The MLB draft is far and away the best, most affordable way for any organization to get itself turned around. Sure, teams that have been losing will often see the biggest short-term improvement. Just look at the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals. But even winning teams rely on the draft to remain competitive year-in and year-out. The St. Louis Cardinals stand as a shining example of this sort of team. With last season’s surprising success, the Diamondbacks put themselves in position to select 25th in the first round of this year’s draft. That sort of placement makes looking at specific candidates problematic. With that in mind this pre-draft entry will instead look at the Diamondbacks’ organizational strengths and weaknesses. My final entry will come this weekend where overall organizational rankings will be compared to look for trends and needs.
Below, each position is given a brief breakdown which includes the current state of the position on the 25-man roster, the predicted 2019 situation, and then a brief summation of how the organization sits beyond that. This will only include actual prospects. This means that some players, like Anthony Recker, will not be included even though if a season-ending injury were to hit the MLB catching corps, Recker would almost certainly get promoted.
The pitching is broken down into starters and relievers. However, the only relievers being considered for the future are those with the high ceilings of being dominant back-end arms. The number of inning-eaters out there is just too high. Furthermore, one of the best places to find inning-eaters in in the crop of failed starters or back-end talents with some high-leverage issues (such as walks). Because teams do not get through the season relying on only five starters, I will be listing the team’s top-seven, even though they may not currently be on the roster.
2018 Rotation: Zack Greinke
Robbie Ray (injured)
Taijuan Walker (injured)
Shelby Miller (injured)
2019 Rotation: Zack Greinke
Taijuan Walker (starting the season injured)
Outlook: Jon Duplantier is the organization’s hands-down top prospect. He is a consensus top-100 prospect with top-of-the-rotation stuff. Beyond Duplantier, Diamondbacks still have a decent number of arms. The problem is the proximity of those arms to the majors and the lack of arms projected to be even #3 starters. Here are the other arms along with their expected ceiling and arrival.
Taylor Clarke – BOR (late-2018)
Taylor Widener – MID (late-2019)
Brian Shaffer – BOR (mid-to-late 2020)
Cody Reed – MID (2020)
Matt Tabor – MOR (early 2021)
Alex Young* (2019)
2018 Bullpen: Brad Boxberger
Randall Delgado (injured)
2019 Bullpen: Brad Boxberger
Outlook: The number of reliever arms in the system is a bit overwhelming. Here are some highlights.
Alex Young* – converted starter, still starting in AAA (2019)
Yoan Lopez – future closer candidate (2019)
Mason McCullough – future closer candidate (2019)
Wei-Chieh Huang (2020)
The system also has a handful of other prospects in the 2020 to 2021 arrival window currently training as starters that could wind up becoming relievers as they move up through the system. There is a good deal of organizational youth and upside here.
*Young’s projected future as a starter beyond AAA depends largely on who is polled. Decent cases are made for both sides of the argument.
Future players will be listed along with their current level and expected time of arrival.
2018: Jeff Mathis, Alex Avila, John Ryan Murphy
2019: John Ryan Murphy, Alex Avila
Outlook: The Diamondbacks organization has been woefully weak when it comes to catching prospects. This has been the case for over a decade now and was a prime motivator in the extension issued to Miguel Montero way back in the 2011-12 offseason. Some around the Pit may recall that when Arizona traded Martin Prado to the New York Yankees, there was fairly strong support among Pit-regulars to go after John Ryan Murphy. The Yankees were unwilling to include him though, and instead played a joke on Arizona, sending over Peter O’Brien instead. Well, the Yankees finally parted with John Ryan Murphy, and now the Diamondbacks do indeed have him in-house. As it stands, he’s the starter of the future for the franchise. The Diamondbacks also have two more catching prospects that look to play a big part in the future of the organization.
