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Top 15 Prospects: Arizona Diamondbacks

Pitching has become the indisputable strength of the Arizona Diamondbacks system. The Top 10 features seven pitchers and the first four have ceilings of No. 1 or 2 starters. Despite having a bevy of high picks in the 2009 amateur draft and using most of them on hitters, Arizona lacks premium offensive prospects after many of those selections faltered or grew significant warts. All in all, though, this is an impressive system that just needs a little more depth to become elite. *Reliever Bryan Shaw was not considered a prospect due to service time.

1. Trevor Bauer, RHP
BORN: Jan. 17, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 1 season (Played at A+/AA in ’11)
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round, UCLA (3rd overall)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

SCOUTING REPORT: Bauer was selected third overall in the 2011 draft and had the talent to be taken first overall, so Arizona was no doubt thrilled to get him. He has a diverse repertoire that includes a fastball that can touch the mid-90s, a plus curveball, slider, and changeup. He’s already established himself as a workhorse pitcher, pitching 100+ innings in each of his three seasons at UCLA. Bauer has an unorthodox delivery that worries some scouts while others point to Tim Lincecum as an example of someone who made “different” work out pretty darn well.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Arizona’s No. 1 prospect posted an eye-popping 1.25 ERA with 203 Ks in 136.2 innings during his junior season at UCLA. He then signed with the Diamondbacks in time to make seven starts in the minors. All told, he pitched more than 160 innings in 2011, which is why he did not head off to the Arizona Fall League with a lot of the other top college picks. Bauer had some success in pro ball by striking out a lot of batters. His 7.56 ERA (3.44 FIP) in four double-A starts was tainted by a BABIP-allowed of .429 (as well as the small-sample size). The right-hander struggled a bit with his control (4.32 BB/9).

YEAR AHEAD: It’s unclear what plans the organization currently has for Bauer. A safe bet would be to see him begin the year in double-A, pitching along side Tyler Skaggs. There was some talk of Bauer making his MLB debut in 2011 but it ultimately did not happen. Chances are good that fans in Arizona will be treated to his first big league appearance in 2012. He’s not far at all from being MLB-ready.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Bauer has the makings of a No. 1 starter and should be no worse than a No. 2, assuming he stays healthy – and there is no reason to suspect that he won’t. Arizona currently has a very exciting crop of young pitchers filtering up through the system right now and it shouldn’t be long before Bauer sits atop the starting rotation, followed by Jarrod Parker, Skaggs, and Pat Corbin – with Archie Bradley a few steps behind.

2. Jarrod Parker, RHP
BORN: Nov. 24, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons (AA/MLB)
ACQUIRED: 2007 1st round, Indiana HS (2nd overall)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 1st

SCOUTING REPORT: Not even the dreaded Tommy John surgery could knock Jarrod Parker from his perch as the organization’s No. 1 prospect in 2010. It took the acquisition of Trevor Bauer to dethrone the talented former No. 1 draft pick (2007), who held the title for three straight seasons. Parker has bounced back nicely from his injury with the help of rehab, and made his MLB debut in 2011. He features a low-to-mid-90s fastball, slider, and changeup. The right-hander doesn’t strike out a ton of guys right now but his rate should increase as he improves his command post-surgery and matures as a pitcher.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Parker allowed just 112 hits in 130.2 innings at the double-A level in 2011. He made up for a decent, but not great, strikeout rate of 7.71 K/9 by inducing an above-average number of ground-balls (55%). That helped him allow just seven home runs all season. He then made one start at the MLB level and showed decent stuff with a fastball that averaged out at 92 mph.

YEAR AHEAD: The 22-year-old pitcher could see some time at triple-A to begin the year if the organization goes out and secures a veteran pitcher through the free agent market or via the trade route. But I’m betting Parker will make a run at the No. 4 spot in the starting rotation in March, pushing the over-achieving Josh Collmenter down into the No. 5 hole. Parker probably won’t see his peak for a few seasons but he could be a solid NL starter right from the get-go.

CAREER OUTLOOK: At his best, Parker should top out as a No. 2 starter. With the memories of his TJ surgery still lingering in people’s minds, his durability may be questioned for a while but he has the potential to have a long career as a Major League starting pitcher.

