While the 2013 Diamondbacks outfield had some great defensive performances, the infield led the way offensively. #MVPaul did most of that damage as he became one of baseballs true young stars. Aaron Hill was very good when healthy and Martin Prado, despite some down months, was an offensive spark plug at times. Eric Chavez was great off the bench and as a spot-starter, helping provide stability at the hot corner when Hill went down. Unfortunately, shortstop and catcher were all but black holes for the offense and while Didi Gregorius was never thought to be an offensive force, Miguel Montero was a huge disappointment. The Diamondbacks will be looking to stay healthy around the infield in 2014 and hoping for some bounce-back campaigns, too.
It all starts with The People’s MVP, Paul Goldschmidt. In his age 25 season, Goldy emerged as one of the game’s elite talents. In addition to being at or near the top in nearly every major offensive category in the National League, he took home his first gold glove at first base, proving he’s more than just a slugger. Steamer projects Paul to be nearly as good again in 2014 as none of his stats were particularly strange and his true talent appears to be pretty darn close to what we saw on the field. Some guys have lucky breakouts but Goldy isn’t one of them. His average was likely aided by a high BABIP, but some of that is also due to his line drive abilities. Diamondbacks fans should prepare to enjoy another excellent campaign from the Goldy in 2014, according to Steamer.
Steamer Essentials: look for Goldschmidt to lead the way for the offense again and while it might reaching a bit to expect a season like 2013 again, Steamer sees something relatively close in the future and there’s even a chance he improves on last year’s campaign in 2014.
Martin Prado got off to a slow start in 2013, much to the chagrin of fans that wondered, “isn’t this the guy we traded Justin Upton for?” While that’s a short-sighted view of the trade, Prado’s sluggish March and April made Upton’s red-hot start hard to swallow as he hit homer after homer in Atlanta. When the dust settled, however, Prado and Upton weren’t all that far apart and, considering the Diamondbacks got Randall Delgado and a surging Brandon Drury in the deal, it appears to have been a relatively even swap in terms of present and future production. Prado finished just below his career average wOBA and will be looking to rebound in 2014. Steamer sees that rebound in its forecast and the Diamondbacks will benefit greatly from a more consistent, more usual Martin Prado. Perhaps the thing to watch for most is whether or not Prado can get back to driving the ball with authority. He traded contact for power last season but needs to stay back and drive the ball more consistently like he did down the stretch in 2013. He’ll appear in over 150 games again, so he’s got to be someone the Diamondbacks can count on.
Steamer Essentials: Steamer likes Prado to return his career average in 2014 after a slightly down campaign, which should really help the Dbacks’ offense.
Aaron Hill was great last year when he was healthy, hitting .291/.356/.462 and playing a solid second base. But that whole “when he was healthy” thing got in the way, as he played in only 87 games and was affected by a broken hand for a good chunk of that time. Despite it all, he was worth 2 WAR in little more than half a season, proving that if he’d played 150 games at the same level, he’d have likely been an all star and one of the top second baseman in the game. Luckily, he’ll hit the reset button this spring and hope to stay on the field for 140+ plus games in 2014. Steamer sees decreases in average, on-base and slugging percentages as Hill was way above his career norms last year. With that said, Hill’s had an up and down career and his “true talent” is more difficult to project than a guy who’s been a consistent performer. At his current 2014 projection, Hill’s an above average second baseman but I feel like there’s a good chance that he’s better than that. Of course, it all starts with staying healthy.
Steamer Essentials: while Steamer projects Hill near his career averages, there’s a chance he exceeds that threshold and even if he doesn’t, he’s still an asset to the ball club.
Oh man, Miguel Montero. There’s no player that has Diamondbacks fans more nervous than this guy heading into 2014. His prolonged slump last season was the worst I’ve personally ever seen and it was painful to watch as Miggy is one of the game’s most likeable players. He undershot his projected wOBA by 52 points, giving him the offensive profile as a back up middle infielder rather than one of a slugging catcher. The question is: can he rebound? Steamer says “yes” despite a reduced projection when compared to what was expected of him prior to the 2013 season (indicating that the projection system knows there’s risk in projecting a return to career averages). After putting up almost one WAR last season, Steamer sees him as a 4-win player in 2014, back where Arizona would like him to be. Diamondback fans will be holding their collective breath for the first few weeks of the season hoping that the Montero of old resurfaces. As bad as 2013 was, Steamer sees reason for optimism and perhaps we should, too.
Steamer Essentials: while last year was ugly, Steamer likes Montero to get back to being Miggy, which means more production and more tacos!
