There is a lot of reason for optimism in Arizona this year.Â That's because after a last place finish in 2009 the Diamondbacks look to be healthy, strong and have a chance to be the dark horse team of the entire NL.Â After a partial redesign in the off-season and without any juggernaut team in the NL West, fans and ownership are wondering if the Diamondbacks can put 2009 behind them and make a worst to first turnaround.
2009 Regular Season Record: 70-92
The Diamondbacks traded for Max Scherzer to Detroit for Edwin Jackson
Rank: Last in the NL West - 25.0 Games Back
Home Park: Chase Field
1B - Adam LaRoche (Free Agent from Braves)
2B - Tony Abreu (Trade with Dodgers)
2B - Kelly Johnson (Free Agent from Braves)
RHP - Ian Kennedy (Trade with Yankees)
RHP - Bobby Howry (Free Agent from Giants)
RHP - Edwin Jackson (Trade with Tigers)
RHP - Aaron Heilman (Trade with Cubs)
1B - Josh Whitesell (Released - signed with Nationals)
IF - Chad Tracy* (Free Agent signed with Cubs)
OF - Eric Byrnes (Released, signed with Mariners)
LHP - Doug Davis (Free Agent signed with Brewers)
LHP - Daniel Schlereth (Traded to Tigers)
RHP - Max Scherzer (Traded to Tigers)
*Signed minor league contract.
Strengths:Â Top of the Rotation, Young Offense
Provided Brandon Webb is even 80% of what he was before shoulder surgery last August the Diamondbacks might well have the best 1-2-3 in terms of starting pitching anywhere in NL, but that's a big if, and it presupposes that Edwin Jackson really did take a big step towards the upper tier of pitchers last season.Â Certainly his 13-9, 3.62, with 161 Ks and 1.26 in 214 inning looks very promising, especially considering he did it in one of the American League's best hitter's parks.
After that, however, the rotation is a big question mark as the team brought in Ian Kennedy who lost almost all of last season to injury and has failed to impress at the Major League level thus far in his career, while the fifth spot is up for grabs.Â However that situation is hardly unique among teams, so it can't really be called a weakness at this point of the season.
Last year the offense was just middle of the pack in the NL, but in 2010 it projects to be another strong point for the team - they are young, talented and some of them, notably Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds and Miguel Montero have already shown that they can seriously hit - and none of them are yet in the prime years of a hitter's career.Â There is a lot of upside still in Conor Jackson (who missed most of last year with Valley Fever), Stephen Drew and Geraldo Parra, the team's best hitting prospect who'll be playing for a spot in the outfield this season.
Weaknesses: Defense, Relief Pitching
The Diamondbacks committed 124 errors last season, and even with a new stress on fundamentals and the importing of half of the 2009 Braves infield (Kelly Johnson and Adam LaRoche) the team doesn't look to be that much more sure handed in 2010.Â However a year of maturity and a winning attitude might go a long way towards reducing the error totals to somewhere near league average.
It's not an impressive bullpen in Arizona.Â Even with the addition of veterans Aaron Heilman and Bob Howry, the bullpen looks young, inexperienced and not to be a lot stronger than it was in 2009 when it posted a 4.61 ERA.Â Closer Chad Qualls is coming back from a shattered kneecap that occurred late in the season that could affect both his velocity and control.Â If he struggles the team has no clear-cut pitcher in waiting for the job.
SS - Stephen Drew
LF - Conor Jackson
RF - Justin Upton
3B - Mark Reynolds
1B - Adam LaRoche
C - Miguel Montero
CF - Chris Young
2B - Kelly Johnson
Yusmeiro Petit/Billy Buckner
One question that need answering:
Can they put it all together at one time?Â If Webb is healthy, Edwin Jackson is for real, Conor Jackson and Stephen Drew take a step forward and the bullpen and defense are anywhere close to league average this team could compete.Â If not, they could easily fall apart again.
The Diamondbacks will improve considerably this year, bu putting everything together and sustaining it over the length of a full season will probably be too much for this bunch.Â I do like them as the dark horse NL candidate, since they have most of the pieces, but realistically they'll have a hard time if the Rockies and Giants prove to be anywhere as tough as they were last season.Â Think third in the west and you probably have a realistic expectation of coming close.