Diamondbacks spring training preview: camp competition, new rules
SCOTTSDALE — Baseball season started Wednesday for the Arizona Diamondbacks with pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training.
The D-backs are a year removed from a 52-win 2021, as Arizona jumped its win total to 74 games last year, showing progress toward contention. But 74 wins is still a far cry from organizational goals, as manager Torey Lovullo and general manager Mike Hazen have said multiple times this offseason.
The D-backs entered spring with a revamped bullpen after a disastrous showing in 2022, more lineup depth and a swath of young talent.
Lovullo said he does not want the clubhouse tone to be of raised expectations, noting that his players will focus on winning the day and not thinking ahead.
“We’ve been progressing in the right way, year by year,” Lovullo said. “We know what happened two years ago, and it still gnaws at me.
“I think we’ve all digested it, and we’ve gotten better. But we still have a long way to go. So there’s definitely excitement here. We see the caliber of players, but you can’t win baseball games based on that. You have to go out and prep, give good effort and execute pitches.”
Here are some observations ton take into spring training:
The D-backs will need to adjust to significant rule changes making their MLB debuts this season:
- The bases are three inches larger on each side
- The pitch clock will allow 30 seconds in between each batter, 20 seconds between each pitch with runners on and 15 seconds between each pitch with the bases empty
- Many shifts are outlawed, as infielders must be on the infield dirt with two on each side of second base.
- Pitchers are allowed two pick-off attempts per plate appearance without penalty. The third must result in an out or else a balk will be called
“One thing that everybody said is the first couple of weeks are a big adjustment for all and then after that, you get used to it and it becomes the new norm,” Lovullo said. “We want to work through that and we want to have our guys embrace it as soon as possible on both sides.”
The D-backs have at least one rotation spot up for grabs, with Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Zach Davies and Madison Bumgarner presumably making up the top four.
“I’ll ask certain guys to ramp up, make sure they’re ready for Opening Day and then the other guys, I’m going to ask that they step into an environment of competition and be at their competitive best when it’s needed,” Lovullo said.
Arizona will look at young options to round out the starting 5 — or possibly 6 — and those candidates include arms who had a chance to audition last year: Ryne Nelson, Tommy Henry and Drey Jameson.
Their starts will be ones to keep a particular close eye on this spring, although Lovullo said he won’t be hyper focused on results when choosing who earns the spot more than reps and consistency.
Prospects Blake Walston and Drey Jameson tossing pens #Dbacks pic.twitter.com/WAjV8NImiE
— Alex Weiner (@alexjweiner) February 15, 2023
The closer role doesn’t have a clear front runner entering camp. Mark Melancon is back but had a bumpy first year in the desert with a 4.66 ERA. Scott McGough closed 38 games in Japan last year and brings a potentially potent splitter to the mix. The D-backs also added veteran Miguel Castro who has 20 career saves.
Lovullo said he is undecided on whether the team will designate a closer or work by committee based on matchups.
“If I feel the need to, I will (name a closer),” Lovullo said. “If somebody emerges, I might. But for right now, it’s very fluid.”
The D-backs offensively found an identity last year, one predicated on patience at the plate and taking the extra base. They were eighth in the league in walk rate at 8.8% and fourth in speed score, according to FanGraphs. Their 104 stolen bags ranked No. 6.
The bases are now bigger, the D-backs’ young talent brings a lot of speed and the team will look to exploit the new rules. OF Corbin Carroll finished in the 100th percentile in sprint speed last season.
Arizona was lefty heavy last season at the plate, so it traded left-handed OF Daulton Varsho for two righties in C Gabriel Moreno and OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr., traded for OF Kyle Lewis and signed 3B Evan Longoria.
How Lovullo manages lineups is something the team will organize as the season approaches, but he sees a great benefit in increased optionality.
He noted that this roster is deeper than any other he’s managed with Arizona.
“I think we’re gonna have a very good lineup where we can mix and match and put up some runs,” Lovullo said.
A name to keep an eye on this spring is SS Jordan Lawlar, Arizona’s top infield prospect coming off a strong season with 16 home runs and 39 stolen bases. He is only 20 and not on the 40-man roster, but it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether he will debut at some point this season. Lawlar took swings on the backfields Wednesday:
Jordan Lawlar swings pic.twitter.com/uiibjyTtoM
— Alex Weiner (@alexjweiner) February 15, 2023
Last year, Arizona put shifts on 27.9% of the time, though that jumped to 49.7% against lefties.
Lovullo said he’s heard from colleagues in Double-A who have experienced the shift rules that there is a noticeable difference, explaining that the league wanted more offense and will get that.
He praised the athleticism of his infielders, and Arizona’s depth chart will allow for natural breathers.
Second baseman Ketel Marte had hamstring issues in each of the last two seasons, but Lovullo said he came into camp leaner and motivated to reach the defensive heights he experienced earlier in his career. Marte slashed .340/.415/.539 in 39 games from May 1 to June 15 last year before hamstring issue affected him, so his health will have a major impact on the lineup, as well.
In the outfield, when Alek Thomas, Carroll and Jake McCarthy are patrolling, there doesn’t appear to be a ball that can’t be tracked down. Thomas got first dibs on centerfield last year, and Carroll is looking like the everyday left fielder who can move to center for games Thomas does not start.
Fans are invited to attend workouts daily from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and park in the Desert Lot.
Full squad workouts begin Monday, and Arizona’s first games are set for Feb. 25 with split squad action: at home against the Colorado Rockies and on the road vs. the Oakland Athletics.
The D-backs have 32 spring training matchups with 16 at home. They face West Virginia University in a free exhibition on Feb. 27 at Salt River Fields and host the Cleveland Guardians at Chase Field on March 27-28 before the start of the regular season.
Arizona opens the year with six road games before its Opening Day on April 6 against the Los Angeles Dodgers.