Minors : : General
Monday, February 27, 2012

Top Prospects: Arizona D-Backs

David Rawnsley        

General Manager: Kevin Towers
Minor League Director: Mike Bell
Scouting Director: Ray Montgomery

Reno Aces (Pacific Coast League) 77-67
AA: Mobile Bay Bears (Southern League) 84-54
Hi A: Visalia Rawhide (California League) 63-77
Low A: South Bend Silver Hawks (Midwest League) 67-72
Rookie Adv.: Yakima Bears (Northwest League) 33-43
Rookie: Missoula Osprey (Pioneer League) 41-35
Rookie: AZL Diamondbacks (Arizona League) 20-35
Dominican: DSL Diamondbacks (Dominican Summer League) 24-45

System Overview

The best way to look at the Diamondbacks as an organization might be to totally ignore the recent past. It’s served as a very poor predictor of the near future.

Arizona won the World Series in 2001 in only their fourth year of existence and played even better during the regular season in 2002, winning 98 games but losing in the playoffs. By 2004, they were the worst team in baseball, finishing with an awful 51-111 record. They bounced back and somehow won 90 games in 2007 and made the playoffs despite being outscored on the season, but slipped back downhill and lost 97 games in 2010.

And then out of the blue they changed over most of their pitching staff, dropped their team ERA by a run a game in 2011 and went 94-68 to make the playoffs again.

The genesis of this rapid improvement was in a number of trades and signings made by former interim General Manager Jerry DiPoto, now with the Angels, and current GM Kevin Towers. The two managed to pull off the rare trifecta of improving the team on the field, improving the talent base in the minor leagues and improving the club’s present and projected payroll.

Perhaps the most stunning deal was the last one Towers pulled off this offseason, sending top prospect RHP Jarrod Parker, OF Collin Cowgill and RHP Ryan Cook to Oakland for RHP Trevor Cahill and LHP Craig Breslow. While Parker was slated to assume a starting role this year, Cahill is a 24-year old who has already won 40 big league games and pitched in an All-Star Game. The Diamondbacks now have three top of the rotation starting pitchers in Cahill, RHP Ian Kennedy and RHP Dan Hudson, with top prospect RHP Trevor Bauer not far from joining them.

One of the reasons Towers was able to give up a mature prospect like Parker is that the Diamondbacks are very healthy in the upper minors with top level pitching prospects, especially left handers. Tyler Skaggs, Wade Miley, Pat Corbin and David Holmberg are all southpaws who will be pitching at the AA level or higher at the start of 2012, and all project to be members of a big league rotation in the future. However, with Arizona’s present pitching depth, there is no telling with what organization that will be.

There is plenty more talent beyond that in the lower minors as well, and it seems to be well balanced across the position spectrum. The 2009 draft, when Arizona had five extra picks in the first two rounds, looks very promising projecting into the future and has produced a majority of the organization’s top position prospects, including big league 1B Paul Goldschmidt. The 2011 draft has the chance to do the same thing for Arizona’s long term pitching talent, with RHP Archie Bradley joining fellow first rounder Bauer as a potential No. 1 starter.

The Diamondbacks have a strong history of signing talented prospects from Latin America, including All-Star catcher Miguel Montero and Gold Glove outfielder Gerardo Parra, both from Venezuela. But that pipeline seems to have dried out, as arguably none of their top 20 minor league prospects came from anywhere but the draft.

2011 Draft

The Diamondbacks 2011 draft under scouting director Ray Montgomery has a chance to go down in the A+ category. It looks obvious in retrospect that the organization prioritized pitching in the upper rounds, just as they seemed to have prioritized position prospects and power in 2009, and they carried off the plan seemingly without hitch in a draft class that was already notable for its depth of pitching prospects.

Trevor Bauer was not only the most dominant pitcher in college baseball over the last three years, but also one of the most controversial due to his unusual training methods. One other thing that was not underappreciated by the Diamondbacks is that Bauer, and not UCLA teammate and first overall pick Gerrit Cole, was probably the closest player in the draft to the big leagues.

