Organizational Impacts: Diamondbacks

Each Organisational Impact article focuses on one organization, it’s stars, it’s sleepers and busts as well as potential impact prospects. Instead of strictly breaking down individual players, I’ll also be looking at influences like lineup construction, defense (for pitchers) and bullpen strength. We’ll start from the bottom and work our way up to the World Series champs.

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ offense led Major League Baseball in strikeouts last season with 1529, 154 more than the next closest club (the Marlins). New GM Kevin Towers set out this offseason to reduce that number in a big way. The new approach meant the end for Mark Reynolds (42.3% K%) and Adam LaRoche (30.7% K%), but their replacements are no sure thing. Can Justin Upton have his huge breakout season in 2011? Was Chris Young‘s 2010 sustainable? What can we expect from a newly renovated rotation? We’ll try to answer those questions and more in this edition of Organizational Impacts.

Lineup

Kelly Johnson returns for his second year in Arizona. His first was a breakout season in which he hit .284 with 26 home runs, 13 stolen bases, 71 RBI and 93 runs scored. However, a repeat performance may not be in the cards. His HR/FB rate jumped from 7.5% in 2009 to 15.6% last season. Though he did move to a better hitter’s park, it would be a lot to expect him to hold such a high HR/FB rate again. Also, we need to consider the fact that nine of those home runs came in the month of April, when his HR/FB rate was 33.3%. His AVG seems to have been inflated a bit by a .339 BABIP and there is some risk in the fact that he posted the highest strikeout rate (25.3%) since his rookie season and the lowest contact rate (76.9%) of his career. While Johnson should still be a productive fantasy second baseman, don’t draft him expecting his 2010 numbers.

Stephen Drew remains somewhat of a mystery. All of his rate stats are solid (BB/K, LD%, CT%), but he hasn’t been able to approach his breakout 2008 season where he hit .291 with 21 home runs and 91 runs scored. Drew is in his prime years and has the peripherals to show another improvement in 2011. With more contact oriented players hitting behind him, he may be able to crack the 90 run mark once again.

Justin Upton is and will be the centerpiece of this offense. His breakout season in 2009 came at the age of 21/22. Think about that for a second. While most of the game’s top prospects were working on their craft at double and triple-A, Upton was putting up 4.6 WAR and a .388 wOBA in the big leagues. There are only two concerns I have for him going forward:

1. His injuries.
2. His whiff rate.

The injuries may or may not be a career-long issue. At this point, he’s young enough to get healthy and stay healthy. Then again, it could be a sign of things to come. The whiff rate, on the other hand, is worrisome only because it adds some doubt as to his ability to hit for AVG consistently. No matter what, his power/speed combination is going to make him a star-level fantasy asset for years to come.

Chirs Young was the breakout D-Back of 2010, but it was really his second breakout season. After blasting 32 home runs and stealing 27 bases in 2007, Young went on a two-year slump. While he made very positive strides in 2010, his fly ball rate remained very high (49.7 percent), his line drive rate dipped to 16.6 percent and his infield pop-up rate, though improved from a miserable 22.4 percent in 2009, was still quite high, ending at 12.4 percent (his career infield pop-up rate is 15.6 percent). The combination of a lot of fly balls, a lot of infield pop-ups and not a lot of line drives makes it almost impossible to project a big improvement in AVG or OBP  for Young going forward. However, 20/20 (he was close to 30/30 in 2010) players don’t grow on trees. Make sure you have other high AVG players in your lineup if you plan on riding with Young in 2011.

While the names above represent a solid base, the rest of the lineup is filled with question marks. Miguel Montero was a breakout fantasy catcher in 2009, but that was with the most games he has caught in a single major league season. A knee injury halted his 2010 production and he didn’t hit well once he returned to action. The corner infield spots represent even more unknowns. The new, less strikeout, philosophy in Arizona likely means slugging prospect Brandon Allen will struggle to find an opening day lineup spot. It seems as though GM Kevin Towers specifically targeted former Yankee prospect Juan Miranda for the opening at first base. Miranda has a 23 percent career minor league strikeout rate and an 11 percent career minor league walk rate. Allen has a 26 percent career minor league strikeout rate and 10 percent career minor league walk rate. It’s not a huge difference, but Allen has really struggled with strikeouts in his 172 career major league plate appearances, striking out 60 times (about 40 percent).

As of now, the D-Backs have Melvin Mora and Geoff Blum at third base. You can’t count on much fantasy production from the soon-to-be 39-year-old Mora or the .251/.311/.385 career hitting 38-year-old Blum. Xavier Nady was brought in to play some left-field and possibly some first base. He’s not too far removed from his breakout 2008 in which he hit .305 with 25 homers and 97 RBI. He doesn’t necessarily look like a platoon partner with a career .269 AVG and .443 SLG against righties and features good line drive numbers against both lefties and righties. Nady had Tommy John surgery in July of 2009 and is now well over a year recovered from the operation. After the Cubs traded away Derrek Lee in 2010, Nady got a chance at extended playing time. He hit .284 in 169 August/September at-bats. If he plays everyday in 2011, he could be a nice sleeper as a non-drafted free agent type player in 12 team mixed leagues.

