2014 Arizona Diamondbacks Team Preview
The expectations in Arizona have been elevated since the D-Backs' worst-to-first NL West turnaround in 2011, but the team has fallen short in each of the last two seasons while carrying a .500 record in back-to-back campaigns.
Not surprisingly, it appeared as though manager Kirk Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers were going to be on the hot seat in 2014 after their contract options were not exercised last fall. Instead, ownership elected to extend both (undisclosed terms) in February, erasing some of the uncertainty the duo faced in the event of another disappointing season.
The overhaul of the D-Backs' roster during Towers' tenure has been remarkable. Since his hiring in September of 2010, many key pieces that were drafted and developed by his predecessors are now wearing different uniforms.
It was another active offseason for Towers, who traded away young talent to add right-handed power to the lineup, and help for the late innings. After flirting with several of the top free agent pitchers on the market, the D-Backs finally landed Bronson Arroyo in February, and avoided giving up the draft compensation necessary to sign the likes of Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez.
With a two-game series in Australia with the rival Dodgers in late March, the D-Backs were the first team to begin spring training workouts this season. While the roster doesn't have any major holes, their are plenty of questions as to whether there is enough talent here to contend with the high-spending Dodgers in the NL West division race.
Most likely, Arizona will be in the mix for the playoffs as one of the two Wild Cards, but even that hope may hinge on the health and performance of a few veterans that disappointed or missed significant time last season – Aaron Hill, Miguel Montero and Trevor Cahill, among others. Last season, it took 90 wins for the Reds to earn the final National League playoff spot, and there may not be enough talent on the roster in Arizona to reach that level without the addition of a key piece or two via trade this season.
Acquired Addison Reed from the White Sox for Matt Davidson.
Presumably, Reed will take over as the D-Backs' closer, but at the very least he'll provide another top-end arm for the late innings. Davidson was blocked in Arizona by Martin Prado and Paul Goldschmidt on the infield corners and was deemed expendable by the team's front office.
Acquired Mark Trumbo from the Angels as part of a three-deal while trading Tyler Skaggs to Anaheim, Adam Eaton to Chicago (AL) and David Holmberg to Cincinnati.
Lacking right-handed power, the D-Backs parted with young talent in areas with depth to bring Trumbo into the heart of their order. He's expected to hit behind Paul Goldschmidt, while taking over as the everyday left fielder. Defensively, the D-Backs take a slight downgrade with Trumbo, but with a pair of talented center fielders in A.J. Pollock and Gerardo Parra, limited range won't be as much of a concern as it would be in other outfields.
Traded Heath Bell to the Rays for Justin Choate and a PTBNL.
Much was made of the Diamondbacks' bullpen philosophy and its failures in 2013, and Bell was a big part of that. Dragged down by a few abysmal months, he posted a very disappointing year, especially given his robust contract, posting a 4.11 ERA and blowing seven saves. Included as part of a three-team trade in December, the Rays will attempt to resurrect Bell's career akin to their previous relief projects (most recently, Fernando Rodney). Lost in the disappointing results was a 9.9 K/9, the highest mark that Bell has posted since his 2010 campaign with the Padres. With the free agent acquisition of Grant Balfour, Bell will likely be assigned a late-inning role next to Joel Peralta for the Rays as part of the bridge to Balfour to start 2014.
Signed free agent pitcher Bronson Arroyo to a two-year deal.
The 2013 season brought more of the same for Arroyo – virtually identical ERA, strikeout, walk and even strand rates - and yet he once again performed better than his component stats might suggest, despite an uptick in his home-run rate. Tony Cingrani's development allowed the Reds to let Arroyo walk in the offseason, but just because he won't be plying his wares in Great American Ballpark doesn't mean you should expect better results in 2014 - last year Arroyo actually had 3.45 ERA at home and 4.31 ERA on the road. The move from one hitter-friendly environment to another doesn't do anything to change Arroyo's value, but his durability could prove valuable for Arizona if Brandon McCarthy falls pray to injury again.
Re-signed Eric Chavez.
Chavez was a very welcome surprise in Arizona last season, having moments when he was the Diamondbacks' best hitter. Despite injury issues that limited him to just 80 games, Chavez hit nine home runs and knocked in 44 runs in what was for the most part a fairly disappointing offense. After the decision to trade away top third-base prospect Matt Davidson in December, Chavez was re-signed by the D-Backs, for whom he'll likely reprise a similar role in 2014.
Re-signed Dan Hudson to a minor league deal.
In a heartbreaking turn of events, Hudson battled back from Tommy John surgery halfway through the 2013 campaign only to suffer a re-injury on the same elbow, forcing a second procedure. He is likely sidelined the vast majority of the 2014 season as a result of the injury, but the D-Backs re-signed him to continue his rehab efforts as a member of their organization during the offseason.
Signed Henry Blanco to a minor league deal.
If he falls short in his bid to make the roster as a player, it's expected that Blanco will join the D-Backs' coaching staff as an assistant hitting coach. Blanco is in camp with the team on a minor league deal, so it's reasonable to think Tuffy Gosewisch has a slight edge as spring training gets underway.
