Justin Upton is congratulated by Aaron Hill.
The Arizona Diamondbacks claimed the National League West title in 2011, shocking a lot of people in the process. The club's success came as a result of a large number of breakout performances from key players such as Ian Kennedy, Justin Upton and J.J. Putz.
I first started predicting breakout candidates for the Diamondbacks during the 2009-10 season when I predicted the emergence of Kennedy after a trade from the New York Yankees. He surprised me by getting even better in 2011—earning some National League Cy Young consideration.
There are a number of Diamondbacks players that could surprise a lot of people in 2012. Let's have a look at some of them.
Aaron Hill, along with Prince Fielder, watches the completion of a double play.
Toronto's hitting coach encourages a pull-happy approach from his hitters. It works for some long-term (Jose Bautista), while others struggle from the get-go (Rajai Davis). Others appear to have limited success before it catches up to them (Adam Lind, Aaron Hill).
Look for Hill's fresh start to continue from 2011 into 2012...just don't expect him to have a 30-plus repeat in the home run department (15 to 20 is reasonable).
Rookie first baseman Paul Goldschmidt takes a hefty cut.
The hulking first baseman posted some huge numbers in the minors while playing in some hitter-friendly leagues. Add in the fact that Paul Goldschmidt was not a highly regarded amateur player, and you start to understand why scouts and prospect analysts doubted his potential big-league impact.
After watching him play in the majors for two months, though, scouts are starting to change their tunes. Advanced metrics (.224 isolated power, 21.2 line-drive rate) show that Goldschmidt has the potential to hit for a lot of power (30-plus homers), even if his strikeout numbers keep his average around .250-.260.
Chris Young circles the bases after a home run.
Chris Young has teased the Diamondbacks with his potential for six seasons. Still just 28 years old, the outfielder is comfortably in what should be his peak seasons. He last hit 30 or more home runs during his rookie campaign in 2007.
With both good speed and plus raw power, 2012 could be the season that Young finally reaches the 30-30 club. He just needs to show a little more consistency and have some help from BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play).
A full season from Paul Goldschmidt and continued success with the bat from Miguel Montero could provide Young with the protection he needs to see better pitches.
Bryan Shaw delivers one of his nasty cutters.
The last reliever to dominate with the cutter—Mariano Rivera of the Yankees—is headed for the Baseball Hall of Fame. To compare Shaw to him would be unfair, but the Diamondbacks rookie has an outstanding chance to excel out of the bullpen at the MLB level thanks to his relatively new offering.
Along with showing good velocity on the pitch, as well as the ability to strike out a decent number of batters, the right-hander has shown the ability to keep batted balls on the ground. It's an important trait for a pitcher who plays half his games in a potent offensive park. A full season from Aaron Hill at second base will only strengthen the infield defense.
With closer J.J. Putz having a history of injuries and inconsistencies, Shaw might be the best bet for saves if something happens to the incumbent closer.
Jarrod Parker delivers a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Now a full year removed from Tommy John surgery, the organization's former No. 1 draft pick, Jarrod Parker, appears ready to assume his permanent position in the big-league starting rotation.
The right-hander, who turns 23 on Nov. 24, had a solid season at Double-A in 2011. He also made his MLB debut and looked right at home. He showcased a four-pitch repertoire, including a fastball that averaged out at 93 mph.
If he can keep the ball down in the strike zone on a more consistent basis, Parker could be one of the club's three most valuable pitchers in 2012. He could eventually become the club's No. 1 or 2 starter.