MLB Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

After an impressive 93-69 season, the Arizona Diamondbacks found themselves as the winners of the National League Wild Card Game against the Colorado Rockies early last October. It was a storybook season for the Snakes, who defied expectations time and time again on their way to their first playoff appearance since 2011.

But it was the Los Angeles Dodgers who, in a flash, ended the Diamondbacks’ season after a 3-game sweep in the National League Division Series. A season that was so magical – one in which star-first baseman Paul Goldschmidt finished in the top three in NL MVP voting and first-year skipper Torey Lovullo won NL Manager of the Year – was ripped away like candy from a child, and Arizona was left to wait until 2018.

But the Diamondbacks are ready to make a run at the playoffs again, and they don’t expect anything less of themselves. According to breakout-reliever Archie Bradley, they can do just that, too.

This article has been broken down into three parts: the returners, the newcomers and the sleepers. We’ll kick it off with the key returning members of the Diamondbacks’ squad who could help them reach their second consecutive postseason for the second time in franchise history.

The Returners

Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt had one of the best seasons of his career last season. With the exception of September, “Goldy” was the driving force of the Diamondbacks, slashing .297/.404/.563 with 120 RBIs. Goldschmidt tied his career high in home runs with 36 in his fifth consecutive All-Star campaign in 2017 and should not disappoint in 2018. Throughout his career, Goldschmidt has been susceptible to minor injuries throughout his career – the most recent being a sore right elbow that sidelined him for a week in September – but as long as he stays healthy, the Diamondbacks will roll. With Giancarlo Stanton’s departure to the New York Yankees and the American League, I might even go as far to say that Paul Goldschmidt could win his first career Most Valuable Player this season – he’s only lost out three other times.

Since his entrance into the league in 2014, fans had been searching for the results Jake Lamb promised while he was ascending through the minor leagues. In 2017, he finally delivered and cemented himself as Arizona’s third baseman of the future. Lamb notched his first All-Star appearance in July after posting 20 home runs and 67 RBIs before the break. He cooled off in the second half of the year, but proved to manager Torey Lovullo that he belongs at the hot corner and will likely remain there barring any unforeseen circumstances. I expect another brilliant year from Lamb in the desert and predict he will remain one of the elite third basemen in a stacked National League field.

Another breakout year came from starting pitcher Robbie Ray, whom the D-backs acquired in a three-way trade with the Detroit Tigers and the Yankees. It’s often referred to as, “the Didi Gregorius trade” in Arizona, but I strongly believe that with Ray’s talent outbreak it should be Tigers fans mourning the loss of Ray. The 26-year-old fireballer posted a 2.89 ERA and struck out 218 hitters, good for third in the NL behind the Nationals’ Max Scherzer and the Mets’ Jacob DeGrom – and that’s with Ray having missed significant time after getting nailed in the head with a line drive on July 29. Make no mistake, Robbie Ray is molding himself into an ace and one of the best left-handed pitchers in all of baseball. That showed last year when Ray appeared in his first All-Star Game. It won’t be long before we see him atop the Diamondbacks’ rotation, but for now he’ll serve as their No. 2 with ace Zack Greinke still throwing the ball as well has he ever has. He finished seventh in NL Cy Young voting last year, and should contend for the title as long as he continues to dominate with his electric fastball and equally-astounding slider. For the second straight year, he should compliment the right arm of Zack Greinke beautifully.

Speaking of the Arizona ace, Greinke was also an All-Star last season, his fourth time. His contract looms over the D-backs front office, as he’s owed $138.5 million over the next four years, and likely is the reason general manager Mike Hazen couldn’t bring back slugging outfielder J.D. Martinez. Greinke had a superb 2017 campaign – with a 17-7 record and a 3.20 ERA – and should be expected to do the same entering his age-34 season. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Diamondbacks fans were talking about Ray more than Greinke nearing season’s end.

The Newcomers

The departure of J.D. Martinez to the Boston Red Sox hurt for Arizona baseball fans and players alike. Just ask Archie Bradley, who showed his reaction to Martinez signing a 5 year/$110 million contract with the BoSox on Twitter.

But the Diamondbacks’ front office did a fantastic job filling Martinez’s void quickly after the 30-year-old outfielder signed his new deal.

Just 2 hours and 46 minutes after, Mike Hazen made a splash of his own by bringing in outfielder Jarrod Dyson on a 2 year/$7.5 million deal. Dyson offers something the D-backs have never possessed: elite speed. Over the course of his eight-year career, Dyson has rightfully earned the nickname. “Mr. Zoombiya,” swiping 204 career bags. Since 2012, he averaged 30 stolen bases per season with the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners. Dyson offers a great fourth outfielder option for Torey Lovullo – he can play all three outfield positions with ease, utilizing his speed to cut down would-be doubles in the gap. Look for his speed to be key in late-game situations as well, as Lovullo will likely use Dyson as a pinch-runner when in search of a late offensive spark.

