|Original Published Date: Dec. 6, 2013|
After making the playoffs in 2012, the Arizona Diamondbacks took a step backwards in 2013 after trading away Justin Upton and focusing on players with “grit”. Whether you agree with that approach or not, the bigger problem the Diamondbacks faced in 2013 was their pitching. Despite the emergence of Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley regressed, Tyler Skaggs wasn’t very good, and Ian Kennedy underperformed and was ultimately traded to San Diego.
Fortunately for the Diamondbacks, they have the top pitching prospect in the entire minor leagues in right-hander Archie Bradley. Blessed with a great arm and mechanics to boot, Bradley should log significant innings in Arizona in 2014 and could be a difference-maker.
Chris Owings and Matt Davidson are the two top positional prospects in the system and are ready to contribute at the big league level. Owings is currently blocked by Didi Gregorious, but for me, Owings is the better player and overtime will be the full-time shortstop. Matt Davidson won the MVP at the 2013 Futures game and got 76 at-bats in Arizona and should compete for playing time in 2014.
While Bradley, Owings, and Davidson are Top 100 prospects and “near big league ready”, Arizona also has potential impact talent deeper in their system. For instance, 2013 first round draft pick Braden Shipley has a live arm but needs tweaks to his delivery and secondary pitches. Catching prospect Stryker Trahan could be an offensive force but there is concern on whether he has the chops to stay behind the plate long-term.
Overall the Diamondbacks system is strong with several players ready to contribute to the big club. Along with Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs (I’m not ready to give up on him yet), the D’Backs have a nice young core to build around. Of course, it would have been a better core if that list included Justin Upton, but that ship has sailed. Sorry…I had to say it!
|2014 Age: 21||Ceiling: #1 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 225||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
The Diamondbacks challenged 20-year-old Archie Bradley when they sent him to the hitter-friendly California League to start 2013. He responded by absolutely shoving it, posting a 1.26 ERA and a 43K/10BB ratio in 28.2 innings. By May 1st, the team had seen enough and promoted him to Double-A where he continued to pitch like a top-of-the-rotation starter.
The Diamondbacks paid Bradley an over-slot $5 million dollar signing bonus as the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft. Part of the reason for the high bonus was the fear that Bradley would opt to play quarterback at the University of Oklahoma. As with many multi-sport high school athletes, Bradley did not focus exclusively on baseball and arrived in Arizona as a raw talent capable of throwing in the upper 90’s with inconsistent secondary pitches.
As he has gone through the development process, his arsenal has matured. His fastball sits 94-96 MPH and can touch higher with a plus-plus curve that sits 80-82 MPH. He also throws a change-up that is clearly his third pitch, but it also profiles as an above-average pitch. His control is still inconsistent but is improving.
At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Bradley has the ideal power pitching body that should be able to handle the wear and tear of a major league starter. In addition to his size, he’s very athletic and that shows in his fluid pitching mechanics. He has a high leg kick and a drop and drive approach that causes him to lose a little plane but it’s not terribly noticeable as he maintains a high three-quarter release point. While I doubt he’ll ever have 80-grade command, the mechanics and athleticism should allow him to have above-average command. With two plus-plus pitches and above average command, he profiles as one of the few number ones currently in the minors.
While Diamondback fans wanted to see Bradley make his major league debut in 2013, the front office decided to hold him back. The training wheels should officially come off in 2014 with a mid-season promotion likely.
Fantasy Impact: Bradley has fantasy ace potential with the chance to strikeout a batter an inning with excellent ratios. While it’s hard to predict wins, the Diamondbacks look like a .500 team for the foreseeable future. It’s possible that this could soften his win totals, but clearly I’m nit-picking.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: Role 6
|Ht:5-10 Weight: 180||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2013|
The Diamondbacks proclaimed Didi Gregorius their shortstop of the future after acquiring him from the Reds in the Trevor Bauer trade. In fact Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers indicated that Gregorius reminded him of a “young Derek Jeter”. While hyperbole is common after trades are made, for my money, Chris Owings is the better prospect and has a very good chance to see significant playing time in 2014.