When the Diamondbacks voided the contract of 2010 first round pick Barrett Loux (sixth overall), they received the seventh pick in the much deeper 2011 draft and were rewarded with Oklahoma high school RHP Archie Bradley. Just as some in the scouting community liked Bauer better than Cole, some look at Bradley and project him to be potentially better than Oklahoma high school rival and good friend Dylan Bundy, the fourth overall pick in 2011 (Baltimore).

With two premium arms already selected, Arizona was able to pick up two more early picks in compensation pick (for 1B Adam LaRoche) LHP Andrew Chafin from Kent State and second rounder RHP Anthony Meo from Coastal Carolina. Both have first round arms but dropped due to injury (Chafin’s 2010 TJ surgery) and performance/polish (Meo). Both are the type of pitchers that scouts like to talk about as future relievers, and Chafin does have a successful history out of the bullpen to go with a killer slider. The Diamondbacks will develop both as starters initially.

One draftee that will definitely be developed as a reliever and could have a fast track to the big leagues is fourth round pick Evan Marshall from Kansas State. Marshall went 0-1, 1.16, 6 saves in 31 innings after signing immediately, and he finished the season in AA. He has a low to mid 90s fastball to go with a power slider and a rubber arm.

The sleeper pick for the Diamondbacks is 10th rounder RHP Kyle Winkler from Texas Christian. Winker showed first round stuff and performance through his college career, although his 5-11/205 build would have likely pushed him down to the second or third round. He missed the end of the season with shoulder issues, however, which scared teams. The Diamondbacks signed him for $240,000, their only true over slot signing, and have been patient with his rehab.

Arizona spent over $10 million on the first four pitchers on their draft list (Bauer “only” received a $3.4 million bonus but also signed a Major League contract), and that might have been a factor in their not signing their fifth and sixth round picks, South Carolina RHP Matt Price and Montana high school outfielder Ben Roberts. Their third round pick was Pennsylvania high school outfielder Justin Bianco, the only positional prospect the team took among their first six selections, who has a potential plus power/speed combination, although his hitting skills are still on the raw side.

Top 10 Prospects

1. RHP Trevor BauerBaseball-reference player profile

Bauer generated more publicity than any pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg, and likely has formed more varying opinions than any other pitcher will for a long time to come. His success after entering UCLA early as a high school senior (34-8, 2.36, 460 K’s in 373 innings over three years) is eye opening, as is his overpowering stuff (5 potential plus pitches, including a mid 90s fastball and a filthy curveball) and the way he uses it. Bauer’s delivery, size and approach to pitching, sort of a combination of Tim Lincecum and David Cone, certainly qualified as different and was thoroughly discussed and dissected.

But the biggest source of controversy was the fact that the 21-year old Bauer was not only using highly unconventional training techniques, but openly talking about the reasons and the science behind why they should be successful. Baseball people lean heavily toward the conservative side when it comes to different ideas and making changes, even more so when they come from highly motivated and intelligent youngsters.

It was a testament to Bauer’s personality, as much as his performance and stuff, that he won over professional baseball and its conservative tendencies.

There was plenty of speculation last summer that Bauer could pitch in the big leagues almost immediately and perhaps help the Diamondbacks in their pennant run. That didn’t happen, probably for the better in the long term. A fresh and prepared Bauer will probably get a long look during the Diamondbacks’ spring training camp and it would be surprising if he didn’t get his first big league opportunity sometime in 2012. He has No. 1 starter potential and the Diamondbacks have no reason to hold back on his progress and development.

It’s worth noting that due to Bauer entering UCLA a year early he’s only 19 months older than Archie Bradley, and only six months older than Tyler Skaggs, the team’s next two next best pitching prospects.

2. RHP Archie BradleyBaseball-reference player profile

When the Diamondbacks drafted Barrett Loux from Texas A&M with the sixth pick in the 2010 draft and initially agreed with him on a $2 million signing bonus, it was seen as a signability pick. After Loux’s contract was voided for medical reasons Arizona was given the seventh pick in the 2011 draft. Since they already had the third overall pick, most of the scouting industry speculated that Arizona would again be looking for a below slot signability pick.

