December 12, 2014
Arizona Diamondbacks Top 10 Prospects
The Top Ten
1. Archie Bradley
What Happened in 2014: It was a year of firsts for the large Sooner State product, Bradley saw his first extended DL stint and hit his first developmental buzz saw between Double-A and Triple-A before bouncing back some in the AFL and enjoying his first bout of success, adding a new weapon to his already potent arsenal in the process.
Strengths: Big, sturdy workhorse; strong-man power through core and lower half; above-average arm speed; fastball can reach elite velocity, works comfortably in plus to double-plus velocity band with arm-side action; capable of pounding bottom of the zone on steep plane; curve can be a true hammer with violent bite and good depth at its best; cutter is potential impact offering with sharp, short slide and tilt, running 87 to 90 mph; upper-80s change will flash above average with soft fade; when right, shows high level of confidence and impressive mound presence; impact arsenal; solid athleticism off mound.
Weaknesses: Command and control below average at present; hard spike curve played soft and imprecise after missed time, often due to failure to get on top; change can get firm and flat, placing high level of import on sequencing to properly set up; below-average body control through mechanics; fails to repeat with regularity; slot can drift; arm speed can be negated by fickle timing; inconsistent landing ranges from straight line to slightly closed with a hint of crossfire; injury/discomfort further complicated work towards mechanical refinement.
Overall Future Potential: 7; no. 2 starter
Realistic Role: High 6; no. 2/3 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; impact stuff will play to late innings at worst; achieved Double-A.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: In fantasy leagues, Bradley is essentially playing Bill Murray’s role in Groundhog Day—as he enters the 2015 with an outside chance for a rotation spot and angling for an early-season call-up. Despite the rough 2014, Bradley still has SP1 upside with 200-plus strikeout ability, but is more likely to settle in as a top-30 starter who gives back some of that ERA/strikeout-based value in his WHIP. But, he’s still a top-five fantasy pitching prospect. Don’t overthink it.
The Year Ahead: There is no sugarcoating the struggles the former first rounder endured from the spring through the fall. With a combination of inconsistent timing and overthrowing in the mix, Bradley scuffled through his first month of action with Triple-A Reno before an intercostal strain in his right elbow forced him to the disabled list. He returned to game action two months later with Double-A Mobile where the power righty continued to battle his mechanics from a variable arm slot to inconsistent posture, timing, and landing; all of which combined to throw off his release and complicate his execution. Keep in mind, this is still some of the loudest stuff in the minors, and even under the best of circumstances loud stuff is not particularly easy to wield with precision. Bradley’s situation is further complicated by a big body that he is still learning to control and that was forced to compensate for irregularities in the arm for a large portion of the year. In short, Bradley wasn’t “right” for most of the summer, and when you loosen the bolts on a muscle car and drive it around for a while, it’s going to take some time to work everything back into proper alignment. Provided a winter of rest sees Bradley at 100 percent next spring, he’ll likely begin 2015 with a confidence-building assignment back in Double-A. There’s the ever-present risk that he never gets his body to do what it needs to do pitch to pitch, but if everything clicks it’s going to be some of the filthiest stuff in the game. He has the raw ability and potential to bridge that gap between forgettable 2014 to legit, front-end major leaguer in the blink of an eye.
Major league ETA: 2015
2. Braden Shipley
What Happened in 2014: Shipley showed steady progress working through the Midwest and California Leagues before capping a solid developmental year with a brief stint at Double-A Mobile.
Strengths: Good size and athleticism; strength projects to handle innings; low-mileage arm; fast arm with short circle; fastball comes with arm-side action and good bore; barrel-misser; pounds inner-half against same side bats; low- to mid-90s velo without losing life; change flashes double-plus at present with arm speed and slot deception; hard dive and fade; weapon down in the zone; low 80s, 11-to-5 curve shows hard bite and impressive depth; improved confidence working off the breaker, included early and behind in the count; improved proficiency in sequencing.
Weaknesses: Can become predictable in fastball/changeup use; up-beat tempo can cause arm drag and arm-side misses; still working to find uniform release on curve, resulting in flurries of 4, 5, and 6 grades on the 20-80 scale; can get deliberate in mechanics, leading to unnatural execution of changeup and decrease in effectiveness across the board; needs to continue to work towards second-nature motion where natural feel should take over; high-end arsenal with mid-level execution at present.
Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2/3 starter
Realistic Role: High 5; no. 3/4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; limited Double-A exposure.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Shipley may not have Bradley’s fantasy ceiling, but there’s still plenty to like here. It’s not ideal for strikeout potential that his change is his go to pitch, but if he can miss bats with the curve, he could reach that 200-strikeout plateau. Overall, he projects as a good SP3 with strong ratio contributions and the ability to throw a lot of innings.
The Year Ahead: Shipley accomplished a great deal in 2014, including increased proficiency with his breaking ball, a solid jump in workload without significant fall-off in performance, and increased comfort mixing and matching his offerings in variable game situations. A relative newcomer to pitching, Shipley has made tremendous progress over the past three seasons in putting together a system of mechanics that work for him and his repertoire, and his athleticism is an asset both in implementing tweaks via developmental staff suggestions and self-correcting in-game when his motion slides slightly out of whack. With a chance for three plus or better offerings and the strength and arm to shoulder a major-league starter’s workload, Shipley represents one of the more exciting profiles in the minors. He should head back to Mobile to start 2015 where Southern League hitters will demand of him more precision in execution, and the sheer quality of his stuff will be less effective in dissimulating his shortcomings. There is front-end upside if he can continue to tighten his consistency and build a more robust understanding as to how to best implement his weapons in concert with each other.
Major league ETA: 2016
3. Aaron Blair
What Happened in 2014: A developmental step forward with his curve helped the burly righty to climb three levels while logging over 150 innings and regularly missing bats and barrels alike.
Strengths: Big, durable build; hard downward plane on all offerings, with particularly tough-to-square trajectory in the lower third; heavy, low-90s fastball can kiss 95 up in the zone; off-speed works with arm-side action and 8 to 10 mph velocity delta off heater; regularly slips off swing plane; upper-70s curve gives him third potential plus offering with two-plane action and good shape out of same slot as fastball and change; easy and repeatable motion and arm action; slight twist through leg lift and entering drive adds some deception; shows slider as different look breaker; can throw strikes with all offerings.
Weaknesses: Velocity can dip later in starts; can fail to finish, negatively impacting execution and placement of curve and change; fastball is plane reliant and hittable up in the zone; curve can come soft without power bite, limiting utility as swing-and-miss pitch in the zone; despite potential, fastball and curve could grade sub-plus at maturity, increasing need to leverage plane and sequencing; control outdistances command; arm slot lessens effectiveness of offerings up in the zone.
Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2/3 starter
Realistic Role: High 5; no. 3/4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; limited Double-A exposure
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A lazier writer would copy what he wrote for Shipley and say “kinda like that.” Blair has a little less ceiling and floor than the man he trails on this list, mostly due to the fact that he’ll probably miss fewer bats, but the general hypothesis remains the same.
The Year Ahead: Blair’s deception, size, and ability to create a sharp plane in spite of a low three-quarters slot proved too much for low-minors bats this summer, especially once the Marshall University product was able to tap into his two-plane breaker with regularity. While fellow 2013 draftee Braden Shipley’s upside arsenal represents the pitching equivalent of a 8-1/2-inch MAC—dangerously sharp and ideal for carving with precision and style—Blair’s stuff is more in the vein of a high-quality Wusthof dinner knife, with balance and utility the signature characteristics. His offerings are each expelled with uniformity, and the well-shielded release adds to hitters’ difficulty in picking up and identifying the secondaries. Blair should be able to lean on this advantage to and through his major-league debut, giving his stuff a half-grade or so bump (playable to raw) and enabling him to continue to miss bats at rates that belie the natural quality of the repertoire. Blair took solid steps forward in improving the consistency of his curve, giving him a vertical weapon to pair with his already solid fastball/changeup combo. Evaluators want to see how the stuff plays against advanced lineups with multiple looks, which could come with Double-A Mobile or Triple-A Reno depending on how aggressively the Diamondbacks want to work. If the in zone command tightens enough for Blair to avoid regular mistakes up in the zone, he could flirt with number-two production, and otherwise profiles as a dependable mid-rotation innings-eater.
