While saying all the things politically-correct, there’s a quiet confidence which permeates about Diamondbacks’ rookie catcher Peter O’Brien.
Quietly on the radar screen but not quite out of mind, out of sight, O’Brien is slated to start the season in the Arizona farm system. That’s the conventional wisdom here at the beginning of spring training, but O’Brien is quietly making decision-makers take notice of another destination.
At least, a minor league commencement to the season was the game plan until O’Brien arrived at Salt River and the Diamondbacks began spring training drills. Since reporting with the pitchers and catchers last week, O’Brien’s offensive skills have been on displayed, and he remains one of the few hitters here in camp to be equal to stay ahead of the pitchers.
For hitters, that’s an aberration because timing and other necessitates with the bat are traditionally way out of sync. Pitchers here in camp seem ready to compete for a plethora of openings in the rotation, and O’Brien appears to be right with them.
“My outlook is to keep it simple,” he said the other day in the Diamondbacks clubhouse. “Really, I just want to get better every day. I want to improve on my strengths and keep the weaknesses down.”
While O’Brien may be gaining attention, he is currently locked in a battle with seven others for the two, opening day catching spots. It’s highly unlikely the Diamondbacks would carry three catchers and if that was case, the choice might go to Jordan Pacheco, who has played the infield, outfield and caught during his three-year major league career.
Still, the odds are extremely long for Pacheco to seriously contend for a roster spot, so O’Brien, at his point, needs to beat out Tuffy Gosewisch, currently number one on the depth chart, and Oscar Hernandez, who has been equally impressive in early camp.
In addition to Gosewisch and Hernandez, O’Brien remains in competition with veterans Gerald Laird, Tom Pagnozzi and Pacheco along with Blake Lalli and Mark Thomas.
Plus, manager Chip Hale assured the participants that each with receive equal attention because competition for the starting and back-up catcher positon, is, as Hale explained, “wide open.”
The issue with Hernandez is a sense urgency. If the does not make the 25-man, opening day roster, Hernandez must be returned the Rays’ organization, from whom the Diamondbacks drafted during the winter meetings as a Rule 5 pick.
For now, O’Brien, nearly a clone of the humble and unassuming Paul Goldschmidt, has his sights on daily improvement.
Acquired from the New York Yankees just before last July’s trading deadline for Martin Prado, O’Brien was assigned to Double AA Mobile. Appearing in his just his fourth game with the BayBears, O’Brien sent a foul off a shin and was sidelined for the remainder of the season.
While his reputation was that of a power hitter, the 24-year-old native of Miami Gardens, Fla. slammed 23 home runs for Double AA Trenton last season, and then dealt to the Diamondbacks. Sporting a .267 batting average for three minor league seasons in the Yankees chain, O’Brien slammed 72 doubles, 66 homers and drove in 204 runs in 1,058 minor league at-bats in 277 games.
Armed with the offensive segment of his game, the goal for O’Brien was then to improve his ability to call and control a game, limit the opposition’s running game, and gather trust from the pitching staff.
To that end, O’Brien repaired to the Arizona Fall League to work on defensive skills and undertook that aspect of his game with intensity and concentration during off-season workouts.
Like all players of integrity and character, he totally dismisses the power aspect of his game, and reminds listeners he’s here because of his offense and defense.
“My thing right now is to come out here and compete,” he said. “I’m not interested in those home run numbers. You need to stay away from that stuff because it gets you in trouble.”
THE WAITING GAME
After two days of workouts, Diamondbacks’ decision makers continue to closely monitor Yasmany Tomas, signed out of Cuba for six-years and $68.5 million, the largest contract in franchise history.
The organization is attempting to convert Tomas from essentially an outfielder to a third baseman. At this point, he is considered clearly a work-in-progress.
In defensive drills, Tomas has not exhibited lightning speed coming in on ground balls but displayed a powerful throwing arm. His throws to first were on a line and belt-high, the kind which Paul Goldschmidt can handle with ease.
Still, Tomas is in the process of making the near-abrupt transition from the outfield to third. Should he not be able to satisfy decision-makers, then he would likely wind up in left field. A. J. Pollock in center and Mark Trumbo in right have locked up the other two outfield positions.
“At some point, we will have to make a decision on (Tomas),” said manager Chip Hale. “We want to see how he does in games and, then go forward from there.”
The Diamondbacks open their spring slate next Tuesday afternoon at Salt River against Arizona State University. That’s a 3 p.m. start. Their first outing against a major league team is the next day when Arizona is the visiting team to their Salt River partners, the Colorado Rockies, for a 1:10 start.