February 18, 2016
Arizona Diamondbacks Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: Flags fly forever. If Arizona gets a flag to fly forever, it will have little to do with the current system.
The Top Ten
1. Braden Shipley, RHP
Deciding between Shipley and Bradley was one of the most difficult decisions of this winter’s entire list-making process, but ultimately the coin landed on Shipley. (Kidding. (Kinda.)) Shipley had his share of struggles in 2015, but the good outweighed the bad—particularly in the second half. There are three plus pitches at his disposal, starting with a 92-95 mph fastball that doesn’t have great plane, but does have solid life on top of the velocity. The curveball is a true power offering in the low-to-mid-80s with hard spin, and in the latter months he showed the ability to locate it for strikes while still burying it down when ahead. The changeup is his most consistent pitch, and even though he has a tendency to fall in love with it, his arm speed and the late tumble make it a true plus offering.
It’s sometimes overlooked that Shipley is still relatively new to full-time pitching, and there are moments when that greenness shows. He’s a good athlete (he was a shortstop at Nevada), but there are times when he can’t find a consistent release point, which hinders both his command and overall stuff. The command—like everything else—was significantly better in the last two months as he repeated his delivery on a more consistent basis, which shouldn’t surprise anyone when you consider his late transition to pitching. This isn’t a future ace, but a solid third starter who can miss bats and give 200 quality innings.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The combination of WHIP risk and potential for middling strikeout totals keep Shipley from being a potential SP2, and sets him likely into the SP4 range. If things go reasonably well, he could produce similarly to Edinson Volquez—which really is not much of a backhanded compliment at all anymore.
Major League ETA: 2016
2. Archie Bradley, RHP
Outside of making his big-league debut and getting to tell his future grandchildren he beat Clayton Kershaw, not a whole lot went right for Bradley in 2015. You’d have to be a real nincompoop to give up on this type of talent, but vulnerabilities showed through in both his performance and his shoulder. The fastball velocity fluctuated—likely due to the injuries—but when healthy the heater is borderline plus-plus at 93-96 with movement. The curveball is his bread and butter, and even if it has regressed ever so slightly over the past year, it’s still a swing-and-miss pitch with hard break. He’ll also show a fringe-average changeup that he doesn’t have tremendous feel for, and a cutter that is very much in the developmental stages. He struggled to repeat his delivery—again, this could be from the shoulder issues—and the command was below average.
If you can’t tell from the writeup, I believe there’s a very good chance that much of Bradley’s struggles were health related. Yes, he does need to see either the cutter or changeup get to average, and no, he no longer looks like one of the five best pitching prospects in baseball. This still looks like someone who will pitch in the rotation, two plus pitches would make him a viable closer if it comes to that.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The question used to be how well Bradley could harness his stuff, as his strikeout potential was always greater than with his ratios. However, now you can add “can he maintain his stuff” and “can he stay healthy” to the question marks. That doesn’t diminish the SP2 upside he still has, it just makes him far less likely to get there.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015
3. Brandon Drury, 2B/3B
Drury has his fair share of both believers and doubters, and which side you stand on likely depends on what you believe his upside is. There isn’t a ton to his swing, which is short and compact through the zone. That and his quality hand-eye coordination allow him to make consistent hard contact without much swing-and-miss. Despite his low power totals in 2015 there is above-average power potential, as he transfers his weight well and his strong wrists make up for a lack of ideal loft. He’s not Jose Lopez at the plate, but it’d be nice to see a little more selectivity, especially without a plus carrying tool offensively.
In addition to the questions about the offensive upside, there are questions about where he’ll end up on the diamond. The most likely landing spot is third base, where Drury shows above-average range with just enough arm strength. He’s also played second base, and even without the prototypical speed, his quick first step and soft hands make that a possibility. If he can stay at second the value rises significantly, but even at third there’s just enough here offensively to project a regular, with quality versatile bench bat as a solid floor.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s a sad reality that Drury is now the top fantasy prospect in this system. And it’s not because I don’t like him—I think he could be a .270-plus hitter with 20 homers at second base (think Neil Walker)—it’s just that the names around him have cratered. That would be valuable even at third in this low-expectation environment at the hot corner.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015
4. Yoan Lopez, RHP
Lopez was the Diamondbacks’ “other” big Cuban signing—along with Yasmany Tomas—and his first professional season would best be described as “huh.” He missed time with a blister, and several sources spoke about serious maturity issues. What I was able to see in the Arizona Fall League, however, gives me considerably more hope than the reports I got throughout the year. He’ll get his fastball up to 98 mph, generally sitting 91-94 with run. The curveball has the consistency of a microwaved hot pocket, but it flashes above-average with hard spin and enough depth to make it a strikeout pitch. He’ll also show a fringe-average changeup, and a slider that is strictly a show-me pitch. He’s still learning to improve his delivery, which will allow him to get ahead of hitters and put his two quality pitches to use without falling behind in counts.
