It's Crunch Time for Diamondbacks Spring Competitions
By Jack Sommers,2023-03-14
Mike Hazen and Torey Luvollo have difficult decisions to make
Just prior to the start of Diamondbacks Spring Training camp we took at a look at the various competitions for roster spots. That included detailed analysis of the bullpen , the rotation , and the position players .
Now that we're well past the midway point of spring training games, things are heating up and there is a greater sense of urgency for the players in these competitions to perform. Early in camp the evaluations by Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo centered around how well the players followed up on things they were asked to work on during the off season. They are well past that now. Asked how he is evaluating players at this stage Lovullo said the following:
"I see it through a little bit of a different lens, just maybe my style and the way that I've done it over the past couple years. I'm expecting the at bats to me a little bit more consistent, controlling the zone, impacting the baseball the way that your normally would if you were getting your pitch"
For the pitchers he struck a similar tone.
"Being able to duplicate your delivery throwing quality strikes, maybe having a two pitch setup, finishing off hitters the way you're supposed to when you get two strikes on them. Those are the things that I start to zone in on. Those will be separators for me when making some decisions."
From the above comments, it would appear the pressure to perform to win a spot is significantly higher than it was two weeks ago. While the definition of performance is not likely to be tied to spring batting average and ERA, guys who are failing in the areas Lovullo outlined above are going to be at a disadvantage.
Hazen and Lovullo still have some very difficult decisions to make, and it does not feel like there is significantly more clarity than when training camp opened. I'm sure the team is closer than they were, but as yet the club has not tipped their hand on any of these spring battles.
There are a few updates we can give however. Here is where things stand as of March 14th.
Bullpen: 3 open spots, 9 candidates
First and foremost, the Diamondbacks signed Andrew Chafin six days after we published the bullpen piece linked above. Due to contractual status alone, barring injury or a major surprise, this leaves the D-backs bullpen with five "locks", and three open spots for the opening day roster. The Locks are Mark Melancon(R), Miguel Castro(R), Scott McGough(R), Joe Mantiply(L) and Andrew Chafin(L).
Chafin has been bothered by a sore groin, and also was showing reduced velocity compared to last year. The pitch clock has also been a major adjustment for him. These struggles notwithstanding, a healthy Chafin will be on the roster. Melancon has also struggled with lowered velocity and poor results, but it's hard to imagine the team eating his contract before the season starts. New comer Castro has looked the best of these pitchers in games so far.
Non-roster invitee Jeurys Familia has looked strong so far in spring. It's believed the team would really like to see him make the roster and they must be pleased with both the stuff and control he's shown thus far. If Familia is to make the roster however, it will require someone be removed from the 40-man roster.
The other contenders for one of the final three bullpen spots are: Kevin Ginkel, Corbin Martin, Cole Sulser, Kyle Nelson, Luis Frias, Carlos Vargas, and Justin Martinez.
Rotation: 1 open spot, 4 candidates
The four way competition for the 5th rotation spot, between Drey Jameson, Ryne Nelson, Brandon Pfaadt and Tommy Henry, still seems undetermined. Each pitcher has had both good and bad moments in their spring outings so far. Statistically Jameson and Pfaadt have shown up the best of these four. Nelson has struggled the most, and might have slipped from his previous favorite position.
Starting pitcher innings are getting a little harder to come by as Zac Gallen, Madison Bumgarner and Zach Davies all need to be getting stretched out towards opening week readiness. (Merrill Kelly is pitching in the WBC). So the next outing for each of the 5th rotation spot candidates is likely critical.
Position Players: 3 open spots, 5 candidates
One major difference from our original piece on the position players is that based on reasonable inferences from team comments and informed sources it seems very likely that Alek Thomas will start the season on the major league roster.
Geraldo Perdomo is still a very likely to be the primary backup option at shortstop to Nick Ahmed, and also serve as a utility infielder, getting some games at second base and perhaps even third in a pinch. However it's notable that Diego Castillo has had a pretty good spring, playing all around the diamond.
Pavin Smith and Kyle Lewis appear locked in a battle for the final spot. Both have their advantages and considerations. Smith is left handed and is first on the depth chart to back up Christian Walker at first base according to Torey Lovullo. He can also provide coverage from the left side batters box as a pinch hitter, DH and occasional outfield back up. He's having a good spring as well. But Kyle Lewis, who was brought over in the trade with the Mariners for Cooper Hummel, is hitting the ball with power and authority now that he's been getting into games. Lewis' start to game play was delayed due to "leg fatigue". With a history of knee injuries and the current roster makeup, it would seem he is limited to mostly a DH role. Lovullo said that Lewis would see his first game action in the outfield by this weekend.
The next round of cutdowns likely to occur within the next couple of days may or may not give us further clarity around the key battles. Watch this space.