It seems like every year teams enter the season wondering when the next big name is going to break through from the minors. When a team loses 98 games, that anticipation is drastically heightened. This offseason, Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart made quite a few adjustments to last year's last-place team, bringing in a solid variety of young talent. But when might fans wasting away in the desert waiting for a winning team to appear actually see some of the exciting young talent in the system? Below is a look at the top 10 prospects, with an eye on when we might expect to see them make their debuts. In two instances, we'll be looking at when we might expect them to stick on the 25-man roster, as they are still rookie eligible despite having some service time.
The Top 10 Prospects (per MLB.com)
Long considered the crown jewel of the Diamondback farm system, Bradley's star has dimmed during the last 12 months. Even with slightly adjusted expectations though, Bradley remains on the doorstep to making his MLB debut. Given the overwhelming number of rotation candidates who have already seen their service clocks started, and some cautious development for Bradley, there is slim to no chance that Bradley makes the rotation out of Spring Training. That said, continued improvement in Bradley's performance will make it difficult to keep him down long, especially if the team somehow manages to stay in contention. Short of Bradley having significant struggles, he remains almost a sure thing to be promoted by the time the trade deadline passes. Even if he is not called up before then, there is almost no chance he fails to get a cuppa in September.
Braden Shipley continues to work his way through the system with great aplomb. Still developing his repertoire, and with only four games under his belt at the AA level, it's a safe bet that Shipley is destined to spend the majority of the season in the minors, if not all of 2015. Consistent improvement though could put Shipley on the short list to make the rotation earl in 2016, while a stellar 2015 could possibly even get him a September call-up.
The Diamondbacks' first pick in the 2014 draft, Toussaint has plenty of qualities to be excited about. He's also incredibly young and quite raw. Even assuming that he progresses at a good pace and develops into the pitcher everyone is hoping for, he probably is not going to debut before late 2017 or early 2018.
Aaron Blair may represent the most MLB-ready pitcher in the Diamondbacks farm system. Selected alongside Shipley, Blair has done nothing but make quick work of every level he has been assigned to. Unlike Bradley, Blair has into run into any real bumps in the road, and is a college arm, making him more developed to begin with. Blair may have been ready for a call up in September of last season, but given the way things were going, it made no sense to rush him. He should compete for one of the starting roles in Spring Training, but like Bradley, it is unlikely he actually breaks camp on the 25-man roster. Look for Blair to be called up sooner rather than later though. Assuming rotation health or performance does not bring him up sooner, I would expect to see Blair in some capacity b August.
The first position player in our lineup of prospects, Lamb is also the first to have seen any time on the 25-man roster already. Lamb's future is tied directly to his battle with Yasmany Tomás for the role of the team's starting third baseman. Even if Lamb loses the battle, he should probably keep a go-bag packed, as any injury to or poor performance from one of Tomás or Trumbo will result in his return to the roster. Though it will be tough, Lamb could still potentially turn in a strong enough training camp that he could be on the 25-man roster when the team opens against San Francisco on April 6th. If not then, I still expect him to be up by mid to late May.
The other big Cuban signing of the offseason, Lopez reportedly has all the makings of a TOR arm. Unlike Tomás though, Lopez is not on a big league contract. He is a prospect in the traditional sense of the word. Spring Training is going to go a long way towards determining where Lopez opens the season. Having experience facing advanced Cuban hitting, he is likely farther along than most pitchers in his age group. Still, there's little to be gained from throwing him in the deep end either. I expect he'll likely open the season in A+ ball. While some early pundits thought he might be able to work his way to the majors by the end of 2015, I would be rather surprised to see that. Should everything fall into place on a practical development approach, he could be in the mix for rotation consideration next spring, and is almost certain to be on track for a September 2016 call-up at the latest.
Drury has done nothing but increase his value since coming over in the Justin Upton trade. Now proving himself competent enough defensively to play multiple infield positions, it is likelier than ever that Drury's time in the minors is coming to an end. Blocked by both Tomás and Lamb at third, Drury's most likely path to the majors may be in supplanting Hill at second. Short of an injury to the veteran second baseman though, it's unlikely that Drury makes his appearance before September 1st, at which point, only his own health and performance could keep him off the roster.