There is a lot for this offense to prove in 2011. While their strikeout numbers should fall, there isn’t a big presence in the middle of the order outside of Justin Upton, who needs to stay healthy. Players like Chris Young and Miguel Montero should put up good fantasy numbers, but their upside is ultimately limited. A comeback season from Xavier Nady would do wonders for run production. We’ll have to wait and see on that.

Rotation
There are some interesting names in the 2011 D-Backs starting rotation, but ultimately, not a lot of fantasy goodness.

After being a top pitching prospect in the White Sox system, Daniel Hudson finally got his chance to shine as a full-time part of the D-Backs rotation late in the 2010 season. The D-Backs sent Edwin Jackson, who was getting expensive, to Chicago for Hudson, who posted a 1.69 ERA in 79.2 innings with Arizona, including a very impressive 4.38 K/BB ratio. Hudson will be 24 in 2011 and has a minor league track record of good command (2.5 BB/9) and above average strikeout potential (10.6 K/9). While his overall numbers should regress (a very low .245 BABIP against aided his 2.45 ERA in 2010), his track record suggests that he could be a very solid fantasy #3 starter in 2011 and beyond.

Ian Kennedy was a highly touted prospect while in the Yankees system, but an aneurysm in his right shoulder caused him to go under the knife in 2009. Last offseason, Kennedy was traded to the D-Backs in a three-team deal with the Yankees and Tigers. His first season in Arizona was promising as he pitched in 194 innings while posting 7.8 K/9, 3.25 BB/9. However, Kennedy had some problems allowing home runs. He allowed 26 homers in those 194 innings. His 3.80 ERA from 2010 may be a bit misleading given such a low BABIP against (.265). There is also a chance that his 2011 K/BB rate could improve slightly based on his minor league rates, but not having a plus-fastball at the big-league level is a risk factor. Kennedy’s game is keeping hitters off balance with a curve and change, both of which were extremely effective pitches in 2010. Given the very low cost on draft day, he’s the type of arm worth taking a flier on. His walk rates were excellent in the minors and he could improve on that aspect of his game in 2011. One big question is how his arm will respond to the 194 innings, which was the most he had thrown in a single season.

Joe Saunders is who he is. He’s a low strikeout pitcher that relies on his defense and has very limited upside. Zach Duke is somewhat similar to Saunders in terms of command and strikeout potential, but he has a better career ground ball rate, which gives him a bit more upside, albeit limited. Barry Enright made a nice impression late in 2010, but his upside is also limited. Like Saunders and Duke, Enright relies heavily on command, but his fly ball rates might end up turning into high home run totals in Arizona (they already did, actually, as he posted a 1.82 HR/9 in 2010). He’s not a pitcher likely to make an impact in any fantasy format in 2011.

Bullpen
J.J. Putz was brought in to take over closer duties after a nice comeback season in 2010. He should be a good bet to earn plenty of value as a fantasy closer. Last year, the D-Backs traded Conor Jackson to the Athletics and got back upside reliever Sam Demel. Demel immediately became a dark-horse for saves in Arizona, but the addition of Putz holds that back for now. Despite his 5.35 ERA, Demel posted solid peripherals, ending with 8 K/9 and 2.92 BB/9 in 37 innings. Both rates are in line with what he had done at triple-A while with the A’s in 2010. Demel should be the guy who gets any save chance that Putz is unavailable for.

The rest of the bullpen is filled with question marks. Whether it’s too many walks or not enough strikeouts, no one else has shown much in terms of projected fantasy value.

Ultimately, the bullpen will be slightly better because of Putz and Demel, but there are still going to be issues that could hurt the rotation’s potential.

Defense
With Chris Young in center and Upton in right, the D-Backs have a solid middle to right side of the outfield. If Nady starts in left, he may cost the starters a few hits, but Gerardo Parra could work well as a defensive replacement. Stephen Drew and Kelly Johnson are very good up-the-middle and should aide ground ball pitchers like Duke, but counting on plus-defense from Melvin Mora would be asking a lot. The first base situation remains unknown, but both Juan Miranda and Brandon Allen are said to be fine defensively.

All-in-all, this defense should do more good than bad.

Prospects
This system lacks multiple impact-type prospects for 2011, but one in particular could force his way to Arizona…and fast.

Jarrod Parker was the D-Backs first round pick (9th overall) in the 2007 draft, but Tommy John Surgery cost him his 2010 season. Before the surgery, Parker drew praise for his electric fastball, plus-slider, improved changeup and overall work ethic. Reports have his fastball back in the mid-90′s already as he continues his rehab. Chances are that he’ll start the season at double-A, but if he performs anything close to his pre-surgery level, there won’t be anything in Arizona’s rotation to block his path. Many believe he can still turn into an ace-level starter.

Summation
The new approach to Arizona’s offense may be a moot point as the pitching staff doesn’t represent a ton of upside. Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy will likely find their way onto fantasy teams in 2011 (especially Hudson), but their next best pitcher (possibly their best pitcher if returned to form), Jarrod Parker, will start the year in the minors. The addition of J.J. Putz and a full season from Sam Demel are about the only upside plays in a bullpen that should see only a small improvement. Look for Stephen Drew to improve a bit, Kelly Johnson to regress, but not fall off the table, and for Justin Upton to put together a top 10 fantasy OF season if he can stay healthy.

Other Organizational Impact Articles: Pirates, Mariners