For a team with just one winning season in the past seven, there is a wonderful level of hype surrounding the Diamondbacks this year. Adding Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller to bolster the team's rotation understandably accounts for much of it. Arizona's offense was second in the National League in runs scored last year, and the promise of a deeper pitching staff has people around the team feeling very optimistic heading into Spring Training. Here we will take a look at a handful of players who could be every bit as important to the team's fortunes as the established veterans.
Top Candidate: Jake Lamb. The Diamondbacks selected Lamb in the 6th round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Washington. After establishing himself as a high average/on-base threat with mediocre power for the Huskies, Lamb was seen as having only modest upside coming out of college. That assessment of his ceiling slowly changed as he almost immediately began producing more power upon arriving in pro ball. Lamb quickly shot through the Arizona system, producing a career .321/.408/.552 line in the minors before making his Major League debut in August, 2014.
Lamb made the team out of camp in 2015. He came out of the gate scorching before a foot injury in mid-April cost him nearly eight weeks. He never quite got on track after his return and ultimately limped (at times literally) to a meager .263/.331/.386 line good for 92 wRC+. His overall value to the Diamondbacks was boosted by above average glove work at the hot corner.
Lamb's batting average and on-base profile remained reasonably solid in his first full season in Arizona. He struck out a little more-- and walked a little less-- than you might expect given his minor league numbers, but he was far from over-matched. There is reason to believe his bat will catch up with his glove this year.
The two areas where his 2015 performance failed to live up to his minor league profile were his power and his platoon splits. Lamb finished the season with a .123 ISO in the Majors-- much lower than his career .231 mark in the minors. While it is reasonable to expect his Major League ISO to degrade somewhat from his minor league numbers, it is also clear that Lamb should ultimately hit for much more power than he did during his rookie season.
Similarly, his .200/.275/.267 line against lefties was much worse than expected based on his minor league career where he tattooed pitchers of all types indiscriminately. Improvement in one or both of these areas could turn Lamb into an above-average regular this season with potential to be even better than that in the long run.
Dare to Dream: Rubby De La Rosa. After 50 starts and 290.1 innings of outright mediocrity over the past two seasons, there is serious Rubby fatigue in some areas of the baseball world. The narrative has changed little since his tantalizing 2011 debut as a flame-throwing 22 year old with the Dodgers. He still sits in the mid 90s. He still has two secondary pitches that scout well. He still has the ability to shut down a big league lineup any time he toes the rubber.
Unfortunately, there is more to the story. As dominant as he can be when he is on, he still gets lit up far too often. He still hasn't found a plan to consistently retire lefties (they hit .315/.382/.567 against him last year). He still hasn't pitched 200 innings in a season. He still surrenders too many home runs. Rubby remains an enigma.
Over the weekend, Chip Hale confirmed that De La Rosa enters Spring Training with a strong hold on the fourth spot in Arizona's starting rotation. With an excellent front three of Greinke, Miller, and Patrick Corbin, the Diamondbacks can afford to give Rubby another bite at the apple this year. Many teams would be happy to have him at the back end of their rotation, but Arizona is hoping for a more consistent version of De La Rosa at age 27.
With solid peripherals, more experience, and his ever-present excellent stuff, Arizona fans can #daretodream that 2016 is the year Rubby helps pitch them back to the post season.
Rookie Watch: Silvino Bracho. Signed in 2011 out of Venezuela, Bracho received minimal attention from prospect hounds during his climb through Arizona's system. As a right-handed pitcher listed at 5'10", 190 pounds, Bracho had to deal with the undersized label. He has never started a professional game, and is mostly a two-pitch pitcher. Small right-handed relievers that struggle to hit the mid 90s will have to prove themselves every step of the way.
Despite all of the biases against his profile, Bracho has been nothing short of dominant his entire career. In six stops over five professional seasons, he has never struck out less than a batter per inning. His worst WHIP (1.05) and FIP (3.70) came in his 12.1 inning audition with the big club last season. Bracho misses bats, throws strikes, and gets outs.
John gave him a Grade B-/C+ last week, and expressed the belief that he could close down the line. The team's recent signing of Tyler Clippard makes for a crowded bullpen picture this year, but if given an opportunity, I expect Bracho to be an asset to what could potentially be a strong bullpen unit.
Final Notes: Cuban import Yasmany Tomas has big time power potential, but underwhelmed in his rookie campaign. I expect his second season to tell us more about what we can expect in the future. At age 25, there is a chance he could adjust and start doing consistent damage. There is also a strong Dayan Viciedo vibe here that I can't quite shake. I don't count myself among the optimists on him.
Similarly, I expect to feel much more confident about what middle infielder Chris Owings is (or isn't) a year from now. The lack of plate discipline was always a concern, but last season was ridiculous. There is some reason to hope that a completely healthy Owings can deliver on the promise of his minor league career where he showed slightly better control of the strike zone, a bit more power, and a better defensive profile. It will be interesting to monitor his competition with Jean Segura and Nick Ahmed up the middle. The bar to clear to be an acceptable, or productive, middle infielder is not all that high. I am holding out hope that Owings can still clear it.