|Original Published Date: December 12, 2014|
The big change in Arizona in 2014 was the hiring of Tony La Russa as the Chief Baseball Officer. La Russa was hired after the team struggled out of the gate and ultimately lost 98 games, worse in all of baseball.
While the big league team has significant challenges, there is substantial talent in the minor leagues, particularly with three high-impact but risky right-handed pitchers. Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley and Touki Toussaint are all extremely athletic pitchers with plus fastballs and below-average command. Bradley is the closet to the majors but injuries and ineffectiveness have raised concerns about his ultimate ceiling. Shipley is still two-years away but is following a similar path as Bradley. Toussaint has as much talent as his older teammates but is still sushi raw. Aaron Blair is the fourth elite pitcher in the Diamondbacks stable but doesn’t have the arsenal of the power-three. What he does have is better control and command and will likely see the big leagues in 2016.
On the other side of the ball, the Diamondbacks have several solid bats that could help the big league club soon. Jake Lamb will likely be the starting third baseman next year after having a breakout season in 2014. Brandon Drury is not far behind and while his ceiling is not as high as Lamb, he profiles as a solid-regular at the highest-level. Finally, there is Pete O’Brien, a power-hitting catcher that could see time in Arizona in 2015.
There’s a lot of talent in the minor leagues and with the first pick in the 2015 first year player draft, La Russa and Co. could see a quick turn-around in the desert.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 235||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
At the beginning of the 2014 season, the Archie Bradley watch was in overdrive. As a charter member of the hype-machine society, I was also contributing in a meaningful way, putting Bradley at the top of our impact rookies for 2014. However, as the season closed, all Bradley had to show for his efforts was injuries, poor statistical performance, and a box score that didn’t include Phoenix.
If the performance wasn’t frustrating enough, Dave Duncan, Arizona’s pitching consultant was interviewed on the MLB Radio Network and made some very candid, harsh comments about the Diamondbacks top prospect. He said that Bradley “…still has a lot to do to be a legitimate guy in a major league rotation.” He further went on to say that while Bradley had good velocity, it was “inconsistent”. He also said that his breaking pitch was also inconsistent and he “virtually has an unusable change-up”. I was on my daily run and had to stop to listen and then rewind the interview as I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Remarkable!
Remarkable, yes, but there was a lot of truth to what Duncan said. While Bradley is very athletic, he still cannot consistently repeat his delivery and consequently walked over five per nine, resulting in 30-grade control. Additionally, the change-up does still need a lot of work and while “unsuable” might be an emotional comment, it’ still is not consistent enough to be effective at the highest level.
That said, the fastball is still a plus pitch with both top flight velocity and great movement. It can be so overwhelming that Bradley does not attempt to throw the ball down in the zone and instead, lets it rip. The curve ball also shows a lot of promise and can already miss bats and will only get better.
If you read a lot of my prospect work, you know that that I put a huge amount of stock in athleticism and elite velocity. Bradley has both of these in spades and therefore, the ceiling is still significant. That said, you can’t deny the struggles he had in the upper minors and the feedback Duncan provided.
Fantasy Impact: Depending on the cost, I would be trading FOR Bradley. I still believe Bradley will strikeout a batter an inning and while his control could wreak havoc on his ratios early in his career, the National League will help ease the pain for fantasy owners. Owners need to be patient as there is still a lot to like long-term with Bradley.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 190||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
In reading the review of Braden Shipley, there will be a lot of similarities to Archie Bradley. In fact, switch the curve ball to a change-up and much of the strengths and opportunities are the same between the two right-handed pitchers.
Selected in the first round of the 2013 first year player draft (#15 overall), Braden Shipley has the foundation for a great arsenal. His fastball is a plus offering with both plus velocity and movement. The fastball sits 93 to 94 MPH with plenty of 5’s and 6’s and even a 98 if he wants to really show-off. He gets on top of the pitch and is able to throw it down in the zone making it a very difficult pitch to square. His change-up is his money pitch as he throws it with the same arm action as his fastball. The pitch also has a lot of movement that makes it even harder for a batter to square. He does show the ability to spin a curve, it just happens too infrequently. Most of the time, he misses the strike zone. However, I believe the pitch will improve to at least an average offering and that could be enough to allow Shipley to reach his number two ceiling.
The final piece of the puzzle is Shipley’s command and control. The control is above average and should improve over time; he just is not yet able to consistent throw quality strikes. The good news is he has an athletic delivery with very good momentum to the plate. His posture is also very good but his balance will come and go. I’m not too worried and believe over time, the mechanics will work very well and putting at least an average future grade on his command seems reasonable.
