To say the Arizona Diamondbacks took the NL West by storm last year is a major understatement.
Kirk Gibson and the Fightin' Snakes were one of the feel-good stories of the year.
Although the Snakes were felled by the mighty Brewers in the playoffs, there is reason to be excited for this season's incarnation of the ball club. Bleacher Report featured correspondent Chris Schad predicts that the Diamondbacks will make the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
With that said, here are five reasons to be excited about the Diamondbacks.
When I first saw the Diamondbacks pitching rotation, I honestly wasn't all that impressed. Ian Kennedy had not been impressive as a Yankee at all; Josh Collmenter and Barry Enright were both part of the rotation but had yet to impress me; Daniel Hudson was still in baby diapers; and Joe Saunders had just washed out of Anaheim back in August 2010.
Looking at the group now, with the addition of Trevor Cahill, I had taken them more seriously.
Kennedy was the winningest pitcher in the NL that year along with Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, with both winning 21 games.
Collmenter took over for a disappointing Armando Galarraga by May, and managed a respectable performance during the year.
With Trevor Cahill as the new staff ace, things are about to burn in the desert. And with the bullpen anchored by JJ Putz, who had a resurgent 2011 after two years of misfortune, not to mention smartest-player-in-baseball Craig Breslow, the Diamondbacks could potentially have a top five staff this year.
Since being drafted straight out of high school back in 2005, Justin Upton has done nothing but exceed expectations. He's a perennial all-star, displays a good mix of power and contact, and is a defensive asset. With Stephen Drew still on the mend from last year, it's extremely likely that Upton will be given a heavier load.
He may move to cleanup with either Miguel Montero or Gerardo Parra moving to third in the lineup, but with a poor man's Adam Dunn (sans the strikeouts) in Paul Goldschmidt coming into the fold, things could potentially go smoother for him as the season progresses. Still, expect another Silver Slugger and a trip to Kansas City for this Star Snake.
Of all the 2011 first rounders, nobody has impressed more than former UCLA ace Trevor Bauer. Bauer, recipient of the 2011 Golden Spikes Award given annually to the top amateur baseball player, got the ball rolling early last summer when he signed way before the deadline. In doing so, he got a head start on most of his competition.
Bauer starts the season down in AA Mobile, but could find himself fast tracked to the majors if he continues his torrid pace. If so, he could find a home in the bullpen or displace someone like Joe Saunders or Josh Collmenter. His presence will make a potentially great team even greater.
While nobody recognizes any coaches with the exception of the manager, it's safe to say that the Diamondbacks are one of the more well coached teams in the league.
Beside Gibson, Alan Trammel serves as bench coach and right hand man. While Trammel's managerial campaign started on a bad note (43-119), and the year after he left, his replacement brought the Detroit Tigers to the World Series, he's rehabbed his reputation as a bench coach, as the chemistry of the team is for the most part good.
Then there's first base coach Eric Young, one of the fastest baserunners of his time, and 2001 World Series hero Matt Williams at third.
Don Baylor, former Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs manager, and a noted batting guru, is the team's hitting coach. Considering how well last year's club did in the batting average department, it's safe to say he could be here for a while.
And to close out the group is former Indians All-Star Charles Nagy. Nagy has been responsible for the development of Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy, Josh Collmenter, and yes, Barry Enright, and to say that his work has done wonders is quite the understatement. If anybody needs a good pitching coach or manager next year, Nagy should be one of the candidates for interview.
Let's take a look at the other four teams in the NL West and compare them to the Diamondbacks:
Rockies: Rotation still has holes from the Ubaldo trade, Troy Tulowitski as the star, 3B Nolan Arenado is the top prospect, and the coaching staff is somewhat questionable. Projected finish, 4th
Dodgers: Rotation has Kershaw, Billingsley, but drops off badly after that, Matt Kemp is the leader, B+ top prospect in P Zach Lee, Coaching staff is on similar level with Arizona, but not exactly their equal. Projected finish, 3rd
Padres: Rotation is young but shows promise. Losses of Latos and Bell will hurt though. Hard to tell who the field leader is on the team, most likely Maybin. Minor league system is stockpiled with talent through trades, led by 1B Yonder Alonso. Coaching staff is not as good as projected. Projected finish: 5th
Giants: Rotation is one of the best in Major League Baseball with Lincecum, Bumgarner, Cain, Wilson, etc. Leader is Buster Posey, despite being lost for most of the season last year. Speedy OF Gary Brown is top prospect. Many Yankee alums make up Bochy's great coaching staff. Projected finish: 2nd
Arizona is the only team that fits all the criterion, as their rotation is young but excellent, they have a true leader in Upton, a top prospect in Bauer, and a coaching staff which accentuates all of the positive aspects of the team. Expect them to take the NL West by storm yet again.