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SnakePit Round Table: Here we go...

T minus 4 days!

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images

So, how’s it going…

Wesley: I’ve been busy since the beginning of the year with school, hence my absence from the roundtable discussions since then. I’m doing well and passing my classes, but it takes up way more of my time than I thought it would. It is a little weird not having physical classes, all my classes are online, something I’m not used to.. Hopefully there will be actual physical classes soon though, it’d be a nice change of pace. I’m actually quite happy that the minor league season has been pushed back until May 4th.

Jack: All good on the home front. Back out playing golf this weekend, doing as much hiking as possible. My business venture has hit a few stumbles lately, so that sucks, but I’ll keep at it.

Edbigghead: It’s going aite, son.

James: Academics are keeping me a bit busier than I had planned. Additionally, it looks like we are all going back to 100% in-person, despite word only two months ago that we would likely have the option to remain remote if we so chose. That certainly is going to make for a very busy life for me. However, I have what seems to be improving health and a somewhat sturdy roof over my head. My first-world problems will sort themselves in time.

Dano: Surviving, which in these troubled times continues to count as a win. Also, I am happy to report that I’ll be getting my first vaccine shot on Monday afternoon, which should drastically reduce the likeliness that I’ll wind up dying on a ventilator in the emergency room. So yay! Also, it’s almost time for real baseball again, which always makes me happy.

Steven: Started a new job with a real early start time, so I’m adjusting to that after having a very casual work schedule while WFH. Not too excited to go back in the office, but that’s part of the job I guess.

Makakilo: I am so excited for the baseball season to start. A jubilant shout-out to Jim for a more challenging role in such a talented group at AZ Snake Pit. I truly believe the Diamondbacks will exceed expectations, and it will make writing much sweeter.

DBacksEurope: I am pretty fine and in the middle of a couple of job hiring processes and hope one will end well. In one process I have had four interviews and will get my fifth next week, so that one is pretty intense. But if that works out I will get a better job than the one I was in before, so that would be great. Maybe some of you still remember I quit my job in the middle of the pandemic. That was a pretty bold move.

What do you feel about the D-backs’ spring?

Wesley: Relatively indifferent. I’ve never put too much stock into Spring Training stats. I actually hadn’t paid attention AT all until now. Looking at the stats, it seems like most of the key players on offense are doing well enough. The pitching is a little concerning.

Jack: I don’t like what I’m seeing from the starting pitchers. They are not missing enough bats and giving up too much hard contact.

Edbigghead: We can see that the team has a starting pitching problem.

James: As pointed out already, this team has a pitching problem. Frankly, with so many pitchers likely slated to be on some sort of pitching limit for 2021, I’m a bit disturbed that the front office is not getting more aggressive with options to improve on that front. I don’t put too much stock in spring results, but injuries and ineffectiveness have given me reason to be concerned. I rather suspect this team is going to be blown up by the deadline.

Dano: Like Wes, I don’t tend to take spring training too seriously, as I don’t feel I’m qualified to read these particular tea leaves. Starting pitching seems worrisome, though, especially with Zac Gallen out with that weird stress fracture. On the whole, though, I’m glad that they’ve managed to have a full, relatively normal preseason, and I’m curious to see how that will be reflected in the team’s performance over the first couple of months of the regular season.

Steven: They’ve been very underwhelming on both sides of the ball. Pitching looks suspect from both starters and relievers, and after some injuries from guys like Calhoun and Gallen, I’m not sure they’ll be able to bounce back from the poor start, causing some trades for guys like Ahmed and Calhoun early on to get youngsters playing time. We might not be competitive for the first time in a while.

Makakilo: I feel good that they implemented new & creative ways to prepare for the season. Two examples are a) a separate batting practice position to better simulate fastball reaction time, and b) on the backfield Madison Bumgarner prepared ways to disrupt batter timing.

I feel bad about the injuries to Zac Gallen and Tyler Clippard. Combined with my concern about Madison Bumgarner, it seems that overall pitching may fall short of my expectations.

