We're now into the top half of this year's list, and as mentioned in last week's post, this is the portion of the list where we go from the quality depth of the system into the cream of the crop. As expected with a system that has put in so much effort to build up its pitching depth on the farm, this is also the point in the list where things get extremely pitcher-heavy, as just a third of the top-15 according to bb and me are position players. Today's group is particularly arm-heavy, with just one bat appearing in this week's five featured prospects.
Today's group also shows how systems can be constructed both from good early- and late-round drafting and scouting, as well as through acquisitions from outside of the organization. Beginning the group today is a three-way tie for 11th place between a 19th round pick of the D-backs and two acquisitions from Jerry Dipoto's brief stint as Interim GM of the D-backs, followed by a 12th-round pick of Arizona's, and finally a recently-signed second-round find.
For those who have yet to check out how this list was created, refer back to the preview for all of the details.#11 (tied) - LHP David Holmberg
Dan: 14 / Michael : 10
Don't get me wrong - it's not that I dislike Holmberg. I know that I'm likely rating him lower than most other evaluators will - bb's ranking is likely right around where most prospect evaluators will put him - but I think people have gotten a bit carried away with their rankings. I actually saw a mid-season list that had Holmberg in the top-30 in all of baseball. Holmberg is a command and control lefty who sits in the high-80's to low-90's with his fastball with average to above-average off-speed pitches across-the-board, though sources from the organization have said his change-up is plus. Yet, as soon as reports came out around June that Holmberg had been hitting 95 mph on the radar gun, it seemed like the prospect world freaked out, as that was also around the time that Holmberg started to utterly abuse the Midwest League.
After putting up a 2.39 ERA in 14 starts for South Bend, Holmberg was moved up to Hi-A Visalia as a 19-year-old (he turned 20 shortly after his promotion). That's where Holmberg started to fall into some trouble. Although Holmberg's swinging strikeout rate didn't dramatically decrease, he began walking significantly more batters, seeing his BB% jump from 6.1% at South Bend to 11.8% with Visalia. In the hitter's paradise of the Cal League, that translated to some rough outings for Holmberg, who had just three quality starts in his first seven Hi-A outings. Again, Holmberg is a good prospect and could be a #3 starter if everything breaks well for him - which is incredible value - but I think people need to relax on hyping him in the meantime - he isn't a top-100 prospect in the game, and there is still plenty of risk with a 20-year-old arm in A-ball.
#11 (tied) - OF Adam Eaton
Dan: 15 / Michael : 9
It's about time Eaton gets the respect he deserves. Yeah, he's short, but that hasn't stopped scouts from liking him as early as his days at Missoula, where he received raves for his playing style and shocking wrist-generated bat speed. Since being selected by the D-backs in the 19th round of the 2010 draft, all Eaton has done is succeed. Pro debut at Missoula? He hit, to the tune of a .385/.500/.575 line in 68 games. Aggressive first full-season assignment to Visalia? He hit, clobbering Cal League pitchers for a .332/.455/.492 line and 121 wOBA+ in 65 games. Mid-season promotion to Double-A at just 22 years old? Guess what happened next? Yep, he hit, continuing to rake to the tune of a .302/.409/.429 line and 116 wOBA+ for the rest of the season. There's something to be said for projecting nicely to the major leagues, but there's something else to be said for, well... hitting.
As mentioned earlier, bat speed is Eaton's calling card, as he uses his wrists excellently to generate plus bat speed that lets him rope ground balls and line drives the opposite way and into the outfield. Like Pollock, Eaton isn't much of a home run threat, but he'll provide plenty of doubles and triples with his speed and spray power. He also has excellent plate discipline, posting K:BB ratios close to 2:1 throughout his career, and that doesn't even include the hit-by-pitches that Eaton accumulates. Eaton crowds the plate to help him utilize the outer half of the zone and use the left side of the field, which has resulted in a convenient added plus of being a ball magnet - after leading the Pioneer League in plunks according to our good friend Corby Dickerson, Eaton has gone to get plunked a staggering 23 times between Visalia and Mobile in 2011, fluffing his OBP rather nicely. Needless to say, when a .409 OBP is the lowest total you've posted at any level of your professional career, you're doing something right.