3. Tyler Skaggs, LHP
BORN: July 13, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons (A+/AA)
ACQUIRED: 2009 supplemental 1st round, California HS (Drafted by Angels)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 3rd

SCOUTING REPORT: On the surface it doesn’t exactly look like Arizona came out on top of the Dan Haren/Joe Saunders swap with the Los Angeles Angels. However, Arizona has an ace in the hole. Literally. Skaggs, along with fellow Top 15 prospect Pat Corbin were also acquired from Los Angeles and should make the trade a huge win for Arizona before too long. Skaggs has the makings of a No. 2 starter with a repertoire that includes an 88-93 mph fastball, potentially-plus curveball and developing changeup. He has an excellent pitcher’s frame and has been durable.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Just 20 years old, Skaggs split the 2011 season between high-A and double-A, striking out 198 batters in a combined 158.1 innings. He threw 100.2 innings in the potent California League (A+) and came away with a 2.65 FIP (3.22 ERA) and a strikeout rate of 11.18 K/9. In 57.2 double-A innings, Skaggs posted a 2.45 FIP (2.50 ERA) with a strikeout rate of 11.39 K/9. He showed improved control with his walk rate dropping from 3.04 to 2.34 BB/9 but his ground-ball rate also dropped from 53 to 43%.

YEAR AHEAD: Because his fastball is just average (or slightly above), Skaggs will need to continue to command the lower half of the strike zone at the upper levels of the minor leagues – and eventually the Majors. He could return to double-A to begin 2012 with a relatively quick promotion to triple-A in the cards. Don’t be shocked if he joins Trevor Bauer in making his MLB debut next year.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Skaggs will make a perfect No. 3 starter on the Arizona Diamondbacks behind Jarrod Parker and Bauer. He has the ceiling of a No. 2 starter and the sky is the limit for the talented southpaw, especially if he can keep the fastball down.

4. Archie Bradley, RHP
BORN: Aug. 10, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 1 season (Rookie)
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round, Oklahoma HS (7th overall)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

SCOUTING REPORT: Here is how good the pitching depth is in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ system: Bradley would rank as the No. 1 prospect for about eight to 10 other MLB organizations. Bradley received a $5 million bonus as the seventh player selected overall – and the second prep pitcher behind fellow Oklahoma native Dylan Bundy (who went fourth overall to Baltimore). The right-handed Bradley has a devastating one-two punch with a mid-90s fastball and potentially-plus curveball. The development of a changeup will be important to his future. Like a lot of young pitchers he occasionally loses command of his offerings and will likely move methodically through the minor league system.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Bradley signed late and pitched just two innings in pro ball. Outside of being drafted by the Diamondbacks, his proudest moment of the year likely came when he pitched a two-hit shutout in the Oklahoma state championship game against Bundy’s squad. He struck out 14 batters.

YEAR AHEAD: Having pitched just two pro innings, Bradley will likely open 2012 in extended spring training. However, an impressive spring training could cause him to receive the Jarrod Parker treatment, which means an assignment to low-A ball in his first full year. The organization wants him to work on developing his changeup, and he also needs to work on consistency and repeating his delivery.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Although Bradley probably won’t be the quickest mover, the organization has a lot of high-ceiling pitching depth a head of him, which will buy him time to realize his potential of No. 1 starter. He should be ready for the Majors right around the time Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson start getting expensive and/or begin their declines.

5. Matthew Davidson, 1B/3B
BORN: March 26, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons (A+)
ACQUIRED: 2009 supplemental 1st round, California HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd

SCOUTING REPORT: Davidson was selected at the top of the 2009 draft along with another prep third base prospect named Bobby Borchering, who was actually the club’s first pick. Borchering has more power than Davidson but does not project to hit for average and almost certainly will not stick at the hot corner. Davison, on the other hand, doesn’t have quite as much power but he has a better chance to hit for average and stick at third base. One scout familiar with the 20-year-old infielder had this to say:

“Matt has always had power and now he is learning to use the whole field to hit, and then his power is now translating to all fields. He has a chance to hit lots of doubles and his share of home runs to be an average to above average third baseman in [terms of] production.”

YEAR IN REVIEW: Like Borchering, Davidson split the 2011 season between third base and first base at high-A ball. He was respectable at the hot corner but still has work to do. He took to first base quicker than Borchering and actually looked like he could become an above-average fielder at the position. Davidson enjoyed his time at the plate in high-A ball in 2011. He used the offensive-oriented league to his favor and hit 20 home runs and 39 doubles. He also hit a respectable .279 despite having a strikeout rate of 24.3%. He drove in 107 runs.

YEAR AHEAD: It’s possible that Davidson and Borchering could be split up if the club decides to give the latter player a little more seasoning in A-ball before making the significant jump to double-A. Davidson, though, should open the year in Mobile, Alabama. He’ll look to continue to use the whole field and make consistent, hard contact.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Arizona still believes in Davidson as a third baseman. In response to a question about his defense, the scout stated:

“This is one area that Matt needed to improve on when he signed. He has really taken the bull by the horns and improved dramatically. I think he stays at third base but he can also play first base. His footwork, confidence and knowledge has greatly improved. He has plenty of arm as well.”

