Despite an early bounce from the post season, it was a successful year for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The club reached the post season for the fifth time in its relatively brief history (14 seasons) — and the franchise also saw breakout performances from the likes of starting pitchers Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, as well as outfielder Justin Upton.
But how sustainable is Arizona’s recent success? Is the organization doomed to be a one-year wonder — or does it have the young talent to continue its assault on National League opponents? On first glance, the Diamondbacks appear to have a bright future.
The emergence of Kennedy and Hudson has been key to the club’s success and the pair should be around for a while. Kennedy, 26, has found new life in Arizona after being cast off by the Yankees. He’s averaged more than 200 innings in the past two seasons and succeeds with merely decent stuff while also being a fly ball pitcher. His 3.22 FIP in 2011 was more than a full run better than in 2010, when he posted a 4.33 FIP. While some regression wouldn’t be a shock — if Kennedy can continue to command his fastball like he did this season — he could continue to perform like a No. 2 starter.
Hudson, 24, is yet another former pitching prospect who was expelled from the American League and found success in the desert. The right-hander gave 222 innings of solid work in 2011, posting a 3.28 FIP. Like Kennedy, he doesn’t have overpowering stuff but he takes advantage of solid control (2.03 BB/9) and good fastball command. Unless Hudson finds a way to increase his ground-ball and/or strikeout rates, he’s probably a very good No. 3 pitcher.
Josh Collmenter, 25, has youth on his side but a somewhat limited ceiling and eventually might find himself in the bullpen. The right-hander has below-average fastball velocity and is primarily a two-pitch pitcher (changeup). His curveball isn’t overly effective and he uses it less than 6% of the time. Collmenter is also a fly ball pitcher who is making his living in a hitter’s park.
The bullpen has some staying power, thanks to a trio of arms that includes David Hernandez, Bryan Shaw and Sam Demel. Mainly a starter in Baltimore, Hernandez has settled into the role that many scouts envisioned for him. With the permanent move to the ‘pen, his average fastball velocity jumped to just shy of 95 mph and he was able to focus on his two best pitches: a heater and a curveball. His 35 shutdowns (SD) gave him one more than Craig Kimbrel, and he had two fewer meltdowns (eight to 10) than the Braves rookie. The 26-year-old Hernandez could inherit the closer role in Arizona if he can hold off Shaw.
Shaw could end up as a pretty valuable arm out of the bullpen. The 23-year-old former second-round draft pick (and college closer) showed excellent ground-ball abilities (60 GB%) in 28.1 big league innings in 2011. If he continues to exhibit solid control — as well as consistent command of his cutter — he could be the eighth-inning guy in Arizona for a while — if not the team’s closer.
Demel, soon-to-be 26, had another up-and-down season. He has some promise as a seventh- or eighth-inning guy, but he needs to improve his fastball command. His future isn’t as bright as the other arms ahead of him, though.
Arizona has some real depth in the starting lineup, when it comes to hitters with youth and upside.
Upton, of course, leads the charge after posting an almost-MVP season. Just 24 years old, and in his fifth MLB season, the outfielder showed legit power (.240 ISO) and utilized his lightening-quick bat to bang out his first 30-plus-home-run season. He also showed a well-rounded game with 21 steals, a decent walk rate (8.8 BB%) and solid defense.
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt burst onto the scene with a little more flair than expected. The 24-year-old slugger didn’t light the world on fire but he flashed power (.224 ISO) and patience (11.3 BB%). His lack of secondary skills and athleticism limits his potential — as does his history of high strikeout rates (including a 29.9 K% mark in the major leagues). He should have some solid value for a while but he could quickly become a too-expensive, one-trick pony.
Gerardo Parra, 24, is an interesting player. With three seasons under his belt, he’s improved his approach against lefty pitchers to the point where he’s not a threat to be platooned. Still, I’m not convinced he can continue to be an everyday left fielder. Parra displays excellent defensive skills and some base running ability (15 steals in 16 tries), but he is getting noticeably more “stocky” as time goes on. With his limited power (.135), Arizona might soon look for a more traditional offensive threat for the position.
Although I wouldn’t call then exactly “young” at 28, outfielder Chris Young, shortstop Stephen Drew and catcher Miguel Montero should continue to be solid players for the club as long as their contracts remain reasonable. Montero is clearly the more-valuable of the three, thanks to his above-average offense and defense from a key position. He’s coming off a four-win season as a catcher. Drew has never lived up to his potential due to inconsistencies and injuries and Young has never really matured as a hitter.
If they can stay healthy, both Jarrod Parker and Trevor Bauer could graduate to permanent big-leaguers in 2012. You could argue that they might develop into No. 1 or No. 2 starters if they continue their current growth patterns. Tyler Skaggs and Pat Corbin were both acquired, along with veteran Joe Saunders, in the Dan Haren deal with the Los Angeles Angels in 2010. Skaggs has the higher ceiling but Corbin could also be a valuable big-leaguer. Archie Bradley has a massive ceiling but the prep pitcher was just drafted in 2011, so he has a lot of work to do before he reaches the majors.
The hitting prospects aren’t quite as enticing but there are some names to watch, with the likes of corner infielders Matt Davidson, Bobby Borchering, catcher Rossmel Perez and even perhaps outfielder A.J. Pollock.
Overall, the club clearly has enough MLB-ready players to form a strong nucleus for years to come. The minor league system — while not overly deep — has some high-ceiling prospects sprinkled throughout the organizational levels. Because many of the key players have yet to reach their primes, this club doesn’t appear to be a one-year wonder.
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