The 2011 D-backs were coming off back-to-back last-place finishes, had a new general manager and lots of new faces. Manager Kirk Gibson worked during the spring to change the culture of the clubhouse.
This year's team looks remarkably similar to last year's version -- with the notable exceptions of right-hander Trevor Cahill and left fielder Jason Kubel -- and Gibson will be tasked with keeping the D-backs from getting complacent.
"It's certainly something I put a lot of thought into," Gibson said. "You guys know me, I constantly shake myself to remain humble. Success is hard to deal with. We've talked about it. I'm not worried about it, but yet I'm alert about it. And it's something that we'll work on. It's something we'll remain alert about. It could damage our chances if we can't remain humble."
Most of the team's roster decisions appear set, but injuries and ineffectiveness have a way of changing that quickly. Last year, Ryan Roberts was not expected to make the team, but an injury to Geoff Blum combined with a red-hot spring from Roberts earned him the Opening Day start at third.
"We'll go to Spring training and we'll play everybody in as many places as we can, as you know I like to do," Gibson said. "And then we'll try to establish who our 25 guys are, who is healthy and who isn't, and we'll make some decisions and some of them may be tough."
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
D-backs (ss) at Giants, March 3, 1:05 p.m. MST; D-backs (ss) at Rockies, March 3, 1:10 p.m. MST
Giants at D-backs, April 5, 4:10 p.m. MST
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Will shortstop Stephen Drew be ready to start the season?
Drew suffered a gruesome right ankle fracture while sliding into home on July 20 and it is not known whether he will be ready to play when camp opens. The team plans on taking it very cautiously with him, putting his status for Opening Day in doubt.
The D-backs were able to overcome his injury last year thanks to the performance of Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald, but there is no question that Drew's bat is an important part of the lineup and the team would be hurt if Drew misses significant time again.2. Will the defending champs remain hungry?
Coming off back-to-back last-place finishes, the D-backs were picked by most to finish at or near the bottom of the NL West in 2011.
This year, though, following their 94-win campaign, they appear to be the favorites. Gibson will do his best to keep his team motivated and playing with a chip on its shoulder. An indication of his success in doing that could come during the spring as he tries to foster competition on a roster that appears all but set heading into camp.3. How will outfield playing time be divided?
The D-backs surprised many with their signing of free-agent left fielder Kubel, probably no one more so than incumbent left fielder Gerardo Parra, who posted good offensive numbers to go along with Gold Glove defense.
Gibson has said that he will find a way to get Parra his at-bats, but that could prove to be tricky with right fielder Justin Upton unlikely to see less playing time and center fielder Chris Young loathe to come out of the lineup.
It will be interesting to see how Gibson massages the situation to keep everyone, if not happy, then at least productive.2011 record
94-68, 1st place in the NL West Projected batting order
1. SS Willie Bloomquist:
.266 BA, .317 OBP, .340 SLG, 4 HR, 26 RBI in 2011
2. 2B Aaron Hill:
.315 BA, .386 OBP, .492 SLG, 2 HR, 16 RBI in 2011
3. RF Justin Upton:
.289 BA, .369 OBP, .529 SLG, 31 HR, 88 RBI in 2011
4. C Miguel Montero:
.282 BA, .351 OBP, .469 SLG, 18 HR, 86 RBI in 2011
5. 1B Paul Goldschmidt:
.250 BA, .333 OBP, .474 SLG, 8 HR, 26 RBI in 2011
6. LF Jason Kubel:
.273 BA, .332 OBP, .434 SLG, 12 HR, 58 RBI in 2011
7. CF Chris Young:
.236 BA, .331 OBP, .420 SLG, 20 HR, 71 RBI in 2011
8. 3B Ryan Roberts:
.249 BA, .341 OBP, .427 SLG, 19 HR, 65 RBI in 2011
1. Ian Kennedy, 21-4, 2.88 ERA in 2011
2. Daniel Hudson, 16-12, 3.49 ERA in 2011
3. Trevor Cahill, 12-14, 4.16 ERA in 2011
4. Joe Saunders, 12-13, 3.69 ERA in 2011
5. Josh Collmenter, 10-10, 3.38 ERA in 2011
Closer: J.J. Putz, 45/49 saves, 2.17 ERA in 2011
RH setup man: David Hernandez, 3.38 ERA in 2011
LH setup man: Craig Breslow, 3.79 ERA in 2011 The new guys
OF Jason Kubel: Signed as a free agent, Kubel projects to get the bulk of the playing time in left field. Kubel's signing was a bit of a surprise given the strong 2010 campaign put together by Parra. RHP Trevor Cahill: The D-backs traded prized pitching prospect Jarrod Parker to the A's along with two other Minor Leaguers for Cahill and Craig Breslow. Cahill provides the team with a proven starter and his reasonable contract means he should be around for a while. LHP Craig Breslow: The acquisition of Breslow gives the D-backs a pair of lefties in the bullpen, though the club views him as more than just a lefty specialist. RHP Takashi Saito: The D-backs' bullpen was one of the team's strengths in 2011, and they think they improved it with the signing of Saito. The veteran has had plenty of success in his career when healthy. Prospects to watch
LHP Tyler Skaggs: Acquired in the July 2010 deal that sent Dan Haren to the Angels, Skaggs is on the cusp of the big leagues. Last year he went a combined 9-6 with a 2.96 ERA at Class A Visalia and Double-A Mobile. With the rotation seemingly set, it looks like he will start the year in the Minors again, but he is likely to see Major League time at some point. RHP Trevor Bauer: Selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Bauer signed quickly and received consideration for a September callup. Like Skaggs, he figures to start the year in the Minors, but if he pitches well, look for the D-backs to call him up at some point. On the rebound
UT Geoff Blum: Expected to see a lot of playing time at third and first base in 2011, Blum injured his right knee in Spring Training and missed the first 92 games. Blum was active for 10 days before fracturing his right pinkie, which required another stint on the DL. SS Stephen Drew: Prior to his injury, Drew was having a very un-Drewlike season. His OPS+ of 93 was down substantially from 2010, and he got on base at just a .317 clip -- far below the .352 mark he had in 2010. Long gone
UT Sean Burroughs: A feel-good story, Burroughs returned to the big leagues for the first time since 2006 and contributed some big hits off the bench. There was no room for him, though, after the club re-signed Bloomquist and McDonald. OF/1B Xavier Nady: When he was signed as a free agent it was with the idea that he would be the club's starting left fielder. A sluggish spring caused him to lose that job to Gerardo Parra, and a fractured left hand ended his season in mid-August.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.