The biggest concern with Eaton is his defense, as many reports have surfaced that say Eaton will likely be limited to a corner outfield spot if given regular playing time. This coincides with the organization's use of him in the minors, as Eaton was moved to a corner when Keon Broxton moved up to Visalia, and then played mostly right field at Mobile because of the presence of A.J. Pollock. This defensive limitation gives Eaton far less value than he'd have if he were capable of playing in center field every day. He can play center field on a replacement basis - think Gerardo Parra - but doesn't have the pure foot speed to handle the position for 150 games. This corner outfield limitation (and his left-handedness) places a large amount of stress on his bat. Granted, if he keeps hitting like he has in the minors, it won't matter - the D-backs will find a way to get him on the field in the big leagues. At the very least, Eaton looks like a nice upgrade on Collin Cowgill to me, perhaps making Cowgill expendable.
#11 (tied) - LHP Patrick Corbin
Dan: 9 / Michael : 15
I know there's still a lot of frustration about the move, but as off the Fall of 2011, the Dan Haren trade has worked out about as well as Arizona could have ever hoped it would. Whether that's due to Jerry Dipoto unearthing some scouting gems or sheer dumb luck is certainly a point of debate, but it's one I couldn't care less about - I'm just glad to see Arizona setting itself up for a bounty of a return on its former Ace. Sure, Dan Haren could have made a lot of difference on the 2011 D-backs, but with his sourpuss attitude (disclaimer: this is simply the impression I got from the media and his final interview in AZ) and apparent desire to pitch close to home in California, we can't know for sure how he would have impacted the club in ways none of us see.
Corbin joined the D-backs a year ago in Hi-A ball, and started the year slowly at Double-A with the BayBears. After posting a 5.09 ERA in April and a 4.67 ERA in May with a combined 48:14 K:BB ratio - plenty good - in 57.2 innings, Corbin spent June and July shredding Southern League hitters, posting respective ERA's of 2.83 and 3.57 with a combined 67:14 K:BB ratio, which led some to start wondering if a late-season call-up was a possibility for a D-backs club seeking back-end rotation answers. The Jason Marquis acquisition and choice to bring up Wade Miley after Marquis went down - as well as a couple of hiccups from Corbin in late July and early August - mostly ended those mumblings, but Corbin still made substantial progress on the mound in 2011.
Corbin's fastball ranges anywhere between 87-92 according to BA's most recent scouting report (from their Southern League Top-20 list), and Arizona front office people have reported him reaching as high as 95 mph this year. Such a wide range shouldn't be surprising, as the 22-year-old is immensely athletic as a former basketball star, and his body control allows him to willfully add and subtract velocity to keep hitters guessing and off-balance. The organization believes that Corbin's change-up is a plus offering, and while most observers consider his off-speed offerings to be above-average at best across-the-board, Corbin's polished command and control easily project him as a #4 innings-eater.
Corbin's current skill set should get him a serious look in Spring Training 2012 at a big-league starting rotation slot, but the competition for that slot - likely including Bauer, Skaggs, Parker, and Miley - will be thick. Corbin strikes me as the kind of guy who could be a trade chip for a bat, but I wouldn't be scrambling to move him until we see what some of the other arms are able to do in the big-leagues rather than relying on minor-league projections. Keeping Corbin stashed in the minors as a #6/#7 starter wouldn't be unwise, particularly with some of the heavy workloads taken on by Arizona arms both in the big leagues and in the minors in 2011.
#14 - RHP Charles Brewer
Dan: 13 / Michael : 14
Despite losing much of the year to a broken hand, Brewer demonstrated that his success a year ago at Hi-A Visalia was no fluke, translating that production almost seamlessly to Double-A Mobile despite his average stuff. Prior to the broken hand, Brewer had posted a stellar 32:9 K:BB ratio in 38.2 innings of work, also working around a brief concussion in late April. He returned late in the year to throw another 16.2 innings between a rehab assignment in the AZL and back at Mobile, finishing the regular-season with a 52:19 K:BB ratio in 55.1 innings.
