At the end of the season, two of the leading journalists who cover the Diamondbacks, kindly agreed to answer a set of ten questions put to them by me. Nick Piecoro (Arizona Republic) and Jack Magruder (East Valley Tribune) are the men who'll be sharing their expert knowledge here, and we thank them enormously for taking the time to respond - I hope they enjoyed the reversal of roles, and having their opinions asked for a change! Bear in mind that the responses were written anywhere up to a couple of months back, but the glacial pace of off-season change thus far, means they're just as topical now. Fortunately. :-) The first batch of questions, along with their answers, are below:
1. In Quentin, Young and Drew, the D'backs will have three everyday starters with less than 150 games major-league experience between them; Jackson, Snyder and Montero also likely to see significant time. What problems will such a young lineup face?
Nick Piecoro: In Quentin, Drew and Jackson, I would guess that their experience from the past season (and, for Jackson, the past 1 1/2 seasons) will benefit them. Jackson looked much more comfortable the last six weeks of '06, while both Drew and Quentin had enough success to build their confidence and enough failure to keep them working hard. Drew's probably going to try to cut down on his strikeouts, while Quentin will probably relax some and get a little more patient at the plate. I don't know how many pitches Quentin saw per plate appearance in the minors, but I'd suspect it was more than the 3.22 he averaged in the majors.
It's hard to say just how they'll fare. I mean, obviously players typically improve with a few years of experience. But it doesn't take everyone 1,000 major league at-bats to get comfortable (Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta and Travis Hafner all had success either right away or with fewer than 350 career at-bats).
Jack Magruder: First of all, I think - and most scouts believe, too - that everyone of those players will be a capable if not better major leaguer. Montero is the only one who has not shown it at the big league level, but the D-Backs are as high on him as they are on the other young players who got a lot of work last season. The problems are mostly those relating to growing pains. Offensively, they will have to learn the pitching patterns of opponents and make adjustments. Veteran pitchers pound a weakness until a younger hitter proves he can adjust. Once the adjustment is made, the feeling out process begins again.
2. Which of our prospects (including Drew and Jackson, even though they're not technically rookies) do you think will have the biggest impact in 2007, and why?
NP: I'll take advantage of the ground rules and go with Jackson. By far the most experienced of the group, I think his strong finish bodes well for his progression. I could see him continuing his development along the lines of Nick Johnson, Lyle Overbay, John Olerud or other gap-hitting first basemen. I'm don't ever see him becoming an above average defensive player, but I think more experience, along with his great pitch-recognition ability, will teach him which balls he can drive into the left-field stands and which he can drive into the gap in right center.
JM: Drew, in my opinion, has a chance to be a superior major league player, both offensively and defensively. He showed a terrific bat last season, combing some power the ability to put the ball in play and hit it where it was pitched. I was impressed with his ability to use the whole field, more than a few of his doubles working into the left field corner. The first time I saw him - in an independent league game in Lancaster, Pa. - he hit a grand slam home run over the right field fence that is still rolling and went as deep into the hole as anyone I have ever seen to field a grounder and make the throw to first. He should have been the first player taken in the 2004 draft, and he has those skills. His .874 OPS was the highest on the team last year.
3. Chad Tracy had a disappointing season, both with the bat and the glove. Any thoughts on the cause, and whether he will be able to rebound next year?
NP: Tough one. Early in the season, Tracy would muse about how much differently he was being pitched. In the past, I don't think he had seen many off-speed pitches in obvious fastball counts (2-0, 3-1), but after his strong finish to '05, teams didn't want to take any chances with him. Tracy hit 17 homers in the second half of '05, including seven in September, and if memory serves (which it often doesn't), he pulled almost all of them out to right field. Scouts I came across this season thought it looked like Tracy was trying to pull everything instead of using both gaps, something he was lauded for as he worked his way through the farm system.
JM: Disappointing in the field, perhaps, with all those errors, especially after he did not commit an error in April. Chad played through a knee injury that required almost daily treatment and bothered him when he planted to throw. He would not use that as an excuse and players often play with smaller injuries, but I think that had a lot to do with his defensive numbers. He still hit .281 with 41 doubles, 20 homers and 80 RBIs, which is nothing to sneeze at. If he maintains those levels (while perhaps increasing his RBIs), he will have a long, productive career. His strikeout total was up, a function of being attacked by opponents as a prime run producer. It is his turn to make the adjustment.