PHOENIX — With six weeks remaining in a season few imagined, the Diamondbacks are on pace to shatter one franchise record. They have tied a team record by using 17 rookies, and when new right-hander Bradin Hagens or another of their farmhands gets a look, they will move past the 2004 team.
The similarities should stop there.
The 111-loss 2004 season was a 100-year flood of distress, when the D-backs worked through two managers and a patchwork roster of veterans and not-quite-ready for primetime candidates.
As one tweep joked, "2004" and "Diamondbacks" should never be used in the same sentence.
This time, it appears safe.
The 2014 rookie group looks like the real deal.
While it is certainly not the way the D-backs wanted to give their newbies experience, the difficult season has been beneficial for chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and general manager Kevin Towers as they plan for 2015.
Rookies Chris Owings, David Peralta, Chase Anderson, Ender Inciarte and Evan Marshall have swum, not sunk, when thrown into the deep end this season.
It is one thing to be projectable.
It is another to produce.
And it is not just the rookies. Second-year man A.J. Pollock took a nice step forward this season and was off to a strong start until suffering a fractured hand May 31 that has kept him out since. Despite missing all that time, Pollock appears to be the center fielder/leadoff man for the foreseeable future. Second-year man Didi Gregorius has played head-turning defense at several spots.
The emergence of outfielders Peralta and Enciarte made the D-backs’ trade of Gerardo Parra to Milwaukee a no-brainer, even as much as Parra had meant to the franchise since 2011. The D-backs received outfield prospect Mitch Haniger and left-hander Anthony Banda in the deal, two players more than they would have received had they non-tendered Parra in the offseason. With Parra due $6 million-$7 million in his final year of arbitration in 2015, it is likely that the D-backs would not have offered him a contract and simply lost him to free agency.
Both Peralta and Inciarte are among the NL rookie leaders in WAR (wins above replacement player), as is Owings. It would not a surprise to see Peralta and Mark Trumbo flank Pollock in the outfield next season, with Inciarte and Cody Ross in the mix for the one (or possibly two) reserve outfield spots.
Marshall has moved smoothly into the seventh-inning setup role in front of Brad Ziegler and Addison Reed. Adding left-hander Oliver Perez, the D-backs have the foundation of a deep, effective, controllable bullpen for 2015. Ziegler has the major league lead with 29 holds, and Marshall leads NL rookies with 16 holds. Rookie Matt Stites, who has a 97 mph fastball, is learning on the job and also could fit into the 2015 ‘pen — though his preliminary results are less conclusive.
Owings showed a strong bat before suffering a left shoulder injury in late June, and while he has been out, Gregorius once again has showed a well-above aptitude at both shortstop and second base. The D-backs could trade from strength if they looked to move a middle infielder over the winter. Second baseman Aaron Hill is the most productive player in the mix there, but he is due $24 million over the next two seasons. In Owings, Gregorius and Nick Ahmed, the D-backs would have coverage. Rookie Jake Lamb’s strong minor league showing led to the trade of Martin Prado for power-hitting catcher Peter O’Brien, and Lamb is seen as the third baseman of the future — perhaps as soon as next season.
Anderson leads NL rookies with seven victories. Vidal Nuno has shown well at times, and Andrew Chafin threw five shutout innings in his debut in the second game of the doubleheader in Cleveland on Wednesday before being exchanged for Hagins so the D-backs could have a fresh arm for their stretch of 11 games in 11 days that starts in Miami on Thursday. The most heralded arm in their system, right-hander Archie Bradley, may arrive in September.
The D-backs will spend most of their offseason energy addressing ways to improve the starting rotation via trade or free agency, but Anderson’s showing has made him a viable candidate in 2015.
The rookies have fit, unlike before.
The D-backs touted the so-called "Baby Backs" of the early 2000s as the group to carry on when the veteran free agents who joined in the winter of 1998 — Randy Johnson, Steve Finley, Todd Stottlemyre, Armando Reynoso, Greg Colbrunn Greg Swindell — moved on.
It turned out that the next wave was not ready to take over, and maybe it should not have been a surprise. Baseball America listed no Diamondbacks in its annual Top 100 Prospects report entering 2002, which could be seen as the final incubation period for young talent on the rise. D-backs Scott Hairston, Lyle Overbay, right-hander John Patterson and left-hander Mike Gosling were in the top 100 in 2003, but only Hairston and Overbay have had an impact at the major league level, and neither with the D-backs. Owings, Bradley and 2013 No. 1 draft pick Braden Shipley were in the 2014 Top 100.
However you look at it, it is a long way from 2004.