If the Arizona Diamondbacks expect a decline in their 2019 offensive production, there needs a countervailing compensation. From a rational vantage, this means greater efficiency from the starting rotation and a defense which is considered air-tight.
Last season, the Diamondbacks were the Major League's defensive leaders in several categories. For starters, the team posted 157 defensive runs saved and that, according to Baseball Info Solutions, was the highest single-season total recorded since the 2003 season. That far elapsed the 115 defensive runs saved by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018.
As well, the Diamondbacks finished with 39 shift runs saved and that was most in the majors last season. A significant part of the equation reflects a tradition in the game, and that’s strong defense up the middle translates into victories.
Going forward, several shifts in personnel could cause concern, and the Diamondbacks will sport a new-look up the middle. Ketel Marte opens the season in centerfield, Jake Lamb moves from third base to first, Wilmer Flores is inserted as the club’s new second baseman and Carson Kelly, brought over from the St. Louis Cardinals in the recent Paul Goldschmidt trade, is expected to catch the bulk of the games.
For Kelly, the transition from the shadow of perennial All-Star Yadier Molina, to a starter with a new organization, may be one challenge. Of equal concern, Kelly now spearheads a defense expected to achieve a consistent level of accomplishment. To still another level, the defense will likely be responsible for keeping games close and a clear preference to hold physical and mental errors at a minimum.
“We have many different talents in this clubhouse on defense, on the mound and at the plate,” Kelly told Fancred in the Diamondbacks clubhouse. “There are so many different attributes this team has, and I’ve already seen that. We’ll continue to grow, find our role and find that groove.”
Noted for his defensive skills, Kelly pointed out that the transition from St. Louis to Arizona is seamless. The fact he now catches Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, at the top of the Diamondbacks rotation, is as much as a challenge as a reward. In parts of three seasons backing up Molina, Kelly committed one error in 265 chances in 57 games.
“There is good chemistry with this club,” Kelly added. “You can go up any guy in this clubhouse and it doesn’t matter if you have 10 years in the big leagues or if you’re a first-year guy. That’s special. You don’t see that very often.”
From a back-up role over recent seasons, Kelly's workload will increase and could range between the 130 to 145 games. That depends how manager Torey Lovullo expects to use the 24-year-old Kelly, who was born in Chicago but grew up in Portland, Ore.
“(Kelly) has integrated very, very well and very efficiently,” Lovullo told Fancred. “It’s a hard thing for a young player to come in and given his set of circumstances. We all know what those are. He is paying attention to the coaching concepts and he’s working on his offensive approach."
With an animated personality, Kelly appears ready to embrace Lovullo’s culture and that corresponds flawlessly with Lovullo’s standards.
“Fitting into a clubhouse is a big part of being a big leaguer, for me,” Lovullo pointed out. “I want to make sure the guys are comfortable, they are themselves and good teammates. (Kelly) seems to be doing that very, very well.”
CAMP NOTES …
To add depth and an important veteran presence, the Diamondbacks signed free-agent outfielder Adam Jones to a one-year deal worth a reported $3 million.
At 33-years old, Jones is a 13-year major league veteran who was first drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2003. Over the course of his career in the majors, Jones was a selected to play in five All-Star games and hit .281 in 145 games with Baltimore a year ago.
Elsewhere … on Monday, the Diamondbacks have the first of two open spring dates. Their second off-day during camp is next Monday, March 18. … The Diamondbacks resume their spring slate Tuesday night at Salt River against the Texas Ranges. Home dates at Salt River this week include the Giants on Thursday, the Cubs on Saturday and the White Sox, as part of a split-squad, on Sunday. They also take on the Rockies at Salt River on Wednesday but are considered the visiting team in a complex shared by both teams.