Every so often a team has three pitching prospects so exciting that they get a group label. In the 90s the Mets had Generation K. The A’s opened the 00s with the Big Three. Later in the decade the Yankees had a group that announced Michael Kay dubbed Generation Trey. Around the same time the Texas Rangers had their own troika of elite prospects. Their collective name was a bit more clever, as fans turned the last names of John Danks, Edinson Volquez, and Thomas Diamond into DVD. Unfortunately, the fans who coined the name never saw much of those players.
Danks was the first to go. The ninth overall pick in 2003, he ranked among Baseball America’s Top 100 in each year he qualified. Yet his journey to the majors was not smooth. In 2004, he started in low-A, dominated, and got a promotion to high-A, where he stumbled a bit. In 2005, he pitched well while repeating high-A, but again stumbled upon his promotion to AA. The Rangers stuck with the same plan, though Danks again failed to show the stuff of a ninth overall pick at both AA and AAA. Maybe his home run rate that year was the tipping point, but whatever the reason they traded him after the 2006 season to Chicago for Brandon McCarthy.
Next went Volquez. An amateur free agent signing in 2001, Volquez first appeared for an affiliated team in 2003 and worked his way all the way to the majors by the end of 2005. He spent 2006 and 2007 mostly in AAA, though he did manage to get almost 70 major league innings during that span and showed improvement during his second short stint. Still, the Rangers decided to trade him for Josh Hamilton that winter. That left Diamond as the only remaining member of the seemingly indefatigable triumvirate.
A year after selecting Danks with the ninth pick, the Rangers selected Thomas Diamond with the 10th pick. He was another high strikeout guy who had problems with walks, but his stuff was undeniable. Unfortunately, injuries hit him hard. He underwent Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss the entire 2007 season. His 2008 comeback was cut short by an ankle injury and then a shoulder one, allowing him to pitch just 53.2 innings that year. They were not particularly good innings, either, as he walked 37. In 2009, there was hope that he could join the Rangers as a reliever, but he experienced poor results in the minors, walking 44 in 55.2 innings. That September the Rangers designated him for assignment, and the Cubs wasted little time claiming him. They then DFA’d him themselves later that month, but this time he passed through wavers and was outrighted to AAA.
This year in the minors has been a bit better for Diamond. He finally got his walk rate under reasonable control, walking 46 in 104.1 innings (3.8 per nine). Meanwhile he struck out 8.6 per nine and generally kept the ball in the park. That resulted in the Cubs calling him up and putting him on the mound for his major league debut last night. He didn’t fare poorly, allowing three runs through six innings while walking three, though he did strike out 10. It took him 122 pitches to do it, so he still has efficiency issues. But Diamond could be a bright spot on a generally disappointing Cubs season.
The effects of Diamond’s injuries were clear. Once heralded as a guy who could sit 92-94 and touch 97 with the fastball, Diamond just barely cracked 90 mph with his best fastball last night. He averaged 88.4 mph. Yet he threw 45 of 68 for strikes and generated six swings and misses. His changeup, previously rated as above average, also worked for him. He threw it 23 times for 16 strikes, seven of which were swinging. Baseball America noted that the development of a third pitch would be crucial to his development, and to that end he seems to be working in a slider, throwing it 11 times last night for 7 strikes, though no swings and misses.
Other teams might kick themselves for trading way or releasing their three top pitching prospects only to see them succeed, to varying degrees, elsewhere. Danks is an established top of the rotation guy for the White Sox, Volquez impressed in Cincinnati before requiring Tommy John surgery, and now Diamond has a chance for the Cubs. Yet the Rangers have one of the deepest pitching systems in the game. In fact, of their top 10 prospects, per Baseball America, they feature seven pitchers, three of them left-handed. The future certainly looks good for the Rangers.
Yet we’re seeing a trend similar to what we saw with DVD. Both Martin Perez and Kasey Kiker, the team’s Nos. 2 and 6 prospects, have faltered a bit this year. Will we see them turn to the trade market this off-season as they had in the past? Or will we see them a bit more reserved about giving up prospects who have experienced rough years?