|Original Published Date: December 18, 2018|
The Diamondbacks rebuild has started and based on their minor league system, it’s warranted. They got a nice shot in the arm with the addition of Carson Kelly and to a lesser extent Andy Young. Kelly should get a chance for significant playing time in 2019 and based on his offensive upside, has a chance for full-time at-bats.
Even with the addition of Kelly to the system, it doesn’t knock Jazz Chisholm from the top spot. He’s long been under-valued in prospects circles, but he’s tooled up and now is starting to show a feel to hit. Another player I like a lot, particularly from a fantasy standpoint is Daulton Varsho. Not only does he show a feel to hit but he has plus speed. If it all comes together, he could be an impact fantasy performer. The final intriguing player is Kristian Robinson. Signed for $2.5 million in 2017, he’s got tremendous tools with 20-20 upside but is a teenager and has yet to play in a full-season affiliate.
1. Jazz Chisholm (SS)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
Jasardo “Jazz” Chisholm really opened my eyes in the Arizona Fall League. I knew he had a breakout season in 2018 where he hit 25 home runs with 17 stolen bases while hitting .272/.329, but to see it live was indeed impressive. In short, he has plenty of tools with a great feel for the game.
While he was only on the taxi squad in the AFL where he played once a week, he managed to hit three home runs and steal seven bases in 10 games. At only 5-foot-11, he gets the most out of his swing with great bat speed and a whippy, leveraged swing. The swing does produce too many strikeouts and at a 30% strikeout rate, he’s going to have to tone down the approach in order to have long-term success. The good news is that he only turns 21 in February, so he has time on his side.
Defensively, he has the chops to stay at shortstop. He made all the routine plays while showing great range and an above-average arm.
The Diamondbacks will likely start Chisholm in Double-A to begin the 2019 season and he could be overwhelmed by the level. Again, he needs to work on toning down his swing with better pitch selection. However, the tools are the thing to dream on for now with the hope that he’ll hit enough to get to them. I think he does.
2. Carson Kelly (C)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2018 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 Catcher
Carson Kelly got a new lease on his professional life when he was part of the trade that sent Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals. He was completely blocked behind potential Hall of Famer Yadier Molina but now in Arizona, he’ll get a chance for extended playing time as early as 2019.
Kelly continues to show a lot of promise. He controls the strike zone extremely well, walking as much as he strikes out with a little bit of pop. While he only slugged .395 last season, I think he could slug .425 to .450 with 12 to 15 home runs annually. That could come with a solid .270 batting average. That’s a starting fantasy starter with some offensive upside, and better yet, he’ll hit enough to not hurt you at the most difficult position to fill.
3. Daulton Varsho (C)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 Catcher
The Fall League is filled with elite prospects but one player that really caught my attention was Daulton Varsho. I had never seen him play but was intrigued by a catcher who stole 19 stolen bases in 80 games. I wasn’t disappointed. While I was never presented with a chance to put my stopwatch on him, he had two hard-hit balls and stole second base easily. To the naked eye, he has very good speed.
What also impressed me was his compact swing. It’s quick and short to the ball and while he’s not a big kid, I think he’ll develop at least average power. While he struck out too much (21% strikeout rate), he does make enough contact to project a .260 batting average. If you add it all up, the upside is a .260/.320 hitter with 10 to 15 home runs and 20 plus stolen bases. If he can do that, he’ll be a Top 5 catcher in fantasy. Officially, I’ll call it Top 10, but the fantasy upside is significant, and the speed alone could make him one of the more valuable commodities in the game.
4. Jon Duplantier (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
Jon Duplantier’s biggest issue to-date has been staying healthy. He’s had a history of arm troubles and missed part of the 2018 season with inflammation in his right bicep. After rehab, he returned to the mound late in the season and continued to pitch in the Fall League. He has a major league arsenal with a fastball that will touch the mid-nineties and a hard curveball that can miss bats. His change-up is still a work-in-progress but at times he will show a good feel for the pitch.
The delivery is notable because of his long arm action. In fact, it has similar characteristics of Madison Bumgarner long arm action except from the right side. The delivery gives fits to arm-side batters (right-handed) but left-handed bats get a long look. While his splits did not show any problems, it’s something that should be monitored.
Duplantier is a solid mid-rotation prospect. There is an injury risk, so fantasy owners need to factor this into the equation.
