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Making the Case to Sell: Looking at the Potential 2021 Roster

The 2021 roster comes with a ton of questions.

Gatorade All-Star Workout Day Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

With all of the debate between if the Dbacks should buy or sell, something that frequently seems to be lost is the state of the future. The Dbacks farm system is getting really really good - to the point that some pundits have been claiming that it might be a top 5 farm system. However, the Dbacks farm system is pretty barren for players expected to grauduate in 2020 or 2021, but is absolutely LOADED with high upside prospects that are forecast to graduate between 2022 and 2025. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the roster, position by position, and assess the current internal options for the Dbacks.

There will be a “risk” factor and a “potential upside” factor for each position. The “risk” will be graded as either low, medium, or high and it is important to note that these risks are relative to others within the organization. So if a risk is considered “low”, that does not mean it is a guarantee that there will be strong performance in 2021, it just means that the likelihood is higher than the other positions.

Regarding “potential upside”, it is again subjective and it is primarily to gauge the quality of the talent at each position. A rough estimation for the potential upside is as follows:

Low: 0-2 WAR (below average)

Medium: 2-4 WAR (average to slightly above)

High: 4+ WAR (all-star potential or more)

Again, these are just estimations by the author to roughly quantify the tools and potential talent for prospects in each position. It is again no means of a guarantee that said position will reach the potential, just the rough ceiling that the players are capable of if they develop as hoped.

Lastly, a player with a “?” at the end of their name indicates that they might be used in said position but it is unclear, at this time, if they are on a track for that position or not.

Catcher

MLB Talent: Carson Kelly (age 26 in 2021)

Minor Leagues: Daulton Varsho? (25), Dominic Miroglio? (26)

Surprisingly, this is probably the easiest position for the Diamondbacks right now as Carson Kelly has 5 more years of team control and at age 24, looks to be an above-average, if not all-star, caliber catcher for many years. Of course, something could happen to Kelly, whether he just doesn’t live up to the expectations that he’s currently setting or that he gets hurt. If that happens, the Dbacks are in a world of hurt. Daulton Varsho is the only other option and while he is a top talent, it’s likely not going to be at catcher unless Kelly doesn’t pan out (which is why Varsho is not listed here). In the ideal world, Carson Kelly stays as an MLB regular at catcher and Varsho is moved to another position to get his bat into the MLB.

Beyond Kelly and Varsho, the Diamondbacks have zero catcher prospects of note. It’s possible that someone pops up but as of right now, there is no one to really speculate or project. But that’s okay - the Dbacks already have Kelly and Varsho, both of which are very young.

Edit: Added Varsho and Miroglio to the list. Even though the author thinks that it seems like that Varsho will be moved (only because of Kelly, not because of Varsho’s defense), it was an oversight not to at least include Varsho as a possibility. Varsho can clearly hit but also has good enough defense to stick at C. He could very well end up in a hybrid role similar to Kyle Schwarber - playing occasional catcher and playing elsewhere, like LF or 2B.

Dominic Miroglio was added due to his proximity to the majors and defensive ability. Miroglio is not much of a prospect due to a weak bat but he is a plus defender and has the possibility to stick as an MLB backup. His chances of being the starter in AZ are extremely low thanks to Kelly and Varsho.

Risk: Low

Potential Upside: High

First Base

MLB Talent: Christian Walker (30), Kevin Cron (28), Eduardo Escobar? (32)

Minor Leagues: Pavin Smith (25)

Another position the Diamondbacks could be feasibly set at, though with really questionable depth. Christian Walker looks to be the real deal - after his slump, he’s been settling in at around a 110 - 125 wRC+/OPS+ hitter with plus defense and base running, both of which he leads all MLB first basemen (in BSR and DRS). However, Walker is already 28 so there could be some concerns about how long he can perform at this level. Big first basemen types don’t tend to perform well by the time they hit their early 30s, so the Dbacks depth at this position (or lack thereof) will be of some importance.

