2019 Season Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks

By Yuki Mori

2018 Record:82-80 (3rdin NL West)

2018 Payroll:$143,324,597 (14thin MLB)

Projected Lineup:

1. 2B Ketel Marte, .263 AVG/.329 OBP/.414 SLG, 2.8 WAR

2. 3B Eduardo Escobar, .263 AVG/.321 OBP/.459 SLG, 2.3 WAR

3. LF David Peralta, .292 AVG/.350 OBP/.493 SLG, 2.4 WAR

4. RF Steven Souza, .236 AVG/.326 OBP/.426 SLG, 1.5 WAR

5. 1B Jake Lamb, .241 AVG/.335 OBP/.453 SLG, 1.5 WAR

6. CF Adam Jones, .278 AVG/.313 OBP/.432 SLG, 0.6 WAR

7. SS Nick Ahmed, .234 AVG/.287 OBP/.394 SLG, 1.6 WAR

8. C Carson Kelly, .223 AVG/.322 OBP/.318 SLG, 0.7 WAR

Projected Rotation:

1. Zack Greinke, 205 IP/3.64 ERA/1.11 WHIP, 3.5 WAR

2. Robbie Ray, 152 IP/3.91 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 3.1 WAR

3. Zack Godley, 170 IP/3.65 ERA/1.36 WHIP, 2.4 WAR

4. Luke Weaver, 171 IP/4.21 ERA/1.46 WHIP, 1.4 WAR

5. Merrill Kelly, 130 IP/4.43 ERA/1.44 WHIP, 1.1 WAR

2018-2019 Offseason Recap:

All last off-season, the Snake Pit fanbase cried about re-signing J.D. Martinez. And they had every right to do so, as he hit .330/.402/.629 with 43 HRs with the Boston Red Sox. Meanwhile, his replacement, former Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Steven Souza Jr., hit .220/.309/.369 with a -0.3 fWAR. Ouch. The 2017 D-backs made their trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2011, but the 2018 team couldn’t repeat it. There were obvious problems with the 2018 team, and the management has certainly addressed some of the issues but not quite in the form of what many of the fans were thinking of. 

The Diamondbacks were relatively quiet during the offseason, in terms of acquisitions. There were many key losses, however: CF A.J. Pollock to the Los Angeles Dodgers, SP Patrick Corbin to the Nationals, Brad Boxberger to Kansas City, Jeff Mathis to Arlington, Jon Jay, Chris Owings, Daniel Descalso, Shelby Miller, Jake Barrett, Brad Ziegler… the list goes on and on. Addressing these key losses was crucial going into the offseason, and they have somewhat responded by signing 3B Eduardo Escobar to a 3 year/$21 million extension, who was acquired from Minnesota via trade during the deadline.

Franchise star 1B Paul Goldschmidt was traded with a year left on his contract to the St. Louis Cardinals for C Carson Kelly, SP Luke Weaver, minor league IF Andy Young, and a Competitive Balance Round B pick in the 2019 draft. This sent a shockwave around MLB, as it essentially meant Arizona has raised the white flag and was entering a full tanking mode. It doesn’t matter how much GM Mike Hazen talks about this only being “re-tooling”, as I hardly doubt many still trust him.

In other news, the D-backs had made several other moves, which went severely unnoticed due to the shock in the fanbase to the Goldschmidt trade. The team signed manager Torey Lovullo to an extension that runs through the 2021 season. Additionally, the team made several low-cost acquisitions, including signing SP Merrill Kelly for 2 year/$5.5 million with club options for 2021 and 2022, IF Wilmer Flores for 1 year/$4.25 million, OF Adam Jones for 1 year/$3 million, RP Greg Holland for 1 year/$3.25 million, and C Caleb Joseph to a minor league deal with incentives if he makes the MLB roster. Other notable minor league signings include Abraham Almonte, Matt Szczur, Ricky Nolasco, Rob Refsnyder, Marc Rzepczynski etc. They had also received Robby Scott from the Reds for cash considerations, and picked up RP Artie Lewicki from the Tigers and RP Nick Green from the Yankees by off-waiver claim and Rule 5 Draft, respectively. Look for the Arizona management to make more signings, as they attempt to find lightning in a bottle with so many free agents lingering around.

