There's no sugar-coating it. Last year, the Diamondbacks sucked, with their worst record in a decade. Change was swift and decisive, with manager Kirk Gibson fired just before the season ended and GM Kevin Towers following him out the door shortly thereafter. The changes weren't limited to management, with both halves of our 2014 Opening Day battery, Wade Miley and Miguel Montero, being dealt for prospects. With a #1 draft pick upcoming in June, there seems to be a rebuilding project under way in the desert. But what does that mean for the team this year?
[Note: The header links at the top of each section go to our more detailed discussion of that topic]
12 of the 25 men that were present on the roster for the continental Opening Day in 2014, are no longer with the club. That illustrates the sweeping change that has blown through Arizona since, and few would argue it was unnecessary, after finishing with the worst record in the majors. I see a lot of untapped potential here, though much of the upside is highly untested or uncertain, I find myself more on board with this new organization philosophy, oriented (mostly) towards youth. We probably won't make the playoffs, but to quote Lao Tzu, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." 2015 will hopefully be that step for the Diamondbacks.
It's hard to say what impact the front-office changes will have on the team. Virtually no-one has previously done the job they will have for 2015, with another major-league team. How will they perform? It's an entirely new structure too, significantly different from the one which has evolved into place at the other franchise. Will that be better or worse? I'm curious how the pieces fit together, but the same basic principles likely goes for the D-backs as any other organization. Clear areas of responsibility, good lines of communication, and everyone pulling in the same direction, is likely more important than specific job titles.
Arizona looks likely to struggle in the OBP department. They are going to have to hit, hit well, and hit for power in order to score runs. Only Paul Goldschmidt looks to be a significant OBP threat. David Peralta, Ender Inciarte, and possibly A.J. Pollock are all candidates to at least be league average, though Pollock will need to walk more to keep from being too heavily driven by his batting average. Catcher, second, third, and right all project to be below average in this department, with Owings at short also struggling. If the Diamondbacks want to take advantage of their speed, and not become too reliant on the long ball, they are going to need to improve their overall OBP game.
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 in the rotation regardless of 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 that really doesn't mean much. 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.
The team may not have made any big moves this winter, but if David Hernandez and Matt Reynolds can return from their Tommy John surgeries to the form they once showed, that will likely be as big a boost as any free-agent signing. Still, even by the nature of bullpens, this year promises to be highly volatile. I'd be unsurprised if our depth is tested early, with one or more pitchers unable to achieve 100% readiness by Opening Day, so having to start the season on the DL. Good health and good production from those working high-leverage innings - Addison Reed, Brad Ziegler and Evan Marshall - is almost an essential if the D-backs are to make any kind of run in 2015.
It seems like every year teams enter the season wondering when the next big name is going to break through from the minors. When a team loses 98 games, that anticipation is drastically heightened. Of our top 10 prospects, many seem primed to make an impact this year. Archie Bradley and Aaron Blair appear to lead the candidates who might join the pitching staff, with Braden Shipley possibly also getting the call at some point. On the position player side, third-baseman Jake Lamb and catcher Peter O'Brien may claim roster spots as early as Opening Day, though there are questions about the latter's defense. Brandon Drury is another possibility, and has been seeing time at 2B
The starting pitching needs all the help it can get: that may result from the young players mentioned above developing ahead of schedule, TJ returnees Patrick Corbin and Bronson Arroyo providing a mid-season boost, or Trevor Cahill returning to form. The more of those that happen, the better. A bounceback season from Aaron Hill would help, and even average health would be an improvement, as injury impacted a multitude of Diamondbacks in 2014, on both sides of the ball. There could be good output for Arizona from the unproven bats of O'Brien and Yasmany Tomas, ideally without their gloves negating that.
You can more or less reverse the above paragraph if you want to see how things could go pear-shaped. And, indeed, you would also find a fairly good facsimile of the 2014 campaign where, it seemed, if things could go wrong, they did - and sometimes even if they couldn't, just for spite. So expensive veteran players imploding and losing five more pitchers to UCL ligament issues would be a start. Reed was not exactly a lock-down closer in 2014, and the Arizona outfield defense, which was such a strength a couple of years ago, has the potential to end up resembling more tragedy than comedy if Mark Trumbo, Cody Ross and Tomas are involved.
Putting the Diamondbacks beside the rest of the division is not encouraging. The Giants are the reigning World Series champions. The Dodgers are "that rich kid you knew growing up who had all the Transformers and Lego sets you wanted, oh and their dad totally did their science fair project so OF COURSE they won first place." The Padres certainly had the busiest off-season of anyone, though the long-term 'strategery' seems questionable. And the Rockies will "patch up Troy Tulowitzki with some duct tape and hope everyone else in the division collapses." Looks like it's gonna be us vs. Colorado for the division basement.
We all expect to see the team be better than last year. But there is no agreement, and indeed, wide variation as to the scope of the improvement. The panel's expectations for the 2015 Diamondbacks range from five to 21 wins better than in 2014. Pitching, and the rotation in particular, appear to be the biggest areas of concern, and hope for a resurgence seems to rest firmly on young prospects blossoming into everyday or better major-leaguers. About the only thing upon which we can rely, appears to be Paul Goldschmidt, and as last season saw, one errant pitch can remove even that certainty. Average projection: 74-88.
Most fans are looking forward to the 2015 season, for the simple reason that it isn't the 2014 one, which was likely the least-enjoyable campaign in SnakePit history. So, the odds are that this year will be better, even if only in comparison, e.g. the prison guards are no longer beating us with spiked sticks. But there's genuine interest in seeing what Arizona's young players will do, and if this season becomes a laboratory that will result in a stronger foundation for the team going forward, I think we're generally happy with that - even if it costs us a few wins in 2015. And if all else fails, we will still have Randy Johnson becoming the first Diamondback Hall of Famer in July.