ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: 81-81 (Second in NL West)
Projected Starting Lineup/Batting Order:
RF Gerardo Parra
3B Martin Prado
1B Paul Goldschmidt
2B Aaron Hill
LF Mark Trumbo
C Miguel Montero
CF A.J Pollock
SS Chris Owings
Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:
SP Trevor Cahill
SP Brandon McCarthy
SP Wade Miley
SP Bronson Arroyo
SP Archie Bradley
RP Addison Reed
RP J.J. Putz
RP Brad Zeigler
The Diamondbacks started the 2013 season hot, but slowed down as the summer wore on. They benefitted from the struggles LA had early on, but eventually the Dodgers caught fire and blazed past them. They didn’t help things by falling apart in the second half. They ended up staying in second place in the division, but they were only a 500 team and missed the playoffs by a healthy margin. Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers have their fingerprints all over this team, which has underachieved for two straight years. There was a belief that if this team didn’t make the playoffs, then the seats under those two would begin to get quite warm. But with the slow start Arizona had many believe the heating of those seats has already begun with the recent hire of Tony LaRussa as CEO of Baseball Operations. Some don’t like the move, some do. But all agree that it’s the precursor to a change, a change that may see Towers and Gibson looking for a new gig.
The offense looks to be in pretty good shape. Gerardo Parra finally got the everyday gig in the Arizona outfield last year after breaking in with the big club in 2009 and playing in no fewer than 120 games. He was an excellent fourth outfielder with a career 277 AVG and some Gold Gloves to his credit. Last year he got the full time job playing mainly right field and hit 268 with 10 HR and 10 SB. His 323 OBP is ok but generally not good enough to leadoff regularly. He’s got speed, though he’s not exceptional at stealing bases and he scored 79 R last year. They hope he can pull that AVG up closer to his career mark and get on base a little closer to a 350 clip. And if he can turn those 10 SB into 15, perhaps we have a guy who can score 100 R. Maybe slug another 10 HR too. But mainly he’ll play great defense in right. The Diamondbacks like having him hit at the bottom of the lineup, but I think that’s a waste of his speed. And while Pollock was the first choice to leadoff, Parra has taken over and I think he’ll stay there this year.
Martin Prado will settle in as the starter at third and probably hit second. He can play all over the field, but has become their full time third baseman. He hit 282 last year with 14 HR, 82 RBI and 70 R. That’s right on part with what he does, though the AVG is a little lower and his SB disappeared from 2012 (though that was an aberration….he stole almost half his career total in that one year). He may get back over 300 this season, but if not will be right around it with perhaps 15 HR in Arizona (ceiling). He’s not overly exciting, but does a lot of things well, can get on base and both score and drive in R.
As is traditional, the Diamondbacks best hitter will be in the 3 hole. That will be first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. My pick for MVP last year, Goldschmidt won 2/3 of a Triple Crown in the NL with a league leading 36 HR and 125 RBI. He also added 103 R, 15 SB and a 302 AVG. His AVG and OBP has improved each season in his 3 major league seasons, and he’s got great power in a great hitters park. He also played in 160 games last year and provides speed at first, a rarity for the position. He’s an absolute star, and I’d expect another season around 300 with 30+ HR, 110+ RBI, 90+ R and 10+ SB. He’s a 5 tool contributor (won a Gold Glove too) who is an absolute star in my book. He should also have an MVP at this point, but short-sighted writers only give those to playoff teams, despite hitters on other teams having better numbers in this, the ultimate team sport.
I have second baseman Aaron Hill hitting cleanup in this lineup. He’s not the most powerful on the team, but has the most complete skill set after Goldschmidt. Last year was marred by injuries (87 games) but he still hit 291 when healthy with 11 HR and 41 RBI. Over a full year that’s a 22 HR and 82 RBI mark. In 2012, he hit 302 with 26 HR and 85 RBI, not to mention 14 SB. I think if healthy, he can be a force, but we may see some regression. Think 20 HR and 80 RBI to go with 10 SB max. And expect an AVG closer to 275 (career 273 hitter).
