The Diamondbacks have a solid system fronted by three right-handed starting pitchers that could all be factors in Arizona by the end of 2015. The system has added depth with recent trades and solid drafts, but most of the top talent is in the upper levels, so Arizona will need to continue restocking the farm to have a continuous pipeline.
Here’s the primer for the series and a disclaimer about how we don’t really know anything. See the links above for the two previous installments in this series and another series about how I evaluate, including four part on the ever-complicated hit tool, with more installments in that series coming soon.
Most of what you need to know for this list is at the above links, but I should add that the risk ratings are relative to their position, so average (3) risk for a pitcher is riskier than average risk (3) for a hitter, due injury/attrition being more common. I’d also take a 60 Future Value hitter over a 60 FV pitcher for the same reasons. Also, risk encompasses a dozen different things and I mention the important components of it for each player in the report. The upside line for hitters is the realistic best-case scenario (in general, a notch better than the projected tools) and the Future Value encompasses this upside along with the risk rating for one overall rating number.
Below, I’ve included a quick ranking of the growth assets that Arizona has in the majors that aren’t eligible for the list and Dave Cameron shares some general thoughts on the organization. Scroll further down to see Carson Cistulli’s fringe prospect favorite and my first stab at an emoji scouting report. The next team up in the series, working from the bottom of the standings on up, is the Minnesota Twins.
Big League Growth Assets
1. A.J. Pollock, CF, Age 26
2. Chase Anderson, RHP, Age 26
3. Patrick Corbin, LHP, Age 25
4. Chris Owings, SS, Age 23
5. Didi Gregorius, SS, Age 24
6. Randall Delgado, RHP, Age 24
Organizational Overview by Dave Cameron
It took a full-scale collapse to force the necessary organizational reboot, but change is definitely coming to Arizona. Tony LaRussa’s vision for the franchise will take some time to play out, but fans should not expect any quick fixes; this team has some real work to do to get back into contention, and too many holes to plug in one off-season. A longer-term view is necessary, and the organization’s issues cannot be fixed by just throwing money at them. The damage from the previous regime can be undone, but not quickly.
50+ FV Prospects
Video Credit to Steve Fiorindo
1. Archie Bradley, RHP
Current Level/Age: AA/22.0, 6’4/235, R/R
Drafted: 7th overall (1st round) in 2011 out of Oklahoma HS by ARZ for $5.0 million bonus
Fastball: 60/70, Curveball: 55/65, Changeup: 45/50, Command: 40/45+
Scouting Report: Bradley went from premium quarterback/pitching prospect in high school at age 17 to legitimately in play for the #1 overall pick at age 18 to top prospect immediately after signing, to possibly being in the big league rotation at age 21. In retrospect, some scouts think he was pressing in 2014 Spring Training, trying to do too much to impress the big league staff to break camp with the big league club. Bradley went back to Triple-A and by late April, he was on the shelf with an elbow strain. He returned from the DL in Double-A, starting 12 games but not quite looking like the same potential frontline starter from previous years.
Most attribute this difference to what I mention in the first sentence of the report: Bradley had never been hurt and basically hadn’t failed in his baseball career. Some scouts reported that he looked tentative at times and appeared to have slight timing issues in his delivery, affecting his command, which has never been a strength to begin with. This new experience threw Bradley off his game in what many are calling a lost year; scouts noticed him fidgeting, talking to himself and generally appearing to be in his own head much more this year than in previous years.
Many scouts thought his command projected as fringy at best before the injury, in part because his delivery doesn’t allow him to use all his athleticism. Those concerns have ratcheted up and there’s whispers that solid-but-unspectacular #3 D-backs prospect Aaron Blair may stick in the big league rotation before Bradley; some inside and outside of the organization think Bradley’s best fit best long-term is relief.
At his best, Bradley would come out early in starts and sit 95-98 mph with a curveball that was often a 70 on the 20-80 scale, which was probably the best two-pitch combination in the minor leagues. After the injury this year, Bradley would sit 92-95, hitting 96 or 97 at times, but rarely hitting the regular 98s of the past. The curveball would flash 70 every now and then, but often would be a 50 or 55 pitch that minor league umpires still hesitated to call a strike due to it’s size and sharpness.
Bradley will be in the Arizona Fall League next month and there’s hope he can make the necessary adjustments to regain his old stuff, but often when elite stuff backs up, it never completely comes back. Bradley has made an adjustment to his changeup grip and it’s now a consistent 50 pitch, but will likely never be better than that. Scouts tended to agree that Bradley was rushing through his delivery, which would cause his arm to lag and his curveball sharpness to suffer; this is usually fixable.
