Diamondbacks Ink Tim Raines and Jesus Merchan

Last offseason, the Arizona Diamondbacks added veteran minor leaguers Jeff Salazar and Augie Ojeda to their fold, and they surprised everyone by becoming key components to team's playoff drive. This season, outfielder Tim Raines Jr. and infielder Jesus Merchan come aboard and hope to follow in their footsteps.

2007 saw Augie Ojeda forced into action when Orlando Hudson went down with a hand injury and Alberto Callaspo fell out of favor with the organization.  Jeff Salazar became a key member of the Arizona Diamondbacks outfield because Carlos Quentin did not live up to his expectations and Justin Upton was learning a new position in right field.

Really, all that the organization wanted from Ojeda was a dependable defender to help develop some of the pitching prospects in Triple-A.  There were higher expectations for Jeff Salazar, given that he is six years younger than Ojeda and had played well for the Rockies in September of 2006.  No one could have predicted that Salazar would have started 16 games after his August 15th callup during a heated pennant race.

Earlier this month, the Diamondbacks signed outfielder Tim Raines and infielder Jesus Merchan.  Like Salazar and Ojeda, no one expects these two to do more than provide stability to a Tucson squad that could include some young players.  Like Salazar and Ojeda, could they exceed those expectations?

Raines should bolster attendance figures in Tucson, if nothing else.  His father deserves to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame, and brought an excitement to the game that could drive fans to watch the younger Raines play. 

He also could get an opportunity because of a now-depleted outfield in Arizona.  National League pitchers know enough about Chris Young now to know to give him a steady diet of breaking balls.  The Diamondbacks may need a secondary option behind Young whenever there's a breaking ball specialist scheduled to start.  Justin Upton only hit .221 last year, and could find himself getting more seasoning at Triple-A if he can't improve upon that early in the year.  And as always, the injury bug could bite, and Alexander Romero is the only Diamondbacks outfield prospect likely to be ready this year.

Raines doesn't provide the kind of offense that his father did.  He's got the same speed, however, and might be even a little more agile in the outfield.  His arm isn't good enough to play right field, and he won't hit well enough to start regularly, but Raines could provide value as a reserve outfielder.

Merchan had his best
offensive season last year

Merchan's chances look worse.  Like Ojeda, he's a light-hitting infielder who is showing signs of bat life later in his career.  He hit 10 homers in 2007, half of his career total.  Also like Augie, he's difficult to fan.  His defense isn't nearly as steady , however, with a fielding percentage of .947 at shortstop and .929 at third base.

Merchan does boast a .973 fielding percentage at second base, but between Ojeda, starter Orlando Hudson, newcomer Chris Burke, and prospect Emilio Bonifacio, second base appears to be the Snakes' position of greatest depth.  The only way Merchan would see major league playing time in 2008 would be for something to happen to Stephen Drew, and even them Merchan would need to have proven himself to be a dependable defender there first.

Both Raines and Merchan played for three organizations prior to joining the Diamondbacks.  They are expected to begin the season at Triple-A Tucson, just as their counterparts did last year.

Send questions or comments for Keith Glab to future_backs@yahoo.com

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