After having an excellent season both offensively and defensively in Triple-A, Owings got a September call-up and also looked very good posting a .291 batting average while stealing two bases in 55 at-bats. He actually played both shortstop and second base during the month, but he has the chops to play short and the bat will make him a very valuable asset for the Diamondbacks.
Owings has an aggressive compact swing that should produce above-average future power. He’s also an above-average runner and should be able to post 15-20 stolen bases for the foreseeable future. On the negative, Owings likes to swing the pole. In 546 at-bats in Triple-A he walked a paltry 22 times. His .330 batting average was driven by an unsustainable .386 BABIP and that will likely correct in the major leagues with a .270/.300/.450 slash line more realistic given his aggressive approach.
The Diamondbacks will have to find a way to break camp with Owings on the team. While he needs to refine his approach at the plate, that can still be done at the major league level.
Fantasy Impact: Owings could be a significant fantasy asset with the ceiling of a 20/20 player at shortstop. While his aggressive approach will hurt his value in on-base percentage leagues, his ability to make solid contact should provide an acceptable batting average of .260-.270.
|2014 Age: 23||Ceiling: Role 5
|Ht:6-2 Weight: 225||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2013|
Drafted in the supplemental round in 2009, Matt Davidson got his chance to perform in the major leagues with a September call-up in 2013. He played well posting a slash line of .237/.333/.434 in 76 at-bats with three home runs while striking out 24 times and walking 10 times. While it was a small sample size, it highlights both the good and bad of Davidson – plus power, good on-base skills, but with swing and miss in his game
Davidson’s calling card has always been plus raw power with a lot of swing and miss. The swing and miss comes from a long leveraged swing that is susceptible to pitches down and away. He did reverse a nasty .339 against LHP vs. a .233 against RHP split in 2012 which was clearly encouraging. He also has very good strike zone awareness, posting a 10% walk rate in 443 at-bats in Triple-A.
During the 2013 Futures game, Davidson put on an impressive display during batting practice. He not only pulled many into the left field seats at Citi Field, but was able to launch several bombs to deep center and right field as well. That display carried over to the game as Davidson hit a home run to power the US team and earn him MVP honors.
Davidson will turn 23-years-old in March and doesn’t have a whole lot more to prove in the minors. He is what he is: a decent third baseman that should post a .250/.330/.460 slash line with 20 to 25 home runs. That’s a solid Role 5 player with a chance for an all-star appearance or two if he can get a few seasons fueled by a high BABIP.
Fantasy Impact: Matt Davidson should be owned in all Dynasty League formats and deeper 2014 re-draft leagues as he should see significant playing time in Arizona. Of course, front office favorite and gritty Martin Prado is currently the starting third baseman, but he also could be moved to the outfield to make room for Davidson.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 190||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
Taken as the 15th overall player in the 2013 draft, Braden Shipley is an intriguing pitching prospect due primarily to his physical tools and talent as oppose to his amateur accomplishments.
Shipley was a two-way player until his senior year in high school when he finally focused full-time on pitching. The arsenal is raw but impressive. He throws hard with the ability to run his fastball into the upper nineties with promising secondary pitches. At 6-foot-3 and a high three-quarters delivery, Shipley pitches down in the zone and that should translate into significant ground ball rates. In fact, in his first 39.2 innings of professional ball, his GO/AO ratio was 2.81.
As with his arsenal, Shipley’s pitching mechanics are also raw. On his delivery, his front leg does a strange loopy pattern and then finishes with an exaggerated stride to the plate. While there is some momentum to the plate, because of the leg pattern, he does lose significant kinetic energy somewhat negating the positive of the long stride. He does have good balance on the delivery but his posture needs improvement.
