Arizona Diamondbacks: 2017 Outlook
After what many people will call one of the most disappointing seasons in Major League Baseball, the new and improved D-Backs look to bounce back from a 69–93 record and a 4th place finish in the National League West. Changes were imminent and they started very shortly after a season who left fans wondering if there is any future in this franchise or if there is a “rebuilding” coming up. This season has 0 expectations and the 2017 season will either be a great surprise or an expected average season. Either way, the D-Backs will only get better and here is why:
New General Manager
The hiring of Mike Hazen as General Manager, who many people in MLB say is a great move, got the winter season off on the right step. Hiring someone who comes from a winning back ground, both from the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians is the best way to shift your organization’s vision. Hazen is part of the new wave of general managers who are focusing on both analytics and statistics, as well as the old-fashioned way of the game. A Princeton graduate, and former minor leaguer, Hazen has been around front offices and people who are world class. He is highly regarded by both Ben Cherrington and Dave Dombrowski who are some of the best baseball people in the business. Fans should be extremely excited for the new direction and the moves that will come from Hazen, some that are already benefiting the team.
Although many expected the move, everyone was excited when the our new GM, hired out new team manager. After the hire of Hazen, the hire of Torey Lovullo was one that needed to be made. Former Red Sox bench coach, Lovullo comes with great expectations and a great reputation of being a players coach. He is handed a team full of young potential and an under performing pitching staff, and how they go about changes and moves is something everyone will keep an eye on. With the beginning of the Winter Meetings, every Diamondbacks fan feels optimistic but worried about this season. Hazen and Lovullo wasted no time in putting their mark on their team, and making moves to their roster.
It took no time before Hazen analyzed his team and realized changes needed to be made. He traded 26 year old and former All-Star 2B Jean Segura after a year where he hit .319 with 20 HR and 33 SB for former Mariners top-pick, and 24 year old SP Taijuan Walker. Along with Segura, lefty reliever Zac Curtis and OF Mitch Haniger, who was projected to be in the mix for the 4th OF position, were sent over to Seattle to access two holes, financial flexibility and problematic starting pitching. The D-Backs get back a 6'4" starting pitcher who definitely has not reached his potential and 22 year old SS Ketel Marte. After an injury plagued 2016 and an ERA of 4.22, Walker look to the change of scenery to provide the final touches to the hype he carries. An explosive fastball in the mid-90s and an above average curveball and change-up give him the repertoire to be successful is manages to stay healthy. Furthermore, Hazen non-tender contracts to starting C Wellington Castillo and SP Ruby De La Rosa in moves that saved the D-Backs around $8 million dollars. Castillo got too expensive, and De La Rosa was facing a 2nd Tommy John Surgery. Although losing your starting catcher hurts, the D-Backs needed desperate payroll help. In a corresponding move, and to fill the void left by Castillo, veteran catcher Jeff Mathis was signed to a 2 year, $4 million dollar contract to bring good defense and a veteran club-house presence. These moves freed up in total about $12–13 million dollars the club can use to address the biggest concern: the bullpen.
After the mid-season trades of relievers Brad Ziegler, and Tyler Clippard, and losing free-agent RP Daniel Hudson, the D-backs have some glaring holes up and down their entire bullpen. Coming back this season are right-handed relievers Jake Barrett, Enrique Burgos, Silvino Bracho, Evan Marshall, Randall Delgado who all struggled while playing a major part in this past season bullpen. Barrett was the shining star out of the bunch, being a rookie and pitching well until fizzling out towards the end of the season. Burgos and Bracho were on the minor league train, moving back and forth from the minors after not really solidifying their spots. Marshall came back after taking a batted ball off the head in the 2015 season, however, just like everyone else, his consistency struggled. Delgado was the veteran but could not be relied on high-stress situations and is looking more of a long-reliever than someone to trust in late innings. While they are all young, they need to begin to pitch to the caliber they are capable of. After Zac Curtis was traded, Andrew Chafin is the only returning lefty. After a great rookie season in 2015, he struggled with his command and was not as effective against left-handed pitchers in 2016. Minor Leaguers like LHP Steve Hathaway and RHP Matt Koch look to break off with the team, but need to prove they are capable of getting big league hitters out before we can count them as reliable options. A crowded rotation will also give Lovullo the option of moving one of the starters to the bullpen, whether it is Patrick Corbin or Braden Shipley. To say the least, this bullpen needs help, and Hazen is doing a great job focusing on that and hopefully addressing that problem in the Winter Meetings.
