The Arizona Diamondbacks went from 2011’s MLB darlings to 2012’s disappointment. A lot has to go wrong for a team to go from 94-68 and division winners by 8 games to 81-81 and 13 games out of first place just one year later.
A closer examination of the numbers show that the D’backs actually scored 3 more runs in 2012 than in ’11 and only allowed 26 more. The big difference was that they had trouble winning games late.
GM Kevin Towers and Manager Kirk Gibson seemed to think that they just didn’t have their type of guys on the roster. What that really meant was shipping out or letting go of Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Stephen Drew. These 3 won’t be officially labeled the fall guys for 2012’s drop-off but they might as well be.
New faces that will see major playing time in 2013 include starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy, OF Cody Ross, and new 3B Martin Prado, who came over in the Upton trade. Cliff Pennington came to town via the Chris Young deal and will log the majority of the starts at shortstop.
Best Case Scenario for 2012
The D’backs play in a division that houses the World champions from 2010 and 2012 in the San Francisco Giants as well as the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose new ownership just spent a major fortune to prove that they are ready to contend once again. But if Gibson can get these guys playing baseball with the same tenacity that he did, they will be able to contend for the division. In the end though, I feel that their best-case scenario is to grab a wild card spot and hope for the best.
Most Important Diamondbacks
Look around the 25-man roster and you quickly realize that Miguel Montero is the longest tenured member of the everyday players. No catcher across the league gets less respect for his accomplishments than Montero. Over the last 2 years he has caught 140 and 141 games respectively while posting impressive offensive numbers and improving his game-calling and defense along the way. In 2011 and ’12, Montero has hit over .280 while averaging 16.5 homers and 87 RBI’s per season. He improved his contact rate against left-handed pitching last year, which was his last hurdle toward catcher stardom. Montero is 29 now, smack dab in the middle of his prime. Look for him to take the on-field leadership role that he has been given and run with it.
Ian Kennedy frontlines a rotation that promises to be one of the better National League units in 2013. But for it to be considered among the elite, Kennedy needs to resume his role as a true ace, ala his 2011 season. He has been a workhorse since coming over from the Yankees, averaging 208 innings/year since 2010. In 2012, his walks and strikeouts were right in line with his breakout 2011 season but he proved to be much more hittable. In 14 less innings he allowed 30 more hits, which pumped up his 2.88 ERA and 1.09 WHIP from 2011 to 4.02 and 1.30 respectively. If he can keep the bases a little cleaner this season, and Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, and McCarthy do what is expected of them, they will be right there in the end.
Potential Breakout Players
With Chris Young moving on to Oakland via trade, the centerfield gig has been opened up for Adam Eaton. The 24-year old stands just 5’8’’ and weight 185 pounds, but he can flat out play ball. He nabbed 103 plate appearances late last year in Arizona and posted a .382 on-base %, showing his superior on-base skills. Eaton literally has nothing left to prove at the minor league level. In 130 games between AA and AAA in 2012, he hit a whopping .375 with a .456 on-base %. His stat line included 130 runs, 47 doubles, 5 triples, 7 homers, and 44 steals. Eaton projects as a top of the order terror that should be a very fun player to watch.
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With Kennedy, Cahill, Miley, and McCarthy occupying the top 4 spots in the rotation, there will be a nice spring training battle for the #5 spot. Candidates include Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs, and potentially Randall Delgado, who came over in the Upton trade. To me, Skaggs is the one to be most excited about. He was recently ranked the #10 prospect by MLB.com. His minor league numbers are much like Eaton’s – videogame like. Skaggs will turn 22 in July, yet was good enough to get a 6-start cameo last season. In 2011, in High A and AA ball, he K’d 198 in just 158.1 innings alongside a 2.96 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. He followed that up in 2012 with a 2.87 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 116 K’s over 122.1 innings between AA and AAA. He’s pitched enough innings the last 2 years that Arizona can feel comfortable handing him the ball every 5th day if he earns the right in camp. He is regarded as having the best curveball in the minor leagues and can spot his 92 MPH fastball as needed. When you have a proven top 4 such as what Gibson can call upon, having a high upside guy like Skaggs in the 5-hole is a gamble worth taking.
Worst Case Scenario
The D’backs have decided to trade high profile talent for gritty players who know how to get on base. Can that formula work in the NL West? It’s not going to be easy but I like the pitching, both in terms of starters and relievers, and the lineup could click. This has the feeling of a team that sort of resembles some of Billy Beane’s better teams in Oakland. If they don’t find enough firepower from an offensive standpoint, they could struggle and fall to the middle or back of the NL West pack once again. If they hang in the race long enough, they have the minor league pieces to move at the deadline to upgrade the major league roster. Again, this is straight out of Beane’s playbook. This season is truly anyone’s guess as to how good or bad things could go.
Areas of Concern
Cohesiveness instantly comes to mind. The entire 2012 season seemed to get off on the wrong foot for the D’backs. Chris Young missed a lot of time due to injury after a red-hot start, Stephen Drew was slow to return from an ankle injury, and Upton battled injury much of the year, which turned an expected year of dominance into a very mediocre campaign for a player of his caliber. Noise was coming from the front office all year long about how they weren’t happy with certain players. Trade rumors swirled nonstop around Upton for about a year and a half. It was just plain messy. Credit the AZ brass for making the team look how they want it to. Now it’s all on them. Failure and success will be theirs to claim.
Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2012
Cliff Pennington was brought over in the Chris Young deal to play shortstop. Arizona expects top-shelf defense from him and is realistic about his meager bat. But hitting .215 with a .278 on-base % like he did in 2012 is pathetic even by Pennington’s standards. If the D’backs can get him to hit along his career averages of .249 with a .313 on-base % they would be absolutely thrilled.
Arizona brought in Tony Sipp from Cleveland and Heath Bell from the Marlins to beef up the bullpen. Bell lost his closer’s role in Miami last year as he was brutal for the season’s first 5 months. Suddenly in September, he rolled out a 0.82 ERA by allowing just 1 run in 11 innings, striking out 12. That’s the player Arizona hopes they traded for. The one who finished the year with a 5.09 ERA and 1.55 WHIP has no business being on any team with pennant aspirations.
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