by Matt Whitener
In my continuing spring series chronicling a player in each organization that has a chance to take a larger than expected role with their respective Major League club, we head out the National League West. This is a division featuring several teams in transit, as well as a set of very established rivals in Los Angeles and San Francisco that have their sights set firmly on the postseason already. However, that doesn’t alter the fact that there are some clear chances on each club for emerging talents to either take what is theirs earlier than anticipated, or capitalize on some unforeseen openings created already this spring.
Didi Gregorius, SS: Finding a long-term answer at shortstop was at the top of the list of desires for GM Kevin Towers in Arizona this season, and landing Gregorius was the coup of the offseason for him. While Cliff Pennington stands in as the everyday answer currently, the 23 year-old Gregorius will have a chance to push himself into the picture immediately once he returns from a UCL strain. He will immediately become one of the better, if not the best, defender on the D’Backs infield.
Nolan Arenado, 3B: His quick rise through the minors had him rumored to hit Colorado as early as Opening Day 2012. However, that did not happen and he spent the year at Double-A Tulsa, where he posted a .766 OPS. Yet with Chris Nelson, who is a much better fit in a utility role, currently manning the station, the organization’s top prospect should make the leap at some point this summer, especially if his power numbers return to their 2011 levels (20 home runs/32 doubles) in a stint with Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Alex Castellanos, IF/OF: The return on the trade that sent Rafael Furcal to St. Louis could have a bigger impact in the MLB than his trade counterpart will. With the uncertainty surrounding Carl Crawford’s availability continues to thicken, an opportunity to get a look on an everyday basis could present itself. He has hit for power at every stop, but there is some question about whether the 26 year-old can handle big league pitching on a regular basis.
San Diego Padres
Jedd Gyorko, 2B: This may not be as much of a case of stealing a position as it is taking what’s his. Gyorko has torn through both the minors (.311/30 homers between Double and Triple-A in 2012) and this spring, where he has team leading three homers and nine RBI through four games. While he has lined up at third base, the presence of Chase Headley takes that out of the equation, so he has moved to second base to expedite his arrival in the majors. He is taking to the position, and in line to take the starting reins from Logan Forsythe, at least until the spot at third potentially reopens.
San Francisco Giants
Gary Brown, OF: Long-term, center field will be his. But for now, a corner spot could be Brown's for the taking. In 2012, the 24 year-old Brown wasn’t the player he was the when he stole 53 bases and hit .336 in his first full pro season, last summer, but an extra year of maturity could be his ally. While the Giants have inked Angel Pagan to a four-year pact to play center, he’s spent his career spread across the outfield, with over 100 games in left field as well. This, along with a projected time share between Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres highlighting a glaring opening in left, presents a prime opportunity for Brown to crack into a role this summer.
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