5. Kristian Robinson (OF)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF with extreme risk
With the success of Bahamian native, Jazz Chisolm, the Diamondbacks went back to the Caribbean island to sign Kristian Robinson to an impressive $2.5 million dollars signing bonus in July of 2017. While it was only 57 games, Robinson showed early positive returns to the investment the Diamondbacks made. In 222 at-bats across two-levels of rookie ball, he hit .279 with a .363 OBP, seven home runs and 12 stolen bases.
At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Robinson looks like he just walked out of central casting for ballplayers. He has plus raw power and while he hit seven home runs last season, he still has yet to tap into the potential. He’s currently an above-average runner, but as he fills out, the potential of a 20-20 performer will fade. Once he hits his mid-20’s, he’ll profile more as a power hitting corner outfielder as opposed to a five-tool performer. While it’s still raw, he does show an understanding of the strike zone. However, his swing does get long so strikeouts will likely be part of the equation going forward.
6. Taylor Widener (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
Taylor Widener was drafted by the Yankees in the 12th round of the 2016 MLB Draft and acquired by the Diamondbacks last February when he was part of the deal that brought Brandon Drury to the Yankees. Widener piqued my interest in 2017 when I saw his fastball hit 95 in a game in Tampa but didn’t like the small stature and his below-average control. While there’s nothing he can do about his size, the stuff continues to get better and the control continues to improve.
In 25 starts in Double-A, he posted a 2.75 ERA, striking out 11.5 batters per nine while walking less than three per nine. His fastball is now sitting 93 to 94 and touching 95. His slider has improved as has his change-up. He also introduced a nice two-seamer that should help neutralize the lack of plane he gets on his pitches.
Widener needs to be on the radar of fantasy owners. He’ll likely be homer-prone but he has three quality pitches and with the ability to now throw each for strikes, the ceiling is a low-end number three starter or a high-end number four starter.
7. Kevin Cron (1B)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 1B
With the trade of Paul Goldschmidt early this month, it’s time to start looking at alternatives at first base. While the D-Backs hoped the future would consist of Pavin Smith, the power just hasn’t developed and given his swing path, it might not ever. With that development, Kevin Cron deserves some consideration for future playing time at first.
Since being drafted in the 14th round in 2014, Cron has had four straight years of 20 plus home run production posting nearly a .500 SLG in the process. The power does come with a lot of swing and miss. However, for the past two years, his strikeout rate has averaged 22.8%. While that’s far from Altuvian, it might allow him to hit .250 with a .320 OBP. If he does that, then he will indeed get consideration for playing time at the highest level. Granted, it’s a far cry from Paul Goldschmidt, but from a fantasy standpoint, he could provide some cheap power late in a draft.
8. Jake McCarthy (OF)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
After a solid sophomore year in 2017 at the University of Virginia, there was speculation that Jake McCarthy could be a Top 10 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. He showed natural lead-off skills highlighted by double-plus speed and a solid approach at the plate. However, in his draft year, an injured wrist limited him to 20 games which then dropped him out of the first round to the Supplemental first round (pick 39).
What I find fascinating about this and the countless other players whose stock falls in the draft is the nature of the injury. Sure, if you are drafting a pitching and he needs TJ Surgery or has a shoulder problem, I get his stock falling. But should a wrist injury cause the player to drop 20 to 30 spots? I get the added risk, but if you agree with my logic, then you can conclude that the Diamondbacks got a bargain with McCarthy?
Based on his first 58 games, it looks like they did. He showed his double-plus speed by stealing 21 of 29 bases as well as a quality approach by striking out 16% of the time walking 9% of the time. Sure it was in Rookie ball, but he looked good doing it.
At worse, he’s a fourth outfielder in the major leagues. However, if he can add some strength to his 6-foot-3 frame, which I think he can, the upside is a leadoff hitter with 10 to 12 home run potential with 25 plus stolen base potential.
9. Pavin Smith (1B)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Corner Infielder
Pavin Smith was our top-ranked Diamondback last season but after a season where he struggled to drive the ball in a meaningful way, I have concerns. In 120 games in the hitter-friendly California League, he slugged .392 while hitting 11 home runs. If he was playing second base, that might be ok, but as a first base only prospect, it’s a problem.
