Young Breakouts in the Diamondbacks’ Playoff Push

The Arizona Diamondbacks entered July as one of the surprising upstarts of the season, leading a competitive division by two games. They sat with a 50-34 record and looked to be on track as a true competitor. Things went sideways as they went 8-16 in July, with three separate losing streaks of at least four games. Oh, and they started August with a nine-game losing streak, as well.

The flaws on this team were exposed for an extended period of time, seeing them as many as fifteen games behind in the division and leaving them to claw for a Wild Card spot. Here are some young players who could step up to push the Diamondbacks into the playoffs and establish themselves as part of the team’s core.

Young Breakouts in the Diamondbacks’ Playoff Push

Ryne Nelson

The Diamondbacks’ pitching staff is hard to analyze if we’re predicting their postseason chances. At the top, Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly are excellent. Gallen just pitched a complete game shutout against their direct Wild Card competitors, the Chicago Cubs, and Kelly followed up with a 5 2/3 inning, one-run outing in the Diamondbacks’ extra-inning win on Saturday.

After that, things get sketchy. Ryne Nelson (5.30 ERA) has the third-most innings pitched on the team with Brandon Pfaadt (6.27) and Zach Davies (6.81) struggling to find any success. Just to get to the playoffs, much less in a deep playoff series, having at least a third consistent starter could change the Diamondbacks’ fortunes in their fight to secure October baseball.

Nelson struggled enough to be demoted in August, as he only went three innings and allowed six runs in each of his two starts last month. He was in Triple-A to work on his offspeed pitches, specifically his slider, according to Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic. Nelson’s first start upon his return was impressive, even if it was not quite the performance the Diamondbacks would hope to see moving forward.

Nelson’s fastball was impressive, but there was very little usage for his other pitches, as he threw the fastball 68% of the time. He still got decent results as he went 5 2/3 innings with a single run allowed. He also walked two batters while striking out three. It was far from an excellent start, but a tough one-run outing is better than what he had been supplying.

By Stuff+ on FanGraphs, Nelson has a good raw arsenal. How much more development will he be able to squeeze out this season? His pitch selection will be key to follow the rest of the way. If the Diamondbacks believe he needs to be less reliant on his fastball and find more success with his slider, that could be the final adjustment for Nelson to flip the switch. The young pitchers on this squad have showcased their potential in moments, but the overall body of work has not been consistent enough to believe they can transform this team into a juggernaut for the rest of the season.

Jordan Lawlar

In just a few games, Lawlar has already impressed with his defensive prowess. He only has one hit in his first three games, but his spectacular defense has made a significant impact in the series against the Cubs. Despite only being in the majors for a few days, the Diamondbacks had the confidence to have him bat second in the order against lefty Cy Young contender Justin Steele.

Lawlar might not even need to be good on offense to thrive in his role the rest of the way for the Diamondbacks. The baseline performance for this team still had them firmly in playoff contention without Lawlar, so any offense he provides this season will be a fantastic upside. Geraldo Perdomo has an 82 wRC+ since July 1 and Nick Ahmed had a 51 wRC+ before being designated for assignment. Lawlar does not need to have a Corbin Carroll-esque performance in the final few weeks of the season for him to be an improvement for Arizona.

Lawlar is the fifth-ranked prospect in all of baseball, according to FanGraphs. Minor league stats only go so far, but they can offer an insight into what to expect from him. He had a .263/.366/.474 slash line in Double-A this season in 410 plate appearances. In Triple-A Reno, his performance was even better, with a .358/.438/.612 line in 80 plate appearances. The Pacific Coast League has a reputation for wild numbers like this, so take that with a grain of salt, but his style of play is encouraging. In Triple-A, he only struck out 15% of the time with an 11.3% walk rate.

Gabriel Moreno

In Moreno’s first season with the Diamondbacks, the 23-year-old is proving he could be a mainstay in the lineup for years to come. Not only has he been hot at the plate, but he has been one of the best catchers in baseball at throwing out runners in a league and attempting a lot more stolen bases. He usually slots into the bottom third of the lineup, providing an exactly league average 100 wRC+ on the year.

The most encouraging run of Moreno’s season has been his recent surge in production. Since July 1, he has a 162 wRC+ in 102 plate appearances. He’s barreling the ball more and hitting it in the air more often. His groundball rate is flattening out, allowing him to drive more threatening balls into the outfield. He only had two home runs through his first 66 games, but now has five home runs through his last 25 games.

Moreno’s improvement at the plate strengthens the Diamondback’s lineup that already has a great group of hitters at the top. He makes contact consistently and has a solid plate approach, striking out only 18.6% of the time since July 1 while simultaneously increasing his walk rate. His impact, both defensively and offensively, is valuable for a team like Arizona on the fringes of the playoff race.

Main Image: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

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