New addition Mark Trumbo will probably hit 5th. He’s a true slugger, with the most power on the team. He hit 34 HR, driving in 100 in Anaheim last year. But that came with 235 AVG. However, putting him 5th and saying “Just hit it deep” will unleash that power with no reservations. It’s a good spot for a guy who can be a huge help. His 34 HR led to the 100 RBI and 85 R, despite the low average. He’ll strike out a ton and his defense in left may not be great, but he does one thing well, and that’s all they want him to do. After a blistering start, Trumbo was lost to an injury. Cody Ross is filling in admirably in left, but while the defense is better, there is not question they miss Trumbo’s power.
I put catcher Miguel Montero 6th, after a down season. Injuries limited him to 116 games, but when he played he struggled losing 56 points off his AVG. His HR total has dropped 3 straight years as well, though the limited games were part of it. I think he can bounce back, but I don’t know if he’s an All Star anymore. Think 260 with 12 HR.
The SS position is next and I gave it to Chris Owings. But he’s got to perform to hold off Didi Gregorious, the high ranked prospect. Gregorious played in 103 games with Arizona hitting 252 with 7 HR and 0 SB. It wasn’t great, and to Owings credit he won the job away. Owings only played in 20 games last year, but hit 291 with 2 SB, a 361 OBP and 5 R. Owings has had the better spring and he’s the one in the lineup.
I initially put A.J. Pollock in the leadoff spot, but he hasn’t gotten to play there much. He hit 269 with 8 HR and 12 SB in 137 games last year. He’s got an interesting speed/power combo, but I don’t think his AVG or eye is what they want from their leadoff man. His numbers are similar to Parra, but Parra has more experience. However, with the injury to Trumbo, Pollock has found himself moving up in the lineup, even hitting 5th occasionally. He struggled a little bit to start this year, and almost became the fourth outfielder. But he’s fought to hold on to his spot, and got a chance to leadoff again recently. They want him to take the leadoff job, but he has to earn it. And even if he does, he’s got enough pop that they may hold him lower in the lineup to maximize his RBI potential with Trumbo out.
I mentioned Cody Ross (278/8 HR) as a talented fourth outfielder who can do a lot of things well and seems to thrive in pressure situations. He’s starting now with Trumbo hurt. Eric Chavez (281/9 HR) is still around and Cliff Pennington can play both middle infield spots and swipe a bag as a pinch runner. This offense is loaded and has lots of options.
The defense in Arizona is in good shape. There are 2 Gold Glovers in the field. One at first (Goldschmidt) and one in right (Parra). So the right side is in good shape. Prado is great at third and no matter who plays short, the defense will be fine there. Hill is a good second baseman and Montero is solid behind the plate. Trumbo is pretty bad in left, but with Parra’s skill in right, Pollock can cheat to left to make up for any deficiencies by Trumbo. And he can be replaced for defensive reasons late in games. It’s not the best setup, but 2 Gold Glovers is a good place to start.
The pitching doesn’t look to be in as good shape as the offense. Patrick Corbin was their ace, but has been lost to Tommy John. That means Arizona’s ace may be Brandon McCarthy now who is not ace quality. He went 5-11 last year with a 4.53 ERA in 22 starts. He’s had injury issues, though a lot of those were freak injuries. He’s been successful in the past, but his first season out of Oakland and in Arizona was, unsurprisingly, not quite as good (Oakland=Great pitchers park….Arizona=Great hitters park). He’s got potential and if he can harness his talent he could be a double-digit game winner with an ERA south of 4. He’s not a big strikeout guy and those aren’t the numbers you expect from an ace, but that would be a successful season from McCarthy. So would 200 IP.
The other returning pieces to the rotation are Wade Miley and Trevor Cahill. Cahill is another former Oakland A, who hasn’t pitched as well after leaving the pitcher friendly confines of O.Co Coliseum. However his last season in Oakland wasn’t as good the past two years in Arizona, and he’s got more of a horse reputation, notching around 200 IP the last three years, until last year. Injuries limited him to 25 starts, but he was solid with a 3.99 ERA and 8-10 record. He’s not a Cy Young winner, but with their potentially limited rotation, they just need another 200 IP season with an ERA south of 4. Cahill seems a good bet to deliver that.