A 2015 offseason that brought Zack Greinke on a 6 year, $206.5 million dollar contract and a trade that was later labeled as the worst trade ever made in MLB history, we received Shelby Miller, left hopes very high. The rotation that was slated to be Greinke, Miller, Patrick Corbin, Ruby De La Rosa, and Robbie Ray quicky imploded after both Greinke and Miller struggled to put up numbers anywhere near their past, a Corbin who could pitch past the 5th inning without giving up more than 5 runs, and De La Rosa who looked good early, but was lost for the year after an arm injury. The brightest spot was Robbie Ray. The southpaw that had a horrendous 4.90 ERA, proved his value and potential by striking out 218 batters in only 175 innings pitched. He struggled with his command and secondary pitches, but carries a high-90s fastball that is definitely a great weapon. Injuries and struggle brought up highly touted prospects Archie Bradley and Braden Shipley at different parts of the year. Bradley spent most of his time with the big club, showing signs of why he was once the 7th overall pick in the MLB Draft, but mightily struggling at other times. Shipley, who was considered the best pitching prospect in the organization was a late season call-up and showed flashes of his pitching ability along with his inexperience. Including Taijuan Walker, the D-backs now have 7 pitchers capable of being in the rotation. Based on pure talent, it should be Greinke, Miller, Walker, Corbin, and Ray. But Bradley and Shipley will definitely have some say and it will all depend if any of them are traded or just have back up in case the injury bug bites. They will now be throwing to Chris Hermann as the starting catcher, and newly acquired Jeff Mathis.
Mike Hazen made it a point that he wants to include more left-handed hitters into his line-up. The release of Wellington Castillo, will leave lefty Chris Hermann as the main option behind the dish. Before getting hurt, in only an occasional start behind the plate and a few in the outfield, Hermann was batting .284 with 6 HR and providing a spark off the bench. Expectations will be high for him with a bigger role on the team and as one of the few lefties in the line-up. New back up catcher Jeff Mathis will serve as the back up, and as a coach and mentor to this young roster. Hazen recently came out and said he hopes Mathis to play around 60 games giving the team a defensive minded focus. Overall, the catching position could definitely be upgraded, but there are bigger worries, especially when the team believes Chris Hermann can be more than capable to start.
The corner spots in the infield are solidified. At first, you have Gold Glove and Silver Slugger (and should be MVP instead of Andrew McCutchen in 2014) winner Paul Goldschmidt. He had what many people consider good, but to his standards, his 2016 campaign was below average. He hit .297 with 24 HR and only 95 RBI. There is no doubt that he can still play at an MVP-caliber level, especially if the the rest of the team gives him runners on base and protection. Across from him, at the hot corner, will be break out player Jake Lamb. Lamb struggled with his average just hitting .249, but definitely showed his power by hitting 29 HR. His bat can continue to improve and he can definitely be a bat you can either stick in front or behind Goldschmidt. However, the huge minus on Lamb is his defense. Even when he showed his range to both sides, he struggled making accurate throws across the diamond making him a shaky option at 3rd. At only 26, Lamb has time to grow and become comfortable in his franchise cornerstone position. The infield questions come up when it comes to the middle infield. Trading a player like Jean Segura after the year he had, is hard, and the production will be missed at 2B. Both 2B and SS starters have not been named, and a position battle will definitely be happening. Nick Ahmed, Chris Owings, Ketel Marte, and Brandon Drury will battle it out. Drury is the best hitter out of the group, and secondbase should be his position to lose. He spent the 2015 season moving back and forth from the outfield to 3B and 2B, but Lamb definitely is staying at 3B and without Segura, 2B should be his. The biggest battle will be for SS. Ahmed has gold glove caliber defense, but continues to bat under .220. Owings is the most experienced, but his defense is a little shaky. After being injured in 2015 and attempting to gain back form in 2016, the organization believes a fully healthy winter and spring will do him wonders. Ketel Marte was acquired in the Segura trade, and probably has the most upside of the 3. However, he is the youngest and that showed last year after he only hit around .220 as well. This will be a very fun battle, but I do expect Chris Owings to come out the winner and to have a 2017 season that will be more normal to his talents.
