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2007 Arizona Diamondbacks Team Preview

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
February 21, 2007


2006 Record: 76-86 (Tied for Last Place - NL West Division)
2006 Runs Scored: 773
2006 Runs Allowed: 788
Pythagorean 2006 Record: 79-83



Few teams are quite so streaky as the 2006 Arizona Diamondbacks were.  They began the season 34-22, only to have an 8-20 June return them to Earth.  They rebounded with a 16-9 July before posing a winning percentage of .386 from August on.

Perhaps this shouldn't be so surprising, as the Diamondbacks were a team of multiple personalities, consisting of overpaid veterans, promising prospects, and 1-year stopgap solutions in almost equal quantities.  This year, the franchise has established itself as reliant on young prospects for offense and veteran innings-eaters on the mound.  GM Josh Byrnes has trimmed the fat of many absurd contracts from the previous regime, and finally has the organization headed back in the right direction.

Catcher
2006 Starter -
Johnny Estrada
Projected 2007 Starter -
Miguel Montero

Johnny Estrada was king of the empty batting average last season.  His replacement, Miguel Montero, appears to exhibit much more balance on offense, and should also be an improvement behind the dish.  Don't look for Montero to provide much more in 2007 than Estrada did in 2006 in terms of overall value, but expect his value from 2007-2010 to be much, much higher than what the Diamondbacks pay him.

Chris Snyder once again returns to his backup role, although he will be used predominantly against southpaws this season to spell the left-swinging Montero.  This should help in theory, however Snyder hit nearly 50 points better against righties in '06.

First Base
2006 Starter -
Conor Jackson
Projected 2007 Starter -
Jackson

Conor Jackson became less selective as the year wore on, and surprisingly, his power numbers drastically increased as a result.  Jackson may feel pressured to provide even more power in 2007, as he's batting in a lineup without a prototypical cleanup hitter and at least four regulars having even less major league experience than his own paltry 180-game total.  The Diamondbacks have plenty more young bats coming at first base and in the outfield, so Jackson knows he will be moved if he doesn't live up to his hype. 

The jury is still out on whether returning backup Tony Clark was hampered by injuries all season long or whether he simply cannot succeed in a backup role.  I tend to believe the latter, as Clark is a career .233 hitter when he plays in fewer than 110 games and a .281 hitter otherwise.

Second Base
2006 Starter -
Orlando Hudson
Projected 2007 Starter -
O-Dog

O-Dog's breakout season is completely accounted for by his new ballpark, as his 2006 road numbers look strikingly similar to his 2005 road numbers.  Even if his plus offensive contributions are all smoke and mirrors, his defensive value is not.  Hudson registers a +66 in +/- rating from 2004-2006.  That's the best in baseball, and the third place player only notches at +30.  Brandon Webb should give his Cy Young Award straight to Hudson and keep the next one for himself. 

Third Base
2006 Starter -
Chad Tracy
Projected 2007 Starter -
Chad Tracy

If Conor Jackson was pressing a bit last year, then Chad Tracy was lifting the entire rack of weights.  He suddenly became a strikeout artist, and even began having trouble in the field once he signed a three-year extension in May.  Tracy's versatility is one of his main selling points, but his career OPS at the hot corner is nearly 50 points lower than his overall OPS.  He doesn't hit well away from Chase, and can't hit southpaws at all.  It's time for him to step up or be traded.   

Shortstop
2006 Starters -
Craig Counsell, Stephen Drew
Projected 2007 Starter -
Drew

Let's see, a rookie named Drew hits very well in limited action his rookie year... what happens the next season?  Right, a big disappointment.  But while older brother JD had fantastic minor league numbers, Stephen's were quite ordinary, possibly leading to an even bigger letdown.  The worst case scenario still has Drew at least as productive as Counsell was last year, however.

Utility
2006  -
Damian Easley
2007 -
Alberto Callaspo

Callaspo has been overshadowed by the preponderance of other good young hitters on this Arizona squad.  But he shouldn't be.  Callaspo remains one of the most difficult hitters to fan in all of professional baseball.  He's also very fast, and can field well anywhere in the infield.  