Speaking of that depth, the other notable 1B in the system are Kevin Cron and Pavin Smith. Cron is still not considered a top prospect by any of the main sites and as we all know, Pavin Smith has dropped considerably. Cron has shown monster power in his brief big league stint, but with horrible plate discipline, including a K% over 40%. However, Walker had a 41.5% K% last season in 53 PA and turned things around this season, so anything is possible. If Cron is able to improve his plate discipline by a significant amount over the next two years, it’s possible he could be a star here. There are also concerns about his defense, which might relegate him to a DH role in the future (who knows, maybe the NL has a DH by 2021?? just kidding).

Beyond Cron, Pavin Smith seems to be a long shot though he will probably get a chance in the majors at some point. Another option, assuming he’s not traded, is Eduardo Escobar. His defense at third rates from average (0.2 UZR) to above average (5 DRS) but visually, it seems like he’s getting worse. Furthermore, he will be 32 in 2021 so his time at the hot corner is likely to be limited. This will likely see him shift to either 2B, a corner OF spot, or possibly 1B. His bat is continuing to show signs of life though his high whiff rate on fastballs does yield concerns about how his bat will age.

Risk: Low

Potential Upside: Medium

Second Base

MLB Talent: Eduardo Escobar (32), Ildemaro Vargas (29), Domingo Leyba (25)

Minor Leagues: Daulton Varsho? (25), Andy Young (28)

This is assuming that Ketel Marte won’t be at 2B because he will be more useful at SS or CF. This is a position with some questionable depth but potential for some considerable upside if Andy Young or Varsho succeed at the major league level. There have been rumors of moving Varsho to 2B or possibly a corner OF spot because the kid can absolutely hit. In AA, he currently has a 9.2% BB% against only a 12.9% K% with an ISO of .184 (which seems low, but the power is REALLY low in the Southern League), good for a 141 wRC+ at only age 23. It seems very likely that Varsho is going to hit in the Majors and he’ll be ready by 2021; it’s just a matter of where he’ll play.

Speaking of hitting in the minors, there is Andy Young, acquired as part of the Paul Goldschmidt trade. Young has struggled since being promoted to AAA, but he put up a 160 wRC+ in AA last season and was at 139 wRC+ this season before being promoted to AAA. Young doesn’t walk a lot, but he’s got surprising pop and has good batted ball skills. He is also old for his age, so that does add some doubt to his chances at success in the majors.

Vargas doesn’t appear to be a long-term answer but there is still potential for Domingo Leyba. He lacks upside due to limited power but he’s got fantastic contact skills to go along with solid defense. Like Young, he doesn’t walk much but he strikes out much less.

In general, if Varsho comes up as a 2B, this will likely be a good position for Arizona. If not, there are going to be some massive question marks in 2021 unless Leyba, Young, or someone else break out. Escobar will be able to fill this position as well.

Risk: Medium

Potential Upside: High if Varsho or Marte; low to medium if not

Shortstop

MLB Talent: Ketel Marte? (27)

Minor Leagues: Jazz Chisholm (23), Blaze Alexander (22), Geraldo Perdomo (21)

It’s quite possible we’ll see Marte shift to SS once Ahmed is gone, but there is a ton of upside in the system at SS... the only issue is that it is a long ways away from the MLB currently. It is a bit of a stretch, right now, to say that Chisholm or Alexander will be ready by 2021, but it is possible.

Jazz Chisolm seems the least likely to be ready by 2021, but he also has the most tools and highest upside. He’s currently in AA at age 21 and while he has a 32.6% K% and seems to have poor pitch recognition, he still has absolutely monster power and still walks at a decent 11.6% clip. He’s also a plus fielder. Maybe he’s not as far away as it seems, since the organization seems to be aggressively pushing him.

