SB Nation's 2010 MLB Previews: Arizona Diamondbacks, A Return To Relevance

Every day, from March 1st through March 30th, we will be posting a new team preview for the upcoming MLB season, written up by our excellent network of baseball bloggers. Follow this section for daily updates as you prepare yourself for the summer ahead. Team previews will be posted in ascending order of Las Vegas World Series odds.

  • Live
1 Total Update since March 10, 2010
  • Updates 1
  • All Updates 1

SB Nation's 2010 MLB Previews: Arizona Diamondbacks, A Return To Relevance

By Jim McLennan of AZ Snake Pit

-----

Introduction

The Diamondbacks look to recover from a very disappointing 2009, which saw them finish last in the division. They fired their manager, lost ace Brandon Webb for almost the entire season, and struggled to reach 70 wins just two years after reaching the NLCS. This year has to be better - if only on the basis it can't really go very much worse. But what are the chances of a major bounceback?

Position Players

22-year old Justin Upton, an All-Star last year, and freshly-inked to a long-term deal, will be expected to start living up to that contract in right-field. He and Mark Reynolds, the third-baseman who exploded to 44 homers in 2009, will be expected to shoulder the bulk of the offensive production, along with Adam LaRoche, whose arrival as a free-agent should help plug the offensive black-hole which was first-base for the Diamondbacks last season. Reynolds set an all-time major-league record for strikeouts last season, but as long as he drives in over a hundred runs again, Arizona supporters will tolerate the K's.

LaRoche joins another ex-Brave, 2B Kelly Johnson, on the left-side of the infield; Johnson's 2009 was so bad, he was non-tendered by the Braves, so he has a lot to prove. Bounceback seasons, though for differing reasons, will also be sought from Chris Young in center and Conor Jackson in left [Jackson may also see some time at 1B]. Conor caught valley fever in spring training, a fungal lung disease (!) that turned into pneumonia (!!) and left him with the energy level of a used Kleenex - he should be fine for Opening Day, after tearing up the Dominican League in winter ball. Young also suffered from a chronic and debilitating disease; in his case it was a severe case of pop-upitis that infected his year; he did look somewhat better over the final month, after a spell in Triple-A.

Behind the plate, Miguel Montero will split time with Chris Snyder, Montero having become the #1 catcher after Snyder was sidelined by back issues for much of 2009. Stephen Drew will be the regular shortstop, and his performance level will likely be good enough to avoid much criticism, while falling short of garnering much praise. Off the bench, Gerardo Parra will spell all three outfielders, while defensive wizard and fan favorite Augie Ojeda and the heavily-tattooed Ryan Roberts backup on the infield. There's still one roster spot left at the time of writing, thanks to Eric Byrnes being dumped: we'll be paying him $11m to play for the Mariners this season, but don't mention him to any Diamondbacks' fans if you value your internal organs.

Rotation

It's probably a bit of an exaggeration to say the Arizona season stands or falls on the performance of Brandon Webb - but only a bit. His absence was a large cause of last year's disappointments: from 2006-08, no pitcher won more games in the majors, yet in 38 starts, his 2009 replacements went 7-20 with a 6.11 ERA. He's still coming back from shoulder clean-up surgery last August, and his readiness for Opening Day is uncertain: I'd say we may not see a fully-effective Webb for the first month or even two. If/when he's recovered, that radically alters the make-up of the rotation.

Alongside Webb, we have Dan Haren, who was the best pitcher in the NL for the first half of last year (and got jobbed out of the All-Star start). He fell off sharply after the break, continuing a trend that has been the case for most of his career. New arrival Edwin Jackson was also better earlier on, and Arizona will be looking for him to prove 2009's breakout season was not a fluke. While former Yankees prospect Ian Kennedy is largely untested in the majors, he is almost guaranteed the #4 spot for the D-backs. The fifth - and if Webb's not ready, sixth - spot - is less certain. Billy Buckner and Bryan Augenstein, two who saw some starts last season, may get another shot, and Rodrigo Lopez is another possible candidate.

Bullpen

This was a problem for the Diamondbacks last season - not so much for the runs allowed, as when they were given up, with the eighth inning a particular problem. Closer Chad Qualls missed the last month with a knee injury, but should be fine for Opening Day, and will take over the ninth inning again. There are a number of candidates as set-up men: the team acquired veterans Bob Howry and Aaron Heilman, though both struggled in high-leverage innings in 2009. Internally, Juan Gutierrez is the top candidate, having replaced Qualls in September and been solid. Leftie Clay Zavada, beloved by fans for his blue-collar approach and Rollie Fingers 'stache, may also see action there.

Towards the back of the relief corps, things are still shaking down. Blaine Boyer seems likely to retain his spot, while would leave Rule 5 pick Zack Kroenke, Esmerling Vasquez and Leo Rosales to battle it out for the final spot. Kroenke must be kept on the 25-man roster or the team risks losing him, and Rosales is out of options, so Vasquez appears to be low man on the totem-pole. Whether it's Kroenke or Rosales will likely be determined by spring training performance: last year, Rule 5 pick James Skelton was found wanting, but Arizona worked out a trade to retain him in the minors.

In The System

There's not much chance of help from the farm system immediately. Arizona did have what was regarded as a good draft in 2009, which helped replenish a system largely strip-mined of options in various trades, such as the one for Dan Haren. However, no-one picked there is remotely near ready to help the club: overall top prospect, pitcher Jarrod Parker, will miss much or all of the season after Tommy John surgery. The good news is, the Diamondbacks remain one of the youngest teams in the majors, and should not need a great deal of help from the minor leagues in the next year or two. Infielders Brandon Allen, Rusty Ryal and Tony Abreu, and outfielder Cole Gillespie could contribute, and are currently battling for the 25th spot - they may be better served with regular playing time in Triple-A.

Miscellaneous

It'll be manager AJ Hinch's first full season, having taken over 29 games into last season. It was undoubtedly a learning experience for him, so it'll be interesting to see how he handles things, being in charge from Opening Day. The team certainly needs to improve on its fundamentals - Arizona were ahead only of Washington in fielding percentage, with some embarrassingly inept play at times. That will need to be corrected if the team is to compete in 2010. As GM Josh Byrnes said, "We have enough talent to give us a chance, but I don't think that we have so much talent that we can be sloppy and win."

Conclusion

The bookies currently rate us at 75/1 to win the World Series. If Webb is healthy, then that is a real steal, to the point where a five-hour drive to Vegas seems like a worthwhile investment. At this point, however, I will be leaving my life-savings under the mattrees; if they are without Webb, it is difficult to see how they can stand out in what should be a tight NL West. It seems that the team deserves some luck from the baseball gods, and if the undeniable collection of young talent in Arizona also finally gels, the 15-game or more turnaround needed to get us in the hunt is certainly not an impossibility.

Continue
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.