The Diamondbacks fielded one of the youngest rosters in MLB, so 2016 saw a lot of growing pains when the young guys were forced to step up due to injuries. The veterans that did survive the injury bug either regressed or were castoffs latching onto one last chance to contribute in at the MLB level. As expected the ship hit the iceberg, with the Diamondbacks GM sinking with it. Even though the farm system is very much barren with very few prospects I think can project as regular MLB contributors, the team does have a decent amount of cost-controlled talent. Former top prospects Archie Bradley, Jake Barrett, and Brandon Drury graduated from the ranks last season and contributing at the MLB level. While the team itself could use more consistency everywhere, I’m only going to point out younger players, 25 or younger.
Archie Bradley: Bradley’s control is still a bugaboo five seasons after being drafted 7th overall, which is concerning. Time is running out for him to prove that he can start at the MLB level. 2016 showed him having an ERA above 5.00, even though FIP and xFIP painted him as a league average pitcher. Bradley’s strikeout rate jumped to 22.4%, another positive sign and something that should buy him some time. Stuff isn’t primarily the issue, as his fastball and curveball are plus pitches when he’s able to command them. With two great pitches, the bullpen may ultimately where Bradley winds up long term even if it’s not an ideal result considering his draft pedigree.
Brandon Drury: Drury’s season started and ended great, but between those two hot streaks he was fairly mediocre. Some of that was trying to learn a position he had no business playing and will not be playing in the future. The Dbacks are looking to move him to a more comfortable position, likely making him the frontrunner for the 2B job going into Spring. As a prospect, Drury’s bat got rave reviews even though positional questions were a concern. With superior players at both corner infield spots, Drury needs to figure out how to build on the strong finish he had to the season while being passable at 2B where he isn’t losing value from his bat. The bat will get him in the lineup on a regular basis. I think he’ll turn out to be a decent 2B once the bat becomes consistent.
Jake Barrett: A rookie coming off of a respectable 3.49 ERA, advanced metrics give a serious concern of regression plus the relievers are volatile concept. Barrett benefitted from a .261 BABIP, despite showing no signs of dominance or excellent command that forced weak contact. It’s not a question of stuff, because he throws mid 90s with a wipeout slider. The question is can he command those two pitches to get ahead in the count and finish off hitters. Barrett needs to work on getting ahead in the count early, because his slider is an out pitch. I would try to limit his exposure to left-handed batters until he gains confidence, RHB posted a .265 wOBA off a .275 BABIP in 2016, LHB .331/.242. Now if that splitter develops into a usable 3rd pitch, that could be his counter to lefties. His ceiling is either an elite set-up man or an above average closer, and I’m leaning more towards the former.
Robbie Ray: Ray can be frustrating at times to watch. Some games he’s absolutely dominant and in others he’s getting pinata’d. While control has improved somewhat, strike zone command has been iffy. Ray needs to work on getting ahead in the count more frequently, as his first pitch strike rate was 55.7%. 406 batters out of 776 he was able to get ahead 0-2 or 1-2, a number I would like to see rise over 60% in 2017. When ahead in the count, Ray has the stuff to put batters away with a Top-10 strikeout rate amongst qualified starters. Ray also needs to do a better job of facing RHB, who put up a .343 wOBA against him. A strikeout rate of 26.9% against the opposite hand is very good, but an 10.2% walk rate is unacceptable. If Ray can be more consistent against RHB, he’ll literally develop into an All-Star overnight.
While I could write a novel on the entire team, including Paul Goldschmidt, I’m going to single out the players that are 25 or younger that I believe have All-Star level upside. None of these four players have been able to harness their talent on a consistent basis, even though we’ve seen extended flashes of it. In Bradley and Ray’s case, command is holding them back, Drury struggling to find a defensive home and get regular ABs, and Barrett struggling at the end of 2016 after getting an opportunity to close. Hopefully with better management, those four players can blossom into the talent that made them top prospects in the first place.