Diamondbacks Playing Time Battles: Hitters

We’ve started our annual Depth Chart Discussions, re-branded as Playing Time Battles for 2016. You can catch up on every team we’ve covered in the Playing Time Battles Summary post or following along using the Depth Chart Discussions tag.

The big news in Arizona this offseason was on the pitching side, which Mike Podhorzer broke down in detail on Wednesday. While the team’s splashy moves regarded the acquisitions of big arms Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, there’s plenty to talk about on the offensive side as well.

Saturday’s head-scratching trade brought in Jean Segura from the Brewers, in an effort to provide “a little bit more offense” to the middle infield, according to general manager Dave Stewart. That’s an awfully strange statement to make about a guy with a .615 on-base plus slugging over his last two full seasons.

MIDDLE INFIELD

For reasons I don’t claim to understand, Arizona paid an unreasonably high price for Segura, an okay defensive shortstop who — despite Dave Stewart’s comments — is not a good major-league hitter. Segura was great with the stick in April (.985 OPS) and May (.911 OPS) of 2013, but objectively terrible ever since. In his following 16 months of major-league action, he produced just two more months of weighted offense above league-average.

After his 12 homer, 44 steal performance in 2013 (623 PA), Segura recorded just 11 HR and 45 SB in 2014 and 2015 combined (1,141 PA). Last year, his 2.2% walk rate was the worst among all qualified hitters in the majors. Despite all of these pieces of factual evidence, the Diamondbacks felt that this replacement-level 26-year-old was worth giving up Isan Diaz — a well-regarded 19-year-old infield prospect — along with a proven back-end starter (Chase Anderson). Arizona also received a fringy, low-ceiling pitching prospect (Tyler Wagner) and got rid of Aaron Hill, but that still seems pretty uneven to me.

Regardless of whether or not Segura can be a consistently productive hitter (nope), he’s going to get tons of playing time. He’ll send either Nick Ahmed or Chris Owings to the bench, and if you’re in an NL-only league, Segura’s probably worth a look depending on where he hits in the lineup. It’s less a question of whether or not he’ll get his annual 20ish steals (he will), and more of an issue of where he hits in Arizona’s order.

In an ideal world — for Segura’s prospective fantasy owners, not for the real-life Diamondbacks — he could hit as high as second in the order, between A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt. In a less-sunny fantasy scenario — but one which would likely play to Arizona’s benefit — I can see him hitting as low as seventh, with someone like Jake Lamb or Yasmany Tomas hitting in front of him, and either Ahmed or Owings behind. Those are two wildly different fantasy landscapes for Segura, especially since he lacks the ability to generate his own value at the plate.

In summary, I’m not remotely interested in Jean Segura in mixed leagues, but keep an eye on his spot in the batting order. If he somehow stumbles his way into that No. 2 spot — which wouldn’t surprise me — he’ll be a viable NL-only commodity.

The other guys in the immediate middle-infield picture are Owings, Ahmed and Phil Gosselin. There’s still plenty of time before Opening Day, but my instant reaction to the Segura acquisition regarding these players is that this trio will form some sort of revolving door, preventing any of them from sniffing fantasy value. I don’t see any of those three guys running away with an everyday job.

There is one player to keep an eye on, and that’s Brandon Drury. The 23-year-old is a top-ten prospect in Arizona’s system, but although he’s played some second base in the minors, he’s considered more likely to be a third baseman at the game’s top level. Conveniently, this gives me a perfect spot to transition to…

THIRD BASE

Jake Lamb is penciled in as the starter at third for 2016, after playing 107 games for the D-Backs last year. The 25-year-old is a strong defensive option, and he’s got some pop in his bat, as indicated by the 19 homers he hit in 593 PA across three levels (Double-A, Triple-A, MLB) in 2014, or the 13 long balls he launched in just 64 High-A games the year before. However, his power hasn’t shown up much in the majors thus far, as he’s gone yard just ten times in 523 PA (six HR in 390 PA last season).

