What D-backs will be watching for in Cactus League

February 25th, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The D-backs begin Cactus League play on Saturday afternoon with a pair of split-squad games against the Rockies at Salt River Fields and the A’s at HoHoKam Park.

By now, most fans know that when general manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo evaluate their players for roster spots this spring, they will not simply look at a player’s stats. In fact, stats are the last thing they look at.

So what do the decision-makers look at?

"We’re looking to see physical health, first off," Hazen said. "We want to see the adjustments some guys have made, not the proverbial 'in the best shape of my life' type of stories. But you see guys that come in that have clearly put the work in physically. You get excited about seeing that play out on the field. We see him running around and drills but we want to actually watch it translated to games."

will get the start for the D-backs against the Rockies at Salt River Fields, while will start against the A’s in Mesa. Each of them debuted last September with good results and both are among the top contenders for the final spot in the rotation.

What sorts of things does Lovullo look for when evaluating pitchers?

"Mound presence, the repeatability of the delivery," Lovullo said. "Being able to execute a plan -- maybe it's two consecutive pitches that are thrown with a purpose and a location that's going to produce outs. It's easy to get sidetracked by results, because you know hitters are up there and they might catch a mistake early on. I’ll evaluate if the pitch is off of its location versus on its location and the hitter just guessed right. I’m much more concerned about location."

Hazen, meanwhile, isn’t so much concerned with velocity or sharpness of pitches in the first couple of times out.

"We've had pitchers come out and throw 85 or 86 mph at the very beginning of camp and go out and win 18 games for us," said Hazen. "So it's not putting a ton of stock into what we're going to watch in the first couple of weeks from that standpoint."

As for hitters, the decision-makers know that their timing is not going to be sharp early on, and a lot of it can depend on whom they’re facing in the game. All of that will be factored in when evaluating them.

"Hitters, [I’m looking for] a balanced approach," Lovullo said. "Where's their aim? Where's their direction? Are they getting around the ball or are they staying through the ball? What are they looking like in their pre pitch routine? Where are their minds at in between pitches -- and I can tell a lot of times what their thought processes are like through some of their body language -- and then some of the results."

The D-backs brought numerous prospects to the big leagues last year. Outfielders like and made their debuts along with pitchers like Jameson, Nelson and . All of them got their taste of Cactus League action last spring.

There is another wave of prospects on the horizon, with players like shortstop Jordan Lawlar and left-hander Blake Walston seeing some time in the early going this spring. That’s something the staff looks forward to.

"Always, at this time of year, I’m interested to see a lot of the young players because it's watching them compete at a higher caliber of competition than they've ever competed against before," Hazen said. "So watching them playing Major League games against Major League players is always one of the more interesting plotlines for us."

There will be plenty to watch for this spring. Just make sure you’re not so focused on results that you miss the important stuff.