AZ SnakePit Top-30 Prospects List For 2011 - #1-5

Jarrod Parker debuted with the D-backs in 2011, and 2012 looks to bring the big-league debuts of a pair of equally-promising young pitchers.

After spending five weeks plowing through this year's top-30 prospects list, we've arrived at the last five-prospect installment, and the cream of the crop. It's not exactly a secret as to who will be appearing on this list, and with bb and me having identical rankings of prospects 1-5 on our respective lists, I'm fairly confident in the rankings. As is only fitting, we'll be bucking the trend of past weeks' posts and list these five prospects in reverse-order, beginning with number five and working our way to the top prospect in the D-backs system. You're not reading this for the intro, though, so without further rambling, here are the top five prospects in the Arizona Diamondbacks' farm system, as ranked by the SnakePit:

For those who have yet to check out how this list was created, refer back to the preview for all of the details.

#5 - 3B Matt Davidson
Dan: 5 / Michael : 5

Sure, Davidson has had a bit of an underwhelming year at Visalia in 2011 given the expectations held for him after he obliterated the Midwest League in 2010 at 19 years old. However, let's have some perspective on the matter: Davidson put up a wOBA+ right at league average - 100 on the dot - according to StatCorner (whose lump season stats for Davidson differ pretty significantly from MiLB's - not sure why) despite being a 20-year-old in a league where the average age is about 22-and-a-half years. That's an incredibly impressive season, and one in which Davidson has hit an impressive total of 60 extra-base hits, a tick above 40% of his total hits on the year.

Davidson's 39 doubles puts him in a tie for second with 24-year-old outfielder Kent Matthes, only behind Dodgers breakout prospect Angelo Songco's awesome total of 48. With someone who possesses Davidson's large frame and strength, those doubles at age 20 often turn into home runs at age 26 as his body continues to add muscle and power. Yes, Davidson has some extreme swing-and-miss issues for a prospect as highly-regarded as he is, but his swing mechanics are fundamentally sound and the holes in his swing should be fixable with time and coaching. As he continues to develop his approach - with his excellent makeup, I have faith that he'll steadily improve - hopefully he can cut back on some of those concerns as he ages. He joined Double-A Mobile for three games during the Southern League Championship Series and showed a brief (very brief, so excitement should be tempered) glimpse of the ability to handle the jump to Double-A, going 3-9 with a double, a home run, a pair of HBP's, and a walk while pushing Ryan Wheeler over to first base.

The biggest concern with Davidson is, undoubtedly, his defensive future. If Davidson can develop at third base to the point where he is able to stick at the position on an everyday basis in the major leagues, his bat will be plus for the position and he has the potential to be a star. However, if Davidson is forced to move to first base (or left field, though that is much less likely), his bat, while good, probably makes him more of an average regular producer. That 2-2.5 fWAR type of player still has plenty of value, but simply isn't the player he could be at the hot corner. Davidson will be the everyday third baseman for Double-A Mobile next year, and with Bobby Borchering's move to left field, it seems that the team is confident in Davidson's ability to stick at the hot corner, which is encouraging in itself. If Davidson has another quality year, particularly with the glove, he could be ready to join the D-backs in 2013, possibly replacing an aging Ryan Roberts or moving Roberts to second base.

#4 - RHP Archie Bradley
Dan: 4 / Michael : 4

In almost any other draft, Archie Bradley gets hyped through the roof. The solidly-built right-hander works with a mid-90's fastball that has hit triple-digits (sits mid-90's), and his devastating curveball was repeatedly described by ESPN's Keith Law as the best curve in the draft - even better than the destructive breaker of Arizona's first pick of the draft. That plus/plus-plus FB/CB combo would be enough to make him a major league closer in a flash with some command tuning-up in the minors, so long as the quality of his stuff does not dramatically deteriorate. Given that he's just turned 19 years old, though, it would be foolish to not give Bradley a chance to fulfill his potential as a true top-of-a-rotation Ace. The Arizona system is loaded with high-upside pitching, but Archie's ceiling is easily higher than any other arm in the system. Bradley was also the talk of Fall Instructs according to a blog post from Nick Piecoro, with rumblings that some within the organization might prefer him to the guy they took four picks earlier last June. Whether or not you agree with that assessment, it's incredible praise for Bradley that some within the organization think so highly of him.

