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Arizona Diamondbacks select North Carolina prep LHP Blake Walston with the 26th pick

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The Diamondbacks go with a projectable LHP with some signability issues.

Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 172 | B-T: L-L

Commit/Drafted: North Carolina State

After taking Corbin Carroll with the 16th pick, the Diamondbacks once again have an embarrassment of riches to choose from in the prep ranks. They decided to pick from that pool as they selected North Carolina prep lefty Blake Walston. Walston is a tall lefty at 6’4” 175 and features a fastball, curveball, change-up mix. Walston was a consensus mock pick for the Diamondbacks not at 26, but 33 and 34.

Baseball America:

One of the most exciting, projectable arms in the 2019 class, teams were aware of Walston last summer but weren’t able to see him much on the showcase circuit due to his commitments as a talented high school quarterback. Listed at 6-foot-4, 172-pounds, Walston is a thin lefthander with an immensely projectable frame that could easily add 30-40 more pounds in the future. He has a clean arm action and delivery, and scouts note that his plus athleticism translates well to the mound, allowing him to be one of the best natural strike-throwers in the high school class. At the moment, Walston throws his fastball in the 86-91 mph range, topping out in the low 90s, but scouts are convinced that he’ll start to throw harder once he gains more physicality. He also has terrific feel to spin a breaking ball that projects as a plus pitch in the future, and he has shown a solid changeup as well.

Fangraphs:

Walston popped up pretty late, at a point in March when multiple clubs were sending in heat week after week to get some history. Some teams were out when they got multiple outings where he was mostly 84-89, while others are still hot on his trail. We saw him late when he was opening 90-93, cruising 88-91, and reaching back for 93 when he needed it. Walston is young for the class, is ultra-projectable, is an above average athlete, and throws two versions of his curveball with the harder slurve flashing 65- or 70-grade when it’s on while the slow one is a consistent 60. There’s feel for a changeup and command, but this is a projection case and some have mentioned names like Cole Hamels on where this could be headed.

James’ Takeaway: This is the Diamondbacks flexing their muscle with regard to the draft bonus pool. Walston is considered by many to be a difficult sign, but the Diamondbacks have the resources to get him. This selection is all about projecting Walston. That means development time. If Walston is able to bulk up and put everything together, he’s a 4-5 years out sort of prospect.

Upside

The big word here is projectability. Walston at 175 sits 88-92 MPH with the fastball with a potential plus curve and a reliable change-up. As Walston bulks up to 220+, there should be more velocity added to his heater and curveball. If things work out, Walston has the profile of a #2 starter with two plus pitches and an above average 3rd pitch. I think he could also stand to learn a cutter or slider to complete his repertoire later down the road.

Concerns

Projectability is a reason to gamble on high risk arms, but also has its own concerns. It will take him nearly 5 years to reach the majors as he bulks up about 10 pounds a year to fill out his 6’4” frame. Any lost development time could prove to be detrimental to him as a prospect, although his delivery is very clean.

ETA: I don’t believe he’ll be ready to contribute to the majors before the 2024 season if things go well in his development. I see him as a 2-3 year complex player as he fills out his wiry 6’4” frame. The Dbacks will likely have to go above slot value at 26 to keep Walston away from NC State as well so there will be a significant financial and time development for him.