I had a chance to lay eyes on Smith during the Fall League and saw no loft in his swing. Everything he hit was beaten into the ground which was also supported by a 49% ground ball rate in High-A. Also, it helps explain the .275 BABIP which led to a low .255 batting average. That said, he can hit. In those same 120 games, he walked nearly as much as he struck out with an impressive 13% strikeout rate. However, as a first base only prospect, he needs to trade in some of his contact for power and add leverage to his swing. Otherwise, we are not looking at a Brandon Belt level of power (which I suggested last year). Instead, we are looking more at James Loney level talent. From a fantasy standpoint, that will not play.
10. Alek Thomas (OF)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
With the disappointment of the Diamondbacks inability to sign their first-round draft pick Matt McLain, they had to be pleasantly surprised when their second-round pick, Alek Thomas was one of the better performers out of the entire 2018 Draft class.
In 56 games across two levels of Rookie Ball, he slashed .333/.395/.463 with two home runs and 12 stolen bases. He’s a tooled up kid who is a plus runner with plus bat speed. While he didn’t show much power in rookie ball, as he matures, he’ll grow into his power. The most impressive skill he demonstrated was the ability to control the strike zone where he posted a 14% strikeout rate and a 9% walk rate.
While Thomas doesn’t turn 19 until April, there is 20-20 upside with a floor of a fourth outfielder.
11. Blaze Alexander (SS)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
You don’t generally see an 11th round pick make a top prospect list in his first year of professional ball, but Blaze Alexander is making the Diamondbacks look really smart. Granted, he got paid like he was a fourth-round pick ($500,000) but the early returns are showing that he could have been a first or second-round pick. He’s demonstrating power, speed and the ability to control the strike zone. In 42 games, he has a slash line of .353/.443/.582 with four home runs and nine stolen bases. He’ll likely start in Low-A to begin the 2019 campaign, and if he performs, he’ll start to climb prospect list very quickly. If I were you, I’d jump on the train before it’s too late.
12. Geraldo Perdomo (SS)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
Geraldo Perdomo made his US debut in fine fashion in 2018. Across three levels, he slashed .322/.438/.460 with four home runs and 24 stolen bases. He also walked as much as he struck out with a very reasonable 17% strikeout rate. It was quite the debut for a kid that only cost the D-Backs $70,000 in a signing bonus.
At 6-foot-2, he’s got good size but currently lacks raw power as his swing is more geared to contact. However, as he matures and adds muscle, some of that doubles-power should turn into over-the-fence power. If he then adds loft, there could be even more in the tank.
Perdomo is still a project but has the upside of a Top 15 shortstop in the game. In fact, I’ve moved his ceiling up just slightly to show that the upside is higher than others in his same range.
13. Yoan Lopez (RHP)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2018 Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
Tony LaRussa decided to go big in the Cuban market in 2015 signing Yasmany Tomas and Yoan Lopez to significant contracts. While things have imploded with Tomas, Lopez finally made his major league debut in 2018 after a long and winding journey. You see, Lopez walked away from baseball in 2016… literally went AWOL from the team. He eventually got his head together and the stuff started to play.
He has good stuff with a fastball that sits 96 to 97 MPH with a quality slider. He also closed 12 games in Triple-A and has the arsenal and makeup to do the same in the big leagues. Don’t be surprised if you see Lopez in high-leverage situations as soon as next season.
14. Marcus Wilson (OF)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
Marcus Wilson was not able to build upon his breakout season in 2017 and had a down year in 2018. To make matters worse, he did it in the California League, arguably the best hitter’s league in the minor leagues. In 111 games, he hit .235/.309 with a .369 SLG. That is not good. He did manage to add 16 stolen bases.
Wilson still has intriguing tools with plus bat speed and well above-average speed. However, the approach regressed with his strikeout rate shooting up to 28% and his walk rate dropping to 8.8%. When you can’t get on base, it’s hard for the secondary tools to shine and that’s what happened last season. He’s still only 22-years-old, so it’s not time yet to bail on Wilson, but 2019 is a critical year for him to get back to the approach he showed in 2017.
15. Alvin Guzman (OF)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2023+ Fantasy Ceiling: Too soon to say
The Diamondbacks spent $1.85 million dollars to sign Dominican outfielder Alvin Guzman last July. It was their largest spend in the international market in 2018. As with many young Latin players, people are excited about Guzman’s tools and the potential power-speed combination that he could bring. However, he has yet to play anywhere and projecting any fantasy ceiling at this juncture is pure speculation. In the end, owners should place their bets on the significant signing bonus that Guzman received and the Diamondbacks history of developing projectable young Latin players. The latter is clearly far from excellent.