Shipley should start 2014 in the Midwest League and has a ceiling of a number two starter. While the arsenal and pitching mechanics are raw, the athleticism is impressive and I always bet on the athletic pitcher with an electric arm. I think that’s Braden Shipley.
Fantasy Impact: Braden Shipley has significant upside but it does come with high level of risk. He’s raw and needs significant development. His upside will be dependent on his ability to take instruction and adjust to the rigors of professional baseball. Time will tell how successful he will be.
|2014 Age: 20||Ceiling: Role 5
|Ht:6-1 Weight: 215||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
Selected in the first round of the 2012 draft, I fully expected Stryker Trahan to start 2013 in South Bend in the Midwest League. However, the D’Backs decided to hold him back and have him play short season ball instead. The offensive results were positive as he posted a .254/.328/.462 slash line and more importantly, reports on his defense have been encouraging. In fact, his ability to throw out runners went from 24% to 40% with a reasonable sample size.
Trahan has nice bat speed that he combines with a short compact swing to make hard contact. At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, he has enough raw strength to have plus future power. He has a nice approach at the plate being able to lay off pitches he can’t handle and taking a walk when necessary. His 57K/24BB in 236 at-bats points to the solid average future hit tool that he could have.
The big question is whether Trahan is a catcher or must move to first base or the outfield. Sources are still mixed on the question with some believing he has the athleticism to stay behind the dish and others less bullish. The Diamondbacks will continue to have him catch for the foreseeable future while pushing the decision on his ultimate defensive position down the road.
Fantasy Impact: If Trahan stays behind the plate, he could be an interesting asset to own in the Dynasty League. While the results are still mixed on his ability to stay behind the dish, I’m actually still bullish on that possibility. Assuming he does, Trahan has the ceiling of a top 10 fantasy catcher.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: #4 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 225||Bats: Right Throws: Left||ETA: 2013|
Command and control left-handed pitchers like David Holmberg can have a long career in Major League baseball. While organizations want 6-foot-4 pitchers with a plus arsenal featuring a mid-90’s fastball, pitchers who can command their arsenal, even if it’s inferior can have a lot of value. That defines David Holmberg.
Holmberg has a four-pitch mix that consists of a fastball that sits 87-90 MPH with some deception, an 80-82 MPH change-up that is his best pitch and can really miss bats and two types of curves. He throws a slow mid-70’s curve that is the better of the two and a harder slurve that is an average pitch but does change the eye level to complement his traditional curve.
Holmberg’s pitching mechanics are very good; showing nice posture and balance which is allowing him to effectively repeat his delivery. The arm action is slow and easy but without a lot of momentum to the plate. That causes his pitches to come in a little flat and could partially explain why he’s more of a fly ball pitcher (1.39 GO/AO ratio).
Fantasy Impact: As an innings eater, Holmberg will likely be a better asset for a major league team as opposed to a fantasy team. While he’s had high strike out totals in the past, he’ll likely average less than seven per nine as a major leaguer. He could also be a high ERA and low WHIP pitcher as he could be homer prone but will keep batters off the base paths because he doesn’t walk anybody.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: #4 starter|
|Ht: 6-5 Weight:230||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
The Diamondbacks went back-to-back with right-handed pitchers in the 2013 draft with a Nevada background. After selecting Shipley out of the University of Nevada, the D’Backs took Las Vegas native Aaron Blair in the supplemental first round (36th overall). While Shipley has a ceiling of a number three, Blair has the profile of a solid back-of-the-rotation innings eater.
Blair has a solid arsenal with a fastball that sits 89-91 MPH but has proven he can run it up to the mid-90’s in short bursts. His best secondary pitch is a change-up with his slider ranking after that. He also throws a curve but his delivery angle is not really conducive for the pitch. Sources indicate that the Diamondbacks will have him stop throwing the pitch and focus on his slider.
