The Diamondbacks in 2018 have a decent glut of starting pitchers that can contribute to the 2018 roster, but every team only can use 5 starters assuming no injuries happening to the rotation. The Diamondbacks boast a solid starting rotation, with Patrick Corbin being the only 2017 starter that has less than 3 seasons of team control remaining, meaning there aren’t any open spots for some of the guys in the upper minors in the rotation. At the same time, the Diamondbacks have a bullpen problem where there isn’t any depth and the team had to rely on scrap-heap veterans most of the year. It worked, but it’s not a strategy that the team wants to repeat every year.
There is a solution to both issues fortunately, and that comes from where the Diamondbacks can build a pipeline of pitching. At the top of the system the Diamondbacks have Braden Shipley, Anthony Banda, and Taylor Clarke waiting in the wings but there is no space for them in the rotation as of today. That very same reason will also be why Archie Bradley is probably staying in the bullpen in 2018. Banda and Shipley have no business remaining in AAA because their development at that level has pretty much plateaued and there is little to be gained by stashing them in the AAA rotation another season. There is more to be gained for them to be pitching out of the bullpen, where the team can see how they handle major league hitters.
Anthony Banda: Banda features the full mix, but his best two pitches are a mid 90s fastball and a very good curveball. Banda has spent the last season and a half in AAA with a few starts at the MLB level. Banda’s 2017 season was better than the numbers say, he held his own in a handful of starts at the MLB level. I expect Banda’s stay in the bullpen to be as long as there isn’t an open spot in the rotation. Banda gives Lovullo flexibility in the bullpen as an extra LH reliever and afford for him to utilize Chafin more as a LOOGY. Banda’s long term future is in the rotation, but starting off in the bullpen could be a huge stepping stone in his development.
Braden Shipley: Shipley has had chances as a starter and hasn’t capitalized on it, lacking the command to be consistent in that area. In 2017, he did show some promise as a reliever. Shipley is more likely to stick as a reliever, although at the same time teams saw Zack Godley as a reliever prior to his breakout 2017 season. Shipley as a converted starter can give the bullpen length and either eat up innings in a blowout or form the bridge from the starter to the back-end of the bullpen if the starter has a short outing. Shipley relies on a sinker, curveball, cutter, change-up combination, mostly on the sinker and change-up. Success out of the bullpen could also generate some confidence in potentially reverting back to the starter.
Taylor Clarke: Clarke still has room for development at the AAA level, so this would only be an in case of injury moment and one of the two players listed above is asked to fill a rotation spot. Clarke’s long term role is still mostly uncertain, although he’s more likely to end up in the rotation than the bullpen. Clarke’s fastball can reach the mid 90s in his starts and he complements that with a solid slider and a change-up that’s average. Clarke is more likely to spend the entire season in AAA that contribute in a large role in either the rotation or bullpen barring something crazy happening.
Shelby Miller: This is contingent on him returning in 2018 to the Diamondbacks, his unavailability for the first half of the season makes him a potential non-tender candidate for a tight budget team. If the team is willing to either keep him through the arbitration process for roughly $5M or is able to re-sign him like they did with Daniel Hudson and Rubby De La Rosa in the past, then they should use him as a reliever in 2018 to protect his arm unless the team is out of contention where stretching him out would provide more long term value. Miller’s power arm would be an asset down the stretch and the team would not have to give up prospects to land him since his return will be around the non-waiver trade deadline.
Using starters in the bullpen not only provides depth to the bullpen, it also provides cheaper options for higher quality pitchers that can be more flexible. If injuries do happen to the rotation, the team can then stretch those guys out back to a starter role and work from there. If the Diamondbacks are in contention, these guys would be more valuable as relievers for the 2018 season as both a development tool and maximizing the amount of talent the organization possesses. If the Diamondbacks are out of contention at the All-Star Break, then it will be time to move players like Patrick Corbin at the deadline and put either Banda or Shipley in the rotation to prepare them for 2019.