SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Spring can be a mystery, with at least as many opinions as there are sun-hatted people to hatch them, and even then the truth is just as likely to be hiding inside a balled sanitary sock.
Consider the recent labors of rookies Yasmany Tomas and Kris Bryant.
One is having to adapt to a strange new culture in his new city, acclimate to the curious customs of the locals, parse an entirely different kind of language, even sacrifice his diet so that every meal isn't an adventure, just to find his way in a place that beyond all else will expect him to perform as an elite ballplayer, perhaps in a position he's just sort of trying out.
The other is Yasmany Tomas.
Two of the hottest names in the Cactus League, they're attempting to find their way at third base, which suddenly seems like a very difficult position to play, and might both end up in left field anyway.
Tomas is a 24-year-old outfielder, one in the hail of Cubans new to the game here, and is sorting through the particulars of a position for which he appears under-qualified, though that's just for today and sometimes these things take time. Unfortunately for the Arizona Diamondbacks, time is among the many areas in which they are not especially deep.
He hasn't said much about it lately, but a few weeks ago Tomas told reporters, "I want to be the third baseman on this team," and the Diamondbacks would like nothing more.
They assume his bat is ready, though Tomas is working on that aspect as well. He was scheduled for a dozen or so at-bats in a Thursday afternoon minor-league game, where he'd continue to reintegrate a leg kick the Diamondbacks spotted on video from Tomas' WBC appearance. They hope the new-old mechanics will generate the power that's been missing. He has two home runs (and one walk, which isn't so great either) in 50 spring plate appearances. Either way, it'd be good to get at least one part of Tomas' game going by the regular season, regardless of whether he's with the big club.
If this wasn't exactly what the Diamondbacks had in mind for their $68.5 million, they also don't seem too worried. They like Tomas' hands and bat speed, say they believe he is athletic enough to handle third base and can always fall back on his more familiar left field. The problem there is the Diamondbacks have plenty of guys they like in left – David Peralta, Ender Inciarte and Cody Ross to name three – and it sure would be terrific if Tomas worked out at third. Though, to keep this whole roster thing spinning, they're OK with 24-year-old Jake Lamb there, too.
"Uh, we're getting there," Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale said in reference to Tomas. "He's really starting to drive the ball. And his defense is going to be OK. Haven't seen anything to say he can't play here."
The question is when. And then, of course, where. Tomas has played one game in left, the rest at third. He's scheduled to start at third again Friday against the Los Angeles Angels.
"We haven't decided to take him off third yet," Hale said.
If this seems like a lot of conclusions being drawn in March, it's not. But it's not insignificant either.
"Trust me," Hale said, "I don't think he thinks they don't count. He knows his tail's on the line."
Just about the time Tomas' minor-league game concluded in Scottsdale, Bryant was standing in left field in Mesa, because, well, nobody's absolutely sure why. As Bryant has pounded his way through March pitching – he arrived Thursday batting .464 with nine home runs in 11 games -- the Chicago Cubs have warned that he's not proficient at third base. They're the experts. Some have decided this is a convenient way for the Cubs to stall Bryant's service time clock, and then Bryant was in left field and Mike Olt was at third. If this is a ruse, they've certainly gone a long way to sell it.
Of the possibilities, Bryant is now a left fielder. Or, he's a left fielder and a third baseman. Or, he's just part of the Cubs messing with us.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon called it, "Curiosity."
Bryant played some outfield at the University of San Diego. Otherwise, in 174 minor-league games and 11 spring training games, the extent of his professional experience, he has been a third baseman. Before that, he was drafted as a third baseman.
"Third base slash outfield," Maddon said. "Be prepared to play in both spots. … I just want to see it and make up my own mind.
"He seems to be really comfortable with doing both things. Let's see what it looks like."
For the most part, Bryant looked smaller, because he was farther away. Otherwise, the same. He handled a few routine plays without issue, and in the sixth inning came in on a liner, snared it and threw a tracer to second base for a double play. He's big, strong and athletic, so there was every reason to believe he'd be fine in left field. He was. He also was hitless in four at-bats with three strikeouts.
You can be sure there'll be plenty of opinions on that.