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Previewing the Diamondbacks farm system for the 2020 season

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A new farm director and a three year long infusion of amateur talent has catapulted the system from one of the worst to a top 10 system.

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-All Star Game
Daulton Varsho’s imminent arrival will likely be the biggest story line with the Diamondbacks farm system in 2020.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When Mike Hazen took over the Diamondbacks General Manager job he inherited a very interesting situation. The team had a solid core group of players, many of which have since moved on to other teams. In the past two years, the team heavily depleted their farm system through promotions, a really bad string of trades, and a 2-year long restrictions for going over the limit to sign Yoan Lopez. It was safe to say that Hazen had his work cut out for him, especially when he elected to stay the course and try to compete every year instead of start heading into a rebuild. Over the last three years, the system has improved from the bottom to a Top 10 system. I wouldn’t call it a Top 5 system due to most of the high ceiling prospects in the lower levels of the system, but it could get there in a couple years when they’re ready to hit the majors.

In 2020, the organization will have a new farm director as the team elected to promote Josh Barfield to the role after serving as Mike Bell’s assistant for the past three seasons. After concluding his playing career, Barfield moved up the ranks through the Diamondbacks scouting department. The philosophy and decision making won’t likely be too drastically different overall with most of the front office otherwise still intact. Along with the small changes in the front office, here are some other stories to follow in regards to the Diamondbacks’ farm system:

Which under-the-radar prospects could emerge?

These names won’t be mentioned on a Top 30 list, but these are a few guys to keep an eye on. Tyler Holton recovered from April 2018 Tommy John surgery and completely dominated the Northwest League. His fastball is below average, but plus secondaries and control allow him to dominate younger competition there with a 2.23 ERA and a 51/4 K/BB in 37 23 IP with Hillsboro. Holton would have been an early Day 2 prospect had he stayed healthy that year. He’s pretty much maxed out physically, so he could move up the system as a #5 starter, swing man, or even a left-handed setup man.

Tristin English was a former 2-way player who the Diamondbacks tried to sign as a junior but things didn’t work out then. The team picked him up with their 3rd round selection due to the plus power and arm to play at a corner position. English had a solid year with Hillsboro and could be going to Visalia next. He doesn’t have great foot speed, so could be limited to 3B, more likely 1B long term. I think of him as a more athletic version of Kevin Cron.

Justin Lewis is a long and lanky pitcher who the Dbacks picked up in the 13th round in 2018 out of Kentucky. Standing at 6’7” with long arms, Lewis creates a tough angle on hitters to pick up despite possessing an average fastball and decent secondaries. Due to that angle, he could have some utility as a reliever where batters only get one look at him. He pitched well at both Kane County and Visalia, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he started 2020 in Jackson either.

Emilio Vargas had pitched his way onto the 40-man roster in 2018, but struggled with injuries early on in the 2019 season. He bounced back to post respectable numbers at AA Jackson once healthy again. Due to the infusion of starting pitcher prospects with higher upside than him in the past year, Vargas is more likely to end up converting into a reliever with a Fastball/Slider combo.

The 2017 International Class keeps getting better

Kristian Robinson is the headliner of that class along with Jorge Barrosa and Wilderd Patiño grabbing headlines when the class was announced. Robinson has become a consensus Top 75 prospect this year with 5-tool ability, although he could be a helium prospect with a good showing in Kane County this year. Barrosa has barely hung on, making it state-side for the past couple seasons, but hasn’t pushed farther than the AZL. Patiño showed good pop and on-base numbers to boost a speed/defense profile. He’s still more projection than skill with the bat, but has plenty of time to develop since he just turned 18 in July.

Another name that has emerged from that class is SS prospect Liover Peguero. Drawing Jean Segura comps from both Fangraphs and Baseball America, likely compiled by AZ Republic beat-writer Nick Piecoro, Peguero dominated the Pioneer League at 18 years old before holding his own with a league average performance in Short A Hillsboro. Geraldo Perdomo is the likely shortstop of the future, but if Peguero’s bat continues to develop then Hazen will try to find a position to keep them both at. Perdomo isn’t a lock to stick on the MLB roster, so the team should continue to develop Peguero there until then. Peguero is more twitchy and athletic than Segura, so a possible move to 3B is on the horizon if Perdomo sticks at SS.