Season Preview:

I’m going to be real honest here: this team isn’t really going far. But, as an optimist, I have to say that this team will be a dark horse candidate in the 2019 season. At first glance, you might not see the shiny stars and big-name players that many others boast. But who knows, Steven Souza Jr. might hit 500 dingers and carry the team to a World Series berth.

Realistically, however, the team the Diamondbacks have put together is relatively limited, and we have to work with what we have. In the outfield, David Peralta is a VERY intriguing player, posting a .293/.352/.516 line with 30 HRs last season (those numbers are a bit skewed from the horrendous September the team had). He is a player to definitely keep your eyes on. Although he is already 32, his ability to post strong numbers will be crucial to the team’s success. The rest of the outfield is not nearly as exciting. Souza will be attempting to rebound from an injury-plagued 2018, while Adam Jones is an average outfielder at this stage of his career. Jarrod Dyson would have been set as the fourth outfielder, but it seems that he will not be on the Opening Day roster with a strained left oblique muscle. Socrates Brito looks to fill in for the spot, as he is out of minor league options. It would be interesting to see what would happen when Dyson comes back from the IL, and what final decision Torey Lovullo decides to make with this. Dyson is better defensively and with veteran experience, but Brito is still 26 but he needs to show that he could hit, or it may not be the best news for the outfielder from Dominican Republic.

The infield has a little more variance. After being projected to move to center field all offseason, Ketel Marte is expected to remain at 2B thanks to the last-minute signing of Jones. Marte posted career-highs across the board last season, including triples, in which he led the majors with 12. Only 25 years old, the future looks very bright for Marte. The other side of the diamond will feature 3B Eduardo Escobar, who hit well enough to receive an extension, as well as SS Nick Ahmed, who had a strong offensive campaign last season to go with his already elite defensive glove. The Ahmed-Marte middle infield duo should project as one of the best in the league. First base remains a little unclear as to what would be occurring, but it seems to be a combination of Jake Lamb and former Oriole farmhand Christian Walker. With Jake Lamb close to useless against left-handed pitchers, it would be interesting to see how and how often Walker would be deployed. Given he was blocked by Goldschmidt his whole tenure in Arizona, his performance will be watched very closely by the Arizona management. So far, Walker has hit .359/.395/.590 in 43 plate appearances in Spring Training and while he’s not Goldschmidt, he looks to be an adequate replacement for a team that desperately needs offensive catalysts with their streaky offense last season. The utility infield spot would most likely go to Wilmer Flores, as he can play all over the diamond and perhaps be a solid trade candidate if the team doesn’t seem to be going anywhere by the trade deadline. 

At catcher, newly acquired Carson Kelly is expected to be the starter, with Alex Avila backing him up. Kelly was blocked by the ageless Yadier Molina in St. Louis, and while he did not show much in limited reps, he finally gets to showcase as he looks to be the primary man with Avila and John Ryan Murphy riding the bench. Caleb Joseph also hangs on the periphery as a depth option.

The starting rotation largely features the same personnel, with the exception of Patrick Corbin. Veteran Zack Greinke will get the Opening Day nod for the second time in three years in Arizona. The complementary members will feature holdovers Robbie Ray and Zack Godley, as well as newcomer Luke Weaver. All three posted strong 2017 seasons, but struggled in 2018. A return to form would go a long way in helping the Diamondbacks post a respectable record in 2019. The 5th starter ie expected to be Merrill Kelly. Fresh out of South Korea, the team hopes he will perform as well as their last international free agent signing, relief pitcher Yoshihisa Hirano. Taijuan Walker will be back mid-season after his Tommy John surgery after his strong 2017 campaign. It remains unclear what would happen to the rotation when he is back, and it would be very interesting to see Lovullo’s decision regarding that. Walker and Weaver are both very young with high upside, and it should be very interesting to see them both moving forward.

