Diamondbacks 2024 season preview: Projected lineup, rotation and three questions for reigning NL champs

Diamondbacks 2024 season preview: Projected lineup, rotation and three questions for reigning NL champs

The 2023 season was a rollercoaster for the Arizona Diamondbacks. They started 41-25 and had the best record in the National League as late as June 13, then they followed it with a 43-53 record the rest of the season. That was still enough to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2017. The D-backs swept the Brewers in Milwaukee in the Wild Card Series, swept the 100-win Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, then came back from a 3-2 deficit to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS and clinch the franchise's second pennant. Alas and alack, Arizona fell to the Texas Rangers in five games in the World Series.

"The common thought that I keep having is that I'm so proud of the players for what they've done, and the trust that they put in one another and the coaches and the training that they were getting," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said at the Winter Meetings in December. "We're a really good baseball team. We're a really good baseball organization. Because I watch young players step into a really big stage and be unfazed by it. That probably goes back to training and process over outcome. That's really what we're about. What I've talked to these guys about all the time is you can't lose a game if you give your best effort and if you focus at the right times. I think we lived in that space, and I'm really proud of that. I go back to that often. "

Losing the World Series is a bummer no matter how storybook the path you take to the Fall Classic. The D-backs were three wins away from a championship and fell short, and that stings. Still, this is a very good team and one that is on the rise given their wealth of young talent. As close as they got to the ultimate prize a year ago, there are reasons to believe even better things are ahead for Arizona. Let's now preview the upcoming D-backs season.

Win total projection, odds

  • 2023 record: 84-78 (second in NL West, lost World Series)
  • 2024 SportsLine win total over/under: 83.5

Projected lineup

Carroll, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, enters the season as an MVP candidate. Moreno and Thomas really came into their own in the second half last season and into the postseason, and Suárez is an upgrade over last year's Evan Longoria/Emmanuel Rivera third base tandem even if he does strike out excessively. The Pederson/Randal Grichuk DH platoon has a chance to be sneaky excellent too. Over the last two seasons, Pederson has an .841 OPS against righties and Grichuk has a .955 OPS against lefties. Top prospectJordan Lawlar should arrive for good at some point this year after getting his feet wet last year.

Projected rotation

That No. 5 spot is very much up for grabs. Lefty Tommy Henry is Nelson's primary competition, though there are others in the mix like Slade Cecconi, Bryce Jarvis, and maybe even Corbin Martin. This is a spring training competition that won't end in spring training. Whoever gets the No. 5 spot to begin the season will have to pitch well to keep it, because the D-backs have other options they can cycle through. Otherwise Arizona has a bona fide ace in Gallen, two above-average No. 2 types in Kelly and Rodriguez, and a high-upside arm in Pfaadt. Rodriguez should be the reliable third starter the D-backs lacked in October.

Projected bullpen

The D-backs remade their bullpen on the fly last summer -- Sewald was acquired at the trade deadline, Thompson was plucked off the scrap heap in August, and Ginkel was in Triple-A as late as June 26 -- and that unit was tremendous in the postseason. At this time last year, Castro and McGough were Lovullo's top late-inning options from the right side. Depth options ticketed for Triple-A include lefty Kyle Nelson and righty Peter Strzelecki.

Can Pfaadt continue to build on last postseason?

A year ago at this time, Pfaadt was one of the most touted pitching prospects in the minors, someone billed as MLB-ready or darn close to it. He made his MLB debut on May 3, got knocked around pretty good initially, returned to Triple-A for a spell, then came back as a new pitcher. Pfaadt was at his best in the postseason. Here are the numbers:

Still more home runs than you'd like, though homers may always be part of the Brandon Pfaadt experience because he elevates his fastball and has a very low ground ball rate. Limit it to solo homers and he'll be OK. Point is, Pfaadt got better as 2023 progressed, and adjusting his position on the rubber (he's closer to the first base side now) during his Triple-A stint unlocked his potential.