Claimed Alex Sanabia off waivers from the Marlins.
Sanabia was claimed off waivers by the Diamondbacks in October after he threw just over 55 innings, allowing 30 earned runs for the Marlins last season. His big issues were his walk rate (4.1 BB/9) and home run rate (1.6 HR/9). As small a sample size as that is, he's had serious problems with the long ball throughout his career. While his best chance of sticking in the big leagues would likely be a permanent shift to a bullpen role, but the D-Backs may opt to keep him stretched out as a starter, at least through spring training.
Claimed Santos Rodriguez off of waivers from the White Sox.
The White Sox acquired Rodriguez in the 2008 trade that sent Javier Vasquez to Atlanta, but it took him until 2013 to hit the Triple-A level. He struggled in his 24.2 innings at that level, posting a near 10.0 BB/9 along with a 1.95 WHIP. Still, left-handed relievers with mid-to-upper 90s velocity are always in demand, and he could get a shot as a short reliever with the Diamondbacks if he can correct his walk issues.
Projected Lineup (v. RHP/LHP)
1. Gerardo Parra, RF/Martin Prado, 3B
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Mark Trumbo, LF
5. Miguel Montero, C/Cody Ross, RF
6. Martin Prado, 3B/Miguel Montero, C
7. A.J. Pollock, CF
8. Didi Gregorius, SS
Other than Goldschmidt batting third, the D-Backs' lineup should be written in pencil at this stage. Cody Ross should have a prominent role in the middle of the order against lefties, but that's the only clearly defined platoon-drive value play here. There have been whispers that Montero will split up Goldschmidt and Trumbo, but nothing concrete. Pollock could become a candidate to lead off against left-handed pitching, but Prado seems like an even better option at the present time. If Gregorius loses the starting shortstop job to Chris Owings, Owings might be used in a higher spot in the order than the No. 8 spot that Gregorius projects to.
1. Patrick Corbin (L)
2. Trevor Cahill (R)
3. Wade Miley (L)
4. Brandon McCarthy (R)
5. Bronson Arroyo (R)
The two-year deal for Arroyo all but guarantees his spot in the rotation, even though he's listed as the fifth option here. Most likely, Miley and McCarthy are in the final two positions, but it's reasonable to think that the starters will be ordered to alternate handedness as shown above. Corbin is not a lock for the Opening Day assignment, but he was clearly the team's best starter last season and seems to be the best bet for the role.
Next in line: Archie Bradley, Randall Delgado, and Alex Sanabia
Closer: Addison Reed – While the front office made a point to say that Reed will compete with the team's other relievers for the ninth-inning role during spring training, he seems like a good bet to at least begin the season in the role given that general manager Kevin Towers acquired him in a trade this winter despite already having a stable of alternatives at his disposal. Last season, Reed received 48 save opportunities for a 63-win team, and he successfully closed out 40 of them. Reed's average fastball velocity of 92.7 mph is a few ticks slower than other upper-crust closers, but opposing batters only hit .180 off his four-seamer. He exhibited some fatigue in the season's final month with a 7.88 ERA and a 9:8 K:BB in his nine September appearances, but his control (2.9 BB/9) has stabilized and he's been a strikeout-per-inning reliever over two full big league campaigns.
Key Bullpen Members: J.J. Putz, David Hernandez, and Brad Ziegler
Putz closed while working around elbow and finger injuries last season, but Ziegler was very good as his replacement. As an extreme groundballer, Ziegler adds value in a more flexible relief role where he can generate double plays with runners on base as needed. Hernandez is coming back from a disappointing 2013 season, but with a rebound could solidify a high-leverage role.
Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:
When will Archie Bradley break into the rotation?
The February addition of Arroyo seems to put Bradley in Triple-A with Reno to open 2014, but the health of the starters in front of him could ultimately determine when he gets the call. While the front office has publicly insisted that Arroyo's presence doesn't necessarily bump Bradley from the Opening Day roster, it's difficult to see one of the projected top-five losing their spot entirely because of a disappointing spring. It's believed that Bradley could permanently stick upon arrival, however, which would make things interesting depending on the circumstances that pave the way to his first big league opportunity.
Who will finish the season starting at shortstop?
Many scouts said Gregorius was a weak bat, and early on, that didn't appear to be the case (he went deep in his first at-bat as a Diamondback against the Yankees). His hot April and May eventually cooled and he became the hitter most expected, finishing the season with a .252 average and .332 OBP. While he is a potential trade candidate given the D-Backs' organizational depth in the middle infield, his glove will assure him playing time regardless of where he's playing in 2014. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, it's difficult to project an overwhelming improvement from his 2013 numbers at the plate. Chris Owings will receive an opportunity to compete with Gregorius for the starting job this spring.
How will the playing time be distributed in the outfield?
Even with the departure of Adam Eaton, the D-Backs continue to have a logjam in the outfield assuming that Cody Ross avoids setbacks following hip surgery. Platoons could become a big part of the lineup card, which might put A.J.Pollock and Ross on the field consistently against lefties, but jeopardize their chances against right-handed starters. Parra has typically struggled against lefties, but he's a very good defender and may end up sharing center field with Pollock.
