|Original Published Date: December 15, 2017|
I know it’s not a popular opinion, but can we give the beleaguered Tony LaRussa and Dave Stewart a little bit of credit. The Diamondbacks were really good last season and while many of the moves they made in their tenure didn’t work, many others did and in my opinion, they deserve some of the success.
They did it on the backs of a core of young players that should keep the Diamondbacks competitive over the next couple of years. But, if they need help from the farm system, there is some help but it’s by no means plentiful.
Last year’s top draft pick Pavin Smith leads our list and can really hit. The problem is he’s blocked by Paul Goldschmidt but Goldy is only signed through 2019. That should be about the time that Smith is ready. Jon Duplantier is the top pitching prospect and posted some of the best numbers in the minor leagues last season. He could see the majors in 2019. Finally, Marcus Wilson is starting to turn his considerable tools into in-game production and could be an impact performer in a few years.
Pavin Smith (1B)
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
Pavin Smith was one of the best college bats to enter last June’s MLB Draft. Picking seventh, the Diamondbacks were able to secure the UVA alum’s services and the privilege of paying him a $5 million dollar signing bonus.
How good of a hitter is Smith? In 726 at-bats in his three-year college career, he hit .325, striking out 75 times while walking 100 times. In his draft year, he only struck out 12 times in 59 games. That’s bordering on Altuvian.
In his professional debut in the Northwest League, he picked up where he left off. In 51 games, he struck out 24 times while walking 27 times. But, there’s a rub, he didn’t hit a home run in those 51 games. While he never showed plus power in college, he did hit 28 over 187 games in his career.
Scouting Report: Pavin Smith carrying tool is his preternatural ability to hit. His plus approach at the plate should allow him to hit for a .300 average at the highest level. What we don’t know…is he going to be Joey Votto or Jesse Winker? In other words, the power is the open issue.
He is strong with good bat speed, but his swing lacks loft and that points to more of a 15 to 20 home run bat at first. However, as we’ve seen since 2016, this can change once a player hits the major leagues. In fact, let’s revisit Jesse Winker. Since 2015 when Winker entered the upper minors, he hit a home run every 67 plate appearance. In his short major league career, he’s hit a home run every 19 plate appearance. If you extend that out to a full season, that’s 24.
Fantasy Impact: Drafting first baseman on a Dynasty League can be tricky, particularly one that might have the power upside of Brandon Belt. However, Smith can really hit and I do think the power will emerge with a chance to hit 25 dingers annually. For that reason, he’ll be on a pref-list as I enter my Dynasty League rookie drafts.
Jon Duplantier (RHP)
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
Jon Duplantier might have had the best stat line of any pitcher in the minor leagues last season. Pitching across Low and High-A, he won 12 games, pitched to a 1.39 ERA while striking out nearly 11 per nine and walking 2.8 per nine. Most impressive was his dominance in the California League; the best hitter’s league in all of baseball.
A product of Rice University, Duplantier fell to the third round in the 2016 MLB Draft. While teams loved the athleticism and the quality of his stuff, there was worry about his injury history, particularly since he had several bouts with an injured shoulder. While those concerns still exist, there’s no denying he has the upside of a major league pitcher.
Scouting Report: While the stat line of Duplantier is superb and what he did in the California League was indeed impressive, as an advanced college pitcher, you expect him to overwhelm that level of competition. The stuff is solid with a fastball that sits 91 to 93 MPH with heavy sink and a quality curveball that gets plenty of swings and misses. When I saw him in August, he also showed a really nice changeup. I had heard that his changeup was inconsistent, but at least for that night, he threw it well.
Based on his pure stuff, I don’t see a top of the rotation starter. However, I do think if his secondary pitches improve, he could become a Top 30 pitcher. Until then, I have his ceiling at a Top 40 pitcher.
Fantasy Impact: Duplantier is clearly a pop-up guy in Dynasty League circles. While I think there are concerns, he will likely sneak into in the back half of my Top 100 list and should be on all owner’s radar. The upside is a Top 40 starting pitcher with the chance to be a strikeout-an-inning pitcher.
Marcus Wilson (OF)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF
When the Diamondbacks drafted Marcus Wilson as a projectable teenager in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft, they believed they had a talent that would eventually emerge into a ballplayer. After his season last year, it appears they were right.
In his third professional season, the now 20-year-old started to show what he was capable of in the Midwest League. In 103 games, he hit .295 with a .383 on-base percentage while hitting nine home runs and stealing 15 bases. The best news is he continued to improve his strikeout rate to an acceptable 20%. He’s always shown a good understanding of the strike zone and that was proven in his 12.4% walk rate.
Scouting Report: At a listed 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds (I think he’s heavier now), Wilson is a terrific athlete. He has plus bat speed and as he continues to put on weight, has a ceiling of 20 plus home runs. He’s also a good runner but likely will slow as he matures. I think projecting 20 stolen bases early in his career will work, but expect that projection to fall after he has been in the league a few years.
