Arizona Diamondbacks

Original Published Date: December 11, 2015

It’s been a period of churn and disappointment for the Arizona Diamondbacks.  It’s started a couple of year ago when the combination of GM Kevin Towers and Field Manager Kurt Gibson seemed to lead the team down a wrong path – questionable trades, club house issues led to a mess and the eventually dismissal of both.

With Tony LaRussa, Dave Stewart, and Chip Hale at the helm, things have stabilized.  The major league team played better in 2015 and the Diamondbacks had what appears to be a very good draft.  Dansby Swanson was a solid pick at 1:1 and should quickly move through the system with a chance to be a Top five shortstop in the game.  I also like their second and third pick, Alex Young and Taylor Clark.  Both have a chance to be solid mid-rotation starters.

The real talent in the system though lies in their pitching. Archie Bradley, Aaron Blair, and Braden Shipley all have the ceiling of a number two starter.  I placed them in the order listed above but they could have easily been reversed or Blair could have been the top arm.  Yoan Lopez is also a quality arm but when I saw him the AFL in October, the fastball was flat and he wasn’t fooling anyone with it.

It’s a good system with each player on this list having a very good chance to be a major leaguer.  Plus, there were at least five other players who I felt could be big leaguers but I just ran out of room.  Maybe I should expand the list to 15.  Ugh, the thought of that hurts my head, hands and many other parts of my body.

1. Dansby Swanson (SS) – Traded to the Braves on 12/8/15

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: All Star
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 175 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
2015 SS 83 19 1 11 0 .289 .394 83.1 14.1 .333

Being selected number one overall comes a huge pay day but even bigger expectations.   After a standout career at Vanderbilt, Dansby Swanson appears ready for the challenge as well as now having $6.5 million cash in the bank.  In his limited 83 at-bats in the Northwest League, Swanson posted a .289/.394/.482 slash line with a 1:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.   While the sample size is much too limited to draw any conclusions, the 11 walks vs. 11 strikeouts was very encouraging to see.

It was nip and tuck for when Swanson would begin his professional career.  As he was preparing for his assignment in the Diamondbacks’ Arizona complex, a fastball from Yoan Lopez got away and hit him in the face.  The team played it safe and held him out of games for a couple of weeks before sending him to Hillsboro.

As an advanced college player, Swanson will likely start the 2016 season in Visalia of the California League.  Assuming he plays as well as we think he will, he should make quick work of the minor leagues with a chance to see Arizona in 2017.

Scouting Report: Swanson has a chance to be an impact major league player with solid all-round tools.  His swing is compact and short to the ball but is more geared for contact than power.  He does have enough bat speed and strength to project to hit 10 to 12 home runs annually.  He also shows the ability to control the strike zone and this should help him post a .280 plus batting average with some upside.  Finally, he’s a plus runner with great instincts on the base paths which should lead to 25 to 30 stolen bases annually.

Defensively, most evaluators believe that Swanson has enough athleticism to stay at short long-term.  He doesn’t have a great arm, but has soft hands and great lateral movements.  With his offensive upside, he could easily become a Top 10 shortstop in the game with a chance to see several All Star games.

Fantasy Impact:  Swanson was a well deserving number one overall pick.  While his skills are not “off the chart crazy”, they are nonetheless very fantasy friendly.  Would I pick Swanson or Rogers first in a re-draft Dynasty League?  I would probably go Rogers for upside but if I have a chance to compete in the next two or three years, I would lean Swanson.

2. Archie Bradley (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 230 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+,AAA 25.1 29 9 5 2.49 9.24 3.20 1.42

It’s hard to believe that Archie Bradley is still eligible for our prospect list, but with only 35.2 major league innings under his belt, he’s below the threshold.

It was a tough year for Bradley as he pitched poorly in his eight starts in Arizona and then took a comebacker off his head in May, only to miss even more time with shoulder stiffness in the second half.  While there was always concern about Bradley’s ability to throw consistent strikes, nobody questioned his stuff.  However, in those eight starts, he struck out only 23.  If you combine that with 22 walks, one would argue that he was lucky to only post a 5.80 ERA.  While it wasn’t good, better days lay ahead for 23-year-old Oklahoman.

Scouting Report:  Never give up on hard throwing athletic pitchers.  That’s our adage at prospect361.com and we stand by it.  Bradley is athletic with a great delivery and a fastball that averages 93.31 MPH with burst up to 95.  He also throws a hard breaking pitch that sits 80 to 82 MPH with the shape of a curve but with slider break.  It’s a very good pitch despite the low Whiff rate he achieved with it in the majors. In his rehab starts in Triple-A, the curve was working better and he was actually throwing more strikes.

