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Finding Positives in the 2021 Arizona Diamondbacks

Jesse Friedman Avatar
October 7, 2021

Let’s face it: The last six months have been an unmitigated disaster for your beloved baseball franchise.

No National League West team has ever finished as far out of first place as the 2021 Arizona Diamondbacks. They won fewer than half as many games as the division-winning San Francisco Giants, a team they were projected to hang with at the beginning of the season.

But in this sport, there are enough players on the diamond every day that at least a few things are bound to go right over a 162-game season.

The 2021 D-backs are no exception. Here are five positive takeaways from the season.

Ketel Marte is a solidified superstar

It is only fitting to start with Marte, who is far and away the team’s best player. Marte finished 2021 with an excellent batting line of .318/.377/.532 with 14 homers, 50 RBI and a 139 wRC+ in 90 games. If that’s not star-level production, I’m not sure what is.

Let’s not forget, though, that Marte’s stardom was genuinely in question entering the season. After a spectacular 2019 season, he batted .287/.323/.409 with just two homers in 45 games last year. 

For a moment, it looked like his 2019 breakout might have been a blip on the radar. That argument is now a thing of the past.

Over nearly 1,200 plate appearances in the last three seasons, Marte is batting .318/.374/.543 with a 137 wRC+. Under team control through 2024, Marte is one of the most valuable assets in the sport.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Geraldo Perdomo looks like the shortstop of the future

A Nick Ahmed shoulder injury on Sep. 26 opened the door for the D-backs’ best shortstop prospect to finish out the year as the everyday guy. It was only a week, but it’s hard to imagine what more he could have done.

In those seven games, Perdomo slashed .333/.417/.571 in 27 plate appearances while playing excellent defense at shortstop.

This all came after Perdomo struggled mightily through the majority of the minor-league season, so much so that the team removed him from the Double-A Amarillo roster and placed him on the development list so that they could help him re-establish his swing.

He immediately started raking upon his return to Amarillo, and he carried that momentum all the way to the big leagues.

Did I mention that he’s 21 years old?

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Daulton Varsho is a can’t-miss prospect

In 185 plate appearances from his major league debut in July of 2020 to July 1, 2021, Varsho slashed .172/.270/.301 with a 56 wRC+. It wasn’t pretty to say the least, but it was also understandable that he may need time to adapt to big league pitching.

Soon after, he figured it out.

From July 1st through the end of the season, Varsho slashed .275/.340/.505 with a 120 wRC+ in 245 plate appearances. 

On top of that, he played four different positions, logging 41 games at catcher, 30 in center field, 12 in left field and 12 in right field. There are very few players with Varsho’s combo of offense, speed and defensive versatility.

He’s probably the second best player on the team already, and it’s no surprise he went from ninth to third in the batting order practically overnight.

D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Merill Kelly is a proven workhorse

Coming off thoracic outlet surgery, Kelly somehow made more starts (27) and threw more innings (158) than any other D-backs starting pitcher. He posted a 4.44 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 19.5% strikeout rate and 6.1% walk rate.

While those numbers certainly don’t jump off the page, Kelly has proven to be one of the team’s best free-agent signings of the past decade.

Plucked off the international market, Kelly had been pitching in the Korea Baseball Organization as recently as 2018. In December of that year, the team signed him to a two-year, $5.5 million contract with team options for 2021 and 2022.

You can bet D-backs will pick up the latter of those two options this offseason.

The organization excelled in minor-league player development

While things at the major-league level didn’t go well in 2021 for the D-backs, it’s easy to forget all of the work that goes into developing players in the minor-league system. On that front, the season actually appears remarkably successful.

Take pitching prospect Luis Frias, for example. He began the year as the Opening Day starter for Single-A Hillsboro, and worked his way all the way to the big leagues by the end of the year.

Outfielder Alek Thomas, meanwhile, rebounded from a lost minor-league season in 2020 to post incredible numbers for Double-A Amarillo and eventually Triple-A Reno. Barring injuries, he’s a virtual lock for an early-season call-up in 2022.

Pitching prospect Brandon Pfaadt, one of the team’s few selections in a shortened 2020 draft, worked his way up from Visalia to Hillsboro to Amarillo in his first full season as a professional.

And the list goes on.

Many of the team’s highly touted prospects, particularly on the pitching side, have taken significant strides toward cracking the major league roster.

With what happened this season, they can’t get here soon enough.

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