Major league ETA: 2016
4. Touki Toussaint
What Happened in 2014: Toussaint displayed perhaps the highest upside of any prep arm in the 2014 draft class, parlaying strong performances on the showcase circuit with a solid spring into a first-round draft slot and over-slot bonus.
Strengths: Fresh arm; high-level athleticism; electric arm speed produces heavy spin and easy-plus velocity; broad, projectable build; arm works free and loose with good deceleration; fastball works regularly 90 to 94 mph and can climb to 97; mid-70s curve is guillotine-like in trajectory, a lethality; works in and out of zone and matches fastball release; improving changeup has shown both cut and fade; impressive progress with off-speed over past 18 months; high waist and wide wingspan helps extension; elite upside stuff in projectable/malleable package.
Weaknesses: Descends into extreme bouts of wildness; mechanics more conceptual than dependable at present with inconsistencies throughout; can rush through motion where even impact arm speed cannot catch up; fastball velo can drop to 88 to 92 mph velocity band later in starts; impact offerings routinely play a grade or more below ceiling due to failure to execute; may need to rein in power stuff some to more effectively implement in zone.
Overall Future Potential: 7; no. 2 starter
Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter/late-inning arm
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; short-season resume; 28.2 total professional innings.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The ceiling is extremely high here, but Toussaint is a long way away from it mattering—both from an ETA standpoint and a performance standpoint. He’s a surefire early second rounder in dynasty drafts this year, and he has the highest strikeout potential of any arm in this system. Drink that in for a second.
The Year Ahead: After a long year of showcases, travel ball, and a three-plus month high-school season, it’s perhaps no surprise that Toussaint started to wear down during his two-month pro stint. While control issues have been a constant for the precocious righty throughout his amateur career and have been a fixture in his file, the degree to which he saw his mechanics slip during his brief tour through the Arizona complexes and Pioneer League surprised evaluators getting their first look at the 2014 first rounder. During fall instructs Toussaint was able to slow things down and work more deliberately, resulting in an influx of quality strikes and soft contact without significantly sacrificing power. Whether in game or in a side session, the former Vandy commit has the ability to wow with his arsenal, and has proven adept at taking in direction and working to implement tweaks in his approach and execution. Toussaint won’t turn 19 until the middle of next summer, though that shouldn’t stop Arizona from challenging him with a Kane County assignment in 2015 provided the D-backs do not elect to manage his innings in a more controlled environment via a return to the Pioneer League. Either way, Toussaint has the potential to progress aggressively through the system once he’s able to locate the nexus between power and proficiency of execution, and if this fall was a harbinger of things to come, then next summer could establish Touki as one of the top minor-league arms in the game.
Major league ETA: 2018
5. Brandon Drury
What Happened in 2014: Drury continued his steady climb through the organization with his bat leading the way through the Cal and Southern League and a growing band of evaluative supporters following in his wake.
Strengths: Solid feel for barrel over the white; compact cuts produce regular hard contact to the gaps; improved tracking; fluidity to swing with good extension through impact; capable of loading deep, dropping barrel, and driving over the fence; sturdy build; above-average raw derived more from strength than force generated from bat speed; solid hands and left-side arm; improved lower-half actions; has amassed solid portfolio of production through three full-season levels.
Weaknesses: Bat speed is average; can struggle with velocity up and at the fringes; will expand zone behind in count; inconsistent ability to spot spin and attack quality offerings; true kill zone skews to middle; at times reliant on mistakes to find balls to drive; variable load can lead to inconsistent barrel delivery and empty swings in zone; limited defensive profile; decrease in lower-half agility could push defensive production from adequate to liability; five-o’clock power outstrips in-game utility; production has come more in spite of approach than because of it.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average regular
Realistic Role: 5; everyday major leaguer
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; Double-A capable with solid AFL showing.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Neither position that Drury is capable of manning is either a strong point for fantasy owners or the Diamondbacks, giving him an additional reason to buy into the profile. That said, Drury will be helped by Chase Field, but not enough to be a top-10 producer at either position. He could hit .260 with 20 homers, and while that would be usable in all leagues, it wouldn’t make him irreplaceable.
