Predictions are just that: predictions. I recently did previews of the Athletics, Giants and Orioles — three 2014 playoff teams. Now I am about to say that a team that will finish 2015 with more wins than all three … is the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Diamondbacks finished 64-98 last season and fired GM Kevin Towers and eventually manager Kirk Gibson. Tony La Russa joined the front office and Dave Stewart took over as GM of the club. Longtime MLB coach Chip Hale was given the title of manager for the first time at the big league level. They traded their starting catcher Miguel Montero to the Cubs and their projected number one starting pitcher Wade Miley to the Red Sox. They got two pitchers for Miley, Rubby De La Rosa (a guest on the Passed Ball Show) and Allen Webster, both of whom can break camp in the D’Backs starting rotation. They traded for RHP Jeremy Hellickson, off a down season in Tampa Bay. They also dealt SS Didi Gregorius to the Yankees in a deal that netted them Robbie Ray from the Tigers.
The Diamondbacks’ most significant move, however, was the signing of Cuban OF/3B Yasmany Tomas. He is just 24 and has the same type of power that Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu have. He will provide some protection for Paul Goldschmidt (.300, 19, 69 in 109 games in 2014), who should have won the 2013 NL MVP. They also signed RHP Yoan Lopez, who despite being just 21, has a very good chance of cracking the big league rotation this season.
Contrary to MLB.com’s depth chart, I have power hitting infielder/catcher Peter O’Brien making this team opening day. O’Brien, acquired in the trade with the Yankees that sent Martin Prado to New York, has hit 60 HR over the past two seasons in the minor leagues. Because of the lack of depth at the C position (Tuffy Gosewisch is projected to be the starting catcher), O’Brien could be behind the plate opening day. He also has the ability to play 3B, something that is not guaranteed to be so easy for Tomas. Tomas could move to the OF and allow for O’Brien to play 3B. 3B prospect Jake Lamb is another interesting piece going into the season for Arizona. He hit .327 with 39 2Bs and 15 HRs in the minors last season before getting a September call up. If they get anything from Mark Trumbo (.235, 14, 61), the lineup becomes a lot deeper than most think. The middle infield will consist of SS Chris Owings (.261, 6, 26) and 2B Aaron Hill (.244, 10, 60). I would be willing to platoon A.J. Pollock (.302, 7, 24, 14 SB) with the left-hand hitting David Peralta (.286, 8, 36) in centerfield. If they both play well, it will put some pressure on Trumbo as well as Lamb, if they get off to bad starts. My D’Backs lineup looks like this: Pollock/Peralta CF, Owings SS, Goldschmidt 1B, Tomas LF, Trumbo RF, O’Brien C, Lamb 3B, Hill 2B. Perhaps Hill or Lamb can unseat Owings if he struggles in the two spot.
Veteran Cody Ross will look to provide a little spark off the bench. Ender Inciarte (.278, 4, 27, 19 SB) will add some depth to the OF and between him, Ross and the other half of Peralta/Pollock, there will be enough options to play the OF if Tomas has to move to 3B. Gerald Laird comes in as a free agent and is likely to battle with Gosewisch and O’Brien for the catcher’s job and may be the odd man out if O’Brien makes the team. Jordan Pacheco and Danny Worth are also to be considered for a spot on the bench.
According to MLB.com, the Diamondbacks projected starting five is Hellickson (1-5, 4.52 in 13 starts), Josh Collmenter (11-8, 3.46, 33 games, 28 starts), De La Rosa (4-8, 4.43, 19 games, 18 starts for Boston), Webster (5-3, 5.03, 11 starts for Boston) and Vidal Nuno (2-12, 4.58, 31 games, 28 starts for Yankees and D’Backs last season). I think those projections are incorrect. Two favorites to make the D’Backs rotation out of camp this year are Passed Ball Show guest Chase Anderson (9-7, 4.01 in 21 starts) and Daniel Hudson (16-12, 4.39, 33 starts for Arizona in 2011). Hudson seems like his elbow has finally responded to his two Tommy John surgeries and I would not rule him out taking a spot in the back of the rotation. Then, there are the cases of Archie Bradley and Lopez. Lopez is an unknown, but Stewart thinks he has the ability to make the rotation out of camp. For Bradley, its a matter of when the Diamondbacks think he is ready to pitch in the major leagues. Bradley was hurt last year and it showed in his numbers. He certainly has the ability to be a top of the rotation starting pitcher down the road.
The thing with the D’Backs rotation is the uncertainty that exists with MLB.com’s projections. Hellickson is expected to be completely ready to start the season and Collmenter has earned a shot of being a starter. Other than that, the other three spots are up for grabs. I’d like to see both Anderson and Hudson be the three and four starters with the last spot to go to whoever pitches the best out of Webster, De La Rosa and Nuno. That spot, inevitably, will go to Lopez or Bradley, whoever is ready first. Ray (1-4, 8.16, 9 games, 6 starts) will also be in the mix.
The D’Backs bullpen has some decent arms and should be able to put together a good combination at the end of the game. Addison Reed (1-7, 4.25, 32 saves), however, is one of the most overrated closers in MLB. RHP Randall Delgado (4-4, 4.87, 47 games, 4 starts, 86 Ks in less than 78 IP) has the stuff to be a closer or an 8th inning guy, as long as he is not hellbent on being a starting pitcher. RHP David Hernandez is recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery and is likely not going to be ready for opening day. Brad Ziegler (5-3, 3.49, 68 games) will provide consistency and LHP Oliver Perez (3-4, 2.91, 68 games, 76 Ks, < 59 IP) has rejuvenated his career as a middle reliever. Evan Marshall (4-4, 2.74, 57 games) and Matt Stites (5.73 ERA in 37 games) will also be part of the mix. LHP Ray may also be an option as a LHR, though he has more value as a starter. LHPs J.C. Ramirez, Dan Runzler and Matt Reynolds will all compete for that second lefty spot. Runzler could be the standout out of the three.
Every year, there is a young team that overachieves for a good amount of the season. There is no pressure on this Arizona team, contrary to the way things were last season. Ownership is giving Stewart and La Russa the opportunity to make this their team. Because of that, it is understood why the “experts” aren’t so high on this team. I like the amount of starting pitching options they have. I like the fact that Tomas should hit at least 25-30 HRs. I also like the fact that unknowns Lamb and O’Brien will be known by the end of the season. I also like the fact that once Bradley and Lopez join the rotation, they will become fixtures from that point forward. And Patrick Corbin will make his return from Tommy John surgery this season. Vegas has the D’Backs at 71 1/2, I am obviously taking the over. I got the Diamondbacks at 80-82, 3rd place in the NL West- the biggest surprise team of the season and my biggest stretch to this point.