Arizona has some impressive depth, as well as a few high-ceiling players at the top of the system. The organization has added some solid up-the-middle talent to go with an enviable group of pitching.
Skaggs, 21, reached the majors in his fourth professional season. The southpaw has the potential to develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter. He has an above-average fastball for a lefty and a contact I spoke with said, “He gets a lot of extension out front and the fastball jumps on hitters.” Skaggs also has a curveball with plus potential and a changeup that could be average or better. The talent evaluator feels the changeup has plus potential, as well. “He throws it with good arm speed… He was just learning to believe in it [in 2012] and I think he does now.”
When I saw Skaggs pitch at the end of the 2012 season, he showed signs of fatigue. He was drifting towards first base during his delivery when his hand (and ball) was making separation from his glove. It causes his command to slip. When couldn’t throw his curveball, hitters were sitting on his fastball. His delivery has some deception to it. His fastball was mostly 91-92 mph and he had good separation between his heater and curveball. Skaggs’ two secondary pitches have similar speeds.
Skaggs should open 2013 in triple-A, assuming all the pitchers ahead of him break camp and avoid the trainer’s table. The contact I spoke with said he expects big things from Skaggs when his opportunity comes. “Last year was a huge year for learning… He’s ready to pitch here now… [Last year] was a grind mentally and physically,” he said. “He now has a ton of confidence and he’s going to be a good pitcher.”
Bradley and Dylan Bundy were both drafted out of Oklahoma high schools in 2011. While Bundy zoomed through the minors last season and reached the majors, the Diamondbacks prospect spent the year in low-A ball. Despite that difference in developmental paths, both players possess top-of-the-rotation stuff. I asked a contact if he was worried that Bradley would feel pressure to join his friend in the big leagues and he responded, “He needs to stay within himself and focus on his own strengths.”
Bradley has a dominating fastball and a potentially-plus curveball. His changeup remains a distant third pitch but he could develop into an average-or-better offering over time. I asked a second contact about the pitcher’s repertoire. “When his front two pitches are on, he’s as good as anyone in the minor leagues… He has the ability, with an extreme downward plane, to get a lot of swings-and-misses on his fastball.”
Bradley should open 2013 in high-A ball, although the organization may want to get him out of the California League as quickly as possible so he could see double-A in the season half of the season. The first contact I spoke with said the prospect learned a lot in his first pro season and should be ready to build upon those experiences. “It can be a difficult season for a lot of guys,” he explained. “[Bradley] did have a stretch where he struggled a bit with his command and he didn’t let it affect him.”
Davidson will turn 22 just before the start of the 2013 season and has already spent a full season in double-A. He also took a tour of duty through the Arizona Fall League. Davidson should open the year in triple-A and the acquisition of third baseman Martin Prado (along with his contract extension) seemingly closes the door on one opportunity. The emergence of sophomore first baseman Paul Goldschmidt potentially shuts another.
A contact I spoke with placed a 50-grade on Davidson’s power potential, and said the prospect could hit more than 20 home runs per season during his prime. His average will be dragged down by his swing-and-miss tendencies, but his strong walk rates help compensate.
Early in his career there were question marks about Davidson’s ability to stick at third base but he’s quieted those concerns and the talent evaluator said the prospect was helped by spending most of 2012 at third base, after previously splitting time with first base. “He’s a big kid, in a good way… He carries it well… He’s learning that his quickness and agility should be key focuses in his training. He’s improved each year.”
Arizona has spent the past four months acquiring shortstops including Cliff Pennington, Nick Ahmed and Gregorius, who has perhaps the highest ceiling of the trio. The native of the Netherlands played at three levels in 2012 (AA, AAA, MLB) and even spent another 20 games in the Arizona Fall League. With Pennington’s big league experience, he likely has an edge on opening 2013 as the big league club’s shortstop, but don’t be shocked if Gregorius wrestles the job away by the end of the year.
A gifted fielder, he has outstanding range, a plus arm and excellent actions. At the plate, he gets pull happy but has some surprising pop from the left side. A talent evaluator I spoke with said Gregorius may not hit .300 but he has a habit of coming up big late in games and in key situations. “He comes to the park everyday to win the game,” he said. There could be some pressure on the prospect to succeed after the club gave up prized right-handed prospect Trevor Bauer (in a three-team deal) to acquire the talented shortstop.
Eaton stands just 5’8” but he’s larger than life on the baseball diamond with his hustling play. The speedy outfielder has plus speed, above-average defense and understands his strengths as a player. A contact I spoke with said, “He has a small ball type of game. He’ll bunt… He’ll take a hit-by-pitch. He finds a way to get on base… He’s a pesky type of hitter that will find a way to get on base a couple times a night.”