Assuming his makeup issues resolve themselves and he can throw quality strikes more consistently, Lopez has the stuff to pitch in the back of a rotation. Lopez has as much volatility as any pitcher in the system, however, and there’s a chance he spends the majority of his career pitching in the bullpen.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s not difficult to tell that I’m not a big fan of Lopez, given that he barely cracked my Top 50 signees from 2015 list. The upside is more that of an SP5 than an SP2, but he’s much more likely to be someone who accumulates holds—and whether that is good for you likely depends on your league’s format.
Major League ETA: 2016
5. Alex Young, LHP
The pitchers listed above are high-ceiling, medium- to high-risk arms. That describes Young to a… whatever the opposite of a T is. He throws both a four- and two-seam fastball. The former gets up to 94 while the latter is 89-93 with some tail and sink. The out-pitch here is his slider, a pitch that comes from the same three-quarters arm slot but dives to the feet of right-handed hitters with hard bite. He relied heavily on those two pitches at TCU, but he’s shown he also can keep hitters honest with a changeup that doesn’t have a huge velocity difference but does have late fade. He pounds the strike zone with all three pitches, and the command should be at least above average once he gains more feel for starting—he spent most of his time at Texas Christian pitching out of the bullpen.
The upside is relatively limited, but if your thing is southpaws who throw three average or above-average pitches for strikes, Young is just that, and he should move quickly through the Diamondbacks system.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Trust me, the system only keeps going downhill from here. Unless you’re in a league that rosters more than 300 prospects, Young should be left on the sidelines for now. He’s not a strong target in dynasty leagues because of his limited upside.
Major League ETA: 2018
6. Socrates Brito, OF
Socrates continued to perform well (or bomb atomically, if you’re a fan of the Wu) in 2015, following up his strong 2014 season, ultimately earning a cup of coffee in September. The approach has gotten better each year, as he’s learned to recognize secondary offerings, and while there are more contact issues than you’d want with this profile, he does make consistent hard contact from a line-drive stroke. The length of the swing is what causes the swing-and-miss, and it’s also why he’s essentially an automatic out against left-handed pitching. When he does get on base he’s a real pain for pitchers, as his exceptional speed makes him a threat to steal 30-40 bags a year, and helps compensate for his 40 power.
Brito is not without his charm at the plate, but the reason he’s the best outfield prospect in this system is his defense. The aforementioned speed makes him a “go-getter” in center field—though he’s played more in right thus far—and you’d better be fleet of foot if you challenge his arm, which is plus and accurate. This is the quintessential fourth-outfield prospect who can make a difference with the glove and on the bases. There’s a chance he becomes a bottom-of-the-order regular in center if everything breaks right.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The speed is wonderful, but there’s just not much else on offense to speak of. That said, if he steals 30 bases, you probably won’t care. Brito could be Ender Inciarte, if Inciarte just woke up one morning and forgot how to hit.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015
7. Wei-Chieh Huang, RHP
Huang’s stuff was too advanced for the Midwest League and he probably should have been given a challenge later in the year, but dominating a league you’re too good for beats the alternative. He throws a 90-92 fastball wherever the heck he wants to, and there’s some sink to the offering as well. He shows the exact same arm slot and arm speed on his changeup, and his ability to pull the string makes the pitch a weapon even against right-handed hitters. He’ll also show an average breaking ball that he can locate for strikes, but it doesn’t have enough depth or break to be any more than that. He’ll throw any of these pitches in any count for strikes, and generally, they’re where the catcher wants the pitch to be.
So, you’re probably asking yourself, why does all this rank seventh? Durability concerns, durability concerns, and concerns about durability. He’s already battled back issues, and his lack of even remotely ideal size makes it unlikely he’ll be able to throw more than 170 innings per year. He has a chance to jump up this list if he handles the higher levels as well as he did Kane County, but it makes sense to take a wait-and-see approach, especially when there isn’t a ton of upside in this type of profile.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s very little upside here in fantasy leagues, and Huang is best left for NL-only leagues in a couple of years.
