The Diamondbacks are rebooting, and it is hard to blame them. The wall-to-wall changes began with the hiring of Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa as chief baseball officer last May, and also include new GM Dave Stewart, new director of baseball operations De Jon Watson and new manager Chip Hale. While it remains to be seen if the overhaul from a 98-loss season will pay immediate dividends in a division that has produced the World Series winner in three of the last five years, at least the D-backs should be healthier after the 100-year flood of injuries to key contributors in 2014.
Stewart, a four-time 20-game winner, knows pitching, and he made several moves to rework the starting rotation in his first offseason. At least three of the D-backs’ starters will be new after the trades that brought righthanders Rubby De La Rose and Allen Webster from Boston and Jeremy Hellickson from Tampa Bay. Steady righthander Josh Collmenter is penciled is as the No. 1 starter, while lefthander Vidal Nuno and righties Chase Anderson and Trevor Cahill are among the candidates for the final spot. Collmenter is intriguing. He has a severe overhand delivery that he attributes to his hatchet-throwing days as a kid in the Michigan woods. His fastball tops out at 87 mph, but he throws strikes, commands his secondary pitches and gets outs. De La Rosa has hit 100 mph in a career that was disrupted by Tommy John surgery in 2012, and he has the kind of power arm not seen around here since the Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling days. He is 8–15 with a 4.34 ERA in 44 major league appearances while averaging 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Hellickson was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2012, the first of three straight seasons of double-digit victories, before surgery to remove bone chips compromised his 2014 season. Stewart was not fazed — his best seasons came after he had bone chips removed. Webster has a three-pitch mix with a fastball that can touch the mid-90s. Nuno, obtained in a July trade for Brandon McCarthy last season, throws a handful of pitches at a variety of speeds. His inclusion would give the D-backs a lefty in the rotation. Anderson’s nine victories tied Mets righthander Jacob deGrom for the most among NL rookies last season. All-Star Patrick Corbin is expected back from Tommy John surgery in June. In January, the Diamondbacks signed 21-year-old Cuban righthander Yoan Lopez for $8.25 million. Where Lopez will start the season remains to be seen, but Arizona hopes its investment will pay dividends in the majors sooner than later.
Righthander Addison Reed returns as the closer after recording 32 saves in a hit-or-miss first season in the National League. Reed averaged 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings and had a 4.6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he was susceptible to the long ball, giving up 11 home runs in 59.1 innings. No other closer gave up as many. Sidearming setup man Brad Ziegler again was effective in keeping the ball on the ground, inducing nine double-play ground balls in 67 innings before missing most of September with microfracture knee surgery. He may be delayed at the start of spring training but is not expected to miss much if any of the regular season. Righthander Evan Marshall and lefthander Oliver Perez are strike-throwing setup men who can be used from the sixth inning on. Marshall had a 3.18:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a rookie in 2014, and Perez was at 3.17:1 as the primary lefthander out of the pen, although he is more than a situational lefty. Randall Delgado gained velocity into the mid-90s when he moved to the bullpen after struggling as a starter last April. Daniel Hudson returned in September after his second Tommy John surgery and threw well. Righthander Matt Stites has a fastball that touches 97-98 mph, but command was an issue his rookie year.
After missing two months with a shoulder injury, Chris Owings spent the final month of the 2014 season at second base and showed well. He had 27 extra-base hits (15 doubles) and 26 RBIs in 91 games in 2014, above-average pop for a middle infielder. Rookie Nick Ahmed, obtained in the Justin Upton deal with Atlanta before the 2013 season, is considered to be the same type of plus-plus defender as departed Didi Gregorius, who was traded to the Yankees in the offseason.
The D-backs opened the wallet for Cuban league bopper Yasmany Tomas, committing $68.5 million over six years. Tomas will receive a $14 million signing bonus and a total of $36 million over the first four years, after which he can opt out and become a free agent. Scouts love his power; he fits best on the D-backs roster at third base, where he will be given every chance. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt has become one of the top power hitters in the game, and the D-backs’ season-ending plummet last season coincided with the fractured right hand he suffered when he was hit by a pitch Aug. 1.
A.J. Pollock was emerging as a rising star before he missed three months with a broken hand after being hit by a pitch on May 31. He has speed, gap power and the range of Steve Finley and should be the starter in center field for years to come. Mark Trumbo will move from left field to right field, which should be a better fit, and his bat is a constant. Even if his home run rate was slightly down last season in his first season in the NL, Trumbo had 61 RBIs in 88 games, right on his career average. Success story David Peralta, who was playing independent ball as late as June 2013, will play left field.
