Thursday, March 3, 2011

The 2011 MLB Preview: The Arizona Diamondbacks | Baseball Digest

The 2011 MLB Preview: The Arizona Diamondbacks | Baseball Digest

When a team finishes in last place in its division for two straight years and averages just 67.5 wins during that time, there is no place to go but up. Such is the case with the 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks.

Starting Rotation

Long gone are the days of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. The Diamondbacks’ rotation is leaning heavily on youth, with 29 yr-old Joe Saunders as the lone veteran assured a spot. Saunders was acquired from the Angels as part of a package that sent Dan Haren to Los Angeles. Saunders went 34-14 in 2008-2009, but he’s coming off a season in which he lost 17 games and gave up nearly 4.5 runs per game.

Ian Kennedy finally translated some of his success in the minor leagues to the majors, finishing with a 3.80 ERA. His command still needs work though, since he led the league in wild pitches and walked better than three batters per nine innings.

Daniel Hudson was one of the most highly touted pitchers in the Chicago White Sox farm system, and for that reason Arizona demanded his inclusion in a deal for Edwin Jackson. The right-hander was dominant after the deal, going 7-1, 1.69 in 11 starts, and averaging better than seven strikeouts per nine innings.

There are no guarantees for the last two spots in the rotation. One of the candidates is Barry Enright, who virtually came out of nowhere in his rookie season last year to win six of his first eight decisions. Even though he lost his last five starts, he still finished with a 3.91 ERA. Enright doesn’t blow away hitters, so command of the zone is essential for his success.

Armando Galarraga and Zach Duke will also vie for the last two spots. Galarraga was acquired from Detroit following a season in which he lost a perfect game to an erroneous call by 1st base ump Jim Joyce. That was the thing to happen for Galarraga last year, as he has been unable to match his rookie success (13-7, 3.73) of 2008. Duke was dealt to the Diamondbacks by the Pittsburgh Pirates after five straight sub-.500 seasons. Despite a promising 4.06 ERA, he lost 16 games in ’09, and when he gave up nearly six runs per game in ’10, Pittsburgh decided he needed a chance of scenery.


J.J. Putz emerged as a top closer when he saved 76 games in 2006-2007, but a number of injuries derailed his next two seasons. Healthy again, Putz bounced back with the White Sox in ’10 as one of the premier set up men in the game. After signing with AZ as a free agent in December, Putz will get the chance to close once again.

The Dbacks’ bullpen was one of the worst in baseball last season, but a couple of Orioles acquired in the Mark Reynolds deal should help turn things around. David Hernandez was originally a struggling starter in the O’s organization before a move to the bullpen gave him a chance to strut his stuff. The 6’9″ Kam Mickolio has impressed the Diamondbacks so far this spring.

Juan Gutierrez didn’t win a game last year and had an ERA over 5.00, but he saved 15 games and struck out batters at a high rate. He’s the early favorite to be Arizona’s eight inning guy. “I think this is a big year for him,” catcher Miguel Montero told the Arizona Republic. “He knows himself better. He knows the league better. I know the hitters know him, but he’s nasty, man. Mariano (Rivera) throws a cutter and everybody knows it’s coming, and they still can’t hit it. (Gutierrez) has got (good) stuff.”

Sam Demel, Esmerling Vasquez, Aaron Heilman (who may also get a chance to vie for the starting rotation), Mike Hampton, and Micah Owings are among those battling for the final three spots in the pen.


1st Base – Is a three player battle to replace Adam LaRoche who signed with the Washington Nationals as a free agent. Veteran Russel Branyan, and youngsters Juan Miranda and Brandon Allen are vying for the position. Branyan is an established slugger/whiff artist while Miranda never got enough at-bats in the Major Leagues with the Yankees to establish himself. Allen’s numbers in Triple-A have been solid (.993 OPS, 25 HR , 86 RBI) , but he only has 54 games worth of experience in the majors. The biggest problem is all three hitters are left-handed. Right-handed hitting outfielder Xavier Nady may see some time at 1st base as well.

2nd Base – In his fifth season in the bigs, Kelly Johnson had a bustout season, setting career highs in HR (26), RBI (71), Runs Scored (93) and OPS (.895). The Diamondbacks are counting on similar production this year.

Shortstop - Stephen Drew has been a model of consistency at the shortstop position. A .272-15-62 season is the type of production Drew can be expected to produce. The soon-to-be 28-yr old has shown the same consistency on defense. Last season he made a career-low 10 errors. His double play partner Johnson had this to say about him last season, “I realize it’s also about range and about when you make the plays and what kind of plays you’re making and the stuff you have to see,. But I’ve seen it. I’ve seen him make diving plays, sliding plays, very good plays. I know he’d like to be hitting better, but he still helps this team every day with his defense.”

3rd BaseMelvin Mora (39) will probably get the bulk of the playing time, though switch-hitter Geoff Blum (38 in Apr.) could see a number of at-bats against right-handers. The two won’t be able to replace the home run or RBI production of Mark Reynolds, but more than anything they will be looked at to provide veteran leadership and hold down the fort until one of the Diamondbacks prospects (Matt Davidson or Bobby Borchering) is ready to play in the bigs.

Outfield – Left field should be a platoon situation for manager Kirk Gibson. Xavier Nady will face left-handers if he’s healthy- his twice surgically-repaired right elbow will slow his progress during spring training, so it may mean more at-bats for a Gerardo Parra. In center, the Diamondbacks would like to see Chris Young cut down on his strikeouts and improve his batting average, but the outfielder can be counted on for 20-25 home runs and 85-90 RBI, which could very well lead the team. Right fielder Justin Upton was so highly touted out of high school that he was taken by Arizona with the very first pick of the 2005 amateur draft. A first-time All-Star in 2009, his numbers dropped off a bit last year. The Diamondbacks are counting on him as one of the keys to the future (though there have been trade rumors centering on him as well).

CatcherMiguel Montero has some good pop in his bat (16 HR in 2009), but played in just 85 games last year due to a knee injury. AZ will be looking for him to pick up where he left off two years ago.

George Vass takes a look at the surprising 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks. The team was just in in its second year of existence and just two years away from a World Series title. Click here to read all about it.

BenchHenry Blanco will back up Montero at catcher, while Parra will back up all three outfield spots. Infielder Tony Abreu will be the utility infielder with the ability to play all three infield positions. Branyan should fill another bench spot while Cole Gillespie has a good shot at the fifth outfield spot. Journeyman Wily Mo Pena is a long shot to make the team.

Manager Kirk Gibson is in his first full season as skipper of the Diamondbacks. He replaced A.J. Hinch after 79 games last season and is the third Diamondbacks manager in three years. The squad was 34-49 under Gibson, but it was a team that was just beginning its transition to a complete rebuilding phase.

Management hopes that Gibson brings the same leadership and fiery tenacity that he had as a ball player to the role of manager. He has a two-year contract as the team gets set to play with a very veteran team this season in preparation for the movement to youth in 2012. Whether Gibson gets the chance to be a teacher remains to be seen.

Front Office – GM Kevin Towers also has a two-year deal, though he has vesting options for future years. He’s in a tough position – on the one hand he has a team with no expectations of success, but he must pick and chooose his parts to get the team competitive again. Towers won’t add any payroll, and he’ll certainly look to move some of the veterans for youth/less experienced players at the deadline. He could also push the button on a Justin Upton deal if he were to get a suitable package in return.

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