Every day in spring training until we finish the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues. Next stop is Salt River Fields, new spring home of the Diamondbacks. Sure, the house is nice — but how is the furniture?
2010 RECORD: 65-97, fifth in NL West.
BIGGEST ACQUISITIONS: He set up with the White Sox, but J.J. Putz(notes) presumably gives the D-backs a capable closer. And a trading chip at the deadline. Right-hander David Hernandez(notes), coming from the Orioles in the Mark Reynolds(notes) deal, is a solid prospect.
BIGGEST DEPARTURES: Reynolds and Adam LaRoche(notes), though productive, seemed to represent something manager Kirk Gibson didn't seem to like about his offense: The feeling that all it could do was hit home runs.
FIVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE D-BACKS
1. So, how's the rebuilding going? Kevin Goldstein, who knows about these things, doesn't rank the farm system particularly high. Actually, 29th of 30."Nowhere to go but up," Goldstein says. So, considering Kevin Towers only took over as general manager in September, we are years away from having any kind of vision come to fruition. But he did a great job in San Diego, so if past performance is an indication, the D-backs should start to look better in 2013 or 2014.
2. What is Gibson like as a manager? Says reliever Clay Zavada(notes): "Gibby? He talks to you, he cares about you. He's the type of guy that would throw fists with you if he had to. Not at you. ... Well, he'll throw them at you, but he'll throw them with you, too." For that matter, Gibson says: "We won't be well liked" by other teams. Gibson also wants to have his team do the little things — bunting, stealing, running hard into second base, etc. Hustling. While it's not terribly sabermetric, for where the D-backs are right now, an intense and disciplinary style seems OK. It's kind of like some of the players Towers added: Willie Bloomquist(notes), Geoff Blum(notes), Melvin Mora(notes). They're not strong run producers, they may not even be very good players, but they fit an image and give other players certain example to follow, one Gibson wants. The D-backs weren't going to be made over in an offseason. So why not?
3. Is Justin Upton(notes) ready for beast mode? You will find no better analysis of the D-backs' slugger than here, in Alex Remington's report. The short answer is: Maybe. Not many players his age (23) have already accumulated 1,728 plate appearances and a batting line of: .272/.352/.471. But nagging indicators, like Upton's tendency to strike out too much (447 times so far), give analysts pause when considering if he projects into a great hitter.
4. Do we need to put the word out to free Brandon Allen(notes)? The young slugger came over from the White Sox organization for reliever Tony Peña in 2009, and at age 25 he seems on the verge of ... not stardom, but goodness. But he was blocked last season by LaRoche, and the D-backs also have Juan Miranda(notes) and Russell Branyan(notes) in camp to clutter the first base bag. He swings left-handed, is also getting time in the outfield and had a .264/.347/.477 line in the minors.
5. Can Micah Owings(notes) make the team as a reliever/pitcher? He'd be cooler if he did. A deadly hitter at Georgia Tech and Tulane, Owings has a .293/.323/.538 batting line in 198 career plate major league appearances. But he has swung it better than he has flung it: He has a 5.11 ERA in 410 1-3 innings. Gibson says he is leaving every spot on the 25-man roster up for grabs, which isn't literally true but it does leave the possibility for Owings to make it as the ultimate swingman, a la Brooks Kieschnick a few years back. His first spring outing on the mound was rough, and Gibson seemed a little bothered by it, though results aren't nearly as important in spring training. At 28 and back with the team that drafted him, Owings' career is at a crossroads. But it's one of those six-way intersections, with the angled street. He could remain a pitcher, he could dabble in both, or he could just try to slug his way to a career.