While Bradley’s stuff is better than Shipley and therefore his ceiling is higher, I actually believe Shipley’s floor is higher and the risk is less. Bottom line is he has a chance to be very, very good.
Fantasy Impact: The ceiling for Braden is a top 30 pitcher with close to a strikeout per inning. The profile will be enhanced given his ability to get ground balls and pitch down in the zone. Candidly, he just needs more time. However, patience is a characteristic missing among most Dynasty League owners. Therefore, in a year or two when Shipley makes his major league debut and is not in the NL Rookie of the Year discussions, try to buy low. He’s worth the long term investment.
|2015 Age: 24||Ceiling: 1st Div
|Ht: 6-1 Weight: 230||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
Yasmany Tomas defected from Cuba over the summer and started a lengthy bidding process that ended with the Diamondbacks winning the rights to pay him a ton of money. While many expected him to sign a $100 million dollar contract, the Diamondbacks were able to secure his services for a mere six year, $68.5 million dollar contract.
Tomas’ carrying tool is massive raw power that is generated from raw strength and leverage that he generates from his 6-foot-1, 230 pound frame. While there is some bat speed, he has a similar profile as Nelson Cruz, who also generates his plus raw power from strength as opposed to bat speed.
In full disclosure, I’ve gathered limited information on Tomas. He’s been viewed by few within the industry and besides the videos widely available on youtube, there just isn’t much information. I did get a couple of notes from sources who saw him during his showcase to teams and they were impressed. In particular, they noted that he had lost weight and looked in shape. That’s good, because in many of the videos I watched, he was rather portly. Young and overweight is clearly a reason for pause.
I’ve listed Tomas as an outfielder and left field is likely where he winds up. However, the Diamondbacks will try him at third in the Dominican Winter League to see if he can stick in the dirt. If he can, it will add substantial value to his profile.
Fantasy Impact: Plus power is very valuable in all aspects of the fantasy game and Tomas should be able to deliver 20 plus home runs once he knocks the rust off. How much swing and miss will be in his game is unknown. However, in reviewing his swing, there could be some. Also, it does look like he can be fooled by good breaking ball stuff. Tomas will be a top 100 prospect but candidly, I’m guessing.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-5 Weight: 230||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015-16|
Drafted in the supplemental first round of the 2013 draft, 24 picks behind Braden Shipley, Aaron Blair is the third of four top pitching prospects in the Diamondbacks organization. His distinction amongst the four is he decided to pitch at the collegiate level before making his way to professional baseball.
The results so far in his 203.0 innings have been mixed. As with most pitchers, he struggled in the California League posting a 4.35 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. The good news is that he showed great control (2.61 BB/9) while striking out over ten per nine. Base hits just found their way through the defense as is par for the course in the Cali League. However, once he got to Double-A, the hits stopped falling and he posted a 1.98 ERA in a limited sample size of 46.1 innings. The best news was his control stayed on par (3.11 BB/9) while striking out nearly a batter an inning.
The arsenal is quality but is decidedly below that of Bradley, Shipley, and Touki. His fastball sits 91 to 93 MPH with a ton of late movement. While it’s a four seamer, it has a lot of the action of a two-seamer but it doesn’t create the ground ball rate that you would expect. His best secondary pitch is his change-up that can already miss bats. It looks like he has decided to focus on his slider and shelve his curve in order to come to the big leagues with three average, if not more pitches.
Fantasy Impact: While Blair doesn’t have elite stuff, he has very good pitchability with good control and command. The results should be a pitcher capable of seven to eight strikeouts per nine with better than league average ratios. His ceiling is a solid number four major league starter with upside or in fantasy-speak, he’s a top 50 to 75 pitcher. He should be owned in all leagues who roster 150 minor league players.
|2015 Age: 24||Ceiling: Solid-Reg
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 220||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
Jake Lamb had a nice college career posting an impressive .851 OPS. However, evaluators were concerned about the amount of power he would ultimately have given his more contact-oriented swing and he fell to the 6th round in the 2012 first year player draft. Looking to show the world he was more than a contact hitter, Lamb slugged his way all the way to the major leagues in 2014.
The journey started in 2013 where he posted a .982 OPS in the California League with 13 home runs, but that was dismissed given his age and the hitter-friendly nature of the league. However, once Lamb started to do it in Double-A to begin 2014, people started to believe. I guess the Diamondbacks knew what they had all along as Lamb blew past Double and Triple-A to log 126 at-bats in the majors (just four at-bats under the minimum for this list).