However, I'm hesitant to put Bradley up higher than this slot because there's still so much that could go wrong with Bradley's development. Remember, it was just a couple of years ago that Colorado's Tyler Matzek projected as a true major-league Ace before a coach in Colorado's system thought it would be a great idea to tinker with his mechanics (granted, in most cases, it probably would have been given the complexity of Matzek's high school mechanics... that joke is played out, but it's definitely not entirely on the pitching coach). Heck, Jarrod Parker was supposed to be a quick-rising high school power arm as the system's #2 prospect immediately after signing in 2007. Lower-level arms are tantalizing to dream on, but the odds of them panning out as planned are disturbingly small, which is something to remember before declaring Bradley as a sure-fire bet to anchor the D-backs rotation in 2014.

Additionally, Bradley is going to need time and minor-league innings to develop his third pitch, a changeup, into a useful major-league offering, lest he become another Edwin Jackson or A.J. Burnett - two-pitch starters who show flashes of greatness but consistently pitch below their ceilings. That development time opens up the ever-present possibility of Bradley's arm suffering a severe setback injury. However, there's good reason to be optimistic that Bradley can hold up. His near-perfect starting pitcher's frame (when compared to, for instance, Jarrod Parker's slight frame out of high school), liquid-smooth and almost effortless delivery, and excellent dedication to conditioning help assuage the enormous concern of pitcher injury. Add in a great makeup and wonderful work ethic, and you have a recipe for $5MM well-spent.

#3 - RHP Jarrod Parker
Dan: 3 / Michael : 3

Parker missed all of 2010 with Tommy John surgery, needed to repair an elbow injury he sustained in 2009 in his first exposure to Double-A ball. Back in '09, the injury was a devastating blow to what was, at the time, one of the thinnest farm systems in all of baseball. Two years later, Parker has made a complete recovery from the surgery, providing a massive boost what has become one of the strongest systems in the big leagues, even without his presence. Granted, Parker started off the season roughly, posting poor all-around numbers and peripherals in April and May as he was still sorting out some remaining kinks in his command and control with his new elbow. However, Parker started utilizing a two-seam fastball around mid-season and dominated the rest of the way, allowing zero home runs with Mobile in the second half of the season.

Parker's fabulous stuff from before his surgery has been there all year, ranging from 92-95 on his fastball - 92-93 with the two-seam, 94-95 with the four-seam, occasionally hitting 96 - with mechanics that have been smoothed-out since his surgery. His slider - the primary off-speed offering he worked with before the surgery - can still flash plus when he commands it, although it seems that he hasn't regained his confidence in the pitch since the surgery. Thankfully, Parker has rapidly developed a phenomenal changeup - now a plus pitch featuring great arm speed, excellent fade, and a splitter-like drop - which has become his best secondary offering. Additionally, Parker has a usable curveball with 12-6 movement, although it's not the hard-breaking pitch that Skaggs' curve is and is more of a show-me pitch for Parker, though plenty good as a fourth offering.

Parker is still just 22 years old, and the #1 starter ceiling he possessed prior to his injury remains as unchanged as the caliber of his superb stuff. With dramatic performance and peripheral improvements as the season progressed, there's plenty of reason to be hopeful that Parker could become a top-line starting pitcher. The organization was very cautious with Parker at the start of the year, but began to take the training wheels off as the season progressed. The D-backs first broke Parker's 5-inning limit in Mid-July, potentially preparing the golden-armed Parker for a 2012 big-league rotation spot, perhaps as soon as Opening Day. He'll have plenty of competition for that rotation slot, particularly if Joe Saunders returns to the D-backs, but, barring any significant attrition, I Parker should have a firm grasp on a rotation spot by mid-season.

