Written by Robert Democh
Published: 31 March 2009
Any team boasting the two premier starting pitchers in the National League immediately qualifies for any discussion of possible playoff contenders. Arizona, featuring Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, are that team. Provided their young hitters gain ground, the D-Backs should contend in the NL West. There are numerous snakes slithering through the Valley of the Sun worth grabbing, so prospect on for some fantasy gold.Top Tier:Brandon Webb (SP):
We’re about out of superlatives to describe Webb’s elite talent. Just when you thought he had peaked, he located another gear and summoned his best season yet, finishing 22-7. Webb’s legacy of excellence deserves favorable comparison with great hurlers of other eras. Tom Seaver immediately comes to mind. Like Seaver, Webb is not a true flame thrower (7.3 K/9 IP last season) but excels at inducing grounders (2.93 G/F ratio) and minimizing base runners (a respectable 2.6 BB/9IP). He has accomplished this while juggling a substantial workload, exceeding 225 innings each of the past four seasons. His stamina is legendary. Webb has never recorded an ERA above 3.60 in six full ML seasons. Webb is the closest thing you’ll find to a lock for 20 wins, and that will be reflected in his upscale price on draft day.
Dan Haren (SP):
Dan Haren gives you plenty strike-outs and innings.
After being the ace of the Oakland A’s, Haren was acquired by the D-Backs prior to last season. Haren benefited from the mysterious NL bump, upping his strikeout rate to a searing 8.6/9IP and reducing his HR/9IP to a harmless 0.80. He remains one of the stingiest pitchers around when it comes to issuing walks (1.67 BB/9IP). Like Webb, Haren is a workhorse, averaging a hefty 34 starts over the past four seasons. That type of all-around ability makes Haren a big ticket item, especially for a pitcher perceived as a low injury risk.
Second Tier:Stephen Drew (SS):
Cream rises to the top and so did Drew. He was nothing short of spectacular when perched atop the Arizona lineup, hitting .313 with 11 homers and 39 RBI. The only disappointing trend was the evaporation of walks as Drew became overaggressive at the plate last season. His quick feet afield have not translated into stolen bases, but that’s not why you’re targeting him. Twenty homers and a .300 average out of a middle infield slot are sweet and yours for the taking in the seventh round.
Chris Young (OF):
Young's production dropped precipitously last year after he came within a whisker of gaining entry to the 30-30 club (29 homers/30 steals) in 2007. His 22 homers and paltry 14 steal totals would have been even worse save a solid second half showing during which he batted .278 with nine thefts. Young may never develop the plate discipline to necessary to push his average north of .265, but a return to 25 homers/20 steals is a distinct possibility in 2009. Third Tier:Conor Jackson (OF):
There’s much to like about Jackson. He hits for consistently high average, demonstrates impeccable contact skills (59 walks, only 61 strike outs in 2008) and reaches base with regularity (.376 OBP last season). Add to that multiple position eligibility and he’s an attractive option in mixed leagues. Unfortunately, fantasy gamers crave power from their corner infield types and Jackson is unlikely to ever satisfy an appetite for 20 homers. Bid expecting 15 dingers, 80 RBI and a .300 average and he’ll deliver.
Max Scherzer (SP):
Arizona’s top pitching prospect is receiving the kid gloves treatment this spring in response to lingering shoulder stiffness. Scherzer has thrown briefly but it’s unclear how debilitating the condition is as of this writing. Having acquired veteran innings eater Jon Garland in the off-season, the D-Backs enjoy the luxury of not rushing Scherzer. He threw slightly over 100 innings last year between Triple-A and the majors, suggesting an increased 2009 workload. Don’t bid expecting him to accrue 200 innings (175 is more likely). Even at that reduced level, Scherzer has dual starter/reliever eligibility in many leagues, making him a useful addition during the middle rounds of your draft.