The next day, Hazen pivoted his attention to the trade market and acquired outfielder Steven Souza Jr. from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team deal that also included the Yankees. Hazen sent infielder Brandon Drury to New York and top pitching prospect Anthony Banda to Tampa Bay in the swap, with two players to be named later heading to the Rays as well. It was an incredibly cerebral move by the Diamondbacks’ front office, and here’s why: Souza Jr. will make $3.5 million this season and won’t be a free agent until 2021. The trade saves Arizona – for those of you without a calculator in front of you – $106.5 million and gives the D-backs an extremely important power bat in the middle of their lineup to hit, likely, behind Paul Goldschmidt. In 2017, Souza Jr. slashed .259/.351/.459, which may not seem eye popping to some. But, his 4.2 WAR, 121 OPS+, 30 home runs and 78 RBIs speak for themselves. Oh yeah, and that WAR? Better than Martinez’s 4.1. He’ll patrol the outfield with A.J. Pollock and David Peralta, two defensively proficient players that Souza Jr. will only add to. This trade will end up working wonders for the Diamondbacks in my opinion, and I expect Souza Jr.’s home run tally to climb in the thin desert air at Chase Field.

You want relief pitching? The Diamondbacks have it. New additions Brad Boxberger and Yoshihisa Hirano will help bolster the back of Arizona’s bullpen. Boxberger was acquired via trade with Tampa Bay (separate from the Souza Jr. deal) and is under club control through 2019. The 30-year-old righty led the American League in saves in 2015 with 41, and sports a career 3.19 ERA. Hirano, also a right-hander, comes to the desert on a 2 year/$6 million contract from Japan, where he played with the Onix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan’s top pro baseball league). Word on the street is that Hirano has a nasty splitter, which he’ll look to use throughout the spring while competing with Boxberger and Bradley for the closer’s role.

Another under-the-radar move Arizona made was signing catcher Alex Avila to a 2 year/$8.25 million contract. The D-backs lost Chris Iannetta to the division-rival Colorado Rockies, so Avila will likely plug in as the everyday starter, with Chris Herrmann and Jeff Mathis on the roster as well. Avila hit .264/.387/.447 in 2017 while driving in 49 runs for the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. In recent years, moves involving catching have been made with defense in mind. Avila threw out 31% of potential base stealers last season and has done so 29% of the time throughout his career.

The Sleepers

As previously alluded to, Diamondbacks’ reliever Archie Bradley believes that Arizona will reach the playoffs once again in 2018. He’s probably one of the bigger reasons why after his stellar outbreak in 2017 in which he started the year expecting to be a starter. Torey Lovullo ruled Bradley as the odd man out and moved him to the ‘pen, where he recreated himself as a lockdown set-up man and a smooth segue to the ninth inning. This year, he’ll compete for the closer’s role, and his statistics from last season leave no reason to believe he won’t get it. A 1.73 ERA in 73 innings made Bradley a staple coming out of the bullpen for the Diamondbacks. He even received an NL MVP vote! With the dominance he showed in 2017 – and you heard it here first – Archie Bradley will be in the All-Star Game in 2018.

The trade of Brandon Drury to the Bronx means one thing for the Diamondbacks: 24-year-old Ketel Marte is the future of the D-backs’ middle infield. Acquired by Arizona with righty Taijuan Walker on Thanksgiving Even in 2016, Marte platooned with Drury, Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed in a crowded 2017 middle infield. In 73 games, Marte hit .260 and shined defensively. It speaks volumes that Marte was Mike Hazen’s only untouchable middle infielder during trade talks in the offseason. They fully expect him to be a large part of their future. He had a three-hit, two-triple performance in the NL Wild Card Game. With a contact-speed skillset, Marte could prove to be just what the D-backs want in 2018.

At the back end of the Diamondbacks’ rotation sits right-hander Zack Godley. He had a sneaky good 2017 with a 3.37 ERA and 165 strikeouts. Most analysts were surprised by his output last year and expect more of the same this season. His trademark sprint to and from the mound allowed for 155 innings pitched, and as long as Godley stays healthy, the D-backs should be set with a solid rotation that will compete for the best in all of baseball. Last season, it did the same but with the progression of Godley and Taijuan Walker, this Arizona rotation could be one opponents dread.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s