In 2011, the Arizona Diamondbacks won the National League West with a 94-68 record. They were powered by a core of dynamic young players led by a gritty manager, Kirk Gibson, who had taken over for A.J. Hinch midway through the previous season. Last year, however, the Diamondbacks dropped to 81-81, with a third-place finish in their division. The result? A bevy of offseason moves that saw two of their starting outfielders jettisoned, their top prospect shipped off and their roster given a shiny new makeover.
The biggest move Arizona made this winter came in January, when they sent arguably their best player away in a highly anticipated trade. The team sent Justin Upton and Chris Johnson to the Braves for third baseman Martin Prado and a group of prospects led by Randall Delgado. It was the culminaiton of a longer-than-it-seemed winter, in which most of the baseball-watching world waited with bated breath to see how Arizona would deal with its embarrassment of riches in the outfield. They had a minor problem last year, with Upton, Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra and Chris Young (who was sent to Oakland as part of a three-team October deal that brought back reliever Heath Bell and shortstop Cliff Pennington) in the mix for three outfield spots. With Young gone, the team still had to find room for speedy outfield prospect Adam Eaton, who will start in center field for Arizona on opening day. But the team first pulled a head-scratcher of a signing by agreeing to a three-year deal with 32-year-old outfielder Cody Ross, who enjoyed a career year with the Red Sox in 2012 (.267 average, 22 home runs, 81 RBI, 34 doubles). With too many outfielders, the Diamondbacks first agreed to send Upton to Seattle -- a move he rejected by invoking his no-trade clause -- then found a way to unite him with his brother, B.J., in Atlanta.
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The result of all this fun? An Arizona outfield that now features Kubel, Ross and Eaton (as opposed to the defensively superior Kubel, Young, Upton combo of 2012), some long sought-after stability at third base with Prado firmly ensconced and a new shortstop in the form of Cliff Pennington, who may have an expiration date as a starter, depending on the expected readiness of Didi Gregorious. With the team and Pennington avoiding arbitration in January by agreeing to a two-year deal, as opposed to a one-year deal, drafters may want to consider Pennington as having more of a long-term orange juice-style expiration date than a drink-me-by-next-week milk one.
If all this was too much to keep track of, you might have also missed the addition of Brandon McCarthy, who agreed to a two-year deal with Arizona in December. The owner of a 3.29 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over the last two years, McCarthy is a former top prospect who didn't quite reach his potential with the White Sox and Rangers, but found a groove the last two years with Oakland. One thing to be somewhat wary of, however, is McCarthy's tendency to induce plenty of fly balls, which could land in the stands with a little more frequency in Arizona's hitter-friendly venue than they did in Oakland's pitcher-friendly park.
The rest of the team projects as a gritty, power-happy bunch, buoyed by Kubel, Miguel Montero, and Paul Goldschmidt (whose 18 steals last season led all first basemen). The rotation is anchored by Ian Kennedy, who had a disappointing 2012, and Wade Miley, who will be pressed to re-produce his out-of-nowhere 2012 rookie campaign. One major strength is the bullpen, with no less than three pitchers who could close on any given day (although the saves will go to J.J. Putz). This should benefit the starters, who can leave the game in the sixth with a two-run lead and feel condfident they will have a great shot at the win.
Breakout candidate ... Adam Eaton, outfielder
After the Mike Trout and Bryce Harper explosion last year, Eaton kind of snuck into the majors in September without much hullabaloo. He hit .259 with two home runs and two steals before breaking his hand in late September and missing the rest of the season. All in all, it was a pretty quiet debut, which could work to the advantage of the smart drafter. Eaton, 24, has a career .355 batting average in the minors, with seasons of 20, 34 and 44 stolen bases (the numbers got better in each progressive season). He also hit 50 doubles last year over three levels of baseball. There's never going to be a perfect comparison, but at least consider these numbers:
Mike Trout, minor league career: 286 games, 1,117 at-bats, .342 average, .425 OBP, .941 OPS, 57 doubles, 34 triples, 23 home runs, 134 RBI, 108 steals
Adam Eaton, minor league career: 319 games, 1,210 at-bats, .355 average, .456 OBP, .966 OPS, 83 doubles, 16 triples, 24 home runs, 152 RBI, 98 steals
Granted, Eaton didn't have any of the accolades or appearances on prospect lists that Trout did, but the results -- in essentially the same leagues -- are close enough to make a case that Eaton could be a great Fantasy asset in 2013.
Overlooked arm ... Trevor Cahill, starting pitcher
Cahill has been on a somewhat annoying every-other-year pace so far in his career, rotating between good years and bad ones. But Cahill may be a better pitcher than he's given credit for. After producing a 3.78 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 2012, he now sports a 3.87 career ERA and 1.31 career WHIP. These aren't the greatest of numbers and Cahill's strikeout rate is nothing to get excited about, but he does offer some nice durability (196 innings pitched or more in each of the last three years), lowered his home run rate last season to a career-low 16 and his ground ball rate (2.39 GO/AO) was the best in the majors among starters in 2012. With Pennington and Prado now behind him, Cahill could see even fewer ground balls get out of the infield, meaning more outs and a lower ERA and WHIP. He won't be the ace of your staff, but Cahill could be a nice back-end addition who will return great value for where he's drafted.
Impact Prospect ... Tyler Skaggs, pitcher
With all the attention on Trevor Bauer as Arizona's pitcher of the future, Skaggs was, like Eaton, quietly brought up without much hype late last year and put up a 5.83 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in six starts. Don't let this be how you remember him. The 21-year-old lefty, acquired from the Angels in the 2010 Dan Haren trade, had a 2.98 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in just under 400 minor league innings pitched. He strikes out more than a batter per inning and has two straight seasons of 155 or more innings pitched, meaning he should be primed to handle a larger workload in 2013. Skaggs will likely be overlooked in drafts for three reasons: Everyone's focus last season was on Bauer, those who paid attention saw Skaggs put up mediocre numbers and because Skaggs could seemingly lose his role to Delgado -- or the returning Daniel Hudson -- at some point in the season. But this may not be the case. Skaggs is a top prospect who has nothing left to prove in the minors. He can get some nice strikeout numbers and it's certainly within the realm of possibility for him to produce a 3.50-ish ERA and 1.25-ish WHIP.
With Bauer gone and Skaggs and Eaton likely ticketed for Arizona, the Diamondbacks' farm system isn't as bereft of talent as one might think. The team stocked up for the future in the offseason deals, bringing in Delgado and Gregorius, as well as Zeke Spruill, Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury. ... Archie Bradley, a 20-year-old right-handed pitcher, is likely headed to Double-A in 2013 and could make his mark in Arizona at some point over the next two seasons. The seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bradley should rise up as a nice source of strikeouts. ... Matt Davidson looks like he's ready for Triple-A in 2013. The third baseman has two straight seasons of 20-plus home runs. ... If the Diamondbacks weren't so stacked in the outfield, their signing of former top prospect Jeremy Reed to a minor league deal might have been a little more interesting than just brushing him off as "organizational depth." Reed, 31, was, at one point, the hitting gem of the Mariners' system, before injuries derailed his 2006 season and sent him into oblivion. He probably has some talent left in his tank, but there's no role for him on this team.
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