We're into the top-10 of this year's list, and a week away from what is likely to be, admittedly, a rather unsurprising finish to this year's top-30 prospects list. This week gives us a pause from Pitchermania, which overtook last week's post and will do so again next week, as we see three bats find slots in the 6-10 range of our list. This week's segment also gives us a good look at how some of the prospects from the highly-acclaimed 2009 draft are progressing, as the three bats that appear in this group were all taken by Tom Allison in that crucial draft. Of course, that isn't to say that this week's group fails to show off the system's primary strength, as two quality lefty pitching prospects - something Arizona might have more of than any other team in the game - reside in this week's quintet as well.
For those who have yet to check out how this list was created, refer back to the preview for all of the details.#6 (tied) - CF A.J. Pollock
Dan: 6 / Michael : 8
Pollock has been one of the bigger points of debate between me and Michael this year as we go back and forth who might replace center fielder Chris Young in the D-backs lineup a couple years. Regardless of where you lean in that debate (for those living under rocks, I prefer Pollock by a wide margin as a straight grade B prospect, and Michael has them neck-and-neck), one thing is for certain: Pollock exceeded all expectations (certainly all of mine) in 2011. For someone whose entire professional resume was 63 games of a .271/.319/.376 line at South Bend after being drafted in 2009 and a stint in the AFL last year, Pollock would have impressed had he simply kept his head above water after making the jump straight to Double-A. However, Pollock has gone above those baseline expectations and put up a .306/.356/.443 line in 2011, good for a 109 wOBA+ in the pitcher-friendly Southern League.
Pollock has been largely over-shadowed by teammate Paul Goldschmidt, for understandable reasons. However, Pollock's lofty wOBA+ figure, particularly when compared to what seems like a simply average OPS figure, demonstrates both the difficult conditions of the Southern League and just how inconsistent of a statistic OPS can be. A high-average singles and doubles specialist like Pollock is underrated by OPS, as singles and doubles carry more run value per total base recorded than home runs do. Despite the fact that double-digit home run seasons may be rare for Pollock in his big-league career, the fact that he has spent most of 2011 ranked among the SL-leaders in doubles - amidst the company of several older first basemen and corner outfielders, no less - means that the pop in his bat should not be undervalued.
Arizona hasn't had a prototypical leadoff hitter in quite some time, but Pollock's impressive contact skills, solid 86:44 K:BB ratio, and 36/43 stolen base success rate (83.7%) could fill that void in Arizona's lineup. Add in a legitimate possibility that Pollock can man center field on an everyday basis in the major leagues - not a plus defender, but an above-average runner who makes good reads with no glaring defensive weaknesses - and it's not too hard to see why I'm so high on him. Chris Young is a phenomenal player and under team control through 2014, so Pollock is blocked and will probably start 2012 at Triple-A with no clear path to the majors. However, we've all seen how volatile of a player CY can be, and Pollock is a good insurance plan to have in case CY stumbles again.
#6 (tied) - LHP Wade Miley
Dan: 7 / Michael : 7
It's really hard for me to make up my mind about Wade Miley. On one hand, Miley has had an incredible stint with Triple-A Reno, handling the hitter's paradise of the PCL as well as any pitcher could possibly hope to. Miley's 3.86 tRA with the Aces translates to an amazing 136 tRA+ in the Pacific Coast League, and Miley's 56:16 K:BB ratio and 20.8% swinging strikeout rate at Reno both suggested that he was more than ready for a major league gig. Miley got that opportunity when Jason Marquis went down for the rest of the year with a broken leg, joining the D-backs' rotation as their #5 starter. He was solid for the D-backs in that slot in the rotation, putting up a 4.15 ERA in 39 innings for the D-backs down the stretch as a starter (though he also allowed two runs in a one-inning relief appearance). Those numbers, particularly the ones at the big-league level, would be good enough to cover up for substandard numbers at Mobile earlier in the year for most prospects, as the easy optimistic argument to make is that Miley made massive strides throughout the season and should be ready for the major leagues in 2012.
However, this isn't the first time that Miley has experienced a second-half surge... Just last year, Miley followed a mediocre 50:37 K:BB ratio in 14 starts with Visalia to open the year with a remarkable string of 13 starts with Mobile, collecting a 63:28 K:BB ratio in 72.2 innings at Double-A and posting a 2.75 GO/AO mark for the BayBears. Because of that prior massive first half to second half split, it's hard to ignore the struggles that Miley went through to begin the year back at Mobile. In 14 outings with Mobile prior to his promotion, Miley posted just a 46:28 K:BB ratio in 75.1 innings on the mound, resulting in a 4.78 ERA and 103 tRA+.
The early-season excuse for 2011 could be the shoulder issues that Miley was dealing with, as the majority of his bad outings for Mobile were prior to and immediately after he went on the DL within the first two months of the year. After all, Miley was one of the standouts of early Spring Training, so his struggles early on in the year actually came as somewhat of a surprise. Still, with a pattern of extreme inconsistency on either side of the All-Star break in the last two years, one has to wonder whether Miley will show up to Spring Training 2012 in his best form and ready to claim a full-year rotation spot on the 2012 D-backs. His above-average arsenal of a low-to-mid-90's fastball, plus slider, and average change-up will make him a major league pitcher - likely a starter - so long as he doesn't get hurt, but he runs the risk of being passed up by the plethora of strong arms in the upper levels of the system if he isn't consistent in the early part of 2012.
