2011 pre-season preview: NL West – Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks (2010 record: 65-97)

Notable additions: 1B Russell Branyan, LHP Zach Duke, RHP Armando Gallaraga, RHP David Hernandez, 3B Melvin Mora, OF Xavier Nady, RHP J.J. Putz

Notable subtractions: 1B Adam LaRoche, 3B Mark Reynolds, RHP Brandon Webb

Arizona is an organization that is floundering, always taking a step to one side and then to the other, but never forward. The moves the front office made this winter continued to trend the organization in the wrong direction. IMHO, you do NOT trade a slugging third baseman for two young and largely unproven relief pitchers – not unless one of those relievers is named Andrew Bailey.

In the last year, the front office purged starting pitchers Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson, 1B Adam LaRoche and 3B Mark Reynolds, among others, from the roster… these four guys could be the nucleus of a very good team. In their place, the organization added Daniel Hudson, Joe Saunders, Russell Branyan and Melvin Mora. What is going on? Does GM Kevin Towers actually have a plan?

While I like Hudson, the rest of these additions are completely and utterly forgettable. And now they’re rumored to be shopping OF Justin Upton. I’m not sure I trust Towers and the rest of his front office to get a suitable return on someone like Upton… after all, this is an organization that thought Saunders, prospect Tyler Skaggs and two marginal minor leaguers was a sufficient return for a front-of-the-order guy like Haren!

The offense:

The lineup set a record by striking out 1529 times last year. Regardless, the offense still managed to rank 8th (of 16 teams) in the league last year… but now the team has suffered the loss of both of its corner infielders (LaRoche and Reynolds). The front office went trawling this winter and came up with Branyan and Mora, sacrificing power, production and defense.

At the conclusion of last season, Towers and manager Kirk Gibson hired Don Baylor to serve as the club’s new hitting coach, but by purging the lineup of LaRoche and Reynolds they have given him much less raw talent to work with – the lineup is now older and has less inherent ability.

Catcher: Miguel Montero

Infield: Russell Branyan (1B), Kelly Johnson (2B), Stephen Drew (SS) and Melvin Mora (3B)

Outfield: Xavier Nady (LF), Chris Young (CF) and Justin Upton (RF)

What went right: 2B Kelly Johnson had a breakout season after coming over from Atlanta… based on prior performance and his peripherals, it appears the growth he demonstrated last season may be for real. SS Stephen Drew has been all right, but he has not lived up to the high expectations that accompanied him upon his arrival in the big leagues – a review of his metrics indicate the skill set is certainly there, now it’s a matter of living up to his potential. CF Chris Young improved last season… his walk rate, hit rate and batting eye suggest the current growth is sustainable and that he can augment what he accomplished in 2010.

What went wrong: While Justin Upton has extraordinary potential, there are reasons the ballclub has started entertaining trade offers. His contact rate is extremely low — and if his hit-rate ever regresses towards “the norm” then he becomes a .240-.250 hitter with pedestrian pop and speed. Ultimately, the Diamondbacks need to sell high on him. I believe he’s likely going to be just like his brother, BJ – a guy with extraordinary physical tools who doesn’t have the mental game to match. The team expected big things from Montero last season after he hit .294, with 16 HR and 59 RBI in 2009, but he tore the meniscus in his right knee in early April… he consequently played in only 85 games last year. He never really recovered from the injury, and questions persist as to whether the injury will affect him in 2011.

The pitching staff:

The front office brought in a couple of arms to address the problem it had with the relief corps last season, when the bullpen posted a 5.74 ERA (the 6th-worst mark in major league history). I like the addition of Putz, but David Hernandez, Kam Mickolio, et al, are not the answer to what ails this team.

Daniel Hudson is a top-of-the-rotation stud with a nice career ahead of him, and Ian Kennedy has flashed some of the potential that many pundits have touted. Otherwise, the rest of the rotation leaves much to be desired. Saunders has never impressed me an iota (his low DOM and low (1.8) strikeout-to-walk ratio mean he has little hope of getting out of trouble once it arrives). Enright posted decent numbers overall, but saw a dramatic regression in many of his peripherals as the season progressed — his 2nd-half ERA was propped up by an unsustainable hit percentage (25%). The No. 5 starter will likely be Zack Duke, whose ERA and WHIP were pretty ugly last year, but largely based on bad luck. He suffered with a higher-than-average 35% hit rate and a brutal 68% strand rate… those numbers should trend towards average and allow him to post an ERA in the vicinity of a 4.20-4.30 this year.

In the bullpen, JJ Putz will be a welcome addition in the closer’s role, but the bullpen is otherwise littered with the chaffe no other organization wanted. Towers needed to get much more than Hernandez and Mickolio for Reynolds if he wanted to straighten out his bullpen woes.

Prediction for 2011: 5th place, 67-95

It says here the Diamondbacks will struggle to avoid losing 100 games in 2011. In my opinion, the only thing that has gone right for this organization in recent months is the acquisition of Hudson. In my opinion, the front office clearly missed – and missed badly – in terms of the return it received in trading away Haren and Reynolds. The rotation is bad… the lineup is worse… and the front office failed miserably in its opportunity to re-stock the farm system.


Top Five Prospects:

1. Jarrod Parker, RHP
2. Tyler Skaggs, LHP
3. Matt Davidson, 3B
4. Chris Owings, SS
5. Marc Krauss, OF

Jarrod Parker was the Diamondbacks’ first-round pick (9th overall) in the ’07 MLB First Year Player Draft. He dominated throughout his first two professional seasons and was selected to pitch in the 2009 Futures Game. He was shut down before the end of the ’09 season and underwent Tommy John surgery in the off-season. He missed all of last season while recovering from surgery.

His fastball and slider were the two best pitches in the Diamondbacks’ system prior to his injury. His fastball sat firmly in the mid-90s and touched 97 on occasion. He was able to throw it with control and blow it by hitters up in the zone. He threw it to both sides of the plate and could keep it knee high or bust it up-and-in. That said, his Frisbee slider was actually his best pitch – sitting between 81-84 mph with a sharp, two-plane break. It rated a plus-plus pitch and rated a “70″ on the 20-80 scouting scale.

He rated among the best pitching prospects in all of baseball prior to his injury. It remains to be seen whether his “stuff” will return in the aftermath of surgery.

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