29 May 2011
Many people were skeptical when the Diamondbacks' hired General Manager Kevin Towers during the offseason, and almost no one took Towers seriously when he said "Why not us?" when asked about the team's chances this year. Most experts were picking the Diamondbacks to finish last in the division, and some were even projecting over 100 losses for this team. But the team now sits at 28-24, just one-half game out of first place in the NL West, and Towers deserves plenty of credit for bringing in several new players who have made significant contributions.
1) J.J. Putz - The team clearly needed a closer after suffering through 24 Blown Saves in 2010. Putz was brought in on a 2 year, $10M contract, and has been a perfect 15 for 15 in Save Opportunities. Right now, this looks like an outstanding acquisition.
2) Juan Miranda - Towers traded minor league pitcher Scottie Allen to the Yankees for Miranda, and Miranda has been a big part of the team's resurgence. After a slow start, Miranda is now batting .261/.382/.522 (.904 OPS), and has taken over the starting 1B job from Russell Branyan. Meanwhile, Scottie Allen is pitching in High A ball, and is struggling in the early going, with a 9.27 ERA and 20K/14BB in 22 IP. Allen is only 19, and still has potential, but the Diamondbacks have plenty of pitching depth in the low minors.
3) David Hernandez - Towers' most controversial offseason move was trading 3B Mark Reynolds to the Orioles for a pair of relief pitchers - Hernandez and Kam Mickolio. Hernandez has been the primary set-up man for Putz and has a nice 1.93 ERA with 6 Holds and 1 Save. He does have 15 BB in 24 IP, which is a little troubling, but so far he has managed to escape the jams he has been creating for himself. Mickolio has been shuttling between Arizona and AAA Reno, but has shown the big fastball that makes him an intriguing bullpen option. Meanwhile, Mark Reynolds is still hitting below .200 in Baltimore (.194/.308/.370, .678 OPS ) and is also off to a poor defensive start with 9 Errors and a -7.4 UZR.
4) Zach Duke - He's only made one start for the Diamondbacks because of a spring training injury, but that one start could not have gone much better - 7 scoreless IP with only 3H and 1BB, plus Duke hit a 3-Run HR. Duke should be a solid starter in the back end of the Diamondbacks' rotation for the rest of the season.
5) Henry Blanco - Blanco hasn't played much, but he has slugged 4 HR in just 30 AB, and has thrown out 3 of the 6 runners that have attempted to steal off him. All reports say that Blanco has worked well with the pitching staff and has been a strong mentor defensively for Miguel Montero.
6) Willie Bloomquist - Bloomquist has cooled off considerably, but his hot start in the first two weeks of April generated a lot of excitement and helped get the team off a good start.
7) Xavier Nady and Melvin Mora - These two have played around replacement level overall, but each has contributed 14 RBI in part time play. Mora has driven in 14 of 73 available baserunners (19.2%) while Nady has driven in 13 of 69 (18.8%). That ranks them 3rd and 4th on the club in percentage of available runners driven in, behind only Stephen Drew (21.6%) and Ryan Roberts (19.5%).
8) Armando Galarraga, Geoff Blum, Russell Branyan - OK, these three signings haven't really panned out, but nobody's perfect.
Overall, it's a pretty impressive start for Kevin Towers. He took a bullpen that was historically bad in 2010, and has turned it into an asset in 2011, led by the acquisitions of Putz and Hernandez. Juan Miranda has been solid as the new first baseman. The players that he traded away, Mark Reynolds and Scottie Allen, are off to slow starts with their new teams. The Diamondbacks are playing well, the fans are excited about the team, and the payroll is actually lower than last year's team. Obviously, there is a long way to go this season, but right now, Kevin Towers has to be feeling pretty good with the way the 2011 season has started.