The Year Ahead: Drury lacks impact tools, but a solid aggregate profile and in-game feel has resulted in consistent production across multiple minor-league levels and has led evaluators to consider Aristotelian paradigms when projecting an ultimate role. Indeed, with Drury the whole may be greater than the sum of the parts, which will be important since there isn’t a particular skill that is likely to consistently drive his value. The swing is generally contact friendly, but he is still learning when to leverage up the load and lift. He’s prone to give away at-bats when he locks on a zone or pitch type and will need to demonstrate better adaptability as he faces more advanced arms. There is a wide range of opinion as to where the hit and power tools ultimately settle, with some preferring he sell out a little more to tap into the raw power and others insisting the bat works best as a short-swing gap rider. The best outcome may be a more funneled approach, if Drury proves capable of implementing such a game plan, with enough barrel control to keep compact and reactive early in the count while slowly adding length and leverage and shrinking his pitch/zone focus as circumstances permit. The ceiling isn’t sexy, but the bat could play above average at third or second base. With even a fringy glove that should be enough to warrant regular big-league time, and if there is a developmental step up left in the plate approach, he could find himself flirting with a first-division label. Drury should start 2015 back in Mobile and could get his first taste of major-league action by late summer should the opportunity arise.
Major league ETA: 2016
6. Jake Lamb
What Happened in 2014: Lamb continued to defy doubters, slapping Southern League arms around to the tune of a .318/.399/.551 slash line over 103 games (ranking first, second, and second, respectively, among all qualifying SL bats), before logging his first 133 plate appearances with the Snakes.
Strengths: Good power from the left side; natural lift; solid bat speed; capable of turning on velocity; best working middle-in and ahead; solid strike-zone awareness and comfortable working deep into counts; seeks out pitches to drive and limits offerings at pitchers’ pitches; steady glove with athletic actions and above-average arm.
Weaknesses: Swing can get rigid in upper half; can extend early, limiting power utility on outer half; swing quirks lead to porous plate coverage and susceptibility to advanced sequencing and placement; barrel trajectory could limit regular contact and hit/power utility at highest level; contact issues magnified against same-side arms and particularly same-side spin away.
Overall Future Potential: 5; major-league regular
Realistic Role: High 4; platoon bat/corner reserve
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; reached majors; solid track record of offensive production; broken hamate in 2013 with no noticeable lingering effects.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: From a fantasy standpoint, Lamb is a slightly lesser version of former third-baseman-of-the-future Matt Davidson. Given how well that’s worked out, it’s OK to be skeptical, but Lamb is close to the majors and will be helped out by playing half his games in a park that plays to his strength.
The Year Ahead: While evaluators have been slow to warm to the University of Washington product, his Double-A-tested ability to work for his pitches and square them up when presented has lengthened the leash some are willing to give him in determining whether he can put together an adequate major-league approach to account for his in-zone contact issues. To many, however, Lamb is still viewed as a flawed everyday player or solid bench/platoon bat whose swing simply won’t allow for enough consistent contact for a power-centric profile to thrive. Though upstream injuries forced a premature promotion to the bigs last summer, his struggles with lefty arms and overall inability to unpackage the manor in which major-league arms attacked him reinforced the concerns scouts have expressed over the life of his professional career. Contact issues notwithstanding, if Lamb can tease out even average power and on-base production, the overall profile will play thanks to quality work with the leather and the inherent value in his plus raw power. He’ll get a chance to win the everyday job in Arizona this spring, and would be best served getting regular at-bats with Triple-A Reno if the D-backs opt to go in a different direction with the 25-man.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2014
7. Jimmie Sherfy
What Happened in 2014: In Sherfy’s first full season of professional ball the former Oregon Duck flummoxed California, Southern, and Arizona League bats alike, averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and flashing two borderline double-plus offerings in his fastball and slider.
Strengths: Lots of funk and deception to go with impactful fastball/slider combo; creates angles; mid-90s heater reaches as high as 98 and comes with dance and late jump; slider matches fastball slot and trajectory, allowing for utility as an in-zone freeze pitch and swing-and-miss offering; tilted breaker with big depth and bite; late-inning mentality and approach; abuses same side bats.
Weaknesses: Non-traditional slot and arm action; high-effort delivery; stuff can vacillate up to a full grade due to high-maintenance mechanics and corresponding tendency to lose release; can battle control and execution; lacks effective weapon with which to attack lefty bats; can fixate on baserunners at the expense of execution of pitches; undersized and lacks durable physique; concerns body/arm won’t withstand big-league workload and arm action; abrupt deceleration on fastball; shows heavy glove-side fall off, primarily with breaking ball; bouts of wildness could limit ability to earn trust in high-leverage situations.