#2 - LHP Tyler Skaggs
Dan: 2 / Michael : 2

Next, we turn our eyes to Skaggs, the left-handed stud who has gone from Supplemental Round pick in 2009 to top-20 prospect in the game in just over two years. After ending the 2010 season at Low-A South Bend after being acquired in the Dan Haren trade, Skaggs began the year with Hi-A Visalia as one of the ten youngest players in the league. Yet Skaggs did something remarkable, posting an ERA below 4.00 in the Cal League in spite of his age. To put some perspective on that, if Skaggs had enough innings pitched in the Cal League to qualify (minimum 0.8 IP/league game), he would have been one of just 10 pitchers to post a sub-4 ERA. Even better, Skaggs destroyed that 4.00 figure, posting an ERA of just 3.22 in 17 starts with the Rawhide, with an incredible 125:34 K:BB ratio in 100.2 innings. The only qualifying starter in the Cal League to beat that ERA mark was San Jose's Chris Heston, a 23-year-old who posted a 3.16 ERA in 151 innings.

That performance was enough to get Skaggs promoted to Double-A Mobile shortly after his 20th birthday. In 10 regular-season starts with the BayBears, Skaggs picked up right where he left off at Visalia, treating Southern League hitters with just as much disrespect as he showed to the bats of the Cal League. Skaggs worked 57.2 regular-season innings in for Mobile, and put up video game numbers while making what is commonly thought of as the most difficult jump within the minors. He struck out 73 batters while walking just 15 - good for an 11.39 K/9 and 2.34 BB/9 - while allowing just 45 hits and four home runs. His GO/AO was pretty low at just 0.82, but Skaggs' fastball gets rave reviews for its late life, so I don't see it as much of a concern. Even if Skaggs were to develop into a fly-ball pitcher, though, that may be more of a blessing than a curse with Arizona's fantastic defensive alignment in the outfield. I'll let Skaggs' overall regular-season line speak for itself: 27 games started (17 for Visalia, 10 for Mobile), 158.1 innings, 2.96 ERA, 126 hits, 198:48 K:BB, 10 HR, 1.19 GO/AO.

As the playoffs rolled around for the BayBears, Skaggs turned in two more phenomenal outings, showing no signs of tiring despite his significant workload. First, Skaggs worked seven innings of one-run ball against Birmingham in Mobile's extra-innings game three victory, striking out nine with just six hits and two walks allowed. Then, in the Southern League Championship Series against Tennessee, Skaggs gave up just one run again in six innings of work, allowing five hits and posting a 7:1 K:BB ratio. A 1.38 ERA in two post-season outings? Sounds like a stellar way to cap off a dominant minor-league season to me.

Skaggs attacks hitters with a fastball that's mostly in the low-90's range and occasionally adding and subtracting both into the upper-80's and mid-90's, which is above-average-to-plus velocity for a left-handed starter. The fastball plays up in large part because of the aforementioned excellent life on the pitch, which keeps hitters from squaring it up effectively. His best offering is his curveball, a true plus out-pitch with sharp break that has allowed him to devastate minor-league hitters. However, the biggest difference between Tyler Skaggs in 2010 and Tyler Skaggs in 2011, according to various reports from within the D-backs front office (many coming in Nick Piecoro's blog), is the development of his changeup. Once projecting as merely an average pitch in the big-leagues, many of Arizona's executives and minor-league coaches now consider the pitch a legitimate plus offering.

If the changeup is a plus pitch as reported, this would give Skaggs an arsenal of three dominant pitches he can use to attack big-league hitters. That devastating arsenal has resulted in the occasional report warming to Skaggs as a potential #1 starter (though most still see him as a #2), a designation that is more than supported by his minor-league stats. A fierce competitor who I've read described as having "ice in his veins," he gets great scores for his makeup and mound presence, and will be given every opportunity to see time on the mound for Arizona in 2012, perhaps as soon as Opening Day.