The most encouraging aspect of Wilson’s profile is his improved ability to control the strike zone. There will surely be some ups-and-downs as he’s still pretty raw but the improvements are notable and I believe projecting a .260/.350 batting average/on-base percentage is a reasonable baseline.
Fantasy Impact: I grabbed Wilson in as many leagues as I could last season and believe you should as well. He’s still two years away, maybe three from making his major league debut, but the upside is a 20/20 player with some upside on the power. In fact, I like him so much that he might sneak into my Top 100 list.
Anthony Banda (LHP)
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
After posting a sub 3.50 ERA in his four-year minor league career, Anthony Banda ran into a buzz saw known as Reno in the Pacific Coast League. Pitching in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in one of the most hitter-friendly leagues caused some ugly numbers for the 6-foot-2 lefty.
In 22 starts in Triple-A, he posted a 5.39 ERA but continued to strikeout 8.5 per nine. He did walk too many but also gave up a surprising 15 home runs. The home runs along with his poor control led to the over-inflated ERA. Even with a mediocre year, the Diamondbacks decided to call-up Banda for a couple of spot-starts through the year and eventually for a September call-up. In eight games major league games, four starts, he posted a similar stat line to what he did in Triple-A.
Scouting Report: Despite his struggles, there’s still a lot to like with Banda. He’s an athletic 6-foot-2 lefty with excellent mechanics who can repeat his delivery. As he’s matured as a pitcher, his control has improved and I believe he can get close to a 3.0 walk-per-nine rate.
His stuff has taken a step up and he’s now throwing much harder than he did earlier in his career. In his time in the majors, his four-seamer averaged 94.4 MPH peaking at 96-97. His best secondary pitch is his changeup with his curve-ball showing improvements.
Because he’s a lefty and throws hard, Banda will have every chance to have a long career in the majors. Assuming he can improve his curveball and continues to control his arsenal, his upside is a Top 50 pitcher in the big leagues. If not, he will slide into a reliever role.
Fantasy Impact: Banda should be considered for Dynasty Leagues that roster 200 or more minor leaguers. He throws hard and is a lefty – a combination that major league teams will not give up on. While most Fantasy teams don’t have that roster flexibility, if you do, I would be holding him.
Jhoan Duran (RHP)
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP with extreme risk
Signed in 2014 as a projectable right-handed arm, the now 6-foot-5, 175-pound Jhoan Duran is starting to emerge as a legitimate prospect for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The stat line is still not impressive but the scouting report shows much better. In 11 starts for Hillsboro in the Northwest League, Duran pitched to a 4.24 ERA, striking out only 6.3 per nine and giving up five home runs. He was able to throw strikes and only gave up 41 hits in 51 innings.
Scouting Report: Duran is still more about raw talent than production. At a thin 6-foot-5, he still has room to put on weight and with that, add a tick or two more on his already double-plus fastball. Currently, his fastball can hit the mid to upper nineties but sits more comfortably in the mid-to-low 90’s. His secondary pitches are still very raw with his hard slider the best of the bunch.
At the moment, he’s still a thrower but he has the size, athleticism, and projectability, that once he refines his secondary pitches and learns to repeat his delivery, could have the package to be an impact starting pitcher. If not, he could be a dynamic bullpen arm. Regardless, he’s three to four years away from seeing Arizona.
Fantasy Impact: I debated where to but Duran on this list but decided to rank him relatively high based on his stuff and reports I received on those who have seen him. One guy gushed saying he had the stuff and delivery to pitch at the top-of-a-rotation one day. The reality is we’ve seen this movie many times as fantasy owners. If you elect to put him on your Dynasty League team, know the rewards but also understand the risks as well; and most of all, have patience.
Taylor Clarke (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
Drafted in the third round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Taylor Clarke has been flying under-the-radar. However, after three years in professional ball, he’s amassed a nice body of work. In 67 games, 54 starts, he’s posted a 3.11 ERA, striking out eight per nine and striking out 2.5 per nine. Last season, it was more of the same in 21 starts in Double-A. When he got to Reno though, he found the sledding much harder.
It was only six starts in the PCL, but he gave up eight home runs resulting in a 4.81 ERA. The strikeouts and walks were fairly consistent with what he had done earlier in his career.
Scouting Report: Clarke is better than people think with a nice arsenal that plays up because he throws strikes. His fastball sits 92 to 93 MPH and can touch higher. He throws both a slider and curve with his slider being the better swing and miss pitch while also showing a feel of a changeup.
While others in the organization have better stuff and therefore a higher ceiling, Clark’s ability to throw strikes gives him a higher floor. Expect to see him in Arizona sometime next season.
Fantasy Impact: Clarke is a sleeper that would be a great pickup in an NFBC Draft-and-hold format. I believe he’ll get playing time in the majors next season and while I don’t see front-of-the-rotation stuff, I think he’ll be at least league average with a chance to be a bit more.
