2022 D-backs preview roundtable: Player to watch and Arizona’s ceiling

Apr 7, 2022, 8:18 AM | Updated: 2:07 pm

Manager Torey Lovullo #17 and bench coach Jeff Banister #82 of the Arizona Diamondbacks look on dur...

Manager Torey Lovullo #17 and bench coach Jeff Banister #82 of the Arizona Diamondbacks look on during the first inning of the MLB game at Sloan Park on March 29, 2022 in Mesa, Arizona. The Cubs defeated the Diamondbacks 3-2. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

As the Arizona Diamondbacks embark on their 2022 season, we asked our Arizona Sports radio hosts and editors four wide-angled questions about the MLB club.

After the first segment of a two-part series, we asked our panelists to name one player they are low-key excited to watch this season and then for their assistance in calibrating expectations for this year’s team.

3. Name one under-the-radar player/prospect who you are excited to watch this season. Why?

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: Merrill Kelly. The guy has been the definition of “under-the-radar” since he arrived at Salt River Fields from Korea. His 23 wins over three seasons are (sadly) far and away the most for any Arizona starting pitcher. He’s also pitched 135 more innings than anybody else in Sedona Red in that span. He’s not flashy, but he’s the closest thing the D-backs have to a starter who’s just going to take the ball every fifth day and give his team a chance to win.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: With a farm system this strong I’m not sure anybody is really under the radar. I think Alek Thomas will be here at some point this season and I can’t wait to see him. I think Seth Beer will help almost immediately at the DH spot. I might be the most curious about Corbin Martin. He was one of the key returns in the Zack Greinke deal. He’s further and further from his Tommy John surgery. Is he ready to be that guy?

Ron Wolfley, co-host of Wolf & Luke: Beer. He’s averaging one home run per nine at-bats at the big league level. I’m laughing as I write this because we all know Beer has only had nine at-bats in the bigs! But he is a power hitter and with the DH coming to the National League and the last name of Beer, he was the ONLY answer to this question!

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I’m a Daulton Varsho fan. Can play multiple positions, great speed on the basepaths. He could be a big part of the future if he can settle in and hit the way he did at the end of last year.

Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & Luke: I’ll go with Varsho. He’s not exactly under the radar locally, but he showed flashes last season. And it doesn’t hurt that he can play all over the outfield and behind the plate, plus bat up and down the lineup. In case you haven’t noticed, Torey Lovullo seems to value versatility.

Kevin Zimmerman, editor of Beer doesn’t have much of a resume, but Arizona desperately needs to find some power juice at the plate to boost a roster that is too similar to last season. Speaking of power, I feel like there’s some pitcher — Caleb Smith or Martin among them — who should break out this year. Like, someone has to be a positive surprise.

Kellan Olson, editor of Mark Melancon. You and I share a commonality with any D-backs reliever the last two seasons in the amount of double-digit-save seasons we’ve had. I’m serious. No one even got to SEVEN. The bullpen has been awful the last couple of years, so the addition of Melancon is more than welcome. He comes in with 13 years of experience and career numbers of a 2.94 ERA, 1.141 WHIP and 244 saves. That includes a league-leading 39 last year as an All-Star for San Diego. I might buy his jersey. I wish I was kidding.

Tyler Drake, editor of Merrill Kelly. I’m really interested to see how he responds after getting a contract extension this spring. After his journey from the KBO to now, the Arizona native’s confidence has to be at an all-time high. Outside of his five starts (31.1 innings pitched) in 2020, Kelly has been a consistent presence on the mound for the D-backs, notching at least 27 starts in 2019 and 2021. He’ll need some help from the offense, but I think Kelly’s record improves from his 7-11 mark last season.

Jake Anderson, editor of There are actually quite a few, especially after all of the recent injuries. At the start of spring training, I would have said Varsho, Merrill Kelly or Carson Kelly after Varsho filled in for the injured catcher last season while the starting pitcher also spent time on the IL. But after injuries to Nick Ahmed (shoulder) and Josh Rojas (oblique), I’m interested to see who will step up between Sergio Alcantara and Geraldo Perdomo on the left side of the infield.

4. What is the ceiling of the 2022 Diamondbacks? (You go with a win total or NL West place or whatever you see as the ceiling here)

Marotta: You ever walk into an older house and be alarmed at how low the ceiling is? Yeah, that’s the 2022 D-backs. They’re a 52-win team from a year ago that really only upgraded one position group (bullpen). If they’re healthier (and things aren’t off to a good start) and catch lightning in a bottle, they could win 70-72 games, but in the NL West, I believe the most the D-backs can hope for is another battle for fourth place with the Colorado Rockies.

Burns: I think the ceiling, the absolute ceiling, is 75 wins. I think they’ll end up 72-90.

Wolfley: I think the Diamondbacks are capable of being a .500 team if their young guys grow up quickly, they get a career year out of Zac Gallen, Madison Bumgarner returns to pitching like he did in San Francisco, David Peralta reclaims his swing, Ketel Marte hits with power like he did in 2019, and the bullpen becomes a surprise strength. That’s a lot of things they need to bank on and that list is incomplete. But you never know. I am an optimist…because…there’s no crying in baseball.

Gambadoro: Unfortunately, the ceiling is low. The D-backs lost 110 games last year and are projected to lose close to 100 again. I would like to see a 16-game improvement from 52 wins to 68 wins. I think that would be progress, and if things go right, maybe they hit 70 wins. But if they end up in the 50s again, heads will roll — heck they may roll even before that if the season is trending toward another year of being out of it by June.

Lapinski: I think if everything goes right, they can get close to being a .500 team. But everything would actually have to go right. That’s not the ultimate goal obviously, but that’s way over their over/under projection in Vegas. This team took last season personally, so I really do believe they’re motivated to make it look like an outlier. Motivation only gets you so far, and I’m not saying I’d pick them for 81 wins, but it’s not completely out of the question that they improve significantly over last year at least.

Zimmerman: If the starting rotation surprises, I could see the emphasis on getting younger and keeping guys’s positions relatively consistent — rather than bouncing defensive positions around — making the Diamondbacks a capable defensive team. If the proven vets stay healthy enough and revert to somewhere close to average for their careers, the offense can’t be bottom-three-in-MLB bad. I just can’t see all of those things hitting, but I could see 75 wins.

Olson: 81. I already covered how the rotation has high peaks but if we factor in the potential for the youngsters, the bats do too. With names like Carson Kelly, David Peralta and Christian Walker, if that trio can produce OPS’ above .800 like they have before, that’s enough cushion around Marte in the heart of the order. And then if Pavin Smith, Varsho or one of the up-and-coming prospects can really put it together this year, that’s enough pop in the order to win some ball games. The bullpen might actually have enough arms too to protect some leads. I’m cautiously optimistic!

Drake: I’m going with 69 wins (not so nice) for the D-backs this season. Optimistically, I think there will be a few stretches of solid baseball, so seeing a 17-game improvement isn’t out of the realm of possibility. But at the end of the day, there is just not enough firepower to sustain consistent success for a full season. I think the front of the starting rotation will be better this time around, but the question marks on the backend and the injuries that are already popping up to players viewed as key contributors (Gallen, Rojas, Ahmed) is not promising.

Anderson: After a tumultuous 52-110 season last year that saw the D-backs finish dead last in the NL West, I think a 65-plus win season would be considered a success. Nobody is expecting these Diamondbacks to finish in the top three spots in the division, let alone make the playoffs. But a strong showing — should injuries not derail the season — could build momentum going into 2023 as Arizona continues to rebuild.

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