Bradley is likely to start the 2016 season back in the Arizona rotation and I expect much better results. He’ll still be inconsistent as he struggles to repeat his delivery, but with his athleticism and current mechanics, it’s just a matter of time.  While we are backing off our #1 projection, we still believe he’ll be a solid #2 starter.

Fantasy Impact:  I’m going to be drafting Bradley in every league I can next year.  He’ll be cheap and I see nothing but upside.  The ceiling is still a strikeout an inning but with uncertain ratios.  If his control improves, the ratios will be good.  If not, he’ll struggle and he’ll likely be cast to the side in fantasy leagues.  For Dynasty Leagues, don’t lose hope.  There’s a solid pitcher in-there, it’s just going to take time.  Remember, he’s only 23-years-old.

3. Aaron Blair (RHP) – Traded the Braves on 12/8/15

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-5 Weight: 230 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 AA,AAA 160.1 137 52 13 2.81 6.74 2.92 1.17

A lot of people I spoke with last year when I was doing the Diamondbacks list thought Aaron Blair was the Top prospect in the organization.   I went with the upside of Bradley and have done so again this year.  However, I’m beginning to wonder if I have it wrong as Blair has done nothing but pitch well since being drafted in the supplemental first round of the 2013 first year player draft.

It was another stellar performance in 2015 for the 6-foot-5 right-hander.  In 160.1 inning across Double and Triple-A, Blair posted a 2.92 ERA while striking out 120 and walking 50.  What was particularly impressive is how well he pitched in the Pacific Coast League, a league that has some of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in professional baseball.

Using Bradley as our historical pattern, Blair could start in the rotation for the Diamondbacks to begin the 2016 season.  Based on his minor league performance, he’s looks ready.

Scouting Report: Blair has a quality arsenal with a fastball that sits 91 to 93 MPH with a lot of natural movement.  It’s the movement in combination with plus velocity that makes the pitch effective.  He also throws a traditional curve and change-up that complement his fastball well.  While none of his pitches have that knockout grade, he throws strikes and pitches very aggressively and that’s what makes him so effective.

As evaluators, we can fall in love with the 98 MPH fastball or the double-plus curve.  It’s great when a pitcher has that, but so few do.  What Blair can do is pitch.  He locates his fastball, has good mechanics, and throws strikes.  All of that together give him a ceiling of a number two/three starter who should make his big league debut next year.

Fantasy Impact:  What makes Blair valuable in a Dynasty League is the relatively low risk that he brings.  He will be a big league pitcher and a very good one.  He doesn’t have a number one ceiling or even a high number two ceiling, but what he’ll do is log big innings, strikeout seven per nine with better than league average ratios.

4. Braden Shipley (RHP)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 185 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 AA 156.2 147 61 7 3.22 6.78 3.50 1.30

If you’re an owner of Braden Shipley in a Dynasty League and are disappointed that he is ranked number four.  Don’t be.  Bradley, Blair, and Shipley are all top prospects and Shipley has the talent to be the best of the bunch.  However, we have to make a call on these rankings and Shipley goes to number three primarily because he’s a little further away from the big leagues than the other two.  But on athleticism, talent, he’s right there.

Shipley pitched extremely well in 28 games (27 started) in the Southern League.  In 156.2 innings, he posted a 3.50 ERA with 118 strikeouts and 56 walks.  His control improved from 2014 but still has a ways to go before he can pitch effectively at the highest level.

The Diamondbacks will likely start Shipley in Triple-A to begin the 2016 season with a chance to see Arizona in the second half.

Scouting Report:  College pitchers who were former positional players, particularly shortstops always get my attention.  The reason is they have a tendency to be more athletic than a player that has only pitched from college through the professional ranks.  At some point, an evaluator from the University of Nevada thought that Shipley was athletic enough to play shortstop at a top-tier college.

Shipley’s 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.

His control has improved and this should continue through 2016 as he continues to pitch.  If the mechanics are solid, which they are with Shipley, many times the pitcher just needs repetition to figure it out.  I think that’s where we are with Shipley.

Fantasy Impact:  Shipley is another top-tier pitcher that doesn’t get mentioned enough in Dynasty Leagues chatter.  He’ll get a ton of ground balls with seven to eight strikeouts per nine and not get burned by the home run ball.  If you add it all up, the ceiling is a Top 40 pitcher in baseball.

5. Peter O’Brien (OF)

2016 Age: 25 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 235 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2015 AAA 490 77 26 107 1 .284 .332 74.7 5.8 .328

The dream of Pete O’Brien remaining behind the plate appears to be over.  It’s a shame as when I saw him last year in the AFL, I thought it would work.  However, he started having trouble throwing back to the pitcher and that combined with average receiving skills already, made the decision easy for the Diamondbacks.

