In one Question & Answer session last Saturday during the Diamondbacks’ FanFest in Chase Field, reliever David Hernandez was asked to evaluate the recent Justin Upton trade.
Direct and to the point, Hernandez said, “I want to look to the future, and not behind.”
Looking ahead, that means the Diamondbacks must replace two-thirds of its outfield. That’s because centerfielder Chris Young was dealt to Oakland, and Upton was shipped to the Braves in the recent off-season.
While manager Kirk Gibson has not publicly said who will replace Young and Upton, a few scenarios have developed.
The popular opinion has Adam Eaton taking over for Young and leading off. In the number one hole, some have argued, the fleet and aggressive Eaton gives the D-backs its first legitimate lead-off hitter since Tony Womack over 10 year ago.
Then again, Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers like a veteran presence and, if they decide to go that way, then Cody Ross could start the season in centerfield. That would leave right field open for Gerardo Parra, and a returning Jason Kubel to patrol the gardens in left field.
For Ross, this would indicate a return to center, a position he played for the Marlins before leaving for San Francisco and Boston.
Steeped within Towers’ baseball psyche, Ross represents that veteran presence. That’s also why Towers inked left-handed hitters outfielder Eric Hinske and infielder Eric Chavez for added bench strength.
Signed by Towers to a three year, $26 million deal in the off-season, Ross said not only is he excited to join the D-backs, but, realistically, Arizona was the only team on his radar screen.
“As soon as last season ended and I declared for free agency, a number of teams called,” said Ross on Saturday during the FanFest. “After guys like Josh Hamilton and Shane Victorino went off the board, the calls increased, but I held off.”
In early December, Towers called and Ross said the decision, from that point, was a no-brainer. Ross signed his Diamondbacks contract the day after Towers initially reached out to him.
“I couldn’t be happier,” he smiled. “This is where I always wanted to be. When the Diamondbacks called, it was like a dream come true. I knew I wanted to be here and made it happen”
Living in the Phoenix area, and growing up in nearby Carlsbad, New Mexico, Ross indicated Chase Field was “an ideal environment.”
At 5-10 and 190 pounds, the 32 year-old Ross has not played a great deal of center since his days in Miami. Yet, another scenario has Parra in center, where he played the majority of time in recent Winter Ball competition, and Ross winding up in right field.
If Gibson decides to go with Eaton in center, than Ross would a compete for playing time against Kubel in left and Parra in right.
At any rate, he looks at the Diamondbacks’ character, work ethic and élan as possessing the intangibles needed to win. Tempted to make comparisons to the 2010 Giants, in which he was an important component in the Giants’ World Series victory, Ross laid a foundation from which the Diamondbacks can build.
“I like to play the Gibby way,” he said, in reference to Gibson’s intense style and make-up. “Play hard for 27 outs. It starts with pitching and then depth on the bench. When we won in 2010, it was a team effort and not ‘I’ and not “we.’”
In helping to propel the Giants into the World Series, Ross hit .350 in the National League Championship Series against the Phillies. He gathered six extra base hits for his seven hits in the series and earned the MVP in the NLCS.
Ross’ best season in the majors was 2007 when he hit .335 in 66 games with the Marlins. Last season with Boston, he managed a .267 average and along the way, he’s played for Detroit, the Dodgers, Cincinnati, the Marlins, Giants and Red Sox.
Originally drafted by the Tigers on the fourth round in 1999, Ross made his major league debut with Detroit in 2003. At the time, D-backs' bench Alan Trammell was the Tigers manager, and Gibson was the bench coach.
Having played for Trammell and Gibson, Ross says he is more than familair with the style and character that Gibson incorporates into his aggressive approach to the game.
Though the Diamondbacks represents his seventh organization, Ross says he’s comfortable with the decision to land in the desert, and looks forward to making an important contribution.
“I see many characteristics here to the Giants team in 2010,” he added. “We put egos aside and did what was asked. Knowing (Gibson) and the way he surrounds himself with character people, there’s only one goal, and everyone is on the same page. That’s to win.”
SPRING TRAINING TIDBITS
Pitchers and catchers report Monday and the first workout is slated for Tuesday morning.
The full squad checks in on Thursday and first team drills are set for Friday at Salt River. Then, there’s a week of practice and a few inter-squad games.
The pre-season slate opens Saturday Feb. 23 against the Colorado Rockies, who share the Salt River complex with the Diamondbacks. The D-backs will be the home team.
On Sunday Feb. 24, the D-backs will engage the Rockies again and this time, Colorado will be the home team.
The defending World Series champion Giants make two visits to Salt River. They take on the Rockies on Friday March 22 and the Diamondbacks on Wednesday March 27, both games at 1 p.m.
During the season, the Giants pay three visits to Chase Field, April 29-30, May 1, June 7-9 and Aug 30-31 and Sept. 1.