The bullpen appeared to look strong entering the 2018 season.. Boxberger was brought in via trade and Hirano was signed. With Archie Bradley up-and-coming, it seemed as if this was the lockdown bullpen. However, that was far from the case. Bradley badly struggled to end the season. Hirano, despite his somewhat inconsistent summer and mechanical issues, was the best of the bunch, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lovullo tabs him as the closer. Unless Bradley can show that he can recapture his dominant form, the closer situation seems murky again for the Diamondbacks.

Behind the duo of Hirano and Bradley, lefties T.J. McFarland and Andrew Chafin seem to be locks. The D-Backs fanbase appreciates McFarland, and while the stats might not be pretty, he always manages to keep us in the game during blowouts or for any long-relief situation. Meanwhile, the lefty specialist Chafin will be back; however, he needs to cut down his walk rate if he expects to hang on the roster the entire season. With the new batter minimum rule change, it would be very interesting to see how he would be used throughout the season. Greg Holland, who was a lockdown closer for the Kansas City Royals not too long ago, is to be a huge rebound candidate. Despite struggling badly last season, the team hopes that Holland will regain his former glory with a full Spring Training to work with.

With those five, there would be two bullpen spots open unless Lovullo goes with two catchers instead of three (highly unlikely) and there are intriguing names from Yoan Lopez, Jimmie Sherfy, Silvino Bracho, Matt Andriese, Matt Koch, Braden Shipley, Rubby de la Rosa, Robby Scott, Nick Green, Emilio Vargas etc. With Green being a Rule 5 pick, I wouldn’t be surprised if he is on the roster. Lopez and Sherfy fared very well in September and should be the strongest candidates for the spot, along with Scott, who was acquired from the Reds. Ultimately, it looks like Andriese, Koch, Shipley, and de la Rosa will be working to be starters in Triple-A Reno in case someone goes down.

Predicted Record: 86-76 (2ndin NL West). I’m calling it. I don’t care what the others say, but this team has a lot of potential to be good (maybe not good enough to beat the Dodgers in NLDS) and should be the surprise of the season.

Player to Watch #1: Zack Greinke, SP

Greinke has put up solid two seasons after his disastrous one in 2016, his first year of the contract. Now that Patrick Corbin is gone, as well as the team’s best two bats, Greinke’s performance is even more crucial to the success of the team. There is no doubt he is a star. After posting a woeful 4.37 ERA and 4.12 FIP in 2016, he then proceeded to post 3.20 ERA and 3.31 FIP in 2017 and a 3.21 ERA and 3.71 FIP in 2018. The Spring Training fastball velocity might raise eyebrows, but if he and Robbie Ray can keep consistent throughout the season, there is a good chance the team would go far. If the team is out of contention, he may be a valuable piece to another contender.

Player to Watch #2: Jon Duplantier, SP

While he still has a long ways to go, Duplantier certainly has ace potential. He has four pitches—fastball, curveball, change-up, and slider. He posts strong strikeout and groundball rates; however, walks are a large concern for him, as he has posted a 3.2 career BB/9. He has also been setback by injuries, including three arm injuries in the past four years. If he can stay healthy and also work on his mechanics to reduce walks, he will more than certainly get a call-up mid-season and perhaps even a chance at the rotation the upcoming season.

Player to Watch #3: Carson Kelly, C

The other centerpiece in the Paul Goldschmidt trade, Carson Kelly hopes to make an impact right away for the Diamondbacks. After sitting for years behind Yadier Molina, Kelly finally gets to see daylight. Given his relatively small sample size in St. Louis, it is hard to tell how he would fare offensively. Projections put him as relatively around replacement level, but it would be exciting to see if he could change the narrative around to be the eventual winner of this trade. 

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