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2013 Team Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

Full spring training coverage

Two seasons ago the Diamondbacks won 94 games and the NL West crown, but only three regulars -- catcher Miguel Montero, outfielder Gerardo Parra and opening day starter Ian Kennedy -- from that team will open 2013 with Arizona. GM Kevin Towers has overhauled the roster he inherited from former GM Josh Byrnes (and former interim GM Jerry Dipoto) with some moves this winter that didn't make much sense, at least on paper. They're trying to figure out what went wrong following an 81-81 finish in 2012.

Probable lineup
1. Adam Eaton, CF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Miguel Montero, C
4. Jason Kubel, LF
5. Martin Prado, 3B
6. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
7. Cody Ross, RF
8. Cliff Pennington, SS

Probable rotation
1. Ian Kennedy
2. Trevor Cahill
3. Wade Miley
4. Brandon McCarthy
5. Patrick Corbin

The Diamondbacks are having a big fifth starter's competition this spring between Corbin, left-hander Tyler Skaggs, right-hander Randall Delgado and others. Right-hander Daniel Hudson is expected to return from Tommy John surgery at midseason.

Bullpen construction
Closer: J.J. Putz
Righties: David Hernandez, Heath Bell, Brad Ziegler, Josh Collmenter
Lefties: Tony Sipp, Matt Reynolds

Notable bench players
C Wil Nieves, C Rod Barajas, IF John McDonald, IF Eric Chavez, UTIL Willie Bloomquist, UTIL Eric Hinske, OF Gerardo Parra

Arizona has quite a bit of position player depth, so at least two of those listed bench players will not make the team. It's worth noting Pennington and Parra can be sent to the minors without having to clear waivers.

Under-the-radar offseason transaction
The D-Backs made many headlines this offseason, specifically by trading young and productive players such as Chris Young, Trevor Bauer and Justin Upton. The one move they made that snuck under the radar was signing Chavez, who wanted to be close to his Phoenix home and took a one-year deal worth $3 million. The 35-year-old had his best season in a half-decade last summer, hitting 16 homers with a 126 OPS+ in 313 plate appearances for the Yankees. It wasn't just a Yankee Stadium thing either, he actually hit better on the road (nine HR and 148 OPS+) than at home (seven HR and 116 OPS+). Chavez remains an injury risk, but he won't be counted on to start with Prado and Goldschmidt entrenched on the infield corners. He'll instead serve as a left-handed bat off the bench and spot starter. Getting even half of what Chavez did last year (1.5 WAR according to Baseball-Reference.com) would still make this deal a bargain.

Fantasy breakout: Adam Eaton
After the Mike Trout and Bryce Harper explosion last year, Eaton kind of snuck into the majors in September without much hullabaloo. He hit .259 with two home runs and two steals before breaking his hand in late September and missing the rest of the season. All in all, it was a pretty quiet debut, which could work to the advantage of the smart drafter. Eaton, 24, has a career .355 batting average in the minors, with seasons of 20, 34 and 44 stolen bases (the numbers got better in each progressive season). He also hit 50 doubles last year over three levels of baseball. There's never going to be a perfect comparison, but at least consider these numbers:

Mike Trout, minor league career: 286 games, 1,117 at-bats, .342 average, .425 OBP, .941 OPS, 57 doubles, 34 triples, 23 home runs, 134 RBI, 108 steals

Adam Eaton, minor league career: 319 games, 1,210 at-bats, .355 average, .456 OBP, .966 OPS, 83 doubles, 16 triples, 24 home runs, 152 RBI, 98 steals

Granted, Eaton didn't have any of the accolades or appearances on prospect lists that Trout did, but the results -- in essentially the same leagues -- are close enough to make a case that Eaton could be a great fantasy asset in 2013. -- Nando Di Fino [Full Diamondbacks fantasy preview]

Biggest strength
I believe it's depth in general, both on the pitching and position player sides. As I said earlier, they have three legitimate candidates for the fifth starter's spot -- plus Hudson returning at midseason -- plus five established big leaguers for four nonbackup catcher bench spots. That doesn't include outfielders A.J. Pollock and Tony Campana, both of whom have big league time. No team makes it through a season healthy so having that depth will be a big advantage for Arizona in the NL West race. A lot of times it's not about your 25-man roster, but who you have waiting as the 26th and 27th man in case of injury. Towers built a ton of depth.

Biggest weakness
There's no star power here. Montero is a very good (and probably still underrated) catcher, but in a perfect world he's a high-end complementary player rather than a cornerstone. Kennedy is the same way, very good but not elite. Upton didn't produce as expected last year but he was a bonafide star and MVP candidate in 2011. You have to go back to Dan Haren in 2009 for the last time they had a pitcher eclipse even 5.0 WAR, nevermind 6+. The D-Backs are a team built around several very good complementary players but there is no true centerpiece right now, no dominant number one starter or all-around middle of the order bat. Given the comments made by Towers and others this past winter, it seems like that is by design. Maybe it works, but there's no one on the roster capable of carrying a team or winning a game by himself.

Best-case scenario
Because of their depth and lack of obvious holes outside of the all-glove/no-hit shortstops and the unproven rookie center fielder, the D-Backs could be a playoff team in 2013. They'll need some players to stay healthy -- specifically the DL-prone Putz, Chavez and McCarthy -- and others to produce a little more than expected, but it's definitely doable.

Worst-case scenario
The D-Backs were a .500 team last year and they traded their most dynamic offensive player and franchise cornerstone, one of the best young pitchers in baseball, and a great-defending outfielder with two 20-20 seasons in the last three years. With all due respect to new imports like Prado, Ross and McCarthy, there's a chance the team will take a nice-size step back because of those losses. The NL is a deep league and the NL West in particular is tough thanks to the reigning World Champion Giants and free-spending Dodgers, so there's a chance Arizona could find themselves well out of the playoff race come the trade deadline. If Ross and Prado can't repeat their great years and some of the injury risks get hurt, yeah there's disaster potential here.

Most likely scenario
Manager Kirk Gibson's team is good but probably not quite good enough to win their division. They should at least hang around the race for one of the two wild card spots deep into the season if not win a spot outright. That said, it's easy to look at the NL and see about eight teams that are postseason-caliber, and Arizona is a clear number eight in the group. They're good, but probably not good enough this year.

Towers set himself up for a lot criticism if his club is unable to improve in 2013 after trading away so much young talent in the offseason. He sought out high-character players with a very specific playing style while shedding perceived underachievers, and that's the kind of plan that can backfire in a hurry.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed and "like" us on Facebook. Also, individually interact with us on Twitter: @MattSnyder27, @daynperry and @mikeaxisa.

 
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