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Diamondbacks roster projection 1.0: Happy New Year edition

Jesse Friedman Avatar
January 7, 2024
Diamondbacks shortstop Jordan Lawlar (10) throws out New York Mets right Fielder DJ Steward (not pictured) after fielding a ground ball during the fourth inning at Citi Field.

With many top free agents still available after the new year, it has been a sluggish offseason across Major League Baseball. But the Diamondbacks have been busier than most.

In November, the club landed a much-needed third baseman, acquiring veteran Eugenio Suárez in a trade with the Seattle Mariners. In early December, the Diamondbacks checked off their biggest offseason to-do item, signing veteran starter Eduardo Rodriguez to a four-year deal. Then, just before Christmas, the club reunited with outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. on a three-year deal.

By all indications, the Diamondbacks are not done yet. Hazen said after the Gurriel signing that he still wants to add a bat, likely a designated hitter type who could further bolster the lineup. It also seems likely that the Diamondbacks will add bullpen depth.

Projecting an MLB team’s Opening Day roster three months out is, by definition, an impossible and insane task. Nonetheless, the Diamondbacks are far enough along in their offseason to-do list that it is at least amusing to try. So, without further ado, let’s get this first iteration of roster projections down in writing so that I can look like an idiot in March.

Diamondbacks starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez holds up his jersey with GM Mike Hazen during an introductory press conference at Chase Field. (Patrick Breen/The Republic)

Starting pitchers (5)

Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brandon Pfaadt, Tommy Henry

Other candidates on 40-man roster: Ryne Nelson, Slade Cecconi, Bryce Jarvis, Blake Walston

With the addition of Rodriguez, the Diamondbacks have the makings of one of the better starting rotations in baseball. Their top four now includes Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Rodriguez and Brandon Pfaadt. As we discussed in Thursday’s edition of the PHNX D-backs Podcast, Fangraphs’ ZiPS projections system projects all four to post sub-4.00 ERAs in 2024.

The only question mark in the rotation this spring is who will land that fifth spot. It appears that left-hander Tommy Henry has a leg up on the competition given how well he pitched in 2023 — a 4.15 ERA in 17 games (16 starts) — but Ryne Nelson, Slade Cecconi, Bryce Jarvis and Blake Walston figure to have a shot as well.

Of course, the Diamondbacks will need more than the five starters on their Opening Day roster to make it through a full season. Excluding openers, they used 10 starting pitchers in 2023.

Diamondbacks relief pitcher Luis Frías pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 4 of the NLCS at Chase Field. (Joe Rondone/The Republic)

Relievers (8)

Paul Sewald, Kevin Ginkel, Ryan Thompson, Miguel Castro, Scott McGough, Luis Frías, Joe Mantiply, Andrew Saalfrank

Other candidates on 40-man roster: Kyle Nelson, Corbin Martin, Justin Martinez, Collin Snider, Peter Strzelecki, Slade Cecconi, Bryce Jarvis

After forming one of the more dominant late-game trios in baseball toward the end of last year, Paul Sewald, Kevin Ginkel and Ryan Thompson can safely be viewed as locks for the Opening Day bullpen.

Neither Miguel Castro nor Scott McGough was stellar in 2023, but they do have guaranteed major-league deals heading into 2024. It seems likely that both will make the team.

After posting a 4.06 ERA in 31 innings in the majors last year, long-time farmhand Luis Frías is now out of minor-league options. The Diamondbacks would likely lose him to another organization if he were not on the Opening Day roster, so we will include him as well. That brings us to six relievers, all of whom are right-handed.

The Diamondbacks would presumably want to round out their eight-man bullpen with a pair of lefties, which means choosing two out of Joe Mantiply, Kyle Nelson and Andrew Saalfrank. That is a tough call, but we will go with Mantiply and Saalfrank.

Mantiply has the most major-league experience in that group, and he finished the 2023 season on a high note with a 1.38 ERA in September. He also threw more postseason innings than either Nelson or Saalfrank.

After an excellent first half, Nelson faded down the stretch with a 6.02 ERA from July through the end of the regular season. He was left off the Diamondbacks’ Wild Card Series roster.

Saalfrank emerged as manager Torey Lovullo’s preferred lefty in high-leverage situations shortly after making his major-league debut in early September. Granted, he struggled to throw strikes in the playoffs, issuing eight walks in 5 2/3 innings. Suffice it to say that spring training performance will be a big factor in how these bullpen roles play out.

Of those left out of our projected Opening Day bullpen, Corbin Martin is one name to keep an eye on. He seemed to be in good position to make the team last spring before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Martin is expected to be healthy for 2024.