Blaze Alexander was primarily drafted for his MLB-ready defense at SS and 80 grade arm, though he’s shown a lot more polish as a hitter than was expected of him. He’s been an above average hitter at all three stops he’s been at so far and is only 20, which is a good start. We’ll have to see how he pans out from here.

The hidden gem here is Geraldo Perdomo, who is quickly rising on the boards for several analysts. He looks to be a slightly above-average defender at SS but what’s really standing out is how advanced his bat has been despite only being 19 years old. He’s got a pretty slim frame right now and hasn’t flashed a ton of power yet, but he’s 6’2” and has the potential to fill out for more strength (see: Ketel Marte). Also, despite being only 19, he has 152 walks in his minor league career against only 134 strikeouts. That’s almost unheard of. And he’s been one of the best hitters everywhere he’s been so far. Another prospect that could move quick.

Overall, shortstop is still a giant question mark by 2021 but the team has three really intriguing prospects, all with upside. And the team also has Ketel Marte if need be.

Risk: Medium

Potential Upside: High

Third Base

MLB Talent: Eduardo Escobar? (32)

Minor Leagues: Drew Ellis? (25), Blaze Alexander? (22)

This is a position that is a big concern for the Dbacks in the near term future. Assuming Escobar declines defensively and Jake Lamb is gone (free agent in 2021), there is pretty much no one of note at third in the system. Drew Ellis was the hope, but he’s fallen on most boards as his raw power just hasn’t been translating. And there are questions on both his defense and contact. The good thing is that he draws a lot of walks, so that helps raise his floor, but he is currently not a prospect that you’ll be banking on for the future, at least as of now.

The only other option, and this is PURE speculation, would be Blaze Alexander. If Perdomo or Jazz perform well in the majors, then it might be prudent to move Blaze and his Blazin’ 80-grade arm to third, a la Manny Machado. This author has no idea if Blaze has any third base experience so far in the minors.

If Diamondbacks do end up selling, third base is a prime spot for the organization to be targeting prospects.

Risk: High

Potential Upside: Low

Outfield

MLB Talent: Ketel Marte (27), Tim Locastro (28), Blake Swihart (29)

Minor Leagues: Jake McCarthy (24), Alek Thomas (21), Daulton Varsho? (25), Andy Young? (28)

This is both a position of strength and massive risk for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks have three high upside players, all that are projected to be at least average center field defenders: Alek Thomas, Kristian Robinson, and Corbin Carroll. However, Robinson and Carroll are still a long ways from the majors, though their strong performances to date might indicate they will move faster than currently expected. They have the potential to substantially impact the roster when they arrive, but it’s more likely to be a 2022 or 2023 impact.

That makes 2021 far riskier and more dire. The MLB talent is, well, absolutely awful. Marte is pretty much a superstar in CF at this point, but the team might also need him at 2B or SS. Locastro is a nice role player but he’s not someone you want to start regularly on a true competitive roster and has extremely limited upside that is mostly defense-based. And it seems extremely unlikely that Blake Swihart will be on the roster come 2021 unless he finally learns how to hit.

That leaves the Dbacks with Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy. Thomas looks to be legit and has been flying through the system, currently sitting with a 153 wRC+ in A-ball as a 19-year-old. Thomas projects to be a really good hitter in the majors with fringe-average power and above average defense in CF. If he ever develops his power, he will be a star. If not, he looks to be a good bet to be at least league average.

McCarthy is a bit closer than Thomas at this moment and will be 23 in 2021, but his upside looks to be more like a 4th outfielder right now. It’s possible that he will be serviceable in 2021 but the likelihood of him providing much meaningful value is likely to be low.

All-in-all, 2021 is likely going to be a difficult position for Arizona in the outfield; however, the potential will skyrocket in 2022-2024 as the younger prospects finally make their way up.

