Continuing their up-and-down history that has included five first-place finishes to go along with four last-place finishes in 14 years, the Diamondbacks went from worst to first last year, capitalizing on several breakthrough performances on their way to 94 wins.
The biggest development for them was the emergence of a pitching staff in the void left by Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson stepped up as legitimate frontliners, with Kennedy finishing fourth in NL Cy Young voting. The duo got help in the form of Joe Saunders, whose pitch-to-contact approach fared better in the NL than the AL, and Josh Collmenter, whose deceptive delivery allowed his numbers to exceed his stuff. The offseason acquisition of Trevor Cahill only adds to the mix.
But while Kennedy, Hudson and Cahill all profile as top-of-the-rotation arms, they're not necessarily the best the organization has to offer. Trevor Bauer, the third overall pick in the 2011 draft, figures to take the majors by storm at some point this season, and with high-upside hurlers Tyler Skaggs and Archie Bradley right behind him, pitching figures to be the Diamondbacks' strength for years to come.
Fortunately, they already have a solid nucleus in place offensively -- one led by Justin Upton, who finally appears to have turned the corner and emerged as a perennial five-category player. Chris Young is a power-speed threat in his own right, and Miguel Montero is one of the 10 best offensive catchers in the game. If Stephen Drew can return from the fractured ankle that sidelined him for the second half last year, then the current iteration of the Diamondbacks lineup will look even deeper than the one that played in the NLDS last year -- and that's assuming slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt doesn't quite live up to his crazy minor-league numbers.
Yes, for all that went right for the Diamondbacks last year, they still have nowhere to go but up, giving Fantasy owners the promise of high-end talent for both the short- and long-term.
Bust ... Ryan Roberts, 3B
Roberts' rise to Fantasy prominence last year was about as unlikely as they come, which is reason enough to question whether or not he can do it again. After all, if a near 20-20 season was really a likely scenario for him, he wouldn't have been a minor-league journeyman. But going beyond just common sense, you can't overlook the fact that his breakout season hinged on an unsustainably hot April in which he hit .313 with a 1.007 OPS. He hit .239 the rest of the way. Power and speed numbers aside, if his batting average is lagging right out of the gate, the Diamondbacks have little reason to give him the benefit of the doubt. He's already 31. It's not like he's any sort of building block. With higher-upside third basemen like Ryan Wheeler and Matt Davidson quickly rising through the minor-league system, Roberts is on a shorter leash than his ranking would have you believe. He's a player to draft only if he falls to you late.
Sleeper ... Jason Kubel, OF
Think back to 2009, when Kubel hit .300 with 28 homers and a .907 OPS. Hasn't been the same since then, has he? You know what else hasn't been the same since then? The Twins' home ballpark. Back then, it was the Metrodome, a hitter's haven where Kubel put together an OPS about 100 points higher than on the road in both 2008 and 2009. In the two years since, it's been Target Field, a park geared more toward pitching. The connection is easy to see, which is why the Diamondbacks were willing to give Kubel a two-year deal this offseason. They play in a hitter's park, much like the Metrodome, and recognize that a 29-year-old like Kubel is still young enough to salvage whatever he lost to expansive Target Field. Given his improvement against left-handed pitchers last year, a full season of at-bats could feasibly return Kubel to the 25-homer range. It's a reasonable enough possibility that he's worth a late-round flier in mixed leagues.
Impact prospect ... Trevor Bauer, SP
True, Bauer was drafted only a year ago, and yeah, he has just seven minor-league starts to his name, but he comes from UCLA with so much poise and polish that the Diamondbacks were planning to let him audition for the final rotation spot before bringing back Joe Saunders late in the offseason. Bauer gives the "student of the game" moniker a whole new meaning, studying concepts like biomechanics, effective velocity and pitch tunneling in an effort to maximize his delivery, and considering he's often compared to Tim Lincecum, he has apparently done just that. Though his quick promotion to Double-A last year didn't go so well, he was coming off a heavy workload in college and still demonstrated incredible strikeout ability. Given his history and pedigree, Bauer won't need long to maximize his potential. If Collmenter doesn't pan out or some other pitcher suffers an injury, Bauer will get the call midseason, and when he does, he'll be an immediate contributor in Fantasy.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Stephen Drew||SS||1||Ian Kennedy||RH|
|2||Aaron Hill||2B||2||Daniel Hudson||RH|
|3||Justin Upton||RF||3||Trevor Cahill||RH|
|4||Miguel Montero||C||4||Joe Saunders||LH|
|5||Chris Young||CF||5||Josh Collmenter||RH|
|6||Jason Kubel||LF||Alt||Wade Miley||LH|
|7||Paul Goldschmidt||1B|| |
|8||Ryan Roberts||3B||CL||J.J. Putz||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||David Hernandez||RH|
|R||Gerardo Parra||OF||RP||Brad Ziegler||RH|
|R||Willie Bloomquist||UTL||RP||Takashi Saito||RH|
|R||Lyle Overbay||1B||RP||Craig Breslow||LH|
|The third overall pick in the 2011 draft has knockout stuff and a workhorse mentality. He could be to the Diamondbacks this year what Tim Lincecum was to the Giants in 2007.|
|The prize of the Dan Haren deal would be the ace of most systems, but he has to play second fiddle to Bauer with the Diamondbacks. He's a year further away, too.|
|Eaton is a player in the Shane Victorino mold: small stature, but big numbers, both in the minors and the AFL. He's an injured outfielder away from being a surprise contributor.|
|4||Matt Davidson||20||3B||Class A||Double-A|
|Davidson profiles as a middle-of-the-order hitter, but with perhaps the same shortcomings that Mark Reynolds had. Still, you could do worse in long-term keeper leagues.|
|5||Archie Bradley||19||SP||Rookie||Class A|
|Bradley went off the board four picks after Bauer in the 2011 draft and has nearly as much upside. But obviously, at age 19, he's a few years from contributing.|
|Best of the rest: Wade Miley, SP; Chris Owings, SS; A.J. Pollock, OF; Patrick Corbin, SP; Bryan Shaw, RP; David Holmberg, SP; Bobby Borchering, 1B; Ryan Wheeler, 3B; Marc Krauss, OF; Charles Brewer, SP; David Nick, 2B; Yonata Ortega, RP; and Keon Broxton, OF.|