With 2012's Chris Young and Justin Upton out of the picture, the 2013 Arizona Diamondbacks will undergo a thorough transformation in the outfield, not simply in the vacated center and right field positions.
Though Jason Kubel remains the only holdover starter from one season ago, Young and Upton's departure signals a chemical changing of the guard that has left not a vacuum of physical power, but one of conceptual rapport.
In 2011, Young and Upton were identified alongside All-Star catcher Miguel Montero as the club's leaders.
With Kubel, Adam Eaton and Cody Ross leading fourth outfielder Gerardo Parra and fellow backups A.J. Pollock and Eric Hinske on the circa-Valentine's Day depth chart, the metaphysical outfield clubhouse now begins the process of selecting a new leader to replace the two bygone veterans on Chase Field's largest lawn.
Who will it be? Let us analyze the leading candidates.
We begin with front-runner Jason Kubel, an eight-year vet who underwent a revitalization of sorts in his first season with Arizona in 2012. Not only did Kubel put up impressive numbers, a .506 slugging percentage and a .833 OPS—just the second time he has slugged above .500 in his career (2009)—he capitalized on defense as well.
Kubel's 14 assists in 2012 ranked first amongst National League outfielders while his .995 fielding percentage placed him in the No. 2 slot amongst left fielders.
Kubel—who has already unofficially been deemed the Diamondbacks' "franchise player" while leading the team in both home runs and RBI—has the right attitude: "I love it here...I love being around the guys and everything around here. It's been a lot of fun." (via azcentral.com)
When the D-Backs finally passed on Hiroki Kuroda in favor of Kubel in December of 2011, I predicted Kubel, rather than Kuroda, would prove a better candidate for club leadership.
That prediction still holds.
Ross' four years with the rival Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants may give the 32-year-old righty-batting southpaw some perspective as he moves once more from sea to shining sea. Hopefully his return to the senior circuit will spark a performance similar to his 2010 postseason with the World Series-winning Giants.
Whereas Kubel has the advantage of transforming from Twins franchise player to D-Backs franchise player, Ross' experience and perspective must be noted.
With the Giants, Ross was privy to a clubhouse brimming with the chemistry of postseason urgency, while in 2012, Ross saw first-hand the devastating effects of a Red Sox team with an extreme chemical deficiency.
Add it all up and you get perspective.
While Kubel's leadership value is derived from growing franchise consistency and Ross' is born out of a unique frame of reference, Eaton's angle of leadership may be unlikely and unorthodox at best.
A 2013 rookie-by-rule, Eaton's .259 batting average and .794 OPS in 22 games last season are a far cry from the 24-year-old's potential, as evidenced by a .381/.456/.539/.995 line during 488 at bats at Triple-A Reno.
By the way, Eaton was also the Pacific Coast League's Rookie of the Year and MVP.
Nonetheless and despite the incongruity, Eaton's leadership advantage remains his youth and his ability, a forecast that should read "extremely promising."
With that enthusiastic, can-do attitude, Eaton's youthful exuberance has the potential to inspire a whole ball club.
The position of "outfield governor" is presently Jason Kubel's to secure just as it is Kubel's to lose.
Though he did not grow up on the D-Backs' farm like Eaton nor win a ring with an NL West foe like Ross, Kubel's growth throughout his charter year with Arizona has established a footprint for leadership that only Kubel can fill.
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