The National League West has quickly become a three-team horse race for the division title, with the Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Arizona Diamondbacks all jockeying for the lead. While each team would make the playoffs based on their current record, one has a minor league squad that may prove to be an advantage during this long season.
The Reno Aces, the AAA affiliate of the Diamondbacks, are professional baseball’s best offensive squad – boasting a slash line of .301/.360/.477. Entering Friday, the Aces lead the Pacific Coast League in runs scored with 318 (48 more than the Salt Lake Bees), hits with 509 (37 more than Salt Lake), and doubles with 103 (by two over the Memphis RedBirds). Reno is also second in the league in triples (21). Perhaps the most interesting overall stat is that the Aces have only struck out 322 times, the fourth fewest whiffs in the league.
Like most AAA teams, the Aces act as a taxi squad of sorts for the MLB team. As such, there are some players who, despite a great start, may not be available unless disaster strikes. Oswaldo Arcia is the prime example. The former Minnesota Twin had a difficult start to his MLB career, batting .235/.298/.422 over his four partial seasons in the big leagues. His downward MLB spiral even carried over into his work in the minors; in 2015 with Rochester, he batted .199/.257/.372 over 79 games after putting up an OPS of .962 (in 22 games) in 2014 and 1.020 (in 38 games) in 2013. Without an obvious means back to the majors – having utilized all his options in Minnesota – the 26-year-old outfielder has gone back to crushing the ball, with a line of .360/.421/.735 over 37 games with the Aces. With his 15 doubles, three triples, and 10 homers, Arcia is third in the league – and on his own team – in total bases. With the Arizona outfield currently a strength – Yasmany Tomas and David Peralta each OPSing over .800 and A.J. Pollock just under that number – the Diamondbacks may move Arcia in a trade for a more useful spare part.
The Diamondbacks are also fairly well settled in the infield, with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt putting up an MVP-type line of .324/.450/.594, third baseman Jake Lamb contributing with a .968 OPS and 22 extra-base hits, second baseman Paul Drury having a very solid early season, batting .296/.340/.474, and even shortstop Nick Ahmed has a respectable .725 OPS. And we can’t forget utility man Chris Owings, who has slashed .321/.354/.479 in 45 games. However, If injury should strike, the Aces have answers.
Twenty-three–year-old infield prospect Ketel Marte, who was the primary shortstop for the Seattle Mariners last season while batting .259/.287/.323, is getting the chance to develop a bit more in AAA this season. So far, he has had his best offensive season in his professional career. Through 44 games, Marte has slashed .394/.438/.523 with 14 doubles and four triples with his 101 total bases second on the team. While Marte has primarily been a shortstop in his career, he has also put in some time at second this season. Unlike Arcia, Marte would be able to taxi back and forth between Arizona and Nevada.
The same is true for 26-year-old first baseman Christian Walker, the league leader in total bases with 106. The former Orioles prospect seemed to peter out once he reached Norfolk, with three consecutive AAA seasons with an OPS around .750. The desert has seemed to turn him into a giant menace, however, as he is batting .289/.354/.589 with 11 doubles, 13 dingers, 46 runs scored and 49 RBI in just 46 games. Walker’s emergence may be unexpected after his struggles the past couple of seasons, his batting line is fairly similar to what he accomplished in AA Bowie in 2014 (.301/.367/.516).
The Aces have some offensive firepower beyond the three total basemen. Outfielder Rey Fuentes was already called up to the Diamondbacks after his .376/.403/.481 start with Reno. Fellow outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker has scored 13 runs in just 14 games after his demotion from the bigs, batting .302/.403/.623 with nine extra-base hits in that time. At 29-years-old, infielder Carlos Rivero is having his best offensive season ever, with an .868 OPS and 14 extra-base knocks in 41 games.
Catcher has been one of the offensive dead-spots for the Diamondbacks, with Jeff Mathis putting up a relatively pathetic line of .177/.207/.342 and platoon-mate Chris Iannetta doing only slightly better at .219/.296/.422. But, the Aces have options there as well. Former Los Angeles Angels, Houston Astros, and Tampa Bay Rays backstop Hank Conger is available to pluck from Reno, where he is hitting .280/.358/.427 with 25 RBI. A younger option would be 26-year-old Ronnie Freeman, who has a line of .260/.313/.403 over 25 games.
While the Diamondbacks currently have one of the best offenses in the National League, the possibility of catastrophic injury always lurks. While no one wants to have to crack open the glass for such an emergency, Arizona has made sure to stock their AAA cupboards with excellent options. Whether or not the Diamondbacks will need to utilize all of these players – in Arizona or as trade bait – remains to be seen. But there is no doubt, Arizona has some Aces up their sleeve.