03 April 2010
The Diamondbacks are wrapping up Spring Training with a record just below .500, 15-16, with one game remaining. The high point of spring training was the offense, which featured nice performances by Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, Chris Young, Tony Abreu, Conor Jackson, and Stephen Drew. On the pitching side, starers Ian Kennedy and Rodrigo Lopez had very nice springs, as did relievers Juan Gutierrez and Jordan Norberto. The biggest disappointment of the spring was the uncertainty about Brandon Webb. Another problem was the pitchers battling for the back of the rotation - Billy Buckner, Kevin Mulvey, and Bryan Augenstein, who all lost the battle for the #4 SP slot to the veteran Lopez and have been sent down to AAA to battle for the right to be called up when a #5 starter is needed (along with the recently-signed Kris Benson). Also, the veteran pitchers in the bullpen (Howry, Heilman, Qualls, Boyer, Rosales) did not do anything to make fans forget the bullpen problems of 2009.
Miguel Montero, Chris Snyder.
Montero has not hit well in spring training (.180/.317/.240), but will go into the season as the starter. However, Manager A.J. Hinch says that Snyder will see significant playing time. "They're both starting catchers in my eyes, and it's important that they stay fresh. Montero is going to start early on and play a tick more than [Snyder], but that doesn't mean that Snyder is going to be buried or be an afterthought, he's a big part of that catching tandem." Snyder also did not hit that well in Spring Training (.232/.267/.304), but did show that he is fully recovered from last year's back surgery. Snyder defense is still regarded as superior to Montero's.
This may end up being a straight platoon, with Montero starting against RHP, and Snyder starting against LHP. Between the two, expect around 25 HR and 90 RBI.
LaRoche will be the everyday starter for the Diamondbacks at 1B, and should bat cleanup. He should hit well in Chase Field, and 25 HR and 100 RBI are reasonable expectations for him. Brandon Allen was impressive during ST (.344/.436/.656), but will spend most of the year at AAA. There has been talk of Allen playing a little LF in addition to 1B while in the minors.
Kelly Johnson, Tony Abreu
Kelly Johnson will be the starter at 2B, although Tony Abreu (.351/.367/.544) did outplay him in ST. Johnson has a better batting eye and should provide more power than Abreu, while Abreu is better defensively. Expect around a .275-15 HR-65 RBI season from Johnson.
Stephen Drew, Augie Ojeda
Drew had a nice ST (.371/.414/.600) and will bat either 1st or 2nd for the Diamondbacks. 2009 was a disappointing offensive season for Drew, but the team expects him to bounce back in 2010. Expect a batting average around .270 with double-digit HR and around 90 runs scored.
Reynolds will play everyday at 3B, and should be good for 35 HR, 100 RBI, and 15-20 SB, but with a .250 batting average and lots of strikeouts. He's coming off a good spring that saw him hit .364/.446/.709 with 3 SB.
Conor Jackson, Chris Young, Justin Upton, Gerardo Parra, Ryan Roberts
Conor Jackson hit .340 in ST with 3 HR, and had 10 walks with only 3 strikeouts. Manager A.J. Hinch experimented with Jackson in the leadoff spot quite a bit in ST, since Jackson will probably have the best OBP on the team. If he doesn't bat 1st, he'll be in the #2 slot. Either way, he should score a lot of runs batting in front of Upton, LaRoche, and Reynolds. Expect a .290/.350/.430 line from Jackson, with around 15 HR and 10 SB.
Chris Young cemented his place as the starting CF with a nice spring (.317/.414/.600) that followed up a strong Spetmber last year. Most encouraging for Young was his plate discipline in ST, with 10 walks and only 9 strikeouts in 57 AB. Young probably will not hit for a high average, but he should provide at least 15-20 in the HR and SB columns.
Justin Upton should be the best player on the D'backs in 2010. In ST, he led the team in HR with 6, RBI with 20, and Batting Average at .385. For the 2010 season, expect around .290 with 30 HR and 100 RBI, plus 20+ SB.
Gerardo Parra should be the 4th OF, despite a poor ST. He really struggled against LHP in 2009, but may steal some ABs from Chris Young against RHP. Ryan Roberts also had a poor spring (.185/.279/.352) with 15 K/5 BB in 54 AB. Roberts has shown good hitting against LHP in the past, but isn't expected to get significant playing time unless injuries strike. Rusty Ryal is still an option in place of Roberts; Ryal should provide more power, but a lower OBP. This last roster spot will be decided on Saturday.
The leadoff hitter will be either Jackson or Drew, but the rest of the lineup appears set.
LF Conor Jackson
SS Stephen Drew
RF Justin Upton
1B Adam LaRoche
3B Mark Reynolds
C Miguel Montero
2B Kelly Johnson
CF Chris B. Young
The Diamondbacks should be a very good offensive team. The only question marks are Chris Young and Kelly Johnson, but everyone else should be above average. The bench should also be valuable offensively, with Abreu, Parra, Snyder, and Roberts all providing some useful offensive skills.
Defense was a problem for the Diamondbacks last year, and could be again this year. In the infield, only Stephen Drew is likely to be a positive defensively, while Adam LaRoche should be average and Kelly Johnson and Mark Reynolds slightly below. The outfield should be better, as all three of Jackson, Young, and Upton have good range. Consistency has been an issue for Young and Upton. The bench should be quite good defensively, as Ojeda, Abreu, and Snyder are all better defenders than the people starting ahead of them.