Davidson has the potential to be an average to slightly-above-average offensive third baseman at the MLB level in the mold of long-time Tiger Travis Fryman.

6. Patrick Corbin, LHP
BORN: July 19, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons (AA)
ACQUIRED: 2009 2nd round, Florida JC (Drafted by Angels)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 7th

SCOUTING REPORT: The lesser known of the two “extra pieces” obtained in the Dan Haren trade with the Angels, Corbin had a solid season at double-A in 2011 and is on the cusp of his big league career. The southpaw has a solid repertoire – 87-92 mph fastball, slider, changeup – that plays up because of his ability to command all three pitches. The lefty also has impressive movement on his heater. He’s around the strike zone a little too much at times and allowed 11 more hits than innings pitched in 2011. Corbin might have some extra success if he worked down in the zone a little more and induced more ground balls.

YEAR IN REVIEW: After bouncing around to three teams in 2010, Corbin spent the entire ’11 season at double-A for the Diamondbacks. He posted a solid 3.62 FIP (4.21 ERA) in 160.01 innings, which represented an approximately 20 inning increase over his ’10 total. Despite have a slight frame, he’s proven to be durable. He showed above-average control with a walk rate of 2.25 BB/9 and his strikeout rate was respectable at 7.97 K/9.

YEAR AHEAD: Look for Corbin to begin the year in triple-A. His stuff isn’t as good as Bauer’s or Parker’s, so he’s third in line for an available big league slot. His left-handedness, though, could give him an edge in certain situations. Corbin is still much better against left-handed hitters than right-handers (.218 vs .290 batting average) so he needs to put a little more polish on his changeup, which ranks as his third best pitch.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Corbin has all the makings of a No. 3 big league starter but he needs to solve right-handed hitters. If he can’t, though, he may have to settle for a career as a situational lefty or middle/long reliever. Those questioned about Corbin’s future believe he has what it takes to develop into a future starter at the MLB level.

7. Bobby Borchering, 3B/1B
BORN: Oct. 25, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons (A+)
ACQUIRED: 2009 first round, Florida HS (16th overall)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 6th

SCOUTING REPORT: Borchering is a former top prep prospect who has moved methodically through the Diamondbacks system, one level at a time. The switch-hitter’s best tool is his power and it has the potential to be plus from both sides of the plate. Borchering is a below-average fielder at third base and is likely a long-term first baseman so he’ll have to keep mashing. He also needs to make more contact.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Borchering found the potent California League to his liking in 2011 and saw his ISO rate jump from .153 to .202, but warnings bells went off when his strikeout rate also increased substantially from 21.8 to 27.5%. He split the season between third base and first base, showing more potential at the latter position although he has a lot of rough edges to smooth out.

YEAR AHEAD: If he moves up to double-A in 2012 as expected, Borchering may struggle early as he adjusts to what is widely considered the toughest jump in the minors. His batting average could continue to plummet if he cannot solve his issues with breaking balls. It might be time to leave him at first base permanently, which would allow him to focus more on the offensive side of his game.

CAREER OUTLOOK: If he does stick at first base Borchering looks like an average to slightly-above-average big league first baseman. He has the power potential to hold down the position but the strikeout rates are going to be high and he might struggle to hit .250.

8. Andrew Chafin, LHP
BORN: June 17, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 1 season (Short-Season)
ACQUIRED: 2011 supplemental 1st round, Kent State University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

SCOUTING REPORT: Chafin, 21, not only survived Tommy John surgery in 2010 but he bounced back so well that he went from being a college reliever to the team’s best starter in 2011. The left-hander has an above-average fastball that hits the mid-90s, a plus slider and a developing changeup.

YEAR IN REVIEW: The southpaw made just one pro appearance after signing. He had an outstanding junior year at Kent State University by striking out 105 batters in 89 innings. He allowed just two home runs.

YEAR AHEAD: With his college experience, Chafin could open 2012 in high-A ball as a starter. There isn’t too much need to rush him so he could spend the entire year in A-ball. If the organization chooses to advance him as a reliever, Chafin could fly through the system and even pitch in the Majors in 2012.

CAREER OUTLOOK: If Chafin’s changeup does not take, he could end up as a high-leverage reliever. If he can stick in the rotation then he could develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter. He has a big, strong frame and there isn’t too much concern about his durability with TJ surgery safely in the rear view mirror.

