We’re so, so close to legitimate baseball. You can smell the cheap American lager, taste the $6 hot dogs. But we’re not quite there, so of course there are still going to be injuries, all the more annoying because of how close we are. Just give us real baseball already, please. When we’ve done these pieces for other teams over the past couple weeks, we’ve focused on teams that had a number of players go down and looked at whether they were generally built for the depth to address multiple losses throughout the lineup or rotation. This time around, we’re going to be looking at an injury to a specific player, because it’s a doozy for his team.
On Friday, during the D-Backs penultimate spring training game against the Royals, center fielder A.J. Pollock slid headfirst into home and, while he appeared to be fine through the slide, when he went to push himself up, he was clearly in a great deal of pain. It turned out that Pollock had fractured his right elbow and will require surgery. Pollock had already missed significant time this spring dealing with soreness in the same elbow and there was indication by the team that he might hit the DL to start the season. Now, the timetable for his return is unknown and it looks like it could move from a matter of weeks to months.
It’s old news now that Arizona made waves this season, from the seemingly solid Zack Greinke signing to the unquestionably questionable Shelby Miller trade. When we checked in on the D-Backs’ offseason overall, those were pretty much the only two moves we discussed (along with a fairly lateral move in bringing in Jean Segura). Arizona was 8th in runs scored in 2015 and 19th in runs allowed, so this offseason was all about trying to fix that latter number so that they could take advantage of the former.
Pollock’s 2014 showed potential, with him hitting .302/.353/.498, good for a 134 OPS+, before his season was derailed by a fractured hand due to a HBP. Pollock bounced back in 2015 by hitting .315/.367/.498 with 20 home runs and 39 stolen bases while playing excellent defense. Paul Goldschmidt and Pollock both made the position player top-ten list for WAR in 2015 (by bWAR 4th and 6th, fWAR 4th and 8th, respectively), and that’s a pretty big start for any team that doesn’t have Bryce Harper or Mike Trout on its roster. Losing a player of Pollock’s ability is going to hurt any team, but it’s a big loss for Arizona, who seemed to base their offseason strategy around the continued contributions from Goldschmidt and Pollock, even going so far as to include outfielder Ender Inciarte in the lopsided all-in, win-now trade with Atlanta for Miller.
Now, the Diamondbacks can’t look to Inciarte to help out in the outfield and the next man up is likely Socrates Brito, he of the 80-grade name. Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs wrote a piece about Brito last week called “Meet the Newest Underrated Diamondback,” to give you an idea of what some smart folks think of Brito’s potential. While Brito hit well in his time with the club in 2015 (.303/.324/.455 in 34 PA) and has had an excellent spring (.317/.358/.429 in 67 PA), the sample sizes are small enough that it’s certainly too early to declare Brito a sure thing.
Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, it looks likely that Brito is going to be thrust into the starter role which also doesn’t allow Brito to step in for Yosmany Tomas in the event that Tomas struggles. Tomas has had one hell of a spring, hitting .472/.500/.667, but it’s important to remember that he hit .273/.305/.401 last year while playing awful defense, good for -1.3 WAR (by both fWAR and bWAR). Take a look at the projected fWAR for the outfield; it is not pretty with Pollock missing.
While the the Diamondbacks weren’t considered a favorite to outright win the NL West, you didn’t have to squint too hard to see them surprising with the pitching acquisitions they made and it wasn’t particularly hard to see things going well enough for them to secure a Wild Card spot. Even just a couple of days ago, with all of the injuries the Dodgers have been dealing with and the questionable spring performances out of the starters for the Giants, you might not even have been crazy to think that maybe Arizona could pull off a division upset if they got a few surprise performances from unexpected players. Now though, the D-Backs just have to hope that Brito avails himself as an everyday player, that Tomas improves and, most importantly, that Pollock is back sooner rather than later, otherwise Arizona is likely going to be looking up at SF and LA in the standings and all the gambles they made this offseason will have been for naught.