With Thursday’s season opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers now less than week away, it is time to make one last attempt at projecting the Diamondbacks 2023 Opening Day roster. Surely, this time, we will get it right.
A lot has happened since our last roster projection story. Namely, Corbin Martin tore his lat tendon in his right shoulder, which will almost certainly sideline him for the 2023 season. Mark Melancon will be out several months with a subscapularis strain. And, most recently, catcher Carson Kelly fractured his right forearm when he was hit by a pitch in Monday’s game. He will almost certainly miss all of April, and possibly more.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Diamondbacks on the injury front, to say the least, and they will have to make some especially difficult decisions over the next 72 hours or so as a result. Let’s see if we can figure out what those decisions will be.
Starting pitchers (5)
Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Madison Bumgarner, Zach Davies, Drey Jameson
Other candidates: Ryne Nelson
The first four have been locks all spring, and there are now just two men standing in the Diamondbacks’ fifth starter battle: Drey Jameson and Ryne Nelson. Let’s start with a simple comparison of their spring training stats.
|Player||IP||ERA||WHIP||Opp. Slash Line||K%||BB%|
Unfortunately for D-backs decision-makers, not only have Jameson and Nelson performed very similarly, but neither has performed particularly well. The only number in that table that could be deemed good is Jameson’s 30.2 percent strikeout rate, which, to be fair, is quite good.
Jameson’s wipeout slider is the best secondary pitch of the two pitchers; it generated eight whiffs in his last outing. It’s also hard to look down on his four-seam fastball, which tends to get hit hard but also reaches triple digits. Jameson’s arsenal, which also features a mid-90s sinker and the occasional changeup or curveball, is compelling.
On the flip, Nelson’s four-seamer has proven to be more effective than Jameson’s, and he has a bigger variety of secondary weapons that can generate whiffs when working. It’s also worth noting that opposing hitters have hit for considerably less power this spring against Nelson than they have against Jameson.
Ultimately, I’m going to go with Jameson, primarily because he has struck out significantly more hitters this spring and his arsenal looks more complete at the moment. This decision really could go either way, though.
While we’re here, it’s worth mentioning that Zac Gallen has officially been named the Diamondbacks’ Opening Day starter.
“He’s earned it,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “He was one of the top pitchers in the National League last year, he anchored our staff all year last year and I just think he deserves it.”
Merrill Kelly is lined up to start the second game of the Dodgers series with Madison Bumgarner pitching the third game and Zach Davies pitching the series finale next Sunday. Whoever wins the fifth rotation spot is lined up to start against the San Diego Padres on April 3.
Relief pitchers (8)
Miguel Castro, Scott McGough, Joe Mantiply, Kevin Ginkel, Andrew Chafin, Cole Sulser, Ryan Hendrix, Ryne Nelson
Other candidates: Carlos Vargas, Peter Solomon
The first six names on the list can safely be viewed as locks at this point. That includes Cole Sulser, who has allowed just one run on three hits over 7.2 innings in the Cactus League. The D-backs signed him to a major-league deal over the offseason, which might have given him an upper hand all along.
That leaves us to choose two out of Carlos Vargas, Ryan Hendrix, Peter Solomon and, potentially, whichever of Jameson and Nelson does not win the fifth rotation spot. At this point, it would not be a shock to see the team go with nearly any combination of two players out of that group, so it’s a tough to call to make.
To start, I am going to project that the Diamondbacks will use the loser of the fifth starter competition as a reliever. On Friday, Lovullo expressed an increased willingness to do so.
“Yeah, it’s a consideration,” he said. “If it happens, I’m not sure of yet.”
Lovullo certainly did not make it sound inevitable there, but, as recently as Monday, he said that using Nelson or Jameson in the bullpen “hasn’t been discussed.”
With Jameson locked in as our fifth starter, Nelson becomes a reliever. With him in the fold, we will rule out Peter Solomon, who would be slated for a similar role as a long man out of the bullpen should he make the team. Having both would seem redundant.