Drew Ellis (3B)
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Corner Infielder
Taken in the second round of last year’s MLB Draft, Drew Ellis took advantage of hitting 20 home runs in his junior year at Louisville to net a $1.5 million dollar signing bonus from the Diamondbacks. In addition to hitting the 20 bombs, he also walked as much as he struck out while posting an 83% contact rate. However, the swing can get long and evaluators were concerned as to how much he would hit at the professional level.
In 48 games in the Northwest League, he posted a .227 batting average with eight home runs. He also struck out 45 times but continued to show a very good eye at the plate. While the sample size is small, it does support the notion that Ellis could be a three-true player (home run, walk, and strikeout).
Scouting Report: Ellis’ carrying tool is plus raw power that is more about raw strength as opposed to bat speed. He has below-average speed so stolen bases will not be part of the profile. His swing does get long but he does have a good understanding of the strike zone. If he can cut down on the strikeouts, he has a chance to get regular at-bats at the highest level.
Fantasy Impact: With his power potential, Ellis should be a fantasy owner’s radar. He should be considered in leagues that roster 300 or fewer prospects.
Domingo Leyba (SS)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
It was a lost season for Domingo Leyba, the 22-year-old shortstop the Diamondbacks acquired from the Tigers in the 2014 trade that also netted them, Robbie Ray. Leyba injured his shoulder diving for a ball in spring training resulting in a small tear in his anterior capsule in his shoulder. The Diamondbacks rested him for two months but after only a month of game action they shut him down. He had shoulder surgery at the end of July and didn’t play again.
Scouting Report: Leyba has solid all-around tools but doesn’t have the one standpoint tool for which teams are searching. Assuming his hit tool continues to develop, he has a little bit of speed and power but the end result still feels like a replacement level player or maybe a second division starter at the highest level. The ceiling is a .270 hitter with 8 to 10 home runs and 10 to 12 stolen bases. I also don’t think there is more over-the-fence power in the tank as his swing is more line drive-oriented.
Defensively, he’s fine at short but will never be the level of defender that you would see on a Championship level team
Fantasy Impact: Leyba is a streaming option for me in a fantasy league. Assuming his hit tool continues to improve, he’s a player that will not hurt you but also will not provide much value as his secondary skills are not that strong.
Jasrado “Jazz” Chisholm (SS)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2021, Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
Jazz Chisholm graduates from our Emerging Prospect list to a seat at the big boy table despite only playing a month in 2017. In May, he had season-ending knee surgery but is expected to return fully healthy to begin 2018.
In his short time in Low-A, he actually didn’t show much. He only hit .247 which was propped up by a .371 BABIP because of his penchant for strikeout. In 29 games, he struck out at an alarming 31% of the time. But, it was a short sample size and he was very young for the level, so I’m willing to give him a mulligan.
Scouting Report: The scouting report does have a bunch of above-average grades. He has great bat speed with the ability to make hard contact but can get fooled by off-speed pitches. The swing is solid with the chance to see above-average if not more future power. He’s a good runner and could steal double-digit bases annually. He also has the chance to stay at short.
He’s likely a utility player but if he can hone his hit-tool, he could develop into a solid major league regular.
Fantasy Impact: I’m not quite ready to roster Chisholm in leagues that roster 300 or fewer minor leagues, but he intrigues me. He has great bat speed and enough foot speed to be a nice fantasy asset. However, he missed most of the year and that will set him back. I’m waiting to see how he starts the year before investing a dollar or two in a Dynasty League.
Jimmie Sherfy (RHP)
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
Does anybody truly trust “Crooked Hat” in the ninth? Yeah, I know he closed 38 games last year, but it’s an adventure every time out. I also know that Archie Bradley shoved it last season and will likely be given the ball in the ninth inning next season. But if that doesn’t work, watch out for Jimmie Sherfy.
In his five-year minor league career, Sherfy saved 66 games while striking out nearly 12 per nine. He doesn’t have pinpoint control as is evident in his lifetime 3.6 walk per nine, but it should be good enough to allow him to pitch in high leveraged situations at the highest level.
Scouting Report: Sherfy is primarily a two-pitch pitcher with a fastball that he can run up to 97 MPH (averages 94.7) and a nasty slider that is his out-pitch. There’s a lot of effort in the delivery while throwing from a lower three-quarters arm angle that is tough for right-handed batters to pick-up. In other words, he’s a reliever.
Fantasy Impact: Assuming he stays healthy, Sherfy should be a closer at some point in his major league career. While Bradley likely gets the ball next, Sherfy is a nice handcuff and should be considered in all deeper Dynasty League. If you can’t afford to keep him, then at least remember the name.
2018 Emerging Prospect
Eduardo Diaz (OF)
The Diamondbacks signed Eduardo Diaz during the 2015 international signing period. Last year, things started to click. In 57 games in the Pioneer League, he took a big step forward slashing .312/.357/.510 while hitting seven home runs and stealing 11 of 13 bases. His hit tool is still very raw, but he’s tooled up with a chance to be a power/speed guy.
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