Who is difference maker for the defending champions?
Athlon continues its in-depth preview of the 2011 MLB season. This week, we single out some important names that should be key difference makers for every team. Today, we look at the NL West.
Arizona Diamondbacks: J.J. Putz, RP
Putz had two remarkable years as Seattle’s closer in 2006-07, with 36 and 40 saves, and will provide a significant upgrade if he just comes close to repeating those numbers. The previous regime did not put a premium on the bullpen, but new GM Kevin Towers believes in building a staff from the back forward, as the Putz signing shows. Putz lives in suburban Phoenix, a big selling point, and was effective as a setup man with the White Sox last season, going 7–5 with three saves and a 2.83 ERA.
Colorado Rockies: Chris Iannetta, C
Iannetta was the starting catcher on Opening Day each of the past two seasons but soon lost the job. The Rockies intend to give Iannetta, who hit .197 with nine homers and 27 RBIs in 61 games, more of an opportunity to work through his offensive struggles. He is expected to bat eighth, where he can supply some power and lengthen the lineup but won’t be shouldering a heavy load. Nonetheless, the Rockies need more offense from him. He should benefit from the presence of new hitting coach Carney Lansford, who worked well with Iannetta as the hitting coach at Triple-A in 2007.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp, OF
There is no question that Kemp has star-level talent. But he seemed to regress in 2010, creating the perception that he was more concerned with fame (he was romantically linked with pop singer Rihanna) and its trappings than with maximizing his talent on the field. Manager Joe Torre and his coaching staff (the now-departed Bob Schaefer and Larry Bowa, in particular) seemed unable to reach Kemp. Getting the most out of Kemp will be one of new manager Don Mattingly’s big challenges in 2011.
San Diego Padres: Jason Bartlett, SS
Having spent several years in Boston’s front office, Padres GM Jed Hoyer saw plenty of Bartlett with the Rays. “He was hard to play against,” Hoyer says. “He’s a pest. He gets on base. He has good at-bats. He’s a good all-around baseball player. There was always a focus on that breakout year he had, but even before that season you didn’t want to see him in the batter’s box. He’s a player you didn’t want to play against.” Bartlett is eligible for salary arbitration after making $4 million last season. He can become a free agent after the 2011 World Series, but Hoyer hopes the Padres can keep Bartlett beyond one year.
San Francisco Giants: Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Sandoval has shown he is among the most talented hitters in the league, but the Giants cannot afford to absorb another disappointing season of impatient swings and double-play grounders. It took all of the team’s resources, and then some, to bring back most of their World Series roster, making it impossible to sign a big name free agent like Carl Crawford. So it’s up to Sandoval to slim down while beefing up the batting order.