The Diamondbacks instead choose to go big, selecting Bradley and eventually signing him to a $5 million signing bonus.

It wouldn’t be hard to find scouts who prefer Bradley’s long-term future over Bauer’s. Bradley is a 6-4/225 athlete who had the opportunity to go to Oklahoma to play quarterback if it wasn’t for baseball. He has classic power stuff in the Jason Verlander mold, with a fastball that can sit in the mid 90s already from a leveraged high three-quarters release point and a low 80s power curveball that could develop into one of the best breaking balls in baseball. He doesn’t have Bauer’s selection of pitches or ability to use them, but his size, delivery and fastball/curveball combination put him in the same class as a potential future No. 1 starter.

3. LHP Tyler SkaggsBaseball-reference player profile

Skaggs has taken a very gradual development path that helps define the concept of “projectable” for scouts. He was well established on the Southern California prospect map as a high school junior, throwing 86-89 mph with a big but slow upper 60s curveball at the 2008 Area Codes Games. He bumped that up to 91-92 mph at the WWBA World Championship in October and held that velocity during the spring, which led to him being selected in the compensation round by the hometown Angels in 2009.

Skaggs was traded to Arizona (first as a player to be named as he hadn’t been signed for a year) as part of the Dan Haren “Southpaw” trade in 2010, with the Angels also getting LHPs Joe Saunders and Pat Corbin as part of the deal. Since then Skaggs has slowly improved his stuff further. Still only 20-years old, Skaggs now pitches consistently in the low 90s and will touch 93-94 mph on occasion. His curveball still doesn’t have ideal power in the low 70s, but Skaggs has such good feel for its shape and location that it is a plus pitch. His changeup has also grown in quality over the past three years.

Skaggs easy dominance in his last 10 starts in AA in 2011 (4-1, 2.50, 73 Ks in 58 IP) opens up the opportunity for him to make his big league debut in 2012, although that would be on more of a need basis given the amount of high level pitching ahead of him.

4. OF A.J. PollockBaseball-reference player profile

Pollock was originally a shortstop when he came out of a Connecticut high school and played at Notre Dame ,but eventually moved to centerfield in college. His middle of the field athleticism makes him an above average defender at all three outfield positions, and a comparison could be made that Pollock is a right handed hitting version of Arizona outfielder Gerardo Parra.

The Diamondbacks first round draft pick in 2009, Pollock missed the entire 2010 season after fracturing his elbow, but skipped over Hi A ball completely and didn’t miss a step at AA in 2011 (.307-8-73/.801 OPS, 36 SB’s, 41 2B’s). He doesn’t project to hit for more than low double figures home run power, but will be a high average, high doubles player who will steal bases and maximize his tools.

Arizona centerfield Chris Young is signed through 2013 (with a team option for 2014) at an affordable rate, but it would be natural to consider Pollock the Diamondbacks centerfielder of the future.

5. LHP Wade MileyBaseball-reference player profile

Miley, Arizona’s first round compensation pick in 2008, shows a notable resemblance to Diamondbacks LHP Joe Saunders in background, overall stuff and performance at the same point in their careers. Ironically, Arizona re-signing Saunders to a one year deal for 2012 might have cost Miley a spot in the rotation, where his performance could well have matched what Saunders is projected to give the team as a fourth starter, and saved the team plenty of money.

Miley went 4-2 in seven starts in the pennant race last season, and the Diamondbacks won five of those games. He doesn’t have a true plus pitch, although his changeup can be his out pitch in any given start, and throws four solid average pitches for strikes and competes on the mound. He also doesn’t seem to get much respect in the prospect circles, but there is no way anyone should undervalue a left hander who has already tasted success in the big leagues.

6. LHP Pat CorbinBaseball-reference player profile

Like A.J. Pollock, Corbin is a native Northeasterner (New York) who wasn’t highly recruited nationally out of high school despite pitching in the upper 80s at WWBA events for the Syracuse Sports Zone Chiefs. He attended Mohawk Valley CC in New York for a year while also playing basketball, then blossomed after transferring to Chipola College (FL) while concentrating just on baseball. The Angels drafted him in the second round in 2009 and packaged him with Tyler Skaggs as part of the Dan Haren trade in 2010.

