Connected, dangerous and complete: Arizona Diamondbacks aim to cement place among MLB’s elite teams

Manager Torey Lovullo’s Arizona Diamondbacks are poised to prove that their unity, talent and hunger make them a force to be reckoned with in 2024. (Photo by Joe Eigo/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE — A connected team is a dangerous team.

That’s a phrase Arizona Diamondbacks fans became quite accustomed to throughout their team’s 2023 World Series run. While the catchphrase gained popularity and recognition on social media in manager Torey Lovullo’s postgame speech following the wild-card victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, the squad adapted the mantra throughout the entire 2023 campaign – and for good reason.

Entering last year, few had the Diamondbacks — who had spent the previous three seasons in a rebuild — on their radar as contenders. ESPN projected them to win 76 1/2 games, good for fourth in the National League West Division. Instead, Arizona posted an 84-78 record and marched all the way to the World Series for the first time since the franchise won its only title in 2001.

But with 2024 spring training officially kicking off this week, last year’s Cinderella run is officially in the rear-view mirror and the underdog mentality is no more. It’s the beginning of a new season, albeit with a new sense of optimism and hunger. And the Diamondbacks know their capabilities.

“Being in front of (the team) for the first time, seeing these guys in one place, with an eagerness,” Lovullo said of his favorite part about spring training. “Nothing better than getting out there with a full squad and talking shop.”

Similar to last season, the Diamondbacks possess a plethora of young talent, like outfielder and 2023 NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll, who will likely make up a good portion of their roster. Sure, there are a healthy number of veterans in the clubhouse, such as outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and first baseman Christian Walker. Still, up-and-coming players like outfielder Alek Thomas and right-handed pitcher Brandon Pfaadt will need to continue their development if Arizona intends to compete for another NL pennant.

Thomas and Pfaadt proved to be key players during the World Series push, but each faced adversity at some point in the season. Pfaadt made his MLB debut in early May, but initially struggled and was sent down to Triple-A Reno less than a month after his first game. However, he made his return to the majors in late July and showed great potential in the postseason, posting a 3.27 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 26 strikeouts in 22 innings across five starts.

Thomas’ experience last season shared many parallels with his young teammate. He, too, went through some rough patches and spent 26 games in Triple-A. In the playoffs, though, Thomas came into his own and delivered key moments, like his game-tying three-run homer in Game 5 of the NLCS against the Phillies.

A year ago, Thomas and Pfaadt were fighting for spots on the roster. Now, being a part of the big league team on opening day and building on past success is the expectation, but certainly not a guarantee.

“Everybody has what I consider a series of graduations as they are becoming a big leaguer,” Lovullo said. “And you know, Derek Jeter was still graduating to the PhD level when he retired. So this is a big step for some young players. They’ve come in, had some bumps in the road, really established themselves. Had some good moments late, especially in the postseason.

“You know, how do they take that? Is it something they’re going to continue to learn from and keep pushing forward, are they going to take it for granted and take steps backwards … It’s something that I pay a lot of attention to because I don’t like complacency. I like players to be comfortable.”

To maximize the potential of their young core, the Diamondbacks added multiple pieces during the offseason, most of which are proven major league talent. Third baseman Eugenio Suárez, starting pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez and outfielder/designated hitter Joc Pederson headline the group of newcomers, but Arizona also acquired other depth pieces like outfielder Randal Grichuk and pitcher Cristian Mena.

Even before they’ve played a single Cactus League game in Sedona red and teal, Suárez and Pederson have made strong impressions on Lovullo, while Rodríguez is expected to be a key member of the starting rotation. General Manager Mike Hazen entered the winter with some holes to fill, and when looking at the team this spring, it’s safe to say he’s done just that.

With an upgraded roster, Lovullo has a third adjective to describe his team. Connected, dangerous and now complete.

“You guys are smart and you guys are working the roster backwards like we are,” Lovullo said. “I think at times, we’ve had maybe five or six spots that were open, maybe more. But we know (who) we have returning of our starting pitchers, we know where that opening is. We know what the bullpen looks like. We know what the position players look like. So not only do we have competition for those spots, but we have depth beyond that.

“So there’s going to be a winner and there’s going to be some losers. Those losers are going to be depth. And that gets very healthy for us as well because we know we’re going to probably need approximately 35 to 40 players that are going to help us go where we need to get this year.”

Sean Brennan(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Sean Brennan expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Brennan is a football, hockey and baseball writer for Walter Cronkite Sports Network and has interned with the California Collegiate League.

Joe Eigo joe EYE-go (he/him)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Joe Eigo expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Eigo is in his third semester at Cronkite News. He has previously worked with Inferno Intel, WCSN, The State Press and The Racing Experts.