PHOENIX – Since the Arizona Diamondbacks clinched a wild card berth in 2017, they have been on a hiatus from October baseball.
That 93-69 season marked the first year for manager Torey Lovullo and general manager Mike Hazen as leaders in the clubhouse and front office, and they have been working to snap the six-year drought. Only three players remain from that team, but the stability at the top of the organization has the team in position to make another run at the postseason. This time it’s as a division winner, in part through an offseason trade, a rising young superstar and patience by the front office.
“We knew pretty early in the spring that we had all the right pieces in place,” Evan Longoria said. “For us to be successful and compete long-term in this division, we knew we were going to need some young guys to step up and they have done that.
“Corbin (Carroll) is an easy example but guys like Tommy (Henry), Drey (Jameson) and Ryne (Nelson) have all been huge for us.”
Those are just four of the 10 rookies on the Diamondbacks’ current 40-man roster. Other rookies including Dominic Fletcher, Luis Frias and Jose Herrera have contributed this season to the Diamondbacks, but are currently playing in the minors.
Carroll was named a starter Thursday for the All-Star game in Seattle, an impressive feat for a rookie after slashing .292/.369/.563. This would be a triumphant return to his hometown, where he played high school ball at Lakeside, just 11 miles north of T-Mobile Park.
“It would truly be special to return to Seattle where my family and friends are,” Carroll said. “It would be cool to be an All-Star, but it is also cool to be a part of winning baseball.”
The team has featured an ideal balance of youth and veteran presence as players like Longoria, Ketel Marte, Christian Walker and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. have solidified themselves as the steadfast veteran bats in the middle of the order to protect the younger players.
“Watching this team grow from my five years in San Francisco, I saw the players coming through the system and the players currently on the roster, that this was a team who could win now,” Longoria said.
Longoria and Zach Davies were two of the free agent signings by the Diamondbacks to help solidify their DH spot and starting rotation. The biggest offseason acquisition came in a two-for-one player swap when they traded Dalton Varsho to the Toronto Blue Jays for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno.
When starting catcher Carson Kelly fractured his forearm in spring training, the team had to rely on rookies Moreno and Herrera to step up. Moreno’s 34 assists still lead all of baseball, even though he has split time with Kelly since his return from the injured list June 12.
Gurriel is currently ranked fourth in NL All-Star voting with a slash of .271/ .322/.477 and is the only right-handed hitter in a left-handed heavy Diamondbacks outfield.
“It was a good trade for both teams, even though it sucked losing Varsho,” Nick Ahmed said. “We understand baseball is a business and the two players we got in return have done a great job for us so far.”
Zac Gallen has been the ace of the pitching staff throughout the year and Merrill Kelly is having an All-Star caliber season. Unfortunately, it will be time for more rookies to step up as Kelly was placed on the 15-day IL Sunday, due to a blood clot in his calf.
Rookie right-hander Brandon Pfaadt was called up as a corresponding roster move to Kelly’s injury. Pfaadt struggled in his first stint with the team in May, where he posted an 8.37 ERA in 23-plus innings of work but has since improved while pitching for the Reno Aces.
“The first time I was here, everything was new and I was trying to get acclimated to the little things,” Pfaadt said. “I feel more comfortable now and we’re in a good spot.”
So once again, the Diamondbacks will be relying on young players to step up, a role Lovullo thinks they are ready to handle.
“Younger players that get to the big leagues have got to be prepared to impact baseball games,” Lovullo said. “They are coming here from the minor leagues and they are expected to be themselves and impact the game the same way they did in the minors. They are a very important piece to our puzzle.”
One of those three remaining players from the 2017 team was Christian Walker, who only had 15 at-bats as he was used sparingly off the bench as a pinch hitter.
“There is a certain standard and feeling when we show up, that we are not going to be satisfied with anything less than playing to the level we are capable of,” Walker said.
“Six years is a long time but when we showed up in spring with the veteran additions and the younger guys not so young and just the energy in the clubhouse … we knew this was our shot.”