Hitting over .400 in his first two weeks of the season, Didi Gregorius came up with a bang. We’d all heard about the glove, but the bat was red-hot in April and early May. Then the rest of the season happened. He scuffled for the majority of the summer but picked things up again late in the year. For a guy who was predicted to struggle against major league pitching, he did slightly better than expected and Steamer projects similar offensive production in 2014. Didi’s walk rate exceeded expectations last season but it’s projected to drop a little, based on his time in the minors. Where Steamer does see growth is in the power department, although it’s a pretty small amount of growth. It looks as if Didi will remain a gifted fielder who will hit just enough to remain relevant and Steamer sees no real reason to expect anything more, which backs up what scouts have said about Gregorius for years.
Steamer Essentials: it’s unrealistic to expect Didi to become an offensive force and Steamer says just that. He’ll still rack up value with the glove, but you don’t want him at the plate with the game on the line.
Didi Gregorius wasn’t the only middle infielder to make his debut last season as Chris Owings saw 20 games toward the end of the season after destroying AAA all year long. My concerns about him have always revolved around his high strikeout rates and low walk rates, suggesting that even though he has hit for high averages, he would eventually struggle against major league pitching. His two best seasons in the minors came at Visalia (California League) and Reno (Pacific Coast League), two places that inflate offensive numbers to a high degree. So while I was puzzled that Owings kept his strikeouts down and took the most walks of his career in his MLB debut, I figured that those rates wouldn’t hold up, and Steamer agrees. In fact, Steamer predicts Owings to have virtually the same wOBA as Gregorius in 2014, although I’d admit that Owings’ projection is a little less certain. While the two players go about their offensive game a little differently, I don’t think it’s out of line to suggest that these two will be pretty similar in 2014. Beyond that, Owings still has the offensive upside, but it’s important to note that they’ll likely be similar in the short term. It’s no wonder why Towers is going to let them duke it out in Spring Training.
Steamer Essentials: Steamer tells us all to “chill out” with our Owings expectations, mostly based on his career in the minors, so it’ll be fun to see which Chris Owings shows up in 2014.
The re-signing of Eric Chavez was a critical move, in my opinion. When the team traded Matt Davidson for Addison Reed, they essentially showed their hand had no choice but to bring back the veteran (or give the bench job to Matt Tuiasosopo). Chavez brings some much-needed left-handed pop to the lineup and was really good for the Diamondbacks in 2013. Steamer projects more of the same going forward, which should be good news for Arizona. Although the system has a hard time projecting the amount of playing time for bench players, his rate stats are expected to remain virtually unchanged. Although there’s a small uptick in strikeouts, there’s also a small uptick in walks. Steamer sees a slight drop in average due to Chavez’s .307 BABIP, but that’s pretty negligible. In the end, things still remain promising for Eric Chavez, provided he remains healthy enough to play.
Steamer Essentials: expect more of the same from Eric Chavez who showed no signs of slowing down at the plate when healthy, which is real asset to the team.
Hey, remember Cliff Pennington, aka Mr. Walkoff? The Diamondbacks still own him but there’s no clear fit for him on the 2014 squad if they are determined to keep Gregorius and Owings. The team doesn’t need five middle infielders, meaning that someone’s likely to get dealt. While Owings was thought to be that guy, it now looks like Pennington could be moved during Spring Training, if not before, just to free up some roster space. He was pretty horrible at the plate in 2013 and Steamer projects nearly the same level of ineptitude next season. He’s best flipped for a low level prospect and some salary relief if Towers is insistent on keeping his two young players on the major league roster.
Steamer Essentials: the book is essentially written on Pennington by now as he can’t hit and Steamer sees more of the same in 2014.
Quick Notes: the Diamondbacks’ infield is pretty much locked up with returning starters at every positions and plenty of depth. As noted above, there’s probably at least one middle infielder that gets moved and maybe we see Matt Tuiasosopo at some point (like when Chavez eventually hits the DL), who can play first, third and left field. In the minors, Tyler Bortnick, Nick Ahmed and Jake Lamb could be on the horizon, but there’s just no room for them at the moment. Back up catcher Henry Blanco is still the guy Dbacks fans remember, who can call a great game but can’t hit a lick.
In Sum: this squad is going to have to lead the way again offensively. Having a legit MVP at first base certainly helps, along with useful players at second, third and behind the plate. A rebound from Montero is a must and some consistency out of a streaky Prado would go a long ways. There’s better than average depth on the bench in Chavez and Owings or Gregorius should the organization opt to keep them both on the 25-man roster. If not, Pennington remains the replacement and the odd man out goes back to the minors or is traded. There are question marks for sure, but Steamer really likes this group going forward.
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