PHOENIX (AP) There isn’t a lot new to the Arizona Diamondbacks this spring, with a couple of notable exceptions.
J.D. Martinez won’t be in the outfield and the Diamondbacks need a closer.
Still, there should be plenty of optimism when the team reports to the Scottsdale, Arizona, training facility, with the entire rotation and pretty much every position player returning from the team that won 93 games, earned the top NL Wild Card spot and beat Colorado in the Wild Card game before being swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS.
The glaring omission from last year’s team is Martinez, who probably slugged his way well out of the Diamondbacks’ price range with his half-season in Arizona following a trade with Detroit. Martinez is among the many free agents yet to sign a deal.
Lovullo, named National League manager of the year for his work in his first season in Arizona, has to determine who his team’s closer will be. Fernando Rodney is gone, and an intriguing possibility is for the team’s dynamic setup man Archie Bradley to move in to the closer’s spot. The team worked to beef up its late-inning staff in the offseason.
There will be competition at shortstop, where Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings return, as does Ketel Marte, who played well in their absence.
The trade for Martinez was probably the best mid-season deal in baseball, because the slugger fit right in and carried the offense down the stretch as Paul Goldschmidt faltered at the plate in another otherwise strong season. Martinez hit 45 home runs in 119 games with Detroit and Arizona. With the Diamondbacks, he homered 29 times in 62 games – including a four-home run game at Dodger Stadium – and drove in 65 runs.
In his absence, the Diamondbacks would most likely turn to Yasmany Tomas, who returns from a year of injuries.
The popular Bradley would be the people’s choice at closer but another candidate is right-hander Brad Boxberger, acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
There’s not a lot of room for rookies to break in to this roster, unless you consider Yoshihisa Hirano, the 33-year-old right-hander who has pitched his entire professional career in Japan, mostly as a closer. John Ryan Murphy was acquired in a trade with Minnesota last season and spent nearly the entire time in Triple-A. He must crack the catching trio of Alex Avila, Jeff Mathis and Chris Herrmann to make the big league team.
In the minors, look out for right-hander Jon Duplantier, who had a 1.39 ERA and 165 strikeouts in Class A last season.
The Diamondbacks have a formidable offensive lineup led by Goldschmidt, center fielder A.J. Pollock and third baseman Jake Lamb. Daniel Descalso is back to play wherever he is needed and there’s big-time depth at shortstop, where the slick-fielding Ahmed will try to win back his job.
The entire rotation returns from last season – Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Patrick Corbin, Taijuan Walker and Zack Godley. Shelby Miller will be back from Tommy John surgery, probably early in the season.
Martinez was seen as outstanding ”protection” for Goldschmidt in the batting order. Tomas can hit but is not in the same category when it comes to power so Lovullo will have to figure out the best way to set up a batting order without the 1-2 punch of Martinez and Goldschmidt.
Closer is an open competition. Bradley, so popular with fans that they would don fake beards in his honor when he came into the game, had a 1.73 ERA with 79 strikeouts and 21 walks in 73 innings pitched last season. Boxberger, acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay, had an AL-leading 41 saves in 2015 but has been limited by injuries the past two seasons. And the rest of the bullpen must be assembled from a large cast on hand in the spring, including several pitchers signed to minor league deals but invited to the major league camp.
Capacity crowds are the norm at Salt River Fields, the north Scottsdale park the Diamondbacks share with Colorado. Fans can stretch out on the big lawn beyond the outfield fence, with free suntan lotion dispensers. They will see familiar faces, at least for a few innings, and have plenty of autograph access as they watch a team that believes it can unseat the Dodgers in the NL West.
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