Knowing that they'll be going to war against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants in the NL West this season, the Arizona Diamondbacks hope a bonding skirmish between themselves pays off in the long run.
Back in late February, the Diamondbacks, who are now littered with prospects and veterans, opted for a team outing at a local paintball arena in hopes of coming together as a family for the long haul ahead in 2013. Players, coaches, manager Kirk Gibson and some members of the front office took shots at each other, much like the ones they hope to take against the rest of the division.
It turned out to be quite an eventful afternoon as players dominated the coaches, leading pitcher Wade Miler to say, "They were really wimpy, they stayed in the back, they never showed any aggressiveness coming and getting guys. Just terrible tactics, and we just walked all over them."
Many speculate NL West favorites Los Angeles and San Francisco will put forth a similar beatdown on the Diamondbacks come Opening Day. The D'backs may not look the same up an down the roster, but general manager Kevin Towers is confident the club will come together without one legitimate superstar.
"Who is the face of the franchise?" Towers said. "We don't have one. It might be a different guy each and every night. We've got gritty, grinder-type players, but they're talented players, too. They're winning-type players. I think if we stay healthy, I see us applying pressure on our opponent. We're not going to be an easy team to beat. We're going to be pests. We're not going to go away. We've got guys who've won before and know what it takes to win."
Apparently former slugging outfielders Justin Upton and Chris Young didn't know what it takes to be a winner and were sent packing in the offseason. Upton joined his brother in Atlanta and Young jumped leagues to Oakland. Several newcomers headed to the desert, including veteran and World Series champion Cody Ross, Martin Prado and some respectable arms for the rotation and bullpen.
Two years removed from a 94-win season and an NL West title, Arizona hopes its overhaul, level of confidence and depth will lead a second postseason appearance in the past three years.
"There's a great vibe around here. There should be," Gibson said. "We're very gritty, as everybody says. We're also very talented. It's an attitude and an expectation that we're trying to develop."
It will take spring training and some time when the season starts for a club to begin to gel. Teams enjoy having the underdog label and use it as motivation. Will the lack of respect propel the Diamondbacks back into the playoffs? Can the majority of this young club handle the rigors of a 162-game season. Barring any major setbacks, the D'backs have a reasonable shot.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2013 edition of the Diamondbacks, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
Diamondbacks Projected Lineup
(81-81) - Third Place (NL West)
Key Offseason additions
3B/1B Eric Chavez, 3B Martin Prado, 1B/OF Eric Hinske, OF Cody Ross, OF Gerardo Parra, RHP Heath Bell, RHP Brandon McCarthy, LHP Tony Sipp
Key Offseason subtractions
OF Justin Upton, OF Chris Young, C Henry Blanco, RHP Matt Albers, RHP Takashi Saito, RHP Bryan Shaw, RHP Trevor Bauer
WILL THE TRADE OF UPTON HAUNT THE DIAMONDBACKS?
At the end of January, rumors of Justin Upton being traded from the only team he's ever played for came to fruition when the Diamondbacks sent the slugger to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for utilityman Martin Prado, pitcher Randall Delgado and minor leaguers Nick Ahmed, Brandon Drury and Zeke Spruill.
Third baseman Chris Johnson also was included in the deal to the Braves. But Upton was the blue ribbon prize winner in the deal, no offense to Prado's skillset, however. What Arizona will miss in Upton are durability, power, moderate speed and savvy skills in the outfield. Upton, a two-time All-Star, had spent his entire six-year career in Arizona and in 2012 batted .280 with 17 homers and 67 RBI. He had career bests of 31 homers and 88 RBI in 2011.
Prado is one of a handful of players who will make their desert debut in 2013 and the makeover gives Gibson added depth and more options. Will Upton's power and tremendous upside be missed? Of course, but you have to make do with what's on the roster.
With a lack of star power, the D'backs still have decent bats in the lineup. Left fielder Jason Kubel led the team in home runs (30) and RBI (90) last season and appeared in 141 games. Gerardo Parra and Cody Ross are expected to start at center and right field, respectively. Adam Eaton is a promising young player the D'backs wanted to make room for, which is why Chris Young landed with the Athletics, but Eaton suffered an elbow injury and could be sidelined for two months at the start of the season.
Ross has also been bothered by a lower leg issue in spring training and is questionable to be ready for Opening Day.
Prado, Aaron Hill, who had a .302 average, 26 homers, 85 RBI and 93 runs in 2012, Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Montero are expected to carry the offensive load this season. Goldschmidt posted 20 homers and 82 RBI last season. Kubel, Hill and Goldschmidt are the heart of the lineup and, if all goes well, will help D'backs fans forget about Upton.
