D-backs to prioritize more power bullpen arms, grinding hitters
Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen didn’t mind that his team’s season-closing victory put the official stamp on not drafting first overall this offseason.
The past regular season in which his team went 52-110 was probably as close to rebuilding as he wants to get.
He is, simply, not about that life.
To not live it, Hazen will need to blend his young players with the right mix of veteran presence as the D-backs attempt to climb back toward competitiveness quickly.
In the bullpen, Hazen wants to reshape things with more power arms — at least a few.
Offensively, he wants to identify veterans who can help at the plate but also in mentoring Arizona’s younger talent.
“We lost 30-plus one-run games last year. It doesn’t just fall on the young players. If it ends up just falling on the young players, we’re going to lose those games again next year,” Hazen told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Friday.
“It’s going to take veteran players stepping up in those situations and veteran players helping younger guys to slow the heartbeat down a little bit … move a runner, just make contact and knock a guy in.”
Hazen, though, believes that there are in-house leaders who can grow and become examples for the younger players in that regard.
That would presumably include Ketel Marte and David Peralta. The rising players who got extended looks this year like Josh Rojas, Daulton Varsho and Pavin Smith could also arguably start to take on more prominent roles.
Hazen wants to build a culture of at-the-plate grinders through the MLB squad and the minors.
“From a skillset standpoint, we’re still shaping guys that are going to show our young hitters how to grind out at-bats,” Hazen said. “I will tell you that, beyond some power, that skill is a very expensive skill in the marketplace — not just financially but via trade as well.”
Regarding what’s expected to be heavy turnover in the bullpen, Hazen hedged that power arms aren’t everything.
He pointed to the St. Louis Cardinals, who were last in MLB with 7.78 strikeouts per nine innings as a staff, as an example. That team went 90-72 this past season despite the low strikeout numbers and ranking 20th in average four-seam fastball velocity (93.4 mph).
But Arizona was 28th in strikeouts-per-nine frames (7.86) and tied for last in the majors in average velocity (92.2 mph).
“I don’t think strikeouts by and large are the sole indicator — you want to talk about power leading to strikeouts … yes, having fewer balls in play late in games is a certain benefit,” Hazen said.
“I think we need to do a better job of adding power to our bullpen. I think we need to do a better job of adding swing-and-miss; in those moments where not leaving it up to a ball being put into play is going to end up beating you. I will also tell you that not walking guys needs to be a part of an elite bullpen.”