Another week, another five D-backs prospects to cover as a part of the AZ SnakePit Top-30 Prospects List. In today's group, we see a mix of projectability and polish, with a pair of high-upside talents book-ending the group and three polished, quick-rising pitchers in-between. Additionally, one prospect in today's group drew very different opinions from blue bulldog and me, falling outside of my personal top-30 list but landing inside bb's top-15. Check out the details on where we disagree and the rest of this week's quintet after the break in the second update of the AZ SnakePit Top-30 Prospect List!
For those who have yet to check out how this list was created, refer back to the preview for all of the details.
Dan: 18 / Michael : 26
Going into the year, the D-backs really had only two serious middle-infield prospects, shortstops Chris Owings and Raul Navarro. Navarro fell off a cliff in 2011, failing to reach base, hit for contact, or hit for power at both South Bend and Yakima, failing to make BA's list of the top-20 prospects in the Northwest League or Midwest League, and not cracking the top-30 on either bb's or my list. Fortunately for Arizona, Nick stepped up at Hi-A Visalia, building on a solid-but-not-great 2010 season with the Silver Hawks in which he collected a 99 wOBA+ by putting up a 102 wOBA+ with the Rawhide in 2011. With a strong age-relative-to-league working for Nick as a 21-year-old in the Cal League, Nick is the organization's best long-term answer at second from down on the farm. The organization sensed this and sent Nick to the Arizona Fall League this year to gain some experience against upper-level pitching.
Nick didn't have a ton of plate appearances against left-handed pitchers in 2011, but it's worth noting that he absolutely destroys them. Because of this high platoon split, Nick profiles at least as a nice right-handed hitting utility infield type who can provide value off the bench as a right-handed pinch hitter. He won't ever have the arm to man shortstop or third base regularly, but if he can't be an everyday second baseman, he could make occasional appearances all around the diamond as necessary. His defense at second has faced some questions in his short career, but the organization believes that he made significant strides at second base in 2011. Of course, Nick faces the challenging jump from Hi-A to Double-A in 2012, which will give us a better idea of how his bat will project to the big leagues, and could vault him into Arizona's plans as soon as 2013.
#21 (tied) RHP Chase Anderson
Dan: NR / Michael : 13
Chase Anderson entered 2011 as one of my personal top-10 prospects in the system after posting great peripheral numbers in Low-A and Hi-A on the strength of a change-up that Keith Law had called "nearly unhittable." His average fastball velocity and rough third pitch - a curveball - caused concern as to how he would adapt to the upper levels, but in what was then a thin system, he had gotten my attention with exceptional strikeout rates. Unfortunately, after posting a ridiculous 20:1 K:BB ratio in his first few outings for the Rawhide in 2011, Anderson was shut down with an elbow issue that cost him the rest of the season. After working as a reliever at the University of Oklahoma, it seems that Anderson's arm simply fell apart while trying to build up innings in a starting role.
This, of course, brings to question what Anderson's future with the D-backs will be. Even with a fastball that teeters on the edge of the upper-80's and low-90's in long outings, the wicked dive and fading action on his change-up gives Anderson an out pitch, and his ability to change speeds allows his velocity to play up a little, giving him two pitches worth of a starter's arsenal. If he can develop his curveball into an average big-league offering and build up innings counts, Anderson can make a quality big-league starting pitcher. When the system's pitching depth was scarily thin in 2010, Anderson's potential as a bona fide starting pitcher was worth being patient for, particularly since the D-backs looked like they would be itching for additional starters to fill out the rotation behind Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson in a few years.
Now, though, with the organization suddenly flush with starting pitching that should turn out to be at least MOR-quality, it isn't nearly as urgent to continue developing Anderson as a starter if he continues to struggle keeping his arm healthy. With Anderson's history of low single-season innings counts, age (23 years old), primarily two-pitch arsenal, and track record of succeeding out of the bullpen in college, taking the conservative approach and converting Anderson to relief might be prudent. If his fastball can tick up consistently in the low-90's while working in short stints, he could become a phenomenal fastball/change-up reliever with his wipe-out change-up (which would also benefit from additional velocity separation if his fastball ticks up).
#23 - RHP Kevin Munson
Dan: 25 / Michael : 20
Selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, Munson was perhaps the top college closer of his draft crop, sporting a low-to-mid-90's fastball and wipeout slider that projected him comfortably to an eighth-inning role. However, Munson has had some issues in his young career with control, which kept him in A-ball during his pro debut (compared to Evan Marshall, who reached Double-A within months of being drafted this year) despite big-league-quality stuff. Back at Hi-A to begin 2011, Munson was able to weather the Cal League storm despite his walk-happy ways - 41 in 53.2 innings - by striking out a preposterous number of batters - 76, a rate of 12.75 K/9.
Those rates earned Munson a late-season promotion to Double-A, working three scoreless innings over two appearances for the BayBears in the regular season before joining the team for its post-season run. Munson then headed to the Arizona Fall League, where he began his stint with the Salt River Rafters by striking out the side in his first two innings of work, and posting a 13:0 K:BB ratio through his first 8.2 innings. In perhaps his most notable AFL appearance, a scoreless ninth frame in which Munson secured his first save for the Rafters, Munson struck out Angels outfield uber-prospect Mike Trout swinging, struck out Red Sox breakout third base prospect Will Middlebrooks swinging, and got The Bryce Harper (TM) to ground out. Talk about a good day on the job.