Risk: High

Potential Upside: High for Marte/Thomas, low beyond that

Starting Pitching

MLB Talent: Zack Greinke? (37), Luke Weaver (27), Merrill Kelly (32), Alex Young? (27), Jon Duplantier? (27), Taylor Clarke (28)

Minor Leagues: Taylor Widener (26), Matt Tabor (23), Luis Frias (23), Josh Green (25), Ryne Nelson (23), Emilio Vargas (25), Kevin Ginkel (27), Matt Mercer (24), Jackson Goddard (24), Matt Peacock (27), Ryan Weiss (24), Tyler Holton (25), Justin Lewis (25)

So this is where things get really difficult. The team has some MASSIVE question marks for the MLB talent going into 2021. Luke Weaver looks like he could very well be an ace or at least a good #2 in 2021, but everyone else on that list has big question marks. Greinke is still pitching like an ace right now, but it’s by no means a guarantee he will keep this up through his age 37 season let alone if he’ll still be on the team or not. Duplantier is showing some good upside, but he is still unproven in the majors and has some durability concerns.

Merrill Kelly will have team options for 2021 and 2022 so it’s possible he’ll be in the rotation, but the question mark is how good will he be? He’ll be 32 in 2021 and while he’s shown flashes of some upside, he also has shown flashes of getting crushed. Overall, his FIP sits at 4.49 and his SIERA is at 4.74; it’s just difficult to project anything better than a back-end innings eater if he makes it that long. Alex Young is probably a long shot for the rotation in 2021 but is showing flashes of upside, so we’ll see if he can stick. And Taylor Clarke is all but finished as an MLB starter outside of absolute necessity.

So, the current MLB talent leaves the outlook in 2021 really dire. However, there are a TON of minor league guys in our system - again, mostly on the younger side. A lot of these guys are showing some good upside potential. However, as it is with pitchers, they are extremely risky, both with injuries and having performance translate from the minors to the majors. Furthermore, it’s hard to project which of these guys will be potential starters versus potential relievers in the majors. All of the guys listed above are in the Top 30 for Fangraphs and are all starting more than half the time in the minors.

Let’s take a look at their upside. This won’t include any scouting information, just their career K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 in the minors.

AAA

  • Taylor Widener: 10.9 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9
  • Kevin Ginkel: 12.9 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9

AA

  • Matt Peacock: 7.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9
  • Josh Green: 7.5 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 0.1 HR/9, 65-70% GB% (!!)
  • Emilio Vargas: 8.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9

A/A+

  • Matt Tabor: 9.2 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9
  • Jackson Goddard: 8.0 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 0.3 HR/9
  • Ryan Weiss: 7.6 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9
  • Matt Mercer: 11.5 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9
  • Justin Lewis: 10.3 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 0.2 HR/9

A-/R

  • Tyler Holton only has 7.1 IP, so not worth looking at yet
  • Luis Frias: 10.4 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 0.1 HR/9
  • Ryne Nelson only has 2 IP so far, so not worth looking at yet

There a lot of guys here getting a significant number of strikeouts: Taylor Widener, Kevin Ginkel, Emilio Vargas, Matt Tabor, Matt Mercer, Justin Lewis, and Luis Frias. Furthermore, most of these guys have pretty solid walk rates and outstanding home run suppression. Obviously, the majority of these guys will likely not succeed as MLB starters, but the sheer quantity in addition to the good amount of upside does favor the organization.

The end result here is that there is a TON of variance in the outcomes here; no one can reasonably predict how these guys will all end up with even moderate accuracy. However, there are a lot of guys here and the Dbacks just need 1-2 to guys to to really hit it off as #1/2s and another 1-2 to hit it off as #3/4s and the rotation in 2021 can be pretty solid. But that is a big IF and it is certainly possible that the 2021 rotation is barren of talent.

