Arizona Diamondbacks 2010 preview

The Diamondbacks’ trip to the 2007 NLCS was considered an indicator of a franchise on the rise, a franchise with young major league talent and a stocked minor league cupboard. But the past two seasons have been disappointments. Some of the young players haven’t developed as expected, and injuries have proved detrimental. Last May, it all cost manager Bob Melvin his job. Optimism remains, but the expectations aren’t as high as they were before the 2008 season.

Mark Reynolds had a big 2009, with 44 homers and 24 steals.
Mark Reynolds had a big 2009, with 44 homers and 24 steals.

Three questions

1. Will the heart of the lineup be good enough to contend?
Last season, Mark Reynolds surpassed every expectation with his 44-homer, 24-steal season. His strikeouts — he has set new single-season MLB records each of the past two seasons — haven’t hurt his ability to produce at an All-Star level. Justin Upton began to tap into his potential with 26 homers and a team-leading .899 OPS; he was rewarded with a six-year, $51.25 million deal in the offseason. He will be mentioned in MVP conversations for many years to come. Joining Upton and Reynolds in the heart of the order is newcomer Adam LaRoche. The veteran is a perfect fit; he will provide the power the Diamondbacks have lacked at first base, and his one-year, $6 million deal is budget-friendly for a franchise that doesn’t have a huge margin for error.

2. Will the rotation be better?
It should be improved with the eventual return of Brandon Webb and the additions of Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy. However, there are questions about all three of those hurlers. Webb still is working his way back from shoulder surgery and will start the season on the disabled list. Therefore, expecting more than 25 starts might be unrealistic. Jackson was a 2009 All-Star and should benefit from the move from the AL to the NL, but he was awful in the second half of the season. Kennedy was hurt most of 2009.

Arizona lost two reliable pitchers from last season’s rotation. Doug Davis tied for the league lead with 34 starts, and Max Scherzer — shipped to Detroit in the deal that landed Jackson and Kennedy — was eighth in the NL in strikeouts per nine innings (8.8).

3. Will the lineup’s bounce-back candidates bounce back?
Conor Jackson missed most of the 2009 season because of valley fever, which often left him fatigued. He has looked good this spring. "Jackson can hit anywhere in the lineup, gets on base and can be a run producer," manager A.J. Hinch said.

Chris Young was awful for most of last season. He has a power-speed combination matched by few players in the majors, but has had an increasingly tough time making contact the past few years. Kelly Johnson started last season as the Braves’ leadoff hitter and starting second baseman but hit just .224 and was released. The bottom half of the lineup, where he will hit for the Diamondbacks, is a better fit for Johnson.

Porjected lineup
1. SS Stephen Drew: OPS past three seasons: .683, .836, .748.
2. LF Conor Jackson: Only 99 at-bats, .182 AVG in ’09.
3. RF Justin Upton: 42 RBIs in ’08; career-best 86 in ’09.
4. 1B Adam LaRoche: At least 20 HRs each of past 5 seasons.
5. 3B Mark Reynolds: Led team in HRs, runs, RBIs, SBs.
6. C Miguel Montero: .832 OPS ranked second among NL catchers.
7. CF Chris Young: .297 AVG in final 26 games of ’09; .187 in first 108 games.
8. 2B Kelly Johnson: AVG fell from .287 in ’08 to .224 in ’09.

PROJECTED ROTATION
1. RHP Dan Haren: 30 wins, 3.23 ERA in two seasons with D-backs.
2. RHP Brandon Webb: Will start on D.L. after making just 1 start in ’09.
3. RHP Edwin Jackson: 2.52 ERA in first half; 5.07 in second half for Tigers.
4. RHP Ian Kennedy: 6.03 ERA, 1.68 WHIP in 14 MLB games.
5. RHP Billy Buckner: 3.32 ERA at Class AAA in ’09; 6.40 ERA in majors.

Projected closer
RHP Chad Qualls: 3.15 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in two season with Arizona.

Grades

Offense: C. The potential is there for an A-caliber offense, if Jackson, Johnson, Young and Stephen Drew are better — which could very well could be the case. Until that happens, though, there will be plenty of pressure on Reynolds, Upton, LaRoche and Miguel Montero to produce comparably or better than they did in 2009.

Pitching: C. Much depends on the healthy and productive return of Webb. Haren is an elite starter. Chad Qualls settled nicely into the full-time closer role last season for the first time in his career, but producing save opportunities could be challenging because of the team’s middle relief.

Bench: B. Gerardo Parra played 120 games and played all three outfield positions even though he wasn’t recalled until mid-May. Ryan Roberts also was versatile, making at least 12 starts at second, third and left field. Backup catcher Chris Snyder provides some pop off the bench.

Manager: C. Hinch didn’t have any managerial experience when he was tabbed to replace Melvin last season, but as the director of player development in the organization, he knew plenty about the struggling youngsters on the roster. He is learning on the job, and the youngsters did respond better as the season progressed.

Sporting News prediction: There is potential for much improvement, but the other NL West teams also are better. Arizona won’t finish as far back as in ’09, but will finish fourth.

