The Arizona Diamondbacks will begin the 2022 season on Thursday when they take on the San Diego Padres. The team currently faces a lot of obstacles in front of them, which includes a stacked division and a couple key injuries to role players leaving them scrambling to build a successful lineup. At the same time, I believe this is the best coaching staff that Mike Hazen has assembled in his tenure with Arizona. Pitching coach Brent Strom is the biggest hire in this regard, with nearly six decades of pitching experience to share with the team’s pitching staff.
Starting Rotation: Madison Bumgarner (Opening Day), Merrill Kelly, Caleb Smith, Zach Davies, Zac Gallen
The most interesting thing of note here is the inclusion of Caleb Smith in place of Luke Weaver in the rotation. Last week I laid out the stakes for Weaver and his future role with the team, with the team opting to start him in the bullpen. I mentioned the possibility of moving him to the back-end of the bullpen as soon as possible, but that can be touched upon as part of the bullpen analysis. I would say right now that Smith is more of a placeholder for that 5th rotation spot and situations may determine whether or not the team decides to tap into their AAA depth or give their young prospects a shot.
Collectively, the team should feel pretty good about how Bumgarner, Kelly, Smith, and Davies are stretched out to open the season while Gallen will get a full week between his start against Cleveland and his first scheduled start against Houston. The team will have Weaver and at least one of Humberto Castellanos and Corbin Martin playing the role of long man should the team get a very short start in this first turn through the rotation. If healthy, I believe the D-backs rotation could be middle of the pack, but if the team is relying on beyond these five they’re in deep trouble.
Bullpen: Mark Melancon (Closer), Ian Kennedy, Noé Ramirez, J.B. Wendelken, Sean Poppen, Oliver Pérez, Joe Mantiply, Luke Weaver, Humberto Castellanos, Corbin Martin
The one thing I don’t like about this bullpen is they are relying a lot on a pair of 37-year-old relievers that have shown an obvious decline in stuff this Spring. Melancon has looked downright terrible this Spring with a 3 MPH velocity drop while Kennedy has had better results with about a 2 MPH drop. The team can mix and match with the other single-inning relievers, depending on the situation although Poppen may be able to deliver more than 3 outs on occasion. Another big concern is the lack of velocity and swing and miss potential from this group, which may rear its ugly head more often than we’d like.
Corbin Martin made the roster as the 28th player. He has top of the rotation stuff, but has not put things together in the majors. With the lack of track record, I wonder if moving him to short relief so he can attack with 96+ and two good breaking balls may be the best option to get the most value out of his arm.
This season should be a good test to see how some of the younger arms handle high-leverage situations. Like when Archie Bradley was put in the bullpen in 2017, the team should experiment with the type of role that Weaver could have in the season. Perhaps he could fit on the 2023 roster as a late inning arm, but that’s something the team needs to figure out if starting is not in the cards. The same could also be true for Castellanos, although I see him more as a middle reliever long term as opposed to a setup man or closer. Overall I’d project this to be a bottom-five bullpen in wins above replacement and win probability added.
Catchers: Carson Kelly, Jose Herrera
This comes as no surprise, as with an expanded roster the team can afford to have an additional catcher on the roster. Kelly will get the bulk of the catching duties, likely somewhere between 100-110 starts behind the plate and should start every game vs. a lefty, with Herrera and Daulton Varsho covering the rest. Kelly should roughly provide the team with a slightly above-average bat behind the plate and regular starter value at the position. Herrera is a defense-first catcher who doesn’t have exceptionally great pop with the bat but should be able to put together solid ABs as evidenced by his OBP in the higher levels of the minors last year. As a switch hitter, he should be able to give Kelly some rest against some righties.
Infield: Christian Walker, Seth Beer (DH), Ketel Marte, Geraldo Perdomo, Sergio Alcántara, Drew Ellis
With a great Spring, Christian Walker could be the starting 1B again. Hopefully this time he’s able to stay healthy and provide the team starter value at 1B. If not, we could be seeing more of Smith at 1B as opposed to the outfield. Ketel Marte has the keystone position (2B) locked up for the foreseeable future after signing a five-year extension and depending on his 2022 health could vault the team from an upper 60s win team to a lower 70s. Despite the injury to Nick Ahmed, I feel that Perdomo is about as ready as he’ll be to fill in everyday at the shortstop position. Any concerns about what happened in the first half of last year were eased somewhat as Perdomo put together a really solid Spring and earned his current opportunity. Seth Beer should be expected to get the bulk of the at-bats as the designated hitter, as I think he’s the weakest defender on the roster. His mobility has improved in the last two years, so I don’t think he’ll cost the team too much when asked to play in the field.
Third Base is going to be a problem while Josh Rojas is on the injured list. With a Grade 2 oblique injury, we’re likely talking closer to six weeks as a potential recovery time. The team could turn to Drew Ellis, a former 2nd round pick whose hit tool hasn’t developed the way the organization hoped it would. Alcántara is an option to back him up at 3B, but his bat doesn’t pass the bar for shortstop so it certainly wouldn’t do at a more offensive-minded position. I’m OK with the team giving Ellis 150 or so trips to the plate and seeing if he sinks or swims against MLB pitching. It’s better to have no doubt, although best case scenario Ellis develops into a platoon option at both corner infield spots.
Roster Move because Wilmer Difo can’t get a visa right now, which likely prompted the trade for Alcántara after he was designated for assignment by the Chicago Cubs.
Outfield: David Peralta, Daulton Varsho, Pavin Smith, Cooper Hummel, Jake McCarthy
This is certainly a crowded outfield mix, especially if Smith gets a lot of ABs in right field. Of this group, only Varsho and McCarthy are able to handle center field thanks to both possessing plus speed. McCarthy’s bat is still somewhat questionable but I saw better results this Spring compared to how he last year. Peralta is coming off a monster Spring and his revamped swing has produced very encouraging results. He will get spelled by Hummel against lefties from time to time, but given the overall roster situation he should get plenty of looks against them nonetheless. Depending on matchups, the D-backs could be playing a Peralta, Varsho, McCarthy outfield with Smith moving to 1B to spell Walker or Beer.
Depending on how easily top prospect Alek Thomas hits in Reno, we could be seeing an even more crowded situation as Thomas could end up getting the bulk of playing time in center field with Varsho sliding to right on his non-catching days.
Injured List: Nick Ahmed (shoulder), Jordan Luplow (oblique), Josh Rojas (oblique)
The D-backs probably have a clearer timetable for when Luplow (4 weeks) and Rojas (6 weeks) will return from their respective oblique strains, but the Ahmed situation is going to be something to monitor all year unless it requires season-ending surgery to fix. The injuries to Luplow and Rojas have created massive holes in the lineup, the latter of which may require the team to sign or claim a player outside of the organization.
First Two Out: Humberto Castellanos, Jose Herrera
Player health will likely make the decision of who gets demoted to Reno when the roster shrinks to 26 players on May 1st. In addition, the likely return of Luplow will result in Hummel getting optioned to Reno, which is why I don’t list him here. For the position player, I picked Herrera because the team could deploy Varsho as the back-up catcher and then slide McCarthy or Thomas in center. With my expected ETA of Thomas to be in June, when the possibility of him being a Super Two player is very low, I decided to take him out of the calculus for this decision.
On the pitching side, I decided to pick Castellanos because the other relievers can’t be taken off the roster without designating them for assignment and sending Weaver to Reno doesn’t really accomplish anything. Performances may dictate what happens here, although I don’t know how much a rope that guys like Kennedy and Melancon have.
Season Record Prediction: 68-94, reasoning listed here