Complete Arizona Diamondbacks 2014 Season Preview

Geoff Ratliff@@geoffratliffContributor IIIMarch 21, 2014

Complete Arizona Diamondbacks 2014 Season Preview

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    Will Gibson and Goldschmidt lead Arizona to the top of the NL West in 2014?
    Will Gibson and Goldschmidt lead Arizona to the top of the NL West in 2014?Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    The Arizona Diamondbacks have high hopes for the 2014 season, after missing the playoffs in each of the past two years. Following back-to-back .500 seasons the D’Backs underwent an aggressive offseason makeover in an attempt to compete with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants in what’s expected to be a very competitive NL West race.

    Arizona hopes that the additions of Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed (via separate offseason trades) and the signing of Bronson Arroyo will fill be enough to fill holes in its lineup, bullpen and starting rotation, respectively.

    The Diamondbacks can count on another standout year from last year’s NL, MVP runner up Paul Goldschmidt. If Arizona gets a repeat performance from its star first baseman, strong seasons from the new players and bounce back years from a few key veterans, it may have enough to unseat the Dodgers as division champs.

    The following is a comprehensive breakdown of the D’Backs’ 2014 season, which they hope ends with their own party in the pool.

1. Spring Training Recap

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    Chris Owings emerged as the favorite to start at shortstop.
    Chris Owings emerged as the favorite to start at shortstop.Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    It would be overly optimistic to put too much stock in Arizona’s spring training results. However, the early signs out of the Cactus League point to the D’Backs finishing with a winning record for the first time since 2011.

    Veterans Martin Prado (.475 batting average), Gerardo Parra (.342) and Aaron Hill (.300) all looked to be in mid-season form at the plate. These three in particular will be expected to provide offensive support around Goldschmidt, so the spring results are encouraging.

    A.J. Pollock, who will open the season as Arizona’s starting center fielder, also looked good at the plate during Cactus League play. Pollock produced an impressive .425/.477/.750 slash line this spring, and looks more than ready to replace former top prospect Adam Eaton in the outfield and at the top of the D’Backs lineup.

    Rookie Chris Owings didn’t have a spectacular spring in the field or at the plate. However, the hot prospect showed enough to emerge as the favorite to be Arizona’s starting shortstop to open the season.

    Although Owings will be the likely starter, Didi Gregorius will push Owings to hold on to the job early in the season.

    The biggest question coming out of spring training will be the future of Arizona’s top pitching prospect Archie Bradley. Bradley didn’t have a particularly strong spring, posting a 4.32 ERA and a disconcerting 10:6 KK:BB ratio in three spring training starts (totaling 8.1 innings pitched). However, injuries to Patrick Corbin and Bronson Arroyo may force the D’Backs to give Bradley a major league start or two before returning him to the minors in mid-April.

2. Injury Updates Entering Opening Day

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    The loss of Corbin will be a major blow to Arizona's rotation.
    The loss of Corbin will be a major blow to Arizona's rotation.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Corbin’s injury will be the biggest blow to Arizona’s playoff chances in 2014. He was expected to be Arizona’s opening day starter after a breakout 2013. However, a partially torn ligament in his pitching elbow may keep the 24-year-old lefty out for the entire season.

    Arroyo was also expected to be a major contributor to the starting rotation after joining the D’Backs as a free agent this past winter. But he may be forced to go on the disabled list (for the first time in his career) to start the season, due to a troubling back injury.

    The 36-year-old right-hander has yet to pitch in a game since February 27, and it’s unknown when he’ll be ready to take the mound again.

3. Lineup Preview

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    Goldschmidt will power an improved D'Backs lineup.
    Goldschmidt will power an improved D'Backs lineup.Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

    The Diamondbacks should be an improved offense this year with the return of Goldschmidt and the addition of Trumbo.

    Goldschmidt terrorized National League pitching to the tune of 36 home runs, 125 RBI and a .302 batting average last season. Trumbo, in his first season in the NL, will look to post his third consecutive 30-plus home run season while protecting Goldschmidt out of the cleanup spot.

    As important as Goldschmidt and Trumbo are, Arizona needs Pollock, Prado, Hill and catcher Miguel Montero to hit well around them to have any shot at a division title.

    Pollock was a surprise contributor in 2013 after unexpectedly filling in for the injured Eaton. But Prado, Hill and Montero all had disappointing seasons, mainly due to injuries of their own.

    If Pollock proves to be a capable leadoff hitter and the three veterans can bounce back this year, Arizona could have one of the league's better offenses.

    Projected Arizona Batting Order:

    1. A.J. Pollock, CF

    Last year's surprise fill-in is looking forward to a breakout campaign in his first year as a full-time starter.

    2. Martin Prado, 3B

    A rough start to the 2013 campaign distorted Prado's overall numbers from last season. However, he hit .324 after the All-Star break, providing hope for a strong 2014 season.

    3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B

    What will Goldschmidt do for an encore after finishing second in the 2013 NL MVP race? Arizona would be happy with more of the same from the slugging first baseman.

