Man oh man, was I ever wrong about the D-Backs. I really didn’t think they’d be this good this soon. One would think it would take a young team like that several years to fully develop. The season they had last year would seem to suggest this team was a fluke. They were outscored by every team in the division (other than the Giants) and gave up more runs than any team in the division (except for the Rockies). Players like Chris Young, Justin Upton, Conor Jackson, Stephen Drew, Micah Owings and Mark Reynolds looked promising but were still flawed in many ways. I really thought the D-Backs would struggle to score runs this season… That shows you how far stats and conventional wisdom goes when it comes to projecting wins and losses for baseball teams. As of now, the D-Backs are the best team in baseball. They have the best record and have scored the most runs…and have really beaten up on the Dodgers (and Rockies) early on. So let’s take a closer look at this team to see what we are dealing with:
1B-Conor Jackson: Jackson has always been a promising young player but has had trouble living up to his billing. His power has never fully developed but he is a good contact hitter, capable of hitting well over .300 during the course of a season. He’s not your prototypical 1B and is more in the mold of a Mark Grace-type. If you take a look at his stats this season, the numbers don’t necessarily jump out at you. As of early Sunday, he’s hitting .284 with 0 HRs and 7 RBIs. The silver lining here is the .444 on base percentage. He may not be cranking the ball out of the park but he is getting on base at an astonishing rate and is knocking in runs. At 6’2, 215 Ibs., it wouldn’t be all that surprising if he did develop some serious power one day. He definitely has the size…
3B-Mark Reynolds: Reynolds has been one of the hotter D-Backs to start the season. Everybody knew that he had tremendous power potential after hitting 17 HRs in only 366 at-bats last season. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would eventually be a 30 HR guy, given a full season. He’s off to a fast start this year. In only 43 at-bats, he’s already hit 5 HRs and is among the league leaders in that category. With the status of former 3B, Chad Tracy, in question, Reynolds appears to be the 3B of the future. I expect him to hold down the position all year and see some big numbers in store for him. 30 HRs is almost a near certainty if he keeps hitting the way he has been. This is a guy who could develop into a 40 HR guy in time. He’s only 24 and has plenty of room to grow. He punished the Dodgers in their recent series, batting .308 with 3 HRs and 7 RBIs against Dodger pitching….already.
SS-Stephen Drew: Much was expected out of Drew the Younger (JD being the Elder) to start his major league career but so far those expectations have not been met. He showed excellent promise in limited time during his rookie season, hitting .316 with 5 HRs and 23 RBIs in only 209 at-bats. Rather than improving on those numbers in ’07, he took a major step backwards. I guess you can say the infamous “sophomore slump” hit him pretty hard. In 543 at-bats he only managed to hit a feeble .238 with 12 HRs and 60 RBIs. His OBP% sat at a wretched .313 and he struckout 100 times. One wouldn’t know it by looking at those numbers but he’s actually one of the better young shortstops in the game. He’s off to a decent start this season, hitting .300 with 2 HRs and 3 RBIs in only 40 at-bats. Errors became a bit of a problem for him last year but there are no plans to move him anywhere else. He could be in for a big year and is capable of .300/20/80/10-production.
RF-Justin Upton: This guy is going to be a headache for Dodger fans for years to come. It’s fairly safe to say that no one thought he would get so comfortable with big league pitching so quick. I mean…he was born in 1987 and is only 20 years old. There were even analysts hinting that a trip back to the minors might be the best thing for him. Boy were they wrong. To begin the season he’s been the hottest player in baseball…NL and AL. He’s hitting .400 with 5 HRs, 11 RBIs, a .442 OBP% and 7 runs scored. Of course, the sample size is limited but he looks like he’s already an all-star caliber player. The scary part is what he did to Dodger pitching just recently. He got on base more than half the time he came to the plate…which isn’t so hard to do when you’re hitting .500. Luckily, he didn’t belt any pitches out of the park on us but it matters little since we were swept in convincing fashion. It would be one thing if this was a guy who was about 25 and had spent years in the minors. He was just drafted by the team in 2005 for crying out loud. Not only was he the #1 pick that year and the top prospect ever since, now he’s tearing up the league as a 20 year old. Sorry Dodger fans but it looks like we’ve got a good decade or so of pummeling in store for us…at the hands of Justin Upton.
CF-Chris Young: No, not the Padres’ pitcher who regularly lights us up, this kid is a leadoff/power hitter. It makes for an odd combo being that he’s not much of a contact hitter or OBP% guy. Maybe he’s accustomed to hitting leadoff or something like that but he really comes across as more of a middle of the lineup hitter. It’s possible he’ll be moved back a few spots eventually if the team ever acquires a true leadoff hitter but Young is dangerous wherever he’s hitting the lineup. His power is legitimate…he jacked 32 pitches out of parks last season at the age of 23…not to mention 27 stolen bases to go along with it. Last time I checked, 30/30 hitters don’t come around that often. As he gets older he may become more of a disciplined hitter and get even better. There’s little doubt his power will continue to develop which means we could be dealing with a 40-50 HR “leadoff” hitter in the near future.
SP-Micah Owings: Here is a guy who flew under the radar during the preseason only to dominate opposing batters in the first couple weeks of the season. Owings has been the team’s top pitching prospect for several years now and he gave us a glimpse of the future last year when he posted a 4.30 ERA, won 8 games and struckout 106 batters in 152 innings pitched. This season he’s come roaring out of the gate, posting a 2.63 ERA, striking out 13 batters and holding opposing hitters to a stingy .184 batting average in 13 innings pitched. I don’t think anybody’s expecting him to maintain those numbers throughout the season (because if he did he’d be a sure fire Cy Young candidate) but he should make a nice improvement on last year’s numbers. When most people think of young pitching in the NL West, pitchers like Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Chad Billingsley, Ubaldo Jimenez, etc.. come to mind. Owings is often left off of that list and even when people think of D-Back pitchers they think of Webb and Haren. He’s been the forgotten man in the division (and on his own team) but is now starting to take off. When all is said and done, he probably doesn’t have the same strikeout potential as guys like Cain, Lincy and Bills but he should still end the season with 150+ K’s.
Well there it is…a 180 degree mea-culpa. This young troop of Snakes could be a formidable force for years to come. Of course, if the team goes on a 10 game losing streak next week, I’ll be on here saying “I told you they were a fluke”. It’s early.