Diamondbacks Attempt to Shore Up Bullpen

Going into this off-season the Arizona Diamondbacks identified three areas they wanted to address before Spring Training 2010 arrived. They wanted to find one or possibly two candidates for the starting rotation, a veteran position player that could come off the bench and provide an offensive spark, and they wanted a veteran in the bullpen to anchor the young pitching staff.

The Diamondbacks hoped to fill at least one of these needs through a trade but conceded they would be active in the free agent market, something the team has not been in the past.

With the free agency period just beginning, the Diamondbacks made their first move of the season by completing a trade with the Chicago Cubs. The Diamondbacks received left-handed reliever Aaron Heilman in exchange for minor league infielder Ryan White and left-handed pitcher Scott Maine.

heilmanMaine was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the sixth round of 2007 amateur draft out of the University of Miami. After throwing just 10 innings in Yakima that season, Maine was promoted to Visalia in 2008 where he appeared in 32 games compiling a 3.19 ERA in what has been historically a hitter’s paradise in the California League.

For the 2009 season Maine earned a promotion to Double-A Mobile. He appeared in 36 games for the BayBears and again showed great control and pitch efficiency. His 2.66 ERA and 46 strikeouts to only 16 walks impressed the Diamondbacks who moved him to Triple-A Reno.

Maine pitched in 12 games for the Aces striking out 15 and walking only seven in 12 games. With the recent promotion of Clay Zavada and Daniel Schlereth to the big leagues Maine became the Diamondbacks top left-handed pitching prospect.

Ryne White was the first position player drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2008 draft. He is a stocky first baseman out of Purdue University. White began his professional career in Missoula for the Osprey in 2008 hitting .275 with 13 doubles, one triple, and seven home runs.

For 2009 White was moved to South Bend where he hit .358 to begin the season. The Diamondbacks promoted him to Visalia in the California League where he hit .266 with 18 doubles, one triple, and six home runs.

White has been compared to Mark Grace with a tendency to hit for higher average and use the gaps of the ballpark for extra base hits. He has shown a tendency to strike out, something the team was hoping he would overcome with more professional at-bats.

Of the two players the Diamondbacks gave up, Maine has the higher upside and is closer to the big leagues. White is capable of reaching the big leagues but is still a few seasons away from being ready.

Heilman spent last season setting up Chicago Cubs closers and will likely be asked to fill a similar role for Arizona. The 30-year-old lefty spent the first six years of his career pitching for the New York Mets before being dealt to the Cubs before the 2009 season.

In an odd sense Heilman is very similar to Maine but with experience at the major league level. He is a very efficient pitcher with a strikeout to walk ratio of 2.10 over his career. His career ERA is 4.22. His ERA for the Cubs last season was just slightly better at 4.11.

Heilman has the experience that the Arizona Diamondbacks needed in a bullpen that is made up mostly of young pitchers with very little experience. Is he the kind of pitcher that can come in late and close down a game? Hardly but he will bridge the gap from the starter to the closer which is something the Diamondbacks have lacked since the departure of Brandon Lyon.

The addition of Heilman means the Arizona Diamondbacks could conceivably break camp next spring with three left-handers in their bullpen with Zavada and Schlereth also candidates to make the squad.

It will be interesting to see whether Aaron Heilman is the only bullpen arm the Diamondbacks bring in or if he is just the first of many whom the Diamondbacks will use to solidify what was a shaky bullpen for much of last season.

Personally I am hoping this isn’t Josh Byrnes only move for the bullpen. Heilman’s inconsistency and struggles at times is going to lead to a lot of sleepless nights for manager AJ Hinch and the Arizona Diamondbacks fans.


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