This is usually the time of the year where I take a deep breath, come down off of whatever ledge I am on, and take serious gut-check about what I think of the team's chances for success are in the up-coming season. Spring Training is two weeks is in, giving everyone a chance to have a look at some of the new talents. Some questions have had the beginnings of answers here's looking at you Rubby De La Rosa. Rehab and injury concerns have now been brought to light, hi there Tuffy Gosewisch, Yasmany Tomás. Position battles have begun to shake themselves out...
I said, position battels have begun to shake themselves out. Oh bother. In most cases, one would expect a team entering a "win-now" season to have more answers than questions at this point, entering a period of fine tuning. Maybe one or two spots on the 25-man remain up for grabs, but a clear picture of the team would generally be expected to be resolving itself. Alas, that does not seem to be the case for the Diamondbacks this spring. The middle infield remains a mystery, given that Jean Segura and Brandon Drury are both enjoying strong springs and Nick Ahmed is incredibly difficult to push out of the starting position. Yasmany Tomás has only had himself four Abs and has not been on the field since, making it very difficult to tell if any of the glowing reports as to his improvement are grounded in fact or not. The teams' second-best position player has missed most of spring with a recurring elbow issue. Though granted, in that last case, the question is more a matter of how much it will impact his performance versus the last 1.5 seasons than whether or not he is a foundational member of this year's team.
Still, we are two weeks into spring training, any trades or signings of any great consequence have probably been made. Even if the Diamondbacks are still very much a team in flux, there has been two weeks of activity for the opposition as well. In addition, projections are out, and the coaches and pundits have all begun to weigh in. Early this offseason, I made my predictions for the team, but now it's time for me to think things through a bit more clearly and see what I think now that there is something to evaluate. It's time to see how I think we stack up versus how others see the Diamondbacks.
Tony LaRussa and Dave Stewart at hoping MLB Futures at TopBet are wrong, in predicting the Diamondbacks to finish one gave over .500 and in third place in the NL West. That's only a three game improvement over last season and decidedly short of the playoffs.
Sure, the Diamondbacks were handed a bitter pill to swallow by sacrificing Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair. The drop-off from Inciarte to Tomas appears likely to be larger than anything Shelby Miller could hope to contribute. But then, Zack Greike and Shelby Miller replaceing Jeremy Hellickson and Chase Anderson (or perhaps Rubby De La Rosa) provides the team with a substantial upgrade. A number of position players appear to be poised for some negative regression, especially Welington Castillo and David Peralta. A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt join that list as well, though in lesser capacities. Yet there are clear indications that there is improvement coming elsewhere. Tufffy Gosewisch may be healed up sufficiently to fill in as a serviceable backup catcher, keeping the position from falling into negative value. Nick Ahmed seems to be trending up. Second base can hardly go any direction but up. In the outfield, the departure of Inciarte has opened the door wider for Socrates Brito to shine. Then there is the rotation. Patrick Corbin should have a full healthy season. Greinke and Miller are pushing him down in the rotation. Rubby De La Rosa is now the team's fifth best starting candidate on Opening Day, not the team's second or third. Robbie Ray looks improved. The bullpen received an upgrade in Tyler Clippard while retaining the likes of Brad Ziegler and Andrew Chafin. While Ziegler is almost certain to regress negatively, any small slip is covered by the positive Clippard brings over any number of other potential arms for his slot.
On the whole, I feel this makes more positives than negatives. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, two things are working against them. First, marginal wins (those in the over 85-win category) are much tougher to come by, and the team is eating up a great deal of its improvement just getting to that mark. Second, both the Dodgers and Giants made solid improvements this offseason, with the Giants looking like strong candidates to make a run at continuing their freaky even-year trend. These facts have tempered my enthusiasm some, as have comments from the front office regarding Rubby De La Rosa and Yasmany Tomás. Objectively, these things are adding up to me feeling that 82-wins for the Diamondbacks feels about right.
There is a major Diamondback fan inside of me though. Brandon Drury is looking good. Braden Shipley, despite no longer being in camp, remains on the cusp of being called up. Zack Godley is still a thing. There are still options for Rubby De La Rosa being out of the rotation soon. Socrates Brito is showing strong, giving the team every reason to make a hard call with Tomás, putting him on the bench, or even back in Reno. While catching went almost entirely unaddressed in the offseason, Castillo still has great power and the return of Gosewisch means that there is at least some depth. The middle infield, despite being unsettled, already looks like it is going to be an improvement over next season. I feel good thinking that David Peralta might have one more year of high performance left in him before the negative regression kicks in. A.J. Pollock's breakout really happened in 2014, not 2015. Last season was simply a continuation of more of the same. This makes me feel good about him moving forward. Chip Hale learned a great deal last season about game management. All these things have me feeling pretty good about this team. Despite the coldly objective side of me agreeing with 82 wins, the hometown fan in me is looking forward to a 92-win season and a NL West penant.