One could make an argument that Jean Segura was the most underrated player in the National League last season.
The former Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop posted a .319 batting average – the fifth-best mark in the NL – and totaled 203 hits, the most in the league. Furthermore, his 20 home runs and 33 stolen bases made him one of two NL players, the other was Diamondbacks’ first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, to swipe at least 30 bags and total 20 round trips in 2016.
Segura, though, is no longer a Diamondback.
The 26-year-old was traded to the Seattle Mariners in a multi-player deal that most notably sent pitcher Taijuan Walker to the desert. While Walker has enjoyed a solid spring and looks to figure in as a top-three starter for an Arizona team that is desperate for some more consistency in its starting rotation, there remains a void in the middle of the team’s infield.
Utility player Chris Owings believes that the responsibility that comes with replacing Segura won’t fall on any one player, but rather, the team’s collection of middle infielders.
“I really haven’t thought about (Segura’s absence) like that,” Owings said. “(Brandon Drury) is looking really good this spring, Nick (Ahmed) is swinging the bat well, (Ketel) Marte’s swinging the bat well, so I think we have a lot of good players on this team, we have a good line-up one through eight so, just put the best guys in there every day and just go out there and compete.”
Now in his fifth year with the organization, Owings hit for a career-best .277 batting average last season to go with five home runs and 49 RBI in 119 games. It was his versatility that helped Owings appear in the lineup more often – he split time at both shortstop and center field, starting in 47 games and 65 games respectively at the two different positions.
If the early signs out of spring camp have been any indication, Owings could be in for a multifarious role again in 2017. That being said, he’s placed an emphasis on being able to stay on the field above all else.
“You just go out there every year and you want to stay healthy,” Owings said. “That’s the biggest thing for me this year, I’ve had some injuries in the past and you know, you cross your fingers and put your hard work in in the weight room, training room and you just go out there and compete.”
As far as competing is concerned, non-roster invitee Kristopher Negron understands that he needs to prove he can make contributions to the team’s infield early on in camp.
The 31-year old has said that he is a natural shortstop, but prides himself on his ability to play every infield position.
All Negron wants to do his help the team; however, he might be able to.
“I just tried to come into spring and play my game,” Negron said. “Versatility has been huge for me over the past handful of years, that’s kind of been the niche I’ve kind of carved for myself, so I take pride in being able to play everywhere. I just came in here trying to focus on that and help the team out anyway that I can.
“I can only control what I do on the field.”
Negron last played in the majors in 2015 with the Cincinnati Reds where he appeared in 43 games. While his resume at the plate isn’t as extensive as some of the team’s other infield options, he believes his defense his what ultimately sets him apart and could ultimately earn him an opportunity to contribute in the big leagues this season.
Even then, Negron also feels as though his bat has started to develop.
“I’ve always been a defensive kind of player,” Negron said. “The bat’s picked up over the years also but just trying to focus on my approach in the box, just trying to drive the ball and just trying to do the little things to help the team win.”
The Diamondbacks will have their options come April, but early indications seem to prove that it will take a committee of sorts to fill the Segura-sized void left up the middle.
By Colton Dodgson