Diamondbacks Hopeful as Spring Training Begins
Things have been pretty quiet in the baseball desert this off-season. One might think that wholesale changes would have been in the offing for the Arizona Diamondbacks after an epically-bad 109-loss season and ‘earning’ a second-straight top overall draft pick. But optimism is in strong supply as the D-backs start spring training.
“Not many changes were made because the seeds of our future had already been planted,” explained GM Schlegel at the obligatory presser to open spring training. “Now we’re hoping to begin seeing some positive returns on our long-term investments.” Spring training could be quite competitive, especially on the pitching staff where 24 hurlers vie for some 12-13 spots on the opening day roster. But it is the players who are not yet on the 40-man roster who are drawing most of the hype.
While (relative) veterans Scott Clark, Michael Wacha and David Perez all appear to be set in the rotation, it is the hoped-for competition for the two remaining spots which will garner the most attention this spring. Top pitching prospects Andrew Morales and Bill Hauck will both get a long look and both are likely to be in the rotation by September at the latest. “Both will get a chance to convince us that they are ready,” said Schlegel. Look for at least seven hurlers to get starts during the spring schedule.
Closer Tyler Green is all but a lock, but most everyone else is in a position to pitch themselves into (or out of) a job in the bullpen this spring. Even getting enough innings to evaluate everyone will be a challenge, with 15 relievers in camp vying for 6-7 spots, including three Rule 5 tryouts. “Many have minor league options remaining so there is no rush to decide on all of them right now,” said Schlegel. “But for those out of options, as well as the Rule 5-ers, this will be crunch-time.” Fans will definitely need a scorecard to keep track of all the new names inthe bullpen mix.
The D-backs bring back Dwight Childs, Kellin Deglan and Kyle Skipworth to round out the catching depth chart for 2018. But most eyes will be on 22-year-old Matt Hanson this spring. Hanson, who was impressive in the WDL, finished 2017 at AA-Mobile but is likely headed to AAA by mid-season at the very latest, with his name penciled onto the major league roster for sometime in 2019 if all goes well. “Matt probably needs another full
season of at-bats in the minors rather than a year of riding the bench in the majors,” said Schlegel. “But we fully expect him to be up here sooner rather than later.”
Erstwhile incumbents Drew Maggi, Levi Michael, Chris Owings, Daniel Santana, Bobby Stone, and Alfredo Zavala project to be the placeholders for this season, barring any late acquisitions. Added to the mix is would-be rookie 1B/3B Joey Gallo, who gets his first shot at making it to The Show this spring. Waiting in the wings are 2B Juan Morin and SS Jeremy Scott, both of whom are in spring camp, but team insiders expect them to get at least one full year of minor league seasoning (both are projected to start the season in single-A) before they get a shot.
All Star LF Rich Dixon and RF Miguel Velazquez anchor the outfield and the batting lineup, but this season they may get some much-needed help. Arturo Velazquez is in line to make the team out of spring training to play CF. CF Daz Cameron is at most a year away from his shot at The Show, but could be knocking on the door much earlier and will get a chance to prove it in spring training. “Their bats along with their speed and defense
would greatly improve our roster depth,” said Schlegel.
For the first time in what only seems like forever, the Diamondbacks are cautiously optimistic as spring training opens. “We feel that we are finally turning the corner in our rebuild and are finally back on the rise,” said Schlegel. “Whether we get to .500 (or beyond) this season depends upon how quickly our top prospects mature at the major league level. But regardless, we’re finally headed in the right direction. The only unknown is how long it will take us to get there.”
Is the sky truly the limit? Or has GM Schlegel been out in the sun too long? “If we get solid major league contributions from Gallo, Cameron, A.Velazquez, and maybe even Hanson in the lineup; if Dixon and M.Velazquez are in the All Star and MVP conversations; if Clark is in the Cy Young conversation and Morales is in the Rookie of the Year conversation; if the rest of the infield hits .250 as a group; if our offense leads the league in runs and steals; if the bullpen is top-five … then we’ll be in the mix for a division title or a wildcard,” said Schlegel. “No pressure either. If it doesn’t develop this season, there’s always next season or the season after that. But we’re going to get there, and many of the pieces are already on the way.”