It's safe to say the new front office made it a priority to upgrade the starting rotation, with good reason. In 2014, Diamondback starters pitched a combined 4.44 ERA, good for 4th worst in the MLB. And while FIP thought they were somewhat unlucky (4.00), they pitched a total of 937.1 innings, 5th lowest total among starting pitchers. The D-backs realized solid pitching is key to staying in games, so they made moves to do just that.
- Jeremy Hellickson was the first domino to fall for this new front office. After a couple years with injury problems, Dave Stewart envisions Jeremy as a number 2 or number 3 starter going forward.
- Wade Miley, rotation mainstay and good for a dependable 200 IP from the left side, was traded to Boston for Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster. While Miley was a solid starter, grabbing two potential rotation members with a combined 10 years of control for Miley was a good move.
- Robbie Ray, the main piece going to the Tigers in the Doug Fister deal last year was traded to Arizona along with Domingo Leyba for shortstop Didi Gregorius.
- Yoan Lopez, a Cuban free-agent, was signed to the 2nd largest international amateur signing bonus at $8.27 million.While still only 21, he should figure into the D-backs starting rotation plans sooner rather than later.
Josh started 2014 as a reliever but was thrust into the rotation after Randall Delgado was ineffective to start off the season. From that point on, Josh was nothing but solid and due to his success, was named the Opening Day starter in 2015. Sure, he may not throw over 90 mph, but he's effective at changing speeds and keeping hitters off-balance while being dependable enough to go over 6 innings 18 of his 28 starts. Expect more of the same from Josh in 2015 as last year.
As mentioned above, Jeremy is going to slot in the rotation somewhere. The only problem is which Jeremy we'll be getting. If it's the Rookie of the Year, BABIP defying pitcher from 2010, he'll be exactly what Dave Stewart thinks he is. If he's the 2013 version, we'll be wondering what the front office was thinking when they traded two promising youngsters for him. Either way, barring injury, I suspect we'll see 32 starts from Jeremy Hellickson in 2015.
It's not fair that Chase has to fight for a spot in the rotation after his rookie year. He set the world ablaze starting out his career with 5 wins and then settling into a league-average starter the rest of the year. Dave Stewart recently gave some strong words of encouragement for the youngster.
"Chase Anderson won nine games for us last year; you have to strongly consider him as part of our rotation,"
With continued improvement in his breaking ball and a solid spring, we could be seeing a lot of Chase Anderson in 2015.
Rubby de la Rosa
Probably the main piece coming back in the Wade Miley deal, Rubby de la Rosa has had a sporadic start to his MLB career. While his pure stuff is off the charts, he remains inconsistent from game to game and really just needs consistent Major League innings to really prove those doubters wrong. He's proved enough in the minors, bring him up and let him show if he can stay in the rotation or not.
Sure he may have not won a single game in 2014 with the Diamondbacks, but Vidal Nuño proved he belonged at the MLB level with a solid 3.76 ERA and 3.90 FIP in his 14 starts after coming over in the Brandon McCarthy trade. And while he's not going to overpower anyone with his stuff, he's still a lefty making the league minimum and is under team control for another 5 seasons.
After finally coming back to the MLB-level to pitch 3 relief innings in 2014 and having a true off-season, the team is considering returning him to his natural position as a starter. If he is slated to be a starter, how many innings would you pitch him before shutting him down?
As mentioned above, Robbie Ray was considered a good enough prospect to be the centerpiece of the Doug Fister deal. A year later, he was traded along with another prospect for a light-hitting, defense-first shortstop. This spring will be a big test in Robbie Ray's development. If he pitches well, could he force the organization into starting him? Or will he be a casualty due to having one more option year?
What a disaster 2014 was for Trevor Cahill. He struggled early, shifted to a bullpen role, and was bad enough that the team designated him for assignment. After not one team made a waiver claim on him, he returned to the rotation and was good for a while but then he settled into mediocrity. BUT, he's supposably in good shape and has been throwing more over the top than before which is drawing the praise of the organization. With a salary of $12M, the D-backs need Trevor to regain some value so they can ship him off and if he shows even the slightest bit of promise in Spring Training, he'll unfortunately be in the rotation.
Like most Arizona pitchers, Delgado was pretty bad as a starter early on in 2014. He was shifted to the bullpen and wasn't too bad really, with a 4.40 ERA and a 3.16 FIP over his 61.1 IP in the long relief role. What makes him a candidate for the rotation are two pretty good starts late in 2014 against the Padres and Giants and the fact he has no more minor league options. While I think his future as a starter in Arizona is done, a good spring could earn him a job again, but whether that's with the Diamondbacks or another team, remains to be seen.
Webster has now been a part of two trades: the first was the Dodgers/Red Sox mega-deal in 2012, and now the Wade Miley deal this past off-season. He's always been a top prospect and as recently as last year was ranked #46 by mlb.com but the results at the top level have always left something to be desired. But with a fresh start in the desert, can Allen Webster finally control his good stuff and show the league he deserves a spot on an MLB roster?
Long the Diamondbacks best prospect, Archie Bradley was slowed in his development last year by poor command and an elbow strain. But he bounced back in the Fall League and showed he still had the stuff to be a TOR-type pitcher. While another season in the minors might be worth it to work out the kinks, a dominating spring would all but assure his appearance in the majors in 2015.
While he only started pitching regularly a couple years ago, Shipley's athletic ability has turned him into a bonafide TOR threat if he keeps improving like he has the past couple of years. With 3 above-average to plus pitches, it's only a matter of time before he forces the organization's hand into testing him at the MLB level. But, like most prospects, he's still young and he might benefit from facing AA and higher opponents for a full year before getting an MLB call-up.
After a dominating performance last year over 3 levels, especially AA, we may see Aaron Blair sooner rather than later. He's essentially ready for the MLB and if he shows it during Spring Training, Blair could and should be a candidate for a big league call-up over some of the other pitchers. If not, he'll go back to the minors and dominate there. It's just a matter of time before we see these 3 arms in Diamondback Sedona Red.
When the dust settled and the contracts were squared away, it was shocking that the D-backs would pay Lopez the $8.27M signing bonus with the 100% tax on that total. Because of that, I think Lopez will have all the time he wants (or doesn't want) to develop into a bonafide MLB starter. With the D-backs' starting options at an already alarming number, Yoan Lopez will be sent to the minors to ensure their investment won't go to waste.
With 3 studs leading the pitching prospects, it's no surprise a guy like Andrew Chafin gets overlooked. While not as dominating as the others, he goes about his business and continues to put up solid numbers wherever he goes, including a 2-start stint for the D-backs last year. A solid spring might not do much for his spot on the D-backs, but for a team hurting for depth, he could be the answer just like David Holmberg was for Cincinnati.
Conclusion and Prediction
While most teams struggle with finding competent options for the back-end of their rotations, the Diamondbacks can afford the luxury to have a Spring Training fight for the last 3 spots. I think it's assured Josh Collmenter and Jeremy Hellickson will be given spots in the rotation regardless of Spring Training performance. Rubby De La Rosa will grab a 3rd spot with a decent spring. Chase Anderson has an early edge after last year's performance but even then that really doesn't mean anything. Throw a dart on any of the other 11 options and your guess is as good as mine without watching any of them. Expect Anderson to grab the 4th spot and for the sake of left-handedness, Vidal Nuño to pull out the 5th spot in the rotation.