Like Bradley, the bloom is somewhat off the rose for Robbie Ray. Once the centerpiece of a Doug Fister trade, Ray has yet to harness consistent control of the strike zone. As one of the few left-handed options on the mound, Ray will likely stay in competition for a rotation slot deep into Spring Training. On the other hand, Ray is still only 23, and there is little to be lost in sending him back to the minors to continue to work on his third and fourth pitches. Allowed the time to mature as a pitcher, Ray still has the potential to be a #2/3 starter at the MLB level. If he continues to struggle, then the minors is where he can work on converting to a bullpen arm. With Vidal Nuño and Andrew Chafin the only other healthy left-handed starting options in the organization, Ray could still find himself pressed into service again soon. Even if Ray begins to figure things out in the minors, his return to the 25-man is almost entirely dependent on health and performance of those ahead of him, including the still-injured Patrick Corbin. It still seems inevitable though that Ray will be back up sometime this season. I'd look for August, or possibly at the point of roster expension. Since his service clock has already started, there's little reason to keep him in the minors once the team has more roster space available, so long as he is doing his part.
The heir apparent to Miguel Montero as the team's starting catcher, O'Brien's future is still very murky. Can he defend well enough to stay behind the plate during games that matter? Will the other options in the organization have enough stick to avoid their being on the roster a criminal offense? Will O'Brien's service clock be a factor? O'Brien is in a somewhat unique position right now. Either he will make the team as the starter, or he is headed back to the minors. As the backup, there would just be no way for him to get enough work in to continue developing his game. I find it unlikely that O'Brien is going to develop enough behind the plate before the end of March to make his way onto the 25-man roster. In all likelihood, Gosewisch is the team's starting catcher, with the competition mostly for the role of his backup. However, if O'Brien continues to improve behind the plate, comments coming from the front office make it sound like we could still see him being promoted to the 25-man roster by the All-star Game. My guess is, O'Brien remains in the minors long enough to avoid super-two status, after which his call-up could be any day.
The 19-year-old Leyba was acquired from the Tigers in the three-way deal that sent Didi Gregorius to the Yankees. The switch-hitting middle infielder shows a great deal of promise at the plate with his rather advanced command of the strike zone. As noted though, he is still very young. He has never seen action above A-ball. Given the team's current depth in the middle infield, and Leyba's age and level, it's unlikely that he sees the big leagues before 2017.
Sir(s) Not Appearing in this Film:
It's difficult for a pure reliever to be ranked in an organization's top ten prospect list. However, some of the most dynamic names in the system over the past two years have been in the bullpen. Starting last season with Evan Marashal and Matt Stites, the Diamondbacks stand poised to add yet more high octane arms that have experienced some substantial success on their paths to the majors
Jake Barrett and Kevin Munson
Flip a coin, bit of these arms are MLB ready. Munson has had slightly more time to mature, so he may get the nod first, but it's hard to imagine the team would be going wrong regardless of which makes the transition to the big league bullpen first. Both could use some work on their walk rates, but one-inning late relievers often have slightly inflated rates in that department. Munson is more of a strikeout artist than Barrett putting up a ridiculous 11.8 SO/9 over 56 games in Reno in 2014. Barrett is no slouch though (7.1 SO/9), and is known for having a strong closer mentality. Both should keep a bag packed, as the Diamondback bullpen is already being somewhat stressed by early-season ailments.
Locante has yet to see action above A-ball. However, this left-handed reliever has done nothing but make the opposition look silly. Though his exposure in Spring Training has understandably been limited, he has only helped his case. At age 24, this is likely his season to be pushed to his limits. While I'm not ready to call that he pushes his way into the Opening Day bullpen, his left-handedness is going to get him there sooner rather than later, especially if Matt Reynolds is anything other than stellar upon his eventual return from Tommy John surgery. Given the attractiveness of Perez's contract and performance as a lefty out of the pen, I expect Locante's latest debut to be at the trade deadline.
Jimmie Sherfy had an odd 2014. Quite possibly the victim of his own early success, it seems apparent in hindsight that the organization did him no favors by playing things cautious with his development in trying to make sure his gaudy numbers were not an illusion. In 18 games across two leagues in 2013, Sherfy posted a "somewhat impressive" 15.1 SO/9. Based on that, the organization placed him in A+ ball to begin 2014 where he put up a
ridiculous staggering eye-popping laughable video game rate of 18.8 SO/9 (that is not a typo). Still, the team played things cautious with regards to promoting him, despite his striking out more than 50% of the batters to climb in the box against him. When he finally did get promoted to AA Mobile, things did not go quite as well. His early introduction to the league was somewhat bumpy. Was it the increase in talent level? Or was it that he had started cruising along with zero challenge? After a few rough outings, Sherfy seems to have given the answer to those questions. Once Sherfy found his groove again, he showed he was still able to hang with the best of his level, maintaining a still impressive 10.8 SO/9. It is likely he still starts the season in Mobile, but the only thing keeping Sherfy from the bigs at this point is waiting his turn in line behind the previously mentioned Barrett and Munson. Sherfy likely arrives in late 2015, probably in September, though it's easy to see a few trades bring him up even faster.