Scouting Report:  Now that his position has been solved, we can focus our attention on the type of hitter O’Brien will be once he fully graduates to the majors.  He has tremendous raw power that he’s shown throughout his minor career, culminating in 26 bombs in the PCL prior to his September callup.  The swing can get long and strikeouts will likely always be part of the equation.  He’s also not a patient hitter so the two combined could make it difficult for O’Brien to hit enough to profile as a major league regular.

His lifetime contact rate of 72% and walk rate of 6.2% put him right on the cusp of the skills necessary to be successful at the highest level.  I don’t think he’ll match his lifetime minor league .273 batting average in the majors, but a .250 batting average good be a good benchmark.  Combine that with 25 home run power and he resembles Milwaukee Brewers Khris Davis.

Fantasy Impact:  While O’Brien will not a fantasy star, the total package should make him a number four outfielder in a 15-team mixed league.  The upside is a .250 hitter with 25 home runs but no speed.  He should compete for a roster spot next Spring and given how the Diamondbacks have soured on Yamany Tomas, he could in fact make the team out of Spring Training.

6. Brandon Drury (3B)

2016 Age: 21 Ceiling: 2nd Div.
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
2015 AA,AAA 524 65 5 61 4 .303 .344 85.5 5.6 .342

Brandon Drury has shown the ability to hit since being drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 13th round of the 2010 draft.  He has a career lifetime batting average of .285 with an 84% contact rate. That ability to hit gave him a chance in September to show his wares in Arizona and he held his own.  In 56 at-bats, he batted .214 with two home runs and only eight strikeouts.

Because the Diamondbacks appear to be committed to Jake Lamb at third, they played Drury at second a good part of the year. While Aaron Hill is still owed $12 million dollars for next year, you could see Drury slide into the position midway through the year, if not early as Hill is not in their long-term plans.

Scouting Report: Drury has a great swing with excellent hand-eye coordination.  The swing though lacks loft and is more geared for double-power than over-the-fence power.   The 19 home runs he hit in the California League will likely be an outlier as 10 to 15 would be more in-line with his swing mechanics.  He’s a below-average runner but has the kind of bat control to slot into the number two hole.

I’ve only seen him play third and was impressed.  He has a good arm, great footwork and reactions times.  Given his defensive acumen, I’m assuming that he’ll be a quality defender at second.

Fantasy Impact:  Drury might be a tweener in a fantasy league.  He can hit and get on-base, so his greatest strength might be in the runs scored category; probably the hardest category to fill.  The home runs will likely tap out at 15 and there will only be a stray stolen base or two every year.

7. Yoan Lopez (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 185 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 R,AA 54.0 49 25 4 4.00 6.33 4.69 1.46

The Diamondbacks signed Cuban emigre Yoan Lopez to an $8.3 million dollar signing bonus with the hope that he would work quickly through the minor leagues.  Unfortunately, a poor spring training began what can only be a called a “season of misadventure” for the 22 year-old right-hander.

In May he developed a blister that required a DL stint.  Prior to that, he pitched ok, posting a 2.30 ERA with 18 strikeouts and 13 walks in six starts.  In rehabbing from the injury, he accidentally hit the first overall pick in the 2015 draft, Dansby Swanson in the face with a pitch.  After finally returning to game action, he left the team without telling anyone – going AWOL if you will.  The Diamondbacks tracked him down and then assigned a chaperone to accompany him for the rest of the season.  In July, he complained of elbow discomfort and was shutdown for the rest of the season.

The final stat line:  54.0 innings, 4.69 ERA, 32 strikeouts and 24 walks.

Scouting Report:  With only 54 innings pitched, the Diamondbacks sent Lopez to the Arizona Fall League to continue his development.  I had a chance to see him on Opening Night and left very confused.  I loved the body and the delivery was solid.  Then the game started.  His first pitched of the night was a XX MPH fastball that got hit very hard.  Subsequent fastballs also got hit hard.  Batters were not fooled at all.  When he started mixing in his change-up and slider, the batters started flailing.

The slider was a real weapon – great velocity with a sharp two-plane break.  But the fastball was straight with little movement and hitters got a great look.  While it sat 92 to 94 MPH, velocity is only part of the equation; the pitch lacked movement and deception and therefore got hit hard.  He had good control and threw strikes.  As with most young pitchers, his command was inconsistent.

Fantasy Impact:  After looking back at my review of Lopez, I’m clearly torn.  There is definitely mid-rotation upside but it does come with the downside risk of a high ERA given the amount of hits he could give up.  There will be strikeouts in the seven to eight per nine range.  He’s not a Top 100 prospect for me but instead I would consider him ownable in leagues that roster 200 minor leaguers.