"There were some adjustments made both times I went down. And coming back up, the results got better and better every time," Pfaadt said last postseason. "One big adjustment was moving to the first base side of the rubber, just kind of helping those pitches tunnel better ... (Pitching coach Brent Strom) had a whole diagram of every single pitch on every side of the plate."

Pfaadt also added a sinker in the second half, which plays well off his big-breaking sweeper, and it was his third-most used pitch by the postseason. The pitcher we saw last October was not the guy who got lit up to a 9.82 ERA earlier in the season. Pfaadt has a new pitch and tunnels more effectively because he changed his position on the pitching rubber. He's a new man.

Still only 25, Pfaadt now has a reshaped arsenal and World Series experience, and is poised to have a true breakout season in 2024. The D-backs asked a lot of him last postseason, they really did, and he responded well. Don't be surprised if, in six months, Pfaadt is Arizona's No. 2 starter behind Gallen. He has a chance to be that good.

How long until Lawlar arrives?

The D-backs are in the middle of a changing of the guard at shortstop. Perdomo emerged as the starter last season and stalwart Nick Ahmed was released in September, at which point Arizona called up Lawlar, their top prospect and one of the very best in the minors. Lawlar was on the postseason roster too, albeit in a limited role. He pinch-ran once and got two at-bats in blowouts.

Lawlar is only 21 and he played only 16 Triple-A before being called up, but they were 16 very productive games: .358/.438/.612 with five home runs and nearly as many walks (nine) as strikeouts (12). Our R.J. Anderson ranked Lawlar the No. 19 prospect in baseball entering spring training. Here's his write-up:

In some respects, Lawlar had a great season. He homered 20 times in just over 100 minor-league games en route to the majors, and he sliced into what had been a concerning strikeout rate. In other respects, his season left something to desire. Despite Lawlar's home-run total, his exit velocity marks in Triple-A were worse than you would have anticipated. He also had a forgettable big-league cameo, in which he went 4 for 31 with 11 strikeouts. Lawlar is a surefire defensive shortstop who showed an appreciable feel for the strike zone. He's going to play in the majors, likely for a long time. Those comparisons to Bobby Witt Jr. just might prove overzealous, is all.

Perdomo had a fine 2023 -- hard to complain about a .353 on-base percentage and solid defense -- though bottom of the barrel contact quality (exit velocity, etc.) suggests he'll never be more than a No. 8-9 type hitter, or a utility guy. With Lawlar coming, it could be Perdomo is ticketed for third base long-term (Suárez can be a free agent after 2024), or a super utility role.

Lawlar is still so young and he could use more Triple-A seasoning, and it is fair to wonder how much immediate impact he'll provide when he is called up for good. Not every top prospect can be an instant star like Carroll. Still, Lawlar is coming, and the D-backs are expected to be in the postseason race. How long will they wait to summon him, especially if Perdomo stumbles at some point?

What would make for a successful season?

Well, the D-backs just lost the World Series, so the easy answer is go win the World Series this time. Winning the World Series is really, really hard though, and it's possible to have a successful season that doesn't end in a championship. Of course, the bar has been raised here. A simple postseason trip and Wild Card Series or NLDS defeat won't feel especially satisfying in 2024.

Arizona has gone to the postseason in back-to-back seasons once in their history (2001-02) and that, obviously, is a box they want to check this year. Beating out the Dodgers to win the NL West would be quite the accomplishment, albeit an unlikely one. On the field, I think a return trip to the postseason with home field advantage and a series win or two would qualify as a success.

In the big picture, a successful season involves Pfaadt breaking out as a frontline starter, Lawlar cementing himself as the shortstop of the future, and Moreno and Thomas building on their second halves. There's an awful lot of high-end young talent in Arizona and that talent is ready to win. Development never stops though. Lawlar, Moreno, Pfaadt, and Thomas are crucial players entering 2024.