Summation: Some scouts said if Bradley is, going forward, the guy he was in the 12 post-injury starts this year, he projects as a #4 starter. He was a #2 starter for most before the injury, so the hedge bet from most scouts is the middle ground of a solid #3 starter. As mentioned above, the bullpen possibility is also more distinct now. Arm speed should never be a problem, so his career likely comes down to how well he can adjust his delivery and command to fit in a starter role.
FV/Role/Risk: 60, #3 Starter, Medium (3 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AAA/MLB, 2016: MLB
2. Braden Shipley, RHP
Current Level/Age: AA/22.5, 6’3/190, R/R
Drafted: 15th overall (1st round) in 2013 out of Nevada by ARZ for $2.25 million bonus
Fastball: 55/60, Curveball: 50/60, Changeup: 55/65, Command: 40/50
Scouting Report: Shipley started pitching as a sophomore at Nevada, then went in the middle of the 1st round after his junior year, highlighting how quickly he went from advanced athlete without a position to premium pitching prospect. He’s a ridiculous athlete that scouts tend to believe can do anything in part because of how quickly he’s taken to pitching. Shipley flashed three plus pitches after signing, especially notable because his curveball was rarely used in college and was the reason he lasted all the way to pick 15.
At his best, Shipley sits 92-95 and touches 98 mph, though his fastball has average at best movement and tends to straighten out late in starts when he’s fatigued. His curveball flashes plus and his changeup is a 65 pitch for some scouts. Shipley’s command still comes and goes, but he’s such a good athlete that scouts assume that will come around to average. He’s still working to get his arm conditioned to last late into games and Shipley’s stuff would, at times, play down a notch or two this season from the peak stuff noted in the future pitch grades above. Some scouts didn’t see any potential plus pitches from Shipley later this season, but that didn’t happen enough times to become a legitimate worry.
Summation: Shipley likely needs all of next year in the minors to work out the remaining kinks, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he gets a taste of the big leagues in 2015. There’s #2 starter upside with the athleticism you want to bet on, but still with enough risk you’d like to see a little more before you’re all in.
FV/Role/Risk: 55, #3/4 starter, Medium (3 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA/AAA, 2016: AAA/MLB, 2017: MLB
3. Aaron Blair, RHP
Current Level/Age: AA/22.2, 6’5/230, R/R
Drafted: 36th overall (sandwich round) in 2013 out of Marshall by ARZ for $1.435 million bonus
Fastball: 50/55, Curveball: 45/50+, Changeup: 50/55, Command: 45/50
Scouting Report: Blair has slowly improved since being drafted last June that some in the organization have him as the #1 prospect in the system. He isn’t as flashy as Bradley and Shipley, but Blair has three pitches that all have been plus at times for scouts and are all regularly above average. One scout compared Blair’s ability to get heavy life on pitches to Roy Halladay, in part due to how big Blair’s hands are.
Another scout compared him as an overall pitcher to John Lackey and Lance Lynn, as a big and unspectacular but steady #3/4 starter that outperforms many more heralded talents. As noted in Bradley’s report, some think Blair may jump past the incredibly talented Bradley to settle in a big league rotation spot first amongst this top group of three Arizona prospects.
Blair sits 90-94 and has been up to 96 mph this year, with scouts noting the arm speed got a notch better this season, helping all of his stuff play up. He’s a control over command guy that throws a lot of strikes and the heavy life on his fastball helps induce weak contact rather than an excessive amount of strikeouts. Blair’s curveball was the concern as an amateur and early in his pro career, but now consistently shows average with some grading it as high as plus at times. His changeup has been his go-to off-speed pitch for years at is also consistently above average.
Summation: As you can see in the projected path, I think Blair starts the year in AA, gets a taste of the big leagues and sticks. He’s the kind of guy that these sorts of lists consistently underrate and then he never gets re-ranked when he proves us wrong as a big league asset. Consider this an advance apology for ranking him 3rd. Sorry, Aaron, but you need people like me that don’t learn from history and tell you that you aren’t good enough.
FV/Role/Risk: 55, #3/4 starter, Low (2 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA/AAA/MLB, 2016: MLB
Video Credit to Walt Hilsenbeck
4. Brandon Drury, 3B
Current Level/Age: AA/22.0, 6’2/190, R/R
Drafted: 404th overall (13th round) in 2010 out of Oregon HS by ATL for $85,000 bonus
Hit: 30/50+, Raw Power: 55/55, Game Power: 45/50, Run: 35/35, Field: 45/50+, Throw: 55/55
Scouting Report: Arizona acquired Drury from Atlanta in the panned Justin Upton trade, but most scouts think Drury will become the most valuable asset from the package the Snakes received. While he only has solid-average bat speed, Drury has looseness to his swing and feel for the barrel, with some scouts putting a 60 on his hit tool.
