2018 Season Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

As winter draws to a close, temperatures rise—Ann Arbor aside—and Spring Training gets underway it can only mean one thing: Baseball is (almost) here! Welcome back to M-SABR’s Season Preview 30 Teams in 30 Days series, where our staff writers share their insights on what to expect from your favorite team and players in 2018 and get you ready for that very first first pitch. Today Max Baer takes on the Arizona Diamondbacks. Enjoy!

Arizona Diamondbacks

by Max Baer

2017 Record: 93-69 (2nd NL West)

2017 Payroll: $119,898,775 (20th)

Projected Lineup for 2018:

All 2018 player projections from Steamer

  1. David Peralta, LF,  .281 AVG/.341 OBP/.452 SLG, 1.1 fWAR
  2. A.J. Pollock, CF, .282 AVG/.346 OBP/.475 SLG, 3.0 fWAR
  3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, .290 AVG/.405 OBP/.536 SLG, 4.4 fWAR
  4. Jake Lamb, 3B, .254 AVG/.350 OBP/.475 SLG, 2.2 fWAR
  5. Steven Souza Jr., RF, .245 AVG/.336 OBP/.455 SLB, 1.1 fWAR
  6. Alex Avila, C, .229 AVG/.354 OBP/.395 SLG, 1.3 fWAR
  7. Ketel Marte, 2B, .289 AVG/.344 OBP/.417 SLG, 1.5 fWAR
  8. Nick Ahmed, SS, .238 AVG/.293 OBP/.363 SLG, 0.2 fWAR

Projected Rotation for 2018:

  1. Zack Greinke, RHP, 203.0 IP/3.84 ERA/1.22 WHIP, 4.0 fWAR
  2. Robbie Ray, LHP, 168.0 IP/3.67 ERA/1.24 WHIP, 3.6 fWAR
  3. Taijuan Walker, RHP, 186.0 IP/4.55 ERA/1.36 WHIP, 2.3 fWAR
  4. Zack Godley, RHP, 141.0 IP/4.09 ERA/1.36 WHIP, 2.4 fWAR
  5. Patrick Corbin, LHP, 139.0 IP/4.26 ERA/1.36 WHIP, 2.0 fWAR

Offseason Recap:

After swinging a July trade for Tigers slugger J.D. Martinez, the baseball world really started to pay attention to the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The impending free agent Martinez would help push the Diamondbacks into the playoffs for the first time since 2011 by slashing an impeccable .302/.366/.741.  Coupled with an outstanding effort from a formidable rotation, the Diamondbacks finished second in a talented NL West division and beat their divisional rival Colorado Rockies in the NL Wild Card game.  But even after crashing out in the Divisional Round against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Diamondbacks could carry themselves into the offseason knowing that they had many key pieces tied down and they could focus on filling a J.D. Martinez sized hole.

Besides Martinez, the Diamondbacks lost two other pieces from their 2017 team in catcher Chris Iannetta, who signed with the Colorado Rockies, and beloved yet eccentric closer Fernando Rodney.  To fill the void left by Iannetta, general manager Mike Hazen signed offensive-minded veteran Alex Avila to a 2-year deal worth $8.25 million after Avila put together a bounce-back season with both the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs.  And to replace Rodney, Hazen signed Yoshihisa Hirano, a 34-year-old from the Japanese League’s Orix Buffaloes, to a 2-year pact worth $6 million in total with the potential to rise to $8 million through several incentives. Hirano, who has collected 143 saves for the Buffaloes in the past five seasons, is expected to compete for the 9th inning job in Arizona’s bullpen with converted starter Archie Bradley and the newly-acquired Brad Boxberger, who was also acquired this offseason in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.  Arizona has bolstered the depth in their pitching staff through a bevy of minor league signings such as veteran left-handers Jorge De La Rosa, Antonio Bastardo, and right-handers Kris Medlen, Neftali Feliz, Fernando Salas, Michael Blazek.

