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Playing Pepper 2013: Arizona Diamondbacks

Posted on February 18, 2013 at 1:45 PM
Filed Under: Arizona Diamondbacks | Playing Pepper
For the fifth straight year, Playing Pepper returns to C70 At The Bat.  If you aren't aware, this series helps get a feel for the other 29 teams in baseball by asking those that follow them the closest--their bloggers.  We've got spring training action going, so it's time to play a little pepper.

Arizona Diamondbacks
81-81, third in the NL East

When much of your season is overshadowed by the will-they, won't-they trade talk surrounding one of your biggest stars, it's probably an indication your season isn't going as well as you'd hoped.

Coming off a division title and just one run shy of playing in the 2011 NLCS, the Diamondbacks seemed to be primed and ready to go in 2012.  Instead, the team sputtered to a .500 record and fell well behind San Francisco in the NL West.

With the trade talk silenced with the dealing of Justin Upton, this team looks to try to take a step forward in 2013, but will have to go through the defending champs as well as the motivated Dodgers to do so.

To talk the outlook of the D'Backs, I've rounded up a couple of great voices to enlighten us.  Jim McLennan is the manager of AZ Snake Pit over on the SB Nation blog network.  You can also find Jim on Twitter at AZSnakePit.

In addition to the team bloggers, this year I reached out to some bloggers that cover all of baseball to see if they wanted to pick a team to contribute.  One of those that responded was Aaron Somers of Call To The Pen, the general baseball blog on the FanSided network.  You may remember Aaron from Episode 18 of Conversations With C70 and you can find him on Twitter at AaronJSomers.

After the jump, we'll talk about the Arizona offseason and what the pitching staff might do in the coming season.

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C70: How would you grade this offseason?

AS: Is "strange" a grade? It's probably the most appropriate term, because the D-backs are now a radically different team from what they were. Gone since the All-Star break are three of the franchise top five all-time, in terms of games played: no mre Chris Young, Stephen Drew or Justin Upton. Of the 2013 roster, only Miguel Montero and Gerardo Parra will have even 200 appearances for Arizona. There' s no doubt this is now Kevin Towers' team.

The moves were all over the place. To me, trading Young for Cliff Pennington made sense - but immediately to spend the money saved on Heath Bell, who'll become a very expensive set-up man? While signing Brandon McCarthy could be a steal, if he can stay health, how does giving Cody Ross a long-term deal make sense? Then there was the trade of Justin Upton: I think that, and the Trevor Bauer deal, will decide the legacy of Towers, for better or worse.

Bottom line? Get back to me in five years, and I'll tell you how this off-season went...

CTP: Grading a team's offseason is always such a subjective exercise, as there's no surefire way of evaluating the team's moves without fully understanding their goals for the winter. From an outsider's perspective it seemed clear that the D'backs had two priorities this winter - figure out their shortstop situation and resolve the never-ending rumblings that Justin Upton would be traded. While they've accomplished both, the way in which they did so wasn't exactly inspiring and a strong argument could be made that they could have done more. Bottom line, their offseason gets them a B, no higher.

C70: What are your expectations for the pitching staff this season?

AS: It's an amazingly young pitching staff. Trevor Cahill has more starts than anyone else, and he's currently only 24 years old! I think it's a rotation with depth, rather than an obvious ace. Our #1 (Ian Kennedy) may not be as good as Matt Cain or Clayton Kershaw, but our #4 being runner up in the Rookie of the Year voting says a bit, and then there are three young candidates for the last spot, all of whom show promise. If Wade Miley can live up close to the potential he showed last year - and his peripherals are closer to suggesting sustainable success than some "surprise" pitchers we've had - and McCarthy stays healthy, then it should be a rotation that gives us a chance to win, almost every night. 

The bullpen should be good. While I doubt Bell justifies his salary he does give us a third option to close out games, behind J.J. Putz and David Hernandez, while Brad Ziegler was a genius at generating ground-ball double-plays when we needed them last year. In Matt Reynolds and Tony Sipp, we've got two potentially decent left-handers, something not seen in Arizona for a very long time. Last year, we ended the season with Mike Zagurski our sole southpaw reliever, so 2013 will be an embarrassment of riches in comparison.