From a pitching mechanics standpoint, Blair is slow and deliberate to the plate. He does take a noticeable long stride and given he’s 6-foot-5 length, that must be quite intimidating to batters. The momentum does help his arsenal to play-up as his fastball in particular really jumps up on batters.
Blair should begin 2014 in the Midwest League with a good chance to finish the season in either High-A or Double-A. Given his mature arsenal and college pedigree, he should move quickly through the system with a chance to see Arizona in 2015.
Fantasy Impact: While Blair should be a serviceable big leaguer, he’s only draftable in the deepest of Dynasty Leagues.
|2014 Age: 23||Ceiling: Reliever|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 205||Bats: Right Throws:Left||ETA: 2014|
Lefty Andrew Chafin has been working his way through the Diamondbacks organization after being taken as the 47th overall selection in the 2011 draft. He has a very nice arsenal that consists of a 90-92 MPH two seamer with a lot of natural sink that generate a lot of ground balls (2.18 GO/AO ratio in 280.2 career minor league innings).
His best secondary pitch is a monster – a mid 80’s slider that has significant cutting action and is both hard to pick-up and hard to hit. I had a chance to see the pitch in action in the Arizona Fall League before Chafin was sent home with a reportedly dead arm. It’s as good as advertised, although the velocity was a little off. In fact, his fastball velocity was off as well giving some credence to the dead arm report. His third pitch is his change-up and reports indicate that it still has a long way to go.
Chafin’s pitching mechanics are interesting. His posture is good but he also bends his back leg noticeably in this setup. This reduces his downward plane but given his great ground ball rate, it doesn’t seem to be an issue. His delivery though is far from clean. He slings the ball to home plate with a definitive pause in his delivery; almost herky-jerky. This type of delivery does put a lot of pressure on your pitching shoulder and elbow and could have been a contributing factor to Chafin having Tommy John surgery in 2010. Ultimately the delivery might cause Chafin to be moved to the bullpen but for now the Diamondbacks will continue starting him.
While Chafin has a live arm, his pitching mechanics and fastball/slider combination point to him being a bullpen arm. Because his slider is so good, he could fill the role of a late inning reliever or closer down the road.
Fantasy Impact: If you own Chafin, you’re hoping that he becomes a closer. While most closers throw form the right-side, Chafin could be an exception as the arsenal is nasty. Plus, his fastball should tick-up if he’s able to amp it up for 15-20 pitches. While he’s an intriguing prospect, he can be ignored in most Dynasty League formats.
9. Brandon Drury (3B)
Brandon Drury was part of the return the Diamondbacks got for trading Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves. While the trade confused many including myself, Drury is a nice little player that has the hit-tool and power to make it all the way to Arizona.
While repeating Low-A, Drury posted an excellent .280/.362/.500 slash line in 525 at-bats. He also showed some pop by hitting 15 home runs with a league leading 51 doubles. In fact his 51 doubles were 11 more than the next closet player. While he repeated the league, he only turned 21-years-old in August so he wasn’t at all old for the league.
10. Justin Williams (OF)
Drafted as a 17-year-old high school senior in the 2013 draft, Justin Williams has the physicality of a much older player. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Williams already has the look of a Major League corner outfielder and based on his batting practice displays, the power to boot. However, the physicality and batting practice displays are not yet showing up in games. Part of the issue is his swing. It’s a very arm-heavy approach that lacks the torque from his lower half. The best news is that there is bat speed and that combined with his natural raw power gives him a plus future power projection.
2014 Emerging Prospect:
Sergio Alcantara (SS)
Signed in 2012 for $700,000 out of the Dominican Republic, Sergio Alcantara was aggressively placed in the AZL as a 16-year-old and more than held his own. While he only batted .243, he showed impressive plate discipline and walked 44 times in 169 at-bats. He does have bat speed but no power at the moment; but remember, he was 16 for part of the time he was playing professional ball. I only saw him in one game during the fall instructs, but his defensive chops were impressive. He has excellent fielding instincts with great lateral movements.