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2018 MLB preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

2017: 93-69 (second place in NL West)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2017

Last World Series Title: 2001

2017 Recap

After three straight seasons of below .500 baseball, the Arizona Diamondbacks welcomed in Torey Luvullo, who, after coaching Arizona to a 93-win season, went on to win 2017 Manager of the Year. Besides for a tough July, in which the club went 10-14, Arizona had a winning record in every other month.

They also played well against their division rivals. When matched up against the NL Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona went 11-8. Against the Rockies/Padres/Giants, the Diamondbacks went a combined 34-23.

Paul Goldschmidt finished third in NL MVP voting (The Denver Post)

The big reason for their regular season success was their pitching. In 2016, among the 15 NL teams, Arizona ranked 13th in home runs issued, 14th in walks, and dead-last in ERA, and hits allowed. A year later, with some new arms in the mix, the Diamondbacks ranked second in the NL in ERA and strikeouts, fourth in hits, and allowed the fewest home runs in the league.

Guys like Zack Greinke (17-7 3.20 ERA) and Robbie Ray (15-5 2.89 ERA) stepped up big, but the experiment to use Archie Bradley as a full-time reliever seemed to work out just fine. In his age-24 season, Bradley appeared in 63 games and posted a 1.73 ERA with 79 punch-outs in 73 innings of work. As many remember, in the NL Wild Card Game, Bradley smacked a 2-run RBI triple off of Pat Neshek. He became the first relief pitcher in MLB history to triple in a postseason game.

Offensively, the Diamondbacks were led by, to no surprise, Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt finished third in NL MVP voting after slashing .297/.404/.563 with 36 home runs and 120 RBIs. 2017 was Goldy’s third-straight season with at least 155 games played.

PLAYERS, SINCE 2007, WHO HIT AT LEAST 35 HR, .295 BA, .400 OBP, AND STOLE 15 OR MORE BASES

PLAYER YEAR
ALEX RODRIGUEZ 2007
ALBERT PUJOLS 2009
JOEY VOTTO 2010
PAUL GOLDSCHMIDT 2013
PAUL GOLDSCHMIDT 2017

 

JD Martinez, who came over from Detroit in a July trade, hit .302 with 29 home runs and 65 RBIs in his 62 games with Arizona. In a September game against the Dodgers, Martinez hit four home runs and became the first player in the modern era to hit a home run in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings of the same game. Not too shabby.

2018: Around the Diamond

JD Martinez is now with Boston, but, to replace his power, Arizona traded for Steven Souza. Souza hit 30 home runs last year for Tampa Bay but will begin the season on the 10-day DL with a right pectoral strain. He is expected to come back in the middle of May. In the Souza trade, Arizona lost Brandon Drury, who led the team with 37 doubles in 2017.

With Souza down for the start of the season, Arizona has a vacancy in left field. David Peralta will start in right, while AJ Pollock will remain in center. Because of injuries, Pollock played in just 112 games last season, but was one of three players to hit at least 10 home runs, 30 doubles, .330 OBP, .470 SLG, and steal 20 bases (Jose Altuve, Elvis Andrus).

If Pollock can stay on the field, he is one of the best CF’s in the game (Sporting News)

Left field will be a battle between Yasmany Tomas, who has a .370 OBP this Spring, speedster Jarrod Dyson, and utility man Chris Owings. The most likely scenario is Dyson playing against righties, and either Tomas or Owings getting the start when Arizona faces a left-handed pitcher.

In January, Arizona signed Alex Avila, the former All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner, who will split time with Jeff Mathis behind the dish. No more Drury means Ketel Marte will get the chance to be a full-time starter at second. Marte is hitting .436 in 39 Spring at-bats.

Him moving over to second means Massachusetts native, Nick Ahmed, will start the season out as the everyday shortstop. Ahmed isn’t great offensively, a lifetime .226 hitter, but he’s a terrific defender. Look for Owings and Daniel Descalso to earn some playing time as well.

The corner infield spots will, again, be manned by Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb. Goldy and Lamb were two of the 12 players last year who posted a .350 OBP, or better, with 30 doubles and 30 home runs (Votto, Blackmon, Rizzo, Stanton, Ozuna, Arenado, Upton, Dozier, Zimmerman, Abreu). We all know Goldschmidt is great, but get familiar with Jake Lamb. Lamb walks a ton and drives in plenty of runs for the D-Backs.

On the Bump

Zack Greinke, the clubs ace, will not start Opening Day after feeling tightness in his right groin during a March 14 start. On Monday night, Greinke allowed just one hit over six innings of work, which was a great sign for the Diamondbacks. He is expected to make his regular-season debut on Saturday.

Patrick Corbin, who went 14-13 with a 4.03 ERA last season, will start Thursday against the Rockies. Robbie Ray, who finished second in K/9, third in H/9, and fifth in ERA, will throw Game 2. The last two spots in the rotation will belong to Taijuan Walker and Zack Godley. In 28 starts last season, Walker posted a 3.49 ERA and could break out in 2018 as a top of the rotation starter. Godley made 25 starts last year and posted a superb 3.37 ERA in his 155 innings of work. Godley has flourished in the minors and will be a terrific number five starter in his age-28 season.

Greinke aims to make his regular-season debut on Saturday (Sporting News)

To replace Fernando Rodney, Arizona traded for Brad Boxberger. In 2015, Boxberger led the AL in saves with the Rays. Bradley will continue to pitch at any point needed, while Japanese RHP Yoshihisa Hirano could be a seventh or eighth inning guy. Hirano, as a member of the Orix Buffaloes, posted a 1.92 ERA in 2016, and a 2.67 ERA a year later. Arizona also has Jorge De La Rosa and Fernando Salas to call on.

The Future

Arizona has two members in the latter half of MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect’s list. Jon Duplantier (No. 73), Arizona’s top pitching prospect, was absolutely terrific in 2017. Between A/A+, Duplantier went 12-3 with a 1.39 ERA, and 165 K’s in just 136 innings. He has an excellent fastball and good enough off-speed stuff that he can throw for strikes and get outs. We will see how he fares as he moves up the levels, but all is good at the moment.

Arizona’s first-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, Pavin Smith (No. 91), is already one of the top first base prospects in the game. During his junior year at Virginia, Smith walked three times more than he struck out. In the Northwest League, Smith walked 27 times compared to just 24 strikeouts. He also slashed .318/.401/.415 with 17 XBH in 15 games. He could be the future at first base if Goldschmidt, who has a team option in 2019 and will be a free agent the following year, parts ways with Arizona.

2018 Prediction: 85-77

The starting rotation is very good, and I like the additions to the back-end of the bullpen. If everyone can stay healthy, and Souza can bring some pop when he returns from his injury, Arizona should earn a playoff spot for the second year in a row.

Featured image by MLB.com

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