Overall Future Potential: 6; closer
Realistic Role: 5; middle-relief/late-inning situational arm
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; standard reliever volatility risk coupled with high-effort mechanics, stressful arm action, and below-average command profile.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The lack of a dominant option at the back of the Diamondbacks’ pen may help Sherfy a bit, but there’s no reason to invest heavily in a reliever with this much inconsistency. However, once he reaches the majors, he will be a name to keep an eye on.
The Year Ahead: Sherfy put together some of the most dominant relief appearances of the 2014 season, and particularly this fall as a member of an impressive pen for the AFL champion Salt River Rafters. Between dominant appearances, however, evaluators were peppered with sub-par performances that included out-of-whack timing, poor balance, and diminished stuff, including a less lively low-90s fastball and a slider that played soft and fringy. When everything is clicking for Sherfy the right-handed batter’s box is an uncomfortable place to be, and there’s so much life to the arsenal that even lefties can struggle to put barrel to ball despite his lack of an effective change piece to keep them honest. His ability to find that sweet spot with regularity will be the ultimate determinant of his future role, with potential outcomes ranging from situational righty to shutdown late-inning arm. After a strong AFL showing, the Diamondbacks could be encouraged to push him aggressively, and while there’s a robust collection of power relief arms populating the upper levels of the organization, Sherfy may be the best suited of the bunch to step in and provide immediate value.
Major league ETA: 2015
8. Sergio Alcantara
What Happened in 2014: The young Dominican was advanced one developmental rung and held his own in the Pioneer League, setting him up for a full-season debut in 2015 at the age of 18.
Strengths: Advanced glove work and innate feel at the six spot; arm grades consistently to fringe-double-plus or better and plays across zone; lower half works to set up delivery; pure first step; soft hands and instinctual transfer; works the bag; good feel at the plate; understands strike zone; solid basic approach and advanced for age/experience; glove, run, and hit all project well with normal course addition of strength.
Weaknesses: Lacks physicality at present; well below-average power; fringy foot speed limits slash and slap utility at the plate; strike-zone awareness will be less meaningful if bat doesn’t grow into viable enough weapon to keep pitchers out of the middle of the zone; hit could top out as down-order producer with hollow average; limited value on the basepaths.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average regular
Realistic Role: High 4; utility/defense sub
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; rookie-level resume
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s very little to see here from a fantasy standpoint, as he’s a defense-first shortstop who is many years away. Alcantara is not worth rostering at all, unless you’re in a deep sim league.
The Year Ahead: Alcantara’s glove continues to push him through the system at an advanced rate, with a 2015 assignment to full-season Kane County likely to provide a huge test for the talented teen. The Midwest League is notoriously unwelcoming to bats, particularly in the frigid early months, and the voluminous roster of teams can limit the number of repeat looks available to hitters as the season unfolds. Alcantara should have no issue shining with the glove, but should he scuffle with the bat for an extended period of time Arizona will be forced to decide whether it makes more developmental sense for the youngster to fight his way through those struggles as one of the youngest players in the league, or return to a Pioneer League that he has already easily traversed. Alcantara’s top developmental focus may be the need to become more physical in short order, not just to boost the stock in his lumber but to help him adjust to and handle the physical demands of a full pro season. It’s a long-lead developmental project, but one that provides some foundational value in the glove and a nice offensive baseline to work with given the advanced tracking and strike-zone awareness.
Major league ETA: 2019
9. Marcus Wilson
What Happened in 2014: The Diamondbacks popped Wilson in the second round of the 2014 first-year player draft and bestowed a seven-figure signing bonus upon the former Arizona State commit, sending him to the Arizona complexes for his first professional assignment.
Strengths: Broad set of potential average or better tools; good athleticism; solid present physicality and projectable frame and build; above-average bat speed; loose and whippy swing at its best generates hard contact gap to gap; power projects; plus speed can help outrun mistakes in the field; above-average arm strength with solid carry plays to right-center gap; potential above-average center field profile; young for draft class.