WHAT WILL THE ROTATION LOOK LIKE?
Ian Kennedy led the D' backs with 187 strikeouts last season and compiled a 15-12 record with 4.02 earned run average in 33 starts. Kennedy, who was 21-4 the year before, will be the No. 1 starter for Gibson and ended the 2012 campaign on a positive note, winning nine of 13 decisions. Kennedy has eclipsed the 200-inning mark in each of the past two starts, but sometimes has control issues. He led the league in hit batsmen in 2012 with 14. Kennedy should have at least 15 wins in 2013 and gets the nod on Opening Day.
"I don't think it ever gets old," Kennedy said. "It's still a really, really cool thing. I always say, when you're a kid you see the Opening Day starters and you want to be them one day. It's really awesome to be told that."
Wade Miley led the Diamondbacks in wins (16) and earned run average (3.33) a season ago -- his first full campaign as a starter. Miley compiled a 16-11 mark with a 3.33 ERA with 144 K's to 37 walks. He is expected to either be the No. 3 man or No. 4 in the rotation. Brandon McCarthy signed a two-year deal in the offseason and played last season with Oakland. His season came to an end when he was hit in the head by a line drive, suffering a skull fracture and a brain contusion. McCarthy could sneak into the No. 2 spot.
Trevor Cahill went 13-12 with a 3.78 ERA in 32 starts last year, his first with the club. The fifth spot is still up for grabs and could see either Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs or Daniel Hudson. Hudson is on the mend after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and was asked when he will make his return to the mound.
"Obviously, you don't want to rush it because it's such a major injury, but I would say around the All-Star break either right before or right after would be pretty realistic," Hudson said. "That would put me right at 12 months, which is pretty close to average for people to recover from Tommy John. If it's a couple weeks before, it could happen that way, or if it's a couple weeks after, it could happen that way, but I would say the All-Star break is pretty realistic."
HOW REALISTIC ARE ARIZONA'S CHANCES IN THE NL WEST?
The chances of winning the division are slim for the D'backs, who have to deal with the high payroll of the Dodgers and the momentum the Giants will ride off their second World Series title in three seasons.
Arizona's rotation is just a tier lower than L.A.'s and San Francisco's, but is certainly more formidable than both the Rockies and Padres. A lot is riding on the bats of Kubel, Hill, Goldschmidt, Prado and Montero. Even the bullpen has some question marks. Can closer J.J. Putz put together another solid season? Putz had 45 saves in 2011 and posted 32 more last season. Reliever Heath Bell was added in hopes of him resurrecting his career, while David Hernandez has the firepower to one day take over as the closer.
Josh Collmenter is another trustworthy arm Gibson can go to.
Gibson has a lot of decisions to make as to who bats/plays where and how will playing time be distributed among the newcomers and those who have started to etch their name in franchise lore. Some players are untouchable at their respective positions, including Goldschmidt at first, Montero behind the plate, Hill at second, Kubel in left and Prado at third base. A few wild cards will be Cody Ross, Gerardo Parra, Willie Bloomquist and Eric Chavez.
X-FACTOR: ADAM EATON: Known for a tremendous work ethic and ability to get on base, Eaton has big shoes to fill in center field and expectations to meet once he finally gets into the lineup. A speedy and gritty player from his days in the minors, Eaton hopes to get the ball rolling early on in order to get some runs. Eaton made his debut last September and started his big league career with a five-game hit streak. Eaton homered twice, drove in five runs, scored 19 times and registered a .259 batting average to go along with a .382 on-base percentage. Eaton wasn't afraid to sacrifice his body and was hit by a pitch 62 times in the minors. He did suffer a broken hand in late September.
Eaton is excited to join some new teammates and build stronger bonds.
"The additions during the offseason have been great additions. I'm excited to play alongside those guys," Eaton said. "Diamondback Nation should be very excited and happy. I've been boasting here in the Midwest with everyone that we're going to be an exciting team that's going to be fun to watch, and I'm excited for the year."
The water's a bit murky for the Diamondbacks to revert back to their 2011 season of 94 wins and an NL West title. But then again nobody predicted them to overachieve. After a .500 season last year, Arizona is hoping the moves it made in the offseason coupled with a few fresh faces will mesh and lead the club back into the postseason. A lot is riding on the youth and also the right arm of ace Ian Kennedy. Capturing a wild card berth seems more realistic for these guys because the Giants and Dodgers will most likely battle it out for division supremacy. Some teams thrive as an underdog and the Diamondbacks could be the surprise team once again.