Outfield
2006 Starters -
Luis Gonzalez, Eric Byrnes, Shawn Green, Carlos Quentin, Jeff DaVanon
Projected 2007 Starters -
Byrnes, Quentin, Chris Young, DaVanon, Scott Hairston

Even though Quentin and Young are two of the most promising young outfielders in the game today, they will be hard pressed to exceed the production that Gonzo and Green combined for last season.  Eric Byrnes doesn't hit nearly well enough to play left, but he tends to start the year off hot, which along with his new $4.5 million salary makes him difficult to bench.  That's a shame, because both Hairston and DaVanon deserve more playing time than the average fourth and fifth outfielder normally gets.  It is true that the outfield defense is much improved, and that could prove useful for newcomer flyball pitchers Randy Johnson and Livan Hernandez.

Top of the Rotation
2006 Starters -
Brandon Webb, Miguel Batista, Claudio Vargas, Livan Hernandez
Projected 2007 Starters -
Webb, Randy Johnson, Hernandez, Doug Davis 

Neither Hernandez nor Davis is going to have an ERA under 4.50 playing for Arizona, but they will bring something that was sorely missing from last year's staff: stability.  Eleven different pitchers made starts for the Diamondbacks last season, and get this, one of them was named Kevin Jarvis.  Again, these two are clearly not worth the players traded to get them or the money they are being paid, but they do take some of the mystery out of the rotation.

Once Randy Johnson has recovered from back surgery, he and Brandon Webb will form one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball.  The Big Unit will not be ready at the start of the season, but what's important is that he does not need to rush with all of the back end depth in Arizona. 

Bottom of the Rotation
2006 Swingmen -
Enrique and Edgar Gonzalez, Orlando Hernandez, Juan Cruz, Russ Ortiz
Possible 2007 Options -
The E Gonzali, Dustin Nippert, Micah Owings

It might surprise some people to learn that Enrique Gonzalez finished fourth on the staff in both starts and innings last year.  His inconsistency puts him in jeopardy of losing a rotation spot once The Big Unit is operational, however.  Edgar (no relation) showed similar inconsistency, but finished the season stronger.  The best curveball in the organization belongs to Nippert while the best fastball probably belongs to Owings.  Though older and more experienced, Nippert likely isn't as close to being ML-ready as Owings, who was the untouchable pitcher in the Randy Johnson talks.    

Evan MacLane and Dana Eveland appeared to be good bets for the rotation before that Johnson trade, but with two southpaws already set for the rattlesnake rotation, they will likely battle each other for the last bullpen spot. 

Bullpen
2006 Mainstays -
Jose Valverde, Jorge Julio, Luis Vizcaino, Brandon Lyon, Brandon Medders
Probable 2007 Bullpen -
Valverde, Julio, Cruz, Tony Pena, Doug Slaten

On any given day, Valverde and Julio could look like two of the elite closers in baseball or like scapegoats for a losing streak.  The three leading pitchers in relief innings from last year are gone, but there is a ton of raw talent left in this pen.  The onus is on manager Bob Melvin to either try and sort out which of these relievers can consistently get the job done or simply play the hot arm in key spots throughout the year.  Mel Stottlemyre also signed on as a special pitching instructor to help harness this talent.

Final Word

Did you know that the Diamondbacks had the sixth best ERA in the National League last year despite playing in one of its most prolific hitter's parks?  It's true.  Now consider that the starts made by the likes of Claudio Vargas, El Duque, and Russ Ortiz are going to be made by The Big Unit, Doug Davis, and whoever rises to the top among their advanced prospects.  You don't have to be a Doug Davis fan to realize that this will be one of the best pitching staffs in the National League next year.

On offense, with so many inexperienced players it's very unlikely that a couple won't struggle this year.  A team with a murderer's row could sustain a weak bottom of the lineup, but Carlos Quentin is the only Diamondbacks batter with a realistic shot at 30 homers this year.

Ultimately, this is a good team that happens to be playing in the same division as two of the best National League teams.  If either the Padres or Dodgers run into a string of bad luck, these Diamondbacks could have enough to challenge for a Wild Card Spot.  But even if they don't, be patient, Diamondbacks fans.  Wait one more year and the dynasty will begin.

For insider coverage on the Arizona Diamondbacks, including scouting reports, prospect rankings, and player interviews, go to FutureBacks.com




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