27 February 2012
Continuing our preview of Spring Training 2012 for the Arizona Diamondbacks, here is a look at the team's middle infield situation (Here are links to previous articles on the Starting Pitching, Bullpen, and Catchers). If all goes well, the team's middle infield will have a healthy Stephen Drew at SS, and a hot hitting Aaron Hill at 2B. But Drew missed the second half of 2011 with a serious ankle injury, and Hill went through a huge offensive slump for almost two full seasons before joining the Diamondbacks. If Drew isn't ready to go on Opening Day, or if Hill goes back to his 2010-11 Blue Jays batting ways, the Diamondbacks have several middle infield options in Spring Training - Geoff Blum, Willie Bloomquist, and John McDonald, plus non-roster invitees Cody Ransom and Chris Owings. The problem is, none of these other five can supply the offense/defense combo that the team needs, so the team really needs Drew and Hill to come through. Here is a closer look at the middle infield candidates.
|Aaron Hill (AZ)||124||23||39||2||16||5/4||12||19||.315||.386||.492|
|John McDonald (AZ)||59||2||10||0||2||0/0||4||9||.169||.222||.203|
|Chris Owings (A)||521||67||128||11||50||10/4||15||130||.246||.274||.388|
Stephen Drew (Age 29) - Drew injured his ankle last July, and is still on the road to recovery. Defensively, he's been taking ground balls in the infield, and the early reports are promising. Manager Kirk Gibson said on Monday that "He's pretty fluid out there. He went to his right and planted, went up the middle, reverse pivoted, went up the middle and threw across his body." But Drew hasn't tried running the bases yet, and Gibson said that "we won't be doing that anytime soon." It's still too early to tell if Drew will be ready for the start of the season, but at least there haven't been any major setbacks so far.
When healthy, Drew is a much better defensive option that Bloomquist and Blum, and he's much better hitter than all of the other SS choices. He had an OPS over .800 in both 2008 and 2010, although he was only at .713 last year before the injury. Drew will probably bat near the top of the lineup in 2012, and will need to improve his batting against LHP in 2012, after going just .224/.295/.376 against lefties last year. Most projection systems have Drew around .265/.330/.425 in 2012, which would be a big improvement from the .247/.302/.360 line that the Diamondbacks' shortstops compiled in 2011.
Aaron Hill (30) - Hill was excellent in his 33 games in Arizona in 2012, with an .878 OPS and very good defense. But for the first 2/3 of the year, Hill had only a .584 OPS in Toronto, and was not much better in 2010, with just a .665 OPS. His OBP was under .300 in each of his last two seasons in Toronto. Hill's best season offensively was back in 2009, when he hit .286/.330/.499 with 36 HR. Which Hill will show up in 2012? The Diamondbacks weren't sure, and they declined Hill's $8M option for 2012, and instead re-signed him for less, at $11M over two years. He should get the majority of starts at 2B for the Diamondbacks in 2012.
Willie Bloomquist (34) - Bloomquist received most of the playing time at SS after Drew was injured, and would probably get the starting job this year if Drew is not ready. He's never been considered a good defensive SS, and he's never walked enough to complie a decent OBP (career .317 OBP). Bloomquist does have speed, and he can be counted on to put up a batting average around .265, but with little power. The Diamondbacks managed a nice run with Bloomquist last year, but he's better as a pinch runner/spot starter than as an everyday SS.
John McDonald (37) - Even at age 37, McDonald is the best defensive SS on the team. The problem is that he has a career .238/.275/.326 batting line, and no amount of defense can overcome that lack of offense. With Arizona in 2011, McDonald was even worse offensively, batting just 10 for 59 (.169 AVG). He can be useful as a defensive replacement or as a spot starter when the Diamondbacks have a ground ball pitcher on the mound (Cahill or Saunders), but definitely not as an everyday player.
Geoff Blum (39) - Blum will turn 39 this April, and can't really be used as an everyday SS anymore. A switch-hitter, he's been an effective hitter against RHP (career .704 OPS), but has been considerably worse against LHP (.660). He has had some big hits as a pinch-hitter, and is a useful player to have on the bench, since he can hit some and can fill in all over the field - Blum has over 50 career appearances at 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, and LF.
Cody Ransom (36) - Ransom had a huge offensive season for AAA Reno last year (.317/.405/.629 with 27 HR), but went just 5 for 33 with the Diamondbacks. He did have a huge 2-Run HR off Clayton Kershaw last August, turning a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 win. But most likely, Ransom will find himself in AAA again in 2012, getting a call up only if Drew is still injured and the other options at SS struggle offensively.
Chris Owings (20) - Owings played for Class A Visalia in 2011, and is a non-roster invitee to Spring Training. He was one of the youngest players in the California League last year, and looked a little overmatched. His 130K/15BB ratio was one of the worst in all of baseball, and he also made 32 errors at SS. But he's still very young, and the Diamondbacks are still optimistic that he will develop.
The Diamondbacks have seven middle infielders in Spring Training, but the team really needs Stephen Drew and Aaron Hill to be healthy and hit well. Blum is an OK hitter, but can't play SS everyday, while McDonald is a good fielder who can't hit at all. Bloomquist has speed and a decent batting average, but no power or walks, and is below average defensively. Why the team has all three players is still a mystery. With Henry Blanco, Lyle Overbay, and Gerardo Parra already claiming three bench spots, there probably won't be space for all three once Drew is healthy. Ransom will almost certainly start in AAA, while Owings will either return to Visalia or be advanced to AA Mobile.