Diamondbacks’ second baseman Aaron Hill may have been knocked to the mat, but the count has not reached 10 at this point.
During the recent off-season, Hill was the subject of speculation, trade rumors, at the center of personnel decisions, trades and his future with Arizona questioned. Most figured the 33-year-old out of Visalia, Caif. was through in Sedona Red. After all, Hill is owned $24 million over the next two years ($12 mil for each of the next two years), and the Diamondbacks are trying to figure if he retains any value.
With the trade of shortstop Didi Gregorius over the winter, which ended speculation that Chris Owings would move to second and Nick Ahmed would be the shortstop of the future, the focus turned to Hill. That would leave Hill by default into a reserve role and a position which would yield little value to the Diamondbacks.
Now, Hill, after a vigorous off-season program, is ready to reclaim his spot in the middle of the diamond.
“Spent my time wisely and didn’t do much golf,” Hill said Sunday at the Diamondbacks’ Fan Fest in Chase Field. “Did a bunch of vertical stuff and each time, I went higher and felt stronger. Feel great, ready to go.”
Coming off a season in which he hit .244, with 10 home runs, drove in 60 runs in 133 games, Hill’s numbers were down from the past. That represented the lowest average for Hill in the last four years, and down from his .291 in the year before.
Still, Hill packs power in his 5-11, 205 pound frame and, if playing near his peak level, supplies solid muscle lower part in manager Chip Hale’s potential line-up.
Here at the advent of spring training, the second base job is Hill’s to lose.
“Right now, it’s Hill’s job at second,” said Hale. “He’ll play the majority of his time at second and spend a little time at third. He’s a solid player and put up good numbers in the past.”
Reason for Hale’s decision lays with Owings’ physical condition.
Coming off right shoulder surgery in the off-season, Owings is still not cleared to go at 100 percent. In fact, he will miss the opening eight to 10 pre-season games and that puts him in track, if he is cleared medically, to jump in the line-up possibly the weekend of March 14 and 15. By that time, the Diamondbacks would have three weeks remaining in spring training and whether that represents enough time for Owings to be opening day-ready remains uncertain.
With Owings out and Hill now affixed at second, that opens the door for Ahmed, who appeared in 25 games for Arizona last season (.200, 14-for-70). Ahmed came over from the Braves in the Justin Upton on Jan. 24, 2013, displayed solid defensive skills, but a negligible bat.
“This is a great opportunity for Ahmed and to see if he’s ready for the majors,” Hale added. “The infield is just one of many areas open to competition this spring.”
NEW TV DEAL
The Diamondbacks are on the verge of picking up mega-bucks in a new deal with FOX Sports Arizona.
While Derrick Hall, the team’s Chief Operation Officer, told MLB.com a deal is in the works, Hall would not supply details. According to MLB.com, the deal with could be a 15-year transaction and worth $1.5 billion to the Diamondbacks.
“It made sense for us to remain with FOX,” Hall told MLB.com. “They’ve been great partners. In fact we believe so much in FOX that we got creative through the process in finding other ways to make this deal more lucrative, to partner with them.”
During the Fan Fest Sunday, several players displayed their musical talents.
With pitcher Bronson Arroyo on vocals, he was supported by Mark Trumbo, A. J. Pollock and Hill, all on guitars, and the group has been playing together since formed last year..
“It’s fun, and we love to jam,” Arroyo said afterward. “Actually, (former manager Kirk) Gibson encouraged us last season and a room near the clubhouse was cleared so we could play.”
Arroyo said future jam sessions are definitely on their radar screen this season.