DBacksEurope: I have absolutely no expectations at all for this season so I think it is pretty cool they already won 8 games! But I think that the Reds are the only team to have won less games, so that it is a bit disappointing. I don’t really care about the win-loss record in Spring Training, but I think that having one of the worst records is not very encouraging either.

Let’s get back to the question: “Who will you be watching closest in Spring Training”:

  • that Eduardo Escobar’s 2020 performance* was an incident;. I expect him to bat somewhere between .260-.270, in ST combined with a couple of bombs.
  • that Ketel Marte is still the young star we think him to be; I wish to see an OPS of over .800 from Marte during ST.
  • that our starting rotation is not that bad; especially Madison Bumgarner and Luke Weaver. Bad, to me, would be any ERA over 4.40 during ST.

Batting is fine this Spring Training, but starting pitching is terrible:

  • Luke Weaver ERA: 8.59.
  • Merrill Kelly ERA: 6.59 - this before the game against CWS
  • Caleb Smith ERA: 6.75
  • Madison Bumgarner ERA: 6.35

Our best starting pitcher, Zac Gallen, went down. Doom is upon us, even more if Nick Ahmed continues to have knee problems, but maybe Taylor Clarke and Taylor Widener will give us something to smile about in the regular season.

The thing with those ERAs though is not that those ERAs are terrible per se, but they belong to pitchers that struggled last year (Weaver, Smith, Bumgarner) or return from a complicated injury (Kelly). It gives me the sense that nothing has changed.

Where do you see J.B. Bukauskas’ future with the team?

Wesley: I think he’ll end up in the rotation, most likely. Just a feeling on that one. On the other hand, I can easily see him as a high leverage reliever, but I feel that’s a waste for the most part.

Jack: While the team is giving lip service to keeping the door open to him starting in the future, it seems pretty clear they made a decision that he was best suited to a short relief role.

If he’s healthy and pitching like he’s capable I think he’ll be the closer by mid season, or by August 1 at the latest.

Edbigghead: With Gallen down, Weaver up in the air, why not give JBB a chance to start a couple of games? Limit his pitch count or whatever for all I care. If he implodes, then flip the script and bullpen him.

James: Eventually, I see him being the team’s closer. How long it takes for him to be named to that role remains to be seen. I would not be surprised if he is brought along much like Archie Bradley was. I think that would be a mistake, but it will allow the team to get as much bang as they can for their buck before cutting ties with an increasingly costly reliever.

Dano: If he can keep up his spring performance once the regular season starts, I wouldn’t be surprised if, as Jack and James predict, he’ll wind up in the closer’s job. Which would be fine with me….it doesn’t really seem like we have any other particularly likely candidates at this point.

Steven: He’s a reliever, most likely as a high-leverage guy. I wish they’d see whether or not his stuff translates to an extended starting role.

Makakilo: Experience matters. I wrote that “Pitchers with significantly less than 350 innings pitched are not yet ready for the very competitive Diamondback bullpen.” JB Bukauskas has 161.2 innings. His lack of experience was confirmed when Torey Lovullo talked about some little things that he needs to master, albeit that Torey stated the obvious when he said JB Bukauskas is on the right path for success. It may be mid-season when he is called up to pitch in the Majors.

DBacksEurope: In 2019 he got banged up, but against older competition. I don’t know why they would give up on him that fast as a starter, but if they are planning on going the Duplantier route, I’d rather have the D-Backs decide right now that he’ll be a reliever long-term instead of tossing the player around between starting and relieving. If he stays a reliever, he will probably be called up sooner than later. I understood the D-Backs’ explanation, because no team selects a player based only on his ST performance, but I think Bukauskas has more to offer than a Lopez or Ginkel.

Who else stood out - good or bad! - in spring training?

Wesley: Just Daulton Varsho, Jake McCarthy, Nick Ahmed, and Carson Kelly all having BABIPs under .210.