It’s a line-drive type approach, so Drury doesn’t get to all of his raw power in games and he also isn’t much of a runner. He’s relatively new to third base and has taken to it well; the D-backs will try him at second base in the Arizona Fall League to see if he can move farther up the defensive spectrum. While Jake Lamb has already reached the big leagues, is left-handed and has more raw power, scouts are more confident that Drury has a big league impact due to his more advanced feel to hit.
Summation: Drury could be an above average everyday player if everything comes together and especially if he can play a passable second base. The big leagues are littered with everyday players that are average tools/big playability types that weren’t high draft picks or hyped prospects. Drury will be in the upper levels next year with a chance for a late-season call-up.
Upside: .275/.335/.450, solid-average 3B defense, negative baserunning value
FV/Risk: 50, Medium (3 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: AA/AAA, 2016: AAA/MLB, 2017: MLB
5. Touki Toussaint, RHP
Current Level/Age: SS/18.2, 6’3/185, R/R
Drafted: 16th overall (1st round) in 2014 out of Florida HS by ARZ for $2.7 million bonus
Fastball: 50/60, Curveball: 50/60, Changeup: 50/55, Command: 35/45+
Scouting Report: I scouted Toussaint 9 times over the last two years, so I might have too much history with this player. I made sure to talk to as many other sources as possible to make sure I wasn’t missing something, but there’s a clear consensus about his future. He’ll flash an easy plus fastball and a plus-plus curveball with a changeup that’s really progressed, but he’ll likely have to gear down the effort and arm speed a notch or two so he can command everything enough to start.
Toussaint showed this ability for the first time this spring, when he’d sit 91-94 with life, 96 mph in his back pocket and enough command that you could see him being a starter one day. His curveball was more often a 60 when he was commanding it well and staying within himself in his delivery, while his changeup went from a non-factor to a pitch that some scouts thought could one day be plus in the span of a few months. The fact that a freak athlete that hit 97 mph at age 15 and has never been hurt was able to make these sorts of adjustments while being young for his class are all positives in the equation for what Toussaint will one day become.
Summation: All those positives out of the way, Toussaint has a long way to go and it wouldn’t surprise me if he started 2015 in extended spring training to clear up some of these delivery/command/feel issues before being exposed to full-season ball. The upside is a #2 starter along the lines of Shipley or Bradley, but I’ll need to see some solid performance in full-season ball before I can move the projection up from what I have here.
FV/Role/Risk: 50, #4 Starter/Closer, High (4 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: Low-A, 2016: High-A, 2017: AA, 2018: AAA, 2019: MLB
45 FV Prospects
6. Jake Lamb, 3B Video: Lamb is 23 and there’s lots to like: he’s currently in the big leagues with 60 raw power from the left side and he should be able to stick at third base long-term. Lamb was rushed to the big leagues due to Arizona’s injuries and is a late-count type that most scouts have as a 45 bat with too much swing-and-miss to his game, keeping him from getting to all his raw power in game situations.
7. Nick Ahmed, SS Video: Ahmed, another piece from the Upton trade, is an advanced defender (65 on the 20-80 scale) and the offensive bar for starting shortstops is so low that he may be able to clear it. That said, multiple scouts said .240 with 8 homers is what you’re hoping for and, even with solid numbers in Triple-A this season, it’s still even money if he ever gets there.
8. Andrew Velazquez, SS Video: Velazquez is small at 5’8/175 but the switch-hitter has the most usable power of the three shortstops in this group and has the best feel to hit as well. He has the tools to stick at short, stole a lot of bases but isn’t a huge runner (55 on the 20-80 scale, with excellent instincts) and is still learning the position, with some scouts saying he fits better at second base or in a utility role long-term.
9. Justin Williams, LF Video: Williams was a 2nd rounder out of high school in 2013 with 60 raw power from the left side as a carrying tool and was among the youngest in his draft class, just recently turning 19. He has an average arm but doesn’t project as more than a fringy defender, so the bat has to carry him. Williams beat expectations in Low-A this year but needs to make adjustments to get to his power in games and scouts are concerned advanced breaking stuff will give him trouble at higher levels.