9. David Holmberg, LHP
BORN: July 19, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons (A-/A+)
ACQUIRED: 2009 2nd round, Florida HS (Drafted by White Sox)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: If you didn’t believe me about the depth in this system, you have to now. Holmberg represents the sixth pitcher among the nine best prospects in the system – and the third left-hander. Acquired from the White Sox in the 2010 Edwin Jackson deal, along with current big leaguer Daniel Hudson, the emergence of Holmberg could make this stand out as yet another under-appreciated trade by former Interim-GM Jerry DiPoto (recently hired as the GM of the Angels). Jackson produced 5.1 WAR before being shipped to Toronto and then St.Louis in a three-way deal while Hudson has already accumulated 6.9 WAR for Arizona. Holmberg could add to the overall WAR total for this side of the trade. He is a big-bodied pitcher who projects to be a bottom-of-the-order innings eater. He has a decent repertoire that includes an 86-91 mph fastball, above-average changeup, improving curveball, and developing slider.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Holmberg split the year between low-A and high-A ball. With a promotion to high-A ball, the lefty’s ground-ball rate dropped almost 10% to 45% and his FIP rose from 2.44 to 3.58. The biggest cause for the decrease in success came from his control – as well as the fact he was pitching in a much more offense-oriented league. His walk rate rose from 1.41 in low-A to 4.42 BB/9 in high-A.

YEAR AHEAD: Although Holmberg has a strong frame, I am a little concerned over the large innings increase from 2010 to ’11 (from 77.2 to 154.1). It will be interesting to see if the lefty holds up for the entire 2012 season. With so much depth ahead of him, the organization can afford to be patient with Holmberg so he may start the year back in high-A but should definitely see double-A at some point.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Holmberg is likely on pace to make his MLB debut in 2013. As mentioned, he doesn’t have a huge ceiling but cost-controlled, durable left-handed pitchers are not easy to come by so the former White Sox prospect has a lot of value nonetheless. Expect him to have a solid career with a possible peak similar to that of Randy Wolf.

10. Chris Owings, SS
BORN: Aug. 12, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons (A+)
ACQUIRED: 2009 supplemental 1st round, South Carolina HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 4th

SCOUTING REPORT: Owings is his own worst enemy. He’s far too aggressive at the plate and doesn’t find himself in many favorable hitting counts. He should stick at shortstop as he moves through the minors although there has been some talk of him moving to second base down the road. He has the potential to hit 10-15 home runs and steal as many bases.

YEAR IN REVIEW: The shortstop saw his wOBA drop from .338 at low-A in 2010 to .291 at high-A in 2011. His low walk rate from ’10 got even worse in ’11 when it bottomed out at 2.7%. His strikeout rate increased by 5% to 23.4%, which is far too high for a player with modest power (.142 ISO).

YEAR AHEAD: Owings should head back to high-A to being 2012 with the goal of developing a more mature approach at the plate. He also needs to get better against right-handed pitching after striking out a quarter of the time and posting a .637 OPS against them.

CAREER OUTLOOK: The shortstop’s future really depends on his ability to control his over-aggressive nature. If he cannot, Owings will either top at in the upper minors or spend his career as a big league backup. If he does improve and reach his potential, he would be an average big league starter.

The Next Five:

11. Anthony Meo, RHP: Meo has a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a solid curveball but he lacks control (thanks to questionable mechanics) and his changeup is below average. As a result, the college starter projects as more of a reliever in pro ball.

12. Kyle Winkler, RHP: A teammate of Matt Purke at Texas Christian University, Winkler slid to the 12th round of the 2011 draft because he’s an under-sized right-handed pitcher and suffered from an elbow issue late in the college season. Despite that fact, his fastball his 90-95 mph and he has a good slider and solid changeup. He could surprise some people.

13. A.J. Pollock, OF: The outfielder made up for lost time in 2011 after missing all of ’10 with an elbow injury. He hit .309 in double-A and stole 36 bases in 43 tries. Defensively, he rates as an average defender in center field and lacks the power (.136 ISO) to be a regular corner outfielder.

14. J.R. Bradley, RHP: The organization was very aggressive with the raw right-hander in 2011 and assigned him to full season ball. He struggled but did not give up and battled all year long. The former second round pick should repeat low-A in 2012 and will continue to work on his four-pitch mix.

15. Rossmel Perez, C: The 22-year-old Perez repeated high-A in 2011 and had a much better season with his wOBA jumping from .296 to .341. He also walked more (12.2%) than he struck out (8.2%). Defensively, he struggled with his receiving and blocking. The switch-hitter could develop into a solid big league backup.

SLEEPER ALERT: Michael Perez, C: Drafted in the fifth round out of Puerto Rico in 2011, Perez has plus arm strength although he’s still learning the position. At the plate, he shows good power potential and could hit for average from the left side.