The Diamondbacks head into the 2016 season as close to a boom-or-bust team as you can get. A team trying to get over the humps better known as the San Francisco Giants or Los Angeles Dodgers, the D-Backs threw heavy money, and even heavier prospects, around as they attempted to upgrade their pitching staff in order to compete with the larger markets, inside and out of their own division in the National League. Whether or not those acquisitions will allow the “all-in” mentality to pay off, however, remains to be seen.
Depth Chart (as of 2/24)
C: Welington Castillo
1B: Paul Goldschmidt
2B: Chris Owings
SS: Jean Segura
3B: Jake Lamb
LF: David Peralta
CF: A.J. Pollock
RF: Yasmany Tomas
SP: Zack Greinke
SP: Shelby Miller
SP: Patrick Corbin
SP: Robbie Ray
SP: Rubby De La Rosa
CL: Brad Ziegler
Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, Tyler Clippard, Jean Segura, Tyler Wagner, Wesley Wright
Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair, Allen Webster, Aaron Hill, Isan Diaz, Chase Anderson, Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Position Battles: One could make the argument that when you have as many starters in question as the Diamondbacks, you’re not a surefire contender. And the Diamondbacks have at least three starters on the infield that have yet to be completely solidified, even if there are names currently penciled in at each position.
Chris Owings looks to be the guy at second base for now, which could be a potentially frightening prospect when you consider his -1.4 WAR in 2015, taking home negative ratings in both Off (-25.8) & Def (-4.6), according to FanGraphs. The good news there is that Owings is now farther removed from shoulder surgery and should head into 2016 with a full offseason, rather than one hampered by rehab. A guy who dominated Triple-A in 2013 clearly has some upside at the plate and very well could continue to latch onto his spot at 2B. Phil Gosselin will likely be more of a utility guy than anything, which means Brandon Drury, acquired in the Justin Upton trade with the Atlanta Braves, will be the larger threat to his playing time than anything.
Shortstop is an even more intriguing situation. The Diamondbacks had one of the very best with the glove at that position last year, in Nick Ahmed (20 Defensive Runs Saved, 11.3 UZR). As a guy who is extremely high on what Ahmed brings with the glove, especially considering the team around him is more than capable of picking up the offensive slack, the Jean Segura trade is rather puzzling. On the surface, Segura would appear to be another glove-first shortstop, coming off of a couple of awful offensive seasons. Perhaps the change of scenery will do him good. Unless one of them logs some time at second base, though, it’s difficult to project exactly how Chip Hale will deploy his two defensively capable shortstops. Maybe Ahmed’s success against lefties gives him the edge. Only spring will tell.
Of the three infield spots, Jake Lamb would appear to be the safest. While he didn’t flash the power, he hit the ball hard (35.9% of his contact was hard) and reached base at a decent clip (.331). As he’s completely healthy coming into 2016, an uptick in power wouldn’t be a surprise. If he struggles, though, Drury could sneak in and grab some time here as well.
We could also pretend that there’s a battle for the fourth and fifth starter spots in the rotation, but Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray have those all sewn up. One would imagine, though, that the Diamondbacks would love to see Archie Bradley catch fire and grab one of those spots at some point during the season.
Injury Concerns: The Diamondbacks have several players that were coming off injury heading into 2015, or suffered injuries early on that lingered throughout the season. Jake Lamb and Chris Owings are examples of this. Patrick Corbin is fully recovered from Tommy John and got a full offseason, rather than one spent rehabbing. Archie Bradley struggled after taking a line drive to the head, but has had the time to recover. Injuries are difficult to project, but at least the Diamondbacks have a slew of infielders in the event that something goes wrong there. In the outfield or rotation, though? That’s a much larger question.
Key Players: Do we need to talk about Paul Goldschmidt? Probably not. He’s a top five player in the National League, and his importance to this Arizona ballclub really goes without saying. Instead, let’s touch on the Diamondbacks’ next most important player: A.J. Pollock.
Pollock very well could have been an MVP candidate in his own right last season. He finished fourth among outfielders in WAR last year (6.6), with a .367 on-base percentage and a wRC+ of 132. He’s capable of providing the power (20 home runs) and the speed (39 swipes), making him a truly dual threat, especially when you factor in his above average defense. His .338 BABIP could regress just a touch, but that’s not such an outlandish figure that he’ll fall off the map. He has great tools, and is an excellent no. 2 threat behind Goldschmidt. He’ll have to replicate his success if the Diamondbacks are to be the playoff team they think they can be.
Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller probably also belong, somewhat obviously, in the key players category. They were acquired to get this team over the hump, and the bulk of the responsibility, as a staff, is going to rest on these guys (as well as Patrick Corbin). Greinke is coming off of what very well could have been a Cy Young season in 2015, while reviews are somewhat mixed on Miller, though the consensus is that he’s a quality arm. It’s just a matter of to what degree that quality can actually reach. Having surrendered Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair, as well as defensive wiz Ender Inciarte, in the deal, Arizona better hope it’s of the highest quality.