    4. Mark Trumbo, LF

    Trumbo may struggle adjusting to better pitching in the NL West. However, that adjustment could also be offset by the move to a more hitter-friendly home park.

    5. Aaron Hill, 2B

    Hill was solid when he was in the lineup last season. However, injuries limited him to just 87 games in 2013.

    6. Miguel Montero, C

    After thriving at the plate in 2011 and 2012, Montero struggled to hit .230 in 2013. He'll need to return to his previous form if the D'Backs are going to contend in 2014.

    7. Gerardo Parra, RF

    Parra disappointed at the plate during his first season as a full-time player. Arizona needs the Gold Glove outfielder to swing a bat that matches the quality of his glove.

    8. Chris Owings, SS

    Owings won't face a ton of pressure to hit at the bottom of the lineup. However, he has to be much more than an automatic out to keep Gregorious from reclaiming the starting job.

4. Rotation Preview

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    Injuries have forced McCarthy into the role of Opening Day starter.
    Injuries have forced McCarthy into the role of Opening Day starter.Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    What initially seemed like an area of strength is now the D'Backs' biggest question mark heading into the season. The injuries to Corbin and Arroyo have crippled the depth of the starting rotation, and now it's anybody's guess who Arizona's best starter is.

    Projected Arizona Starting Rotation:

    1. Brandon McCarthy, RHP

    McCarthy has emerged as the de facto Opening Day starter, and is looking to bounce back from a significant head injury from last year. Arizona is hoping that he can regain his 2011 and 2012 form when he was a standout member of the Oakland Athletics rotation.

    2. Wade Miley, LHP

    Miley came back down to Earth in 2013 after a breakout 2012 season. He's still a solid No. 3 starter, but the Diamondbacks could really use the 2012 version of Miley.

    3. Bronson Arroyo, RHP

    Arroyo's back may land him on the DL to start the season. However, he's been the NL's most reliable starter over the past seven seasons. Arroyo leads the majors in wins since 2006 and hasn't missed a start during that time.

    4. Trevor Cahill, RHP

    Injuries limited Cahill to 146.2 innings (25 starts) in 2013 following three consecutive seasons of at least 196.2 innings and 30 starts. With this year's rotation already depleted, Cahill must return to being a workhorse for Arizona.

    5. Randall Delgado, RHP/Archie Bradley, RHP

    Arizona's win-now approach to the 2014 season may leave them inclined to give Bradley a shot in the majors right away. However, the flame-throwing prospect needs a little more seasoning in the minors.

    With 43 major league starts to his credit, Delgado is clearly better suited to start the season as Arizona's fifth starter.

5. Bullpen Preview

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    The D'Backs acquired Reed to add stability to their bullpen.
    The D'Backs acquired Reed to add stability to their bullpen.Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    The Diamondbacks looked to fill one of their biggest needs last offseason by acquiring Reed from the Chicago White Sox.

    Arizona finished 12th in the NL with 38 saves and led the league in blown saves with 29. The D'Backs need Reed to emerge as the shutdown closer that he was projected to be as a top prospect in the White Sox's farm system.

    Reed amassed 69 career saves over the past two seasons in Chicago. But he also has a less-than-stellar 4.17 career ERA and blown 12 saves to his credit.

    Former closer J.J. Putz will be ready to step in if Reed falters. However, Arizona is really hoping it won't have to turn to plan B.

    Arizona Bullpen:

    Addison Reed, RHP (closer)

    Brad Ziegler, RHP

    J.J. Putz, RHP

    Josh Collmenter, RHP

    Josh Thatcher, LHP

    Oliver Perez, LHP

    David Hernandez, RHP

    Will Harris, RHP

    Eury De La Rosa, LHP

    Charles Brewer, RHP

    Bo Schultz, RHP

    Zeke Spruill, RHP

    Ryan Rowland-Smith, LHP

6. Prospects to Watch

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    Bradley may have to help the Diamondbacks earlier than expected.
    Bradley may have to help the Diamondbacks earlier than expected.Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

    In Bradley (No. 9) and Owings (No. 66), the D'Backs have two of Baseball America's 2014 Top 100 prospects, and both could be counted on to help the major league club on Opening Day. Owing's has emerged as the likely starter at shortstop, and injuries may force Bradley into the starting rotation sooner than expected.

    Right-handed pitcher Braden Shipley (No. 62) is Arizona's only other prospect ranked among Baseball America's Top 100. However, the 22-year-old isn't expected to help the major league club before 2015.

7. Breakout Candidates

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    Can Pollock become the star that Eaton never was?
    Can Pollock become the star that Eaton never was?Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    Pollock has to be Arizona's top candidate for a breakout season, at least if you're an optimist.

    Given the expectations that were heaped upon Eaton as a rookie, many were surprised that the Diamondbacks gave up on him so quickly. That puts a lot of pressure on Pollock to fulfill a role he was never intended to play.