Corbin is almost exactly two years older than Skaggs, but the two have similar raw stuff and both had immediate success at the AA level, where Corbin led the Southern League in innings (160) and strikeouts (142) in 2011. The primary difference between the two is that Corbin throws a slider instead of a curve like Skaggs and doesn’t have the same type of feel or command of the pitch as the younger southpaw has.

7. 3B Matt DavidsonBaseball-reference player profile

Davidson was a standout power hitter for the ABD Bulldogs in high school and as an Aflac All-American, and always hit better in the summers with wood bats against top level pitching than he seemed to during the spring playing high school ball. He was part two of the Diamondbacks two-part high school third base draft in 2009 when Arizona selected Florida high school 3B Bobby Borchering in the first round and Davidson in the compensation round. The seemingly redundant selections caused the two to split time between third base and first base on an alternating basis for two years, but that will end in 2012 with Borchering moving to left field. Borchering remains a top power prospect but Davidson is ahead of him both defensively and with his overall hitting skills.

Davidson is a mature hitter who is immensely strong and can drive the ball out of the park to all fields when he gets his hands extended. He still strikes out more than the Diamondbacks probably would like to see (147 Ks in 2011) but isn’t just a free swinger, hitting .277-20-106/.813 OPS with 39 doubles last year, power numbers that likely will continue to improve. The 6-3/225 Davidson isn’t likely to win any Gold Gloves at the big league level due to his range, but has easy, fluid actions at the ball and a strong throwing arm.

8. LHP David HolmbergBaseball-reference player profile

Holmberg is a Florida high school product who had the very rare honor of being selected by the White Sox in the second round of the 2009 draft, as the White Sox almost never select a high school player that high in the draft. In retrospect, it wasn’t a shocking pick as Holmberg was very similar to a polished college pitcher, with a strong mature build, sound delivery mechanics, an upper 80s fastball that touched 90 mph and a full assortment of off speed pitches that he commanded well.

The White Sox included Holmberg in the Edwin Jackson/Daniel Hudson trade in July, 2010 and the Diamondbacks have potentially scored with that throw-in and have certainly added to their impressive store of southpaw prospects. Holmberg’s stuff has firmed up by 2-3 mph since the trade, enabling him to attack professional hitters more aggressively instead of pitching backwards. He went 12-9, 3.44 in 2011, split evenly between the two A levels, striking out 156 batters in 154 innings.

9. 3B Ryan WheelerBaseball-reference player profile

The Diamondbacks have had problems over the years with strikeouts. The 2010 Major League Diamondbacks set an all-time big league record with 1,529 strikeouts as a team and many of the organization’s most promising minor league athletes such as Bobby Borchering, Chris Owings and Keon Broxton have worrisome contact problems.

Among the team’s power/corner prospects, the 6-4/220 Wheeler shows the best overall command of the strike zone and ability to make consistent hard contact. His power numbers have steadily increased since signing as a fifth round draft pick in 2009 and he had a strong season in AA in 2011 (.294-16-89/.822 OPS).

10. OF Adam EatonBaseball-reference player profile

Eaton was an unheralded 19th round senior sign pick out of Miami (OH) in 2010 who has performed well beyond what anyone could have imagined for him. He broke in by hitting .385 in the Pioneer League after signing, and lasted only half the season in A ball in 2011 before being bumped up to AA where he hit .302-4-28/.838 OPS during the second half of the season. Eaton doesn’t have the pure speed or power to project as a starting Major League outfielder, but he can play all three outfield positions and projects to be a high average/high on-base percentage left handed hitter off the bench.

Others in the Conversation: OF/1B Bobby Borchering, CF Keon Broxton, LHP Andrew Chafin, OF Marc Krauss, RHP Evan Marshall, RHP Anthony Meo, RHP Kevin Munson, 2B David Nick, SS Chris Owings

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