Impact Player: RF Justin Upton
Impact Pitcher: RHP J.J. Putz
Best Reliever: RHP J.J. Putz
Top Prospect: RHP Jarrod Parker
General Manager: Kevin Towers
Manager: Kirk Gibson (34-49, .470)
LHP Zach Duke, RHP J.J. Putz, RHP David Hernandez, RHP Kam Mickolio, 1B Juan Miranda, 3B Melvin Mora, OF Xavier Nady, C Henry Blanco, 3B/1B Geoff Blum, RHP Armando Galarraga, UTIL Willie Bloomquist, RHP Micah Owings, 1B Russell Branyan
1B Adam LaRoche, 3B Mark Reynolds, UTIL Rusty Ryal, INF Augie Ojeda, OF Ryan Church, INF Bobby Crosby, RHP Rodrigo Lopez, RHP Blaine Boyer, RHP D.J. Carrasco
I have been way off each of the last two years in predicting a Diamondbacks breakout and even though they’ve made more changes than just about any team in the past year, they’re probably worse on paper this year than last. Part of the reason my faith in this team had persisted in each of the past two years was the starter tandem of Dan Haren and Brandon Webb. Coming into the past two Spring Trainings with those two at the head of your rotation had to make you feel pretty good. I was confident that Webb would recover from his shoulder ailments and achieve at least some of his former dominance and coupled with some young rising stars in the lineup, the D-Backs looked like a team on the rise.
Unfortunately, Webb missed his second straight year and Haren was dealt to Anaheim when it was clear the team wasn’t going to contend. Up-and-coming superstar Justin Upton had a down year, as did slugging third baseman Mark Reynolds and the team fired young manager A.J. Hinch halfway through the year and replaced him with bench coach Kirk Gibson. The team didn’t fare any better after the switch and finished with a 65-97 record, finishing last in the NL West.
Gone in 2011 are corner infielders Adam LaRoche and Reynolds, pitchers Webb, Haren, Edwin Jackson, and closer Chad Qualls and in is starter Zach Duke, new closer J.J. Putz and useless veteran third baseman Melvin Mora.
A new regime led by former Padres’ GM Kevin Towers is in the front office and they were so committed to starting over this offseason that they floated the idea of trading Upton. They decided to keep their 23-year-old franchise outfielder (thankfully for D-Backs’ fans) and seem committed to building around him for now.
With Haren and Webb now in the D-Backs history books, they are firmly in a year of transition in the pitching staff. Promising prospects Jarrod Parker and Tyler Skaggs are still at least a year away from making a real impact on this team so the Diamondbacks have far more questions than answers in their rotation for 2011.
The battle for Opening Day starter was between three pitchers: Ian Kennedy, Joe Saunders and upstart youngster Daniel Hudson. Kennedy won out after a decent season in the desert in ’10. He finished with a 3.80 ERA and 194 innings-pitched. Like most pitchers in Arizona, he gave up a ton of homeruns which led to an inflated FIP of 4.33. Kennedy counts on getting a lot of flyball outs which severely limits his potential the homer-happy dry air of the Arizona desert.
Saunders split last season between the Angels and Arizona after being acquired in the Haren deal. Overall, he lost 17 games and finished with a disappointing 4.57 FIP although he was slightly better with the D-Backs.
Hudson was lights out after being acquired from the White Sox in the Jackson trade going 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA and a 3.22 FIP in eleven late-season starts. Repeating those type of numbers will prove to be very difficult for Hudson once the rest of the league begins to build a report on him. Most scouts think he’s a solid number three pitcher at best.
Duke was acquired from the Pirates this offseason and will look to rebound in 2011. He produces a decent groundball rate which should play well in Arizona, but he allowed 25 homeruns in just 159 innings playing most of his games at a fairly neutral ballpark in Pittsburgh. His 5.72 ERA and 4.95 FIP could skyrocket with the most west. If it does, he may not be long for this team.
The fifth spot is being fought over by Barry Enright, who had a terrible 5.62 FIP in 99 innings last year, Armando Galarraga, who despite pitching a “perfect” game in June had a terrible 5.09 FIP in pitcher-friendly Detroit and possibly Kevin Mulvey who was less-than-impressive in AAA last season. Galarraga is out of options so he may be the most likely to stick.
With Qualls being dealt to Tampa last July, the Diamondbacks turned to Juan Gutierrez as their closer late last year and although he accumulated 15 saves, he had a 5.08 ERA and an even worse 5.83 FIP making his solid 2009 season seem like a distant memory. Deciding to reinforce their shaky bullpen, Arizona signed J.J. Putz to a two-year, $10-million deal and he heads into the year as the closer. Putz was formerly a closer with the Mariners and has spent the last two years as a setup man with the Mets and White Sox.
Last season on the South-Side, Putz had a 2.83 ERA and a very good 10.83 K/9 rate which led to an outstanding 2.52 FIP. He also keeps the ball in the park, something almost everyone on this team has trouble with so there’s an immediate upgrade in the closer spot for this season.
Unsatisfied after acquiring Putz, GM Towers traded Reynolds, his slugging but struggling third baseman, to the Orioles for two relievers in David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio. Both have live arms and the ability to strike out batters, but neither can seem to keep the ball in the park. Hernandez had a dismal 27.9 groundball percentage last year which means he may get hammered hard in Arizona. Mickolio, on the other hand, had a 6.37 ERA in 35.1 innings in AAA last season although his FIP was a solid 3.40. With his big strikeout potential, he could have a breakout year in 2011.