10. Sergio Alcantara, SS: The rail-thin 5’10/150 Alcantara needs to add weight to avoid the bat being knocked out of his hands in full-season ball, but he has the tools to possibly become an everyday shortstop. He just turned 18 and is an average runner with the tools to stick at short along with some feel for the barrel, but really needs to develop physically before we’ll know what his ceiling is.
11. Matt Railey, CF Video: Every year a few players slip a round in the draft for no clear reason and the D-backs scooped up this year’s version in Railey. He turned 19 before the draft but has the big tools and performance you want from an overage prospect headlined by 60 speed and 55 raw power from the left side. He tore his hamstring after starting well in short-season ball but should be back for instructs later this month.
12. Peter O’Brien, 1B Video: O’Brien was acquired from the Yankees for Martin Prado (who was another part of the Upton deal) and O’Brien slipped to the back of this group because scouts know his limitations well by now. The D-backs will try him out behind the plate in the AFL, but that and another experiment at third base also failed when O’Brien was with the Yankees. He’s a 1B/DH fit with 65 raw power but his 6’4/225 frame gives him trouble making enough contact to get to it in games; most scouts have him as a 45 bat that fits in a platoon role.
40 FV Prospects
13. Matt Stites, RHP Video: Stites was acquired in the Ian Kennedy deal and has developed into a potential setup guy. He sits 94-97 and has hit 99 mph this year in the big leagues with a slider that flashes plus, but the command and effort in his delivery are still holding him back a bit. Also, I think this should be his theme music.
14. Jake Barrett, RHP Video: Barrett has stuff that’s just as good as Stites, but less consistent command to where some scouts have him as a 7th inning guy. Barrett’s velocity will vary from 92-94 to 97-99 depending on the outing, though his slider is a consistent 60 pitch and he has an rarely-used but average changeup. Barrett had some trouble changing his approach to work around the hitter-friendly parks in the PCL and his command sometimes draws a 30 grade, but he’ll get a big league shot next year.
15. Cody Reed, LHP Video: Reed went in the 2nd round in June out of an Alabama high school and he’s listed at 6’3/245, which is what he’s become in the desert after signing, but most scouts thought he was over 250 lbs before the draft. At his best, Reed sits 91-95 with four above average pitches, but his spring velo spike came with the added weight (some of which he’s now lost) and he was mostly 88-91 mph after signing. The pitchability is advanced and there’s a back-end starter in there if the velo doesn’t return.
16. Jimmie Sherfy, RHP Video: More than one scout described Sherfy as “f’ing weird” with his high effort delivery and high-energy temperament on the mound, but he’ll flash two plus-plus pitches at times. One scout said he saw 95-97 and a 60 slider in Low-A that would’ve gotten big leaguers out, then saw nothing but 30 grade sliders in another outing. A second scout said he saw the slider as a 70 when Sherfy was 96-98 mph but the mechanics are so ugly, you need to rush him to the big leagues before that gun is out of bullets. He flies open at times and will throw the slider too much with a high maintenance delivery, but there’s something here.
17. Jose Martinez, RHP Video: Scouts agreed that, before Martinez got a stress fracture in his throwing elbow early this year, he would’ve ranked just behind Bradley and Shipley in the system. He hasn’t started throwing again yet, but at his best, Martinez was into the mid-90’s with a 60 curveball that some scouts said was enough to prefer Martinez to Toussaint when he was healthy.
18. Mitch Haniger, LF Video: Haniger was acquired with the #24 prospect on this list from the Brewers earlier this year for Gerardo Parra. Entering the year, Haniger was seen as a solid 4th outfielder type that could become an everyday corner outfielder if he really hit. Scouts soured on him this year as he struggled at AA at age 23, his swing seemed to regress and none of the tools look better than average right now.
19. Stryker Trahan, C/RF Video: Trahan was a first round pick in 2012 but had an OPS of .631 in 407 PA in Low-A this season, which was enough to send him back to short-season Missoula to finish the year. The D-backs moved him from catcher to right field to speed up his bat’s ascent to the big leagues, but Trahan wants to catch and the organization took the opportunity at Hillsboro to send him back behind the plate. He has some aptitude and tools to catch, but most scouts don’t think he can stick in an everyday role back there while his 60 raw power is being held back in games by good off-speed stuff.
20. Zach Borenstein, LF Video: Borenstein was acquired from the Angels in the Joe Thatcher deal earlier this year and doesn’t really have a position, but should have big league value. Borenstein is an advanced hitter from the left side that can be a bat-only platoon option with solid-average game power but not a great approach.
