Spring Training is here, and it’s a glorious sight. All 30 teams have begun playing, and they won’t stop until the last out of the World Series later this fall.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are a team vying for a postseason berth after defeating the Rockies in the Wild Card game last year, but later swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS. Despite losing J.D. Martinez this offseason, GM Mike Hazen has made moves to bolster the lineup and get them ready win a division title.
Here’s a look at three players to watch during Spring Training who could provide great value in 2018.
The Diamondbacks signed the Japanese reliever to a two-year, $6 million deal earlier this offseason to help fill the void left by Fernando Rodney’s departure and the lack of a true closer in the bullpen.
Hirano pitched to a career 3.10 ERA with the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball and recorded 156 saves over his 12 seasons in Japan. He is 33 years old and will turn 34 on March 8, so there’s no telling how much he’ll have in the tank as a professional player in the United States. Regardless, the Diamondbacks need him to be a dependable pitcher in the bullpen this year.
Spring Training shouldn’t be used as a definitive indicator to how any player will fare in the regular season. It will, however, be the first time many people see Hirano attack MLB batters and get people out, so it’s important he showcases his pitching skills as well as he possibly can.
Brandon Drury’s trade to the Yankees opened the door for Ketel Marte and Chris Owings to take over at shortstop and second base, respectively, for the Diamondbacks. Don’t forget about Ahmed, though. Injuries have robbed the soon-to-be 28-year-old shortstop of a lot of playing time, and he has a lot to prove to the Diamondbacks’ front office and fans.
Owings broke out in the first half of 2017 and sort of tapered off as the season went on. Marte played to a 1.1 WAR in 73 games last season and had a two-triple performance in the Wild Card Game against Colorado. They’ll both be given the first opportunities to earn the starting middle infield spots, but Ahmed is gunning to put his name in the conversation.
Ahmed hasn’t shown too much at the plate over his first 300 career games, as evidenced by his career .226 batting average. But a strong Spring Training could put some pressure on Owings and Marte and give manager Torey Lovullo another option in an infield that already boasts Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb.
Shipley is heading into his age-26 season but hasn’t yet established himself in the Diamondbacks’ rotation. He has been one of Arizona’s top prospects over the past few years and needs to show the team that he’s capable of being a legitimate big-league pitcher.
His career 5.40 ERA in 23 career MLB games doesn’t jump off the page, and Arizona already has Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, Zack Godley and Patrick Corbin projected in their rotation. If one of the aforementioned starters goes down with an injury, though, Shipley could be one of the first men to take over in the rotation if called upon.
That won’t be a possibility, however, if Shipley doesn’t show out in Spring Training and Triple-A, assuming he doesn’t make the major-league roster at the start of the season. Now is the time for him to take his spot in the Diamondbacks’ pitching staff.