#1 - RHP Trevor Bauer
Dan: 1 / Michael : 1

The third pick from the 2011 draft, Bauer signed a major-league contract with the D-backs worth a guaranteed $4MM+, with maximum worth of over $7MM. Even the most bearish on Bauer would agree that a bonus of that size is, by all accounts, an absolute bargain. Among the most prolific strikeout pitchers in Pac-10 history, the UCLA star has a nearly unheard-of combination of polish and upside for a new draftee. By Bauer's count, his arsenal is about six pitches deep (counting the standard two varieties of fastball as two different pitches), though his best off-speed offering is, by a wide margin, his curveball, which is either a plus or plus-plus offering depending on who you're talking to. Either way, it's a wipeout out pitch, and one that we should very much look forward to seeing dominate big-league hitters for the next six years or so.

Bauer sets up that devastating curve with a fastball sits in the mid-90's, staying in that 93-95 range and occasionally hitting 97 even after moving from a seven-day schedule at UCLA to a five-day schedule in pro ball. The rest of his arsenal includes a pair of standard offerings in his changeup and slider, as well as the more unconventional "reverse-slider," a screwball-like pitch that has a harder break to it a traditional screwgie. Best to break this down as an analogy: screwball:curveball as reverse-slider:slider... supposedly. These pitches are all at least show-me offerings at the big-league level, and if he is able to command all of them effectively, they could each play up to average or better due to sheer unpredictability of trying to hit any one of six different offerings breaking in different directions. However, as we've seen with Japanese pitchers like Daisuke Matsuzaka who have similarly-deep arsenals before heading to the big-leagues, sometimes having so many pitches can work against a pitcher if he can't figure out when to use each of them and doesn't use his best offerings often enough.

Beyond that, though, the big knock on Bauer from a pure pitching ability standpoint is his command. With such complex delivery mechanics (which can occasionally get out of whack and lead to some disastrous results), it can be difficult for him to spot the ball exactly where he wants to within the zone. On occasion, that shaky command can cause the right-hander to leave his fastball up in the zone, which he got away with in college but won't work nearly as well against big-league hitters. If Bauer can learn to either keep the fastball down - or out of the zone when it is up - he'll be an absolute force. Bauer's devastating out-pitch, great makeup, and advanced pitching acumen all combine to have plenty of scouts projecting Bauer as a true #1 starter. Even those who are bearish on Bauer project him as a good mid-rotation arm who will be in the major leagues very soon, and if we have to "settle" for six years of a quality #3 starter, that will be awesome value for a $4MM investment.

The final significant concern on Bauer is his immense college workload, as Bauer regularly threw 130-150 pitches per game at UCLA. Bauer has never been concerned about the heavy workload, with a strong belief in the ability of his rigorous training program to keep him durable and healthy. The D-backs are believers in Bauer's workout regimen, and were confident enough with his conditioning and current physical status to send the 20-year-old out for another 33.2 innings in the minors (including post-season work) after he signed with the club, so they don't seem to be too concerned. The positive spin on those workloads, of course, is that if Bauer manages to avoid serious injury, he has already shown a capability of working deep into games and for a full-season workload, so there won't be much of a need to coddle him over the coming years and keep his innings limits under close watch.

Bottom line: if you aren't excited about Trevor Bauer, I don't know if you're capable of being excited about any prospect.

There you have it, to top five prospects in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system as rated by the SnakePit. The elite-level talent in this group is incredible, and, health/attrition permitting, there's a non-zero chance that the big-league rotation lines up with five of Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Josh Collmenter, Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, and Jarrod Parker by mid-June. Should these guys pan out as hoped, that rotation would be utterly drool-worthy. Granted, the odds of that happening are minuscule, but all three of Bauer, Skaggs, and Parker will at least get a chance to contribute serious innings in 2012, and it isn't too bullish to anticipate that two of them could pan out as legitimate big-league starters. Arizona hasn't had this kind of elite talent on the farm since the club first traded for Dan Haren, and it will start paying dividends in 2012.

That wraps up the list, and I hope you readers have enjoyed reading these posts as much as I enjoyed writing them. With the 2011 NL West Division title secured and a top-ranked farm system waiting in the wings, it's a great time to be a D-backs fan.

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