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Leading off a game at Salt River Fields last week, Geraldo Perdomo took five fastballs, four of them wide of the strike zone, tossed his bat aside and trotted to first base. In his next trip to the plate, he took another fastball for a ball, then shot a curveball into center field for a single.

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Perdomo, the Diamondbacks’ young shortstop prospect, recognizes offspeed stuff well. He has good hand/eye coordination and makes consistent contact. He seems to swing at the right pitches. Most important, he finds his way on base at a steady clip.

During his time in the Arizona Fall League, Perdomo, who turns 20 this month, has exhibited the kind of offensive approach that has helped him quickly ascend through the minor leagues. It also is an approach the Diamondbacks are cultivating throughout their system.

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The first batch of position-player prospects under Diamondbacks General Manager Mike Hazen are nearing the majors. Many have attributes similar to Perdomo.

Catcher Daulton Varsho, first baseman Pavin Smith and Perdomo all are coming off seasons in which they rarely struck out. Three prospects acquired via trade – first baseman Seth Beer, infielder/outfielder Josh Rojas and infielder Andy Young – each had a relatively low strikeout rate, high walk rate or good on-base percentage, or some combination. The same could be said of young outfielders Alek Thomas, Kristian Robinson and Corbin Carroll.

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By and large, those players make up the organization’s next wave of hitters. To varying degrees, the Diamondbacks believe they all have a prevailing skill. They all have the ability to control the strike zone.

“We feel like the best hitters in baseball have that skill, have the ability to do that,” Hazen said. “Contact is important. We know that strikeouts are a part of the game – guys are going to strike out – and there are times you sell out to power. But being complete hitters is maximizing all those skills. Those guys have those skills. It’s something we value and we’re going to value moving forward.”

The Diamondbacks are not breaking new ground in their focus on controlling the zone, but it does stand in contrast to the type of team they were before Hazen and his group arrived. In 2016, the Diamondbacks had the fourth-highest strikeout rate and tied for the third-worst walk rate in the National League.

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That led to the front office putting an emphasis on approach in the 2017 draft. Smith, the Diamondbacks’ choice that year at No. 7 overall, not only had more walks (38) than strikeouts (12) as a junior at the University of Virginia – he had more home runs (13), as well. After a slow start to his pro career, Smith finished this season with solid numbers (.291 average, .835 OPS) in Double-A.

Making sound swing decisions leads not only to good on-base ability, it also “pretty much translates in all the damage you do,” Diamondbacks minor league hitting coordinator Joe Mather said.

In the first part of the series, you told us who would be the starting eight on the D-backs, selecting just from those players who finished the year under Arizona control. Now, it’s time to fill out the bench roster. This does require a little more than a straight vote, for a couple of reasons. One: we need to ensure coverage at all positions. Two: there will be a 26th man available next season, due to the roster changes. Will this be used on Opening Day to give the D-backs an extra bullpen arm, or to extend manager Torey Lovullo’s bench?

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To ensure coverage, I have gone for one backup catcher, a middle infielder, a corner infielder and two outfielders. We have seen the fondness of Lovullo for having three catchers, but that approach seemed to be quietly dropped as the season progressed, and I think we’ll probably see that again going forward. Part of the reason for having three catchers was to allow for greater offensive ability to pinch-hit. But that tactic makes rather more sense when you have Jeff Mathis on your roster, than when you have Carson Kelly. Two spare outfielders also makes sense, given Ketel Marte’s ability to go back to the middle infield when necessary.

So, here are the five players who received most votes for those positions, based on the 320 ballots filled in.

Backup C: Alex Avila (125 votes)
If the fans had their way, we’d probably only have one catcher, and just run Kelly out there every day. But that’s not practical: only two catchers in the majors last year reached even 115 starts (Yasmani Grandal and J.T. Realmuto). Despite missing five weeks early due to injury, Avila had a solid bounceback season. The BA wasn’t great (.207), but he had great plate discipline, with a 17.9% walk-rate; among hitters with 200+ PA, only Mike Trout and Brandon Nimmo were higher. He will be a free-agent, coming off a two-year contract worth $8.25 million, and turns 33 in January. It’ll be interesting to see whether he stays in Arizona, or if the team looks for a cheaper, perhaps more defensively-minded alternative.

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Backup CI: Kevin Cron (132)
Cron wasn’t able to reproduce his AAA numbers – but, then again, how could he deliver a 1.223 OPS? In the end, he came in slightly below average, with a 98 OPS+ in his rookie year. In a small sample size, the power was there – six home-runs in only seventy-eight PA. But so were the strikeouts, with a K-rate of 35.9%, and a K:BB ratio of 7:1. That’ll have to change in his sophomore campaign, if the graduate of Mountain Pointe HS here in Phoenix wants to become a solid back-up to Christian Walker. In his defense, most (24 of 39) of Cron’s appearances came off the bench, and he performed creditably as a pinch-hitter with an OPS of .815 in that role.

Backup MI: Ildemaro Vargas (231)
Quite surprised to realize this was actually Vargas’s third season in the majors. But we saw a lot more of him in 2019, appearing in 92 games, compared to 12 and 14 the previous two years. His positional flexibility is key to his securing a roster spot. While he played most at second-base, he also started at third and shortstop, and even played some inning in both corner outfield spots. He made just one error in approaching three hundred innings at second, and didn’t embarrass himself at the plate, with an OPS+ of 82. A few more walks would be nice, as he only had nine in 211 PA, though Vargas struck out just 24 times, so was clearly putting the ball in play.