As it is above, most of these guys are really young and the TRUE window of talent influx starts around 2022. A lot of these guys are still in the lower levels of the minors and would need to advance aggressively to make the rotation by 2021. Widener and Ginkel are both showing some really good upside and are close proximity to the majors - seeing how they could do in the majors would really help determine how the near future looks for the rotation. Emilio Vargas and Josh Green are both intriguing arms in AA and could also bolster the rotation by 2020.

In the end, this is the most volatile position in this exercise, though not the highest risk (albeit, still high). The number of intriguing arms is high but if the Dbacks want more certainty for 2020 or 2021, they’re probably going to have to trade for it.

Risk: High

Potential Upside: High

Relief Pitching

MLB Talent: Archie Bradley? (28), Stefon Chichton? (29), Zack Godley? (31), Silvino Bracho? (28), Jimmy Sherfy? (29), Yoan Lopez? (28), Matt Andriese? (31), Taylor Clarke? (28)

Minor Leagues: Everyone in the list for starting pitching

Considering the extreme volatility of relievers, every single guy with current MLB experience is going to be a question mark for AZ in 2021. Most of them probably won’t be on the roster by then as their performance as a whole has been pretty terrible. Bracho, Sherfy, and Bradley have shown success in the MLB so they are most likely to be in the bullpen by 2021. However, Bracho has to recover from TJ, Sherfy doesn’t seem to be liked by the organization, and Bradley has declined drastically. So it’s very possible that none of these guys are on the roster in 2021.

As for the other guys, it’s just impossible to pick out relievers in the future like that. Teams don’t typically “develop” relievers intentionally in the minors; they tend to be converted starters that didn’t succeed for one way or the other.

Considering some of the upside for the starting pitchers above, it is possible that some of them end up being good relievers. But the reality is that this is going to be a massive question mark for the team in 2021. The bullpen has been the only area where Hazen has struggled as GM so far. Hopefully he can figure out a better plan for the future.

Risk: High

Potential Upside: Medium


This ended up being a massively long article but a lot of that is due to the sheer amount of potential talent in the system, something Arizona has never had to this extent before. The true contention window for this system is probably 2022 or 2023, but there is potential for 2021 to have some fringe contention as it is shaped now. There are some clear holes (2B, 3B, and the outfield) as well as question marks due to vitality and youth (SS, SP, RP).

With this in mind, it should help clear the picture for Arizona if they do decide to sell. If the team decides to trade Greinke, Ray, Peralta, et al, they can use those trades to target near-MLB or actual MLB talent at those positions to really help improve the roster while we wait for the rest of the talent to hit the majors. Tomas’s contract will be off the books in 2021 and Greinke’s salary will be mostly gone if he’s traded, which also leaves room for a potential free agent signing or two (cough Anthony Rendon cough).

Hazen has shown a penchant for acquiring athletic, high-upside, and near MLB talent in the majority of his trades and by trading off a lot of the valuable pieces now can land the team several very valuable talents for the near-future. If they can shore up these weaknesses as above, the team could be able to be Wild Card competitive by 2021 and hope to be a legitimate World Series contenders by 2022 or 2023. That is, BY FAR, a more logical, safe, and higher potential than by standing pat or trying to buy in 2019.

The other factor to consider here is the rise of Ketel Marte. If he keeps improving like he’s been showing the past three years, he’s going to be a legitimate superstar - e.g. 5-8 WAR seasons as a ceiling. He’s that good. When you pair Marte with Carson Kelly and Luke Weaver, you’ve already got the start for a really really good core. A lot of fans have been upset that the team never really put much effort into building around the face-of-the-franchise Paul Goldschmidt; well, Marte is probably going to be the next face and the team has never been in a better position to build around a superstar than now.

The future in Arizona has never been brighter but we’re still a few years away from it. If the team wisely decides to double down and trade away the aging and control-limited talent (that is also in VERY high demand right now), the team can both improve the potential of the future AND make it happen sooner. Mike Hazen has the potential to dawn a true golden age not only for the Arizona Diamondbacks but for Arizona sports as a whole.