1. Archie Bradley, RHP, 21 - How good is Archie Bradley? He's only 21. He's only spent two full seasons in the minors, none above AA. Yet, most are calling him the top pitching prospect in all of baseball. He has a durable pitcher's body. He has the big fastball and the killer curve. In his two minor league seasons he has only allowed 6.3 hits per 9 innings.
He flashed some of his brilliance in a couple of spring training starts, though he also showed his inconsistency with a couple of poor outings. Rumors have swirled that the Dbacks are holding him back so they can gain another year of control. I don't buy that and tend to agree he's not quite ready--though he's close.
His 21 starts for Mobile last year were very, very good. But there are a few kinks in the armor that still need to be hammered out. His command is still not where you want it to be for a front line starter, but it's getting there. In 2012 he walked 5.6 per 9 innings, hit 15 batters and threw 17 wild pitches. In 2013 his walks dropped to 4.1, he hit 6 batters and threw just 2 wild pitches--progress for sure.
One more step forward like that and he'll be ready. He apparently has the work ethic and coachability to keep progressing so another half season of work in the minors and he should be ready to join the rotation for the next 6 years. Hopefully the team is still in the hunt when he does come up and he can help them get over the hump.
2. Chris Owings, SS, 22 - Owings just won the starting shortstop job at the tender age of 22 over incumbent Didi Gregorius. That rates him in my book over everyone else in our system. he did it with a solid offensive stretch in spring training and solid if unspectacular defense. With the questio marks in the rotation management felt Owings' offense was more valuable than Didi's defense.
Owings had a respectable debut in the majors at the end of last year with a solid 105 OPS+ over 20 games. He was named the PCL MVP with a really good all-around season that featured an .842 OPS, 12 homers, 31 doubles and 81 RBI. He has moved up one level every year since being drafted in the 1st round of the 2009 draft with solid seasons every step of the way.
He's not a masher like Tulowitzki or Ripken, he's just a really solid hitter who can handle a premium defensive position. The major criticism against him is his lack of plate discipline. He's had some downright awful K/BB rates throughout the minors and those critics doubt he can overcome that at the major league level. In any case, he's only 22 and playing at the highest level at the most difficult position. Let's hope he passes the test and stays there for a long time.
3. Braden Shipley, RHP, 22 - Shipley was rated in the Top 10 heading into last year's draft by most draft experts. So it was a major surprise when he was available at #15 when the Dbacks chose him with their first pick. He was sent to Hillsboro where they spent some time cleaning up some of his mechanics, and his poor results reflected that.
He was promoted to South Bend near season's end where he had 4 solid starts plus a playoff start. In 20 innings there he struck out 16, walked 8 and allowed just 14 hits. He's still somewhat of an unknown but scouts are all still very high on him. This should be his breakout season where he starts to show why he was rated so high.
He has a very good fastball that clocks in the low to mid-90s, a developing curve ball, and an advanced changeup that is rated major league ready. Shipley hasn't been pitching for all that long starting out at shortstop in college before moving to the rotation at Nevada his last two seasons.
So his arm does not have a lot of wear and tear, though that also might be a cause for caution not to put too many innings on such an untested arm so soon. His high rating right now is all based on projection as opposed to results. I expect to start seeing results early on in either South Bend or Visalia. He is 22 already so he can't be lingering at the lower levels for too long. He needs to get through Visalia this year in order to remain this high.
4. Jake Lamb, 3B, 23 - Lamb has two minor league season under his belt since being drafted in the 6th round of the 2012 draft out of Washington. Some scouts were not very high on Lamb in college as he regressed with his power stroke and had become an inside out slap hitter. But Dbacks coaches got hold of him, corrected some swing flaws and he immediately became one of the club's best minor league hitters.
In 2012 he tore up the Pioneer League with a .930 OPS and 9 homers in 64 games. That earned him a promotion to Visalia where he started the season on fire before injuring his wrist at the beginning of June. That probably cost him a mid-season promotion to Mobile as he spent a month on the DL, but when he came back he picked up right where he left off finishing the season with a .982 OPS and 13 home runs in 64 games.
If there's a knock on Lamb it's a somewhat high K rate of almost 25%, though his saving grace is he still walks a lot and has a career minor league OBP of over .400. He'll need to cut down on the Ks if he wants to become someone special. But all signs point to him being a plus hitter who also plays plus defense. He has soft hands, decent range and a good arm so he is expected to provide above average defense down the road.
5. Justin Williams, OF, 18 - Williams was drafted in the 2nd round of last year's draft as a potential impact bat. He played shortstop in high school but he was quickly moved to right field which should be his future position. He was only 17 all last year and it was expected he might be a project that would take time to mature. But he zipped through two levels finishing in South Bend before his 18th birthday.
He put up an .843 OPS in the Arizona Rookie League and a .952 OPS in 11 games for Missoula before getting a cup of coffee with South Bend. It was recently announced that Williams was not assigned to a full-season team and will be staying in extended spring training, which makes Missoula or Hillsboro his likely destination in June.
With so few power prospects in the system hopes are high that Williams can fill part of that void and continue to develop into a corner outfield force. He showed very good plate discipline for such a young hitter which portends a robust future for well proportioned athlete. His future is bright and he could arrive at a good young age. Lots to like about this kid.