MANAGER BOBMELVIN third season with Diamondbacks
THE WEALTH of young talent on the Diamondbacks was apparent one day in earlyMarch when general manager Josh Byrnes watched outfielders Carlos Gonzalez, 21,and Justin Upton, 19; catcher Miguel Montero, 23; and infielder EmilioBonifacio, 21, play in a morning B game, then saw infielder Alberto Callaspo,23; shortstop Stephen Drew, 24; first baseman Conor Jackson, 24; rightfielderCarlos Quentin, 24; and centerfielder Chris Young, 23, (page 71) in theregularly scheduled afternoon exhibition. It was like watching airplanes lineup at an airport during the morning rush.
So loaded isArizona that Byrnes isn't even tempted to carry the teenage Upton on the majorleague team when it breaks camp--and probably not at any point thisseason--even though the G.M. says some scouts compare Upton's power with GarySheffield's or Frank Robinson's. As one rival hitting coach said after seeingUpton this spring, "He's a star with a major league bat right now. If theyhave five guys better than him, I have a hard time believing that."
"We studiedall the teams over history that were dominant over a prolonged period,"says Byrnes, "and in every case their run began with a heavy concentrationof young players. Teams like the 1966 Orioles, for example."
After threestraight losing seasons, the appropriately fresh-looking Diamondbacks (theydumped the purple-and-teal duds for a more tasteful brick-red-and-blackensemble) are primed for takeoff. But will it be this year? Arizona will startas many as five players (Drew, Jackson, Quentin and Young, and possiblyMontero, if he earns a share of the catching job) who are either 23 or 24 (theywere all born 16 months apart) and combined have only 332 games of major leagueexperience. (Only Jackson among them did not play in the minors last year.)
March 25, 2007
Byrnes, for one,doesn't believe his club is too green to contend, mostly because his youngplayers are so talented and have a "maturity that goes beyond whateverinexperience they may have"--in particular, Drew, whose brother is31-year-old Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew. Hardly awed by his first look at themajors last year, the younger Drew hit better after his July promotion (.316)than he did in Triple A (.284). "He's a special player," second basemanOrlando Hudson says. "He's got every tool, but what's so impressive is thatthe game slows down for him. Young players tend to speed things up, but hedoesn't panic if he's in an 0-and-2 hole or has to come in on a [ground] ballwith a fast runner. He's going to be the starting shortstop for the NationalLeague All-Star team for a lot of years."
Says Byrnes,"He's very athletic defensively, even though his body language can seemkind of slow, like his brother's or Joe Mauer's. He can be deceiving that waybecause when there's a play that needs to be made, he makes it."
The Diamondbacksfigure to get reliable starting pitching, considering they have four guys whowere Opening Day starters last year (Brandon Webb; Randy Johnson, who pitchedthe opener for the Yankees; Livan Hernandez, for the Nationals; and Doug Davis,for the Brewers) and who all rank among the top 15 inning-eaters over the pastthree years. The bullpen is far less secure, especially with little added to aunit that ranked ninth in ERA (4.34) and lost 27 games last year. (Only theFlorida and Milwaukee pens lost more in the NL.)
Still, Arizona'sfate likely will depend mostly on how quickly its young players develop. Can ateam break in three or four every-day players at the same time and still win adivision title? The Diamondbacks enthusiastically believe the answer is yes."Can we win with this group?"asks Hudson. "Oh, yeah. We'redefinitely good enough to win." --T.V.
a modest proposal ...
The Diamondbackswere right to have been patient with 27-year-old closer Jose Valverde, who hadan 8.22 ERA in his first 30 games last year. He bounced back after the All-Starbreak and had a 1.93 ERA in his final 14 appearances, but pitching coach BryanPrice needs to encourage Valverde (left) to do a better job of mixing hispitches. Despite throwing a first-pitch strike to 67% of the hitters he facedlast season, Valverde required 4.14 pitches per batter--far higher than theNational League average of 3.75. That suggests he's having trouble figuring outhow to put away batters later in the at bat--no surprise for a pitcher whothrows fastballs almost 80% of the time. Heavier use of his splitter, which hethrew only 12% of the time and against which opponents hit .176 last season, isthe perfect antidote.
PROJECTED ROSTER WITH 2006 STATISTICS
|CHRIS YOUNG (R)||CF||¬†||¬†||¬†||¬†|
|ALBERTO CALLASPO (R) INF||¬†||¬†||¬†||¬†||¬†|
* New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 77)
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Home runs allowed by pitcher Randy Johnson during his two seasons with theYankees, the most he's given up over a two-year span. That's not surprisingwhen you consider that in 2005 and '06 more hitters got wood on Johnson'spitches than he's used to. His strikeout rate was below one per inning eachseason, and the last time that had happened was in 1990.