As the Arizona Diamondbacks start 2012 spring training, there is a lot of excitement and hope that they can repeat as NL West champs and make a push in the postseason. As last season the team was more or less a novelty and a surprise. This year they will surprise nobody and there are more than a few good storylines to follow.
We asked the SB Nation Arizona writing staff in the first of what will be many round tables which one of the many storylines is the most compelling.
Here is what they said:
There are so many great storylines for the Diamondbacks this season, but heading into the start of spring training games I'm most excited to watch all the young pitchers. Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer, Pat Corbin, Charles Brewer and that's in addition to old friends Wade Miley and Barry Enright. But of those guys, it's Bauer that will be the most intriguing. Between his unique delivery, his crazy nine-pitch repertoire and his unusual fitness and training regime, this kid is a walking story. Add in his geek-like passion for his craft with his youthful exuberance and boyish charm and you can't help but watch what this phenom and potential HUGE STAR does in his first spring as a pro. It's an opportunity to say, "I was there when it all started".
Has to be is this team bound to repeat as division champs, and has it gotten better in an effort to advance deeper in the playoffs? Minor leagues look stocked, pitching on major-league roster looks solid again, where are the potential trouble spots with the D-backs? And could there be an issue with Parra and Kubel in left field?
How good can Justin Upton be? If you dig deep into his numbers it's not out of the question for him to be even better this season. His BABIP was lower than it was the previous two seasons so if that goes back up his average should be higher. The most impressive part of what Upton did last season was he cut his strikeout rate by swinging more. Upton did an incredible job making contract with the ball when he swung. If the Diamondbacks want more than a first round playoff appearance Upton becoming the best offensive outfielder in the NL is a good place to start.
The 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks made for a compelling story, but at the same point, there was clearly a luck factor that surrounded that team. The biggest question to me is how well the team will respond when that aura dissipates. There's no question this team has a lot of talent, and their excellent offseason moves, such as the additions of Trevor Cahill and Jason Kubel among others, will help keep them from coming back to Earth too harshly. Can they count on Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson winning 37 games again? Will J.J. Putz be that dominant in the 9th inning again? Is it possible to have that many clutch hits? Last year's team was a exciting mix of talent and luck, and the big question is whether having more talent in 2012 offset the drop off in luck that logic dictates.
With the late-inning success in 2011, I think the biggest story of the coming season is to see if they can find more success early in games. It is one thing to be gritty and have the ability to rally late in games, but it is another to count on that as a way of winning. You simply cannot expect to replicate that type of success. The bullpen looks to be dominant again and the starting pitching potentially is great. Can the offense be productive enough early in games to give the team a lead, rather than have to come back game after game?
The most compelling storyline for the Diamondbacks for this season and beyond all revolves around the man who has played the greatest amount of games for the franchise over the past six years: Stephen Drew. Drew suffered a gruesome injury to his right ankle near the end of 2011 season and is currently taking daily baby steps in Spring Training on his road to recovery. He's hoping to be ready by April 6's Opening Day but even if he's not, the D-backs have more than enough middle infield depth to hold down the fort for the time being. Then again, if Arizona is serious about contending for the National League pennant, they're going to need a little more than John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist turning double plays. It is absolutely imperative that Drew regains his old form and avoids any setbacks if the D-backs are going to repeat as NL West champions. At the same time though there's a catch 22 involved. If Drew does have a bounce back season, odds are he declines his mutual option and cash in somewhere else as a free agent (especially since the organization will be looking to pay Miguel Montero as well). So yes, if the tenured lefty does fully recover the D-backs 2012 chances will be greatly increased. Then again, it will be at the expense of most likely being left with a gaping hole in both the leadership and defense department with no clear-cut minor league replacement heading into 2013.