    To his credit, Pollock displayed a nice combination of power and speed during his first full season in the majors. In just 137 games, Pollock delivered 41 extra-base hits and was successful on 12 of his 15 stolen base attempts.

    Arizona could also use a breakout campaign from Parra. Still just 26, he showed some offensive promise as a part-time player in 2011 and 2012. Now that Parra has experienced his first full season as a starter, perhaps he can parlay his pre-2013 potential into a standout 2014.

8. Three Keys to Success

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    Will Trumbo deliver his first 40 home run season in Arizona?
    Will Trumbo deliver his first 40 home run season in Arizona?Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    1. Health

    It's pretty obvious that injuries will play a major role in the success or failure of every major league team. However, Arizona hasn't been particularly fortunate in this area, and it needs that to change immediately.

    Several key players such as McCarthy, Hill, Cahill and Montero were hobbled by injuries last year. Injuries to Corbin and Arroyo are already taking their toll before this season even gets underway.

    Arizona has to get solid production from the veterans who are finally healthy, and the team can't afford to have any more key contributors go down.

    2. Help from the New Guys

    Arizona mortgaged a bit of its future to acquire Trumbo and Reed, so it needs both players to justify their hefty price tags. If Trumbo can just slightly improve on his career .250 average while continuing to display the light-tower power he's delivered throughout his career, it will positively impact the entire lineup.

    Reed, for his par, must become more efficient at the end of games. For a team that traditionally plays a lot of close games in a tough division, every blown save will be a crushing blow to Arizona's postseason aspirations.

    3. Positive Contributions from the Youngsters

    Owings and Bradley will both be counted on to help the D'Backs in 2014. That will happen immediately for Owings, while Bradley may have a month or two to further prepare for his major league debut.

    Whenever the call comes for both players, it is imperative that they quickly adjust to life in the big leagues.

    Owings will be counted on to provide above-average defense up the middle, while potentially stretching out the bottom of the lineup. If any of the incumbent starters struggle early, Bradley will be given the first opportunity to cement his place in the D'Backs rotation for years to come, much like Gerrit Cole did for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season.

9. Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers Series Preview

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    The D'Backs prepare to take on the Dodgers in Sydney, Australia
    The D'Backs prepare to take on the Dodgers in Sydney, AustraliaJoe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    The Diamondbacks don't have to wait long for their first shot at derailing the Dodgers as kings of the NL West. The two face off in a season-opening two-game series in Sydney, Australia beginning Saturday, March 22.

    Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is expected to battle Miley in the first game, while Hyun-Jin Ryu will face off against Cahill in the second game. Both games will be available for viewing on the MLB Network at 4 a.m ET and 10 p.m. ET, respectively.

    Arizona is anxious to take on the Dodgers after Los Angeles celebrated its 2013 NL West division-clinching victory in Chase Field. The Dodgers famously celebrated by taking a dip in the D'Backs' pool, an act that angered many within the Arizona organization.

    The Dodgers and Diamondbacks were also involved in a benches-clearing brawl earlier in 2013 that resulted in suspensions for several members of both teams.

    They key to this series will be Arizona's ability to shutdown a potent Dodgers lineup. Even without the services of outfielders Matt Kemp (injured) and Carl Crawford (paternity leave), Los Angeles has a formidable lineup to challenge Arizona's patchwork rotation. 

    Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier will provide a stiff opening test for Miley, Cahill and the rest of the Arizona pitching staff.

    Meanwhile, Arizona hitters will have to figure out the reigning NL Cy Young award winner in Kershaw. If they can get past that test, they should have a much easier timer facing Ryu in the second game.

    In five starts against the Diamondbacks last year, Ryu was 1-2 with a 4.65 ERA and .300 batting average against.

10. 2014 Diamondbacks Season Outlook

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    The 2014 season could lead to more grey hair for Kirk Gibson.
    The 2014 season could lead to more grey hair for Kirk Gibson.Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    The Diamondbacks need a lot to go right to win the NL West in 2014. It doesn't help that they play in a tough division that also includes the San Diego Padres, a team that should be much improved this year.

    Despite the early injuries, Arizona should find itself in contention for at least a wild card spot in late September. The addition of Trumbo will dramatically help the offense, Parra should improve in his second year as a full-time starter and Montero and Hill should have better luck on the health front.

    The pitching staff is still a big question, and Arizona can't afford anymore injuries in that area.

    Even if healthy, the rotation has no one that could reasonably be considered better than a No. 3 starter on a contending club. There's also no guarantee that Reed will improve his efficiency as a closer, but the bullpen can't be as bad as it was in 2013.

    A best-case scenario for the Diamondbacks is probably 88 wins. However, given the strength of their division and the mediocrity of the pitching staff as a whole, Arizona is likely headed for another .500 season.

    Based on the strength of an improved lineup, I'll go out on a limb and predict 83 wins for the Diamondbacks with a third-place finish in the NL West. Unfortunately for D'Backs fans, the playoff drought will continue for at least another year.