Major League ETA: 2017
8. Jamie Westbrook, 2B
Westbrook was one of the youngest regulars in the California League, and he more than held his own. He’s a quick-twitch hitter who, despite some wasted hand movement, gets through the zone quickly. When he swings at strikes he makes hard contact to all parts of the field. He’s got fringe-average power, so beware: His home run totals are a Cal League mirage. He’s an above-average runner who gets good jumps on the bases, and you could see him steal 20-plus bases if he plays every day. That speed makes him a quality second baseman who could handle shortstop in a pinch, but the lack of arm strength makes him a better fit on the right side of the bag.
Is there a chance Westbrook is entirely a product of friendly confines? A small one, but the skill set suggests he can hit eighth in an NL lineup and produce above-average value both in the field and on the bases.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The stat line is going to trick some owners into thinking Westbrook is more than what he is, which is a shame because what he is could be a decent contributor in deeper leagues. He could be a top-15 option at the keystone if things break right; pushing 20 steals with a little pop.
Major League ETA: 2018
9. Ryan Burr, RHP
It’s never great to have a reliever in the top 10, but Burr has a chance to be a good one. His fastball has been clocked as high as 99 mph and sits 94-97. It’s a straight pitch, but there’s enough deception in the delivery to help compensate for the lack of movement. His slider flashed plus more consistently as a pro than it did at ASU, showing more bite and less slurvy action. There’s also a show-me changeup, but he should probably stop showing it to people, because it isn’t very good. Neither is the command, and that’s the biggest obstacle he’ll have to overcome if he’s going to pitch in the eighth or ninth inning as a big leaguer. Don’t be surprised if Burr moves quickly through the Diamondbacks’ system, and if he throws more strikes he’ll close in Chase Field someday, barring another stadium name change.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s nothing wrong with relief prospects. I just don’t want them on my dynasty team.
Major League ETA: 2018
10. Anthony Banda, LHP
Banda was very impressive in treacherous surroundings, and the fact that he gave up eight homers in over 150 innings may be the most impressive stat of all. He touches 93 with his fastball, sitting 90-92 with enough life to keep hitters from squaring it up. The curveball consistently shows solid-average with hard spin and enough depth to generate swings and misses. This is a pitch that lefties particularly struggle with because of his low three-quarter arm slot, but it’s effective against righties as well. The change is an average offering that doesn’t do much, but his quick arm allows him to fool hitters with the velocity differential. He’s more control than command, but he does repeat his delivery well, and he does a good job of keeping the ball below the knees.
Banda doesn’t have anything that even sort of represents elite upside, but his ability to throw strikes with three pitches and keep the ball down gives him a chance to pitch in a rotation, though expecting anything more than the backend is expecting entirely too much.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Nope
Major League ETA: 2017
Notable omission: Peter O’Brien, 1B
Let’s start with the positives: O’Brien has big time raw power—more than any hitter in the system, and he can take any pitch on any part of the plate out of the park. He also has a swing that stays in the hitting zone, and when he makes contact the ball jumps off the barrel. Okay, now the negatives: He’s not a good defender—anywhere—there’s a boatload of swing-and-miss because of the length of the swing, and he doesn’t do a great job working counts. The 70 power makes him an intriguing bench bat, but expecting him to give you any value on the bases or in the field is expecting too much. That’s not a top 10 prospect in any system outside of the Angels right now.
Gabriel Guerrero, OF – And speaking of lack of plate discipline. Guerrero followed his solid 2015 campaign with an extremely disappointing one, getting on base at a .258 clip and getting dealt in the Mark Trumbo deal. Like his uncle Vladdy, he has never seen a pitch he didn’t like, but unlike his uncle he doesn’t have otherworldly bat-to-ball skills to compensate for the lack of plate discipline. Still, Guerrero remains interesting because he does possess plus bat speed and will show plus raw power, and his arm strength competes with any corner outfielder's in baseball. If he doesn’t show drastic improvement in 2016 he’ll be essentially a non-prospect, but I wouldn’t write him off just yet.
Jeferson Mejia, RHP– Mejia came over to Arizona in the MIguel Montero trade, and to say that he struggled to throw strikes is the understatement of this article (62 walks in 82 innings makes him almost Nikorak-ian). Even with the lack of control, Mejia did show flashes of brilliance in 2015, displaying a plus-plus fastball with downhill plane, and a solid-average curveball with good spin. This is very much a work in progress, but if the Diamondbacks are patient, this is another power arm that they could put into the bullpen. It’s probably time to give up on the dream of starting.
Victor Reyes, OF – Can Victor Reyes hit for power? Nope, there’s none here, what with two homers in over 1,200 professional plate appearances. Can Victor Reyes play center field? Nope, he’s an average runner with a fringe-average arm and almost assuredly is going to have to play left field. Can Victor Reyes hit? You’re gosh darn right he can. He sprays line drives all over the field from both sides of the plate, and if you’re a fan of bad-ball hitters, this is your kind of guy. I’m not saying this is the future left fielder of the Arizona Diamondbacks, but any time someone shows this kind of feel for hitting, you have to be at least a little intrigued.
