Predicting D-backs' 2021 Opening Day roster

March 14th, 2021

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Despite another week of Cactus League games in the books, there hasn't been much of a change in the D-backs' projected Opening Day roster.

There are, however, a few minor changes, which we'll note below. Again, it's worth remembering that there are still more than two weeks until the season opener against the Padres at Petco Park and much can change.

That being said, let's take a look at what we've got.

Catcher (2): ,
Kelly had an uneven year in 2020, but the D-backs are chalking that up to the strange nature of the season and the small sample size. Vogt’s contract option vested with his playing time, and he figures to again be the backup. I went back and forth on whether to include Daulton Varsho, but unless he's going to get a lot of playing time behind the plate or in the outfield, it's probably a better bet that they send him down to play every day and continue his development as a catcher.

First base (1):
Walker followed up his breakout 2019 season with another solid year at the plate and in the field. The D-backs have several options for backups at this position, including Vogt and Asdrúbal Cabrera.

Second base (1):
I initially had Cabrera getting a lot of playing time here, but it looks like he's going to play more first and third than second. It would seem like only one of Rojas and Josh VanMeter would make the Opening Day roster, because they are both left-handed hitters and play similar positions. Rojas has looked especially sharp so far this spring so we'll give him the nod for now.

Things will get tricky when a lefty starts for the opposition as manager Torey Lovullo could move switch-hitter Eduardo Escobar from third to second and play a right-handed hitter at third. Or Ketel Marte could play second with a right-handed hitter taking his spot in center.

Third base (1):
There’s no getting around the fact Escobar had a rough 2020, struggling both at the plate and in the field. The team, though, is banking on him returning to form. Wyatt Mathisen could see time at third against lefties as well as Cabrera.

Shortstop (1):
Ahmed hasn't played in a week due to some soreness in his right knee, but he is expected back soon and it should not impact his readiness for Opening Day. He is a leader in the clubhouse and an iron man in the field, so look for him to once again rack up a ton of games played. Rojas has looked good at short this spring and could be a backup here if he makes the team. Marte could also be an option.

Backup infielders (2): ,
Mathisen's chances of making the Opening Day roster have increased over the past week as he's not only swung the bat well, particularly in a "B" game against the Cubs, but the team optioned Andrew Young, who opened the spring as a candidate for a backup spot.

Outfield (5): , , , , (IL: )
Calhoun's knee surgery will likely keep him out for at least the first week of the regular season. That opens up right field and there are a host of candidates to take that spot. Smith gets the nod based on how he looked last year during his time with the D-backs. Peralta and Marte are set and Locastro, too, is a lock. Thompson is an intriguing option as a backup. He runs well and can play all three outfield spots. He'll probably need to have a good spring to force their hand as he is a non-roster player. Varsho is a possibility to open the season in the big leagues until Calhoun comes back since the Minor League season will be delayed.

Starting pitchers (5): , , , ,
Barring injury, the rotation looks to be set at the start of camp. Gallen was the D-backs’ best pitcher last season, followed by Kelly, who should be completely recovered from thoracic outlet surgery. Bumgarner pitched well in his final two starts of the year after a rough beginning. The D-backs believe his off year had more to do with the fact the veteran was thrown off his routine by the COVID-19 shutdown, and they expect he will rebound in 2021. That’s also what Weaver will need to do. He was outstanding in ’19 before getting injured, but never seemed to be able to get on a roll in ’20.

Relievers (8): , , , , , , ,
It's getting harder and harder to leave J.B. Bukauskas off this list as he continues to pile up the scoreless innings. A lot of what happens in the bullpen depends on which pitchers the D-backs want to keep stretched out as starting depth in the Minors. Widener and Clarke both have starting backgrounds so they could fill either role. López needs to have a good camp as there are plenty of relief candidates, including Kevin Ginkel, who will get a long look. The bullpen got a dose of experience over the past month with the signings of Soria and Clippard. The hope is they can anchor the back end and provide leadership to what will be a relatively young rest of the 'pen.