Tuffy Gosewisch inherits the position, which opened when Miguel Montero — and the remaining $40 million on his contract — was traded to the Cubs. Gosewisch played eight minor league seasons before making the majors in late 2013, and this will be his first shot at even semi-regular playing time. He has not shown the Montero bat, but he is a strong catch-and-throw guy and a good handler of the staff. Gosewisch has thrown out 40 percent of potential base-stealers in his short career.
Ender Inciarte was a valuable piece at all three outfield spots and in the leadoff position last season after injuries to regulars Trumbo and Pollock. Outfielder Cody Ross is going on two years removed from a devastating hip injury, and he offers solid production against left-handed pitchers. Catcher Oscar Hernandez was the first pick of the Rule 5 Draft from Tampa Bay and is major league-ready as a defender. Aaron Hill had 10 homers and 60 RBIs last season, when he played mostly third base the final month. Cliff Pennington is a valuable defender at three infield positions.
La Russa was interviewed for sitting general manager Kevin Towers’ position last May before the D-backs created a new position for him, and he jumped in head-first. La Russa made the rounds of the D-backs’ minor league affiliates to familiarize himself with the personnel before hiring Stewart and Watson in late September. This is a new job for La Russa, but it is hard (read: impossible) to argue with his previous success.
President/CEO Derrick Hall and managing general partner Ken Kendrick remain aggressive in seeking ways to compete in a large market that is one of the smallest in TV/radio reach and revenue. The D-backs wooed Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka before losing him to the Yankees, and this time landed their top international free agent target in Tomas. La Russa, Stewart and Watson provide a strong triumvirate, although it remains to be seen if the D-backs have enough pitching to compete this season. They will hit.
2015 Prediction: 4th in NL West
CF A.J. Pollock (R) Breakout 2014 season curtailed by broken hand; hit .324 with 14 extra-base hits in 17 games at leadoff.
2B Chris Owings (R) Adjusted to second base effortlessly; his 1.8 WAR (fangraphs.com) was fourth among NL rookies last year.
1B Paul Goldschmidt (R) Second player in franchise history with consecutive .300 seasons.
LF David Peralta (L) Led NL rookies (min. 325 at-bats) in slugging percentage, triples and OPS; added six outfield assists.
RF Mark Trumbo (R) Finished strong with six homers and 22 RBIs in September; one RBI per 5.38 at-bats a career best.
3B Yasmany Tomas (R) Veteran major league talent evaluator: “The guy has potential game-changing power.”
C Tuffy Gosewisch (R) After eight-year minor league apprenticeship, defense-first Gosewisch gets call to replace Miguel Montero.
SS Nick Ahmed (R) Hit .312 with 14 stolen bases in the Pacific Coast League; Baseball America’s best defensive shortstop.
OF Ender Inciarte (L) Hit .308 the final two months, and he was successful on 19 of 22 stolen base attempts for the season.
OF Cody Ross (R) Ross should be more like his old self after a full offseason of training.
INF Aaron Hill (R) One of six second basemen with 20-plus doubles in the last six seasons; also could see time at third.
INF Cliff Pennington (S) Versatile sparkplug is well above average at all three infield spots and is comfortable in either batter’s box.
C Oscar Hernandez (R) Rule 5 pick has thrown out 42 percent of potential base-stealers in five minor league seasons.
RH Josh Collmenter Set career highs in victories, starts, strikeouts and innings pitched after early-season move to the rotation.
RH Rubby De La Rosa A four-game winner in 18 starts with Boston in 2014, his first extended time in a rotation.
RH Jeremy Hellickson Averaged 12 victories and 180 innings in Tampa Bay in 2011-13 before bone chip surgery disrupted 2014.
RH Allen Webster Had five victories for Boston while yo-yoing between the Red Sox and Pawtucket a year ago.
LH Vidal Nuno Tied for the major league lead with seven “wins lost,” games he left with a lead that the bullpen did not hold.
RH Addison Reed (Closer) One of 10 closers with at least 30 saves in the last two seasons, the only to do it in each league.
RH Evan Marshall Stranded 24 of 29 inherited runners while recording a team rookie-record 19 holds after early May recall.
RH Brad Ziegler Second in franchise history with 246 appearances; will pass Jose Valverde with his eighth outing this season.
LH Oliver Perez One of three lefties in MLB with 60 appearances and 70 Ks in each of the last two seasons.
RH Daniel Hudson Made three September appearances in his first major league games since two Tommy John surgeries.
RH Randall Delgado Averaged 11.45 strikeouts per nine innings after an April move to the bullpen, when his velocity ticked up.
