(Baseball America's Top 10 list will now replace Rookie Watch with Prospect Watch. Highlighting the significant contributers in the minor leaguers whether that be high-end talent or players that could contribute in 2012.)
From worst to first, the Diamondbacks were the surprise team of 2011 winning 29 more games than they did in 2010 and making the playoffs for the first time since 2007. It seems that the NL West is the hardest division in baseball to predict, time and time again. Still, I'll take a shot at predicting these crazy D'backs.
Their biggest problem in 2010 seemed to be a horrendous bullpen, but they were much improved last year behind a career-high 45 saves from J.J. Putz. With the continued improvement of All-Star Justin Upton and one of the best collections of farm system starters in baseball, the Diamondbacks could be a contender for years to come. However, we've said that about Arizona before and it's just hard to predict how anyone is going to look in three years.
I'll do my best to predict how their best fantasy players will look in 2012.
Best Hitter: Justin Upton
Based on positional-eligibility, Miguel Montero is a serious contender here, but it's hard to argue with one of the best young hitters in the game. At just 24, Upton is a two-time All-Star and finished 4th in MVP voting last season when he hit 31 HR, 39 2B and stole 21 bases.
He had a disappointing 2010 season, but seems to be back on track as of now. He could develop into the best hitter and fantasy player in the game if he continues to hit for more power without losing 20-25 SB ability.
Prediction: .295/.370/.535, 30 HR, 30 SB, 100 RBI, 115 R.
Best Pitcher: Ian Kennedy
You'll have to forgive me if neither Kennedy or Daniel Hudson jump to mind when I try to think of the best pitchers in the National League. There's just something so anonymous about pitching in the NL West, or perhaps it's just Arizona, or perhaps it's just me. I didn't really take notice when Kennedy posted a 5 WAR season or Hudson a 4.9 WAR season, both on 222 innings.
Kennedy seemed to be the disappointing son of New York for so long, until he was finally traded to Arizona in the blockbuster three-team deal with the Tigers back in 2009. It seemed odd that the D'backs would trade Max Scherzer for Kennedy and Edwin Jackson. Because Scherzer was awesome and those guys were not, but they saw something in both of them.
Then Arizona traded Jackson to the White Sox for Hudson. They certainly have had some smart people working in Arizona. (Jackson was traded six times before he turned 28.)
Kennedy struck out 8.03 per 9 and posted a 2.88 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 3.50 xFIP and went 21-4.
Don't expect 21 wins again, but maybe it's fair to say he'll go 17-7, 3.15 ERA with 200 strikeouts.
Potential Breakout: Trevor Cahill
Because it keeps working for every pitcher that the Diamondbacks acquire. Former top prospects that seem to figure it out in the desert. And they gave up their top prospect three years running (Jarrod Parker) to get him. They seem to know something.
He is improving strikeouts every year and a move to the National League is always a good thing for pitchers.
Potential Disappointment: Chris Young
I like Young, in theory, but when you break down the theory he's a very scary thought.
When Young is hitting home runs and stealing bases, you can get over his low batting averages. But if he ever loses the ability to do ONE of those things, he's a liability. In 2009, he hit .212/.311/.400 with 15 HR and 11 SB in 134 games. That's a serious detriment to a fantasy roster.
Last season he hit .236/.331/.420 with 20 HR and 22 SB. Never has 20/20 seemed so... not worth it. Not in my eyes, but I hate low batting averages and high strikeouts even if strikeouts aren't counted against in my league. It just seems to be a sign that a guy can't make enough contact to be useful in the long run.
|1.||Trevor Bauer, rhp|
|2.||Archie Bradley, rhp|
|3.||Tyler Skaggs, lhp|
|5.||Matt Davidson, 3b/1b|
|6.||A.J. Pollock, of|
|7.||David Holmberg, lhp|
|8.||Chris Owings, ss|
|9.||Wade Miley, lhp|
|10.||Patrick Corbin, lhp|
Trevor Bauer was the D'Backs top pick out of UCLA last year, with many people believing he was better than #1 pick and teammate Gerrit Cole. In AA last year, Bauer: 16.2 innings, 26 K/8 BB, 7.56 ERA at age 20. He's going to need significant more time in the minor leagues.
Bradley might be the best prospect in the system, but won't be pitching in the majors this season. Though he could move through the minors quickly for a high school pick, his ETA is late 2013 at best, 2014 is most likely.
I would be shocked to see Tyler Skaggs make the majors this season either. Though it's possible, I think the promotions will go in order of: Bauer, then Skaggs, then Bradley in 2013. In AA last year, Skaggs: 57.2 innings, 73 K/15 BB, 2.50 ERA at age 19.
Pollock is already 24, but could provide stolen bases in some capacity this season. He hit .307/.357/.444 with 36 SB in 133 AA games last season.
Miley was very good in a limited AAA trial last season, pitching 54.1 innings and striking out 56 against 16 walks. He made 7 starts for Arizona and went 40 innings, 25/18 K/BB with a 4.50 ERA. He's considered a very low-end fantasy option.
Patrick Corbin is another solid minor league option for a team that already has a ton of good arms in the minors. In AA last season he made 26 starts and threw 160.1 innings, 142/40 K/BB and 4.21 ERA. He's another deep sleeper for 2012.