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State of the Diamondbacks farm: Starting pitching

If the farm has a strength, it's probably in the pitching, with some decent arms making their way up through the system. How have they done so far this season?

Braden Shipley
Braden Shipley
Rob Tringali/Getty Images
Triple-A Reno
  • Justin Marks - January 12, 1988 (minor-league free agent) - 3-4, 5.81 ERA, 1.538 WHIP
    In May 2014 he reached his pinnacle in his debut appearance in the majors, when he pitched two innings in relief for the Royals. Unfortunately, he gave up 3 earned runs. This ended his season 64 days later, after 2 more weeks with the Royals, 2 weeks with the Athletics, and 5 weeks with the Rangers. Too bad he did not stay longer with the Athletics because they might have helped him improve. In April 2015, the Diamondbacks signed him to a minor league deal. Maybe the Diamondbacks will give him a second chance in the majors.
  • Robbie Ray - October 1, 1991 (from Tigers, for Gregorius) - 2-3, 3.67, 1.704
    Robbie Ray may eventually end up being best known for once being the guy traded in order to acquire Doug Fister. However, he is still only 23, despite having started his pro career back in 2010. Ray's biggest issue has been his consistency with command. When Ray is able to locate the strike zone and work quickly within it, he can be a lights-out starter, as he demonstrated in a spot start earlier this season. When his command is off, things can get ugly. Some have speculated he could eventually be a late-innings lefty reliever. That could still come to pass, but Ray has done pretty much all he can in order to get a shot at the Diamondbacks rotation. If not for the imminent return of Patrick Corbin, Ray might be in the rotation as soon as next week. Regardless, he will get his shot soon. [Note: this was written before today's call-up!]

  • Caleb Clay - February 15, 1988 (minor league free agent) - 4-3, 4.47, 1.280
    In 2014, he turned a corner when he pitched 10 games for the Hanwha Eagles in Korea. His results were not good, but breakthroughs are not always visible. When he returned to AAA in America he had a complete game shutout and made the 40 man roster for the Angels. In an interview he talked about how he relaxes and pitches better when his team scores early - he is definitely a starter. The Angels sent him down in August. In 2015, he landed with the Diamondbacks AAA team in Reno. On 28 May, he struck out 8 batters in one game. His strikeout rate in 2015 is 16%, and in prior years it has been as high as 21%. In summary, he is a high ceiling player, who may or may not make that final breakthrough to the majors.

  • Allen Webster - February 10, 1990 (from Boston for Miley) - 1-2, 8.50, 1.833
    Had a brutal first couple of starts with the Aces, allowing 15 earned runs in seven innings, and with as many walks as strikeouts. However, there seemed to be a health problem, as he then spent a month on the DL with shoulder fatigue in his throwing arm. The two games since his return have been much improved, with just one earned run allowed by Webster in each appearance, lasting six and five innings respectively, and with a K:BB ratio over those games of 15:4. More of that will be needed, but if he can keep it going, he could find himself on the short-list for a call-up.
  • Gabriel Arias - December 6, 1989 (international free agent) - 5-2, 2.72, 1.057
    Has been in the minors since 2007, with the Phillies and Indians, and never made it to the big leagues. He began this season off with Mobile, and was promoted to Reno after a 1.54 ERA in five starts for then. The first couple were good, but the two since have both been a tad bumpy, and he was ejected from his last outing on May 30, after hitting the New Orleans Zephyrs' Derek Dietrich to lead-off the third inning. Arias had already allowed five earned runs in that game.

Double-A Mobile
  • Aaron Blair - May 26, 1992 (1st round, 2013) - 5-2, 2.56 ERA, 1.095 WHIP
    Blair was stellar after his promotion to Mobile in the middle of last year, with a sub-two ERA over those eight starts. This season, he has been almost as good, although the strikeout numbers seem to have declined somewhat. Had some control issues in his last outing, walking six over five innings, but still got the win - in the three starts prior to that, Blair didn't allow an earned run, and had a K:BB ratio of 19:2 in 20.2 innings of work. That helped him be named the Diamondbacks Minor-League Pitcher of the Month for May, and it seems only a question of when, rather than if, he gets the call to the big league.

  • Braden Shipley - February 22, 1992 (1st round, 2013) - 3-4, 4.64, 1.601
    Fellow first-rounder to Blair, Shipley has had his issues in 2015. The season started very well, with a sub-one ERA through four starts, but May was a different matter, with a 7.89 ERA in six outings. "I went away from myself as a pitcher and who I am," he said. The calendar turning to June seems to have helped, and he spun six shutout innings last night, on three hits and a walk. Shipley added, "Tonight, I got back to that and really pitched like how I am. I was really happy with my performance." But the K:BB ratio of 41:30 still needs improvement.