Jack: Christian Walker looks ready to have a very good season. It’s good to see Pavin Smith elevating the ball towards the end of spring as well. Earlier on he was hitting it on the ground quite a bit. Nick Ahmed’s knee is a concern. He hasn’t appeared in a cactus league game since Wednesday. Friday he was supposedly a late switch out of the lineup to go get some extra AB’s on the back fields. But he’s not in the lineup Sunday either even though all the other starters are. I assume there will be some further clarity on this before this is posted but I may not have a chance to edit before then.

Edbigghead: Carson Kelly and Luke Weaver could use some fine-tuning. I sort of expected CKelly to show more offense thing Spring, I don’t know why, but that was my gut. Weaver has some big issues that need to be sorted or he may find himself demoted to the pen.

James: I expected the pitching to be a bit better as a complete group. While I expected there to be some struggles, I did not expect them to be this bad, up and down the roster. Short of JBB (who is opening the season in AAA) and possibly the miraculously ready Merrill Kelly, the team’s pitching looks lost and woefully unready to be facing MLB lineups. Beyond that, the team’s lack of depth is already being exposed. Injuries to Calhoun, Gallen, and possibly Carson Kelly, have this team scrambling about trying to field a full roster. Unfortunately, the options available to them are less than promising and likely would not even be on the radar for most teams - especially the competitive sort.

Dano: I recall being in something of the minority toward the end of last season when I found myself liking the looks of Josh Rojas, despite the fact that he only hit .180 in limited playing time. It’s been nice to see him put up really good numbers this spring, and it seems like he may well have won himself a place on the opening day roster.

Steven: Josh Rojas needed this Spring Training to cement his place on the MLB roster and I’m glad he showed out. Now do it when it counts and take over the 2nd base position full time.

Makakilo: Ketel Marte. His defense has been great since 2018. Having pointed that out, let’s look at his offense. In 2019 he had a career best offensive year and was an All-Star. Although his offense slightly dropped in 2020, recently he has built a solid foundation to consistently be an All-Star at the plate.

  • “Ketel Marte is a top-5 batter for all three skills (fire starter, fire builder, and grill master).” Details are here.
  • “In spring training he reached an All-Star level of plate discipline.” Details are here (article on First Pitch Swing Decision scheduled to post on Tuesday).

DBacksEurope: I won’t mention the obvious players, because the Escobar’s and Marte’s should be good. Rojas looked good and I wonder if his turnaround is for real or not. Rojas has an OPS of almost over 1.000 in ST and I am not sure if it makes sense that a player that was worth -0.4 WAR until now all of a sudden looks like a star. I’d rather point out Pavin Smith. Smith looks so easy and comfortable behind the plate. If I had a poker face, I would like to have his. He’s been getting on base a lot and if he continues to hit like this he’ll give Lovullo a tough job to choose an everyday starter at 1B. Michael McDermott wrote in the 2021 Diamondbacks Bets post that he thinks Pavin Smith will take away the starter job from Christian Walker. I can’t believe that I think that is not ridiculous but rather very well possible. I am watching the game against the Chicago White Sox at the moment where Pavin Smith goes full count and then gets a good base hit. Great at bat and I think we will see many of those this year.

What do you want out of the 2021 season?

Wesley: I’d like to see the team take the wild card, and you know, actually be competitive? I also want to see some of our prospects make the transition from the minors. J.B. Bukauskas really stands to me as well, for obvious reasons.

Jack: I want for the season to be completed in a safe uninterrupted manner, not because they forged ahead come hell or highwater, but because the country won the race between the vaccines and the variants.

Edbigghead: I want a few things. I want the team to at least show that they can compete with the division and not lose series after series against division rivals. I want to see Rojas have a breakout season. I’d love to see MadBum WOW us all and then come onto a Bruteside Chat and tell me to go F myself.

