The Diamondbacks farm system after 2017 looks a lot better than it did entering 2017, adding top 15 prospects in both the MLB Draft and the international signing class. The system overall still could use some impact talent from the 2018 calendar year. The team’s window for a championship is still relatively intact going into the 2018 regular season, but a lot of things have to go right for the Dbacks to win 90+ games again.
Key Acquisitions: 1B Pavin Smith, OF Kristian Robinson
The Diamondbacks had a prime opportunity to add amateur talent to the farm system with a top 10 pick and being in the top tier for international bonus pools ($5.75M). They turned those assets into Pavin Smith, a college left-handed hitting first baseman with an excellent eye and bat control despite a limited athletic profile and Kristian Robinson, a 16-year-old outfielder from the Bahamas with 5-tool potential. Smith is expected to quickly ascend the ranks of the minors, focusing more on plate discipline and approach at the plate in favor of putting up numbers. Robinson will eased up the system on the other hand as his tools develop, so I don’t expect him to be playing minor league ball in the states until at least 2019 unless he develops faster than I project, which is very possible.
Potential Impact Talents: 1B Pavin Smith, RHP Jon Duplantier, OF Marcus Wilson, LHP Anthony Banda, LHP Jared Miller
In addition to Smith, the farm does have some very high ceiling guys that are scratching the surface of their potential. Duplantier proved in 2017 that he can handle a full season workload, not missing a single start due to injury and winning MLB Pipeline’s Pitching Prospect of the Year. He dominated the Midwest and California Leagues to the tune of a 1.39 ERA and 168/44 K/BB ratio in 136 IP. Marcus Wilson battled injuries, but also made significant progress as well. Wilson has 5-tool potential, with the two hitting tools lagging behind everything else before the season. Wilson was driving the ball more, his ISO jumping up nearly 50 points without causing a significant drop off in walk rate.
Anthony Banda’s numbers on the surface didn’t look impressive in 2017, but there were moments where he looked like a big league pitcher, particularly early on in his MLB career. Banda strikes me as a Robbie Ray type pitcher who possesses a mid 90s fastball that he can blow by hitters with a solid slider and curveball combination. I won’t say that he will develop into an ace but at the same time I won’t rule it out either. Banda should compete for a job in camp, as I think the Dbacks will likely trade one of their starting five in the offseason. Another lefty with the potential to help the team now is Jared Miller. After a slow month of April, Miller pitched very much like the guy who blazed the Fall League a year ago including a 43/10 K/BB ratio and a 1.72 ERA over 31 1/3 IP in AAA Reno. Miller shouldn’t be handed a job this Spring, but there’s very little for him to prove at the minor league level and should be near the top of bullpen reinforcement list if he doesn’t make the club in March.
Michael’s Top 10:
- 1B Pavin Smith: .318/.401/.415, 15 2B, 2 3B, 0 HR, 27 RBI, 34 R, 2/1 SB/CS, 27/24 BB/K in Class A Short-Season Hillsboro. Smith was the Dbacks top pick in the 2017, opting to choose him over other guys like J.B. Bukauskas and Adam Haseley because they believe he’s the best bat in the draft. Smith profiles as a left-handed hitter with an average power tool but a very smooth and refined swing that should yield high average and on-base numbers overall. Power is still developing in his swing as he works to lift the ball in the air for extra base hits. Overall, his mastery of the strike zone is advanced for a prospect that should hit full season ball, but learning what pitches he can drive and which pitches he needs to lay off is the next major goal for him. ETA 2019
- RHP Jon Duplantier: 25 Games/24 Starts, 12-3, 1.39 ERA, 168/44 K/BB, 136 IP in Class A Kane County and Class A Advanced Visalia. Duplantier had health questions with a shoulder injury that caused him to miss his sophomore season in college and an elbow problem that had him shut down after 1 inning in his pro debut. In 2017, he stayed healthy all season, appearing in 25 games (24 starts) and dominating the Midwest and California League. Duplantier was the Dbacks’ representative in the Future’s Game, pitching 1⁄3 an inning in the exhibition. He features the full repertoire of a fastball, sinker, curveball, slider, and change-up with above average control and command. His fastball and curveball are his best pitches by far, although the slider and change-up have improved to potentially average pitches down the road. 2018 will be realistically the final test for the 23-year-old as he faces the top levels of the minors. A strong season could put him in the conversation of the 2019 rotation. ETA 2019
