Explaining the Arizona Diamondbacks' plan with top prospect Jordan Lawlar

Forecast the Arizona Diamondbacks’ infield and it’s difficult to find holes. An off-season trade for Eugenio Suarez garnered them an everyday third baseman. Geraldo Perdomo’s All-Star campaign a year ago solidified shortstop. Ketel Marte and Christian Walker aren’t moving off second base and first base, respectively.

So where does that leave Jordan Lawlar?

The 21-year-old shortstop is widely regarded as one of the best prospects in baseball. Both Baseball America and The Athletic have him in their top 10 entering this season. and Baseball Prospectus have him inside the top 15. Last year, he hit .278/.378/.496 between Double-A and Triple-A while squashing questions about his defense at shortstop. By September, that growth culminated in a call up to the major leagues, where he stayed throughout the Diamondbacks’ postseason run, finishing the year with 36 plate appearances.

“He's gonna have the chance to be a stud in this league for a long time and part of what we're gonna be as an organization,” General Manager Mike Hazen said last week at the start of spring training.

That might just not be next month, when the Diamondbacks break camp out of spring training.

“I don't want to be in a situation where he's not playing baseball every day,” Hazen said on Tuesday. In another answer, he added, “I think it's imperative at this stage of his career for him to get everyday at-bats.”

Hazen said that the club wants Lawlar to continue improving his offensive approach.

In the minors last year, Lawlar had a 1.153 OPS against left-handed pitching and a .767 OPS against righties. In his brief major-league cameo, he struggled against both, finishing 4 for 32 with three walks and 11 strikeouts between the regular and postseason.

“The power and obviously the natural hit is gonna be there for him,” Hazen said. “(Approach) is gonna be one of the bigger challenges for any young right-handed hitter that's coming into the league. So he's gonna face righties, seeing same-side spin, those types of things that he's gonna have to figure out in time.”

Jordan Lawlar (10) of the Arizona Diamondbacks makes an out on a ball hit by Estevan Florial #90 of the New York Yankees during the fifth inning at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 25, 2023, in the Bronx borough of New York City.
Jordan Lawlar (10) of the Arizona Diamondbacks makes an out on a ball hit by Estevan Florial #90 of the New York Yankees during the fifth inning at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 25, 2023, in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Hazen did not rule out Lawlar making the major-league team out of spring training, and continuing that development in the big leagues. But given his professed desire for Lawlar to see everyday at-bats, that would likely require an injury elsewhere in the infield.

“For the majority of this year, he's gonna need to play every day to continue to develop into the player he's gonna become,” Hazen said.

Hazen acknowledged that the calculus on Lawlar needing to play every day could change as the season progresses — and as Lawlar continues to improve. He pointed to last September, when Lawlar was called up to platoon with Perdomo because the club needed more production from its shortstops against lefties.

“I fully expect him to be on this team at some point this year,” Hazen said. “I don't know where, how, when or why that's gonna happen. It could happen out of the chute, it might not.”

Perdomo’s offensive production is also not guaranteed. While his results at the plate last season were roughly average, he made some of the weakest contact in the sport. Based on his batted ball data, his expected production — using xwOBA — was in the bottom 5% of all hitters. Over the season’s final three months, that showed with a .598 OPS.

This week, manager Torey Lovullo re-affirmed that Perdomo is the Diamondbacks’ starting shortstop, projecting that he might start “135, 140-plus” games. But if his production from the second half of last season continues into 2024, that could open another path for Lawlar.

There is also, of course, the issue of health — and the reality that no team will avoid injuries for six months.

“We look at it here today with everybody healthy, yes, it looks like there's a wall of people on our field,” Hazen said. “And things change. … This team is gonna take on injuries and there's gonna be opportunity.”

That opportunity could take many different forms. Both Lawlar and Perdomo, in particular, are capable of playing multiple spots on the infield.

“Given (Lawlar’s) versatility and the versatility on our roster, he protects us in a number of different ways with a number of different injuries,” Hazen said. “So there's plenty of paths for him to come up and impact our team. It's not just like a catcher with a catcher. We can slide guys around, we can maneuver to make it work.”

That might just not happen on Opening Day.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Explaining the Diamondbacks plan with top prospect Jordan Lawlar