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Arizona Diamondbacks 2017 Preview: Prospects to Watch

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Which prospects have a shot to make the majors in 2017 and other high impact prospects to keep tabs on in the lower levels of the minors?

The Diamondbacks do find themselves starting with a weak farm system in 2017. There isn’t a lot of impact talent that can change the future of the franchise available, or at least not until June when the team picks 7th in the draft. Nonetheless, there are players with MLB upside, some of whom have All-Star potential.

Top Prospects that can contribute in 2017:

LHP Anthony Banda. Banda is the consensus #1 prospect, a lefty who has MLB rotation upside. Banda had a solid Spring, pitching to a 2.81 ERA in 16 13 IP with a 1.13 WHIP. With a crowded rotation situation, Banda was optioned to AAA in mid-March. After a solid 2016 campaign that included holding his own in the PCL, Banda’s debut is not a question of if, but when in 2017. As a SP, he has #3 starter upside, most likely will settle into a #4 role.

INF Ildemaro Vargas. Vargas was an afterthought prior to the 2016 season, but a strong showing in Mobile and Reno has vaulted him up to the bottom end of prospect charts. Vargas doesn’t have a lot of strong tools, but has a steady and reliable game on offense and defense. An infielder who can switch hit fairly well and play all four infield spots is a reliable bench player for a National League club. His plate discipline is strong with more walks than strikeouts in 2016. Spring Training showed he is too far away, slashing .281/.303/.563 with 5 XBH in 32 AB. With the Diamondbacks crowded infield situation at the majors, there just wasn’t any room for him.

RHP Jimmie Sherfy. Sherfy has the potential to be an elite closer with two plus offerings. After struggling the past two seasons in Mobile, Sherfy took one step backwards to start the season, but three steps forward in 2016. Sherfy posted elite strikeout rates in both Visalia and Mobile, eclipsing 40% at both levels. Sherfy ran out of gas in August, which led to him getting pounded to a pulp the final month of the minor league season. Sherfy was optioned early in camp due to giving guys who had a more realistic chance to make the team his innings. 2017 will be a big test to see if he can handle the harsh environments of pitching in Reno as he will be pitching a lot at Chase and Coors Field in his MLB career. With sustained success in Reno, he’ll be ready to a prominent role in the Dbacks bullpen for a very long time.

RHP Matt Koch. Koch doesn’t have the pure stuff to succeed as a a starter with fringe-average pitches across the board, but has value as a reliever that can eat up innings. He’ll start the season in AAA as a starter, where he’ll stay stretched out for the mean time, although I wouldn’t also be surprised if they started the bullpen transition there either. As a reliever, Koch’s velocity bumps from low 90s to mid 90s with decent arm-side run and creates a bit of a velocity difference between his 4-seam fastball and his cutter. A former college closer, Koch’s role is most likely the bullpen with plenty of superior rotation options.

RHP Braden Shipley. Shipley’s stuff didn’t seem as strong as advertised as a prospect when he got his chance in 2016. His stuff looked more fringe-average, although his curveball flashed as a plus pitch, and without great command can get lit up in a hurry. With Archie Bradley, who has superior stuff, headed for the bullpen there was no room for Shipley on the MLB roster. Shipley has 3 option years left, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s picking up a lot of frequent flyer miles between Reno and Phoenix. If there is a rotation injury or a need for another starter in a doubleheader game, Shipley makes a lot of sense as a quick call-up. If he can improve his fastball and change-up command, Shipley could develop into a #4 starter.

Other Top Prospects to Watch:

INF Jazz Chisholm. Chisholm is arguably the organization’s top infield prospect in terms of upside, but he’s years away. Chisholm was the top international signing from a budget-capped 2015-16 class. Chisholm got his first taste of competitive baseball in the US and posted a solid .281/.333/.446 slashline (95 wRC+) in the Pioneer League at Age 18. I expect him to start the year in extended Spring Training, although an assignment to Class A Kane County isn’t out of the cards but rather maybe a bit aggressive. A strong showing in the Northwest League could be what he needs to really take hold as a prospect. Most lists have him as a consensus Top 10 organization prospect.