- LHP Anthony Banda: 22 Starts, 8-7, 5.39 ERA, 116/51 K/BB, 122 IP in AAA Reno; 8 Games/4 Starts, 2-3, 5.96 ERA, 25/10 K/BB, 25 2⁄3 IP in Arizona. On the surface, Banda’s numbers certainly regressed from 2016 where he pitched to a 3.67 ERA and a 68/27 K/BB ratio in 73 2⁄3 IP in Reno. However, digging deeper into the numbers, Banda’s strikeout and walk rate were mostly the same, with the walk rate jumping 1%. In addition to that, his fly ball rate and HR/FB rate increased in 2017, meaning more pitches left the park and leading to a weaker strand rate overall. His MLB rates were very similar to his numbers in AAA in terms of strikeout and walk rates, although he did benefit from a low HR/FB rate. I do think his development at the minor league level is finished and there’s no reason to keep him out of the majors. If there isn’t a spot open in the rotation, they can develop him out of the bullpen, which is not an uncommon strategy in developing players that have no reason to be in AAA. Debut 2017
- OF Kristian Robinson: No Stats Available. Robinson was ranked the #15 international prospect by MLB Pipeline and the #9 prospect by Baseball America for the 2017 International Free Agent Class. The class also includes Venezuelan outfielders Wilderd Patino and Jorge Barrosa. Robinson has plus-plus speed and plus power potential as he fills in more to his 6’3” 200 frame. Robinson’s hitting tools are a bit raw, so I expect his development to be slow at the start. ETA 2022
- Taylor Clarke: 27 Starts, 12-9, 3.35 ERA, 138/52 K/BB, 145 IP in AA Jackson and AAA Reno. Clarke was steady, if not spectacular again. Clarke improved in his second stint at AA, with his strikeout rate increasing from 17% to 23%, double the increase of his walk rate as he’s working on painting the edges of the zone. After a promotion to AAA, Clarke got bit by the HR bug, as 16.7% of his fly balls left the ballpark in the hitter-friendly PCL. Clarke should be a non-roster invitee for camp, but he’s facing an uphill battle for a rotation spot. There’s little projection left in his game, he profiles as either a back-end of the bullpen arm or a bottom of the rotation starter. There’s still some development necessary and how he handles a second stint in AAA. ETA 2018
- Jared Miller: 53 Games, 3-6, 2.93 ERA, 94/28 K/BB, 70 2⁄3 IP in AA Jackson and AAA Reno. Miller posted another strong season in 2017, showing that his 2016 season and Fall League numbers were not a fluke. His season hit a speed bump in April, but got better as the season progressed, with a sub-2.00 ERA and dominant numbers once the calendar turned May. Last spring the team invited him as a non-roster camp arm and should be added to the 40-man roster as a guy who has a bright future with the club. Miller is ready to compete for a bullpen job, especially on a team that could use stronger left-handed relief going forward.
- Daulton Varsho: .311/.368/.534, 16 2B, 3 3B, 7 HR, 39 RBI, 36 R, 7/2 SB/CS, 17/30 BB/K. Varsho was the Dbacks’ third highest draft pick in 2017, taken 68th overall in the Competitive Balance Lottery Round B. Varsho has a really smooth swing with the ball exploding off contact. The biggest issue for him is a long term defensive position and if he has enough arm to stay behind the plate. Varsho’s bat will earn him a shot at the majors at some position if he can improve and he’s athletic enough to handle a position change to the outfield or second base.
- Matt Tabor: 4 Starts, 0-1, 1.93 ERA, 9/0 K/BB, 4 2⁄3 for AZL Dbacks. Tabor was the Diamondbacks 3rd round pick as an above slot bonus signing. Tabor’s stock shot up with a senior year growth spurt and a fastball that jumped into the mid 90s. Tabor also sports a slurvy breaking ball (more of a slider) and a change-up that flashes average. Tabor needs to add muscle mass to his 6’2” 160 frame and could be a multi-year complex guy as he works on becoming stronger and refining his mechanics. ETA: 2022
- Marcus Wilson: .295/.383/.446, 21 2B, 5 3B, 9 HR, 54 RBI, 56 R, 15/7 SB/CS, 55/91 BB/K in Class A Kane County. Wilson’s first year in full season ball was mostly successful, although he finished the year not as good as he started it. Overall we saw an uptick in power production, even with the HR/FB rate not taking a huge jump with Wilson hitting more fly balls and fewer ground balls. The uptick in extra base hit productivity has not come at the expense of his eye at the plate, as he put up his lowest strikeout rate of his pro career (20.1%) while also putting up a strong walk rate (12.3%). There are still a lot of kinks to work out in his offensive game as well as staying healthy for a full season. His numbers declined over the course of the season, although there has been enough development in his hit tool that I think he should be able to progress up the system. As Wilson fills out his 6’3” 188 frame, I do see him hitting for a bit more power in the future. ETA: 2020
- Jasrado Chisholm: .248/.325/.358, 12 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 14 R, 3/0 SB/CS, 10/39 BB/K in Class A Kane County. Chisholm had a solid year in 2016 for Missoula in the Pioneer League, slashing .281/.333/.446 and earning a promotion to Kane County to start the 2017 season. Chisholm is a very gifted runner and a smooth defensive shortstop, with his bat lagging behind the other tools. After 29 games, he was shelved for the season after receiving surgery to repair a torn meniscus, which GM Mike Hazen described as a “bucket handle tear”. Chisholm will likely restart the year in Kane County and still on the right side of the age curve, turning 20 in February. Described as mature beyond his years coming into the season, I think he’ll bounce back from the injury.