If Munson can continue to miss bats the way he has in the AFL while showing sharp control, he could beat his initial eighth-inning projections and close in the big leagues, despite the lack of upper-90's velocity. However, hoping that a sample of sharp control in fewer than ten innings is at all predictive is extremely speculative, and if Munson continues to occasionally struggle with walks, he'll fall short of a ninth-inning role. For a fourth-round pick from 2010, though, that's a heck of a find.
#24 - RHP Ryan Cook
Dan: 29 / Michael : 19
Cook, like Bryan Shaw, was moved from starting in 2010 to full-time relief in 2011, and while he didn't have quite the success that Shaw had in Arizona, the transition to the bullpen went very well overall. After struggling with control and an inability to miss enough bats as a starter for the Rawhide in 2010 due to a lack of a quality third pitch - or even a second pitch, frankly - Cook was able to amp up his fastball use as a reliever (Cook threw the pitch 67.3% of the time with the D-backs, according to FanGraphs). Working in short stints out of the 'pen, Cook has seen his fastball velocity dramatically tick up, consistently sitting around 95 mph (average fastball velocity: 94.8 mph) with his heater to abuse Double-A bats as the BayBears' closer after Shaw's first promotion to Reno.
Cook was called up to the big leagues straight from Double-A, but had an infamous debut in the major leagues against the Brewers (in the Stephen Drew injury game) in which he failed to record an out while being tagged with three runs. He wound up making four appearances with Arizona in that first stint, giving up four earned runs while notching just a total of five outs. However, after heading back down to Reno after that initial rough patch, Cook re-joined the team in September and pitched much better down the stretch, giving up two runs in six innings of work in September. His mid-90's fastball still gives him a ceiling working in the eighth inning if he can make his slider into a quality offering.
Cook has a motion-intensive and effort-heavy delivery - which looked really painful from my seat on the couch - that includes a massive wrist wrap after he separates his hands, a sharp stab at the bottom of his wind-up, and an elbow "M" as he transitions into his delivery. The wrist wrap could be costing Cook command of the strike zone, while the stab and the "M" are each believed to be an early indicator of elbow issues by some evaluators. I'm honestly surprised that those mechanics held up as a starter in the minors as long as they did, as the brief glimpses we saw in the big-leagues this year absolutely scream relief. Even with the move to short stints, Cook could be the type of reliever whose delivery acts as a ticking time bomb of sorts, with only so many bullets available before a seemingly-inevitable breakdown, a la Jonathan Broxton. With an arm that big, though, he could provide Arizona with some serious big-league value before the meltdown comes, if he's able to consistently control the strike zone the way he was able to in September.
#25 - RHP J.R. Bradley
Dan: 20 / Michael : 29
J.R. Bradley is a personal favorite from my time watching the South Bend Silver Hawks this year. While Adam Eaton came out of nowhere to emerge as the cream of Arizona's 2010 draft crop (not counting Barret Loux, who has turned himself into a very good prospect for the Rangers), Bradley remains an enticing high-upside pitching prospect who deserves more exposure than he gets. Bradley has shown himself to be more durable than your typical teenage starting pitching prospect, starting 27 games and working 142.2 innings for the Silver Hawks in 2011, maintaining his velocity late into the year - he was exclusively in the 90's in the first inning of his second-to-last start of the season, August 30 against Lake County.
Bradley currently sits mostly 90-92 mph with his fastball, occasionally dipping down into the upper-80's, but with tons of physical projection remaining. With his broad shoulders and wiry current build, we could easily be watching Bradley throwing 93-95 mph in the majors four years from now. The pitch also features some nice arm-side run, although it will be important to monitor how the pitch's movement changes in the event that Bradley adds velocity to his fastball. Bradley's three-pitch mix also includes a curveball and change-up that both show potential as at least average major-league pitches. I particularly like the change-up, which I saw induce several early, off-balance swings in Bradley's best outing of the year (the aforementioned start against Lake County) and features good arm action and some fade. If everything breaks in Bradley's favor, that arsenal projects him to the middle of a big-league rotation.
The biggest thing that Bradley needs to work on is the command of his fastball. Given that he turned 19 years old during the season, he has a ton of time to iron out those command issues, but with the caliber of his stuff, Bradley was way too hittable in the Midwest League, a friendly environment for pitchers. Thankfully, Bradley features simple mechanics with minimal effort that he repeats well, so hopefully his command will improve with repetitions. The August 30 outing I saw was evidence of what Bradley's stuff will allow him to do when his command is on, as he struck out nine and walked just two in seven innings, allowing a pair of unearned runs and generating 21 swinging strikes by keeping his three pitches in the lower parts of the zone and on the outer thirds of the plate. However, Bradley's 4.98 ERA on the year is evidence of what can go wrong when he leaves his fastball up and over the middle of the plate.
Of course, as with any teenage pitching prospect, the risk of Bradley never reaching the major leagues is pretty high. Even the most mechanically-sound pitching prospects can have their careers derailed by injury, and the physical projection of Bradley's velocity is little more than a dream at this point. However, pitchers like Bradley can also have it "click" at any moment and begin to rise meteorically through the system and up prospect boards. Something else to keep in mind to provide perspective on how much Bradley could improve in the coming years: J.R. is just two months and one day older than Archie Bradley.
We're already a third of the way through this year's list, and the quality of Arizona's farm depth continues to speak for itself as we prepare to dive into the top-20 next week. Two of the prospects on this week's list - Munson and Cook - have strong chances to see time at the big-league level in 2012, Nick and Bradley have phenomenal upside, and Anderson remains a wild card who could still emerge as a quality big-league starting pitcher or solid reliever within a couple of years. Coming from outside the top-20 prospects of the system, that's some awfully impressive talent.