21. Socrates Brito, RF Video: The best name in the system has steadily improved but hasn’t quite had his breakout yet. Brito turned 22 recently and profiles in right field with a 60 arm, 55 speed and 55 raw power from the left side, all of which could profile as an everyday player with some adjustments to his approach.
22. Isan Diaz, 2B Video: Diaz was a 2nd rounder in June from a Massachusetts high school, but he’s more polished than the background would suggest. He’s just 5’10/185 and a below average runner, but will be at least an average defender at second base and Diaz has a very advanced lefty bat. There’s a chance for a 60 bat and 50 power along the lines of Orlando Hudson, despite the mediocre pro debut.
23. Jose Herrera, C Video: The switch-hitting Venezuelan catcher signed for $1.06 million last July 2nd and has already shown tools stateside that scouts like. Herrera flashes plus defensive ability and some feel to hit, though there isn’t a ton of power and it’s a defense-over-offense profile.
24. Anthony Banda, LHP: The D-backs drafted Banda out of high school and weren’t able to sign him, but were able to acquire him with Haniger in the Parra deal earlier this year. Banda features a solid-average three-pitch mix with an above average changeup, giving him a chance to become a back-end starter.
25. J.R. Bradley, RHP: A 2nd rounder out of a West Virginia high school in 2010, Bradley had things click for him this year in a move to the bullpen. He’s mostly 93-96 with a curveball that flashed 55 and a chance to become a setup guy if the command can improve.
26. Enrique Burgos, RHP Video: Burgos sits 95-98 mph out of the bullpen and flashes an average slider but doesn’t have a ton of feel to pitch right now. The Panamanian righty is leaning to harness his stuff to be able to get advanced hitters out, but struck out 83 in 54.2 innings this year in High-A, so he isn’t a total project. I thought he was a natural fit for my latest experiment: emoji scouting reports.
(note: those are/are supposed to be question marks over the guy’s head in the third emoji)
Blayne Weller, RHP
No 2012 entry exists for Weller at his FanGraphs page — not because he was injured or otherwise indisposed for that particular season, but because he spent it with the Windy City ThunderBolts of the independent Frontier League. Signed by Arizona out of that same league in May of 2013, Weller has been excellent in his return to affiliated baseball, having recorded strikeout and walk rates of 26.2% and 8.6%, respectively, over 199.2 innings across multiple levels. One is compelled to note that the 24-year-old right-hander has been uniformly old relative to his competition. What else one is compelled to note, however, is that Weller doesn’t rely mainly on deception. To wit: during the ninth inning of a July no-hitter with Class A South Bend, Weller hit 95 mph more than once. Nor was that even his most dominant start of the season. Indeed, following a promotion to High-A Visalia, Weller produced an eight-inning appearance over which he struck out 16 of 31 batters faced.
While little footage exists of Weller, here’s a GIF of his curveball from the aforementioned no-hitter:
Others of Note
The system has what appears to be a never-ending supply of guys that can get into the mid-90’s but the best relief arms I haven’t mentioned yet aren’t huge velo guys: lefties Daniel Gibson and Andrew Chafin. Chafin used to have big stuff but now is ready to contribute at the big league level with average stuff and moxie, while Gibson has solid-average stuff that could still work as a starter. Kaleb Fleck is a relief-only righty that’s 94-97 with an average slider and fringy command. RHP Brent Jones was a 4th rounder out of Cornell in June and has some effort to his delivery but lively stuff that flashes plus at times and will be pushed like Shipley and Blair to see if he can start long-term. Silvino Bracho is a smaller righty getting results in Low-A with above average stuff but scouts aren’t sure how much it’ll work at higher levels while 2014 5th rounder RHP Mason McCullough hits 97-100 mph most times out but is mostly arm strength right now.
There’s a glut of athletic top-10 round picks in the Arizona system that could take off with a couple adjustments. CF Matt McPhearson is a plus-plus runner that needs to improve his swing while Colin Bray is 6’4/205 athlete with above average tools that was making some swing adjustments before he broke his foot this year. CF Marcus Wilson was a 3rd rounder this year and the 6’3/175 plus runner almost made the list, but his debut exposed some holes in his swing that need to be addressed. 3B Jose Munoz, 2B Jamie Westbrook and CF Chuck Taylor have potential everyday tools if the bat can continue to progress while 6’4, switch-hitting Dominican outfielder Francis Martinez will make his U.S. debut in instructs and has huge raw power. Evan Marzilli is an overachiever that can play center field and hit just enough to give some big league value.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.