RH Matt Stites Held lefties to a .189 average following mid-June promotion after 15 saves at two minor league stops.
Beyond the Box Score
Career change Rookie David Peralta’s helium-laced rise to the major leagues was as captivating as it was successful. Signed as a pitcher with St. Louis in the mid-2000s, Peralta was released in 2011 because of repeated left shoulder issues. He returned to his native Venezuela and took up hitting, working his way to independent league outposts in Amarillo and Harlingen, Texas, before D-backs scout Chris Carminucci found him. The rest is, well, history. Peralta hit .346 at Class A Visalia in 2013 and was tied with Kris Bryant for the Southern League RBI lead last season before being promoted to the parent D-backs on June 1. It took. “I was going to make it,” Peralta says. “I was going to fight for it.”
Not such a g’day The D-backs opened the 2014 major league season in Sydney, Australia, with two games in 24 hours against the Los Angeles Dodgers in late March. The D-backs lost both games a week after losing No. 1 starter Patrick Corbin for the season due to Tommy John surgery, and it never got much better. The D-backs logged about 15,500 miles and 30 hours of plane time on the trip.
Kid-friendly First baseman Paul Goldschmidt and his wife Amy are registered volunteers at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, meaning they can visit on a regular basis. Goldschmidt has helped raise more than $200,000 for the hospital the last two years, first with proceeds from a limited edition print and last year with a “Goldschmidt Bleacher Creature” keepsake toy.
Giving back Reliever Brad Ziegler is active in support of military families with his Pastime for Patriots Foundation and was one of six finalists for the 2014 Bob Feller Act of Valor Award, given annually to the major leaguer who best fits the criteria of baseball accomplishments, integrity and character, service to the country and community involvement. Ziegler’s foundation provides education-based financial assistance and tickets to major league games for military families. Last May, Ziegler dedicated the latest of the D-backs’ youth baseball fields in Prescott, Ariz., as a tribute to the memory of the 19 Granite Mountain Hot Shots who perished in the Yarnell Hill wild fire in 2013. Ziegler proposed the idea to the D-backs and attended the dedication. “I cried my whole speech,” he says.
2014 Top Draft Pick
Touki Toussaint, RHP
The D-backs were pleasantly surprised to find the hard-throwing righthander available with the 16th pick, and with starting pitching a stated priority, they snapped him up. Toussaint hit the low 90-mph range with his fastball at Coral Springs (Fla.) Academy last spring and struck out 86 while giving up 17 hits in 45 innings. Toussaint, who had committed to play at Vanderbilt, has an eclectic background. His father was a senator and presidential candidate in Haiti, but Toussaint and his mother moved to Florida when he was 6. His first sport of choice was soccer. He tried baseball at age 10 but quit when he struck out “22 times in 24 at-bats,” he said. He returned to the game for good at 12. His immersion in pro ball was a learning experience — 8.48 ERA in 12 games — but the D-backs believe they have seen the tip of the iceberg.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Archie Bradley, RHP (22) Bradley may have pushed too hard to make the major league rotation in 2014, suffering a strained right flexor tendon.
2. Yasmany Tomas, 3B (24) Most recent Cuban season produced a .290/.346/.450 line with six HRs, 21 walks, 46 strikeouts in 257 plate appearances.
3. Yoan Lopez, RHP (21) Diamondbacks signed highly touted Cuban arm for $8.25 million.
4. Jake Lamb, 3B (24) Lamb cannot do much more in the minor leagues after slashing .318/.399/.551 with 35 doubles, 14 homers and 79 RBIs in 103 games at Class AA Mobile last season.
5. Touki Toussaint, RHP (18) First-round pick in 2014 is an outstanding athlete who consistently throws in the low 90s.
6. Aaron Blair, RHP (22) A big-bodied bulldog type, Blair leads with a heavy fastball and adds a good secondary mix. He averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014, finishing at Class AA Mobile.
7. Braden Shipley, RHP (23) The D-backs’ first-round pick in the 2013 draft, Shipley is a converted shortstop with an abundance of athleticism and a fastball that has touched the high-90 mph range.
8. Peter O’Brien, C (24) Has shown prodigious power in three minor league seasons, hitting 34 homers last season in little more than four months.
9. Robbie Ray, LHP (23) The D-backs’ return in the three-team trade that sent Didi Gregorius to the Yankees, Ray had a strong 2013.
10. Brandon Drury, 3B (22) Drury followed his minor league-leading 51 doubles in 2013 with his best year — 42 doubles, 23 homers, 95 RBIs — at two levels last year.