The Arizona Diamondbacks have been as busy as any team in baseball this winter, and with the Atlanta Braves’ help, they put an exclamation point on that statement this week. They traded Justin Upton, he of some loose Frank Robinson comps and three years of team control remaining, to the Atlanta Braves, along with third baseman Chris Johnson, for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and a passel of middling prospects.
I’ll delve into other aspects of the deal in other, future posts. This one is about Prado. I find him extraordinarily pleasing, the kind of player my 21st-century number-loving mind tells me can be overrated but whom my 20th-century baseball-loving heart can’t resist. He walks at a slightly below-average rate, but is one of the league’s best contact hitters. In three of the last four seasons, he has batted .300 or better, mostly on the strength of a .330-ish batting average on balls in play. He’s never hit more than 15 home runs in a season, but has clubbed 42, 40 and 38 doubles in separate years.
Defensively, he’s above average. Above average in left field, above average at third base, even slightly above average at second base. Oh, and in a brief stint as the emergency starting shortstop in 2012, two major defensive ratings systems had him above average.
That’s what I want to key in on, for the moment. Prado didn’t just moonlight awkwardly at shortstop, as Ben Zobrist did for the Rays last summer. Prado held his own. He may not be an everyday shortstop with the glove, but he can make enough plays not to kill you. That’s huge for Arizona.
Nick Ahmed was among the lesser parts of this trade. He’s an all-glove shortstop prospect Atlanta didn’t think could hit in the big leagues. He’s a year or more away from the big leagues. Ahmed is also the third shortstop Arizona has acquired this winter, joining Cliff Pennington (also all-glove, but seasoned with big-league salt) and Didi Gregorius (the jewel of the bunch, the only one with a chance to be a first-division starter there).
Like Ahmed, though, Gregorius is probably not ready for the Majors right now. He will be ready by mid-season or so, if not sooner, but he’s probably not the Opening Day guy.
Pennington can cut it with the leather. In fact, he’s a plus defender at short. Unfortunately, he can’t hit: His .589 OPS last season attests to that. He hits better against righties, but isn’t even really a platoon contributor offensively.
Prado can be a very solid stopgap for the Diamondbacks. Obviously, he’s now the primary third baseman for this team, but he can and should play some shortstop in the early going. It wouldn’t even need to be a platoon based on the opposing pitcher; it could be based on Arizona’s. With Trevor Cahill (one of the league’s most grounder-happy hurlers) on the hill, Prado should be at the hot corner, with Pennington at short. When Brandon McCarthy pitches, though, Prado can handle short, and Eric Chavez can get the start at third.
Replacement level and positional value are fine for evaluating players in a vacuum, on an individual level. In cases like this one, though, you have to be able to strip away purely individual values and examine net offensive and defensive value. Prado’s versatility is a huge asset for Arizona, because their depth gives them a chance to use any of a handful of different alignments and arrangements. Depth is what this trade ensured the Diamondbacks would have, and is the best watchword for their prospects of competing in 2013. Depth in the rotation (it’s six or seven deep, easy), depth in the outfield (Upton’s departure leaves five solid guys on the prospective roster for Arizona, Cody Ross, Gerardo Parra Jason Kubel, Adam Eaton and Eric Hinske, plus A.J. Pollock lurking in Triple-A), depth in the bullpen (Heath Bell came to them in the Chris Young trade, they extended J.J. Putz, Tony Sipp was part of the Trevor Bauer deal and Josh Collmenter will pitch the entire season in relief this time around) and now depth in the infield (Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt on the right side, Chavez, Prado, Pennington and Willie Bloomquist on the left). No NL West team will be better prepared to weather losses or underperformance than this one. Prado is a crucial part of that.Next post: A Notes Column: Delmon Young, Carlos Zambrano, Michael Bourn, Bryan LaHair
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