Taylor Clarke, RHP – Clarke didn’t give up a run in his first professional season over 21 innings, which means he’s on pace to become the greatest pitcher in professional baseball history. The Diamondbacks’ third-round selection shows a plus fastball that gets up to 97, and an above-average changeup that he can bury out of the zone or locate on the corners for strikes. The only thing keeping him from becoming a potential back-end starter is a competent breaking ball, but his command is above average. Arizona might be wise to see if he can start, knowing the bullpen is a fallback option.
Colin Bray, OF – Bray is essentially a poor man’s Socrates Brito, which sounds like a fantastic album name. He doesn’t have Brito’s arm strength and isn’t quite as polished defensively, but he’s athletic enough to play a quality centerfield as a double-plus runner who can really impact the game with his wheels. He impressed in his first full professional season, and more than one scout I spoke with believed Bray is the best outfield prospect on this farm. We’ll wait and see how he handles Visalia and/or Mobile before we make such claims, but he’s certainly interesting.
Let’s start with the good news: Shelby Miller is now a Diamondback. Miller was a very good big-league pitcher last year in Atlanta, posting a 3.16 DRA over 205 ⅓ generally excellent innings. He significantly improved the rate at which he allowed home runs (down to 0.6 every nine innings, from 1.1 the previous season and 1.0 the season before that), and struck out more than twice as many batters as he walked. In 2016, he’ll bring that show to the desert, and he’s the easy choice for the top spot on this list.
Here’s the bad news: all four big-league players listed here last year no longer qualify for inclusion today. The cases of Patrick Corbin (no. 1 last year), Randall Delgado (no. 8), and Ender Inciarte (no. 9) are easily dispensed with: Corbin and Delgado are too old to consider here, and Inciarte was traded to Atlanta in exchange for Miller. Chris Owings (no. 4 in 2015) is a more complicated story.
On the one hand, he had shoulder surgery in the fall of 2014 that probably set him back a step or two. On the other hand, he somehow managed to strike out just as often (144 times) as he reached base in 2015, on his way to a .213 TAv and -1.9 WARP over 552 abysmal plate appearances. That’s really, really bad. Until he proves he can get past the injury, it’s hard to justify keeping him on the list.
Taking his spot at no. 4 is Jake Lamb, who featured low on last year’s prospect list and surprised by putting up a very solid year in 2015, slashing .263/.331/.386 in The Show, while netting just a hair over 10 runs in the field. He doesn’t have the upside of those above him on the list, but—right now, at this very moment—he’s what you hope Brandon Drury will become one day, and so he slots in right above him.
Robbie Ray follows Drury on the strength of a perfectly adequate 2015, and the little voice in the back of your head that wonders if you’re missing whatever Dave Dombrowski saw in Ray that compelled him to trade the lefty for Doug Fister in 2013. Ray will probably end up being a serviceable number four starter for a few years, and since that’s what Lopez aspires to on his better days, he fits in right at no. 6.
Which leaves us with Yasmany Tomas. He has a lot of natural talent, and he’s indisputably fun to watch hit a baseball, especially when he connects. But he doesn’t really have a defensive position he can play well, doesn’t really have the ability to get on base, and doesn’t hit for enough power to make up for points one and two. If he can improve his plate discipline, or tap into more of his natural power, he’s got enough talent to jump into the top three of this list. But he hasn’t proved he can do any of those things; at least, not yet. And that leaves him at the bottom of the list, looking up. —Rian Watt
Stewart may have a vastly different idea of how to use his farm system than we do, but it’s not like he’s a poor judge of talent. There are also some very talented scouts in this system. Nate Birtwell is one of the best area scouts in the business in the Kentucky/Tennessee area, and Frank Damas is also highly respected in the South Florida area, among several others. The Diamondbacks have also had some of my favorite draft classes of the past few years, and even their pitching-heavy class last year saw them procure several talented players.
Despite all of the positives, you’ll just never see me get on board with the way Arizona has gone about doing things over the past two years. They sold Touki Toussaint, and you can argue that they did the same thing with Isan Diaz to Milwaukee; a prospect that would have sat comfortably in our top 10 if not for the deal. Add that to the insane Shelby Miller deal, and you get the system that has lost the most value without graduating prospects of any kind. It might make them better in the short-term, but in the long-term? Yikes.