Dan Haren, Brandon Webb (DL), Edwin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, Rodrigo Lopez, Billy Buckner, Kris Benson, Kevin Mulvey
will be the Opening Day starter and the ace of the staff. He had a solid 22K/5BB ratio in 24 spring IP, and should be one of the Top 5 starters in the NL in 2010. In 2009, Haren finished second in the NL in Innings Pitched, and was first in WHIP and K/BB. Unfortunately, Haren's ERA in the 2nd Half jumped from 2.01 to 4.62, as it has for the last four seasons. But Haren's FIP numbers stayed solid throughout the year, and he should be fine in 2010.
had a cortisone injection last Thursday, and will try pitching again again next week. His recovery from a shoulder injury has been very frustrating for both him and the team, since he has days where he feels great followed by days where his arm feels "stagnant". Webb hasn't been feeling any pain in his shoulder, but hasn't really cut loose from the mound. Webb is still hoping to be ready by May, but his return is definitely a question mark.
is counted on to provide around 200 IP for the D'backs, something that the team thought Max Scherzer would be unable to provide. Jackson went 13-9 with a 3.62 ERA in 2009, but his FIP was quite a bit higher at 4.28, and there are some concerns about how well he will do in Chase Field. This spring, Jackson has been shaky, with a 5.32 ERA and 6K/13BB in 23.2 IP. He appears healthy, and the team has to hope he turns things around once the real seasons starts.
Along with Jackson, Ian Kennedy
was acquired in last December's Max Scherzer trade. Kennedy has had outstanding numbers in AAA (7-4, 2.14 ERA, 131K/35BB in 126 IP), but is still looking for some success at the Major League level. He pitched very well in Spring Training, going 3-1 with a 2.88 ERA and 17K/5BB in 25 IP. I expect an ERA around 4.00 from Kennedy, with double-digit wins and around 150 strikeouts.
was a non-roster invitee to camp, and ended up winning the #4 starter job. Lopez was outstanding in spring training, compiling a 1.64 ERA and 16K/4BB in 22 IP. Lopez only pitched 30 IP in 2009, and missed all of 2008 with injuries, so it's not clear how durable or effective he will be. But the D'backs are going to give him a chance.
was expected to be the #4 starter after pitching well in AAA and in September for the D'backs (3-3, 3.93 ERA, 31K, 2 HR in 36.2 IP). This spring, however, Buckner was rocked for 21 ER in 18.2 IP, and was optioned to AAA. The only good news about his spring was that he did strike out 18 during those 18.2 IP, but he did walk 8 and allow 4 HRs. Buckner will get a couple of starts in Reno to earn the #5 spot that will be needed in mid-April.
Kris Benson was a late signee for the D'backs, and allowed 3 ER in 4.2 IP in his only spring training appearance, with 2K/4BB. He will also go to AAA and battle for the #5 slot, along with Kevin Mulvey. Mulvey also was rocked in ST, allowing 15 runs (6 ER) in 9.1 IP, with 5K/7BB.
Chad Qualls will be the closer for the Diamondbacks. He appears to be healthy, and had 5K/1BB in 9.1 innings in ST, although he did allow 8 ER.
If Qualls falters, Juan Gutierrez
may be ready to step into the closer's role. Gutierrez has been the team's best reliever all spring, throwing 8.2 scoreless innings while allowing only 1 hit and 2 walks while striking out 7. Manager A.J. Hinch says that Gutierrez will pitch "important innings" for the team. "On days that Chad Qualls isn't available, he's our ninth-inning guy. On days when the eighth inning matches up well for him, he's our eighth-inning guy, and there may be an out or two in the seventh inning I ask him to get."
The surprise of the bullpen has been lefthander Jordan Norberto
, who only allowed 1 hit and 1 ER in 8.2 IP. Norberto spent most of 2009 in High-A ball, and struggled when he was advanced to AA. Control has always been an issue for Norberto, and in ST, he did have 6 BBs and 1 HBP in his 8.2 IP. But with lefthanders Clay Zavada (8.00 ERA) and Zach Kroenke (7.71) struggling in ST, the D'backs are going with Norberto as the lefthander in the pen.
The rest of the bullpen had a very shaky spring training. Bob Howry, who I discussed in this article
, had a 6.35 ERA, allowing 17 H, 8 ER, and 3 HR in 11.1 IP. The other right-handers in the pen, Aaron Heilman (7.36), Blaine Boyer (6.30), Leo Rosales (6.75), and Esmerling Vasquez (5.59) also were unimpressive, although Vasquez did rack up 11 strikeouts in 9.2 IP.
The fate of the 2010 season depends on the return of Brandon Webb. If Webb is able to return in May and pitch like the 2006-2008 version, the team's rotation should be among the best in the league. If not, the D'backs must hope that Rodrigo Lopez and Billy Buckner will provide some quality innings at the back end of the rotation. In the bullpen, only closer Chad Qualls and setup man Juan Gutierrez can be counted on. The strength of this team should be the offense. With Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, and Adam LaRoche, the D'backs have three 30 HR threats. Conor Jackson and Stephen Drew have solid on-base skills at the top of the order, and Kelly Johnson and Chris Young provide some pop at the bottom. The catching tandem of Miguel Montero and Chris Snyder should provide 25 HRs, and the bench has a good mix of skills.
If Webb is able to contribute in 2010, the Diamondbacks should win 85-88 games, and be in the hunt for the Division title and the Wild Card. Hopefully the team can add one more starter and a quality bullpen arm or two to before the trade deadline. Without Webb, a .500 season is more likely.