With J.D. Martinez jetting off to Boston to sign a 5-year deal worth around $110 million, Hazen and the Diamondbacks turned around and responded astonishingly quick.  Within hours of the news of Martinez’s deal breaking, Arizona snapped up speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson to a 2-year deal worth $7.5 million and sent their projected starting second baseman Brandon Drury to the New York Yankees in a three-team deal, receiving slugging outfielder Steven Souza Jr. from the Tampa Bay Rays as their main acquisition in the trade.  With these two additions, the Diamondbacks have added great defensive value in Dyson and they’ve found a man in Souza who can potentially replace a portion of the offensive that J.D. Martinez was able to provide down the stretch for the DBacks.

2018 Season Preview

The NL West is arguably the best division in baseball, and if there were 3 Wild Card spots available in the National League, all three spots could potentially be filled by NL West teams.  The Dodgers are still the Dodgers, the Giants have made some savvy moves and acquired former face-of-the-franchise players in Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, Rocktober probably would have shaken the baseball world to its core had the Rockies not lost in the Wild Card game last season, and the underrated Padres could claim some scalps having acquired Eric Hosmer to go along with their up-and-coming offensive prospects.  

With that being said, the Diamondbacks return a deep and generally very remarkable rotation headlined by ace righty Zack Greinke entering the third year of his six-year deal.  At 34 years old, the former first-round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals has the stuff and experience to lead a well-balanced rotation of Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, Zack Godley, and Patrick Corbin, all of whom projected to put up fWAR’s above 2.0 according to Steamer on fangraphs.com.  Arizona definitely has the pitching depth to get through the arduous trek that is a major league regular season. And the bullpen, which featured the ageless wonder Fernando Rodney as its closer last season, is also reloaded with the additions of former all-star Brad Boxberger and Japanese league sensation Yoshihisa Hirano.  The frontrunner for the vacant closer job is currently converted starter Archie Bradley, who wowed coming out of the bullpen last season, with a 1.73 ERA over 73.0 innings of work and a vote in the MVP race to boot.

The Diamondbacks’ offense is projected to be just as strong and sturdy as their pitching staff.  The Dbacks are lead by one of the top offensive threats in the league, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, and they have quality pieces to support him in their line-up.  Center fielder A.J. Pollock brings value with all five of his tools when he’s healthy. Right fielder Steven Souza Jr. was acquired from the Rays to attempt to replace some of the offense lost by J.D. Martinez signing elsewhere. Souza put up similar statistics to Martinez in 2017, but not on the same otherworldly pace.  Infielders Jake Lamb and Chris Owings will contribute quality at-bats for the Dbacks in 2018, while speedsters Jarrod Dyson and Ketel Marte will definitely be factors throughout the season. Chris Owings also figures to factor into the middle infielder competition with Marte and Nick Ahmed, with all three likely making starts at second base. Outfielder David Peralta projects to lead off for the Diamondbacks, and he ranked among the top line drive hitters in 2015 according to fangraphs.com, but a 2016 wrist injury took away some of his pop.

One thing to keep an eye on is how backstops Alex Avila, Chris Herrmann, Jeff Mathis, and John Ryan Murphy hold up behind the plate.  The catcher position proved to be problematic on the offensive side of the ball for Arizona last season, with whichever player behind the plate only slashing a poor .219/.306/.404 before Chris Iannetta emerged to stop the bleeding.  The Dbacks opted to sign Avila this offseason, who is a proven offensive asset when in form. But Avila has shown signs of slowing down in years prior, despite hitting quite well for the Tigers and Cubs last season. Herrmann, Mathis, and Murphy look set to mix in to provide quality defense behind the plate, which Avila notably lacks, and the trio of righties also give manager Torey Lovullo a different look off the bench when he wants to match up with a left-handed pitcher.

Despite competing in one of the toughest divisions in baseball, Mike Hazen has done a good job of setting up a solid base from which the Diamondbacks can contend from.  Their pitching rotation has demonstrated the ability to lead this ballclub through the rigorous regular season, and the offense has many valuable and versatile pieces that 2017 manager of the year Torey Lovullo can set up and mix and match as he pleases.  While Arizona can’t call on the offensive threat that is J.D. Martinez this season, these Diamondbacks seem to be in a similar place as last season: Good enough to be firmly ensconced in the playoff picture, but not as loaded with high-end talent as other teams such as the Dodgers, Astros, Cubs, Yankees, or Red Sox.

