The Arizona Diamondbacks enjoyed a little success in 2011, making the postseason after winning the National League West division under manager Kirk Gibson. A couple of 81-81 seasons followed and the air came right out of the balloon during a forgettable 2014 season which saw first general manager Kevin Towers, then manager Gibson, lose their jobs. Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa was hired as chief baseball officer and was the driving force behind the hiring of new general manager Dave Stewart. Former Diamondbacks, Mets and Athletics coach and former MLB infielder Chip Hale was hired as manager and the Diamondbacks improved 15 games from their 2014 record, which happened to be the worst in all of baseball. Led by star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and center fielder AJ Pollack, the Diamondbacks were a sleeper in my predictions last year, being right on the borderline of getting back into playoff contention.
The Diamondbacks surprised the baseball world with their aggressiveness this off season. The signing of free agent right hand pitcher Zack Greinke (19 wins, 3 losses, 1.66 earned run average, 200 strikeouts, just less than 223 innings pitched) to a 6 year, $206 million contract was one of the least expected moves in most recent baseball history. The Diamondbacks previous record contract was given to Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas for 6 years and $68.5 million, so the precedence had not been set for a contract like this being offered. Odds had the Los Angeles Dodgers as the favorites to retain Greinke and word was, Greinke was making his final decision between the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. The Diamondbacks quietly jumped into the fray and gave the right hander the money and security he was seeking. They followed that up with a trade with the Atlanta Braves to acquire right hander Shelby Miller (6-17, 3.02, 171 Ks, just over 205 IP). The minor league junkies hated this deal as the possibility exists that the Braves acquired some top quality talent. First overall pick in the 2015 draft Dansby Swanson, right hander Aaron Blair and center fielder Ender Inciarte (.303 batting average, 6 home runs, 45 runs batted in, .747 on base plus slugging, 21 stolen bases). Regardless of the obsession that exists with minor league players, it has to be agreed upon that the Diamondbacks are in a much better position with Greinke and Miller heading their rotation.
Arizona also made a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers to acquire shortstop Jean Segura (.257, 6, 50, .616, 25 stolen bases) for right handed pitcher Chase Anderson (6-6, 4.30, 27 starts, just under 153 IP), infielder Aaron Hill (.220, 6, 39, .640) and shortstop Isan Diaz. A case could be made that Swanson, Blair and Diaz were the top three prospects in the entire Diamondbacks system. They finished off their off season by signing free agent pitcher Tyler Clippard (5-4, 2.92, 19 saves, 64 Ks, 71 IP) to sure up the back of their bullpen.
Goldschmidt (.321, 33, 110, 1.005) is the heart and sole of this offense, and before the addition of Greinke, by far the most impact full player on the team. He was joined this past season by Pollack (.315, 20, 76, .865, 39 SB), who emerged as an All Star caliber player. Tomas (.273, 9, 48, .707) gets a full opportunity to be an outfielder this season, something he was unable to do in 2015 because of the presence of Pollack, Inciarte and David Peralta (.312, 17, 78, .893). Third baseman Jake Lamb (.263, 6, 34, .716) should profile into a player that should hit 15-20 home runs a season. Catcher Wellington Castillo (.237, 19, 57, .750) had an interesting 2015 season to say the least. He started the season as the third string catcher for the Chicago Cubs, a team in which he a starter for in 2014. He was traded to the Seattle Mariners for relief pitcher Yoervis Medina, then dealt again after six games and 24 at bats to the Diamondbacks as part of the Mark Trumbo trade.
The addition of Segura allows Arizona the fortune of playing the hot hand at second base. Both Chris Owings (.227, 4, 43, .587, 16 SB) and Nick Ahmed (.226, 9, 34, .634) performed as above average defensive players up the middle but were putrid at the plate. If Segura can perform close to the level that Inciarte did last season, the Diamondbacks offense should consider itself upgraded. The lineup I would go with is Segura SS, Peralta RF, Pollack CF, Goldschmidt 1B, Tomas LF, Lamb 3B, Castillo C, Owings 2B. Fellow 23 year- olds Socrates Brito and Brandon Drury should head the Diamondbacks bench unless the team decides they are better suited playing every day in the minor leagues at in the outfield and at third base, respectively. Phillip Gosselin can back up in the infield and veteran Tuffy Gosewich serves as the backup catcher. Outfielder Jason Bourgeois, infielder Joakin Arias and catcher Brett Hayes can all make a case to be part of the Arizona bench.
There is no need to talk about how improved the Diamondbacks starting rotation is with Greinke and Miller at the top of it. They also get back left hander Patrick Corbin (6-5, 3.60, 78 Ks, 85 IP) for a full season as he has now recovered from Tommy John surgery. Right hander Rubby De La Rosa (14-9, 4.67, 32 starts, just under 189 IP) was their most durable pitcher last season and left hander Robbie Ray (5-12, 3.52, 112 Ks, just under 128 IP) showed he may have a future as a quality major league starting pitcher. Well regarded right handers Archie Bradley and Zack Godley will look to serve as depth, but have the ability to make a huge impact if given the chance. Swing man Josh Collmenter 4-6, 3.79, 44 games, 12 starts) will start the season in the bullpen but can start if needed.
Clippard should be an upgrade for the Diamondbacks while serving as their eight inning pitcher. Closer Brad Ziegler (0-3, 1.85, 30 saves) is probably the most underrated at his position in all of the sport, completely because he draws contact and is not a strikeout pitcher. Collmenter and Daniel Hudson (4-3, 3.86, 71 Ks, just under 68 IP), another converted starter) will try to provide some depth. I like what I saw last season out of Randall Delgado (8-4, 3.25, 73 Ks, 72 IP) and feel he will has the best tools to get the ball to Clippard who in turn will get it to Ziegler. Veteran right hander ex-Red Sam LeCure is in camp and so are left handers Matt Reynolds, Scott Rice and Wesley Wright, all of whom looking to land a spot as the top left handed specialist.
Top pitching prospect Braden Shipley was drafted 15th overall in 2013. He should be ready this season. Him and Bradley have the highest ceilings in regards to Diamondbacks pitchers with Brito and Drury holding the same in regards to position players. Right hander Yoan Lopez was signed out of Cuba with a hefty contract. He did not perform well last season but did reach the upper 90s with his fast ball in the Arizona Fall League. Power hitter Peter O'Brien (.284, 26, 107 in AAA Reno) needs to find a position, which could be in the outfield this season. Until then, similarly to what I suggested for Brito and Drury, he is best suited to play every day in the minor leagues.
Last year, I thought the Diamondbacks were a third place team. While I was correct, I had the San Diego Padres in second place and the Giants in forth. The Diamondbacks will improve, but not just with their pitching. Offensively, they will produce some more runs with Tomas and Lamb having more of an impact. I think this is a playoff team, but one that may need to tweak a couple things before thinking about making a serious run in the postseason. Las Vegas has been pretty high on the Diamondbacks by putting their over/ under at 84.5. I have them at 86-76, second place in the National League West division. For the first time since 2011, the Diamondbacks will be back in the postseason and in a single game, anything can happen.