Weaknesses: Raw reads on bases and in field cuts into ability to fully leverage speed; can get tight in upper half, causing some choppiness in swing plane and complicating barrel delivery; swing can get long with some barrel drag; needs to log reps in field and at plate; approach across game still work in progress; spec profile with wide gap between present ability and minimal threshold for major-league skill set.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division regular
Realistic Role: High 4; fourth outfielder with pinch-run utility
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; complex-level resume.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Wilson is going to be an interesting sleeper at the end of dynasty drafts this year, as he could be a five-category contributor in time (and who doesn’t love a good five-category contributor?). But he’s only for owners who don’t mind waiting on long-lead prospects.
The Year Ahead: Wilson is a potential five-tool player capable of providing value across his profile, but is more athlete than refined baseballer at present. As one of the younger members of the 2014 draft class, Wilson won’t turn 19 until the end of next August, giving the D-backs the benefit of some extra developmental wiggle room on the front end. A return assignment to the complex league in 2015 could afford Wilson with the opportunity to continue to see low-pressure, in-game opportunities in an instructional environment, with the SoCal prep product still matching up favorably age-wise with his competition. The upside is that of a first-division center fielder who stands out more due to a broad and balanced skillset than any single game-changing tool. There is some level of safety inherent in the combination of athleticism and what should be a solid up-the-middle glove and positive value on the bases, but the overall game is raw enough to preclude true foundational value at present, leaving a hefty flameout risk to fill that vacuum. It will likely be a deliberate climb through the minor-league ranks, particularly at the outset, but establishing a firm foundation for the profile and building some core competencies will expand the band of potential outcomes and form a much higher floor than the profile currently presents. That should be all the incentive Arizona needs to take a methodical approach in its handling of such a valuable asset.
Major league ETA: 2019
10. Kaleb Fleck
What Happened in 2014: Fleck reached his highest innings total of his professional career with 63 1/3 solid South League innings before wowing during the Arizona Fall League with a harder and sharper slider piece and improved ability to pound the zone.
Strengths: Mid- to upper-90s fastball with good arm-side run; can work both sides of the dish and elevate heater late in count without sacrificing life; 85 to 87-mph slider flashed wipeout action in fall with hard bite and impressive depth; at best, maintains consistent three-quarters slot with both fastball and slider, matching release and pitch trajectory; improved line to plate through fall aided in strike-throwing ability and greater consistency in execution; strong, durable build; creates solid downhill plane; recent success working the quadrants and pounding the strike zone.
Weaknesses: Can get upright in finish, limiting extension and driving fastballs up and out of the zone; generally fastball and slider each graded out a half-grade lower in-season, with greater fluctuations in control; has struggled historically to maintain tempo and balance, lapsing into periodic issues with release point and leading to walks; limited track record evidencing latest developmental improvements.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; closer
Realistic Role: High 4; middle-relief arm
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; standard relief volatility risk.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Unless your league rosters 500 prospects and counts holds, leave Fleck for the next guy.
The Year Ahead: Fleck’s big velocity and developmental progress through the 2014 season already had him pointed towards a potential major-league debut at some point in 2015, but something as simple as eight impressive AFL appearances may have accelerated that timeline, with the hard-throwing righty elevating his status in the eyes of several evaluators. The most important progress came in the emergence of his slider as a true plus offering this fall, giving him two fastball trajectory offerings with opposite finish, each capable of drawing empty swings and leading bats out of the zone. Further, Fleck showed a more direct line to the plate and improved ability to work effectively on the margins, helping his stuff to play up by limiting free passes and mistakes over the heart of the plate, alike. If these improvements remain fixtures in the profile come spring Fleck may have pushed his profile from pure arm-strength reliever to potential high-leverage, late-inning arm, adding to the Diamondbacks already ample supply of cost controlled arms vying for a spot in the back of the big-league bullpen.
Major league ETA: 2015
Notable Omissions: RHP Jose Martinez: When healthy, Martinez boasts a dynamic fastball/curveball combo that rivals the top pitch pairings in the system. Unfortunately, the talented hurler hit a developmental bump in the road this summer, suffering a stress fracture in his right elbow and undergoing surgery in June. A healthy Martinez progressing on the trajectory on which he entered the season would have likely stood comfortably with Touki Toussaint in the above rankings. He should return to game action in 2015 and turns 21 next April.
