Three reasons the 2014 Arizona Diamondbacks could surprise

(photo credit: WildonSports.com)

(photo credit: WildonSports.com)

Coming off of two consecutive seasons of .500 baseball, the Arizona Diamondbacks enter 2014 as an enigma. Part of that is the management controversially shipping away good, young talent for marginal improvements this offseason. As much as Addison Reed and Mark Trumbo improve the 2014 product, Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson and Tyler Skaggs were promising young players and their departure may bite the D-backs in the future.

But they were improvements nonetheless, and could be enough to put this team back in the playoffs. With the Dodgers driving the conversation after ending their season 92-70, Arizona will hope an offseason is enough to close the gap in the NL West.

With spring training later this week, here’s three reasons Arizona will be competitive in 2014.

Best in show

Depending on how much stock you put into the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat, Arizona had two players who were among the best at their position; first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and right fielder Gerardo Parra.

(photo credit: Norm Hall/Getty Images)

(photo credit: Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Goldschmidt’s explosion into the baseball mainstream was one of the most exciting storylines in all of baseball, as the second year pro was third among all NL players in WAR. 29 points away from the NL Triple Crown, Goldschmidt was as exciting as they come, and is one of the true five tool players in the game. Power? 36 home runs. Defense? Golden Glove and Fielding Bible Award at the first base position. Contact? Batted .302 on the season and showing an incredibly disciplined approach. Goldy even added 15 steals, which led first basemen by a wide margin. How Goldschmidt follows up last season will be an exciting thing to watch, and he’ll enter 2014 on the MVP watch list.

Parra’s value is a little more unconventional; instead of flat out raking at the plate like Goldschmidt, Parra is one of the top five defensive players in the game. Only Carlos Gomez, Manny Machado and Andrelton Simmons had more defensive runs saved in 2013. He’s more than just a defensive gem, though. 2013 saw the Venezuelan set career highs in home runs, doubles, hits, walks, runs and at bats. Parra’s offensive evolution over the years is rich complement to a defensive stud who is well on his way to being one of the game’s top all-around outfielders.

Arizona will need these guys to resume business as usual to make a World Series run.

Balance

Coming into the Winter Meetings, the Arizona Diamondbacks had a short shopping list that took them all but two moves to address. Mark Trumbo is the power bat they were looking for and Addison Reed brings depth to a bullpen that suffered from lack of it in 2013.

The fact that those were the only areas of need to the D-backs speaks volumes about the overall depth and talent level on the squad. With those two positions filled, the Diamondbacks have very few true weaknesses. None of the projected starters sported a negative WAR in 2013 (according to ESPN). When a team is that solid top to bottom, it presents no true shortcomings for other teams exploit. The Diamondbacks are built the right way, and depth will be their best friend over the course of a 162 game season.

Bound for some good luck

When the Arizona Diamondbacks made the 2011 postseason, it was in large part due to career years out of Ian Kennedy (21 wins and a 2.88 ERA), Josh Collmenter (then a starter who finished 5th in NL Rookie of the Year voting) and JJ Putz (4th in the majors with 45 saves). On the offensive side of things, Ryan Roberts, Justin Upton and Miguel Montero all had seasons above their career averages.

(photo credit: Ezra Shaw: Getty Images)

Miguel Montero is one of a few D-backs who hope 2014 is better than 2013. (photo credit: Ezra Shaw: Getty Images)

2013 was quite the opposite. Ian Kennedy and Jason Kubel struggled before being shipped off to San Diego and Cleveland, respectively. David Hernandez regressed after a strong 2012 campaign. While there were bright spots such as Goldschmidt, Parra and Hill (when he was healthy), overall Arizona had below average seasons from a lot of key contributors. Among them were Martin Prado, Brandon McCarthy and Miguel Montero.

With that being said, Arizona seems like they are due for some good luck after having several down seasons in 2013. In this article published by Inside the Zona, it explores the Steamer projections of every Diamondback starter. Long story short, a lot of Arizona’s key players are projected to have much better 2014’s then their 2013 campaigns.

For instance, Martin Prado is slated to increase his .282 2013 average to .290 in 2014. Montero specifically is projected for a huge step up after a dismal 2013. While Steamer is far from exact, it is still reassuring that “science” sees several D-backs returning to form, and that could spell good news for the team.

Wild cards

There are a few players I think deserve special mention in respect to a 2014 playoff push.

Archie Bradley will compete with Randall Delgado for the fifth rotation spot out of spring camp. If he wins that job, I have a strange suspicion he will drive the NL Rookie of the Year conversation. It just seems to me that Arizona always receives above average contributions from a rookie starter every year. Before Patrick Corbin, it was Wade Miley and Josh Collmenter. Those players’ performances lead me to believe Bradley will do much of the same in 2014.

Speaking of Josh Collmenter, he was something special in 2013, thriving in the long relief role. His contributions are hard to quantify, but he brings something to the club that will undoubtedly help them win some close games, which is exactly what he did this past season.

Lastly, as I stated in my spring training preview, Cody Ross could be primed for a bounce back year in 2014. I really like him to become one of Arizona’s best offensive players, especially if he can return to his 2012 form that saw him hit 22 home runs and knock in 81 RBI.

Pitchers and catchers report to Diamondbacks camp on Thursday, February 6, marking the unofficial start to the MLB season.

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