Not this year.
While the COVID-19 pandemic rages, the effects through American lives and the general American community have transformed behavior and attitudes. Major league baseball is no different and players, fans, and management all wait for telling signals. To date, the COVID environment seems far more dramatic than ever and during the last week in January, officials from the nine municipalities which house Arizona-based spring training sites petitioned baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to delay the start of spring training.
From the perspective of the Arizona Diamondbacks, timing here does not seem to be an issue. So far in the off-season, little movement was made to bring improvement to the club. While notable free agents continue to sign, the Diamondbacks seemingly have done little to improve their lot. If comments during the close of the winter meetings in early December are an indication, the team’s decision-makers appear content.
“Moving forward, we have a great group of younger players, and they received quality time (in 2020),” manager Torey Lovullo said during the offseason. “We believe several players are ready to take the next step and we’re excited about that.”
Early 2021 rumblings point to Daulton Varsho as a potential “break out” player. A catcher by trade, the 24-year-old is penciled in as a catcher/outfielder and despite a .188 (19-for-101) batting average in the 2020 COVID-ravaged season, Varsho is expected to figure in Lovullo’s 2021 plans.
Another top prospect would be outfielder Alek Thomas, out of Mt. Carmel, Ill. Drafted 63rd overall in the 2018 draft, Thomas maybe a year or two from Chase Field, but if the season begins on time, Thomas could be a mid-season call-up. Others on Lovullo’s radar screen include infielders Wyatt Mathisen and Josh Rojas, outfielders Stuart Fairchild and Josh Van Meter , and pitchers J. B. Bukauskas and Corbin Martin.
Perhaps the one compartment that remains precarious is pitching. At this point, Lovullo has neither a closer nor set-up reliever and the rotation, as well, remains uncertain. During the current off-season, Mike Hazen, the club’s general manager, expressed confidence in the existing rotation. That, in spite of the rocky seasons in 2020 from left Madison Bumgarner and right-hander Luke Weaver. Plus, Merrill Kelly, who turned in a creditable 3-2 record (five starts) and 2.59 ERA before shut down with for thoracic outlet syndrome, which is a compression of nerves in the area between the lower neck and the base of the armpit, is expected to take his turn in the 2021 rotation.
That leaves the back end of the bullpen shaky and uncertain. On the current 40-man roster, only Travis Bergman is listed as a left-hander among relievers. At this point, roles in the bullpen appear to be designated by “committee.” Given the uncertainty of the rotation and the personnel still be defined in the bullpen, the outlook for consistently shutting down opponents does not appear very optimistic.
Perhaps the larger question does not concern roster construction, player development, prospects, or other dimensions of club operation. Salt River is empty as all other spring training venues. When the batter’s boxes are lined, the grass cut and the infield manicured is now left to directives from Manfred and that remains as uncertain as who will receive the next COVID vaccine.