January 25, 2017
Arizona Diamondbacks Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System:
“I shivered in those
Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Salt”
The Top Ten
The Big Question: 🎶 Where Has All The Talent Gone? 🎶
Headlined by a trio of promising starters and flanked by high-floor position players, the 2015 Diamondbacks had one of the best farm systems in baseball. Arizona had talent in both the upper and lower levels, and three players—Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley, and Aaron Blair—in the first half of our top 101 prospect list. With the first pick of the upcoming draft on the horizon, and all the bonus pool money that comes with it, the Dbacks seemed destined to add even more talent to their already healthy farm, one that we ranked as the seventh best in all of baseball.
Fast forward two years, and the Diamondbacks now have one of the worst systems in the league. There are precious few starting pitchers who throw hard, no power hitters with a chance to anchor the middle of a lineup, no big-money teenagers steadily translating stickball protoplasm into baseball stardom. You can find a few crafty lefties and future utility players, and if you squint, even a couple of guys with big tools and miles of developmental work ahead.
Ultimately though, Arizona’s system is almost entirely devoid of impact talent. Very few players in the upper levels have a chance to be Role 50 types, much less future stars, and after a spate of free agent signings, poor trades, and almost criminal mismanagement of Latin American money, the low minors are nearly as barren. Last year, Arizona’s minor league rosters were often populated with players who would likely have been cast aside by other organizations. That trend will continue in 2017.
The unraveling of Arizona’s once-promising farm system sprang from several directions, some preventable, some not. What is clear is that the lack of young talent stems from an organization-wide failure that will hamstring the Diamondbacks for years to come. To briefly recap, the Dbacks were hurt by…
To be fair, the Dbacks have added a few notable players through trades, most notably Jack Reinheimer and Dawel Lugo. Unfortunately, this is a case where the subtractions were much more damaging than the additions beneficial.
This is not to ignore Arizona’s developmental successes, like Lamb, Drury, or Jake Barrett: the developmental machine hasn’t been entirely out of order. It’s impossible to look at the state of the farm, however, without noting that the lower minors haven’t born much fruit lately.
Diamondbacks fans looking for some solace should be comforted by the idea that the farm system will probably be better 12 months from now. With a new front office, and another high draft pick, the Dbacks should get a much-needed injection of talent a few months from now. It’s also plausible that a guy like Duplantier or Chisholm takes a step forward. The bottom line is, as the White Sox demonstrated this winter, that it doesn’t take a long time to turn a farm system around. Given Arizona’s relative standing around the league, that’s a good thing. —Brendan Gawlowski
1. Anthony Banda, LHP
The Good: Hey guys, do you want to hear about another potential mid-rotation starter? Wait, where are you going? Yes there have been a lot of them so far—though they usually don’t sit at number one on a team’s prospect list—but Banda is...uh...well, like most of them. He works off a plus fastball that sits in the mid-90s after a velocity bump in 2016. The pitch also showed more arm-side life than in the past. He also features a low-80s curve that...anyone...that’s right! It flashes plus with good depth. Banda has a starter’s frame and delivery and a clean arm action. There’s no physical concerns about his ability to start...
The Bad: ...but get this: he needs to improve both his changeup and command. Banda lacks feel for the cambio and it’s not much more than a show-me offering at present—and a “show-me the seats” offering when he hangs it. The control outpaces the command at present and the overall arsenal isn’t good enough to make much of an impact with merely average command.
The Irrelevant: Unsurprisingly, Randy Johnson has six of the ten best ERA+ seasons by a left-handed pitcher in Diamondbacks history. Slightly more surprisingly is the only other name with multiple entries in the top ten: Omar Daal.
The Risks: I think someone once wrote that there is no such thing as a mid-rotation starter. The command and change will get there, or they won’t, but the fastball is good enough he will get chances to start. Unless he gets hurt, which he might, because he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: 2017, as needed
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Yikes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Banda, but he’s not a top-100 name and we’re leading off the article with him, so, yeah ... this isn’t going to be a terribly useful piece of internet content for dynasty league owners. Banda might have value as a decent all-around backend starter once he’s firmly entrenched in the rotation, but frankly, you can often find that type of value on the waiver wire. Take the plunge if your league rosters 200 prospects because of Banda’s proximity, but otherwise, yawn.
2. Domingo Leyba, SS/2B
The Good: Leyba’s compact stroke and strong hand-eye coordination combine to generate quality bat-to-ball skills that are advanced for a 21-year-old, having already proven capable of translating against Double-A pitching. He demonstrated significant gains with his approach in a second tour of the California League to start the year, exhibiting greater selectivity and staying inside the strike zone more consistently. There’s a potentially above-average hit tool at maturity if last year’s gains continued to hold against advanced pitching. He’s a technically sound defender up the middle, with solid hands and fundamentals that allow him to convert grounders he can reach into outs. The arm can scrape average from short, while playing to solid-average on the other side of the bag.
The Bad: His body is already pretty maxed out, and there’s some lower-half density that limits both his foot speed and range to fringe-average. He lacks the kind of explosiveness or fluidity in his lateral movements that an ideal shortstop possesses, and fits more naturally at second. The swing is relatively flat, and he lacks for strength or leverage to drive pitches over the fence with much regularity. Coupled with the unremarkable run tool, his secondary offensive skills aren’t particularly exciting.
The Irrelevant: The first man to sport a “Domingo” moniker in Major League Baseball was Adolfo Domingo de Guzman Luque, better known as “Dolf” Luque. “The Pride of Havana” made his debut for the Boston Braves in 1914, and went on to win 194 big-league games across a 20-year career en route to enshrinement in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1967.
OFP 50—Average regular at second
The Risks: Leyba has made steady and impressive gains at the plate, while his instincts and feel on the dirt have kept him in the running for shortstop reps despite less than ideal physicality. While he lacks for a standout tool, his solid skill set on both sides of the ball makes him a higher-probability big-league contributor.
Major league ETA: 2018 —Wilson Karaman
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If you’ve ever watched Joe Panik play and thought, “damn, I wish he had less power,” Leyba is the prospect for you.
3. Dawel Lugo, 3B/SS
The Good: The stroke is quick and direct to the ball, with good early rhythm that puts him in position to adjust within swings and make consistent contact with pitches all around (and beyond) the zone. He has strong wrists and produces solid-average bat speed, ingredients that portend above-average raw power at his peak. A former shortstop, he moves well laterally and shows soft hands on receipt. The arm strength pushes plus at third, with throws that hold their plane from line to line.
The Bad: Lugo is a wildly aggressive hitter who has shown little in the way of development over the past year in refining his approach. He frequently chases pitches outside the zone, and his lack of selectivity threatens to deflate his game power against quality arms. The glove is okay, though not an asset at third, with range limitations keeping the defensive projection in check. He’s a below-average runner already, and a thick, higher-maintenance frame means he’ll have to work hard to keep his speed from declining further.
The Irrelevant: Lugo is the one and only known “Dawel” to have ever laced ‘em up for a professional baseball team.
OFP 50—Borderline average regular
The Risks: There is ostensibly a path for Lugo to develop into something resembling an average regular if he can make some inroads with the approach to become a more patient hitter who draws out the majority of his power in games, but as a bat-first prospect with a fairly long track record of significant aggressiveness at this point it is a lower probability that he makes those necessary adjustments and reaches his ceiling.
Major league ETA: Late 2018/Early 2019 —Wilson Karaman
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: You know that scene in Interstellar where Matt Damon’s Dr. Mann attempts to dock with the Endurance but he can’t do it and everything blows up? Dr. Mann still had a better approach than Lugo. Yeah that was a long way to go but reading this system makes me want to die.
4. Anfernee Grier, OF
The Good: Grier always had tools to dream on during his time in Auburn, but he finally started putting them on the field his junior season. He’s a plus runner with potentially average power in center field. That’s a nice start. His above-average arm will play in right if he loses speed or if he struggles to refine his jumps and routes in the pros.
The Bad: It’s going to be a long road to major-league contribution considering he is a college outfielder that went in the first 50 picks. He can sell out for power at times and get a little one-gear with his swing. A below-average hit tool might limit how much his power plays. His glove is carried by his premium athleticism at this point. Potential tweener profile.
The Irrelevant: Russell County High School has produced three major leaguers; Billy Moran and the Rasmus brothers.
OFP 50—Second-division outfielder
The Risks: Grier has a limited amateur track record of getting his tools into games. He may not hit enough to get the power into games or be on base enough to have the speed be more than a useful weapon in the late innings.
Major league ETA: 2019
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: The power/speed combo makes Grier a potential top-200 name, but that’s about as high as we can go until we see some of the tools translate to MiLB production. He’s arguably the second-best dynasty prospect in this system. I wish I lived a fuller life.
5. Jasrado Chisholm, SS
The Good: Chisholm is a potential plus glove at shortstop despite only average athletic tools. He makes hard contact when he makes contact and could grow into more power and better barrel control as he adds strength.
The Bad: Despite his power performance in the Pioneer League air, Chisholm’s power plays more to gap, but the swing-and-miss potential might limit even that. He’s very busy pre-swing and can struggle to control the bat. He’s an aggressive hitter that will expand the zone even against short-season arms.
The Irrelevant: Six Bahamians have played in the major leagues, the most recent of which was Antoan Richardson, who got cups of coffee with the Yankees and Braves in 2011 and 2014.
OFP 50—Glove-first everyday shortstop
The Risks: Hey, another good athlete that might not hit enough to be a regular in the majors. I guess betting on athleticism beats betting the farm—literally—on Shelby Miller.
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: A glove-first everyday shortstop who’s three-plus seasons away from the majors? Just skip cut the line and pick up Deven Marrero or something.
6. Brad Keller, RHP
The Good: Keller has a good kind of big-donkey body, a hulking John Lackey frame that can wear innings for days. He manipulates a low-90s fastball with two-way action, controlling it effectively down in the zone to create copious amounts of rolled-over contact. He sells a firm change with quality arm speed, and while the pitch doesn’t miss a ton of bats it does induce additional worm-burners on the regular. He made some strides with his slider this year as well. He doesn’t beat himself with walks, and his mound intelligence and feel for managing a game allow him to compete for multiple runs through a lineup.
The Bad: The stuff has its limits, and he can’t really claim a pitch that projects to miss bats consistently. While he made progress with the slider, he doesn’t have a ton of natural feel for spinning the ball. The delivery lacks for fluidity and great athleticism, and his fine command in the zone lags behind his control, making for a sometimes-dangerously hittable combination.
The Irrelevant: As of this writing Keller has tweeted 17 times in the new year, and save for a retweet confirming the tragic passings of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte, all of his tweets have been about football, with the Atlanta Falcons (nine) edging out Clemson University (seven) as the chief beneficiaries of his fandom.
OFP 50—No. 4 Starter
The Risks: Keller spent much of the year as one of the youngest pitchers in the Cal League and held his own, posting his second-consecutive season with more than 130 innings of sub-3.25 DRA pitching. He’ll need to continue developing his slider and miss a few more bats in order to reach his ceiling as a fourth-starter, but even without an above-average third pitch the innings-and-ground-balls profile can still be enough to round out a rotation.
Major league ETA: Late 2018 —Wilson Karaman
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: He who fights with back-end starters should be careful
7. Taylor Clarke, RHP
The Good: Clarke shot up the organizational ranks in 2016 on the back of a low-90s fastball with some deception that he can command to either side of the plate. Both secondaries have a chance to be average. That counts as good, really. I’m taking what I can get at this point. We have a ways to go. He spots the curve down in the zone well.
The Bad: The stuff is average-ish across the board. He may lack an out pitch at higher levels—or even at Double-A, where he struggled some against better-quality hitters.
The Irrelevant: Per Google Maps, the trip from Kane County to Visalia to Mobile is 4,189 miles and will take around 60 hours to complete. Please note, this route has tolls.
OFP 50—No. 4 starter
The Risks: The risk is when I took this job I’d eventually have to write the Diamondbacks list. Oh, you mean for Clarke? Lacks a swing-and-miss offering, hasn’t really passed the Double-A test. He’s not an obvious bullpen candidate, though the fastball has touched significantly higher in the past. And yes, he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Early 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Lest he thereby become a back-end starter.
8. Alex Young, LHP
The Good: Young has a really advanced slider. It flashes plus, and he can get ugly swings from both righties and lefties with it. He has an easy, repeatable delivery. The two-seam fastball moves a bit with both arm-side run and some sink.
The Bad: Despite the sink and run, the fastball sits in the upper 80s and can be quite hittable. The changeup has some fade, but not enough velocity separation to be an effective major league offering. This feels like it could just be a LOOGy profile at the end of the day.
The Irrelevant: Kevin Costner spent a semester in high school in Visalia, which may be why it gets a mention in Bull Durham.
OFP 50—Back-end starter or lefty setup man
The Risks: Below-average fastball velocity and the lack of a third pitch really limits the ceiling, although the slider is good enough, and Young is left-handed enough that their should be a bullpen spot for him in the majors eventually. He’s still a pitcher, so maybe that doesn’t even happen. I don’t know man. This is only #7. We got a ways to go still.
Major league ETA: Early 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: And if thou gaze long into an abyss,
9. Victor Reyes, OF
The Good: Reyes is a natural hitter, with strong wrists, quickness into the zone, and good balance to track pitches deep and put quality contact on the ball. A switch-hitter, he recognizes spin well and manages to put decent swings on bad balls with some consistency. The frame has some room to project strength, and he’ll flash occasional leverage from the left side.
The Bad: In order to put decent swings on bad balls he has to chase those pitches, and chase he will do. He’s a highly aggressive hitter, and while his high-caliber bat-to-ball skills have won the day thus far in the low minors, it’s unclear if they’ll be enough to continue doing so. It’s an especially valid concern in his case, as the frame is beanpole skinny, and his narrow shoulders aren’t built for much bulk even at max capacity. He’s a fringy runner, as his long strides lack explosiveness, and the arm is a bit light for right field, so he may wind up relegated to left field.
The Irrelevant: Reyes was traded straight-up for a draft pick in 2015, and the Braves used the pick to select injury-riddled left-hander A.J. Minter, who would probably crack this top-ten list himself.
OFP 45—Second-division left-fielder
The Risks: Reyes’ raw hitting talent lends some optimism for a big-league future, but the whole package is just a really weird profile without a ton of precedent for sustained success at the highest level.
Major league ETA: 2019 —Wilson Karaman
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: You should have little interest in the low-budget remake of Raimel Tapia. Now, where were we ...
10. Jon Duplantier, RHP
The Good: In 2016, a healthy Duplantier showed off a lively fastball he could run up into the mid-90s and a potentially plus power curve. He’s a good athlete with the frame to start.
The Bad: Duplantier already missed an entire season—his sophomore one—with shoulder issues. The changeup lags well behind the other two offerings. The delivery has some effort and can be a bit torquey, causing him to lose his line to the plate and negatively impact his command. Between that and the durability concerns, it is hard to project a starter here, and the stuff isn’t special in the bullpen.
The Irrelevant: The track record of Rice pitchers in the majors is...well, if you are reading Baseball Prospectus, you are probably aware. The best of the lot was Norm Charlton, who picked up 11.2 WARP across a 14-year career as an itinerant bullpen arm.
OFP 50—I guess he could be a no. 4 starter, but we are probably talking about a setup man
The Risks: Command and change concerns plus a shoulder issue. Sigh. And he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: 2019
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: The abyss will also gaze into thee.
Others of note:
One of These Days He’s Going to Start Throwing Strikes, and You’ll See! You’ll All See!
Jimmie Sherfy, RHP
“Well, we did five more guys for every other organization”
Wei-Chieh Huang, RHP
Matt Koch, RHP
Colin Bray, OF
The Diamondbacks have long sought cost-controlled pitching as a way to stay relevant in a division with more deeply-pocketed peers. Zack Greinke aside, the team has stuck by that mantra and it should come as no surprise to see the top of this list deep with young, cheap arms that are under team control for 2017 and beyond. The problem is, they all come with their flaws.
Robbie Ray can bring the gas from the left side and finished fourth in the NL in strikeout rate last season, sandwiched between Noah Syndergaard’s flowing locks and Madison Bumgarner’s country manners. That’s good company, but he also struggled to retire batters efficiently (again) and hasn’t made much progress with his secondaries. Taijuan Walker is a welcome addition to the D-backs’ rotation, but he’s not exactly found consistent footing in the majors despite his undeniable talent. Archie Bradley is the much same with big raw stuff that can give hitters fits, but his lack of command leaves much to be desired. While Walker appears the safer bet to remain in the rotation long-term, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Bradley in the back of the bullpen one day, pairing his fastball with that hammer curve. Of course, either or both could iron out a kink or two and become stars. It’s just a matter of development, a common thread applicable to most young hurlers.
Brandon Drury and Ketel Marte, have their warts, too. Drury has been a stalwart of prospect lists for a few years now and his rookie season came with its peaks and valleys. He played five different defensive positions in 2016 and didn’t rate well at any of them. After a white-hot start, he fell off in a big way over the summer, only to make a few swing adjustments late and soar yet again. Meanwhile, Marte was imported along with Walker and adds another name to them middle infield mixture. His offensive struggles down the stretch, paired with Jerry Dipoto’s desire to make all the trades, resulted in a new lease on life in the desert where the thin air helps everybody hit. Both have positional question marks and their viability depends on their capacity to make meaningful contact with regularity.
Braden Shipley was the top prospect in this system just a year ago, though he’s taken a big hit as he was routinely punished by big-league hitters in his debut season. The fastball velocity was deliberately lacking, and while the changeup and curveball have their moments, Shipley’s inconsistent command brought the whole arsenal down and the results suffered. Jake Barrett was once considered the closer-in-waiting and that time came last season once Brad Ziegler and Tyler Clippard were traded, and Daniel Hudson tanked. The results were okay, but “okay” means he’ll now be superseded by Fernando Rodney’s broke-off ball cap, which provides some helpful context. He remains the team’s best young reliever, however, with a strong fastball/slider combination that’s tailored for a high-leverage role.
If this seems underwhelming, it’s because it is. Ray’s position is secure, but Walker and Bradley are wearing out the word “upside” like it’s going out of style. Both Drury and Marte have questions to answer about their long-term viability but have flashed an ability to make useful big-league contributions. Shipley’s a pitch-to-contact back-end starter and Barrett is, well, a reliever. If more than a few of these bets can pay off for Mike Hazen, things could start looking up. If they don’t, well, it’s never too soon to start tanking. —Jeff Wiser
Jeffrey Paternostro is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @jeffpaternostro