Brewer then worked in a crucial game five victory for Mobile in the first round of the Double-A playoffs, earning the win against Birmingham with six innings of one-run ball, striking out five and walking three while allowing just three hits in a 7-1 BayBears win. He was slated to pitch in the fifth game of the Championship series as well, but Mobile won the series in four games behind a strong game four start from Trevor Bauer. To get Brewer some extra work against some premier competition, the D-backs then sent Brewer to the Arizona Fall League as a starter for the Salt River Rafters.
While the pitching environment of the AFL is absolutely brutal (as the numbers showed), the positive side of this assignment was the availability of MLB-quality Pitch f/x data to give us a good look at Brewer's arsenal. Brewer works with big-league-average stuff across-the-board, sporting an 88-91 mph fastball, low-80's change-up typically around 82 mph, and upper-70's curveball that typically resides around 77 mph. Brewer consistently reaches the upper part of that fastball range early on, then settled more into the 88-89 range later on, not overthrowing the pitch and getting good arm-side action and sink. The curveball isn't a particularly sharp pitch, though it showed a good amount of depth, although the change-up looked like an above-average pitch to me, mimicking the movement of the fastball and featuring a good velocity split (although I obviously was unable to see his arm action on the pitch). With good command and control of his arsenal, Brewer has a ceiling as a legit #4/#5 back-end starter in the NL or profiling as a solid relief arm.
It's a shame that Brewer missed so much of the season, as he was a serious candidate to have helped the rotation late in the season prior to his hand injury. Despite not possessing the ceiling of some of the team's premier pitching prospects, Brewer was perhaps the most polished pitcher in the system at the time of his hand injury. However, having lost that opportunity in 2011, Brewer faces the tough task of coming back and forcing himself back into the team's 2012 big-league pitching plans. With so many top pitching prospects set to join Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson in Arizona, one might think worry that Brewer would get lost in the crowd and left out of the team's plans. However, a) minor-league pitching regression is a common phenomenon, and b) very rarely does a big-league team need just five pitchers in any year. At some point, there will be a need for an extra starter from the minors, and I'm betting that Brewer will be waiting at Double-A or Triple-A for the call in 2012.
#15 - RHP Anthony Meo
Dan: 12 / Michael : 18
The D-backs capped off their first four picks of the 2011 with draft with another exceptional pitching selection, nabbing the high-ceiling Meo in the second round. Let's get this out right up top: You don't get a guy like Meo in the second round of the draft every year. Meo, like Chafin, could be as good as a #2 starting pitcher in the big leagues should everything work out optimally in his development. The ESPN scouting report (from Keith Law, who is a big fan of Meo's) has him sitting 93-96 with a delivery that works as a starter - a huge arm - and occasionally flashing 97, complimenting that heat with a hard slider that he can't control very well at this point. I'm not sure if I would totally agree on the delivery sentiment, as there's a good deal of effort involved, but he's been durable so far in his career.
Unfortunately, also like Chafin, Meo is a two-pitch pitcher at this point in his development. Law mentions that Meo didn't use a change-up when he saw Meo pitch for Coastal Carolina, but Meo instead showed a below-average curveball. With a slider already in his arsenal, I would imagine that the organization would scrap the curveball and try to get him working on a change-up. Meo could be a meteoric-riser as a late-inning reliever with closer upside - one of the few arms in Arizona's system with legitimate ninth-inning potential - should the team simply develop him as a two-pitch shutdown reliever, not bothering to try to develop a third pitch. However, Arizona has stated that they're going to give Meo a chance to work in the rotation, so his development will likely be slower - even if he ultimately still winds up in the bullpen - but the reward could be much greater.
With that, we've officially gotten past the half-way point in this year's D-backs top-30 prospects list, and are getting into some of the more familiar names on the farm. Next week we get into the top-10 and continue with what I would refer to as the middle tier of the D-backs system, the group of prospects who, in my view, would receive grades of B- according to Sickels' system. We'll also dip into the lower part of the top tier, with one prospect who I would attach a grade B to slotting in at the top of the 6-10 list.