Last year, Lamb showed the sort of high-walk, high-strikeout (9.2% BB, 24.9% K) profile typical of power hitters, but his .123 isolated power was less than inspiring. He does not possess stolen-base speed, so on the whole his numbers from last year didn’t help any fantasy players. Lamb is young enough that his game power could still develop, and he’s a strong enough fielder to provide some real-life value as is.

If Lamb were to enter a prolonged slump, or suffer an injury, the next man up would likely be the aforementioned Brandon Drury. The 23-year-old doesn’t jump off the page statistically, but scouts have long been high on his hit tool, and he has the overall potential to be an above-average major-league regular. If Drury puts it all together, he’ll be pushing hard for a role somewhere in the Arizona infield sooner rather than later.

Drury had just nine starts at second base in four professional seasons before last year, but split his time evenly between third (72 games) and second (68 games) in 2015, even making ten starts at shortstop. He’s the kind of guy who could become an impact player with the bat, so it’s smart for the organization to explore any avenue that would allow them to easily work Drury into the lineup when he’s ready. He’s also already on the 40-man roster. It wouldn’t surprise me if Drury makes a fantasy impact at some point later in 2016, but the question of when is difficult to project.

OUTFIELD

A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas have Arizona’s top three outfield spots locked up, but the organization is startlingly thin on major-league ready outfielders if any of them were to go down. (I’m contractually obligated to mention Chris Herrmann — who came over from Minnesota in November — because he’s on the 40-man and is out of options. He’s a part-time catcher and a part-time outfielder, but he never takes a day off from being an awful hitter. The 28-year-old’s slash in 389 major-league PA is .181/.249/.280. Okay, we’re done with him.)

This is one of those strange things you don’t notice unless you really dive into an organization’s depth chart, but behind Pollock/Peralta/Tomas, there are just two full-time outfielders on the 40-man. One of them is Gabriel Guerrero (Vlad’s nephew), who was nauseatingly awful (.222/.258/.343) in Double-A last year. Feel free to go in one ear, out the other with that name.

The one remaining full-time outfielder on the 40-man is Socrates Brito, who is a pretty good prospect with an extremely great name. The 23-year-old can play all three outfield positions, and seeing as the only options behind Pollock/Peralta/Tomas are Herrmann and Brito, young Socrates should find himself in the Diamondbacks starting lineup quite a bit, even if everyone’s healthy. He’s got 15-homer, 25-steal upside, but he could use a little more time in the minors that he’s probably not going to get, simply because of the team’s roster construction.

Brito hasn’t played a game in Triple-A, and he would likely be spending the first couple months of the season at that level, if the organization had anyone else who could play the outfield. Which they don’t. Who knows, maybe they’re having him avoid Reno for some reason, such as the fact that Reno is an absolutely insane locale for analyzing minor-league baseball players.

Regardless, I’d caution against Brito in redraft leagues, even though he’ll get his share of at-bats. I question whether his on-base abilities are developed enough to play at the game’s top level. I wonder the same about his power. If I’m considering a player for redraft fantasy purposes, I’d like to have one of those two questions answered first.

Peter O’Brien is on the 40-man, but the Diamondbacks reportedly plan to use him as a catcher in Spring Training. Still, I could see him being quickly shifted back to the outfield if anyone above him on the depth chart gets hurt. The 25-year-old has good power, but his plate discipline is questionable at best. If the team is really considering moving him back behind the plate full-time — where he hasn’t played regularly since High-A — he’s clearly not in their immediate plans.

We hoped you liked reading Diamondbacks Playing Time Battles: Hitters by Scott Strandberg!

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Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

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DrySwings
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DrySwings

What about first base?

Also, I enjoyed the thorough dress down of Segura and the incredibly brutal thrashings of Chris Herrmann and Gabriel Guerrero. Well done sir!