OF Yasmany Tomas: The high-profile Cuban signee was not considered for inclusion in the top ten prospect rankings due to his professional experience and limited likelihood he spends any significant developmental time in the minors. Tomas profiles as a power-first corner outfielder with a pronounced rotational uppercut that limits the overlap of swing plane and pitch trajectory and could complicate his ability to fully leverage his big raw pop against advanced major-league arms. His success at the plate could hinge on his natural bat-to-ball skills, as well as his ability to put together quality at-bats that help him sniff out offerings in his kill zone—two areas that evaluators are still split on, thanks to inconsistent showings on the international stage.
Prospects on the Rise:
1. OF Matt Railey: The Diamondback’s third-round selection in this past summer’s first-year player draft utilizes a flat, line-drive swing plane to spray hard contact to all fields. While he generates good torque through his core, it isn’t really an ideal swing for over-the-fence pop, making the overall profile that of an average or better hit tool to go with maybe average playable pop if his natural ability to backspin can provide a hefty enough extra base tally. Railey has average straight-line speed but gets good jumps out of the box, clocking home-to-first times in the 4.07 to 4.14 range from the left side, and ramps up to a tick above average underway. He could fit well toward the top of the order as a contact-oriented two-hole hitter capable of working the gaps and advancing runners. The former FSU commit isn’t a natural center fielder, but he runs and throws well enough to get an opportunity to stick up the middle, where his bat is a more traditional fit. After enjoying a strong spring from a performance standpoint leading up to the draft, Railey saw his professional debut cut short due to a torn hamstring. He was back in action during fall instructs and should be working full speed and unrestricted from the drop next spring. Almost a year and a half older than fellow draftee Marcus Wilson, there is slightly more urgency in getting Railey moving through the system, but it’s also a more refined profile at present than Wilson’s, giving him a chance to hit the ground running next year.
2. 2B Isan Diaz: Diaz’s shaky pro debut belies the advanced feel at the plate he had on display throughout the lead up to this year’s draft. The northeastern product boasts good barrel acceleration, some pop to the pull side, and an ability to square up the ball across the quadrants. There is potential for an average or better hit tool to go along with low double-digit home-run power and plenty of gap coverage, which would fit well at the keystone where he best profiles, defensively. On the dirt, his hands are adequate and his nimble lower half and ability to throw from varying angles could amount to above-average production at second when all is said and done, though his fringy arm strength could limit his ability to finish at the margins up the middle and on negative and neutral momentum pivots working the bag. Diaz will be working with a clean slate next spring and could put up impressive numbers at the lower levels in short order.
3. 2B/SS Domingo Leyba: Leyba came to Arizona as part of the package received in the three-way trade that sent Didi Gregorius to the Bronx. A switch hitter with a good feel for the barrel, Leyba comes with a quiet load and efficient path that keeps the barrel on plane and regularly produces quality contact across the diamond. There isn’t much room in the frame for increased bulk, but the 19-year-old will add strength as his body matures, and his ability to square up balls across the quadrants should help him to develop enough pop to work the gaps and account for an aggressive approach that otherwise limits his on-base profile. He is a capable defender that fits best at second base but has the hands and lateral quickness to handle a limited utility role depending on how much value the bat ultimately provides. Leyba was impressive in his 2014 stateside debut, slashing a combined .323/.360/.423 as an 18-year-old splitting time between the New York-Penn and Midwest Leagues. Arizona could push him to High-A in 2015, where a strong offensive showing could place him firmly in next year’s top ten.
Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2015)
1. SS Nick Ahmed: While Ahmed has been surpassed by Brandon Drury as the most valuable prospect piece obtained in the 2013 Justin Upton deal, the University of Connecticut product is poised to provide some major-league value in 2015 thanks to advanced glove work at the six spot, above-average speed that could provide value in a pinch-run capacity, and the increased opportunities up the middle in Arizona resulting from Gregorius’s departure. It’s a light offensive profile that might limit the overall upside to that of a second-division regular, but the remainder of Ahmed’s game plays above average and is major-league ready.