CTP: Starting pitching has to be a strength for the D'backs heading into the season, as they should certainly have the depth to withstand any potential injury/poor performance concerns. The team will likely head into the season with a rotation of Ian Kennedy, Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, and Tyler Skaggs. Randall Delgado and Josh Collmenter will serve as their first lines of depth and by midseason they could get Daniel Hudson back as he's recovering from Tommy John surgery. The rotation should not be a concern, but the team is going to need everything to fall together if they're going to challenge in the NL West.

C70: What do you think we'll see out of Adam Eaton?

AS: I'll go out on a limb here and say Eaton is a potential rookie of the year candidate. This is a guy who hit .355 in the minor leagues; even allowing for the fact that Arizona's Triple-A affiliate plays at altitude in Reno, that's still pretty impressive. He played for less than a month in the majors, but his hustle made him an absolute fan favorite: readers on the 'Pit voted this the best play by a D-back the entire year. He gives us a genuine lead-off hitter, something the team hasn't had in a very long time.

CTP: Eaton's minor league stat line was off the charts this past season, as he hit .375/.456/.523 in 613 PA between Double-A and Triple-A. He slowed some in 103 PA with the D'backs, batting just .259/.382/.412. Realistically, he's likely more of a .285/.370/.425-type hitter with regular playing time once he's acclimated to the Major Leagues. Eaton's strengths come in his ability to get one base, his speed (stole 44 bases in the minors last season), and in his defense. He's never been much of a power threat, but he could give the D'backs a solid top-of-the-order threat.

C70: What rookie will make the biggest impact in 2013?

AS: Do I just copy-paste my answer to #3 here? :-) It's not just an obvious answer, it may end up being the ONLY answer, because right now, he's the only rookie all but guaranteed a roster spot. The 5th man in the rotation might be Tyler Skaggs, but he first has to beat out Patrick Corbin and Randall Delgado for the spot: I'm thinking it might not be his year, but of course, it's almost impossible for a team just to use five starters in a season. Skaggs was named in the top 10 prospects of all baseball, and his improvement is a good part of why the team felt they could trade Trevor Bauer. He'll be a fixture in the rotation soon enough.

CTP: The popular choice here would likely be either Eaton or Skaggs - particularly where the pair will be expected to see such a significant amount of playing time. Didi Gregorius could garner some consideration as well. Ultimately I'll throw my vote towards Skaggs. The left-handed could spend the whole season in the team's rotation and could be among the top rookie pitchers in the NL by season's end.

C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

AS: Because of all the changes, it's really hard to say what might happen. Kennedy and Cahill will be the only survivors from the 2012 Opening Day rotation, and half the position players will be different too. Some of the changes will help - Prado instead of...whoever we had at third - while others will hinder (I'm pretty sure even Ross's mother doesn't thiink he'll hit as well as Upton). The degree to what these all balance out is almost impossible to tell. It's not going to be easy in a division going up against the reigning World Champions and the new Yankees. 84 wins and third-place seems about right.

CTP: Third place in the NL West, missing the playoffs. As for a record, let's say 84-80. They won't be far out of it, but the Dodgers and Giants just simply have better teams overall.

C70: What one thing from your team are you most looking forward to watching?

AS: Hey, can I copy-paste #3 again? Aside from Eaton, I think I'm most curious to see how the new approach taken by Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson - valuing character, clubhouse chemistry and effort, perhaps more highly than talent - will play out. If it succeeds, it could usher in a new era of "Moneyball", with intangibles becoming an fashionably undervalued aspect, in the same way OBP once was. If it fails, it could mark the end of both men's careers with the Diamondbacks. Needless to say, I'm hoping for the former.

CTP: I'm curious to see how the outfield performs offensively with Upton taken out of the mix. There is going to be more pressure placed on Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra, Eaton, and Cody Ross. The foursome doesn't bring that "high impact" name that Upton brought to the table, so there could be more scrutiny placed on them by a hungry fanbase if they struggle.

My thanks to both Jim and Aaron for their input on this.  There's no doubt that Arizona's path in the desert has gotten a lot tougher since this time last year.  We'll have to wait and see if they can rise to the challenge.

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