After Selling At The Trade Deadline, D-Backs Cast Eyes Toward The Future
LOS ANGELES—The D-backs entered this abbreviated season with such high hopes.
They remained in playoff contention into September in each of the last three seasons. They added Madison Bumgarner, Starling Marte and Kole Calhoun to an 85-win team during a productive offseason. With the postseason field expanded to 16 teams, they appeared to be a shoo-in for the playoffs.
Instead, a miserable 3-8 start and a 1-10 slide heading into the trade deadline made them sellers. Gone are Marte, Robbie Ray, Archie Bradley and Andrew Chafin, all traded on deadline day as the D-backs pivot toward the future.
Now, they turn the page.
The D-backs began their next chapter with a 6-3 loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday night. Daulton Varsho, the club’s No. 1 prospect, made his first career start in center field. Andy Young, a rookie acquired in the Paul Goldschmidt trade, got the start at designated hitter. Rookie Joel Payamps followed starter Alex Young as the first man out of the D-backs’ bullpen. Fellow rookie Keury Mella followed Payamps to finish the game.
In all, seven of the 13 players who appeared for the D-backs were prospects entering either last year or this year.
“I made it clear to several through conversations that we’re going to give some young guys some opportunities,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “I’m super excited about it. They deserve the opportunity. They’ve worked hard to put themselves in this position and it’s time for them to go out and be the best version of themselves.”
The young players provided glimpses of hope even in a rather non-competitive loss. Alex Young, a second-year lefty, allowed two earned runs in five innings against baseball’s second highest-scoring offense, stranding eight Dodgers’ baserunners and showing an ability to work out of trouble. Varsho made a leaping catch at the wall in center field to turn what could have been a bases-clearing double into a sacrifice fly. Carson Kelly, another young product of the Goldschmidt trade, got the D-backs on the board with a solo home run.
It wasn’t nearly enough against the MLB-best Dodgers, but it was something.
“It was a weird feeling just because some those guys (traded) have been here for 5-6 years, including a couple of guys I got really close with over the last year,” Alex Young said. “But the mentality has not changed. We still know we can win.”
Varsho, in particular, will be key as the D-backs move forward. Arizona has an improving farm system that ranks 10th in MLB, but Varsho is the only one of their top six prospects who has played above the Class A levels.
The 24-year-old is a catcher by trade and also started three games in left field before making his first career start in center Tuesday, replacing Marte. Lovullo said the plan is for Varsho to catch a few days a week while continuing to see time in center.
“I thought he did a nice job out there,” Lovullo said. “He’s extremely fast. He’s quick, he gets great jumps, he made a couple of nice running catches. He’s just a good baseball player.
“I thought overall, considering it was his first time that he’d been in a big league stadium on a big league stage to start in center field, I thought he did a nice job.”
The D-backs dropped to 14-22, the third-worst record in the NL, with the loss and are on track for a top-10 draft pick. It’s not where they or anyone expected them to be, but it’s the reality of their current situation.
As the D-backs play out the string, how the team as whole, but especially the young players, respond to the opportunities created at the trade deadline is what everyone, including their manager, will be watching.
“I don’t like pity parties,” Lovullo said. “I don’t accept them. I never have and I never will. As long as they keep fighting and fighting together, that’s what I’m concerned about.”