While the sledding was obviously more difficult in Arizona, Lamb has demonstrated enough plate patience and contactability to project an above-average hit tool. While his career contact rate of 76% is not overly impressive, his 12% walk rate is. The power continues to be the open question. The swing is still mostly contacted oriented but Lamb has clearly added loft to his stroke. I think the upper limit of his power will be 20 home runs but he’ll likely settle into average power or 15 to 18.
While the Diamondbacks could bring in a veteran to play third base in 2015, it appears that the team will give Lamb the first shot. And they should – they are rebuilding and need to see what their young prospects can do. I think he could put up a .270/.330/.420 slash line next year while playing a very good third base.
Fantasy Impact: Third base has become very challenging for most owners in deeper leagues. If Lamb can post a .270 batting average with 15 to 18 home runs, that will likely make him a top 15 third baseman. How likely is that next year? Honestly, it’s probably a stretch but for Dynasty League owners, it’s the kind of upside you want in your farm system.
|2015 Age: 18||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 185||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2018|
The name Touki Toussaint has been known to evaluators for quite some time even though he spent his formative years playing soccer in his native county of Haiti. However, he rose to fame when he hit 96 MPH in his sophomore year of high school and showing the ability to spin a curve. However his inability to throw consistent strikes dropped him to sixteenth in the 2014 first year player draft and the Arizona Diamondbacks jumped on him.
As with Archie Bradley and Braden Shipley before him, Toussaint is extremely athletic with a plus fastball that has tremendous life given his great momentum and extension to the plate. While the fastball sits 91-94 MPH, he routinely hits 96 and 97. He complements the fastball with a curve ball that has a chance to be a real weapon once he learns to command it. The combination was lethal in his first 28.2 innings as he struck out 10 batters per nine but also walked 18, or 5.6 batters per nine. Plus, because of his lack of command, he also got hit very hard, giving up 38 hits in those same 28.2 innings. A pitcher with that kind of stuff should not be giving up that many hits to fellow rookie level players.
The source of Toussaint’s struggles is his mechanics. In a word, they are inconsistent. Sometimes, he looks good – with good balance on his landing and being direct to the plate. On other pitches, he’s loses his balance which causes him to lose his release point and the ball follows somewhere he doesn’t want it to be. That said, there is so much athleticism, that the Diamondbacks will be extremely patient with their prized right-hander. Remember, he has not been pitching very long and just did not have the repetition that many others in his draft class had.
Fantasy Impact: Toussaint is a lottery pick. He has the upside of a top 30 pitcher in fantasy baseball with extreme strikeout totals; or he might not ever make it out of Double-A. Actually, given the investment, he’ll likely be moved to the bullpen before the Diamondbacks would admit defeat. The profile does remind me a little of Daniel Norris. He has similar kind of stuff and struggled with his release point early in his professional career. This year, he pitched in the major league and is one of the top pitching prospects in the game. Toussaint could follow a similar path but there is extreme risk. If you’re risk adverse, you should hunt elsewhere. If you are looking for the preverbal home run, got get em.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: Solid-Reg
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 190||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015-16|
Brandon Drury was supposed to be a throw-in in the January 2013 trade that sent Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves. As it turns out, he’s pretty much all that’s left from what will likely go down as a terrible trade for the Diamondbacks. The good news is that he has a chance to become a solid-regular performer in the major leagues.
Drury does not have a true carrying tool but has a lot of 50’s on the 20 to 80 scouting scale. He has an aggressive approach at the plate but does make solid contact with a short compact swing. While he doesn’t have elite bat speed, he has enough that when combined with his strength, should allow him to hit for average power. The 23 home runs he hit in 2014 were fueled by 19 in the hitter-friendly confines of the California League, but 15 to 18 home runs should serve as a good major league baseline. He does have below-average speed with two timing at the Arizona Fall League of 4.38 and 4.44 to first base.
Defensively, he’s a solid defender at third base with good arm strength and better than expected soft hands. What he lacks in speed and agility at third, he makes up with good reaction times.
Fantasy Impact: While I think Jake Lamb has more upside, Drury is right there and could be nipping at his heels if Lamb stumbles. The upside is a slash line of .260/.310/.420 with 15 to 18 home runs. Since he’s a poor runner, don’t expect more than two or three, excuse-me stolen bases annually.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: 2nd-Div
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 215||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
At the trade deadline, Pete O’Brien was traded from the Yankees to the Diamondbacks for Martin Prado. We won’t belabor the point that Prado was the supposedly the centerpiece of the Justin Upton trade and showed the “grit” that the Diamondbacks craved.