- 3B Drew Ellis: Summer debut left a lot to be desired as strikeouts (45 in 208 PA) and perhaps some bad luck on balls in play (.258 BABIP) led to a .227/.327/.403 slash, but good raw power plus an approach and swing that has him work on lifting the ball in the air could make him a 30 HR threat. Ellis will need to be a 30 HR threat with a .250+ ISO to overcome his defensive and speed limitations in the field and on the bases. ETA: 2019
- INF Domingo Leyba: Leyba missed most of 2017 with a shoulder problem that happened at the tail-end of Spring Training then reaggravating the injury, which required surgery. Leyba’s long term position is in question and if he can stick at SS vs. 2B. It’s unlikely he bumps off anyone from the MLB roster in 2018, but if he can prove health over the season, he’ll get his chance. ETA: 2018
- RHP Curtis Taylor: Taylor has a future with the ball club, the only question is in what role? The team put him in action about 7 weeks into the season for Class A Kane County and he held his own with a 26.9% K rate vs. a 8.8% BB rate. He should repeat the level to start the season and work on developing his split-finger change-up. If the 3rd pitch doesn’t develop, they can always fast track him up the system as a reliever due to his strong fastball and slider combination.
- OF Anfernee Grier: After a shoulder injury that cut off his summer debut, Grier held his own in full season ball and was healthy all year. Grier’s plate discipline took a major step forward (20.6 K%, 10.8 BB%) and showed off his skills on the basepaths with 30 SB in 41 tries. Approach and plate discipline is a facet that Grier needs to continue to improve upon, as he masters that the power numbers will also improve as he adds muscle. ETA: 2019
- RHP Jimmie Sherfy: Sherfy has solid numbers for Reno and Arizona, but he also benefitted from a .192 BABIP in his limited MLB action, although batters weren’t seeing him well with a 26.9% soft contact rate and a 19.2% hard contact rate. It’s hard to make an assessment on a sample size of 37 hitters, but there were some things to like as well. Sherfy did a solid job limiting free passes, although he did get lucky with some of his misses. He’s got an inside track to a bullpen spot in camp although I worry about regression given his history of suspicious command. Debut: 2017
- LHP Alex Young: At this point, I think Young’s day as a starter are numbered and given that Duplantier may pass him on the organizational depth chart that the best way to utilize him will be as a reliever. That should give him an uptick in velocity and allow him to use his best pitch, a slider, in situations that benefit him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a camp invite. ETA: 2018
- RHP Brad Keller: Keller had a somewhat rough season in AA Jackson, although I think he held his own enough that he still has value to the organization as a starter. Keller attacks the bottom of the zone with his sinker and change-up, getting lots of ground ball contact. Balls in play luck went against him although given his strikeout and walk rates, it’s also possible AA hitters saw him too well. Keller is only 22 and a repeat of AA could be what he needs to get back on track. ETA: 2019
- OF Gabriel Maciel: Maciel has been somewhat of a fast-riser the last 18 months after getting signed by the Diamondbacks. He combines his plus-plus speed with a strong eye at the plate and makes him a potential big-time leadoff threat. His defense has the potential to be a Gold Glove caliber where his speed is an asset at Chase Field at the plate and in the field. His ascension up the system will depend on the development on his hit tool and using the entire field. There isn’t much raw power in his swing, but Chase’s big outfield could aid him in taking extra bases. ETA: 2021
- RHP Jose Almonte: Almonte’s development took a huge step forward in 2017, handling the California League very well over 27 starts. He posted his best strikeout rate of his career and lowered his walk rate from last year. Command still needs to improve before he can succeed at the upper levels of the minors, but the stuff and confidence for Almonte is improving with each start. A strong year in AA should put him in position to make a run at being a contributor in the MLB rotation. ETA: 2020
- C Andy Yerzy: Yerzy had a rough summer debut in 2016, but followed it up with a strong 2017. The power and bat speed that made him an appealing draft choice showed up in his production for 2016 as he mashed 13 HR and put up a .298/.365/.524 slash for Missoula. The biggest obstacle is his defense behind the plate, as Yerzy will always be a bat-first catcher like Varsho, although the latter is more athletic behind the plate. ETA: 2022
Final Verdict: The farm system improved in 2017 with the addition of top talents like Pavin Smith and Kristian Robinson to a system that lacked impact bats. The system overall lacks MLB ready players in the outfield and catcher, with their top prospects at those positions years away from MLB action even in a best case scenario. There is some solid depth for starting pitching and potential bullpen conversion projects out of that group. While there isn’t a guy who is a “Face of the Franchise” potential, although to be fair very few thought the same Paul Goldschmidt before his 2011 debut. There are a couple potential hidden gems in the system like Almonte, Taylor, and Maciel who could continue to turn heads as they improve over time. The best way for a team like the Diamondbacks to be competitive is a strong farm system, especially considering how the team is still thriving off the success of their 2009 Draft Class. Let’s hope some of the guys in the system today are able to develop into contributors before those key players from the 2009 Draft Class are playing for another team. Overall I would say they’re still around the bottom 3rd in terms of farm systems although they are much closer to 21 than 30 in my opinion.