The Arizona Diamondbacks aren’t anywhere close to a playoff spot, but the improvement of Torey Lovullo’s group in 2022 has been noticeable.
Expectations were awfully low for an Arizona squad that finished a disappointing 52-110 a season ago. That 2021 club was one loss short of tying the 2004 D-Backs’ group for the worst record in franchise history.
But through 123 games, the Diamondbacks garnered a record of 56-67. Barring a miserable month of September, Arizona will surpass the 70-win mark. Simply put, it’s been a year of progress for the rebuilding D-Backs.
The turnaround is largely thanks to utility man Josh Rojas. The Litchfield Park native has been among the feel-good stories for Arizona in 2022, having batted .285 with seven homers and 39 RBI to go along with an OPS of .772 through his first 92 games of the season.
Along with his bat, Rojas’ defence propelled him to a superb 2.8 WAR (wins above replacement). Before 2022, Rojas’ career WAR totals (in order from 2019 to 2021) were -0.1, -0.3, and 0.8.
Rojas is a pivotal part of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ future
The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Rojas in a package deal from the Houston Astros ahead of the 2019 trade deadline that sent Zack Greinke to the eventual American League champions.
Though Greinke was the linchpin of the Arizona rotation, the D-Backs wisely decided to get some valuable pieces for their ace as opposed to possibly losing him for nothing. And to this point, Rojas has been the crown jewel of the return for the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Greinke trade.
Rojas was selected by the Astros in the 2017 MLB draft, but he never wound up playing a professional game for them. Two years after getting drafted, Rojas would finally turn pro with the D-Backs.
After batting a mere .217 in 2019 and only .180 in 17 games throughout the shortened 2020 season, Rojas enjoyed a career year in 2021 by hitting .264 with 11 homers, 44 RBI, nine stolen bases and a .752 OPS.
The Diamondbacks have Rojas under team control for four more years after this, so the 28-year-old should be a key part of the team’s long-term future.
Rojas has been Arizona’s most consistent hitter this season. Through 123 teams, Rojas and offseason trade candidate Ketel Marte (.254) were the only D-Backs hitters batting above the .250 mark. Those are no small feats from Rojas and Marte, as the current league batting average is on pace to be among the lowest in Major League history.
Though Christian Walker has the highest OPS on the team, his batting average is nowhere close to Rojas’. And if he retains his current pace, Rojas’ strikeout rate will fall below 20 per cent for the first time in his young MLB career.
Because Arizona hasn’t been a playoff contender all year, it’s easy to overlook what players like Rojas are contributing. But Rojas has emerged as a game-changer in The Desert, and Rojas still has room to get even better in 2023 and beyond.
Arizona Diamondbacks need to start building around Rojas
Arizona general manager Mike Hazen has a lengthy offseason to-do list. His first task is deciding the future of Lovullo, whose contract carries a club option for 2023.
It would also be a surprise if Hazen didn’t trade out starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who has two years remaining on the five-year, $85 million contract he signed with the club back in the 2019 offseason.
A three-time World Series champion with the San Francisco Giants, the four-time All-Star simply hasn’t come close to living up to the contract. But there should be several teams interested in the idea of acquiring one of the all-time great postseason pitchers.
But Hazen will also need to bring in more bats to complement Rojas and the rest of Arizona’s lineup. There simply isn’t enough home run power here, and the D-Backs need more players like Rojas who can get on base consistently.
The Diamondbacks have a promising future with the No. 5 ranked farm system at MLB.com. The pipeline is headlined by outfielders Druw Jones (the No. 2 selection of this year’s draft) and Corbin Carroll.
With the Universal DH rule now in effect, there’s a giant group of veteran hitters that Hazen could target to support Rojas and company. J.D. Martinez, Jose Abreu, Josh Belt and Brandon Belt are among the intriguing options that make sense for the Diamondbacks.
Arizona is nowhere close to catching the annual powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West crown. The San Diego Padres are in a playoff position but have tremendously underachieved over the last two years.
But having Juan Soto for a full season as well as Fernando Tatis in 2023 should make the Padres a legitimate challenger to the Dodgers for the division. At this time, it’s safe to say the Diamondbacks will stay behind San Diego in the standings for a while.
That said, the expanded MLB playoff format leaves Arizona some hope for optimism about becoming a postseason team in the not-so-distant future. Hazen has some exciting young players in place, but the rotation and lineup need plenty of work if they’re to contend again while Rojas is still in his prime.
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