2022 Diamondbacks preview roundtable: Biggest strengths and questions
As the Arizona Diamondbacks embark on their 2022 season, we asked our Arizona Sports radio hosts and ArizonaSports.com editors four wide-angled questions about the MLB club.
In the first of a two-part series, we asked about the biggest strength and biggest question for the 2022 D-backs heading into the Thursday season-opener against the San Diego Padres.
1. What will ultimately be the biggest strength of this year’s Arizona Diamondbacks?
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Wolf & Luke: Their rotation. It seems general manager Mike Hazen has doubled down on his philosophy that pitching and defense is how the D-backs plan to win games. A healthy Zac Gallen, Madison Bumgardner, Merrill Kelly and Zach Davies could be a surprise rotation in the National League.
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: The biggest strength of this year’s Diamondbacks, unfortunately, won’t be the biggest strength of this year’s Diamondbacks, because it’s the farm system. Hazen and Co. took over a barren minor league system and built it into a top program in baseball. However, the players topping that movement (Alek Thomas, Corbin Carroll, Jordan Lawlar) probably won’t make a big impact at the MLB level this year, although Thomas is getting close.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Have to think the backend of the bullpen with Ian Kennedy and Mark Melancon will be strong. Instead of relying on oft-injured veterans or young players, the D-backs have experience that has had success at the end of games. Now if they can only get to the eighth inning with a lead, they can take advantage of that.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: The backend of the bullpen. The addition of Melancon was a zag for an organization that typically zigs when it comes to their closer. Instead of filling the back end on the cheap, the team went out and spent for a proven closer. Between Melancon and Kennedy, I think the eighth and ninth will be decently covered.
Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & Luke: Defense. Every time we talk to anyone associated with the team, they bring up defense as a major part of their identity this season. So it better be a strength. Defense isn’t going to suddenly vault them over the Dodgers and their billion-dollar payroll, but it can keep the D-backs in games and make that win total much more respectable than it was in 2021.
Kellan Olson, editor of ArizonaSports.com: Having Ketel Marte on their team. After he was arguably the best hitter in baseball, Marte bounced back from the weird 2020 pandemic-affected season to post a stellar .909 OPS in 90 games last season. Two lengthy absences due to a nagging hamstring injury didn’t get in the way of that, which is very impressive. He’s a stud and I look forward to watching him play baseball this year.
Tyler Drake, editor of ArizonaSports.com: The top half of the starting rotation. Madison Bumgarner looked much better this spring, highlighted by five scoreless innings in his final spring training start before Opening Day. And while Zac Gallen has dealt with injury issues for yet another spring, he’s still really talented and has flashed his potential since he got to town. Third up is Merrill Kelly, who enters the season with a ton of confidence after inking a two-year extension this spring.
Kevin Zimmerman, editor of ArizonaSports.com: I’m not saying the bullpen will be great, but adding Melancon’s and Kennedy’s experience and production from a year ago should help a group that did find some answers at the end of 2021. Caleb Smith was sneakily pretty good last year after getting beat up as a starter, and now Luke Weaver joins the crew to give the slowest-pitching team by average fastball velocity something close to a power arm. This all comes with a big asterisk as the team begins the season with holes after the third starter.
Jake Anderson, editor of ArizonaSports.com: Backend of the bullpen and defense. They may not be the most glamourous parts of the game, but the additions of Kennedy and Melancon really solidify a bullpen that struggled mightily last season. Manager Torey Lovullo and Hazen during spring training both talked about keeping guys such as Ketel Marte (second base) and Daulton Varsho (center field) to a primary position so that they can focus on the nuances of their respective spots on the field.
2. What is the biggest question mark for this team heading into the season?
Wolfley: Where will the run production come from? David Peralta had a torrid spring and they extended Ketel Marte, but the Diamondbacks are depending on a lot of young guys to come through and be productive; and if productivity were punctuation, Varsho, Pavin Smith and Josh Rojas are question marks.
Marotta: There are plenty. Will Gallen finally be the pitcher he showed early in his D-backs tenure? What will the D-backs get from Bumgarner in year three of what was a risky five-year contract? With Nick Ahmed and Rojas sidelined, who in the world is going to man the left side of the infield early in the year?
Gambadoro: Lot’s of injury concerns early but I still believe the starting rotation is the biggest question mark despite not having a 3B and an old SS who struggles to hit on the left side of the infield. What do you get out of Gallen, who has 10 major league wins despite all the talk of him being an ace? If Bumgarner pitches well, he could be moved at the deadline because his contract becomes much more manageable for a team taking it on. Kelly is solid innings eater. But after that it’s a huge question mark. Zach Davies is coming off an awful year. Starting pitching depth is not that goods so when some of the starters falter or get injured it will be an issue.
Burns: I got two big questions. Numero Uno are the new coaches, in particular pitching coach Brent Strom and hitting coach Jeff Mather. The D-backs struggled to do both last year with any kind of success or consistency, and I want to see if the new guys can change the equation. Number two: The health of the guys you’re trying to build something around; namely Marte and Gallen. Both have had their issues the last couple of years. I want to see if both can stay as far away from the trainers’s room as possible.
Lapinski: There are a few, but the biggest for me is how you navigate a rebuild in this division. You can’t compete with a team like the Dodgers in terms of money, but can you draft and develop your talent in a way that allows you to be consistently competitive for years once you finally turn the corner? That’s the only way to get back to the playoffs in the NL West, which is why the evolution of guys like Varsho and Smith – and the development of guys like Thomas, Lawlar and Carroll in the system – is vital.
Olson: Starting pitching. In a repeated theme for me with this team, we know that Gallen, Bumgarner and Kelly have all had great stretches and/or seasons in their careers. But those three are coming off 2021s with ERAs in the mid-fours, right around league average. Two of them need to be better. Gallen seems like a decent bet. Beyond that, though? Who knows. And the back-half of the rotation is a mystery.
Drake: The backend of the starting rotation. After Bumgarner, Gallen and Kelly, things get murky for Arizona’s starting pitchers. Weaver has struggled of late, but his move to the bullpen opens up another hole to fill in the rotation. Davies has had an up-and-down spring while Caleb Smith has struggled as a starter, posting a 4-9 record (13 starts) to go along with a 4.83 ERA last season.
Zimmerman: I see everyone is wondering about the starting rotation — this questionnaire was filled out before it was finalized by Lovullo — but I’m just wondering if the team will have enough offensive pop. The D-backs were bottom-five in almost every offensive category last year. Even if Marte is healthy, David Peralta rebounds from a down year and the younger guys improve, Arizona is still missing the athleticism to be that scary of a baserunning team and the power bats to make up for it. Seth Beer better rake in the DH spot to make a difference is what I’m saying.
Anderson: Oof. This one is tough because there are a lot. Can Bumgarner, Gallen and Kelly stay healthy and consistent enough to lead this starting rotation? Can this pitching staff get the ball to Kennedy and Melancon at the end of a game with a lead? And that was before Ahmed (shoulder), Rojas (oblique) and Luplow (oblique) went down with injuries. Now a big question mark is who will be playing on the left side of the infield in the meantime?