Abreu Leads D-backs Contenders at 2B

Tony Abreu, Ryan Roberts, Augie Ojeda, and Rusty Ryal are all in competition for the Arizona Diamondbacks' starting second baseman's job. Recent reports have indicated that Abreu is the leading candidate for that vacancy, however, and reason agrees with that conclusion.

Tony Abreu was acquired from the Dodgers to complete the August 31 trade in which the Diamondbacks sent RHP Jon Garland to Los Angeles and will be given every shot to become the regular second baseman in 2010. Abreu, 24, hit .336 with 11 home runs and 53 RBI at Class AA Chattanooga and Class AAA Albuquerque despite missing the first six weeks while recovering from hip surgery that sidelined him for the 2008 season. Abreu hit .271 with 14 doubles and 17 RBI in 166 at-bats with the parent Dodgers in 2007.

Ryan Roberts and Augie Ojeda each have more major league experience than Abreu does, but they lack upside.  Even though Roberts had a terrific year for the D-backs in 2008, first as a super utility player and then as the regular second baseman once Felipe Lopez was traded to the Brewers, he is already 29 years old and doesn't figure to get any better.  Augie Ojeda has been a valuable utility man for the D-backs since 2007 because of the stellar defense he provides at three infield positions, but is a .238 career hitter with just seven career homers and would be once again used as a utility player.  Ojeda is also arbitration-eligible, so he is not even guaranteed a contract for next season yet.

Abreu, 24, has hit .312 (103-for-307) with 22 doubles, 4 triples, 11 home runs, 53 RBI, a .361 on-base percentage, and a .541 slugging percentage in 532 career minor league games.

"Tony is a switch hitter with the ability to play many infield positions and can swing the bat," general manager Josh Byrnes said upon acquiring Abreu. "He certainly will be involved in the competition for second base and add depth and flexibility to our roster."

The fact that Abreu can switch-hit puts him ahead of rookie Rusty Ryal in the second base competition.  Ryal was very impressive offensively this season, slugging .527 in 446 Triple-A plate appearances, then .593 in 68 PA at the major league level.  But he hit .336 with a .551 SLG against southpaws as opposed to .273/.519 against righties with Reno and .273/.614 versus .267/.533 with the D-backs.  Abreu is .214/.429 against lefties and .288/.386 against righties in his brief major league career.  At Triple-A this year, he hit .357/.714 against southpaws and .351/.568 against right-handed pitchers.

In addition to being a better option against right-handed pitchers, Abreu is also considered a better defender than Ryal is.  Ryal is even playing exclusively in the outfield for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League in the hopes of increasing his versatility as a utility man. 

"It's in my contract," Ryal said of playing the outfield with Caracas. "I'm going there for one thing: to get better in the outfield. I think playing outfield there is going to do a lot for my career."

Ryal will also turn 27 next spring, whereas Abreu turns 25 this month.  The Diamondbacks therefore hope that they can utilize Abreu as the primary second baseman for several seasons.  If he struggles, the combination of Ryal, Roberts, and Ojeda can likely get the club through 2010 before the team turns to prospects such as Pedro Ciriaco, Mark Hallberg, or Taylor Harbin for the future.

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