Predicted Record: 85-77 (2nd in NL West)

Player to Watch: Paul Goldschmidt

If you’ve been living under a rock for several years or simply haven’t heard, Paul Goldschmidt is probably the best first baseman in all of baseball.  The beating heart of the Diamondbacks’ lineup, you can pencil in Goldschmidt each season for a stat line of around .300/.400/.550, 30 homers, 100 RBIs, and even 20 steals.  Anything less would be considered an off year for the Dbacks superstar. A 3-time Gold Glove winner, Goldschmidt has also been a consistent figure for the Diamondbacks to rely on these past few seasons.  Over the past 5 seasons, he has played at least 155 games in 4 of those seasons, and in the season that he didn’t reach 155 games, he still played in 109 games and had an OPS of .938. Signed to a 5 year deal worth an absolute bargain of $32 million in 2014, Goldschmidt is still controlled for 2 more seasons by Arizona, and he is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent before the 2020 season.  So from Goldschmidt this season, expect the consistent All-Star quality production on the field and plenty of extension talks off the field.

Player to Watch: Jon Duplantier

Who’s that you might say?  Many casual baseball fans might not recognize the name of the D-backs’ consensus top prospect across many different prospect ranking websites across the internet.  Although he doesn’t have the name recognition of mega-prospects such as the Astros’ Kyle Tucker or the Yankees’ Gleyber Torres, Duplantier has rocketed up prospect ranking boards due to an absolutely stellar 2017 campaign.  Duplantier posted an impressive 1.39 ERA and a WHIP of less than 1 over 24 starts and 136.0 innings in A and High-A in Arizona’s system, also striking out hitters at a rate of 10.9 per 9 innings. Duplantier features a fastball that’s been clocked all the way up at 97 mph, but he generally sits around in the low-90’s with his heater.  To round out his arsenal, Duplantier throws a curveball, slider, and changeup that all grade out as very good pitches. The only thing John Sickels of minorleagueball.com writes could be an issue for the 23-year-old is his durability. Duplantier has had shoulder and elbow issues as recently as 2016, and any sort of injury could potentially derail the 73rd best prospect (according to Baseball America) in baseball’s development.  Dbacks fans could look forward to seeing him this season as a September call-up if Duplantier can continue his meteoric rise through Arizona’s farm system.

Player to Watch: Shelby Miller

Shelby Miller might not step on a mound for the Diamondbacks in 2018, but he is still an intriguing prospect for the organization.  Miller was originally a first-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals back in 2009, and he showed promise for the Cardinals in the two seasons he pitched for them, finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2013.  Following a trade to the Atlanta Braves for the 2015 season, Miller put together another encouraging year stat-wise. He parlayed a 3.02 ERA in 205.1 innings into an All-Star game appearance (despite going 6-17 on the year for the Braves, ouch), and generally looked like a solid pitcher despite some command issues here or there.  But after that 2015 season, the Braves decided to ship the burgeoning ace pitcher out to the desert, where the Diamondbacks were looking for top-level pitching, and Arizona gave up serviceable pitching prospect Aaron Blair, future All-Star Ender Inciarte, and top prospect Dansby Swanson to secure his services. And then, all of the wheels fell off for Miller.  He was positively horrendous for the Diamondbacks in 2016, posting an ERA north of 6 in 20 starts. And his poor 2016 was compounded by him going under the knife on May 11, 2017, for Tommy John surgery. Talk about getting kicked while you’re down. At his best, Miller is an absolute machine of a man, pumping four-seam fastballs that can reach the high-90’s. Miller couples that with both a cut fastball, sinker, curveball, and changeup, but he relies mostly on that overpowering four-seamer.  Coming out of Tommy John surgery is never good for a pitcher’s confidence, and Shelby Miller’s confidence in commanding his pitches seemed very low in his disastrous 2016 campaign. If Miller can regain any sort of form when he returns, the 27-year-old will surely be a welcome addition to the Dbacks pitching staff both this year and in the years to come.


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