INF Sergio Alcantara. Alcantara has always been noted as a plus defender, but not enough bat in his career. A switch hitter with little pop, his offensive ability has to rely on getting on base and using his speed to create runs on the basepaths. 2016 was really encouraging as his walk rate jumped and improved his offensive production. His longest stint was 53 games in Class A Kane County where he hit .267/.313/.328 (90 wRC+) in 201 PA. At 20 years old, the team has time to let him start in Kane County or they can move ahead to placing him in Visalia, where he spent the final 4 games of the season. Alcantara went 5 for 9 in late action this Spring with 4 RBI, so maybe the bat is starting to tick up as his body matures.

OF Anfernee Grier. Grier was the top pick of a 2016 draft class that looks unimpressive on paper because of injuries. Grier played about 40 games before being shut down with shoulder problems that also affected him in instructional play. Grier likely gets the assignment of playing for Class A Kane County in CF. The Dbacks also have a prospect in Marcus Wilson who is basically at the same level, so that outfield mix will be interesting although Grier’s bat is the only tool that needs a lot of development. The biggest concerns are ability to handle advanced pitching, with strikeouts being his biggest problem.

RHP Taylor Clarke. Clarke is the top prospect remaining from a 2015 draft class that mostly featured college players. While the rest of the class has struggled to develop, Clarke has quickly advanced through the system, pitching his way to AA Mobile by the end of his first full season. Clarke features a 3-pitch mix, fastball that sits low 90s, slider that he uses to miss bats, and a change-up that is fringe-average. Clarke likely starts 2017 in AA and likely gets promoted to AAA with a strong first half.

RHP Jon Duplantier. Duplantier might be the best player from the 2016 draft class. A first round talent who fell due to how Rice tends to overwork their pitchers plus shoulder issues from 2015, Duplantier did not pitch in 2016 as the team opted to rest him after 111 innings in college. I expect him to be a part of the Kane County rotation to start 2017, with it being about on par with the competition he faced in college last year.

LHP Josh Taylor. Taylor will get a chance to develop as a starter, although I think his future is in the bullpen with the lack of reliable secondary pitches. Taylor is a lot like Robbie Ray, although he doesn’t throw as hard, as a prospect who has a plus fastball. He spent most of 2016 between Visalia and Mobile, showing a lot of inconsistency that led to the Phillies trading him for international bonus pool money. A fastball that sits 92-95 coupled with a fringe average slider and change-up, Taylor probably ends up going the Andrew Chafin route instead of the Robbie Ray route.

INF Domingo Leyba. Leyba’s career arc significantly improved along with stronger plate discipline in 2016. His strikeout rate decreased while his walk rate improved, which is a strong sign for his future as a prospect. Leyba hit .310 in Spring and could be debuting with the team in September. His long term defensive home is probably 2B, not SS. Leyba has a bit more pop than Alcantara and Vargas and could develop into a regular there assuming Brandon Drury just doesn’t slug his way to keeping the job long term.

INF Dawel Lugo. Lugo transitioned from SS to 3B in 2016 and his bat also improved. While Lugo doesn’t draw a ton of walks, he doesn’t strikeout a lot either. His power improved as he hit 17 homers in 2016 after hitting 17 combined homers from 2012-2015. Couple that with the ability to hit for average with a .311 combined average, that’s a nice offensive profile. Lugo probably doesn’t stick at 3B long term with a superior prospect in Drury having been forced to find a new position. With a strong arm in the field, perhaps a transition to a corner OF spot may be his best long term fit.

With the 7th pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, the Arizona Diamondbacks select...

Mock drafts have a consensus that the Diamondbacks are taking a college pitcher. Names being floated about are Florida’s Alex Faedo, North Carolina’s Jacob Bukauskas, Vanderbilt’s Kyle Wright, Stanford’s Tristan Beck, and Missouri’s Tanner Houck (the most commonly referred name). I have a feeling it will be either Houck or Wright. Whoever goes 7th overall will likely be the team’s top prospect at the end of the season.