February is here, pitchers and catchers report in less than two weeks and the Arizona Diamondbacks will start playing games later this month. Baseball is (almost) back.
Shortly before the 2022 season, I undertook the disheartening task of asking Diamondbacks Twitter what it wanted to see from the team. I received over 100 replies and wrote a fun story consolidating those responses into general themes. If you didn’t see the story last year, it’s still worthwhile to go back and see how fan expectations have evolved.
For the Diamondbacks, a lot has changed in the last year. Fans have gone from hoping for even the faintest glimmer of hope following a 112-loss season to doing an obligatory happy dance every time a top-100 prospects list drops. On paper, the future of Diamondbacks baseball is bright, as what could be the most exciting collection of top prospects in franchise history continues to progress toward the majors.
As this new season gets under way, it was only fitting to turn back to Twitter to find out what fans are want to see in 2023. As with my last story, I left the trolls behind and focused on the common themes that linked all the responses together. If you are among the nearly 100 people who replied, thank you for your participation.
Without further ado, here is what D-backs Twitter is hoping for in 2023.
Meaningful games in September
From having two or more All-Stars to getting new speakers installed at Chase Field, fans had a wide variety of expectations for the 2023 season, but arguably the most important part of any response was the number of wins. The most common answer was 82 — that is, an above-.500 season.
For a Diamondbacks team that won 74 games in 2022, 82 wins is a significant but reasonable step forward. FanGraphs actually had the D-backs pegged for 83 wins in its way-too-early standings projections at the start of the offseason. A lot has happened since then, but it’s safe to say the final projection should be something in that range. Fans’ expectations varied from as little as 70 wins (a four-game decrease from last year) all the way up to 91 (a 17-game improvement).
A number of respondents answered more vaguely, simply calling for the D-backs to be in the playoff mix come September.
Suffice it to say that Diamondbacks fans are hoping their team will stay relevant throughout the 2023 season. By all accounts, that looks like a reasonable ask.
And then there’s Espo…
Corbin Carroll wins Rookie of the Year
No individual player was mentioned more than than 22-year-old outfielder Corbin Carroll, who was just ranked the No. 1 prospect in baseball by The Athletic’s Keith Law. Suffice it to say that fans have big expectations for Carroll in 2023: They expect him to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
Predicting the recipient of the Rookie of the Year award is generally a losing battle. Take a quick look at the Draftkings Sportbook betting odds for NL Rookie of the Year entering last season, and you’ll see that eventual winner Michael Harris II isn’t even on the list. The favorites entering the year were Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz and Chicago Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki, neither of whom finished in the top five.
Nonetheless, the industry at large seems to feel more strongly about Carroll winning the award in 2023 than it ever felt about Suzuki or Cruz last year. MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo recently ran a poll of MLB executives and discovered that 66 percent of them have Carroll winning Rookie of the Year. It’s not hard to see why.
In addition to Carroll’s status as one of baseball’s top prospects, he made a strong impression upon arriving to the majors in late August of last year. In 32 games, he slashed .260/.330/.500 with four homers, 14 RBI, two stolen bases and 1.4 fWAR. He also accumulated four outs above average, the most by any left fielder in the National League (despite playing only about one-fifth of the season).
If Carroll does win the Rookie of the Year award in 2023, the D-backs could be awarded an additional future draft pick under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement. The only stipulation is that Carroll must either be on the Opening Day roster or be promoted very quickly thereafter.
An improved bullpen
It is no secret that the Diamondbacks’ bullpen struggled mightily in 2022. It’s a problem that has haunted the organization for many years. In 2023, fans hope to see significant strides in that regard.
Whether the Diamondbacks did enough this offseason to get there is a whole other question. None of the team’s recent bullpen additions, such as Miguel Castro, Scott McGough, Carlos Vargas and Cole Sulser, will grab headlines. Nonetheless, it appears that the D-backs have met their goal of improving the quality of raw stuff in the ‘pen. They are also relying a bit less on aging relievers than they have in the past.
A bounce-back season from Ketel Marte
Respondents did not have much to say about Diamondbacks second baseman Ketel Marte, but this response from Arizona Diamondbacks Stats and Info drew a collective amen from many others.
It is hard to overstate how much a Ketel Marte bounce-back would do for the D-backs. As recently as 2021, Marte was one of the best second baseman in baseball when healthy, slashing .318/.377/.532 with 14 homers and 50 RBI in 90 games. From 2019 to 2021, he slashed .318/.374/.543 over nearly 1,200 plate appearances.
That run of success led the D-backs to sign Marte to a five-year, $76 million extension last winter, a deal that drew widespread praise at the time. Now, it looks significantly less promising, as Marte posted far below average defensive metrics last year and was not nearly as much of a force on offense. It appears that nagging hamstring issues and limited lateral range could force him into a DH-only role sooner than later.
For what it’s worth, FanGraphs’ ZiPS projections foresee a bounce-back offensively, with a projected batting line of .283/.352/.470 in 2023 and 3.1 WAR. Put that batting line alongside possible productive years from Carroll, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Jake McCarthy, Christian Walker and Josh Rojas, and it’s not all that hard to envision an above-average Diamondbacks lineup in 2023.
The Athletic’s Eno Sarris pegged Marte as one of baseball’s four best bounce-back candidates for 2023.
Another step forward for the youth movement
One could argue that the majority of the Diamondbacks’ offseason moves had more to do with raising the floor of the team than raising the ceiling. That does not mean that the Diamondbacks cannot break out in 2023, but it does mean that if they do, it will almost certainly be because the team’s up-and-coming young players are rising to the task.
“I think Moreno taking a step forward in the position that he is raises the ceiling,” general manager Mike Hazen said last month. “I think Ryne Nelson, Drey Jameson, Brandon Pfaadt, Tommy Henry, Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas, Jake McCarthy, that group of players. Ketel getting back to Ketel. Perdomo taking a step forward…Josh Rojas pushing the envelope defensively at third base and around the infield.
“If those things improve, I think there’s some ceiling to where we can go.”
Some respondents made no mention of win totals or playoff achievements. They made one simple request: that this new wave of young Diamondbacks takes that next step forward.
In 2023, the Diamondbacks will go as far as their contingent of 22-to-25-year-olds can take them. At worst, it could result in a season that looks a lot like last year. At best, it could mean shocking the baseball universe with a playoff berth.
By and large, it appears that fans have their eyes set on an outcome that is somewhere in between, albeit slightly closer to the latter. For now, that looks like a very reasonable place to be.
Follow Jesse Friedman on Twitter
Top photo: Joe Rondone/The Republic