In the outfield, the talent evaluator I spoke with said Eaton is above-average at all three positions thanks to his speed and arm. “He can go get it… He has plenty of arm strength and he has no fear,” he said. Eaton has little left to prove in the minors after hitting .381 in triple-A and compiling 220 hits at three levels (AA, AAA, MLB). Eaton doesn’t have a massive ceiling but he could be an above-average regular.
Trahan is an offensive-minded catcher who might end up being too gifted at the plate to warrant waiting for his defense to catch up — not unlike Kansas City’s situation with Wil Myers. The Diamondbacks’ prospect could provide enough value with the bat, though, that he wouldn’t be hurt too much by a shift to right field or first base. Trahan, 18, provides plus-power potential, strong on-base skills, and the even a chance to hit for average.
As alluded to, the Louisiana native’s defense needs a lot of work. He’s a good athlete with a strong arm but he needs to polish his blocking, receiving and throwing mechanics. A contact I spoke with said there will be no pressure with Trahan’s development, mentioning current big league catcher Miguel Montero who spent three years in rookie ball. “There is no rush on Stryker… He loves catching and he’s improved dramatically since he signed.” He’ll move up to a higher short-season league in 2013 but could be a long-term project if he sticks behind the dish.
One of my favorite underrated pitchers in the minors, Holmberg split 2012 between high-A and double-A. A contact I spoke with said most young pitchers need to focus on command and improving secondary pitches, but Holmberg is different. He has fastball command, gets swings-and-misses with his changeup and can throw strikes with all four of his pitches. His biggest need, according to the talent evaluator I spoke with, is further experience and innings.
Holmberg could return to double-A to open 2013 but he should see triple-A by the end of the season. With a ton of upper-level depth in the system there is no need to rush the lefty. The prospect could zoom up prospect rankings this year. “It’s shocking that he is somewhat under the radar… but he doesn’t crave that attention,” the talent evaluator said. “He is one of the most humble players we have in the organization… He believes in himself, he works hard and is extremely mature for his age.”
Owings, a former supplemental first round pick, has not been as dominant in pro ball as one might expected give his raw tools. He has an overly-aggressive approach at the plate, in part due to his quick-twitch muscles, and struggles with pitch recognition, which leads to low walk rates and high strikeout rates. On the plus side, though, Owings provides surprising pop for his size.
I asked a talent evaluator if he was concerned with the prospects’ approach and he said was not. “I like to see young kids with an aggressive mindset… I think they can learn to tune it down and make it work for them,” he said, adding that it’s much more difficult to light a fire under a ‘low energy player.’
In the field, Owings uses his above-average speed to generate good range but both his feet and hands need some work. He has a very strong arm but his throws can be erratic. The contact I spoke with felt Owings, with time, could have above-average potential in the field. “He’s such a good athlete. There is no doubt in my mind he can play shortstop at the big league level.”
Owings should return to double-A to open up the 2013 season but could reach triple-A by the second half of the season. With the additions of fellow shortstop prospects Didi Gregorius and Nick Ahmed, the South Carolina native enters the year with a lot more competition for the shortstop-of-the-future mantle.
A 2008 second round draft pick of the Braves, Spruill was acquired in the trade that sent outfielder Justin Upton to Atlanta. Spruill’s development has taken some patience as he enters his sixth pro season. And that patience is about to pay off. The right-hander spent all of 2012 in double-A, making 27 starts and pitching more than 160 innings. In a bit of a surprising decision, he then made another seven starts and pushed his innings total for the year to more than 180.
Spruill’s approach on the mound has evolved over time and he’s become more of a pitch-to-contact pitcher. His strikeout rates are a little low, as a result, but he produces above-average ground-ball rates. He has a tall, lanky frame with good balance and an easy delivery. When I watched him pitch Spruill was struggling to establish his fastball and command was an issue. He used his off-speed pitch for strikeouts but he telegraphed it by lowering his high-three-quarter arm slot when delivering the pitch. The Georgia native also features a low-90s fastball and a slider.
Spruill should move up to triple-A to begin 2013 and he enters an organization that has a little more upper-level depth than his previous organization so he could spend a good portion of the year in the minors. He has the potential to be a solid innings-eater at the back-end of the starting rotation, but he could also end up in the bullpen thanks to the young pitching depth in Arizona. With some improvements to his secondary stuff I could see him pitching at the level of a No. 3 starter for at least a few seasons.
Ahmed, 22, is a tall shortstop who was the Braves’ second round draft pick in 2011. Like Zeke Spruill, the infielder came over to the Diamondbacks in the Justin Upton deal. Ahmed spent all of 2012 at the high-A ball level with mixed results. He finished the year in the Arizona Fall League and looked good in a small-sample size. He swung and missed too much, leading to a high strikeout rate and low batting average. He has gap power but does not hit as many home runs as one might expect given his frame. However, his swing is geared to hitting the ball into the gaps. Ahmed stole 40 bases in 50 tries last season and has above-average speed.
