Diamondbacks enter spring training with position battles aplenty

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(AP Photos)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It was an offseason of change for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Patrick Corbin, A.J. Pollock, Daniel Descalso and others left in free agency. Paul Goldschmidt was traded to the Cardinals. Chris Owings, Brad Boxberger and Shelby Miller were non-tendered.

Some familiar faces were missing on Wednesday for the first day of official spring training workouts for D-backs pitchers and catchers. That means, in part, that the D-backs will have to find new players to man those spots left empty.

“We’re going to have somebody to fill that spot [at first base] and do a great job,” said pitcher Luke Weaver, one of the players whom the D-backs acquired for Goldschmidt. “And if I need to play first, I will.”

But besides first base, maybe no position battle will be magnified more than the closer job, occupied for much of last season by Boxberger. Obvious candidates for that would seem to be Archie Bradley, Greg Holland and Yoshi Hirano, but others could emerge, as well.

“I know it’s going to be the topic of the spring,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “We have three-plus … guys on the back end of this bullpen that can go out and get three outs. … We feel very good about where we’re at on day one of spring training.”

But it may no longer be that the “best” relief pitcher is the closer, as may have been in days past. Today’s MLB isn’t necessarily like that.

“I love the idea of that super reliever to come in the game and give you that big out in the sixth and collect three outs in the seventh for that part of the lineup that’s going to give us the most trouble,” Lovullo said. “So, I have evolved over the course of time where I felt like it was 1-through-9 and everybody had their roles, I think today’s baseball game is so point-specific that you’ve got to find the right guys for the right situation to step up and do their job.”

Relievers seemed to indicate that they just want to pitch however it will best help the D-backs, regardless of whether they’re the closer.

“I’ve never looked at it as winning a job or anything,” Holland said. “I’m going to come into spring training, my whole mindset is to be as good as I can be for opening day, be healthy, get my reps in and kind of go from there. … I expect the best out of myself and if I’m not the guy throwing the back end, then that should mean that we have a really strong and really deep bullpen.”

Bradley had a similar comment.

“I just want to win,” Bradley said. “I don’t care if it’s the ninth inning, I don’t care if it’s the sixth inning, I don’t care if it’s starting a game. … Wherever I slot in in that mix, I just want it to be the best spot for me.”

Bradley had three saves last year, finishing the game for the D-backs eight times.

“Certainly, Archie’s going to be considered [as an option] on the extreme back-end of this bullpen as our closer,” Lovullo said. “I like the presence, I like the confidence, the personality that steps on the mound and the ability to execute under any circumstance. He doesn’t back down from his stuff, he believes he’s going to go out and execute and get you out. I think all good closers have that mentality.

“There’s some things he hasn’t walked through yet as a closer. I know late last year that we tried in a couple situations, and it went well and sometimes it didn’t go well. So I think there’s a learning curve that all good closers walk through. I don’t know yet if he’s experienced that but I believe if we do go that route that he’s going to be ready for this challenge.”

But while the old questions of whether Bradley will start or relieve have morphed into whether he’ll be the closer, he’s going about his business the same way.

“You’ll watch the way I pitch this spring. It’s going to be kind of the same format,” Bradley said. “I’m going to get extended, I think, I’m going to get into some multiple-inning situations. I think you look at a position player and how versatile they are, that’s how I’m trying to be.

“If you want to throw me in a start, I’ll start a game for you. Throw me in the sixth, put me in the ninth, I want to be able to come in and handle anything that I need to.”

BEHIND THE PLATE

Arizona signed former Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph on Wednesday following an offseason that saw Jeff Mathis exit as a free agent.

“Looking at overall depth in that area, there was a little bit of a gap between what’s at the major league level for us and what is in the immediate underneath,” Hazen said Wednesday. “We felt like it was the right guy to sign to add to our mix, he does a lot of things we like very well. He’s a tremendous defender, runs a great game, seen him do that quite a bit in Baltimore.”

Hazen added that Joseph’s roster status (he still has minor league options) gives the team flexibility, and he’ll compete with the catching group that already includes Alex Avila, John Ryan Murphy and Carson Kelly.

The D-backs will “probably” keep three catchers on their roster again this year, Hazen said, though an injury somewhere else on the diamond to a utility player could prevent the team from using three roster spots at that position.

“Super excited to have [Joseph] on board,” Lovullo said. “Just another great example of what our front office does every single day. When a name’s out there and we have a need, they don’t hesitate. … I know that he has a very high baseball IQ, he was a great teammate, and for me firsthand from competing with him in the AL East, I saw that he’s very capable behind the plate. He can control a running game, he can call a game, he can receive and he takes care of his pitchers on a given night.”

IN THE OUTFIELD

There has been discussion of Ketel Marte taking over for Pollock in center field. Lovullo was asked Wednesday whether that’s going to be the reality.

“I don’t know that answer,” Lovullo said. “We feel like that he’s capable of going out there and taking on that challenge. I know that we would be asking a lot of him. But we’ve done a lot of work and we’ve done a lot of preparation as far as conversation and just making sure that he understands the reason for us considering this. I feel like he’s going to get a lot of looks in spring training, we’re going to see how that plays out, and he’s assured us that he’s comfortable and ready for that challenge.”

In addition to Marte, Socrates Brito and Jarrod Dyson serve as other options for Arizona. Additionally, 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s John Gambadoro has hinted multiple times at the possibility of the D-backs bringing in former Orioles outfielder Adam Jones.

Then there’s Steven Souza Jr.

“Steven has been after me to play center field,” Lovullo said. “Last year, he’d asked me quite a bit, or made the comments, ‘If you need somebody, I can play center field, I feel comfortable there.’ I don’t know if he’s in the immediate mix, but if he does get some reps there, there’s going to be a strategy for it and a reason why. Maybe somewhere project that he’s a third or fourth guy and that’s how I’ll view it right now.”

ZACK’S NOT BACK (YET)

Zack Greinke has not yet reported to spring training.

“It doesn’t come as a surprise to me, he was very proactive about it,” Lovullo said. “He reached out to me to let me know — he asked for a couple extra days, which I gave him. There’s a couple reasons, a couple thoughts that went into that for me.

“He knows what he needs to do to get ready for the start of the season, he’s done it for a long time, he’s been working out, hitting all of his landmarks, he threw a 40-pitch bullpen last week. So I just felt comfortable in saying, OK, if this is something that you need, I’m OK with it. The one part of it I want to make sure everybody understands is he’s not injured. This was something that he gave me a long heads-up about.”

Lovullo added that they expect Greinke to report later this week.

TAIJUAN WALKER

Taijuan Walker (Tommy John) is on a timeline to return around June.