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A far-too early Arizona Diamondbacks 2020 Opening Day roster: starting pitching

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Which of this season’s rotation will we see next year?

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

As noted above, we’ve been going through the Arizona 2020 Opening Day roster, based purely on the players who appeared for the Diamondbacks this season. We asked which 26 of those would make the cut next year, and 320 of you made your selections. Having dealt with the position players, it’s time to move over to the mound, and see who you thought would be part of the team there. We start with the starting pitchers. That’s a definition which is a bit nebulous. That’s because there were four men who started for the D-backs, who also appeared out of the bullpen: Archie Bradley, Taylor Clarke, Jon Duplantier and Alex Young.

We can probably rule Bradley out as a starter, but the other three may well see action in both roles again in 2020. Therefore, for the purposes of this exercise, I’ve listed that trio in both categories. So, who did you vote into the 2020 Diamondbacks’ rotation?

#1. Luke Weaver (307 votes)

We’re going to need a new Opening Day starter in 2020, with Zack Greinke no longer around. Might it be Weaver? Based on his 2019 performance, he would be the best candidate, posting a 2.94 ERA in 12 appearances, and his FIP of 3.07 suggested that he earned it, However, health is going to be the key. He missed almost four months with a forearm injury, though he avoided the need for surgery, and was able to come back late in September. It may have been a largely token outing, of fewer than 20 pitches, but it will give him something good to take into the winter. Opening Day or not, Weaver will be a key component of the Arizona rotation next year.

#2, Zac Gallen (306)

Another new arrival, Gallen was also extremely impressive over a restricted set of appearances for Arizona. In eight starts, he had a 2.89 ERA, in line with what Zac did before his trade from the Marlins. While his overall FIP in 2019 was higher (3.61), he is still young, having turned 24 in August, and should continue to develop and improve for a bit. He and Weaver will give Arizona a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. With both men under team control for the foreseeable future, it’s good to have a sense of solidity there, around which Arizona can build going forward. I just hope that Gallen can avoid the fate of so many D-backs pitching prospects in the past...

#3, Taijuan Walker (302)

If there’s a question-mark over Weaver’s health, the one hanging above Walker is blocking out the sun over most of Phoenix. For while Weaver missed four months, it was seventeen between Taijuan’s trips to the mound, due first to Tommy John surgery, then a shoulder issue setback during his rehab. Walker, like Weaver, did get back to the majors for a cup of coffee at the end of the season. While definitely a good sign, there will be a lot riding on Walker’s spring outings, considering by that point he will have thrown only 14 innings at the major-league level over the previous 30-odd months. But if he can reproduce the 135 ERA+ he has given Arizona over his three years here, he’ll be fine.

#4. Merrill Kelly (297)

Kelly was the pitching equivalent of the little girl in Longfellow’s poem: When he was good, he was very good indeed, but when he was bad he was horrid. He has seven Game Scores of 70 or better; the same as Zack Greinke, and more than every other Arizona pitcher combined. But Merrill also led the team with nine starts that had a GS below 40. Overall though, Kelly led the team in innings pitched, and the overall ERA+ of 101 was pretty good. Especially for a man who never faced major-league hitters before, and cost the team a very reasonable $2 million. That’ll bump to $3 million in 2020, still cheap if Kelly can simply be a league average pitcher - consistent or not.

#5. Alex Young (271)

A surprise to see Young make it here, though it’s not clear from the poll how many of those who voted for him were doing so as a starter, and how many as a long reliever. All but two of his appearances were as starts, so I’ve put him in here. He gave us a 3.86 ERA in that role, though benefited from a .257 BABIP, and an overall FIP of 4.81 suggest regression should be expected in 2020. He is a couple of weeks younger than Luke Weaver though, and more experience next year may help counter that. If not... well, the team does have a number of other options waiting in the wings. And personally, I’d probably bet against Young being in the Opening Day rotation, health elsewhere being good.

Not selected

  • Robbie Ray (261 votes)
  • Mike Leake (257)
  • Jon Duplantier (213)
  • Taylor Clarke (166)

For Ray is the obvious omission from the five above, just getting squeezed out by Young, by a margin of about 3%. I think the key factor in those who didn’t vote for Robbie, was probably (though I can’t say for sure) a belief he’ll be traded between now and Opening Day. He’s entering his final year of team control and will be a free agent at the end of next season. We saw with Paul Goldschmidt last winter, that the team is willing to deal players at that point in their career, though the likely return for Ray would be lower. But there are few teams which would not be made better by the presence of Robbie in their rotation, and if Mike Hazen did look to trade Ray, there would be no shortage of offers.

The Leake situation is going to be an interesting one. If Weaver and Walker both prove themselves healthy, and Ray doesn’t get traded, then there doesn’t appear to be an obvious slot for Leake. And I doubt he can be optioned to the minors. While waiting to confirm fitness elsewhere makes sense, there’s a scenario where we may end up with Leake on the roster, due to the option situation. But there’s a long way to go between now and the end of next March, and unexpected things are likely to happen.