The Arizona Diamondbacks are not an expansion team. But this franchise certainly has the look of one starting from scratch. That is clearly not a good sign for the present, but there’s no question in my mind that things will soon improve for Diamondbacks' fans. Unfortunately, they’re going to have to suffer through at least one more very rocky campaign before things turn around.
The main reason for my optimism regarding the Snakes' future is the change at the top. Kevin Towers is now running the show as Arizona’s new GM, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a sharper team architect than Towers. The first thing Towers accomplished was changing the team's philosophy.
For the last few seasons, the Diamondbacks have had an all or nothing lineup repleted with far too many swing and miss types. That’s why Arizona has shattered records for team strikeouts over the last three seasons.
Worse yet, the prior regime apparently couldn’t recognize this flawed structure, as they continued to spend big bucks on draft picks displaying the same tendencies. That will no longer be the case under Towers.
The future isn’t that difficult to project with Towers in charge. Look for the Diamondbacks to go after more well rounded players and to place far more emphasis on acquiring pitchers with upside. As for the present, however, it’s extremely difficult to envision the D-Backs as contenders in the NL West in 2011.
While the everyday lineup isn’t likely to cause opposing pitchers to lose much sleep, it's not devoid of talent. Justin Upton can still become one of the best players in the game. Chris Young has all five tools, and while he’ll likely never hit for a great average, he’ll produce runs. Kelly Johnson got his game back together in 2010, and should be a fixture at 2B. Stephen Drew may never develop into a superstar, but he’s a well above average performer at SS. A healthy Miguel Montero is an asset behind the plate.
However, there are some major voids as well. I’m not convinced Juan Miranda is good enough to be a starting 1B at this level, and Brandon Allen has not shown me he can consistently hit big league pitching. Xavier Nady looks like the first option in left field, and his inconsistency, along with a very lengthy injury chart, makes him a high-risk/low-reward option. The bench is shaky as well, and there aren’t any position prospects close to being ready to make a sudden splash.
The starting pitching might not be as bad as some envision, although there’s no true ace to be sure. The Diamondbacks might be able to get by for now with a three-man rotation featuring Joe Saunders, Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy. Barry Enright, Zach Duke, Armando Galarraga and Aaron Heilman are in the mix for the last two spots. Hudson impressed after coming over from the White Sox last summer, Kennedy had flashes of brilliance before wearing down, and Saunders is capable of being a decent innings eater.
The back of the rotation is clearly a trouble spot as none of the four arms I’ve listed are keepers. The Diamondbacks are hoping top prospect Jarrod Parker makes a successful return from Tommy John surgery. Parker is a legitimate top of the rotation prospect and, if all goes well, he could be with the big club by midseason. A healthy Parker has a chance to transform the entire rotation.
Arizona’s bullpen was historically awful last season. Things should be considerably better in 2011. J.J. Putz is a proven closer and the ninth inning will not be a problem if he can stay healthy. David Hernandez flamed out as a starter for the Orioles, but his stuff has a chance to play well as a late inning reliever. Juan Gutierrez has closer stuff but needs to put it together for an extended period. Sam Demel was an under the radar trade pickup last season. Now that he appears to have ironed out his control issues, he shapes up as a decent option out of the pen.
Overall, I look for the Diamondbacks to be slightly improved this season. That’s not necessarily the case on paper, but I very much like the new approach that we’re going to see with Towers in the office and Kirk Gibson taking charge in the dugout. The enhanced mindset itself is probably worth a handful of additional wins. I’d be surprised if this team avoids another finish in the NL West cellar, but I’m also convinced better days are ahead for the Diamondbacks.
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