MIAMI, FL - APRIL 29: Justin Upton #10 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits during a game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on April 29, 2012 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Welcome to another edition of Amazin' Avenue's Five For Five series preview! After a damaging road trip, the Mets are back in the safe confines of Citi Field for three days as they take on the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks are coming off of a 2011 where they won the NL West division with a 94-68 record, before getting knocked out in the divisional round by the Brewers. They currently sit at 13-13, good enough for second place in the division, 4.5 games behind the streaking Dodgers. I spoke with Jim McLennan of SB Nation's Diamondbacks blog AZ Snake Pit and he was gracious enough to give us a little insight into how the team is playing leading up to this series.
SS: Justin Upton is off to a bit of a slow start at .247/.348/.403, coming off of an excellent 2011 campaign. Is there any worry about him, considering just a few days ago, Willie Bloomquist's Isolated Slugging was higher than his or is this slump something that a little Mets pitching may cure?
JM: I think he's coming around. He had a very poor opening week, with just two hits in the first six games, and that has weighed down his overall numbers. Going into Thursday's contest, he has a line over the past nine games of .324/.375/.588, which is much closer to the Upton we expected, the MVP candidate from last year. Oddly, he's hitting much better on the road, and I don't expect that to continue either, given how hitter-friendly Chase Field has generally been.
SS: Starter Josh Collmenter has been removed from the D-Backs rotation after getting rocked in four starts and surprisingly, was replaced by 22-year old lefty Patrick Corbin. Most outside observers initially expected one of their highly touted pitching prospects (Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs) to receive the call. What's changed with Collmenter from last season and what does the timetable look like for the big prospects?
JM: There was always concern about Collmenter, and whether he had enough pitches in his arsenal to get through a line-up three or four times. Last year, it didn't seem to be an issue, even when teams saw him multiple times - just ask the Brewers - but it's almost as if the book was written on him over the winter, and was passed around the opposing teams. He hasn't fooled anyone since the start of spring training, and hasn't shown the adaptability to adjust and throw hitters back off-balance.
I can't say I was too surprised by Corbin's call-up. He was immensely impressive in spring, and has a lot more pro experience than Bauer, who has still only thrown 60 innings in the minors. There's no doubt, Bauer's stuff is there, but all reports indicate it's raw and needs to develop - keeping him in the minors allows him to do so without pressure. Skaggs is probably closer: he has struck out 34 Double-A batters in only 23.1 innings, and has close to three hundred minor-league innings under his belt. As for when we might see them, it'd take something bad - either in performande or health - for Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Trevor Cahill or Joe Saunders to need replacing. Outside of injury, the top prospects probably won't see significant playing time this year.
SS: Three of the four starters on the infield (Paul Goldschmidt, Willie Bloomquist and Ryan Roberts) have struggled to hit in the early going. Stephen Drew is the man to eventually take over at shortstop for Bloomquist once he’s healthy, but the backup options seem to be less appealing at first and third. What have you seen from Goldschmidt and Roberts early on and what are the contingencies there? Also, any updates on Drew’s status?
JM: Goldschmidt is still young and raw, a 24-year old with barely 250 PAs in the majors, so these may simply be growing pains. What does concern me is an incandescent strikeout rate of 29%: it's very, very hard to have any sustained success in the majors with that. He needs to make more contact - average major-league hitters miss about 21% of the time they swing - for Goldschmidt, that number is 31%. Getting that number reduced may define his long-term success, but the team should show patience.
There's a strong sense Roberts overachieved last year, and many fans were expecting a degree of regression this year. It has, however, been more the "falling off a cliff" kind. It doesn't help that the expected backup, Geoff Blum, broke himself again, and it's quite possible he won't play again for the Diamondbacks. Thus far, Cody Ransom has been a surprisingly-decent replacement, but that continuing is probably not the kind of thing on which a credibly contender can rely. It's definitely a weakness, both short- and long-term for the D-backs, though I doubt the team will look to fix it by trading any of the pitching prospects: short-stop and catcher are likelier there.
Speaking of short-stops... Drew is making his way back, slowly but steadily. He's due to play three innings in a rehab game today, but the team is still erring on the side of caution. I'd say the start of June is a good estimate at this point for his return to the majors.
SS: Aside from Collmenter and maybe J.J. Putz on Wednesday evening (sorry!), the pitching has gotten off on the right foot. It looks as if the team’s relievers have been mostly excellent. Would you classify the pen as a strength for the D-Backs? Aside from Putz (who Mets fans know well enough), who are the relievers in the pen that we should look out for this weekend and what are their strengths?
JM: The one who has most impressed fans is probably Bryan Shaw. He came up in the middle of last season, but has really developed this year. His main pitch is a savage cutter that just destroys left-handers, and Putz has compared it to the one wielded by Mariano Rivera: "It's that good," he said. With Putz having a fairly-expensive option for 2013, Shaw could be the closer of the future for the Diamondbacks.
His main rival for the position would be David Hernandez, who has struck out 96 batters in 81.2 innings since coming from Baltimore in the Mark Reynolds trade. They give the team alternatives to Putz, and given Arizona's fondness for close gamess - the majority thus far have been decided by two runs or less - they get plenty of work.
SS: Give us a little scouting report of this weekend’s Diamondbacks starting pitchers.
JM: Wade Miley. Was in the rotation late last year, but got bumped to start 2012. However, Collmenter's struggles gave him chances, first in relief - including a four inning hitless appearance - then as a permanent starter. His first two starts were excellent and all told, he deserved the monthly award won as the top NL Rookie. Can bring it at 94mph, but needs to throw strikes though: he can easily get into trouble if he starts walking people.
Patrick Corbin. Another left-hander, looking forward to seeing this one myself, as his debut was not televised in Arizona. We already discussed him above - as noted there, he broke through in spring. and possesses a good fastball and slider, though his change-up is still a work in progress. Has good control and pounds the zone.
Trevor Cahill. The trade for Jarrod Parker with Oakland could well end up being a win for both clubs. Cahill has looked very solid in his starts so far, with the one in Miami earlier in week particularly impressive. His sinker was working as good as I've seen anyone since the heyday of Brandon Webb, and the result was a GB/FB ratio of 17:2. Worth noting he's still barely older than Webb was when he debuted in the majors.
Big thanks again go out to Jim McLennan of AZ Snake Pit for taking the time to answer these questions for us! Our next edition of Amazin' Avenue Five For Five will be on Monday when the Mets head down to Philly for three games at Citizens Bank Park.