Arizona features a solid system that could quickly become elite if the 2013 draftees develop as I expect them to after a very strong draft class. There is also upper level talent to consider. As many as eight of the 10 top prospects could see time in the Majors in the coming season.
The Year in Review: At the beginning of the season — and at the age of 20 — Bradley had 29 games of professional experience under his belt. By the end of 2013, he had made another 26 starts and reached Double-A well before his 21st birthday in late August. He ended the season with an ERA of just 1.84 and struck out 162 hitters in 152.0 innings.
The Scouting Report: Standing 6-4 and weighing in at 225 pounds, the Oklahoma native has a big, strong frame that has already proven capable of handling a significant number of innings. Bradley’s control still needs sharpening but the fastball command has noticeably improved over ’12 as he worked hard on becoming more consistent with his delivery. His heater sits in the mid-to-upper 90s and the breaking ball gives him two plus pitches. He could stand to mix in his changeup more because it shows flashes of being above-average.
The Year Ahead: After making 21 starts at the Double-A level in 2013, Bradley should move up to Triple-A at the start of 2014. If all goes well, he could join fellow young pitchers Pat Corbin, Tyler Skaggs, Randall Delgado, and Wade Miley in the big league starting rotation (or help push one of them out) in the second half of the season.
The Career Outlook: Bradley is one of few pitching prospects in the minors who legitimately projects to develop into a No. 1 starter. His command will have to take a step forward for him to truly realize his potential but the same thing can be said for most young pitchers.
The Year in Review: Shipley, 21, parlayed a strong junior season at the University of Nevada into the 15th overall selection in the draft and a $2.25 million bonus. He’s still somewhat green as a pitcher and is polishing his secondary offerings, as well as his command and control. His pro debut was split between short-season ball and low-A ball where he made 12 starts. Shipley struggled early but made adjustments and found success.
The Scouting Report: The young hurler entered college as a shortstop and has only been pitching full-time for a couple years now. As a result, Shipley has a chance take some big steps forward as he acclimates himself to pro ball. He has a strong fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and his changeup has plus potential. He’s still developing his breaking ball but he shows a natural feel for spinning it and made huge strides with it by Arizona’s fall instructional league. Shipley’s above-average athleticism helps him repeat his delivery and field his position.
The Year Ahead: Shipley made just four starts in Low-A ball but he could very well open 2014 in High-A ball. If his breaking ball continues to develop as expected he should move fairly quickly through the system. Expect him to reach Double-A at some point in the coming season.
The Career Outlook: Shipley has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter and could reach the Majors by the end of 2015, if everything goes well. If the curveball becomes an average or better offering it could allow him to become an impact pitcher at the big league level.
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The Year in Review: The 35th overall selection of the 2009 amateur draft, Davidson made his MLB debut in 2013 after spending much of the year in Triple-A. He continued to strike out a lot but produced a decent batting average and also showed flashes of his power potential. He struggled mightily against left-handed pitching in Triple-A, striking out in 41 of his 102 at-bats.
The Scouting Report: Davidson is Arizona’s best overall hitting prospect and he’s solidified his case to stick at the hot corner after spending the 2011 season split between the hot corner and first base, He still makes youthful errors at the position but he’s improved in almost every aspect, including his footwork, throwing/accuracy and range. At the plate, Davidson shows impressive gap power that should produce a plethora of two-baggers and 15-20 homers in a full season. His high strikeout totals will drag down his batting average at the big league level.
The Year Ahead: Davidson could be ready to contribute regularly at the big league level but he’s likely headed for a full season at Triple-A unless there’s an unexpected (and significant) injury at the big league level. There’s a small chance that he could be looked at to replace free agent Eric Chavez as the backup corner infielder but the lack of regular playing time would likely stunt the prospect’s development.
The Career Outlook: The rise of Paul Goldschmidt at first base and Martin Prado‘s contract (through 2016) at third base have created serious roadblocks for Davidson. His best opportunity at regular playing time would be a trade.
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The Year in Review: It was a successful season at the plate for Owings, who spent the majority of the year in Triple-A and hit .330 while producing gap power and stealing 20 bases. In the field, he showed improvements at shortstop and also spent 11 games at second base, which helped to increase his versatility and overall value to the organization.
The Scouting Report: Owings, 22, does a lot of things well. With the exception of a blip in 2011, he’s always hit for average as a pro despite an overly-aggressive approach at the plate. That leads to low walk rates and, as a result, modest on-base averages fuelled almost solely by Owings’ batting average. He has above-average bat speed and excellent hand-eye coordination. As he matures as a hitter, he could hit 15-20 home runs in the Majors. Defensively, he boasts a strong arm that helps him compensate for average range.
The Year Ahead: Fellow young shortstop Didi Gregorius has the edge for the starting gig at shortstop in 2014 and Aaron Hill is entrenched at second base. Like Davidson, Owings best shot at regular playing time in The Show in 2014 is a trade or an injury. He should spend a fair bit of time at the Triple-A level during the coming season.