Daulton Varsho A+ 2020
Andy Yerzy ROK 2021/22
2018: Paul Goldschmidt
2019: Paul Goldschmidt
Outlook: If Goldschmidt’s struggles continue, the Diamondbacks will be able to afford to keep him beyond 2019. One would have to question the logic of doing so though. Moving on from a franchise player is never easy. Unsurprisingly, the Diamondbacks are not just sitting around on the next Paul Goldschmidt, waiting for #44 to simply move on. While the next Goldschmidt may not be on deck, the organization has a number of future options that could potentially fit, with the possible upside of all-star talent existing in two players.
Kevin Cron AAA 2018
Christian Walker AAA 2018
Pavin Smith A+ 2020/21
Drew Ellis A+ 2020/21
2018: Ketel Marte
2019: Ketel Marte
Outlook: Once a logjam of prospects and players, second base is now more the home of the organization’s utility infield bats. This has given at-bats to the likes of Chris Owings, Deven Marrero, and Daniel Descalso. Ketel Marte is the established starter and is under contract through at least 2022, with the team also having options for 2023 and 2024. There is no reason to expect this to change. Although, if Marte continues to struggle, the team could continue to use the keystone as a utility slot in the lineup. Should the team need to find another body for the position, the pipeline has the following:
Ildemaro Vargas AAA 2018
Domingo Leyba AA 2019/20
2018: Nick Ahmed
2019: Nick Ahmed
Outlook: As a glove-first shortstop, Ahmed’s future looks somewhat limited. He’ll be going through his second year of arbitration next season, meaning his salary will start reaching the point at which excess value will be harder to find. It isn’t hard to see Ahmed’s future turning to defensive-minded utility infielder in the 2020 season, after being non-tendered by the Diamondbacks. The team currently has Ketel Marte on the roster. Marte is capable of playing short, though he is better-suited to remaining at second. The pipeline for shortstop is not deep, but the talent in it is strong;
Jasrado Chisholm A 2021
Domingo Leyba AA 2019/20
2018: Jake Lamb
2019: Jake Lamb
Outlook: It would take a dramatic shift in player and/or team fortune for Jake Lamb to not remain the team’s third baseman of the future. Yes, he has some ugly splits. He also can be sloppy with the glove at times, though that seems to be slowly improving. The team has only one legitimate third base prospect in the system, though Kevin Cron has been considered a possible fit for third base from time-to-time.
Drew Ellis A+ 2020
2018: A.J. Pollock (injured)
2019: David Peralta
Outlook: The immediate future looks bleak for the Diamondbacks. Unfortunately, the draft is not where a team finds an immediate fix. With A.J. Pollock set to hit free agency at the end of the season, the team is looking at losing its first-best option to play center field. While Jarrod Dyson has the defensive acumen for the position, he lacks the sort of bat to be an everyday player. The pipeline is light in general and almost entirely devoid of talent in the upper minors. The number of players in the lower minors who have high enough ceilings to get excited about is a bit more reassuring, but such distance from the majors means plenty still has to go right for Arizona to realize any benefits.
Marcus Wilson (CF/RF) A+ 2020
Kristian Robinson N/A 2022
Edurado Diaz A 2021/22
Gabriel Maciel (CF) A 2020/21
Anfernee Grier (CF) A+ 2020
Looking at the number of holes in the pipeline and the lack of near-ready talent, it is not surprising that Arizona still sports one of the most poorly-ranked farm systems in baseball, being ranked 25th by Baseball America. Last season, Mike Hazen, Jared Porter, Amiel Sawdaye, and Mike Bell drafted heavily from the college bats. A return to that strategy could result in shoring up some of the near-major position player holes should they target bats expected to move quickly through the development process, such as outfielders Jake McCarthy from Virginia, Travis Swaggerty from South Alabama or Steele Walker out of Oklahoma, both of whom would initially could project as 2020 arrivals, depending on initial placement.
Middle infield is another area of thin talent in the system. Many analysts have this weakness pegged as the area the Diamondbacks will try to address. High school shortstop Brice Turang has been linked to the Diamondbacks as has high school infielder Matt McClain.
This weekend the Pit’s pre-draft coverage will continue with organizational rankings, along with where some of the most likely draft candidates would fall within the current ranks.