2014 Arizona Diamondbacks: Another summer at .500

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Archie Bradley went to high school in Broken Arrow, Okla. No word on whether it was broken like a splintered bat by Bradley’s fastball. Conventional wisdom says the D’backs will start Bradley in the minors, since he’s just 22 and hasn’t pitched above Class AA. It’s hard to see how they keep him down with a rotation that includes Brandon McCarthy (4.53 ERA in 2013) and Bronson Arroyo’s bad back. Bradley was GM Kevin Towers’ first No. 1 draft pick, and he’ll be trumpeted as a success since there haven’t been any others nearly as great in the last three years. Bradley has fanned 318 in 290 innings and allowed only 203 hits, but you can reach base if you don’t swing: he’s walked 153 batters and hit 21, including 15 in 2012. He cut that to six last year, and 17 wild pitches to two. The D’backs haven’t had much luck keeping recent No. 1 starters healthy — Brandon Webb had four good years and Daniel Hudson one — but that should be incentive to promote Bradley, not demote him.

Trivia: When the Diamondbacks won the World Series in Game 7 vs. the Yankees in 2001, who scored the winning run, and how did he reach?

What he said: Manager Kirk Gibson on the makeup of his bullpen: “If we feel we’re best to be all right-handed (in the bullpen) at the beginning of the year, we will be.” What he meant: “I’d rather be waterboarded than endure another season of Tony Sipp.”

Outlook: The Diamondbacks improved by 29 games in Towers’ first season and won the division, but they’ve been .500 in both years since and don’t seem any better this year. Towers has traded young talent — Trevor Bauer, Justin Upton and, this winter, Tyler Skaggs and Matt Davidson, and his contrarian approach may not be errant. But signs of improvement are as absent as young talent.

The D’backs are still the fastest franchise to make the playoffs (second season) and win a World Series (fourth), but building a winner was simpler than maintaining one. They made the playoffs more times in their first five seasons (three) than they have since (twice in 11 years).

Time may yet prove Towers correct on some things: Bauer was just as unable to anchor himself in the Indians’ rotation at 22 as he was in the D’backs at 21, and just as wild; Skaggs was dispatched after 68 big-league innings and a home run every five of them; and Upton hit just 15 home runs for the Braves in the last five months of 2013 after belting 12 in the first one.

But the return for Towers’ apparently premature evaluations is what’s inadequate. Bauer yielded shortstop Didi Gregorious, who hit a soft .252; Skaggs and Adam Eaton returned Martin Trumbo, who hits home runs, if not much else; Upton brought Martin Prado to play third and Randall Delgado, a back end of the rotation starter. What’s behind door number three?

This offseason, Towers also cast off flawed third base prospect Davidson, who has Mark Reynolds power and propensity to whiff, for young closer Addison Reed, who improved by 150 points of OPS in 2013.

Other than Bradley, the most important prospects Towers didn’t trade were outfielder A.J. Pollock and shortstop Chris Owings, neither of whom get on base well and both of whom have gaudy minor league numbers in hitters’ leagues. Beware of Reno, where every batter starts the season hitting .320. Owings has so abysmal a walk-strikeout ratio he’ll make Gregorious palatable by comparison.

The D’backs farm system is ranked 15th by ESPN’s Keith Law, and most of the prospects lists include Bradley, Owings and three first-round draft picks of the two years who are in the low minors: pitchers Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair and catcher Stryker Trahan.

To Towers, they’re apparently all assets, and that’s a reasonable approach. It’s making it pay off that’s the problem.

Trivia answer: Jay Bell scored the winning run in the 2001 World Series. Bell reached by bunting into a forceout after a Mark Grace single and Mariano Rivera error on Damian Miller’s sacrifice. Bell failed to sacrifice despite doing so successfully 159 times in his career, including 39 times in 1990 and 30 in 1991.

Team song King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band: Snake Rag

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