By Murphy Powell
The Arizona Diamondbacks have the third-worst record in baseball this season, which obviously isn’t a very good thing. But I feel that there are some positive signs for the Dbacks. Or a handful of them, anyway.
Before I begin saying good things about this Arizona team, a disclaimer:
I do recognize that the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are still in the National League West as well, so it will take a good many things going the right way to make the Diamondbacks do as much as compete with their divisionmates. Even with that, I’m optimistic.
First and foremost: They still have Paul Goldschmidt, and he’s under team control through 2019. Since his first full season in 2012, Goldschmidt has been the second-best first baseman in the bigs. This year, Goldschmidt has been a top-25 player despite missing several games due to injury. Having an All-Star/MVP-caliber/middle-of-the-order-hitting first baseman is a good place to start for a team.
But one excellent player doesn’t make a great team. The old adage is “be strong up the middle,” after all. And Arizona kind of is, or could be.
Of course there is catcher Miguel Montero, who is locked up through 2017. We’ve almost certainly seen the best of Montero already, but he’s still a solid everyday player, at least defensively. And it seems like good defensive catchers pretty much keep being good defensive catchers.
Continuing up the middle, there’s Chris Owings at short. Owings is only 23 and debuted last season. He’s pretty good defensively, has a decent bat with some pop and, despite having only played 72 games this year, has been quite productive.
Again, he’s only played a little more than half a season. But he ranks 14th among all shortstops, and he’s been better than any other one who has played as few games as he has. If we take Owings’ WAR (1.8) for this season and prorate it for a full season (600 plate appearances), he becomes a four-win player. Only four shortstops totaled four wins above replacement last year: Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Ian Desmond and Andrelton Simmons.
I’m not really trying to suggest that Owings will be as good as any of those four right now or next year or the year after that, but he’s been good so far. And at 23, he’s still got some time to grow.
Center field has been one of the good spots for Arizona. AJ Pollock has been quite good in his limited time, and Ender Inciarte has done well there, too. Inciarte is a defensive wizard, and Pollock was an outstanding hitter this season before going out with a hand injury. We probably shouldn’t expect Pollock to keep this level of offensive production up, but he’ll probably be pretty good. Even if he can’t hit, he put up good defensive numbers last season.
Pollock and Inciarte can play multiple outfield spots, so there’s not a logjam in center, and trading Gerardo Parra away at the trade deadline opened up a spot for the near future.
If Pollock and Inciarte are taking up two spots in the outfield, maybe David Peralta can take the other. Peralta started as a pitcher in St. Louis in 2006, staying in rookie ball for two seasons before eventually blowing out his arm in 2009. From there, Peralta played some independent ball when Arizona discovered him last year. Peralta just turned 27 in August, so he’s still a young guy. Even if he takes a step back in 2015—and he very well might—he’ll be a piece to have.
A piece of what, I’m not sure. He and other outfielder Mark Trumbo have both probably hit their peaks, and the projections just do not care for either of them going forward. I don’t personally know who provides the Oliver projections, but I must presume Peralta and Trumbo have wronged that person/computer in some way.
Veteran Cliff Pennington has been a good at all over the infield this year, and has provided about as much value as Owings in 20 fewer games. He’s 30 now, so he still has some years left and can provide some good defense at a couple of infield spots, at least.
So it’s a good-looking seven players that will head into next year for Arizona. But the problem hasn’t been those pretty good players as much as it’s been the dead weight that Cody Ross, Jordan Pacheco, Trumbo and Aaron Hill have provided this year.
Odds are that we’ve seen the best of Ross and Hill. Both were good players in their primes, but those primes have passed. Ross is locked up through next season, and Hill will be there through 2016. But Trumbo and Pacheco could both be let go after this year.
Sure, there’s value to having Trumbo. He hasn’t hit for much power this year, but that’s been his calling card in the past. But the Dbacks can’t really put him at first because Goldschmidt is there. And if he plays left or right field, Trumbo is taking a spot away from one of those outfielders. Of course, Peralta could have a poor 2015, and Trumbo would fit in left if that’s the case.
I have no idea if that will happen, though. I can’t tell the future.
Trumbo might fit at third, but he hasn’t played there much. Fortunately for Arizona, third base prospect Jake Lamb has already debuted. While he hasn’t been very good at the big league level, he absolutely crushed pitching in Double-A. Lamb is only 23 and projects to be a plus hitter. He’s probably the future answer at the hot corner.
Now for the pitching.
It hasn’t been good. But there’s hope.
Today, we spell hope “A-R-C-H-I-E,” for Archie Bradley, or “B-R-A-D-E-N” for Braden Shipley, both of whom are top 100 prospects, with Bradley being No. 11 overall. Bradley had a little arm trouble this year, but was absolutely lights-out in Mobile last season. Shipley is completing his first full season of professional baseball, and hasn’t been bad at all. Both guys have fastballs in the mid-90s with other offerings that project to be really good.
Relying on prospects is what I meant when I said, “it will take a good many things going the right way” earlier. For the Diamondbacks to have real shots at success, they’ll probably need Bradley and Shipley to pan out. Bradley should be up sometime next year, and Shipley might come just after him.
As far as pitchers already in the rotation, it’s not ideal at the moment. Trevor Cahill has been a bit of a disappointment since coming to Arizona, but he’s only 26. Wade Miley has been pretty unlcky this year and should get a little better, according to his FIP and xFIP. Josh Collmenter pretty much is what he is, and he is a solid starting pitcher when healthy. Collmenter is 28 and Miley is 27, so there’s a chance that they’ll still get better, or at least stay basically where they are.
So that’s it. That’s my case for optimism for the Arizona Diamondbacks. It hinges very much on three good players (Goldschmidt, Montero, Owings) continuing to be really good and several other players (Trumbo, Pennington, Peralta, all the pitchers) just not being awful.
Perhaps I’m looking at the team with Diamondbacks-colored glasses, but I don’t think I am. Maybe I’m expecting too much from the younger guys in the near future.
Actually, that’s probably it. Still, I like their chances.
Murphy Powell is a creator of Scouts Alley. If you liked this, you can follow him on Twitter, but if you didn’t like it and want to say mean things to him, he actually doesn’t have a Twitter account.