Which one of the power arms will stand out?

The system is full of power arms that don’t necessarily have long term starter futures. Of that group, the most advanced pitcher is probably Levi Kelly followed by Luis Frias and Drey Jameson. Kelly dominated in Kane County and the addition of a splitter does give him a potential 3rd pitch to stick as a starter or a high-leverage arm in the back-end of the pen. All three pitchers will be given a chance to stick as starters and really don’t need much development time as a reliever if that’s the fallback option.

Other power arms in the system include Ryne Nelson and Conor Grammes, both of whom can reach triple digits in short stints. Nelson will be developed as a starter to increase his reps but I think he’s more likely to close games than start them. Both players are relatively new to pitching, Nelson just becoming a full time pitcher as a junior at Oregon and Grammes being a 2-way player until the Diamondbacks picked him with their 5th round selection. Nelson has the best chance of the two of making it to the MLB bullpen.

First full season for the 2019 draft class

The 2019 Draft is mostly headlined by high-ceiling prep talents such as Corbin Carroll, Blake Walston, and Brennan Malone. Carroll has made his way as a consensus Top 100 prospect while Walston is not that far behind. Malone will have to prove himself in 2020 to get onto lists, although it’s entirely possible he follows a similar path to Levi Kelly last year where he just simply pitches his way into and through full season ball. Tommy Henry and Dominic Fletcher are medium-upside prospects who should fly up the system thanks to having good baseball IQ and continually play above their overall physical tools. They both could start 2020 with High A Visalia and might reach the majors by the end of the 2022 season.

Glenallen Hill Jr., taken in the 4th round and signed for $850k bonus, is the walking definition of a lottery ticket prospect with loud physical tools despite a small frame with potential up-the-middle versatility. Given his dad was a successful big leaguer, the upside is worth gambling upon to see how he figures it out. Another selection the team had late was 12th rounder Avery Short, who the team managed to sign away from Louisville. There isn’t a lot of projection with Short like with Walston, but has a playable 3-pitch mix that has him as a fringe starter prospect.

Prospects who could contribute on the MLB squad in 2020

The first prospect that comes to mind is catcher/outfielder Daulton Varsho, who is either #1 or 2 on most prospect lists in the organization. Other players to keep an eye out for in a Dbacks uniform will include infielder Andy Young, 1B Pavin Smith, and position-less sluggers Seth Beer and Kevin Cron. Young and Cron are already on the 40-man roster while Smith and Beer can be added whenever the team needs them. Of that group Young and Varsho have a somewhat clear path to the majors, being only one injury or poor performance away from getting regular time at their respective positions.

On the pitching side, the trio of J.B. Bukauskas, Jon Duplantier, and Taylor Widener are probably the second wave of reinforcements in the rotation behind Merrill Kelly and Alex Young. Young and Kelly will most likely start the year in the bullpen, so those three names mentioned at the top of this paragraph will have some importance on the team. JBB, Dup, and Widener haven’t had a lot of experience pitching in a true reliever role, so it’s a difficult projection for how they’d fare in that role. Of that group, Dup has the best chance of sticking at starter so long as injuries don’t get in the way. Not too far behind them is Josh Green, who had a successful season between Visalia and Jackson with regular 5-6 inning starts with good run prevention numbers. His calling card is being a ground ball specialist, with 2 out of 3 balls in play ending up on the ground.

In the bullpen, expect Kevin Ginkel to be a big part of the team’s late-inning contingent after a strong showing in the role last year but also be prepared for reliever volatility striking. West Tunnell is another prospect who could be seeing action at the MLB level. He closed for Visalia and Jackson last season, so he does bring some late-inning experience with him.