  • Brandon Sinnery - January 26, 1990 (undrafted free agent) - 4-3, 4.78, 1.595
    Sinnery has been finding the hits piling up this year, and part of the problem seems to be too many balls in play. He has faced 237 batters, and struck out only thirty, a K-rate of 5.1 per nine innings, compared to a league average 7.6. If you're going to do that, you need impeccable control, and 3.1 BB/9 hasn't been it. While he has never been a high-strikeout guy, Double-A may be the ceiling for Sinnery, especially given his age.

  • A.J. Schugel - June 27, 1989 (from Angels, with Trumbo) - 3-5, 7.48, 1.869
    Well, who'd have guessed when dealt, that Schugel would be with the D-backs longer than Trumbo? But here we are: Schugel got a cup of coffee with the big-league on April 12, giving up two earned runs in three innings, on five hits, and the spell with Reno which followed went worse still: a 12.66 ERA over five starts. He went down to Double-A in mid-May, and after a wobbly first outing, the last two have been better, both allowing one run over eight innings. Has still likely sunk a bit down the pecking order of our pitching staff.

  • Yoan Lopez - January 2, 1993 (international free agent) - 1-2, 2.30, 1.213
    Not pitching right now, but worth mentioning our other Cuban signing this winter. He put up some solid numbers, capped off with five innings of one-hit ball on May 4. Unfortunately, further action has largely been curtailed by a blister on his pitching finger, which has limited Lopez to one three-inning outing over the past month. He is currently back on the DL, with no timetable scheduled for a return.

High-A Visalia
  • Anthony Banda - August 10, 1993 (from Brewers, for Parra) - 4-3, 4.53 ERA, 1.437 WHIP
    While 21 now, the Diamondbacks have had their eye on Banda since he was competing for the 18U team in Texas. But it was the Brewers who drafted him in the 10th round of the 2012 draft. Now pitching for Visalia, Banda is nearly 2. 5 years below league average and is holding his own. Banda is a lefty with a plus curveball and a useable fastball that sits 88-92. He is good at limiting walks and tends to put up good strikeout numbers.

    However, he also has a tendency to give up hits in bunches. While he profiles as a reliever, Banda has been developed by Arizona as a starter. Whether or not he sticks in that role remains to be seen. If he continues to progress the way he has been, Banda could make an appearance as a bullpen lefty as early as mid-to-late next season. If things get a bit tough for him, he still has two years to work things out. Being a lefty with a plus offering and low walk rate, it is only a matter of when for Banda, and not if.

  • Zack Godley - April 21, 1990 (from Cubs, for Montero) - 6-3, 2.17, 1.085
    While Banda is 21 and competing above his age, Godley is the opposite, still pitching for A+ Visalia at age 25. Godley is a solidly built at 6'3", 245 lbs, right-handed reliever with a low-90s fastball that he has decent command of. With 174 strikeouts in only 148.1 innings of work to go with a modest 46 walks the book is not shut on Godley just yet. He needs to keep the performance up and fly through promotions this season if he wants to reach the majors though. The biggest obstacle to Godly making strides as a middle reliever may be the general presence of good to elite talent in front of him. Still, expect him in Mobile soon, where he will then get a chance to show if he really has what it takes.

  • Johnny Omahen - March 15, 1989 (independent ball) - 5-0, 2.75, 1.102
    Omahen is another one, like Godley, whose profile works against him. Throwing from the right side at only 6'0", Omahen is a middle reliever without an elite pitch. That might be why he is still in A+ ball at age 26. A solid but unspectacular fastball with decent command but not great, Omahen is slightly behind Godley in his performance. Omahen is org filler for now. After the draft and the season, he may very well be gone.

  • Blayne Weller - January 30, 1990 (independent ball) - 4-3, 3.26, 1.328
    Another 25-year-old playing in A+ ball, at least Weller has managed to remain a starter. Steadily climbing through the system since he was acquired in 2013, Weller posses terrific strikeout numbers. Unfortunately, he also tends to walk a fair number of batters. Still, if he can continue his success in Visalia, he'll almost certainly get a look at Mobile this year. If he ever advances beyond Mobile, it will almost certainly be as a bullpen arm though, since the pool of starting pitchers in front of him is just too deep.

  • Blake Perry - February 3, 1992 (6th round, 2010) - 4-2, 3.53, 1.108
    Blake Perry is the proper age for his level and is acquitting himself quite nicely. While the ability to find the strike zone even using GPS and a professional guide was once a major issue for Perry, this season has seen him iron that wrinkle out. Working as a starter with a 1.9 BB9, Perry has averaged more than six innings per outing this season and put together a 3.53 ERA while striking out more than a batter per inning pitched.

    Perry is a right-handed starter, standing 6'5" and weighing in at 190 lbs. He features a low-90s fastball, a slider and a change-up. Given his regular success at each new challenge, expect Perry to move up to Mobile this year and also open the season there next year. At that point, we can all keep a somewhat closer eye on him and see which way he trends. If he can keep the high strikeout rate going, Perry is at least a solid bullpen piece in the future. If he keeps developing like he has been, he could still become a good #4 / 5 starter.