Getting a full season from AJ Pollock no doubt boosts any outfield, but especially a Diamondbacks outfield that attempted to piece theirs with veterans and players did not usually play the outfield. Pollock getting hurt on the last exhibition day was just foreshadowing for the horrendous 2016. 2017 is looking a lot brighter, if Pollock recovers his old form, and if the corner outfield positions are solidified. David Peralta was the starting right fielder and started off hot but the injury bug got him and his 2016 season was a disappointment hitting only 4 HR in the 171 AB he had. Both Peralta and Pollock look to come back and solidify the outfield and contribute to the line up as they are both supposed to bat either at the top or middle of it. Left field is where the questions begin. Yasmany Tomas continues to be a defensive liability no matter if he continues to hit 29 HR. The team has explored a trade this offseason, but no one wants to take on his horrible contract and not many teams will give up real talent for him. The 4th outfielder battle will come down to Socrates Brito and Jeremy Hazelbaker. They are both left handed hitters, which is a plus, but the defensive edge goes to Brito who is younger and more athletic. Keep an eye out for that positional battle in spring training. With a healthy Pollock, Peralta being back to his old “Freight Train” self, and Tomas hitting 29 HR no matter what defensive holes he leaves out there, this outfield can be surprising and hopefully help the line up.
Trading away number 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson would hurt any farm system, and it basically destroyed ours. The system is full of average prospects that do not carry much weight in the rankings for farm systems. Braden Shipley graduated from the prospect ranks, leaving Brito as the team’s number 1 prospect. Outfielder Peter O’Brien is the other recognized name after he spent time with the major club, and even if he did manage to hit 450-foot bombs, it was clear his approach at the plate still needed work. The team does have a trio of young LHP pitchers that will all play a major part in this organization’s future. Anthony Banda is regarded as the 2nd best prospect after putting up a 2.12 ERA in AA and rewarding him by a promotion to the AAA team where he ended with a 3.67 ERA and a 2.88 ERA for the entire year. Alex Young made a move from the bullpen to the rotation and the D-backs could not be more excited. He excelled in Low-A ball with a 2.16 ERA and only giving up 1 home run, but struggled after a promotion to High-A ball posting a 4.59 ERA and giving up 10 home runs. A full year in High-A and a promotion to AA that seems inevitable, Young will continue to make strides and prove capable of being a MLB starter. The biggest surprise has been Jared Miller. He posted 2.64 ERA across 4 levels from Low-A to AAA. The biggest surprise was how he did in the Arizona Fall League. He earned All-League Honors after throwing 28 innings and only allowing 1 earned run. Look for these 3 names to be highly touted arms and continue to improve as they make their way to the majors.
The 2017 season will need a lot of IFs and a lot of luck for the D-backs to be serious contenders. We need to hope Greinke goes back to normal, which I think he will, that Shelby Miller, if he is not traded, goes back to his All-Star from, the same way Patrick Corbin needs to find his groove again. Taijuan Walker needs to stay off the Disable List, and Robbie Ray needs to take the next step in order to become a solid starter. The bullpen will need a touch of magic to outperform expectations, and that is highly unlikely. The infield will be the bright spot if Goldschmidt continues to be excellent and Lamb continue to form into a franchise corner stone. I definitely think Drury will win the 2B position and excel on the offensive side, so let us pray he is at least a league average defender. The SS position will still be a revolving door and the best player will eventually end up there, in my opinion it will be Chris Owings mostly for his offensive upside. Pollock and Peralta need to stay healthy for this group to have a chance and Tomas needs to improve his defense. Chris Hermann and Jeff Mathis can combine to handle the pitching staff well, as well as giving the offense a solid extra punch here and there. Although a lot of things need to go the Diamondbacks way for 2017 to be great, the talent and youth is definitely there and can click at any point. I think this team can compete for the second wild card spot, and but the NL West continues to improve. I say the D-backs finish at .500 this 2017 season, but the future of this franchise and talent of this core definitely get on the right track again.