As the Arizona Diamondbacks slide into oblivion for the rest of the 2012 baseball season, those covering the team have begun to change their focus from the playoff race this season to the future for this ball club.
Fortunately for those scribes and pundits, there is plenty to be excited about, as Scott Bordow, columnist for the Arizona Republic, expressed in a piece he wrote for the paper yesterday. He wrote an intriguing article about the young pitching staff that the team is liable to roll out with next season, focusing on the young triumvirate of Trevor Bauer, Patrick Corbin, and Tyler Skaggs. He also mentioned the youth of guys like Wade Miley and Daniel Hudson as well, and even reminded fans that Trevor Cahill, who was extracted for a fairly high price from the Oakland A’s, could end up being the odd man out of the rotation in 2013.
He also brought up the dangers of comparing the young trio to the ones that teams like the Atlanta Braves (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz) and the A’s themselves (Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson) trotted out in their respective hey days. He emphasized in the column that these trios were rare commodities, and that you could expect plenty of growing pains from three guys who are barely in their 20’s.
The real telling statistic in the piece was the combined wins of the quintet of Cahill, Skaggs, Corbin, Bauer, and Miley, which stands at 74 games as of this moment. Of those wins, Cahill has 49 of them, underscoring in compelling fashion just how inexperienced this group is, which is still disturbing even though manager Kirk Gibson was quoted in the piece as saying “I don’t think it matters what their age is.”
While the article expressed a lot of reservations about the wisdom of going into next season with these three players in the rotation, there are still plenty of reasons for fans to be excited about the possibilities that next season will bring.
First off, they seem likely to be backed up by plenty of offense. The team will likely be largely intact when it reassembles in Scottsdale next February, with Jason Kubel, Aaron Hill, and others locked up through at least the 2013 season. In addition, Justin Upton and Miguel Montero are both still under team control for quite a bit longer, with Upton still playing under the extension he signed in 2010 and Montero the fresh recipient of a five year extension earlier this summer.
Together, that offense is hitting at a very good clip, near or in the top 10 in several key offensive categories, including runs scored, batting average, and slugging percentage. Yes, they have been fairly inconsistent this year, but not helping matters has been the slow recovery from injury of Chris Young, as well as the injuries that have plagued guys like Stephen Drew and Willie Bloomquist at shortstop.
With that kind of firepower behind them, the Diamondbacks’ pitching staff has a good back-up plan in case they are struggling, and that, frankly, is another reason for optimism in of itself. This group is going to struggle to get acclimated to major league hitting, as anyone who has made the jump from AAA to the bigs can attest. The batters are simply more adept at finding weaknesses in pitchers, much like hurlers can do when a new young bat comes into the league.
Good pitchers overcome that by varying their repertoires, and with the quality coaching that has ushered guys like Ian Kennedy and Miley into the big leagues with a good deal of success, there is no reason to suspect that the young trio will not have the same fortune.
Finally, there is the fact that the expectations facing the team will be a lot lower than they were coming into this season. As the 2011 NL West champs, the Diamondbacks had a huge target on their backs, and that has certainly weighed them down this season. They have struggled as the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers have surged, and unfortunately for them, they simply couldn’t keep pace as those two teams have been stockpiling talent in a mad dash to improve for the short-term.
All in all, it is going to be very interesting to see how Kevin Towers and company approach this offseason. Will they try to get involved in a huge attempt to sign a big name free agent like Josh Hamilton or BJ Upton, or will they focus instead on efforts to shore up their farm system in an attempt to be competitive in the somewhat long term? There is unfortunately no single correct answer to this query, and the intrigue will be in how exactly Towers decides to answer the bell.