Mark Reynolds (3B):
Now possessing the dubious moniker “King of the Whiffs,” Reynolds finished the 2008 season with a dreadful .239 BA sandwiched around 28 homers, 97 RBI and the aforementioned 204 strikeouts (a ML single-season record). He exhibited an element of versatility in his game by claiming 11 steals (up from zero in 2007). Reynolds’ big swing is custom made for low batting averages and astronomical strike out rates, diminishing his value in most mixed leagues. Given his defensive limitations at third and a bevy of corner infielders eager to play, Arizona won’t hesitate to sit him if the power subsides, making him something of a gamble as your starting third baseman.Chad Qualls (RP):
Abundant grace under pressure (seven straight save conversions during the heat of the September pennant chase) earned Qualls the closer gig entering 2009. He should be able to beat back his main challengers -- Tony Pena and Jon Rauch -- with excellent control (a 71:18 K:BB ratio last year) and an ability to miss opposing bats (a .224 BAA). A journeyman middle reliever, Qualls gave every indication during last year’s cameo run that he has the moxie to succeed as a full-time fireman. He’ll be slightly undervalued in most drafts for someone capable of grabbing 30 saves. Surrounded by quality alternatives, Qualls may have a shorter grace period than other closers if problems ensue or Arizona decides to exploit his ability to toss multiple innings. Justin Upton (OF):
Scarcely old enough to shave (just 20 in 2008), Upton flexed his emerging muscles with five April home runs before settling into an offensive funk and missing nearly two months with an oblique strain. He proved a one-man wrecking crew at home, hitting .321 with 12 homers but was invisible on the road (.169 average in 166 AB). Upton demonstrated impressive plate discipline for a youngster, assembling a .353 OBP. He should run more this season on a D-Backs team committed to being more aggressive on the base paths. Beginning 2009 with an assured role should boost his confidence and 20 home runs with 10 steals would surprise no one. He’s definitely someone to acquire in keeper leagues. Felipe Lopez (2B):
Lopez has bounced around the past few seasons before surfacing in St. Louis last season. He’s not a star but can play very well in spurts, hitting a sweltering .385 in 43 games with the Cards. Lopez was 4-for-18 with a homer and three RBIs in five WBC games before joining the D-Backs training camp. He will be the every day second baseman and inherits a hitter friendly stadium. A .270 average with 12 homers and 18 steals from a middle infielder available late in the draft is tasty indeed. Scoop him up as a valuable reserve.
Question Mark:Eric Byrnes (OF):
Following his phenomenal 50-steal, 21 homer outburst in 2007, Arizona hastened to lock in Byrnes’ elite skills, inking him to a relatively affordable three-year, $30 million deal. Last year was disappointing all around, as multiple hamstring pulls quashed his speed and a frustrated Byrnes barely surpassed 200 AB’s. His 2009 spring training debut was postponed until March 20 in deference to his tender hamstring. Even if blessed with impeccable health, Byrnes is currently odd man out in the D-Backs outfield behind Young, Jackson and Upton. Provided he musters sufficient at bats, there’s every reason to project 15 homers and 20 steals from Byrnes this season. He’s a great late round sleeper with upside. Great Debate: Chad Tracy (3B):
Knee injuries have muted Tracy’s bat the past two seasons. Last year, he opened the season on the DL while recovering from knee surgery. Tracy managed to return in a limited capacity by May, and then enjoyed increased playing time once the D-Backs transitioned Conor Jackson from first base to the outfield. Tracy underperformed in the second half (.233 BA) and tallied a mere eight homers in 273 at bats overall, suggesting his power stroke awaits further refinement. He appears healthy this spring and could see 400 at bats in 2009 while splitting time between first, third and the corner outfield positions. He’s just two years removed from 20 home runs, making him an intriguing end of the draft play.
Prospect Watch:Gerardo Parra (OF):
Parra transitioned from High-A to Double-A last season and held his own with a .275 average in 265 at-bats. Parra has shown good plate discipline (.362 OBP) and the potential to steal some bases. He’s only 21, allowing ample time for him to nurture power, a prerequisite for Parra to crack Arizona‘s crowded outfield. The D-Backs have surrendered their top minor league talent through trades, meaning Parra will likely reach Triple-A this year and perhaps be a spring training invitee with Arizona in 2010.