The Career Outlook: Owings’ overly-aggressive approach could keep him from fully realizing his full potential. He has the tools to be an above-average middle infielder. If that projection falls short, he could settle in as a utility player.
The Year in Review: Archie Bradley got a ton of attention in the Diamondbacks’ system in 2013, and deservedly so, but Chafin also had a nice season while playing in both High-A and Double-A. The left-handed hurler was assigned to the Arizona Fall League after the regular season concluded but he made just two relief appearances (and struggled mightily with his command) before being shut down.
The Scouting Report: Chafin has a solid fastball for a lefty and it sits in the low 90s. He also has a potentially-plus slider and an improving changeup. He has a solid pitcher’s frame but has already undergone Tommy John surgery and his delivery is not the smoothest. Chafin’s strikeout rate dipped all the way to 6.20 in 21 Double-A starts but I was told by a contact that the hurler made a conscious effort to pitch more to contact in the strong hitters’ league.
The Year Ahead: Chafin should join Bradley in the Triple-A starting rotation and could be a hot month or two away from making his MLB debut. The 23-year-old pitcher could also open his big league career in the bullpen, even if the organization feels his future is in the starting rotation. The 40-man roster has a solid number of southpaw arms that will be fighting for a ‘pen assignment, but there are few established/reliable options.
The Career Outlook: As it stands, Chafin appears to have a greater shot of being an impact pitcher out of the bullpen than the starting rotation. With a little more polish, though, it’s not hard to envision him becoming a mid-rotation starter in the Majors. Perhaps Arizona could cobble together an interesting trade package with Chafin and Matt Davidson or Chris Owings to fill another hole on the 25-man roster.
The Year in Review: Prior to the 2013 season, I identified Lamb as a potential sleeper (thanks to recommendations from talent evaluators). The third baseman appeared in just 64 games but he posted a walk rate of 17% and an isolated slugging rate of .255 while hitting .303 in the offence-padding California League. The strikeout rate of almost 25% is the most glaring inefficiency in his stats line.
The Scouting Report: Lamb is an advanced hitter who should hit for a strong batting average. He’s still growing into his raw power and could hit for average or better power as he matures but he currently has a gap-to-gap focus. Lamb is a strong defender at third base and the Diamondbacks feel he’ll have no issues sticking at third base. Despite the roadblocks ahead of him, there are no plans to move him. With that said, though, his athleticism could allow him to play elsewhere in the field should push come to shove.
The Year Ahead: Lamb will move up to Double-A in 2014 after catching up for lost time due to his broken hamate bone by playing in the Arizona Fall League (where he posted an .802 OPS). With Martin Prado and Matt Davidson ahead of him on the third base depth chart, even a strong offensive season probably won’t be enough to push him into consideration for a big league call-up in ’14.
The Career Outlook: This coming season could be the year that Lamb becomes more of a household name among prospect watchers and Arizona fans, due to his ability to hit for average with gap power and strong defence. All the Diamondbacks have to do is find a place to play him… and watch him develop into an average or better big league third baseman.
The Year in Review: Holmberg, 22, pitched more than 154 innings for the third straight season, which is an almost unheard of accomplishment for a pitching prospect in this day and age of coddling young hurlers. The lefty made 26 starts at the Double-A level before receiving one big league appearance where he got bounced around when his command get left behind in the minors.
The Scouting Report: Arizona has a number of flashy pitching prospects coming up through the ranks but Holmberg is not one of them. That’s not to say he isn’t talented but the southpaw is the type of pitching prospect that tends to fly under the radar. He doesn’t have a big-time fastball or wipeout breaking ball but he’s durable, and has above-average command/control of his four-pitch repertoire that includes a fastball with fringe-average velocity, two average breaking balls in a curveball and slider, as well as a plus changeup.
The Year Ahead: There are a lot of talented young arms in the Diamondbacks system that should pitch at either the Double-A, Triple-A or Major League level in 2014 so Holmberg will be matched up against a collection of impressive arms all vying for a big league opportunity. He still has two option years remaining so he has plenty of time to establish himself as a big-league-caliber pitcher.
The Career Outlook: Holmberg has a modest ceiling and will likely settle in as an innings-eating No. 4 starter. His history of high innings totals in the minors suggest that he could eventually be counted on for 200-230 innings a season as a poor man’s Mark Buehrle.
The Year in Review: Barrett was a busy man in his first full pro season. Selected in the third round of the 2012 draft out of Arizona State University, the right-handed reliever has moved swiftly through the Diamondbacks system and pitched at both High-A and Double-A in 2013. Barrett finished the regular season with a 1.21 ERA in 52 games. He also appeared in nine games during Arizona Fall League action but looked tired and got beat around a bit.
The Scouting Report: Barrett has a good fastball-slider combination and his above-average control has helped him find success. His fastball command comes and goes at times but it shows the potential to be above-average. He definitely has all the tools necessary to be a high-leverage reliever in the big leagues, including the bulldog mentality and love for pitching with the game on the line.
The Year Ahead: WIth just 24.2 innings of experience above A-ball, Barrett will likely return to Double-A to open the 2014 season — especially after his bumpy AFL experience. Still, it wouldn’t shocking to see him reach Triple-A before the all-star break and perhaps receive a cup of coffee in the Majors in the second half of the year.