8. Alex Young (LHP)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 R,SS 7.0 5 1 0 1.29 7.71 1.29 0.86

Alex Young spent the first two years of his college career in the pen, saving five games along the way.  In his junior year, coach Schlossnagle gave him a chance to start and the 6-foot-2 lefty never looked back.  He posted an impressive 2.22 ERA with 103 strikeouts and 22 walks in 97.1 innings pitched.  That performance led to the Diamondbacks taking him as the first pick in the second round of the 2015 first year player draft (pick 43).

Scouting Report:  Young has a nice four pitch mix of a fastball, curve, slider, and change-up.  While the fastball sits 89 to 92 MPH, it plays up a grade because he’s able to throw it for strikes and command it better than most young pitchers.  He exhibited plus control in college and that carried-forward in his brief professional debut.  His curve is the superior offering over his slider but he uses both effectively.  His change-up is also good with nice fade that he’ll throw to both right and left-handers.  It’s a solid arsenal that is again enhanced by his ability to throw strikes.

Fantasy Impact:  When drafting for a Dynasty League, there are a ton of pitchers like Alex Young – lacking elite velocity but with advanced pitchability.  While I generally avoid pitchers like this, I see something in Young.  He can really pitch and I think with some delivery tweaks, he could add a mile or two of velocity.

9. Taylor Clarke (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 SS 21.0 8 0 0 1.71 11.57 0.00 0.57

Taken in the third round of the 2015 first year player draft, Taylor Clarke was used exclusively in the bullpen to start his professional career.   He responded extremely well; pitching 21 innings, giving up eight hits, walking four, and striking out 27.  One source who saw him live commented that, “he was clearly too advanced for the league and needed to be in at least High-A”.  That’s a reasonable position to take for an advanced college arm.

Scouting Report:  Clarke has an over-the-top delivery that combined with his 6-foot-4 frame gives him tremendous plane to the plate.  Batters will likely have difficulty squaring his pitches up.  His arsenal consists of a fastball that sits 91 to 93 MPH and a change-up and curve.  The change-up is the more advanced pitch with his curve still needing a lot of work.

While the body and delivery suggest a starter, the Diamondbacks could keep him in the pen and move him through their system quickly.  If that happens, the fastball will no doubt play up a grade and his timeline to the major could be accelerated.

Fantasy Impact:  Clarke is a player to keep on the radar for Dynasty League as his delivery should allow him to throw strikes and make-up for his lack of a plus fastball.  If he moves to the pen, there’s a chance that he could see some save opportunities down the road.

10. Gabby Guerrero (OF)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: 2nd Div.
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2015 AA 460 51 7 47 11 .222 .258 76.5 4.7 .272

It’s just fun to watch Gabby Guerrero play; if for no other reason to see the amazing resemblance to his famous uncle.  From the high waist, to the lack of batting gloves, to the swing, he looks a lot like Vlad.  The problem of course is he doesn’t have that level of talent, but candidly who does.

Guerrero had a poor season in 2015 as Double-A proved difficult for the 21-year-old.  He struggled equally in Mobile and Jackson, posting a .602 OPS with only seven home runs in 126 games.  It was a far cry from what he did in the hitter-friendly parks of the California League in 2014 when he was with the Seattle Mariners.

Scouting Report:  Guerrero’s carrying tool is plus raw power that I saw first-hand in the AFL when he hit a bomb off Colorado Rockies farmhand Kyle Freeland.  His struggle continues to be his approach.  He swings at everything, walking only 116 times in 2,078 minor league career. When you combine that with a strikeout rate of 22%, it’s a recipe for a poor batting average and even worse on-base percentage.  After seeing him in High-A and again in the AFL, I don’t see any improvement.  Unless the approach improves, I don’t believe he’s a major league player.

Fantasy Impact:  Dynasty League owners want to roster Guerrero, partially because of the plus power potential and partially for the legacy.   I own him one league with 20 minor league roster slots and he is on the bubble.  If the approach improves, the upside is an everyday right fielder with 25 home runs annually.  If it doesn’t, he likely won’t make it.  I’m starting to lean towards the latter at this point.

2016 Emerging Prospect:

Isan Diaz (SS)

One of the breakouts in the Diamondbacks organization was Isan Diaz.  The 2014 Supplemental second round pick was overwhelmed last year but tore it up in the Pioneer League in 2015.  In 68 games, he batted .360 with 13 home runs and 12 stolen bases and an 1.076 OPS.  He has a nice approach at the plate but can get pull-happy as he tries to muscle up on the ball.  If he can stay within himself at the plate and stay short-to-the-ball, the Diamondbacks might have something.


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