That leaves us to pick between Hendrix and Vargas for the final bullpen spot. That’s another tough call, but we’ll go with Hendrix. While Hendrix does not have as good of an ERA in spring training — three homers haven’t helped — his peripherals are arguably better.
|Player||IP||ERA||WHIP||Opp. Slash Line||K%||BB%|
The number that really jumps off the page for Hendrix is 48.3 percent. He has struck out nearly half of the hitters he has faced this spring, including striking out the side in his appearance on Saturday against the Seattle Mariners.
Vargas has pitched well, to be sure, and it wouldn’t be shocking if the team went that route instead. However, he is still only 23 years old, and he has only pitched 10 innings in Triple A (none in the majors).
In recent years, the Diamondbacks have generally favored players with more experience in bullpen competitions, so we’ll say Hendrix gets the edge.
Gabriel Moreno, Jose Herrera
Other candidates: P.J. Higgins
After making it clear all offseason that Kelly would get the majority of the reps behind the dish over Gabriel Moreno, the Diamondbacks have been forced to change course as a result of Kelly’s injury. Moreno will almost certainly take on a greater role.
“Easing [Moreno] into it? That might not be a possibility,” Lovullo said on Tuesday. “He is a very talented player.”
The D-backs still have to determine whether Jose Herrera or P.J. Higgins will join him.
Herrera would seem to have the edge, having caught 46 games with the team last year and already established relationships with some of the pitchers. However, after slashing an already poor .189/.250/.207 in the majors last year, he has not helped his cause by going just 2-for-32 with a pair of singles in Cactus League play.
Higgins is not as well-regarded defensively, but he hit a more formidable .229/.310/.383 with the Chicago Cubs last year in 229 plate appearances. He also has had a much better spring, slashing .311/.380/.533.
On paper, the difference between Higgins and Herrera on offense is much larger than the difference between them on defense. From that perspective, Higgins should win.
However, it’s hard to bet on the Diamondbacks opening the year with two catchers who have no past experience with the pitching staff. Because of that, we will go with Herrera. Again, it’s hard to say.
Christian Walker, Ketel Marte, Nick Ahmed, Josh Rojas, Evan Longoria, Geraldo Perdomo
Other candidates: Emmanuel Rivera, Jake Hager
These six D-backs’ infielders have seemingly been locked in for a while. Although Emmanuel Rivera might be the best pure third baseman on the 40-man roster, he was never going to make the team over Josh Rojas or Evan Longoria. The team also needs a backup shortstop behind Nick Ahmed, which essentially makes Geraldo Perdomo a lock as well.
Corbin Carroll, Jake McCarthy, Alek Thomas, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Kyle Lewis
Other candidates: Pavin Smith
In contrast to my past projections, I now have Kyle Lewis beating out Pavin Smith for the final outfield spot. Part of that is because Lewis has continued to separate himself offensively, now boasting the highest OPS of any Diamondbacks hitter this spring. Frankly, it would be hard to tell a former rookie of the year to pack his bags after hitting .480/.581/.960 in spring training.
Lewis has had better offensive numbers than Smith for most of spring, though. Arguably, the biggest factor pointing to Lewis over Smith is that the Diamondbacks now have a plan to back up Christian Walker at first base, something they have not had in prior weeks and have always needed if Smith did not make the team.
That plans centers around Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who will start a backlot game at first base on Sunday, per Lovullo. Gurriel has past experience at the position, having played eight games there last year with the Blue Jays. Lovullo also mentioned both Herrera and Higgins as options at first base. Put simply, if the Diamondbacks were preparing the way for Lewis to make the team, this is probably what it would look like.
To be fair, Smith has had a decent spring in his own right, hitting .300 with a homer and four runs batted in. Nonetheless, his .300/.300/.400 slash line does not hold a candle to Lewis’ .480/.581/.960.
The fact that Lewis bats right-handed only helps his case, as the D-backs remain somewhat lefty-heavy even after some offseason maneuvering.
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Top photo: Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports