I had quite a few ideas about where I wanted to go with my first post. I ultimately decided that I wanted to do something that would give anyone that reads this an idea of how I judge prospects and where I feel the Diamondbacks system currently sits. I also didn’t want to simply rehash our Arizona Diamondbacks Top 50 Prospects list when we’re 2 months into the season and the lower levels have yet to kick off. Therefore, a quick overview of the system touching on the highs and lows seemed to work best.
When I started to dig into the system, I started from the top down. The Reno Aces have a veteran AAA squad that features many players that could step in and likely be replacement level players right away. Now this is generally how I would construct an AAA roster, as we all know that injuries are a reality of the grueling Major League season. The problem with many of these players is I don’t see much upside if they are given a chance. Sure Oswaldo Arcia (.364/.424/.744) and Christian Walker (.291/.358/.600) have mashed a combined 23 home runs and knocked in 99 runs, but neither belongs on any prospect list anymore. Additionally, the host of infielders currently playing for the Aces have produced. However, Ketel Marte (.392/436/.524), Jack Reinheimer (.265/.323/.397) and Ildemaro Vargas (.293/.327/.408) all profile as glove first utility infielders, rather than players that could make a true impact. Socrates Brito, just back from a broken finger, a much more highly regarded prospect than anyone mentioned yet, hasn’t shown the ability to be anything more than a 4th OF despite his plus speed and glove. I do see more potential upside from the pitching staff for Reno though.
While most of the starters, (Braden Shipley, Matt Koch and Frank Duncan) profile as back of the rotation, or more likely relief options, the front of the Aces rotation and the back of the bullpen both provide some good potential to be fantasy performers and options for the Diamondbacks in the near future. Anthony Banda, widely considered the best prospect in the system, has continually outperformed the projections and I think that will continue. Banda has performed at every level and while his start has seen an elevated ERA (4.44), I’m going to attribute that to an elevated BB/9 (4.3). I think when the BB/9 returns to his career norm of 3.3, the performance we have come to expect from him will be there. Most are saying his ceiling is mid-rotation at best, but I think he could be better than that. I also really like the back of the bullpen. While Silvino Bracho has struggled in his 39.1 MLB innings and Jimmie Sherfy struggled last year in his first taste of AAA, I think both will very likely be high leverage options for the Diamondbacks by the end of 2017. Both have K/9’s north of 11 and the arsenal to be dominant at the end of a game.
Moving on to AA and the Jackson Generals, I start to see a few more of the top ranked prospects. However, we all know that a top ranking isn’t necessarily indicative of a high ceiling. I assume Domingo Leyba would have started the year for the Generals had he not started the year on the DL with a small tear in his anterior capsule. While Leyba and Dawel Lugo both are generally accepted as 2 of the top 3 hitting prospects for Arizona, both may have the upside of a full time regular, but I’m skeptical. Both have played solid defense at SS with Lugo moving to 3B full time in 2016 and Leyba splitting time between SS and 2B. I will assume with Jasrado Chisholm being pushed, the moves off SS for Lugo and Leyba are a nod to Chisholm as the SS of the future, but more on him later. My questions on both Generals come at the plate. Will either hit enough to be a full time regular? Both took a step forward in the power dept. in 2016 with Lebya posting his best SLG% since he was in the DSL .429 and Lugo the best of his career at .492. I do have concerns though, that those numbers may be inflated by a half of a season or more spent in the California League. If both can show that they can maintain this level of production (.311/.339/.492 for Lugo and .296/.355/.429 for Leyba), they could both find themselves with full time regular jobs in the infield, but I’m not holding my breath. I think we will likely see regression from both this year.
Along with Leyba and Lugo, Victor Reyes has played his way into the prospect discussion for the Generals. Reyes has hit for a strong average since being acquired from Atlanta before the 2015 season, but he won’t hit for much power and despite good speed has only shown some ability to steal bases, by stealing 4 bases in 9 attempts so far in 2017. Reyes does play solid defense and can play all 3 OF positions, but most likely has the upside of a 4th OF. One player that hasn’t found his way onto many top rankings that I like a lot is Kevin Cron. You notice right away that the pure power is real. Cron has 53 home runs over the last 2 seasons and has already hit 11 early on in 2017. He struggled in his first run at AA in 2016, posting a K rate of 26%, so that needs to improve; but so far in 2017, the repeat of AA has been great for Cron and here is why I felt he needed a specific mention. The K rate is down to 20% and his BB rate has skyrocketed to 12%. Cron has almost walked as often (21) in 177 plate appearances in 2017 as he did (33) in 510 last year. In my opinion, Cron could be a guy we hear a good bit about this season.
The rotation in Jackson has showed some solid promise. Taylor Clarke, Alex Young and Brad Keller all have the upside to find themselves in the starting rotation in Arizona in the not too distant future. However, none of them show the upside of a front of the rotation starter. Taylor Clarke has moved quickly through the system, making it to AA in his first full season in the Arizona system and would seem to have the best shot at pairing with Anthony Banda in the middle of the Arizona rotation as soon as 2018. Both Young and Keller have had success early in 2017 and have been very solid over their brief minor league careers, but the upside is only mid to back of the rotation at best. Since Jared Miller was moved to the bullpen, he has shown flashes of brilliance. He has not proven himself to be up to the task of AAA yet. However, I do think he could be a valuable piece in the Diamondbacks pen, along with Sherfy and Bracho.
For the purposes of this article I am going to lump all of the A level players together. It just seems to make sense and I think it’ll keep this already long article from getting too long. Visalia, Kane County and Hillsboro are where the Arizona system gets very interesting for me. The upside that seems to be lacking at the higher levels of the system could be here in A ball. Not that it doesn’t come with great risk though. In my opinion, the two players that best fit that mold are Jasrado Chisholm and Jon Duplantier. While entering Arizona’s system as differently as possible, the two present the best opportunities for top-flight players in the system. The front office has been very aggressive with Chisholm from the time he was signed out of the Bahamas, sending him directly to Missoula in the Pioneer League for rookie ball where he held his own at 18. Chisholm has shown the ability to be a solid defender that should have no problem sticking at short. His approach at the plate is undisciplined right now, but he has shown great maturity and a desire to work and improve that should drive him up the ladder. Beyond Chisholm the lower levels see some potential upside from the 2016 draft. I also see this potential in Anfernee Grier, Andy Yerzy and Ryan January, along with a breakout year by Marcus Wilson to start 2017. You can see that the upside is there, but with Yerzy being a work in progress behind the plate and January suspended 50 games for amphetamines, they are far from a guarantee. One hitter to keep an eye on, simply because power does not grow on trees, is Eudy Ramos. Ramos hit 13 home runs in 201 at bats for Missoula last year. That power comes with a 34% strikeout rate, but anytime the raw power is real, you have to take notice.
Jon Duplantier has the stuff to be a potential front of the rotation starter. He’s a big athletic pitcher that runs his sinking fastball into the upper 90’s, with a curveball that could be a plus pitch, and a solid changeup. Duplantier has all of the tools to be an ace in Arizona in the not so distant future. However, all of that hinges on health. Duplantier missed his entire sophomore year at Rice and then all but one inning of last season’s debut. Duplantier has shown the type of pitcher he can be when healthy though as he has shot out of the gate in 2017 to a 5-0 start with an ERA and WHIP under 1 and a 10.5 K/9. Behind Duplantier the starting pitching has shown promise at the lower levels. Justin Donatella, Cody Reed, Curtis Taylor and Mack Lemieux, all drafted in the last 2 years, have shown at least mid to back end of rotation upside, with Cody Reed currently throwing extremely well in his repeat of A ball to start 2017. I would also keep an eye on Jose Almonte and Rodrigo “Bo” Takahashi. Both have had success in Visalia in 2017 and could potentially be back end rotation or high leverage pen options in the future. Speaking of the bullpen, Tommy Eveld, Tyler Mark and Jordan Watson, all drafted in the last 2 years as well, have had great results and all being former college pitchers could move quickly.
Therefore, my overall feeling for Arizona is that they have done a very nice job of drafting the last 2 years. After the farm was cleaned out, the rebuilding process wasn’t going to be immediate but they’re moving in the right direction.
Article featured image of Dawel Lugo – courtesy Buck Davidson/MiLB.com