The defending NL West champion Diamondbacks entered spring training with few issues and again appear to be a strong contender for the division title.
While shortstop Stephen Drew will open the season on the disabled list after sustaining a broken right ankle and ligament damage in a season-ending injury July 20, the D-backs were proactive last winter. Arizona re-signed free agents Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald to play shortstop and the D-backs were 47-27 when either started there last season.
They also added left-handed bat Jason Kubel to pick up some of the production lost in Drew's absence. Kubel will start in left field ahead of Gerardo Parra, although Parra is expected to receive plenty of time after earning a Gold Glove in 2011. Teams actively scouted Parra during spring training, although general manager Kevin Towers said mid-spring he had not engaged in trade talks. Kubel has averaged 18 home runs and 79 RBI over the last five seasons, but he does not have Parra's defensive reputation, and it is a position to watch.
It also will be interesting to see how manager Kirk Gibson's second full season plays out, in the wake of career years by a half-dozen regulars in 2011.
Starters Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson combined for 47 victories and closer J.J. Putz had a career-high 45 saves in 2011, and rookie right-hander Josh Collmenter had 10 victories despite not joining the rotation until late May. The number three and four hitters, right fielder Justin Upton and catcher Miguel Montero, drove the team with career years after Drew was injured, and third baseman Ryan Roberts also was one home run and two stolen bases short of joining Upton and center fielder Chris Young as a 20-20 player in his first season as a regular.
At the same time, Young has had a strong spring after being hampered in the second half of 2011 by a wrist/thumb injury that limited him at the plate. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt has hit 93 home runs in his first 367 pro games, including 10 with the D-backs last season, and could provide additional power. Newcomer Trevor Cahill struggled early in spring training, but that is his norm, and the D-backs were not particularly concerned by their #4 starter.
Collmenter missed one start because of forearm tightness early in spring, but will remain in the rotation if healthy, Gibson said, because of his strong 2011, which included a playoff victory over Milwaukee in Game 3 of the NLDS. Collmenter gave up one run and two hits in seven innings in an elimination game after the D-backs lost the first two games of the series.
--RHP Daniel Hudson, targeted by general manager Kevin Towers as a candidate for a long-term contract, said he would not be hesitant to engage in negotiations into the regular season. "I would not set a deadline or anything like that," said Hudson, who was 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA and 14 strikeouts in his first 14 spring innings. "I have the kind of mentality where I can kind of block stuff out. If they were to say, 'Let's pick something up again during the season,' I wouldn't be opposed to it."
--CF Chris Young, bothered by a wrist/thumb injury in the second half of 2011, started quickly in spring training, hitting .438 with four doubles, two home runs and two stolen bases in his first 13 games. The D-backs have said fourth OF Gerardo Parra is a candidate to spell Young in center if he needs a day. Young batted .236 in 156 games while playing through his injury last season.
--1B Paul Goldschmidt has 93 home runs and 296 RBIs in first 367 professional games, including 10 home runs and 32 RBI in 52 games with the D-backs last season, and manager Kirk Gibson sees that continuing. "He has had over 100 RBI everywhere he has been in the minor leagues. My guess is, at some point in his career he will be that guy in the major leagues," Gibson said. "He takes care of himself as good as you can expect. He's very strong. He understands what being a professional is."
--SS Stephen Drew had not played in a spring training game through the D-backs' last off day March 23 and is expected to open the season on the disabled list, with Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald alternating at shortstop. The D-backs were 47-27 in games those two started at shortstop last season.
--On Friday, the D-backs optioned right-handed pitchers Sam Demel and Barry Enright and outfielder David Winfree to Triple-A Reno, plus right-handed pitcher Trevor Bauer to Double-A Mobile; and reassigned right-handed pitcher Chris Jakubauskas and infielder Rusty Ryal to Reno, plus right-handed pitcher Charles Brewer and infielder Matt Davidson to Mobile. Manager Kirk Gibson was asked about the significance of top right-handed pitching prospects Bauer and Brewer heading to minor league camp while lefties Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin remain.
"I'm not going to go into all the reasons we decided to do it that way," Gibson said. "We knew we had to send two of the young kids down, and we made the decision that those were the guys that would go down. Don't read too much into it, I guess, is what I'm saying."
LHP Patrick Corbin, the less-publicized lefty obtained in the Dan Haren trade with the Los Angeles Angels that also yielded LHP Tyler Skaggs, had an 0.84 ERA in his first 10 2/3 spring innings over four outings, including one start. He had struck out 12 batters. "He works fast, works efficiently. He's been right up there with everybody," said Gibson, who is taking a long look at his top pitching prospects this spring in case a need arises later in the season.
DIAMOND STAT: 126—RBI by 1B Paul Goldschmidt in a 2011 season spent with Class AA Mobile and the D-backs.
QUOTABLE: "The game is changing. Pitchers are always changing. You always have to be ready to make adjustments. That's the fun part of it." —1B Paul Goldschmidt, on preparing for his first full season in the majors.
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