The Career Outlook: The big league club doesn’t currently feature a true, prototypical closer type on the 40-man roster but that should change once Barrett has his contract purchased. He’s probably about three years away from settling in to a regular closer’s role in the Majors.
The Year in Review: It was an odd year for Spruill. His overall results and numbers were down but good news came in the form of his first big league promotion. The right-hander split his minor league season between Double-A and Triple-A. In the Majors, he made six appearances including two starts but allowed a lot of base runners in his 11.1 innings.
The Scouting Report: Spruill has never been a big strikeout guy but his numbers dipped even more in 2013. He has a four-pitch repertoire — 87-92 mph fastball, slider, curveball and changeup — but he favors the first two offerings. He combined to use his fastball and slider 90% of the time during his big league stint. His slider is not of the swing-and-miss variety but it throws off hitters’ timings and helps him create above-average ground-ball rates.
The Year Ahead: Drafted out of a Georgia high school in 2008, Spruill already has six years of minor league seasoning under his belt but he appears headed back to Triple-A for a second tour of duty. I’ve said it before on this list and I’ll say it again: Arizona has a lot of pitching depth so the right-hander will be in a dogfight for a big league promotion.
The Career Outlook: Like Holmberg ahead of him, Spruill is a pitcher that projects to settle in at the backend of a big league rotation while providing a healthy amount of inning. He’ll keep the infielders busy with his ground-ball tendencies. Finding a consistent weapon to combat left-handed hitters might help him raise his profile a bit.
The Year in Review: While a lot of first round draft picks reached full-season ball during their first full regular pro season, Trahan received a second assignment to short-season ball after working on his defence in extended spring training. He struck out at a high rate but he also produced a fair bit of power with 27 of his 60 hits going for extra bases.
The Scouting Report: Trahan has a chance to have two above-average tools for a catcher in his ability to hit for average and power. The left-handed hitter hangs in well against southpaws. Defensively, Trahan made significant strides behind the plate in 2013 and the organization feels he should be able to stick at the position as he moves up through the minors and into the Majors. His receiving and blocking still needs some polish but his throwing improved and he nabbed 40% of would-be base stealers.
The Year Ahead: Trahan will almost certainly receive his first assignment to full-season ball in 2014 and it could be his defensive work that dictates how quickly he moves. With that said, he’ll likely spend most, if not all, of the season in Low-A.
The Career Outlook: Trahan should develop into a strong offensive player with above-average power but will need to make more consistent contact to hit for average. At worst, he could develop into a Mike Napoli type of player who catches a little bit while also seeing time at first base and designated hitter (if he makes his way to the American League at some point).
The Next Five:
Brandon Drury, 3B: Arizona’s pro scouting department did a bang-up job identifying Drury as a guy to add to last year’s Justin Upton trade with Atlanta. Few people saw the third baseman as a relevant prospect after he posted a .603 OPS in low-A ball in 2012 but he rebounded significantly in ’13, albeit at the same level. Drury slugged 51 doubles, along with 15 home runs, while also hitting above .300 in 134 games. He’ll enter 2014 looking to prove the previous season wash’t a fluke and playing in the California League should give him a significant boost.
Justin Williams, OF: Drafted in the second round of the amateur draft in 2013, Williams spent much of the season playing at the age of 17. He surprised just about everyone with a more advanced approach at the plate than expected. He played at three minor league levels, topping out in Low-A, and hit .351 in a combined 51 games. Even though he went deep just once in his debut, the left-handed hitter has power to all fields. Defensively, he was moved to the outfield from the infield after signing but showed some rough edges. He’s expected to be an average or better defender in time, and the organization even considered having him spend time at the hot corner.
Matt Stites, RHP: If Jake Barrett isn’t the closer-of-the-future in Arizona, then perhaps Stites is the man. The hard-throwing right-hander was acquired from the San Diego Padres in 2013 during the Ian Kennedy deal. He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball, good slider and occasional changeup, and complements his repertoire with plus control. He’s under 6-feet tall so there are concerns about both durability and pitch plane so he may end up as more of a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever.
Aaron Blair, RHP: Blair is a big, strong hitter who stands 6-5 and weighs in at 230 pounds. His fastball fluctuates between 89-95 mph but he’s not a strikeout pitcher. His focus is on disrupting hitters’ timings and making them pull the ball into play. I was told the two most important things for the right-hander are location and movement. He also throws a plus changeup, slider and curveball, although both breaking balls needs work to become average offerings. Blair as the ceiling of a No. 3 or 4 starter and the bulldog mentality that helps him get the most out of his abilities.
Sergio Alcantara, SS: You probably haven’t heard much about this former big-ticket signee out of the Dominican Republic but he has a chance to develop into a very good big league shortstop. He also flashes strong defense and a canon for an arm. At the plate, the switch-hitter doesn’t have much present power but should have gap pop as he matures. He has an advanced approach and strong eye for his age and could eventually make a strong No. 1 or 2 hitter.