Before moving on, it should be noted that our projected eight-man bullpen does have one potential flaw: the lack of an obvious long reliever. Perhaps one of the aforementioned starting rotation candidates could make the team as a reliever, like Drey Jameson did last year. Of course, that would require removing someone else off the list.

Former Chicago Cubs catcher Tucker Barnhart looks to the Cubs dugout at PNC Park. (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)

Catchers (2)

Gabriel Moreno, Tucker Barnhart

Other candidates on 40-man roster: Jose Herrera

Notable minor-league signings: Ronaldo Hernández

After an excellent first full year in the majors in 2023, Gabriel Moreno will get the lion’s share of reps behind the plate in 2024. Not even the most durable catchers start every game, though, and Diamondbacks general manger Mike Hazen pegged catching depth as an area of need early in the offseason.

So far, Hazen has made a pair of moves in that regard, signing former top-100 prospect Ronaldo Hernández and long-time veteran Tucker Barnhart to minor-league deals with invites to spring training. Those two figure to compete with incumbent Jose Herrera and possibly Triple-A catching prospect Adrian Del Castillo for the backup role.

As of now, the job would probably come down to Barnhart or Herrera since they have major-league experience and the others do not. In this first iteration of our Opening Day roster projections, we will go with Barnhart.

Barnhart spent most of the 2023 season with the Chicago Cubs, for whom he posted a 48 OPS+ in 123 plate appearances — not far off Herrera’s 54 OPS+ in 2023. The 33-year-old is well-regarded defensively, having won Gold Gloves in 2017 and 2020. His defensive metrics have slipped in recent years, but he still graded out as a plus framer in 2023. Barnhart was released by the Cubs in August before landing with the Los Angeles Dodgers on a minor-league deal in September. He never appeared in the majors with the Dodgers.

At this stage in his career, Barnhart’s biggest selling point is probably his ability to build rapport with pitchers. He drew rave reviews last spring for his diligence in getting to know his new batterymates both as pitchers and as people. Barnhart also has experience with new Diamondbacks starter Eduardo Rodriguez, having caught 14 of his 17 starts in 2022 when both players were with the Detroit Tigers.

From a numbers standpoint, it is hard to say whether Herrera or Barnhart was better in 2023. It is worth noting that the Diamondbacks could keep Herrera in the organization if he were to miss the Opening Day roster. That is likely not the case for Barnhart, who reportedly has an opt-out at the end of spring training.

It still seems possible that the Diamondbacks’ Opening Day backup catcher is not yet in the organization. The club could look to add more catching depth between now and the start of spring training.

Diamondbacks third baseman Emmanuel Rivera celebrates after a double during Game 3 of the 2023 World Series at Chase Field. (Rob Schumacher/The Republic)

Infielders (6)

Christian Walker, Ketel Marte, Geraldo Perdomo, Eugenio Suárez, Kevin Newman, Jace Peterson

Other candidates on 40-man roster: Jordan Lawlar, Pavin Smith, Emmanuel Rivera, Blaze Alexander

The top four on this list — Christian Walker, Ketel Marte, Geraldo Perdomo, Eugenio Suárez — are safe bets to make the Opening Day roster. After that quartet, it gets much more difficult.

The easiest place is by naming a backup shortstop, something the Diamondbacks will surely need. At the moment, there are three clear candidates: top prospect Jordan Lawlar, Triple-A shortstop Blaze Alexander and recent minor-league signee Kevin Newman.

In this first roster projection, we will say that Newman gets the nod. The 30-year-old played 74 games with the Cincinnati Reds last year and logged time at every infield position. He could be well-suited for a reserve role that gives him occasional starts against lefties. He hit .278/.349/.513 against south paws in 2023.

Granted, Newman’s defensive metrics at shortstop have been quite poor over the past two seasons, so he would not be an ideal platoon partner for Geraldo Perdomo. Nonetheless, his ability to hit lefties — something Perdomo, in particular, has struggled to do — and play multiple positions could prove valuable.

Of course, it would not be all that surprising to see Lawlar land that backup shortstop role instead. In spite of his .129/.206/.129 slash line in a cup of coffee last year (34 plate appearances), Lawlar is widely regarded as one of the top 10-15 prospects in baseball. With a strong spring, he could earn much more than just an occasional spot start at shortstop.

Alexander, 24, has yet to play in the majors, but he theoretically could serve a similar role as Newman, with the ability to play shortstop, second base or third base and possibly do some damage against left-handed pitching.