Underrated Asset: We can look both in the field and up on the bump for this one.
David Peralta racked up 517 plate appearances, far more than anyone may have expected heading into 2015. He provided power (17 home runs, 138 wRC+, .210 ISO), on-base skills (.371 OBP), and a bit of speed as a bonus (nine steals). While that .368 BABIP could definitely represent a source of regression, he hits the ball hard and walks at a decent enough rate (8.5%). Given the offensive spark he’s proven to be in his first two years, he should continue to contribute in that respect, though he isn’t quite the defensive presence that Inciarte was.
The acquisitions of Greinke and Miller received the buzz, but the Diamondbacks already had one of the better lefties in the game in place in Patrick Corbin. Coming off of Tommy John, Corbin did not disappoint in any way. He posted strong strikeout numbers at 8.26 K/9 and walked just 1.80 per nine, while going for a 3.60 ERA and 3.35 FIP. That control is very encouraging, as is his velocity (92.4 MPH on average). With a full offseason in the books, he’ll be one of the better no. 3 starters in baseball.
Burning Question: What should the team expect from Yasmany Tomas in 2016?
The Diamondbacks invested heavily in the Cuban outfielder prior to last year, surprising a lot of people when they swooped in and grabbed him on a $56.8 million deal. There were signs of him being a capable Major Leaguer, but he finished below replacement level (-1.3 WAR), failing to develop consistency at the plate and struggling mightily with the glove.
It’s tough to find positive signs, based off of last season’s numbers alone. He reached base at a clip of only .310 and walked at a rate of just four percent. And that’s with a high .354 BABIP. It’s not as if he improved as the year went on either, hitting just .208 in the second half and striking out as many times in 158 second half plate appearances (55) as he did in 268 first half PAs.
It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out. Tomas has plenty of pop and can hit to all fields (going oppo roughly 29% of the time last year), with the Diamondbacks a good enough defensive team to compensate for his shortcomings on the field. It goes without saying that he’ll need to cut down on the strikeouts and find his way on base far more than he did last season in order to be an effective contributor to this team. But with so little depth, especially in the outfield, he’s going to have every opportunity to succeed in 2016.
Best Case Scenario: We likely know how this plays out well for the Diamondbacks. Goldschmidt and Pollock mash. Peralta, Yasmany Tomas, and Jake Lamb provide solid secondary offense. Chris Owings showcases a bit of offensive upside. Greinke, Miller, and Corbin serve as the best 1-3 in baseball, while Ray and De La Rosa are consistent at the backend. The bullpen improves off of what was a miserable 2015 season, with Archie Bradley finding his niche as a reliever for now.
It’s not as if the Diamondbacks were a bad team last year. They flirted with .500 for much of the year. Those acquisitions of Greinke, Miller, Clippard, etc. could definitely be the formula to put them over the top. It’s just not a surefire scenario for them that it’ll transpire that way. While it’s still difficult to project them surpassing both the Giants and Dodgers in the NL West standings, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility if things break right for them.
Worst Case Scenario: A lack of depth rears its ugly head. Goldschmidt and Greinke are their All-Star selves, but don’t get the support throughout the rest of the club. Pollock regresses and Peralta falls apart, while a revolving door exists throughout the middle infield. Miller is decidedly mediocre, and the team struggles to find any sort of consistency at the back end of the rotation.
Realistic Prediction: At the very least, the Diamondbacks are going to be a fun team to watch. They have some star power in Goldschmidt, Greinke, Pollock, Miller, and Corbin. They have some very capable offensive players, with Peralta, Tomas, and Welington Castillo providing no shortage of pop. There is upside on the middle infield, but it’ll just take a little while to find it. The bullpen is improved, but is still a question, as is their rotation depth. When you look at their rotation and their outfield, as well as the bullpen, this isn’t a particularly deep team. A major injury to a key player could spell the end for them. With so many different questions still existing, whether position battles or the quality of pitching, it’s really, really difficult to declare them the best team in the NL West, despite the “disrespect” that fans and sports radio personalities have been crying out of the desert.
With that said, the pop that this offense can provide, as well as the improved rotation, should lead to this team very seriously being in the mix for a playoff spot. And while it’s been mentioned in relation to individual players, Arizona’s overall prowess with the glove has largely been overlooked throughout this preview. While it doesn’t apply to every player, they can be a very good defensive team.
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that while they’ll battle LA and San Francisco in the division, they also have to worry about the New York Mets, Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Pittsburgh Pirates in the race for a potential Wild Card spot, in addition to any surprises that emerge. It’s an uphill climb, but they’ll be in the mix.
**Statistics via FanGraphs