With less than a week to go till Spring Training, Manager Chip Hale, the coaching staff, and the front office have tough roster decisions to make about the Arizona Diamondbacks’ bullpen.
At the start of spring training the depth on the Diamondbacks’ pitching staff, lineup, bullpen, and on the bench stood out. Instead of making competitions in the bullpen, at second base, shortstop, third base, backup catcher, and in the outfield easier, every player has embraced the internal competition unseen in any other D-backs camp I can remember.
The third round of roster trimming continued on Monday, and with every decision, the makeup of the 25-man roster becomes less blurry and starts to take shape.
The fight for the final spot in the bullpen, which has been one of if not the most heated all spring, was cleared up a little more on Monday when the Diamondbacks announced the unconditional releases of veteran left-hander Wesley Wright and former Reds right-hander Sam LeCure.
"“We’re kind of weighing and debating back and forth in the room what’s our best roster,” Hale said. “That one spot has really been a great battle. You talk about the middle infield — that last reliever spot might be a better battle than that.”"
Later in the day, the Diamondbacks announced the unconditional release of left-handed reliever Matt Reynolds. In total, the D-backs made eight roster moves, and have five cuts to make with Opening Night against the Rockies five days away.
The D-backs have 32 players left in camp.
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Monday’s cuts ultimately means the final bullpen spot will come down to four power right-handers that have all been throwing the ball well this spring: Jake Barrett, Enrique Burgos, Evan Marshall, and Silvino Bracho.
Whichever of these pitchers the Diamondbacks decide to go with, this was the right decision. Chip Hale was toying with the idea of carrying a second lefty early in camp saying it would be a “luxury.”
It might be a luxury in general to have a lefty early in the game that can get right-handed and left-handed batters out, and a lefty specialist in the late innings to face an “Adrian Gonzalez-type,” but that strategy works for some teams, and doesn’t work for others.
For several reasons, the D-backs do not need to carry a second left-hander, and frankly it wouldn’t have made sense to do so.
Andrew Chafin was one of the best rookie relievers and he proved last season that he can get both lefties (.182) and righties out (.225).
Arizona broke camp with plenty of lefties in camp, but unlike previous seasons, none of those guys are true “LOOGY” pitchers. Left-handed batters have hit Wright better (.266) with almost as many hits compared to right-handed batters (.253) over the past three seasons, and the same thing applies to Reynolds.
On top of that, right-hander Daniel Hudson held left-handed hitters to a .186 mark while righties hit .291, and set-up man Tyler Clippard has also fared far better in his career against lefties. In 2015 his lefty/righty splits were .137/.242 respectively.
With all that in mind, the Diamondbacks still have to decide which of the four relievers will start the season in the majors. Barrett has pitched to a 0.87 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 10.1 innings pitched. Burgos has a 1.23 ERA in 7.1 innings pitched with 10 strikeouts, and he started using a splitter that has looked unhittable. Marshall has a 3.60 ERA in 10 innings with eight strikeouts, and Bracho has pitched to a 1.93 ERA.
Bracho’s stuff has been impressive at times this spring, but I am concerned with his 1.93 WHIP. He has walked three batters in four innings, and it would benefit him to work on his command in the minors. Marshall has the most major-league experience among the four, and his stuff has looked great despite being struck in the head and suffering a skull fracture while pitching in Triple-A last August. Marshall pitched to a 6.08 ERA in 13 games last season at the big league level. Like Bracho, his command was a concern last season, but it has been better this spring.
Burgos’ new splitter to go along with his plus fastball is going to be hard to pass up, but his command especially in high leverage situations last year is concerning. He might be starting to figure it out, but command issues have been a trend for him.
Based on pure performance, Barrett has looked quite dominant, and if the D-backs only have one bullpen spot left, he has to be the guy. Based on what I have observed, Barrett seems to have worked out some mechanical issues, and he has gotten big outs in high pressure situations.
Barrett and Marshall based on innings seem to be the favorites, and the case could be made for the D-backs to carry one extra reliever and one less position player to start 2016. The D-backs have just one off day in the month of April on Monday the 10th, and the next day the team embarks on a long 10 game west coast road trip to Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco.
The D-backs’ bullpen was used more often (579.1 IP) last season than any other club, and while the D-backs expect to get more innings out of their starters this season, it would be a good idea to carry an extra pitcher to start the season as a precautionary move.
In this case, I would carry Marshall along with Barrett. The 25-year-old can pitch multiple innings if a starter struggles, and with Josh Collmenter not pitching well and dealing with health issues, this kind of move might become necessary.
We shall see what Chip Hale and the front office decides to do, but if the team decides to stick with the original plan and carry 12 pitchers, Barrett should win the competition.