Can Miguel Montero rebound to his pre-2013 form?
Montero had a horrid 2013 season, posting full-season career lows in average (.230), OBP (.318) and slugging (.344). By the end of May, he was droppable in shallow mixed formats that utilize one catcher. It's hard to pinpoint just what the problem was for Montero, as his strikeout rate (23.2%) was in line with his 2012 mark, but the quality of his contact fell off as his .114 ISO was a 38-point drop from the previous campaign. Perhaps heavy workloads have taken their toll on Montero, and it's worth noting that he also spent time on the disabled with a back injury. If he's fully healthy during spring training, it's reasonable to think that a bounce back is on tap given his track record of providing steady power numbers near the heart of the Arizona lineup.
A steady rotation – one through five – and deep bullpen. Versatility throughout the lineup with a number of position players is also a potential area of strength, as is the team's defense around the diamond.
The D-Backs lack a dominant starter at the top of the rotation, although Archie Bradley could quickly become that ace.
Rising: Mark Trumbo - At this point in his career, it's likely that what you see is what you get with Trumbo, as the righty slugger had what is rapidly becoming his typical season in 2013. Trumbo struck out a remarkable 27.1 percent of the time in 2013, but may have counteracted it somewhat by raising his walk rate to a respectable 8.0 percent. As we know by now, however, the story of Trumbo is his big-time power, as he posted an ISO of .219, and hit 34 home runs in 2013. His final slash line still leaves more to be desired (.234/.294/.453), but he did reach the 100-RBI plateau for the first time in his career. Traded to Arizona in December, Trumbo will serve as the D-Backs' regular left fielder and combine with the Paul Goldschmidt to form a devastating duo in the middle of the Diamondbacks' order. The move into a much more hitter-friendly environment for half of his games gives Trumbo a chance to push toward the 40-homer plateau.
Declining: Miguel Montero – See above.
Sleeper: Archie Bradley - Bradley is the top prospect in Arizona's farm system. In 152 innings, he posted a 1.84 ERA between High-A and Double-A, with 21 of his 26 starts coming at the latter. Control is the biggest hurdle he needs to overcome, as he carried a 4.3 BB/9 with Mobile last season. Bradley throws a live, high-90s fastball, a hard-breaking knuckle curveball, and a changeup. It's expected that he'll eventually become the D-Backs' No. 1 starter, and an arrival to the big leagues should happen at some point in 2014.
Supersleeper: Cody Ross - Before a hip injury ended Ross' early, he was having a pretty normal year by his standards. Ross hit .278 with a .331 OBP, but struggled to find his power, going deep eight times in 94 games. As an extremely streaky hitter, minor early-season injuries may have prevented Ross from finding his stride. In 2014, he figures into a possible platoon role in the crowded Arizona outfield, depending on how the team decides to build its roster. Ross mashes left-handed pitching, which should enable him to provide sneaky value in deeper leagues provided that he's 100 percent healthy after the significant injury.
Archie Bradley, SP – See above.
Chris Owings, SS/2B - Owings had a fantastic 2013 in Triple-A Reno, hitting .330 and stealing 20 bases. His aggression at the plate hasn't hurt his batting average yet, and it may not be an overwhelming problem given his combination of speed and ability to make hard contact. In the short term, Owings' problem is organizational depth at his position. Despite the fact that he played shortstop and second base last year, he has plenty of hurdles on the depth chart so long as Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hill are in town. He may be a major trade chip for the Diamondbacks, but Owings could end up back at Reno to begin the season awaiting his chance for regular playing time in Arizona.
Braden Shipley, SP - Shipley pitched very sparingly in professional baseball in 2013 after being drafted 15th overall by the D-Backs in June, and he struggled in a very small sample size. A converted shortstop, he's only been pitching a short time. Because of that, Shipley may require extra development time in the Arizona system, and he figures to spend most of the 2014 season in the lower levels of the minors. If he is given a look in full-season ball, Shipley will likely end up in the Midwest League at Low-A South Bend.
Andrew Chafin, SP - The left-handed Chafin had a very good year at High-A and Double-A in 2013, showing improved control after the promotion while seeing his strikeout rate fall. He sports three very effective pitches, mixing a fastball, slider and changeup in his arsenal. Chafin will likely open the season at Triple-A Reno alongside Archie Bradley, and he sits in the same boat as many of the Diamondbacks' young pitching prospects: an injury, trade, or letdown away from a chance at a few starts in Phoenix.
Stryker Trahan, C - Trahan, Arizona's first-round pick in 2012, did not see action with any of the organization's full-season affiliates in 2013, instead spending the year between extended spring training and in the Pioneer League with Missoula. Considered a long-term project as a player drafted out of high school, Trahan will likely move up to Low-A South Bend in 2014, but he may be a player who requires a full season at each of the first three full-season minor league levels before he is considered an option at the big league level. The Diamondbacks want to keep him behind the plate, and the pace with which he picks up the crucial elements of playing the position will dictate his move through the minors more so than his bat, which has shown plenty of pop (.266/.370/.467) through his first two professional seasons.