Sam Demel is also in the mix and was acquired for outfielder Conor Jackson from the A’s last year. He wasn’t terrible after the trade and should settle in in mid-relief this season.
Left-hander Jordan Norberto has a live arm, but can’t control it. If he can’t figure out how to harness his stuff, he’s not going to be much use to this team. Other lefties in the mix are Zach Kroenke, Joe Paterson, Leyson Septimo, Clay Zavada and reclamation project Mike Hampton who was brought back on a minor-league deal after impressing in a very small 4.1 innings sample size in 2010.
Other right-handers in the mix include Esmerling Vasquez, Aaron Heilman, Carlos Rosa and non-roster invites Rafael Rodriguez and Micah Owings. Owings may be an intriguing storyline to follow this season as the D-Backs have said they’re considering using him as both a pitcher and a first baseman. Owings is widely considered the best hitting pitcher in the game, but has struggled to stick at the major-league level with both Arizona and Cincinnati.
In a world where there are less quality starting catchers than teams, the D-Backs could do much worse than the underrated Miguel Montero. Montero doesn’t embarrass himself behind the plate and puts up solid offensive numbers. He’s accumulated a 5.0 WAR over the last two seasons which is behind only Brian McCann, Yadier Molina, and Carlos Ruiz in the National League.
Backing him up will be 39-year-old Henry Blanco who was brought in on a free agent deal from the Mets. He doesn’t hit anymore, but is still a strong defender who’ll fill in nicely on days off for Montero.
John Hester saw some major-league time in 2010 and will provide depth.
The most intriguing spring battle on this team lies at first base where two near-bust prospects and a veteran slugger are attempting to nail down the job. Former Yankee prospect Juan Miranda was finally liberated from purgatory behind both Jason Giambi and Mark Teixeira in the Bronx and figures to be winning the job right now. At 28-years-old, this may be his only real shot.
Russell Branyan is in on a minor-league deal after spending last year split between Cleveland and Seattle where he finished with an .810 OPS and .350 wOBA. His favourable splits towards righties and terrible defense make him more likely a pinch-hit candidate who can occasionally fill in at first than an everyday player. He did manage 25 homeruns and a 2.0 WAR last season.7
Finally, Brandon Allen is also in the mix, but with the team saying Miranda is winning the job right now, Allen looks to be the odd man out and will likely start the year at AAA. If Miranda scuffles, he may see time.
Kelly Johnson emerged as one of the best second baseman in the game in 2010 slugging 26 homeruns, finishing with a .377 wOBA, a 7.1 UZR defensively and a 6.0 WAR that ranked him behind only Robinson Cano and Rickie Weeks and ahead of Chase Utley. The question for the D-Backs is can he sustain it? Most of his numbers look somewhat repeatable, but his .339 BABIP and astronomically high 15.6% HR/FB rate should ensure a bit of a regression.
At shortstop, Stephen Drew quietly put up a terrific season in 2010. He finished with a 5.1 WAR rating putting him behind only Troy Tulowitzki and ahead of Hanley Ramirez. With the lack of truly elite everyday shortstops in baseball right now, Drew has cemented himself as (contemporarily at least) the third best shortstop in the game.
Replacing Reynolds at third will be the 39-year-old stop gap Mora who comes over from Colorado where he put up a dismal -9.8 UZR at third which made him a barely above replacement player. The good news is that the D-Backs have Matt Davidson, a Reynolds clone with higher average potential coming up through the system along with another third base prospect in Bobby Borchering and Arizona is confident at least one will turn out. The bad news is neither will see major league action until likely 2013.
Veteran Geoff Blum comes over from Houston and will provide depth at the corners while Tony Abreu is expected to make the team as a utility infielder. Ryan Roberts and non-roster invite Cody Ransom could also crack the team if Abreu struggles.
Upton was talked about in trade rumours around the Winter Meetings, but Towers decided to hang on to his talented young rightfielder instead of dealing him for a bounty of prospects. Upton has the raw ability to win multiple MVP awards as a true five-tool player. He had a down year in 2010, but he is still just 23 and has shown the ability to absolutely mash. I would be surprised if he’s not in the conversation of the game’s elite within two years.
Centerfielder Chris Young is another toolsy player albeit not as young or as potential-laden as his running-mate. He doesn’t hit for a great average but has well above-average power and speed and is a solid defensive player. He accumulated a 4.3 WAR in 2010 which was much higher than Upton’s.
Leftfield is a little less certain. Gerardo Parra is just 24-years-old but his skill-set suggests that he’s better suited as a fourth outfielder while the only other real option is veteran Xavier Nady who is never going to be the player he was in 2008. Cole Gillespie and non-roster invite Wily Mo Pena, who’s taking time out of his busy schedule of bad rap songs and beating pregnant women to try and make the team.
The Diamondbacks will hit enough to keep from completely embarrassing themselves, but their pitching staff will undoubtedly be among the worst in baseball. Hudson, Parker, and Skaggs provide a potentially bright future but the Diamondbacks appear to be at least two years from making any real noise in the NL West.
Final Prediction: 66-96, 5th NL West