The final infield spot is where things get really tricky. Pavin Smith showed promise early in his career, but his offensive production has never measured up to his bat-first profile. Third baseman Emmanuel Rivera is out of minor-league options — the Diamondbacks would likely lose him if he were left off the Opening Day roster — but it is hard to see how he fits on a team with a right-handed everyday third basemen in Suárez and the right-handed hitting Newman available as a backup.

That leaves us with our final infield selection, Jace Peterson, who was acquired last summer in a trade deadline deal with the Oakland A’s. Peterson is a well-regarded veteran in the clubhouse, and the Diamondbacks owe him $3 million in 2024. Granted, it is a bit clunky to roster two backup infielders who play many of the same positions in Peterson and Newman, but there are no clearly better alternatives until we know the outcome of the Diamondbacks’ search for an additional bat.

On that front, all indications are that the club is looking for a designated hitter type, although Hazen has said that he would like the player to have some positional flexibility, specifically at first base or in the outfield. Whom the Diamondbacks acquire — specifically, what position(s) they play, if any, and whether they bat left-handed or right-handed — could be a major factor in how other positional battles play out. More on that later.

Diamondbacks right fielder Jake McCarthy gestures to the dugout after hitting a double at Great American Ball Park against the Cincinnati Reds. (Albert Cesare/The Enquirer)

Outfielders (4)

Corbin Carroll, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Alek Thomas, Jake McCarthy

Other candidates on 40-man roster: Dominic Fletcher, Jorge Barrosa

Corbin Carroll and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. are obvious bets to make the team, and Alek Thomas seems like a strong candidate after posting another stellar year defensively and a solid .734 OPS in the playoffs.

It seems likely that one of Jake McCarthy, Dominic Fletcher or Jorge Barrosa will make the team as a fourth outfielder. For now, we will go with McCarthy, who is the most established of that group.

Coming off a 2022 season in which he posted a .769 OPS, McCarthy slashed just .243/.318/.326 in 2023 with two homers, 16 RBI and 26 stolen bases. McCarthy was demoted to Triple-A Reno on two separate occasions, each lasting about a month.

Even so, McCarthy’s 142 wRC+ in Reno far exceeded that of both 26-year-old Dominic Fletcher (120) and 22-year-old Jorge Barrosa (110).

Fletcher made his big-league debut in 2023 and logged 102 plate appearances in the majors. He slashed an impressive .301/.350/.441. According to Statcast, however, his batted ball metrics were quite poor. His expected slash line was just .225/.272/.328.

Barrosa has yet to play in the majors, and, at first glance, he seems to be buried behind McCarthy and Fletcher on the depth chart. It is worth pointing out, however, that Barrosa, a switch hitter with roughly even splits in 2023, could make for an interesting platoon partner with Alek Thomas in center field. In that regard, Barrosa might have a leg up on McCarthy and Fletcher since both of them bat left-handed.

Designated hitter (1)

One free-agent addition

Some potential fits in free agency: Jorge Soler (right-handed hitter), J.D. Martinez (RHH), Justin Turner (RHH), Rhys Hoskins (RHH), Tommy Pham (RHH), Adam Duvall (RHH), Brandon Belt (left-handed hitter), Joc Pederson (LHH), Carlos Santana (switch hitter)

If the Diamondbacks do manage to add another bat this offseason, Hazen told the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro this past week that he believes it is more likely to come via free agency than trade. Hazen also said previously that the team is open to acquiring a left-handed or right-handed bat. The list above contains some of each, including a switch hitter in Carlos Santana.

As far as positional flexibility is concerned, Adam Duvall, Tommy Pham, Jorge Soler and Joc Pederson all played at least 30 games in a corner outfield spot in 2023. Duvall actually logged more innings in center field than anywhere else. It is probably unfair to include him in this DH category, but it made sense for organization purposes.

Santana, Justin Turner, Brandon Belt and Rhys Hoskins can all play first base to some extent. Turner played some games at second base and third base in 2023 as well. At this stage of his career, J.D. Martinez is strictly a designated hitter.

If the Diamondbacks add a DH-only type such as Martinez, it would make sense to emphasize defensive versatility in other roster decisions. If the team lands a left-handed platoon bat such as Belt, it would make sense to prioritize quality right-handed hitting elsewhere. If the team signs a right-handed hitter who does most of his damage against lefties, the Diamondbacks might prefer to have all their best left-handed hitters at other positions.

Projecting the Opening Day roster months in advance was always going to be difficult, but doing so before the Diamondbacks have landed this elusive hitter that they seem poised to land is impossible. Here is to Opening Day roster projection 2.0 making me look like less of a moron than I am sure this one will.

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Top photo: Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY Sports

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