Expectations heightened as pitchers and catchers report

D-backs' Spring Training opens with three questions

February 17th, 2016

PHOENIX -- D-backs pitchers and catchers reported to Salt River Fields on Wednesday, and there was something present that was not there when camp opened a year ago: Expectations.

Then, Arizona was coming off a 2014 season in which it had the worst record in baseball (64-98) and was predicted to finish along with the Rockies at or near the bottom of the National League West.

Spring Training information

A 15-win improvement, though, followed by an offseason in which the D-backs nabbed pitchers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, among others, has fans believing that a division title is not out of the question.

Comeback candidates | Newcomers | Prospects to watch | Position battles | Lineup

In the final installment of our Spring Training preview series, we take a look at three pressing questions that need answering over the next six-plus weeks:

1. Who plays up the middle?

Up until a few weeks ago, it looked like the answer to this question was going to be shortstop Nick Ahmed and second baseman Chris Owings. But the addition of Jean Segura via a trade with the Brewers means the three players will fight it out for two spots. Also, throw in the fact that Phil Gosselin and rookie Brandon Drury are fighting for playing time at second and third base, and this has the potential to be an intense competition.

2. Is Yasmany Tomas ready to step up?

Signed out of Cuba before last season, Tomas did not have a full offseason of conditioning and he did not show the power at the plate expected of him. D-backs manager Chip Hale said Tomas has been working hard all offseason with strength and conditioning coach Nate Shaw and is looking more agile. The D-backs need him to come through offensively and be at least passable defensively.

3. How does the back end of the rotation shake out?

Based on their performances last year, Hale said that Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray have the edge for the final two spots in the rotation after Greinke, Miller and Patrick Corbin. The pair, though, will have to earn it, as top prospect Archie Bradley, Zack Godley and Tyler Wagner are among those pushing hard for jobs.