23 March 2011
With Geoff Blum still struggling with a knee injury, the chances of infielder Tony Abreu making the Diamondbacks' Opening Day roster are increasing. Blum hasn't played in a Spring Training game in over 10 days, and had an injection in his right knee on Tuesday. During the radio broadcast on Monday, GM Kevin Towers said that if the injections don't prove effective, "the alternative isn't good... it probably means microfracture surgery, which would keep him out for the year." In Steve Gilbert's column on Wednesday, he asked Manager Kirk Gibson when is the latest that Blum could get back on the field and still be ready for Opening Day, and Gibson declined to answer. But as Gilbert suggests, that day must be approaching soon.
So if Blum is not ready for Opening Day, who is the backup shortstop to starter Stephen Drew? Based on Manager Kirk Gibson's lineups during Spring Training, the answer appears to be Tony Abreu. Over the last two weeks, the starting SS has been one of Stephen Drew, Tony Abreu, Ed Rogers, or Chris Owings, with Abreu getting the majority of the starts. Neither Rogers nor Owings is expected to make the team - Rogers is 31 and coming off a .282/.345/.403 season in AAA, while Owings has not played above Low-A ball yet. And the other infielders battling for a spot on the team, Ryan Roberts and Willie Bloomquist, have not played any SS at all this spring. Bloomquist only played 1 inning at SS in 2009, and Roberts has never played SS in the Majors. In today's game, Abreu was the scheduled starter but was a late scratch due to a back problem. But rather than start Roberts or Bloomquist, Gibson plugged in the 20 year old Owings. If Gibson was planning to use Roberts or Bloomquist as the backup SS, he surely would get them some innings at the position during Spring Training.
Abreu had a very disappointing season in 2010, hitting .233/.244/.316 for Arizona with a terrible 47/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But his minor league track record shows that he should at least hit for average - he has a career .351/.391/.555 line in almost 600 AAA plate appearances, and this spring he has hit .365/.382/.538. He still isn't drawing any walks, but at least he is hitting for a decent batting average. Abreu is out of options this year, so if he does not make the Opening Day roster, he would be exposed to waivers. Before Blum's injury, Abreu's future with the Diamondbacks looked shaky. But now, it looks like the backup SS job will be his if Geoff Blum has to start the year on the Disabled List.