The front of the rotation appears set. The back? Not so much.
We don’t yet know for sure who the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Opening Day starter is going to be, when play begins on Thursday April 1. If I’d to guess, I’d say it’s most likely to be Madison Bumgarner, even if almost every projection has Zac Gallen expected to have a better 2021 campaign. Over the long-run, it’s not going to make much difference, and the title of “Opening Day starter” is largely an honorary one, with little meaning. But considering that MadBum will earn more than any other two Diamondbacks this year combined, at $19 million (fun fact: Nick Ahmed, at $7.88 million, will be the next best-paid, and the highest position player), seems likely he will get the nod.
Behind him, Zac Gallen should be the #2, and if Merrill Kelly is fit, then he’d appear likely to be the #3. Early indications from the pitcher suggest it’s business as usual: “I don’t anticipate anything popping up. My mentality right now is I’m just a normal player again. I’m just approaching spring training as usual and just trying to prepare for the season rather than thinking about what happened or how I feel. … I’m just looking forward to kinda getting going.” Torey Lovullo says from what he’s seen, Kelly should be good to go: “He’s thrown the ball very well. He’s spinning breaking balls, he’s driving fastballs to both sides of the plate and throwing some quality changeups. He’s in a good spot.”
Beyond that trio, however, things become considerably more cloudy. Luke Weaver is probably the first name on the list, but he had an awful 2020, going 1-9 with a 6.58 ERA. He was the topic of several pieces in yesterday’s Snake Bytes, with Luke focusing on returning the cutter to his arsenal of pitches. While Jack mentioned that Weaver may be better served as a power reliever, I imagine the team will want to give him every chance as a starter first, before looking to move him to the bullpen. However, even if a starter’s job is likely his to lose for now, he will certainly need to show much better results than last year, if he is to stick in the rotation.
There’s no shortage of candidates for the fifth and final slot. Alex Young (seven starts), Taylor Clarke (five) and Caleb Smith (three) all started for Arizona last year, combining for a quarter of the team’s games. Smith had the best ERA, but all of them had less impressive peripherals, with a FIP north of five in each case. Jon Duplantier missed all of 2020 with an elbow issue, so needs to prove himself healthy and effective first. J.B. Bukauskas was another contender, but it appears he may be training this spring for a relief role. Potentially, the prospect most likely to claim an Opening Day spot is probably Corbin Martin, though sinker specialist Josh Greene will probably see action at some point in 2021.
Naturally, there will be a lot more than five starters ending up being used. Even in the 60-game season we saw in 2020, the D-backs still used eight, and a dozen or more is quite likely over the course of a full schedule. Depth will, as always, be important, and we will probably end up seeing all of the names mentioned above, as well as some others, such as one or more of the current non-roster invitees. But who do you think is most likely to jump out of the gate this spring and claim the fifth spot to begin the season?