James: I would like the team to just be able to finish the season in a safe manner. In addition to that, this is the season for the organization to make some difficult calls on some players. It is time to fish or cut bait with multiple prospects. It is also time to move on from short-term deals to aging veterans who likely would be on minor league deals if not for the Diamondbacks. While Arizona’s impact prospects may still not arrive until 2023, it is time to start building for that future with some of the early arrivals. If the team cannot aggressively commit to winning in the future, it’s time for them to blow it all up and start from scratch, something I am opposed to doing.

Dano: Like Wes and James, I’m really hoping to see some of our prospects make a successful transition to the majors. It doesn’t seem like we’ve had a good track record with player development in recent years, and I want that to change. I’m also hoping for a breakout season from Rojas, I’d like to see our rotation shake out into something that performs at least decently, especially after the nightmare that was 2020. Foremost, though, like Jack and James, I’d like to see the season to proceed in a safe and uninterrupted fashion, and for our team to be able to play safely in front of a stadium full of healthy, vaccinated fans.

Steven: I just want 162 games with fans in the stands. That would mean we turned the corner on the virus and things would return back to normal. I’m not holding out hope for even 81 games with fans in stands.

Wesley: Obviously I’d like to see full stadiums and a full 162 game season like everyone else. I’m just going into the season assuming that will happen.

Makakilo: As always, I want the Diamondbacks to reach the playoffs. Yes, I’m an optimist!

DBacksEurope: Oh man, I just hope we can all enjoy a regular season of 162 games with no interruptions. I want things to return to “normal”. And I want to see bat flips, players pimping home runs, walk-off celebrations, pitchers pumping fists and screaming out their lungs when they get that final important out and see crowds go crazy after all that!

You’re abducted by friendly aliens who kindly ask you to sing “the song of your people”. What song do you sing for them?

Wesley: It’s Called: Freefall by Rainbow Kitten Surprise, or Starman by David Bowie, if I wanted to go with something that speaks to the human condition or a song that fits thematically. Or maybe I’d just go with this song Long Legged Larry by Aesop Rock since it has been stuck in my head after the song dropped a week ago.

Edbigghead: Santana’s Oye Como Va, because whenever that song plays (or any other Santana song that features Spanish) I look at my little wedito son and tell him, “Son, this is the music of your peoples…”

James: Funnily, I was listening to Starman by David Bowies when I first read this question. I thought it amusing that Wesley touched on that great track. On a personal level, I would be all about Piano Man by Billy Joel. If I was looking for something that is more instantly relatable and liable to cause an outbreak of singing (for reasons both good and bad) I would probably have to go with Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond.

Dano: I suspect it would wind up being something by Warren Zevon or Jimmy Buffett, though the exact song would largely be dependent upon my mood in the moment of abduction.

Makakilo: One of my Zumba classes dances to Rain on Me by Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande. Humans are mostly water, and dancing to the song is joyous and uplifting. So I would sing and dance!

Jack: I’d probably troll the Aliens with Eduard Khil’s Trololo song

DBacksEurope: well, pretty sure the earth will be shattered to pieces shortly thereafter because I am a terrible singer and they would probably feel offended. But let’s imagine I can perfectly imitate any singer. I would probably sing a melancholic song from Austrian singer-songwriter Udo Jürgens, called “Griechischer Wein” (Greek wine), it’s in German. The song has a bit of background; my mother is/was a big fan of the singer (he passed away recently so I am not sure if you are still a fan then or were a fan) and I grew up listening occasionally to his songs when my mother would put on a record. So you get to appreciate that music in the end. The song is a very easy singalong, so there is a good chance I have the aliens singing with me in the end. But the touch to the song is that it is literally about migrants from Greece working in Germany, open to embrace the local culture but always dreaming and longing for their home country. I think that is in general the song of “our people”, since we have always been migrants and although we have always embraced our new homes eventually, many of us probably have those moments when we think about our past or heritage and long back for certain moments. If this doesn’t apply directly to you, then it might apply to your parents, grandparents or someone else of your forefathers: your and our people.