trumbo's ability to play first base and the versatility of their middle infielders, the D-backs look predisposed to carry five outfielders, six infielders and two catchers this season.
It makes sense, given the value Peralta and Inciarte added after they were summoned from the minor leagues when the contagious streak of injuries struck the outfield. Inciarte finished fifth in the NL rookie of the year voting and was second among NL rookies with a 2.9 WAR, according to FanGraphs. Peralta's offensive WAR -- figured independently of his contributions in the field -- was 3.5, second among NL rookies. His overall WAR of 1.2 was lower because of his four errors, though he improved appreciably as the season progressed.
Peralta made the biggest leap in baseball last season, going from independent ball to the major leagues in 11 months after he signed with the D-backs in June 2013, the final step of his transition from left-handed pitcher in the St. Louis organization to productive position player.
Promoted from Double-A Mobile when A.J. Pollock suffered a fractured hand on May 31, Peralta was tied with Cubs' uber-prospect Kris Bryant for the Southern League lead in RBI at that point.
As rookies last season, Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta and Ender Inciarte combined for 4.1 WAR.
Peralta slashed .286/.320/.450 with eight home runs and 36 RBI in four months with the D-backs, and he reinforced his strong season playing for Margarita in his native Venezuela. He had 14 doubles, two homers and 32 RBI in 55 games this winter as he finished tied for fourth in the league in doubles and ninth in RBI.
Stewart said that with Trumbo moving to right field this season, Peralta and Inciarte are the top candidates to start in left field after playing all three outfield positions last season.
Peralta's offensive contributions -- he also had 12 doubles, nine triples and six stolen bases last season -- make him a strong candidate to hit in the middle of the order this season if the D-backs want a left-handed bat to break up the string of right-handed hitters in Paul Goldschmidt, Trumbo and Tomas. Peralta performed better against righties last season, hitting .312 with all his homers against them as opposed to a .197 average against lefties.
Inciarte showed his value as a leadoff hitter after he was placed in that role in late June, hitting there almost exclusively the rest of the season. He had a four-hit game June 24 and had two more the final week of the season, finishing with a slash line of .278/.318/.359 with 18 doubles, 27 RBI and 19 stolen bases. Inicarte hit .308 for the final two months of the season, with 11 doubles, 16 walks and 13 stolen bases. A left-handed hitter, Inciarte was productive against righties and lefties, hitting .279 against righties and .273 against lefties.
His defense also was among the best in the league, rookie or veteran. He was tied for second in the NL with 10 outfield assists, eight in only 71 starts in center field and two in 26 starts in left. He would have had one more, except the play on which his throw to the plate nailed Ryan Howard in Philadelphia was reversed because of the plate-blocking rules. Only the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig (15) had more, and Puig played 30 more games.
Inciarte hit .333 with 13 stolen bases for Zulia in the Venezuelan league this winter, fifth in batting average and third in stolen bases.
"They both are high average guys," Stewart said. "Peralta is doing what he does (this winter), which is hit the ball (hard) ... Ender is doing what he does, which is steal bases and hit for average.
"Winter ball is good, if you know what I mean. I'm not saying I don't place credence on it, but those guys in 300 at-bats last season they have shown they are capable of playing at this level, and we are hoping that the progression continues in an upward spiral versus going in another direction."