#8 - LHP Andrew Chafin
Dan: 10 / Michael : 6
Chafin was the D-backs' Supplemental Round pick in the 2011 draft, much less hyped than either Bauer or Bradley, but a darn good prospect in his own right. The left-hander had a phenomenal season at Kent State in his return from Tommy John surgery, coming on strong in the later parts of the year as he put the surgery further behind him. Chafin already features an impressive fastball/slider combo, with the heater ranging from 90-95 and occasionally touching 96 while pitching every seventh day for the Golden Flashes. That velocity will likely drop when working every fifth day, but even if he settles around 90-93, that velocity would be above-average to plus from the left side. The slider is already a plus offering, and the two-pitch combo, when right, gives Chafin a strong backup projection as an eighth-inning lefty reliever.
Unfortunately, there are two big issues standing in Chafin's way. First is that Chafin has been pitching hurt for a while, hiding a muscle pull from the team prior to signing and only getting in a single outing of work in the Arizona League after signing. Now working in Fall Instructs, Chafin has seen his velocity drop into the high-80's, and if he can't recover that velocity, his value will absolutely plummet. It could simply be a matter of Chafin being tired after a long season following surgery, so nobody should write him off just yet, but it's definitely something to keep a close eye on as Chafin makes his full-season deubt in 2012. Chafin's velocity is what made him such a promising prospect in the draft, and it absolutely needs to come back.
The second concern with Chafin is his change-up, which he rarely needed to use to dominate MAC hitters and thus hasn't developed a good feel for. A likely first-round pick in most other drafts, if Chafin can turn his seldom-used change-up into an average weapon at the major league level, he carries an impressive ceiling as a #2 starter, and adds yet another fearsome arm to the D-backs stockpile of killer left-handed pitching. He'll likely have to start his career either in Low-A South Bend or Hi-A Visalia in 2012 to get in work on his change-up before testing the higher levels. As with many Tommy John pitchers, Chafin uses his slider heavily (see: Parker, Jarrod), which always presents the risk of something going wrong in his elbow, although the fact that he's already undergone and recovered from Tommy John surgery significantly lowers the chances that he needs further surgery.
#9 - SS Chris Owings
Dan: 8 / Michael : 12
Yes, I completely understand how poor Chris Owings' plate discipline metrics are. The dude is allergic to walks, apparently, with a 2011 walk rate of 2.7%. With some slight regression of his BABIP from the lofty mark he posted a year ago, his OBP has become one of the worst among everyday players in the Cal League at just .274. Add in a slight spike in swinging strikeout rate, and you have a perfect concoction for a poor season and a fading prospect star. Additionally, Owings has committed 32 errors at shortstop this season, and it's become obvious that he needs plenty of work to refine his craft defensively before he can be considered an everyday option at the primary defensive position. So, in short, it's entirely possible that we have another Yuniesky Betancourt on our hands, assuming he even reaches the major leagues.
However, I see no reason why we should give up on someone who just turned 20 years old in mid-August, making him the youngest full-time player in the Cal League. Particularly since Owings mans the most valuable defensive position on the diamond - and the organization, as well as many Cal League observers, is insistent that he'll be a shortstop long-term - there's reason to be patient with his development.
Yes, it's concerning to see someone putting up that low of a walk rate, but we said the same thing about Gerardo Parra's plate discipline skills in the major leagues until this year. Sometimes, patience in a young player's development will deliver, well, patience. Add in the fact that Owings has plenty of pop, finishing the year among the league-leaders in doubles with 29, and even if he never posts an on-base percentage over .320 in the MLB, his power and hitting at shortstop could make him an above-average everyday regular shortstop and occasional All-Star.
#10 - LF/1B Bobby Borchering
Dan: 11 / Michael : 11
Borchering, like Wade Miley, is incredibly hard to get a feel for. He'll always be compared to Matt Davidson, as both of them came from the same 2009 draft group and were originally third basemen, but they really are very different players. Davidson is a much better hitter for average and has a better plate approach, while Borchering has more swing-and-miss, but also possesses more present in-game home run power. Both kinds of hitters have value if it translates to the big leagues, but the comparisons are misplaced.
Additionally, the news has come out that Borchering has been moved to left field during Fall Instructs, with the team saying he'll be there long-term. Originally thought to have a better chance to stick at third base than Davidson out of the draft, that opinion first flip-flopped during their full-season debut for South Bend, and Borchering has been considered less likely than Davidson to stick at third base long-term ever since. Errors are a mediocre measure of defensive ability, but Borchering's 22 errors in 2011 dwarfed Davidson's 12 on the year, despite both of them splitting time between third base and first base.
Even outside of the defensive value, what makes me favor Davidson to Borchering going forward is that I'm more confident in Davidson's power developing in the coming years than I am of Borchering's plate approach catching up to Davidson - after all, plate discipline is one of the hardest skills to develop in the minors. Additionally, Davidson actually had more extra-base hits than Borchering this year - 60 for Davidson to 56 for Borchering - and, as I mentioned above, many of Davidson's doubles could turn into home runs down the road. If Borchering is unable to improve upon an already-high 42.9% HR/XBH rate, the seemingly-significant current power gap could close in a hurry, and he won't be as valuable as Davidson without improving his contact and on-base skills.
With Borchering's defensive future now limited to a power position - and the slow-footed Borchering is not likely to be a plus defender in left anytime soon - the major-league projection for the young switch-hitter seems to be more of an average regular than any sort of star. That certainly has a lot of value if he can reach that projection, and Borchering could arrive in the desert right as Gerardo Parra starts hitting the later years of his arbitration cycle. A possible ETA for Borchering, 2014, would be Parra's second arb year, and if our pitching staff is less fly-ball-heavy around that time, moving Gerardo to make room for Borch could make some sense.
With that, we have just one more week left in our roll-out of the AZ SnakePit Top-30 Prospects List For 2011. With the four elite arms of the system - you know who they are - and the top bat of the system all left to be ranked, next week's list promises to provide fans with a look into not just the best prospects in Arizona's system, but some of the most highly-regarded prospects in all of baseball.