2008 MLB Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks
Manager: Bob Melvin
Arrivals: P Billy Buckner, 2B Chris Burke, P Juan Gutierrez, SP Dan Haren, RP Chad Quall
Departures: 1B Tony Clark, SP Livan Hernandez, OF Carlos Quentin, RP Jose Valverde
Offseason grade: A-
The addition of Dan Haren gives the Diamondbacks the National League's best 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. Haren and Brandon Webb both posted an ERA below 3.10 while striking out over 190 batters for the A's and Diamondbacks, respectively.
Nobody will want to face those two back-to-back. It wouldn't surprise me if either Webb or Haren won the Cy Young this year—especially Haren, who should benefit from his move from the AL to NL.
Randy Johnson is apparently healthy after only starting ten games in 2007. While Johnson may be 44, he still looked good in those ten starts, posting a 3.81 ERA and striking out 72 over just 56.2 innings.
The Diamondbacks, however, should not count on Johnson, 44, to pitch any more than 15-20 starts this year.
So what will they do when Johnson goes down with an inevitable injury? There are a few options for Bob Melvin & Co. in case the Big Unit becomes the Big Injured.
Yusmiero Petit started ten games for the Diamondbacks last year, going 3-4 with a 4.58 ERA. Petit, 23, will likely start the season at AAA Tucson and with a good performance could be first in line to be called up in the likely event of a Johnson injury.
Billy Buckner and Juan Gutierrez also have started a few games at the MLB level, but are not as good of options as Petit.
The most interesting pitcher who could possibly take over for an injured Johnson is Max Scherzer. Scherzer, Arizona's 2006 first-round pick out of The University of Missouri, has only thrown one year in the Diamondbacks' system, has already earned rave reviews.
After posting a 3.28 ERA at the A+ and AA levels, Scherzer was added to the Diamondbacks 40-man roster in the offseason and will start the year at AAA Tucson. With a good performance in Tucson, Scherzer could see a few starts at the MLB level in place of Johnson.
Doug Davis and Micah Owings will round out the D-Backs rotation very nicely. Davis is a soft-tossing lefty who is a nice fit at the back of Arizona's rotation. He will win 11-13 games and put up an ERA in the low to mid fours.
Owings should improve in his second full year in the majors after going 8-8 with a 4.30 ERA in his rookie season. Don't be surprised if Owings ends up with 13-15 wins and an ERA below 4 in 2008.
If he doesn't, though, he's still a heck of a hitter (20 hits in 60 at-bats, 4 home runs, 15 RBI in 2007).
Even if Johnson goes down, the Diamondbacks still have a top-notch starting rotation that will give them every opportunity to make the playoffs in 2008.
Starting rotation grade: A-
The Diamondbacks didn't lose anything in their bullpen despite trading away Jose Valverde, who had 47 saves in 2007.
Why is that? Because all indications point to Brandon Lyon being just as good of a closer as Valverde.
Lyon posted a 2.68 ERA over 74 innings last year and has really come into his own in his last two years with the Diamondbacks. He should have no problem transitioning into the closer's role.
Setting up Lyon will be Tony Pena, who everybody thought was going to compete with Lyon for the closer's role in Spring Training. Pena's ERA was a very good 3.27 last year and with another year of experience under his belt, Pena could become a premier 8th inning setup man.
Chad Qualls and Juan Cruz both are very good middle relievers who add a lot of depth to the Arizona bullpen.
When Doug Slaten returns from a knee injury, Arizona will add even more depth to their bullpen.
The most glaring issue facing Arizona's bullpen, however, is that they do not have one single left-hander for Melvin to turn to.
It never hurts to have a lefty to come in and play the percentages, but this is an Arizona bullpen that has pitchers who will get outs against left or right-handed hitters. They may not be the flashiest group, but I'll be drinking some sweet bullpen kool-aid until proven otherwise.
Arizona's lineup is young. Very young.
And that's not a bad thing. This lineup should show a lot of improvement off a 2007 in which their team batting average was .250 and their team OBP was .321.
Of the D-Backs' projected starting position players, only two–Orlando Hudson and Eric Byrnes—were born before 1980. Not coincidentally, O-Dog and Byrnes are Arizona's two most consistent hitters.
Neither Hudson nor Byrnes are a legitimate power threat, however.
Justin Upton has been compared to Ken Griffey Jr. and could be that threat down the road, but let's give Upton a full year at the major-league level before crowning him as the second coming of Junior.
Chris Young belted 32 home runs and may be that power threat. Young's OBP, however, was a dismal .295 last year–a number and that will have to significantly improve if he hopes to be the power threat the Diamondbacks need.
Conor Jackson is a very solid hitter who has a good chance at being a .300 hitter this year. But Jackson's home run ceiling is likely around 25-30 home runs—good numbers again, but not the power threat Arizona needs.
The same can be said for Mark Reynolds, who could hit around 25 home runs if he plays a full season.
Keep an eye on Stephen Drew, who, like Young, had a batting average below .240 last year. Like Young, however, Drew had the potential to make great strides in production this year, adding another very good hitter to this Arizona lineup.
As you can tell, the issue I have with Arizona's lineup is that they don't have a legit power threat. I can see Young or Upton becoming that power threat, but that's not a sure bet at this point.
Despite not having a legit power threat going into this year, I still really like Arizona's lineup. They have a collection of good, solid MLB hitters who I would fully expect to have success in 2008.
Lineup grade: B
The addition of Chris Burke gives Arizona a jack-of-all-trades who is listed at all eight positions on Arizona's depth chart. He may not have a top-notch bat, but he gives Arizona a ton of flexibility.
If Chad Tracy sticks around, he would be the good bat off the bench for Arizona.
Even though I'm nowhere near being a Cubs fan, I've always had a soft spot for Augie Ojeda, the weak little middle infielder who always finds a way to play at the MLB level. Ojeda provides slick defense a bit of contact off the bench for Arizona.
Bench grade: B-
This Arizona team looks like they have nowhere to go but up. There's a big difference between being young and being young and good—and Arizona is young and good.
They'll not only win this year, but for years and years to come.
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