Miley pitched in his second season for Arizona last year and turned in a similar season to his strong rookie campaign. His ERA swelled by 22 points and his WHIP and BAA also rose a bit. The issue was walks last year, which is something he has to correct. It’s what turned his 16-11 freshman year into a 10-10 sophomore year. He’s not a strikeout guy. If he can trim the walks, we’ll see another 200 IP season of 3.50 or better ERA ball and possibly 15 Wins. He’s also got ace potential, albeit ace of this team, not others.
Free agent veteran Bronson Arroyo was the Diamondbacks biggest signing this offseason. He’s extremely important now that Corbin is out. Arroyo went 14-12 last season with a 3.79 ERA in Cincinnati. Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark is one of the few parks that is actually a better hitter’s park than Chase Field so you don’t worry about Arroyo’s numbers going in a bad direction. The real concern is the sore back that has kept him from pitching all spring. He’s an extremely durable starter that has never missed a start due to injury in his long career. I know he’ll get healthy, but he may not be ready to start the season. When he does get healthy though, expect 200 IP of sub 4 ERA baseball with few Ks and around 12 Wins.
The hope was that Archie Bradley would step in to take the 5th starter spot with Corbin gone. But the Diamondbacks are taking it easy with him and letting Josh Collmenter get some time in starting. He’s a career spot starter who’s had better success than people realize (3.47 career ERA) in his time. Randall Delgado is another young arm, part of the Justin Upton trade who can help out if needed.
The bullpen got a major overhaul with a trade for Addison Reed to be the new closer in the desert. Reed notched 40 Saves for the White Sox last year to the tune of a 3.79 ERA. That’s actually not a great ERA at all for a closer, but his WHIP and BAA were great and he struck out better than a batter an inning. If he can give up fewer hits, things will improve, but he’s got experience closing and had success in another hitter’s park in U.S. Cellular Field, which leads Arizona to believe he’ll be fine in Arizona. To support him, they have former All Star closer J.J Putz, last year’s second half closer David Hernandez and situational stars Oliver Perez and Brad Zeigler. The bullpen looks strong, but may have to pick up some slack with the starting rotation in limbo. And thus far, the bullpen has dealt with numerous injuries so that has held the team back to start the season.
The outlook for Arizona has shifted. I thought they would be very good this year. Then they had a terrible April. The team made changes and brought in LaRussa, but since the calendar turned to May they’ve had the third best winning percentage in baseball. So perhaps they just needed to get their legs under them. They have a young superstar at first, two young players fighting for playing time at short, youngsters in left and center and at least 2 young starters in the rotation, potentially more if Archie Bradley makes the team. Their closer is young. That’s a good future. And their veterans aren’t that old. Prado is in his prime. Parra is as well. McCarthy and Cahill are prime players too. So this is a good mix for the team this year. Their future is in good shape, but so is their present. However, the thought in Arizona is that both the future and present could be better. Towers has traded away a lot of talent in the last few years. The most recent dump was Adam Eaton and Trevor Bauer for Addison Reed and Trumbo. Trumbo got hurt and Reed has struggled. Before that, they dumped Justin Upton and Chris Johnson, both of whom have played well in Atlanta. It’s hard to know what direction they are headed in, and perhaps that’s worse than even going in the wrong direction. It’s okay to re-build if you admit to doing it. It’s okay to contend, for obvious reasons. The real crime is being stuck in the middle, and many think that’s where the Diamondbacks are languishing.
This division is tough. The Dodgers are good. The Giants should be better. And the Rockies are the surprise of this 2014 season so far. The Diamondbacks have underachieved for back-to-back seasons. This is the year they have to get it done. Winning the division is possible, but a lot to ask for. A playoff spot is a more attainable goal. But that’s not certain either with the Giants expected to be better and at least 3 great teams in the central and 2 in the East. They have the talent, but have to play as well as they should. They haven’t done that the past 2 years. If they harness their talent, I’d expect a potential wildcard slot with the weak teams at the bottom of their division. If that doesn’t happen, expect some changes in Arizona.