2. LHP Robbie Ray: After a rough major-league debut in Motown last summer, Ray will bring his heavy low-90s fastball and solid change piece to the desert, where Arizona will look for him to compete for a spot in the back of the big-league rotation. Ray’s arsenal lacks impact, and he has yet to demonstrate enough precision to avoid getting into trouble when he works with too much of the white. He’ll need to do a better job of working the bottom of the zone in the hitter-friendly confines of Chase Field in order to avoid the long ball, and even if everything snaps into place it’s probably not more than a fourth-starter profile, which is valuable, but likely not impactful. One evaluator noted the potential for Ray to see an uptick in velocity with a shift to the pen, and given the upside arms converging on the 25-man roster over the next two years, such a shift could be in the cards. For now, however, there is no reason for Arizona not to continue to work on shaping Ray into a workhorse lefty capable of providing 175-plus cost controlled innings out of the back of the rotation.
3. C/1B Peter O’Brien: Were O’Brien a safer bet to stick behind the dish he would easily slot in as one of the top-10 prospects in the ‘Zona system. But with first base the much more likely landing spot, and setting aside the fact that Arizona already has a pretty good stick currently manning the three spot, the overall profile looks less impressive due to the negative impact his in-zone contact issues are likely to have on the playable power. That said, with power at a premium in today’s game, O’Brien’s plus or better raw should allow him to eventually carve out a spot on the 25-man as a bench bat, and that opportunity could come as early as next year. He’ll likely break camp with a ticket to Triple-A Reno, where Arizona could continue to give him reps behind the plate in hopes he’ll develop enough feel to eventually serve in a back-up capacity. If and when that experiment fails, he could be trade bait and would fit well with an American League club looking for an inexpensive lotto ticket at first base or DH.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/89 or later)
The Diamondbacks are an organization in flux as they transition from the Kevin Towers regime and start anew under Dave Stewart, who will act as Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager. Stewart has a tall task in rebuilding the Diamondbacks. The major-league product is lacking impact 25-and-under talent, as this list will highlight, and their minor-league system is populated with a few high-level prospects and a lot of question marks on the backend.
Patrick Corbin missed all of 2014 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. Corbin, a sinker/slider pitcher who relies on command to get outs, was a revelation in 2013, providing the Diamondbacks with quality innings as he carved out a role as a solid third starter. The club estimates Corbin's return date to be sometime in June of 2015, but it'll likely be a while before he returns to full effectiveness on the mound. However, there is optimism due to the good track record of major-league success here.
Chris Owings continued the adjustments he made at Triple-A Reno by cutting down on the strikeouts and flashing some extra-base hit ability. Owings had a shoulder injury in 2014 that cut his season to 91 games, which enabled the Diamondbacks to get an extended look at Didi Gregorius. Fortunately for him, with Gregorius gone, Owings has one less playing time obstacle, and though he may be slightly behind in the spring due to surgery on that non-throwing shoulder, he remains likely to be their Opening Day shortstop.
Randall Delgado has battled command issues since coming over from Atlanta in the Justin Upton trade. He doesn't have a high-leverage reliever's repertoire as he's a fastball/changeup guy, rather than the fastball/hard breaking-ball profile we’re accustomed to seeing in the late innings. He still has command issues and it looks like he's destined for the swingman role rather than the mid-rotation future he teased at as a prospect. Ender Inciarte got serious run in 2014 to the tune of 447 plate appearances. That was part sacrificing a lineup spot for defense, and part everyone in Arizona getting hurt, but he used the opportunity to show off a quality skillset for a fourth outfielder. It's unlikely that he'll start much in 2015 barring more bad injury luck in the desert, especially in light of the Tomas signing. Expect to see him used more often as a late-inning, defensive replacement.
In addition to the uncertainty around the top major-league pieces on this list, it’s tough to not see the list of names, like Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs, who would have qualified—and possibly ranked prominently—had they not been traded away. After spending so much of the Gibson/Towers era digging in, philosophically, the Diamondbacks have their work cut out for them as they try to dig out of the cellar, and once again become relevant in a very tough NL West. –Mauricio Rubio
A Parting Thought: The impact is almost exclusively on the pitching side, but that impact could be great and there are enough useful positional pieces for this collection of talent to serve as an adequate, if not ample, foundation for a long-term competitive club.
Nick J. Faleris is a practicing structured finance attorney and Sports Industry team member in the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner LLP. The views he expresses at Baseball Prospectus are his own, and not necessarily those of the law firm.