|Kirk Gibson has his young Diamondbacks buying into his system, so what is next for him to do? (US Presswire)|
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- What I like, and don't like, about the Diamondbacks:
• This spring's air of confidence. These aren't last year's Diamondbacks, coming off of a 97-loss season. They're not wondering whether they can win. They're the defending NL West champs, and they know they can win. "It's exciting," ace Ian Kennedy, who was 21-4 last season, said. "It's a lot different atmosphere as the team goes through meetings. Last year, they were trying to change the culture. This year, it's much more positive, given what happened last year as a team."
• Manager Kirk Gibson and his All-Star staff of coaches -- Don Baylor, Charles Nagy, Alan Trammell, Matt Williams, Eric Young, Glenn Sherlock -- entering their second spring camp. Their program is installed. The players, clearly, are buying in. The adjustment period is behind them. Gibson's unique ability to motivate spurred the Diamondbacks beyond where anyone thought they could go last summer. And the attention to detail remains this spring. The other day, Trammell was on the field working on cutoffs and relays with some young Diamondbacks, explaining this, going over that, and at one point told them that they needed to learn this stuff now because "when you get to the major leagues, the crowds are too loud and you can't always hear each other talk out on the field."
• These guys will have a great chance to win because of their pitching. Acquiring Trevor Cahill from Oakland over the winter is the latest tremendous move GM Kevin Towers has made to strengthen Arizona's staff. Kennedy, Daniel Hudson (16-12, 3.49), Joe Saunders (12-13, 3.69) and Josh Collmenter (10-10, 3.38) all return from last year's rotation. With Cahill, the Diamondbacks have the starters to go toe-to-toe, again, with the Giants. Collmenter's job will be to avoid a sophomore slump. But if he does falter, top prospects Tyler Skaggs, Wade Miley, Trevor Bauer and Patrick Corbin all are waiting in the wings. "They're all not far away," Towers said. "If they don't break with the club, we think at some point in the season, if they're called upon, they should be ready."
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• Terrific offseason additions: Cahill, outfielder Jason Kubel and reliever Takashi Saito. Kubel adds depth to an outfield that includes MVP candidate Justin Upton, Chris Young and Gerardo Parra. If you're looking for a dark horse to emerge with some very impressive numbers this season, Kubel's your man. Minnesota's large Target Field did not help him. Arizona's thin air will. Look out.
• Nobody knows for sure when shortstop Stephen Drew will return from his devastating right ankle injury. The good news is that Towers said Drew is ahead of schedule in his rehab, and he has looked good in infield drills. But there still is no timetable as to when he will make his Cactus League debut, and he remains doubtful for opening day. He's the glue to the Diamondbacks' infield. Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald can plug in at shortstop for awhile, but Arizona will be better once Drew is back. As Towers said, "Stephen is the key [to the spring]. If Stephen is ready, we have more depth in our middle infield. If not, it cuts into our depth."
• The Diamondbacks and catcher Miguel Montero did not reach an agreement on a long-term contract, talks breaking off shortly after the Cardinals agreed to give Yadier Molina $75 million over five years (coincidence? I think not). Still, that might not be an awful thing -- at least, not the way Gibson explains it. "It was Sparky Anderson's birthday about a week ago -- he would have been 83 -- and he once said, 'Give me 25 guys playing for a contract, and I'll show you a world championship team,'" Gibson said.
• Justin Upton was hit by 19 pitches last summer, tied with Washington's Danny Espinosa for the NL lead. That's living dangerously for Upton and the Diamondbacks, because they cannot afford to lose him. He ranked fourth in NL MVP voting last summer while batting .289 with 31 homers, 88 RBI, 21 steals and an .898 OPS. At 24, Upton has MVP written all over him. It would be a shame if an errant fastball sidelines him for any length of time.
• One thing working against the Diamondbacks repeating: The Giants should get a full year out of Buster Posey, Melky Cabrera to help the offense and who knows, maybe Freddy Sanchez can even help San Francisco. This isn't to say the Diamondbacks can't or won't beat the Giants, they very well might. They should be very good. But it is never easy to repeat. Let the journey begin.