03 April 2012
As we approach the start of the regular season, the position players on the Diamondbacks' Opening Day roster appear set. SS Stephen Drew will start the season on the Disabled List, leaving the shortstop position to a combination of Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald. The rest of the infield starters will be 1B Paul Goldschmidt, 2B Aaron Hill, and 3B Ryan Roberts, with Lyle Overbay and Geoff Blum serving as backup infielders. The outfield will split time among four players - Justin Upton will be the lineup almost every day, but there will be some rotation among Chris Young, Jason Kubel, and Gerardo Parra for the other two spots. Behind the plate, Miguel Montero will get the bulk of the playing time, with Henry Blanco getting about one start per week.
In 2011, the biggest offensive surprises were from Roberts and Parra, while Drew, Melvin Mora, and the group of first basemen (Russell Branyan, Juan Miranda, Xavier Nady) all performed below expectations. Here are my projections for 2012:
Montero should continue to be one of the team's top hitters in 2012. In Spring Training, he's usually been batting in the cleanup slot, behind Justin Upton and in front of Chris Young. But hitting 4th in the Diamondbacks' lineup isn't a great RBI spot, because the first two hitters, Bloomquist and Hill, don't do a particularly good job of getting on base. Depending on the play of Jason Kubel, it is possible that Montero could drop to 6th in the order.
Henry Blanco surprised everyone last year by hitting 8 HR in just 112 AB, his second-highest homer total in fourteen seasons. He probably won't be able to repeat that kind of power in 2012, but he should be adequate offensively, especially against LHP, and solid on defense.
|2010 (Hi A)||525||102||165||35||108||5||57||161||.314||.384||.606|
Paul Goldschmidt had a tremendous first half in AA Mobile last year, and held his own in his first taste of the Majors. He should get the majority of starts at 1B for the Diamondbacks in 2012. There isn't much doubt that Goldschmidt will hit 20+ HRs in the Majors, but there are some questions about his batting average and his strikeouts. He struck out 53 times in 177 plate appearances last year (29.9%), the fifth worst rate in the NL among those with 175 or more plate appearances.
After being released by the Pirates with a .649 OPS in 391 Plate Appearances, Overbay played well for the Diamondbacks in a very small sample size (.840 OPS, 49 PA). That was enough for him to get a new contract with the team for 2012, and he should be a spot starter and key pinch hitter for Arizona.
Like Overbay, Hill also found his batting stroke after joining the Diamondbacks. He was really bad offensively with Toronto in 2010 and 2011, but the team gave Hill a 2 year/$11M deal after six weeks of solid play in Arizona. I think he'll continue to hit well in 2012.
Drew has not played yet in Spring Training, and the team is hoping he can return by mid-May. Even before his injury last summer, Drew had been having a down offensive year, with his lowest AVG, OBP, and SLG in the last four years. Even if his offense is down, he should be an upgrade over Bloomquist and McDonald.
Bloomquist is expected to get the most playing time at SS while Drew is out, although he has really struggled with the bat during Spring Training (.177/.188/.194, with 1 BB and 11K). He probably will do the same thing he always does - hit around .270, with few walks, very little power, and some good speed on the bases.
McDonald will get some starts at SS while Drew is out, especially when there is a ground ball pitcher on the mound like Cahill or Saunders. He is very good defensively, but on offense is quite a bt worse than even Willie Bloomquist. He hasn't had an OBP over .280 since 2005; I'm projecting a big offensive year for him in 2012, all the way to a .290 OBP.
Roberts had a great Spring Training in 2011, and carried that over to an excellent April. The rest of the season wasn't as good, but he continued to display good plate discipline all year. I admit that I was skeptical of Roberts last year, and I'm still not sure if he'll hit well enough to keep the 3B job all season.
Blum missed almost all of the 2011 season with injuries, but should be back for the 2012 season. He can fill in at 3B, 2B, 1B, or LF, but probably not at SS anymore. He has been a pretty good pinch hitter in the past, but doesn't have the bat or the defense to be an everyday player anymore.
Upton had a career high in OBP, HR, and RBI in 2011, and should be able to match or improve on those numbers in 2012. He will be the one outfielder who should be starting almost every day.
Young drew a career high 80 Walks in 2011, and played very well defensively in CF. But he had a large platoon split in 2011, compiling a .939 OPS against LHP compared to only .694 against RHP. As a result, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Parra getting some starts in CF against RHP.
Parra showed improvement across the board in 2011, improving his AVG, OBP, and SLG significantly and also playing Gold Glove defense in LF. But he may see his playing time cut in 2012 from the addition of Jason Kubel. If Parra continues to hit, he could steal at bats from Chris Young in CF. Or if Kubel struggles, then Parra's defensive superiority could make him the everyday LF. But most likely, Kubel will start in LF against all RHP, and Parra will start in LF against LHP, and occasionally in CF against RHP.
I am expecting Kubel to bounce back in 2012 after a sub-par 2011 season. He should be the starter in LF against most RHP, and should supply a valuable left-handed power bat to go with Montero. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him replaced by Parra for defense or a pinch runner late in games.
Here is a summary of the projections for the entire team.
I project the offense to be slightly better than 2011, when the team scored 731 runs for the year. The improvement is from the addition of Kubel, and the improvements at 1B and 2B, where Hill and Goldschmidt are expected to provide better production than the players who took many at bats at those positions last year. Next up is a look at the pitching staff.