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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

Wild on Sports
MLB 2014 Team Preview: 
Arizona Diamondbacks
By Wild on Sports Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview
You win some, you lose some. But back-to-back .500 seasons can’t really be considered a triumph, especially in the wake of some controversial, head-scratching trades including the departure of Justin Upton. Fans were probably wondering where he was while Jason Kubel hit .220, and the ‘extra’ player in that trade, Chris Johnson, almost won a batting title for Atlanta (.321). Oops. Meanwhile, Miguel Montero loses his mojo, but Paul Goldschmidt becomes an MVP candidate.

Winter Grade:
Coming: Mark Trumbo, Bronson Arroyo, Addison Reed
Going: Tyler Skaggs, Adam Eaton, Heath Bell, Matt Davidson (minors)
Also, don’t forget Ian Kennedy is gone as well, having been traded for peanuts on the July 31 deadline. Overall, the stupid mistakes of 2013 are compounded this winter, eroding Arizona’s talent base and solidifying them as mediocre also-rans. For no good reason Adam Eaton is swapped out for Mark Trumbo, and former top prospect Tyler Skaggs is gone in the deal to boot. There are plenty of bad reasons for adding Trumbo’s one dimensional power, however. Trading away Upton and signing the disappointing Cody Ross left Arizona without a reliable right-handed power bat in the outfield. Now they have that, but it won’t amount to much if Trumbo can’t take a few pitches. Addison Reed is a generic reliever, and Matt Davidson is a non-generic third base prospect. But oh well, he’s blocked by Martin Prado, who has to play because right now he’s all they have to show for trading Upton. And why is Bronson Arroyo on this team? He proved he can pitch successfully in a bandbox, but 37-year-olds with no fastball don’t last long. After all these roster shenanigans, Arizona is left with just one blue-chip prospect, Archie Bradley, when a few years ago it looked like they would soon have the best collection of young starters in the league.

Wild Card(s): 
Miguel Montero should be a solid hitting catcher again, as there was no discernable reason for his 2013 collapse other than he started slow and couldn’t recover. Just two years ago he was an on-base machine with above-average power and defense; if that player comes back, maybe Arizona can make a push for the wild card.

On the mound, Brandon McCarthy has never made more than 25 starts, but his 4.53 ERA should go down this year as more of the ground balls he induced last year become outs instead of hits (he got unlucky in this regard last year). A sub-4.00 ERA is very possible. And after Pat Corbin’s season-ending surgery, very needed.

Key Contract 
Years: McCarthy maybe? In their defense, Arizona’s management has done a good job locking up nearly all their useful players, particular their better hitters (Goldschmidt, Aaron Hill, Montero).

Chris Owings won the opening day shortstop job (over Didi Gregorius) and he looked good this spring, and last year hit well during his September big-league call up (.291 in 55 at-bats). However, his .330 batting average and 51 extra-base-hits last year in AAA Reno are not as impressive when you consider that they came with only 22 walks (for a .359 OBP) and in one of the best hitting environments in all of the minor leagues. Owings has mostly been too aggressive in his approach during his minor league career, and his only offensive strength at the moment that will translate to the majors is above average power. His .263/.291/.377 line in half a season with AA-Mobile two years ago offers a more realistic projection of what he might do this year. With above average defense, that’s not a terrible player. But he probably won’t be an all-star.

D-backs fans have more reason to get excited about righty Archie Bradley, the consensus top pitching prospect in baseball going into this year. He’s nearly ready for the majors after blowing hitters away in AA last year. Over all between there and high-A Visalia, Bradley went 14-5 with a 1.84 ERA and 162 K in 152 IP. He walks a lot of batters but his stuff is good enough that Bradley could iron out his command in the majors and still be a dominant starter. He might be their best pitcher by the end of 2014.

Key Questions: 
Speaking of which, when does Bradley get his big chance?
How does the rotation fill out in Pat Corbin’s absence?
Can Randall Delgado be a league-average starter?
What will Arizona do with Didi Gregorius, who is arguably too good to play in AAA or sit on the bench in the majors?
Can any of their incumbent starters improve to all-star level? Right now only Paul Goldschmidt looks like a projectable all-star.

Farm System Overview: YELLOW (average) 
Archie Bradley is the best pitching prospect in the game, but after him and Chris Owings the system is rail thin. There are a handful of interesting recent draft picks, mostly pitchers, but several of their more high-profile signings had terrible years in 2013. 2012 top pick Stryker Trahan was converted from catcher to outfielder this spring, which lowers his prospect status (and obscures his development time frame). Mostly the Diamondbacks system is bad due to hemorrhaging of prospects in their misguided trades. The one major positive note (aside from Bradley’s emergence) was the breakout of third basemen Brandon Drury, acquired from Atlanta in the Upton deal. Drury could be an offensive stud but he’s still very far away.

2014 Prognosis: Possible Contenders
The Diamondbacks have played this game before; over the past decade their rosters have been composed of players who are often solid regulars but rarely stars. That’s made for volatile shifts from one season to the next, oscillating between contention and disappointment. Kevin Towers’ reign as GM has seemingly determined to eliminate some of this unpredictability, swapping out mystery men like Upton and Ian Kennedy for more reliable regulars. That also explains why they’ve had little patience for high-upside, low-control prospects like Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer. But by raising the floor, Towers has also lowered Arizona’s ceiling. They are a strong bet to hover around .500, but it will take a fair bit of luck for them to move beyond that threshold.


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