Ryan Fagan is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com.

The Diamondbacks’ trip to the 2007 NLCS was considered an indicator of a franchise on the rise, a franchise with young major league talent and a stocked minor league cupboard. But the past two seasons have been disappointments. Some of the young players haven’t developed as expected, and injuries have proved detrimental. Last May, it all cost manager Bob Melvin his job. Optimism remains, but the expectations aren’t as high as they were before the 2008 season.

Mark Reynolds had a big 2009, with 44 homers and 24 steals.
Mark Reynolds had a big 2009, with 44 homers and 24 steals.

Three questions

1. Will the heart of the lineup be good enough to contend?
Last season, Mark Reynolds surpassed every expectation with his 44-homer, 24-steal season. His strikeouts — he has set new single-season MLB records each of the past two seasons — haven’t hurt his ability to produce at an All-Star level. Justin Upton began to tap into his potential with 26 homers and a team-leading .899 OPS; he was rewarded with a six-year, $51.25 million deal in the offseason. He will be mentioned in MVP conversations for many years to come. Joining Upton and Reynolds in the heart of the order is newcomer Adam LaRoche. The veteran is a perfect fit; he will provide the power the Diamondbacks have lacked at first base, and his one-year, $6 million deal is budget-friendly for a franchise that doesn’t have a huge margin for error.

2. Will the rotation be better?
It should be improved with the eventual return of Brandon Webb and the additions of Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy. However, there are questions about all three of those hurlers. Webb still is working his way back from shoulder surgery and will start the season on the disabled list. Therefore, expecting more than 25 starts might be unrealistic. Jackson was a 2009 All-Star and should benefit from the move from the AL to the NL, but he was awful in the second half of the season. Kennedy was hurt most of 2009.

Arizona lost two reliable pitchers from last season’s rotation. Doug Davis tied for the league lead with 34 starts, and Max Scherzer — shipped to Detroit in the deal that landed Jackson and Kennedy — was eighth in the NL in strikeouts per nine innings (8.8).

3. Will the lineup’s bounce-back candidates bounce back?
Conor Jackson missed most of the 2009 season because of valley fever, which often left him fatigued. He has looked good this spring. "Jackson can hit anywhere in the lineup, gets on base and can be a run producer," manager A.J. Hinch said.

Chris Young was awful for most of last season. He has a power-speed combination matched by few players in the majors, but has had an increasingly tough time making contact the past few years. Kelly Johnson started last season as the Braves’ leadoff hitter and starting second baseman but hit just .224 and was released. The bottom half of the lineup, where he will hit for the Diamondbacks, is a better fit for Johnson.

Porjected lineup
1. SS Stephen Drew: OPS past three seasons: .683, .836, .748.
2. LF Conor Jackson: Only 99 at-bats, .182 AVG in ’09.
3. RF Justin Upton: 42 RBIs in ’08; career-best 86 in ’09.
4. 1B Adam LaRoche: At least 20 HRs each of past 5 seasons.
5. 3B Mark Reynolds: Led team in HRs, runs, RBIs, SBs.
6. C Miguel Montero: .832 OPS ranked second among NL catchers.
7. CF Chris Young: .297 AVG in final 26 games of ’09; .187 in first 108 games.
8. 2B Kelly Johnson: AVG fell from .287 in ’08 to .224 in ’09.

PROJECTED ROTATION
1. RHP Dan Haren: 30 wins, 3.23 ERA in two seasons with D-backs.
2. RHP Brandon Webb: Will start on D.L. after making just 1 start in ’09.
3. RHP Edwin Jackson: 2.52 ERA in first half; 5.07 in second half for Tigers.
4. RHP Ian Kennedy: 6.03 ERA, 1.68 WHIP in 14 MLB games.
5. RHP Billy Buckner: 3.32 ERA at Class AAA in ’09; 6.40 ERA in majors.

Projected closer
RHP Chad Qualls: 3.15 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in two season with Arizona.

Grades

Offense: C. The potential is there for an A-caliber offense, if Jackson, Johnson, Young and Stephen Drew are better — which could very well could be the case. Until that happens, though, there will be plenty of pressure on Reynolds, Upton, LaRoche and Miguel Montero to produce comparably or better than they did in 2009.

Pitching: C. Much depends on the healthy and productive return of Webb. Haren is an elite starter. Chad Qualls settled nicely into the full-time closer role last season for the first time in his career, but producing save opportunities could be challenging because of the team’s middle relief.

Bench: B. Gerardo Parra played 120 games and played all three outfield positions even though he wasn’t recalled until mid-May. Ryan Roberts also was versatile, making at least 12 starts at second, third and left field. Backup catcher Chris Snyder provides some pop off the bench.

Manager: C. Hinch didn’t have any managerial experience when he was tabbed to replace Melvin last season, but as the director of player development in the organization, he knew plenty about the struggling youngsters on the roster. He is learning on the job, and the youngsters did respond better as the season progressed.

Sporting News prediction: There is potential for much improvement, but the other NL West teams also are better. Arizona won’t finish as far back as in ’09, but will finish fourth.

Ryan Fagan is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com.

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