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Backup OF #1: Josh Rojas (268)
A bit of a surprise here, to see rookie Rojas receive most votes among the bench candidates. Might be some home cooking here, Arizona fans feeling a special attachment to a man born and brought up locally, just a few miles from SnakePit Towers. Josh is probably the first to play for the D-backs, who was a fan growing up. He was also the first prospect received from the Astros in the Zack Greinke trade to reach the majors. While his impact was limited (OPS+ of 64, 0.0 bWAR in 41 games), he didn’t embarrass himself in his rookie season. As the outfield is an area where we don’t have much depth at the higher end of the minors, he will potentially be useful next year, at minimum cost.

Backup OF #2: Steven Souza Jr. (232)
The first two seasons of Souza’s time here have been an almost unmitigated disaster, with just 72 games played, none of them in 2019, and a value below replacement level. Steven is under team control for next year, in his final year of arbitration. But Souza has to be considered a non-tender candidate, even if he will get little or no increase from this year’s salary of $4.125 million. On the other hand, the lack of credible alternative candidates mean that price-tag would not be bad value, if he was able to return to the level of production seen when fully healthy, prior to 2018 (OPS+ of 105, 2.6 bWAR per 650 PA). Keyword in that sentence is, obviously, “if”…

26th man: Jake Lamb (122)
If the team were to go with an extra bench bat, Lamb was selected by readers to fill that spot. That might not be a bad position for him. As a left-hander, he would be a platoon partner for Walker/Cron at first, and Lamb can also play on the other corner of the infield. However, MLB Trade Rumors project a $5 million arbitration figure for Jake, which is high for an occasional player. He also struggled even against RHP this year, batting .177 with a .607 OPS, when previously that was his biggest plus: “Well, at least Lamb rakes against righties.” In 2019, not so much. Whether the team decides that was a blip or not, may well determine whether or not he is tendered a contract or follows Chris Owings into the wilderness.

Not selected
Jarrod Dyson (119)
Domingo Leyba (109)
Caleb Joseph (84)
Abraham Almonte (79)
Adam Jones (73)
Blake Swihart (29)
Yasmany Tomas (13)
Some free-agents to be of note here, including Dyson and Jones. It seems most people see Tim Locastro as a cheaper alternative to Dyson. And for all the benefits of Jones’s clubhouse presence, he’s clearly on the downside of his career, putting up his lowest OPS+ (87) in more than a decade. The rest are a combination of those whose future is still in front of them (Leyba and Joseph), apparently fungible outfield types (Almonte and Swihart)… And, in last place, the albatross which is Yasmany Tomas. He received just 13 votes. I’ll have to check the IP address those came from, I’d not be surprised if they were all over towards the East of the country… :)

Next up, probably after the weekend, the starting pitchers!

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“Guys who are pretty aggressive are going to see fewer pitches in their zone because the at-bat is going to be over sooner,” Mather said. “For a guy like Perdomo, who does a really good job of taking pitches out of the zone, it forces pitchers back in the zone, which is going to give him far more opportunities to hit balls over the middle of the plate.”

Arizona Diamondbacks catching prospect Daulton Varsho during spring training workouts on Feb. 15, 2019 at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Arizona Diamondbacks catching prospect Daulton Varsho during spring training workouts on Feb. 15, 2019 at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic)

As it happens, Perdomo is the only one of the aforementioned players that the Hazen regime inherited. The Diamondbacks signed him out of the Dominican Republic in July 2016, some three months before Hazen was hired. Still, Hazen has opted to keep him; the same is not true of the strikeout-prone Jazz Chisholm, another shortstop prospect whom the Diamondbacks traded to the Miami Marlins in July for starting pitcher Zac Gallen.

Before a fall league game last week, Perdomo described his approach as being dependent upon how he is pitched. If a pitcher is throwing strikes, Perdomo said he will appear aggressive. If not, he will wait him out. Asked how he was able to learn to hit like this, he said he considers himself fortunate.

“I was born like that,” he said, speaking through an interpreter. “That’s me. Nobody taught me how to hit like that.”

The Diamondbacks believe there is some universal truth to that. Hazen thinks an ability to control the zone is more innate than, say, good swing mechanics, but the club puts significant time into honing hitters’ approaches in the minors. One way it does that, Mather said, is to make batting practice more game-like by having hitters take rounds of BP in which they might not swing the bat if the pitches don’t call for it.

“We have them really lock into their pitch,” Mather said. “We’re not worried about them getting their five full swings. We’re worried about them making the right decisions.”

The organization also tries to be proactive with prospects who aren’t as advanced in their approaches. One example came early this season, when coaches sat down with Low-A infielder Blaze Alexander to encourage him to be more selective.

“It’s important because you have to learn this at the lower levels or you’ll never figure it out up here,” Diamondbacks Assistant GM Amiel Sawdaye said. “You’re trying to teach him that approach and hopefully it all meshes when he gets to Double-A or Triple-A.”

It will be years before anyone knows for sure if this wave of young position players can develop into successful major leaguers. But the Diamondbacks are hopeful they have a future core of hitters that has many of the same attributes as those who populate the lineups of teams still playing this October.

“The guys we’re going out and getting, they (already) get on base and have a good eye, and I think that’s a great start,” Mather said. “Power usually comes later.”