Ahmed has improved his range at shortstop and he also possesses a strong arm. He definitely has a chance to stick at the position but could also see time at either third base or second base, depending on the big league club’s needs. Ahmed should move up to double-A in 2013 and will hopefully look to adjust his approach at the plate, either to adopt an all-fields, line-drive approach or to create more leverage in his swing and hit for more power. He currently appears to be caught somewhere in the middle.
When I asked a contact to give me his impression of Perez, he stated, “[Perez is] a catcher that handles a staff really well. He has the defensive skills to be very good with a left-handed swing and offensive potential.” A second contact I spoke with said he has a better chance to stick at catcher than fellow Top 15 prospect Stryker Trahan and he throws very well from behind the plate thanks to an above-average arm and quick release, as well as good foot work. His handling of pitchers and game calling, though, is a work-in-progress.
There are questions about Perez’s potential with the bat, in terms of his ability to hit for average because of an overly-aggressive approach. The second contact I spoke with was impressed with his power potential “He has probably more power than hit [tool]… He’s not a big guy but he has easy-loft power.” The Puerto Rico native held his own in rookie ball in 2012 and will experience full-season ball for the first time in the coming season.
Chafin is a hard-throwing left-hander who can dial his heater up into the 93-94 mph range with a plus slider, but there are some question marks surrounding him. He underwent Tommy John surgery in college and his pitching mechanics are not the smoothest. His third pitch, a changeup, is also a work in progress.
When I asked a contact about Chafin’s future, he told me that the prospect would be developed as a starter for now but no final decision had been made. “He’s an intense competitor… He’s a high-motor, high-energy guy,” the talent evaluator said. “He’s on a nice progression innings-wise but I’ve seen him in that [relief] role and his stuff plays up.” Chafin struck out 150 batters in 122 innings during his first full season in high-A ball and is ready for double-A. The 2013 season will be a big one for the 22-year-old hurler in terms of helping determine his future path to the big leagues as a starter or reliever.
The Diamondbacks’ 2009 first round draft pick, Pollock’s career was temporarily derailed when he broke his elbow and missed the entire 2010 season. Once healthy, he moved quickly through the system and spent 31 games in the big leagues in 2012. Pollock, 25, is known for being a well-rounded player capable of doing a little bit of everything but some question his ceiling that could top out as a fourth outfielder.
A contact I spoke with feels that he can be a big league starter. “In the right situation, he can definitely play regularly in the big leagues… He’s a very good outfielder.” The trade of Justin Upton helps to free up some of the outfield depth but Pollock will still face an uphill battle for regular playing time.
He can play all three outfield spots but he’s probably best suited for the corner outfield positions due to his average speed. Unfortunately, he doesn’t possess prototypical power. The contact I spoke with said Pollock has “power in his swing” but doesn’t get a whole lot of lift, and is more of a gap-to-gap hitter. With Jason Kubel, Cody Ross, Adam Eaton, Gerardo Parra, and Eric Hinske ahead of him, the former Notre Dame baseball star will likely open 2013 in triple-A.
Meo (pronouned Mayo) is similar to Andrew Chafin because of the questions surrounding his ability to stick as a starter as he moves through the minors and into the majors. A contact I spoke with felt that the right-hander has the potential to remain a starter but agreed that there is some effort to his delivery and mechanics that have raised the concerns. I was also told that he needs to — like many young pitchers — become more of a pitcher, as a opposed to a thrower, and to also have more consistent command.
“Fastball command is paramount in the majors… You can get away without it in the minor leagues… Developmentally, he need innings…” he said, adding that an improved third pitch will also help Meo. “He was working repeatedly on his change last year and it’s coming along.” Meo has an impressive fastball that can hit the mid-90s and a solid curveball. He struck out 153 batters in 140 innings of work, but also walked 71 batters. Meo should open 2013 in double-A and could be ready to assume the role of a No. 3 or 4 starter in late 2014 or 2015.
A third round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays out of an Arizona high school, Barrett’s negotiations allegedly broke down when something popped up during a physical. The right-hander followed through on his commitment to Arizona State University and found his way to his home-state club when he was selected once again in the third round. A starter in high school and during his sophomore season in college, the right-hander has found his niche in the bullpen and a contact I spoke with said there were no plans to have him try his hand at starting again.
“He will stay in the bullpen. That’s the way he’s wired, and that’s the way he likes it,” the talent evaluator said. “He has big stuff and was mid-to-high 90s [with his fastball] in the bullpen.” Along with his impressive heater, Barrett also features a slider that has wipe-out potential. He’s thrown a splitter in the past and he may need the pitch to help combat tough left-handed hitters. After debuting at low-A Southbend, he should move up to high-A ball to begin the 2013 season. If he avoids the disabled list, the big-bodied hurler could reach the majors in 2014. Barrett could eventually find himself in high-leverage situations at the big league level.
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