The catch phrase around the Arizona Diamondbacks front office this spring is, “A new beginning”. Which is exactly what this team needs because they did a lot of things wrong last year. Their hitters struck out at prodigious rates (an MLB worst 1,529 times). Their pitchers got lit up to the tune of a 4.81 team ERA which ranked 28th in baseball. They lost 97 games, a dubious feat that only Pittsburgh and Seattle managed to surpass. Despite having a group of good young players in place, the D-backs are coming off back-to-back last place finishes.
Managing general partner Ken Kendrick cleaned house and fired GM Josh Byrnes along with manager AJ Hinch. He hired Kirk Gibson as his skipper and Kevin Towers as the team’s new GM. The Gibson hire is perfect for this young team full of rising stars. His relentless pursuit of excellence will permeate the clubhouse. He recently told Steve Gilbert of MLB.com that he had one rule, “My one rule is to compete at all times,” Gibson said. “That’s the way I look at it.”
Gibson inherits some nice pieces that he has already spent the last few years working with while serving as the D-backs bench coach. Justin Upton and Stephen Drew are stars. Miguel Montero is a tremendous young catcher and in Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy, Arizona has two young and talented starting pitchers. There is a lot of work to be done, but a quick turnaround is certainly possible.
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Best case scenario: The team plays with the same intensity and focus that their manager did in his playing days. Justin Upton erupts for a huge season. The veterans that were brought in help the young nucleus along and Armando Galarraga finally gets his perfect game.
Most valuable player: Justin Upton is the most talented and most valuable player on this roster. He gives Arizona an elite power hitter and a very good outfielder. The rise and fall of this team will depend greatly on the type of season Upton has. If he takes the next step in his development it will mean good things for the Diamondbacks. If he regresses or stagnates that will result in another long summer in Arizona.
Potential breakout players: Daniel Hudson started 11 games for Arizona after coming over in a trade from Chicago. He went 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA and fanned 70 in 79.2 innings. He combines with Ian Kennedy to give the D-backs two potential breakout starters. Also keep an eye out for SP Jarrod Parker and 1B Brandon Allen.
Worst case scenario: Any worst case scenario has to involve Upton struggling through another disappointing season. Other factors that could result in a third straight season in the cellar include; a lack of quality starts from the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation, the bullpen getting rocked on a nightly basis, and Gibson not being able to find a suitable left fielder to compliment Chris Young and Upton.
Biggest area of concern: How will the re-tooled bullpen fare? JJ Putz, who spent most of the last two seasons on the DL, was brought in to be the closer. He will be set-up by Juan Gutierrez and Aaron Heilman. That group isn’t going to have opposing teams quivering. Additionally, Mark Reynolds and all his strikeouts are gone, but he wasn’t the only D-back fanning at prolific rates. They have to cut down on those outrageous strikeout numbers.
Player who needs to rebound from a down 2010: Justin Upton battled injuries and inconsistency last year. He did manage to piece together a decent season with a .273 batting average, 17 homers and 69 RBIs — but that was a significant drop off from the year before when he hit .300 with 26 homers and 86 RBIs. Upton oozes talent and the only thing holding him back is his own will and desire.
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