This was originally going to have all the teams in one article, but I realized that I just wrote two pages on the Diamondbacks alone. I'll cover each one of the NL West teams individually, then see how it goes for the rest of the teams. If you want to know if my predictions are worth listening to, here's how I did in 2006. Judge accordingly.
I'm going to start these predictions with a cop out. There's very good cases to be made for the Padres, Diamondbacks and the Dodgers to win this division. The teams are matched up evenly enough that the NL West will be decided mainly through outside sources like freak injuries and managerial incompetence. With that said, this is how the division will probably go without any outside intervention.
2006 Record: 76-86
Projected Finish: 1st
Starting Lineup (With ZIPS Projections)
Notable Bench Players
Potential Impact Players In The Minors
Arizona has by far the most upside out of any team in the division. They have easily the best pitcher in the division in Brandon Webb, quite possibly the second best starter, Randy Johnson, and a lineup full of youth that's already the best in the division. Center fielder Chris Young comes in as one of the top three prospects in baseball after a year in AAA where he hit 21 home runs, had a 71/50 K/BB ratio and stole 17 bases. Shortstop Stephen Drew replaced Craig Counsell last August and hit .316/.357/.517 during his time in the majors. Right fielder Carlos Quentin struck out only 173 times in 1222 minor league at bats against 160 walks. He continued to show patience and power in 166 big league at bats where he hit .253/.342/.530. All three of these guys should be very good players from 2007-2012.
The rest of the lineup isn't too shabby either. Second baseman Orland Hudson came to the Diamondbacks as arguably the best defensive player in baseball, and after suddenly developing plate discipline; he had a career year at the plate in 2006. First baseman Conor Jackson had a solid rookie campaign that he should build on, and Chad Tracy had a decent year where he put up a .793 OPS, but he showed in 2005 that he be a far more productive player. He'll be entering his peak in 2007, so it he should improve on his 2006 campaign. The only problem in the lineup could be left fielder Eric Byrnes. Byrnes needs to need slug .500 to have semblance of value if he's going to put up another .313 on base percentage.
While the Diamondback's rookie class is getting all the attention, this team has a good mix of veterans to give the team a surprising amount of depth. Jeff DaVanon is the best fourth outfielder in the NL and could very well step in as a platoon partner for Eric Byrnes if Byrnes slips. Scott Hairston hit .303/.407.591 in the PCL last year, providing even more depth in the outfield. In the infield, Tony Clark is one year removed from a year where he slugged .636 in 350 at bats. He'll never come anywhere near that, but he should be good for an .800 OPS off the bench. Alberto Callaspo can cover the remainder of the infield, and while his offense may be a bit shaky for a third baseman, his bat is more than good enough to for a middle infielder.
While the back end of the Diamondbacks, Doug Davis, Livan Hernandez and Edgar Gonzalez, ranges from average to uninspiring, they have a lot of pitchers that can step in and fill the last slot in the rotation. A lot has been made of the 6th, 7th and 8th starters the Dodgers have, but between Dana Eveland, Juan Cruz, Micah Owings, and Dustin Nippert, the Diamonbacks can go toe to toe in replacing injured pitchers. Just because they don't have the "proven" Brett Tomko and Mark Hendrickson doesn't mean they don't have depth.
Of course, this team isn't perfect. They have two huge weaknesses in the bullpen and infield defense. A lot of this teams hopes rest on winning the middle relief lottery. Their best reliever is Jose Valverde, who was amazing in 2006 if you ignore the 10 ERA he put up in May and June. After that comes an uninspiring collection of middle relievers each one just as likely to luck into a good or bad season than the last.
The Diamondbacks infield defense outside of Orlando Hudson should be abysmal. Conor Jackson and Chad Tracy lost almost all of their value in 2006 thanks to their sub-Soriano rate2s and Stephen Drew hasn't really received any accolades for his defense. Even so, advanced defensive efficiency pegs the Diamonbacks as an average defensive team, and replacing the Luis Gonzalez/Eric Byrnes/Shawn Green outfield with Byrnes/Chris Young and Carlos Quentin can only help.
The flipside to all of the upside this team has is that they have the chance to crash and burn. If some combination of their young players not acclimating well to the majors, Randy Johnson and Doug Davis repeating their 2006 performances, or a bullpen meltdown occurs, this team could very well finish in last place. I don't think that much misfortune could fall upon this team, but it's certainly a possibility that the Dodgers and the Padres don't have.
Yes, this is a young team, but these are young players that should be ready to perform. G.M. Josh Byrnes cleared out the massive amount of chaff that this organization had buit up, creating a superior team for about half the payroll. This flexibility let him pick up a needed arm in Randy Johnson, and his faith in the farm system lets the Diamondbacks start the year with a very competitive team.