A-ball Kane County
  • Brad Keller - July 27, 1995 (8th round, 2013) - 2-5, 2.67 ERA, 1,186 WHIP
    At 6'5" 230 lbs, Brad Keller has a classic pitcher's frame. Throwing from the right side, he is a four-pitch pitcher, with no pitches that stand out as anything special. His fastball is 88-90, meaning he isn't blowing anyone away. He also posses a changeup, a slider, and a curve (which can waltz in as low as 68 mph). The mix of pitches as well as the good spread in his velocity has helped Keller to establish himself as one of the better pitchers on the Kane County roster.

    He is also only 19 years old, coming in 3 years younger than the league average. His age and development to this point are both big positives in his favour. As he fills out some more, there is still the chance of another 1-2 miles per hour on his fastball, which could be a difference maker. The same age as much-heralded teammate Toussaint, Keller's ceiling is not seen as a future TOR starter, but could very easily be a solid innings-eating middle of the rotation arm if he keeps up impressing like he has been so far with his 8.0 SO9 and improving walk rate. This is one talent to keep an eye on.

  • Markus Solbach - August 26, 1991 (international free agent) - 4-2, 2.43, 1.129
    If he makes it, would not actually be our first German-born player; Edwin Jackson was born in Neu-Ulm. Solbach was originally a Twins prospect, but was released by them and played indie for a bit, before we re-signed him. Good numbers, but definitely old for A-ball, so for the rest of the year, needs both to be challenged and to step up his game and respond to that challenge appropriately.

  • Brent Jones - January 10, 1993 (4th round, 2014) - 2-4, 3.62, 1.409
    At 6' 3" 215 lbs, Brent Jones brings a classic fastball, curveball, change repertoire to the mound for Kane County. LEague average in age, Jones is doing exactly as much as is asked of him in order to continue getting looks and to possibly be moved along by the end of the season. Throwing from the right side with a fastball that tops out around 90, Jones is not wowing anyone. He could eventually be a decent middle reliever, but chances are he is simply going to be a steadily climbing organizational filler.

  • Ethan Elias - April 27, 1993 (independent ball) - 5-2, 2.08, 1.301
    Ethan Elias was picked up by the Diamondbacks from the Frontier League scrap heap. Since then, all he has done is pitch as well as could be asked, forcing his way into the rotation as the team reconsiders what to do with teammate Jeferson Mejia. The 6' 3" 215 lbs right-hander has no particularly special pitch. His fastball is reported to rest right around 90 mph, but he controls his pitches well, limiting any damage,putting together a 2.08 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. Still average age for the league, if Elias keeps this up, he'll move on to the next level soon enough to be worth keeping track of.

  • Jeferson Mejia - August 2, 1994 (from Cubs, for Montero) - 0-2, 6.29, 2.010
    When coming over from the Cubs, Mejia was ranked #20 overall in their farm system, considered by many at the time to be the best farm system in the majors. Mejia stands 6'7" tall but is only listed at 195 lbs. That sort of rail-like physique has some worried the Dominican import might not have the physicality to stick in the rotation (as of now he has slipped from the rotation to the bullpen, but that could change at any time). It should be noted though that Brandon McCarthy is listed at 6'7" 200 lbs, so there is still hope. Mejia is an intriguing prospect. Last year, in Rookie League ball, Mejia dominated.

    This season, playing in full-season ball, Majia has been unable to find the strike zone to save his life, and when he has, the ball has been hit. Featuring a fastball at 97 and at least an average curve (if not better), Mejia will be given plenty of opportunity to get himself sorted out. He could be an effective starter for the Diamondbacks in 4 years. He could be a back of the bullpen guy in about the same time frame. Or, he could be out of baseball by then. At the very least, Mejia will help the Diamondbacks continue to corner the market on players who cannot spell their first name properly.

  • Touki Toussaint - June 20, 1996 (1st round, 2014) - 0-2, 3.00, 1.381
    Remember where Banda being 2.5 years below the league average in A+ Visalia was considered a good thing? The Diamondbacks' first overall pick in last season's draft, Toussaint is already pitching for Kane County. The kid hasn't quite hit 19-years of age yet, and is already pitching in full-season ball. Even better, he looks good doing it. Relying mostly on his fastball/curveball mix, Toussaint has real TOR potential, though it could take him a number of years to get there if he ever does.

    If Toussaint continues to perform well against the competition in A-ball, he could see Vialia by the end of the season. Otherwise, he'll start next year in Visalia instead. He should be in Mobile by the end of next season, where he will really be challenged while also being tasked with working on increasing his innings pitched. Assuming a smooth development, Toussaint will be competing for a spot in the Diamondbacks rotation for the 2018 season.