Matthew O’Brien is a guest writer for the website, making his debut today!
If 2020 was represented through a baseball season look no further than that of the 2020 Arizona Diamondbacks. Entering the season with hopes of a postseason appearance for the first time since their 2017 Wildcard (and subsequent Division Series sweep which we don’t talk about) the hopes and dreams were squashed, nay obliterated, with a string of 19 losses over 21 games. All in all, a pretty disappointing result and one which most fans and those within the organisation wish to move on from. But are there any positives to take from this weird, wacky and ultimately dismal season? I think yes.
Sedona Red looks awfully good with gold
At the time of writing this post the 2020 Gold Glove nominees have just been announced. The usual nomination of experienced shortstop (and 2 time Gold Glover) Nick Ahmed was nowhere to be found this year, however, there were a couple of other experienced D’Backs leading the line. Outfielders David Peralta and Kole Calhoun were both nominated highlighting their defensive diligence over the course of a shortened season. While there were some questions about Peralta’s overall contribution from the plate, the recognition for GG nomination should not be undersold. Calhoun had a more productive year, his first in the desert since joining from the angels. His offensive pop and cannon of an arm from right field should mean the D’Backs have the majority of their outfield already picked heading into next year.
Whether either player actually wins a Gold Glove remains to be seen. The other nominees they are up against provide stiff opposition, such as Mookie Betts (who continues to produce spectacular catches and jaw dropping performances this postseason). If either wins the award, it will not be through being the best of a bad bunch.
I don’t think I was the only person who raised my eyebrows when Arizona acquired Madison Bumgarner from the Giants. Clearly Madbum has a cult following given his exploits in San Francisco and through his rodeo alter ego ‘Mason Saunders’. The real question was whether the D’Backs would be getting the same Madbum that was so explosive on the mound and at times unhittable. Clearly, at the age of 30 and with the amount of big-league innings he has pitched at this point in his career there would be some decline. What we saw in 2020 was a lot more alarming than that. With his fastball sitting in the high 80mph region and struggling with command, Madbum was not delivering as the experienced starter the D’Backs so sorely needed. This led him to being one of the more concerning developments of 2020, however, I think there is reason to believe this was more a bump in the road rather than all 4 wheels falling off. Much has been talked about the rapid increase in the lead up to season start with a shorter “spring” training and this can’t have helped the experienced hurler. In his final start of 2020 (after some time spent on the IL) Madbum had his fastball sitting in the low 90s again and looked more assured on the mound. Scintillating velo wasn’t what Arizona thought they would be getting with Bumgarner but the early struggles to get out of the 80s would alarm anyone. Thankfully, the signs seem to point that Madbum was getting back to his normal self and would have been a lot more competitive if there were another 102 games to be played. With a full spring training hopefully available before season 2021 we should see Madbum back to the top of Arizona’s starting rotation.
Alternate Site Diamond(back)s in the rough
One of my favourite aspects of baseball must be the development of prospects and rise through the minor leagues. It is rather fortunate, then, that I support the D’Backs (thanks to a tenuous family link to a former draft pick and current minor league coach Ed – We’ll be expecting that story in our inbox next week!) who currently have one the best farm systems in MLB which is ranked #6 according to mlb.com. This was put to the test with 2020 again providing unique challenges with the shutdown of the minor leagues preventing prospects from competing in organised league games. The alternate training sites provided a much-needed way for up to 32 players to get innings and structured training where they otherwise would be left to train on their own at home. Josh Barfield, Director of player development and the other coaching staff at the alternate site worked tirelessly to try and get sessions to be as productive as possible for the players, whether that be a simple 2 inning game to full length ones at Chase field, there was no wasted opportunity. Given there was less pressure on the actual results of games, players were more willing to experiment and tinker. First baseman Pavin Smith said “I was just watching some hitters in the major leagues… recognising what they were doing … so I started putting my foot down a little earlier and I don’t think I would have done that in triple A”. This more than likely contributed to Smith’s Major League call up on the 10th September as he made first base his own through the final run in.
The D’Backs exciting outfielders Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas and Kristian Robinson along with infielder Geraldo Perdomo seem to have been the biggest winners without getting a big league call up through the camp. All the players spoke highly of their time at the alternative site in a special YouTube video uploaded to Arizona’s channel. One thing that comes across from it is the close connection they share. Hopefully we get to see these young stars patrolling the diamond in Sedona red in the not too distant future.
Image courtesy of azcentral