O’Brien’s carrying tool is plus raw power that translated into 34 home runs across High and Double-A. The 34 dingers were fifth most in the minors. The power is a combination of bat speed and raw strength that he gets from his 6-foot-3, 215 pound frame. With that type of power, usually comes swing and miss and O’Brien does strikeout a fair amount, but his 72% contact rate is not alarming. What is concerning is his aggressiveness at the plate. In 427 plate appearances, he walked only 21 times. The combination of his propensity to strikeout as well as his free swinging ways will put pressure on his on-base percentage.
Offensively the profile could be similar to left fielder/DH Mark Trumbo (with a few less walks). The reason I put DH next to Trumbo is that he’s always been a man without a defensive home. The same could be true with O’Brien. His primary position is catcher and I’ve seen him play there and it’s average at best. While he’s physically large for the positions, he moves very well and shows good agility. His arm strength is good but he still only manages pop times of 1.95 to 2.08. He might be better served in right field, but again, he’ll likely be an average to below average defender.
O’Brien is intriguing given his plus power but concerns about his defensive position and on-base skills could hold him back. He should see Arizona in 2015.
Fantasy Impact: O’Brien should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues with 150 minor league players. While the upside is 30 home runs annually, it could come with a .240 batting average and a .280 on-base percentage. Playing time could ultimately determine his overall value.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: #4 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 195||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2014|
Robbie Ray was the return in the trade that sent Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals prior to the 2014 season. It was a head scratcher when the trade went down and became even more so when the Tigers had to promote Ray into duty and he posted a 7.09 ERA in 26.2 innings. At the same time, Fister was posting a sub 3.00 ERA, becoming an important piece to the Nationals winning the division.
Was this a mistake by Dombrowski? Possibly, but Ray is still very young and has the athleticism to eventually grow into a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Ray has an average fastball, despite the 92.32 MPH velocity he registered in the big leagues. The offering can become flat and therefore hittable as was demonstrated by his .355 batting average against in those same 26.2 innings. Despite being a fly ball pitcher, he has not been very homer-prone in his career, but the margin of error is very thin.
His two primary pitches are better than he showed in Detroit with the change-up being ahead of his curve. However, they still need work, particularly around commanding both pitches.
Fantasy Impact: Ray just turned 23-years-old in October and by no means am I writing him off as a viable fantasy asset. While he will likely get some run in Arizona in 2015, fantasy owners need to tap their breaks in what to expect. The move to the National League is generally viewed as a positive for pitchers. However, the move to Chase Field will likely not bode well for Ray as he pitches up in the zone, resulting in a high rate of fly balls. Long-term, he profiles as a 6/7 pitcher on a fantasy team and more appropriate for streaming than a hold-and-play strategy.
|2015 Age: 18||Ceiling:2nd-Div|
|Ht: 5-10 Weight: 150||Bats: Both Throws: Right||ETA: 2018|
Signed out the Dominican Republic in 2012 for $700,000, Sergio Alcantara is a plus defender with the upside of being a gold glove caliber shortstop in the majors. While there are questions about his offensive game, he does have an advanced approach, showing great plate awareness with very good contactability. In 435 professional at-bats, he has a 98K/92BB strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, he can get too passive at the plate and that could be exposed as he moves through the development process.
The big concern about Alcantara is his lack of power and speed. While he’s an average runner, he has 30 grade-power with a body that doesn’t look prime for putting on weight and strength. Over time he should develop enough strength to be a gap hitter but in the end, he’ll likely post a mid 300’s slugging percentage.
Fantasy Impact: Because of his defensive ability, Alcantara will be a big leaguer. Whether he’s a utility player or a solid-regular will depend on how his hit tool progresses. For fantasy owners in a Dynasty League, he should only be considered for deep NL-Only formats with 300 minor league players.
2015 Emerging Prospect:
18-year-old Cody Reed was selected in the second round of the 2014 first year player draft and quickly impressed the Diamondbacks. In 32.2 innings in rookie ball, the strong 6-foot-3 lefty struck out 40 times while walking 12 times. The arsenal is solid with a fastball that sits 92-94 MPH with the ability to spin a curve. The delivery needs to be cleaned up as it’s not very fluid and at a listed 245 pounds, there’s likely little projectability left. However, lefties who can touch the mid 90’s don’t grow on trees, so he’s clearly one to watch.