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Diamondbacks Spring Competition: Position Players

Backup shortstop, 4th outfielder, and whether to go with left or right handed DH are remaining questions

This is the third in a series of articles looking at Diamondbacks Spring Competitions. Previously Michael McDermott looked at the rotation battles, and I broke down the bullpen competition.  We identified at least one rotation spot and four bullpen spots up for grabs. Today we look at position players.

Some of this will look familiar, as not a lot has changed since our first attempt to project the opening day roster.  Barring injury there should be 10 "locks" for opening day, and three position battles, bringing the total roster spots up for grabs (pitchers and hitters combined) to a whopping total of eight. 

Diamondbacks  Opening Day Roster Position Player Locks

Carson Kelly and Gabriel Moreno will split the catching duties somewhat equally, with perhaps a 60/40 split going Kelly's way to start the season and a shift towards Moreno as the season goes on, depending on how he's developing. 

Christian Walker is durable and will play every day at first base with an occasional day off or at DH to get him off his feet.  Ketel Marte and Nick Ahmed will man the middle infield. Both will require regular days off however to keep them healthy throughout the season. 

Josh Rojas will play third base against almost all right hand starting pitchers, and occasionally spell Marte at second base. Rojas will only be used at shortstop sparingly or in an emergency situation.

Evan Longoria's role is to be the short half of the third base platoon, getting about 35% of the starts, mostly against left handed starting pitchers. He'll  also DH and pinch hit. 

The outfield situation seems a little less settled from the outside looking in. It's certain that Lourdes Gurriel, Corbin Carroll, and Jake McCarthy will be on the opening day roster.  What's less certain is exactly how they will be utilized.  The answers to that will only be solidified once the remaining three  roster spots are filled. 

Diamondbacks Infield Spring Competition
Diamondbacks Outfield Spring Competition

The first question to answer is who will back up Nick Ahmed at shortstop. The team definitely needs at least one player capable of manning that position a couple times a week at least. It would seem that Geraldo Perdomo, who was the starter last year in Ahmed's absence, would have a leg up and is listed as the favorite to win that spot. However he really struggled at the plate last year and  the team may wish to further develop his bat at Triple-A Reno. If that were the case they could turn to recently acquired Diego Castillo as the primary backup at shortstop for a time. Blaze Alexander is on the 40-man roster but has  just 34 PA above AA and has never played in MLB before. Non Roster invitees Jake Hager and Yairo Munoz are also candidates.  The team has history with Hager of course. His defense is acceptable, but not outstanding. He is not a strong hitter, but he seemed to be improving last year and is at least a known commodity.   Munoz has not played shortstop in the majors since 2019, although he did play some shortstop last year in Triple-A . The team may prefer a more experienced option if they don't go with Perdomo or Castillo, but either Hager or Munoz would require a 40-man roster move.  Emmanuel Rivera does not play shortstop, so despite playing well much of last year, he is limited to third base and first base, and with Rojas and Longoria on the roster is likely the odd man out. 

No matter how the above scenario plays out, it's absolutely certain that one roster spot must go to a shortstop capable player. So that leaves two spots remaining for the opening day roster. Those two spots will primarily be a three way battle between Pavin Smith, Alek Thomas, and Kyle Lewis.  These will be the most interesting position battles of the spring. 

The question of handedness at the DH spot looms large. Roughly 70% or at least 110 out of 162 games will be started by a right hand starting pitcher opponent. If Smith makes the roster, he would likely be the primary LHDH against right handed starting pitching.  Mike Hazen has stated repeatedly his confidence in Smith's ability to hit. Smith can also occasionally spell Walker at first base, and might even get a spot start in the outfield corners from time to time.  

If Smith does make the roster then the final spot comes down to a choice between Alek Thomas and Kyle Lewis. If Smith doesn't make roster then it will be Thomas and Lewis getting those last two spots. 

There are so many questions and permutations of player usage that come out of these options. 

For example, if Smith makes roster and is DH two thirds of the time, would the team prefer to have the right handed Lewis on the roster to DH against lefties?

If Smith doesn't make the roster, then it would seem almost certain that the left handed Thomas would make it. One insider I spoke to seemed certain that Thomas is a favorite to be on the roster. But he's not a DH. If he's on the roster, he's going to play centerfield, at least against most right handed starters. If Thomas makes the roster and Smith is left off, then that leaves the team with no left handed option for DH. 

They may not care. If Kyle Lewis is hitting like he did prior to 2022, he may get most of the DH at bats regardless of pitcher handedness. In fact he had reverse splits for the first three MLB seasons. Below are his career splits from 2019-2022

Kyle Lewis Career Splits 2019-2022

Kyle Lewis Career Splits 2019-2022

There is a huge caveat with small sample size reverse splits however, as over time they're almost always unsustainable. But Lewis will have the chance in spring to show he's healthy and hit his way onto the roster. It's important to note that all three of Smith, Thomas and Lewis have minor league options. 

Pitchers and Catchers official report date is February 15th, and position players need to report by February 20th. In fact many of these players are already in camp getting ready and working out. We'll be talking to the manager and the coaches to try to get a better sense of what their criteria is for spring competition and what their thinking is with these position battles. But many of them will go down to the wire until just before the season starts. Stay tuned !