What we learned about the D-backs in '22

October 13th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Steve Gilbert's D-backs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The D-backs wrapped up their season with a 4-2 come-from-behind win over the Brewers to give them a 74-88 record for the season, still not where they want to be but a heck of a lot better than the 52-110 mark they finished with a year ago. They are just one of seven teams since 1900 to lose 110 or more games one year and then win at least 70 games the following season.

Before we move on and start looking toward next season, let's review some things from 2022:

Defining moment: Playing the top two teams in the division

Even with the Giants having somewhat of a down year, the National League West is not for the faint of heart. Having to play the Dodgers and Padres 19 times apiece is a challenge, and the D-backs will certainly benefit from playing them less often with next year's balanced schedule.

This year, the D-backs were 5-14 against both of those teams. That's a combined 10-28.

Each time the D-backs seemed to have a little bit of traction it seemed they would run into one of those two teams. In mid-May, they were 18-17 before getting swept in a four-game series at Dodger Stadium. They would never get over .500 again. When they pulled to within four games of .500 in early September, they dropped two of three to the Padres and never got that close again.

What we learned: There's a new core of D-backs players

For the last several seasons, the D-backs' front office talked about the young group of prospects that were rising through the farm system. They started to reach the big leagues in 2020, but it was in 2022 when we finally saw a large influx of them. 

Daulton Varsho, Corbin Carroll, Jake McCarthy and Alek Thomas form a young, athletic outfield that covers a lot of ground and has speed to burn on the basepaths. With the expected rule changes for next season that will encourage stolen bases, this is a group that can really capitalize on it.

Left-handed pitcher Tommy Henry and righties Ryne Nelson and Drey Jameson each got their first taste of the big leagues and along with No. 4 prospect Brandon Pfaadt, who has yet to make his debut, they will likely form the core on the pitching side.  

Sprinkle in veterans such as first baseman Christian Walker, second baseman Ketel Marte and utility man Josh Rojas with right-handers Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, and you can see the new core of players the D-backs hope to build around.

Best development: The young players got experience

Even for the best of prospects, the transition from the Minor Leagues to the big leagues can be jarring. It's not just that the level of competition is much higher, but there's off-the-field stuff as well -- different schedules and routines as well as fitting into the clubhouse. 

So, in addition to the prospects being ready, one of the reasons the D-backs gave Thomas, Henry, Carroll, Nelson and Jameson time in the big leagues was so that next year as they compete for jobs out of Spring Training, they will be even that much more ready to contribute immediately. 

Area for improvement: Bullpen

The bullpen, particularly the backend, was a weakness for the D-backs in 2021 and they tried to address it in the offseason. 

The D-backs signed an experienced closer in Mark Melancon to a two-year, $14 million contract and also inked setup man Ian Kennedy to a one-year, $4.75 million deal. With those two signings, they figured they had fixed the issue. 

But Melancon struggled and was replaced in the closer's role by Kennedy, who also struggled and lost the job. The emergence of lefty Joe Mantiply as a late-inning option along with the resurgence of Kevin Ginkel were both positive developments, but the bullpen will once again be the top area of need this offseason.

On the rise: Jake McCarthy

Give McCarthy a lot of credit for the way he handled being sent down to Triple-A Reno not once but twice in 2022. McCarthy did not let it affect him and put himself firmly in position to get plenty of playing time with the D-backs in 2023.

In many ways, McCarthy is the model of what the D-backs want in the next generation of players -- young, athletic, good defender, aggressive/fearless on the bases.