In this installment, I’ll try to highlight some of the high-risk, high-upside prospects in the Diamondbacks system who could make a significant jump with a strong 2020 season.
Wilderd Patiño: Originally signed for $1.3MM in the 2017 international class, Patiño has the best tools of any player on this list and last year was productive with the organization’s Rookie ball affiliate in Arizona. A .343/.409/.472 slash (134 wRC+) came with an improvements across the board offensively. His ISO jumped up to .123, his walk rate measured in at a respectable 8.8%, and was successful on 13/16 stolen base attempts there. With the combination of plus speed along with above-average raw power and defense, Patiño’s ceiling is an everyday center fielder.
With the jump in success comes some concerns that could prevent him from progressing. Patiño struck out in over 25% of his plate appearances last year, which limits his ceiling as both a hitter and baserunner. When writing up about Patiño, Kiley McDaniel and Eric Logenhagen sound optimistic about his pitch recognition and believe the swing and miss comes from issues with bat and barrel control. As the organization works with smoothing out the holes in his swing and Patiño adds more muscle to his 6’1” 175 frame, we could see those tools turn into production.
Drey Jameson: Jameson was selected with the Diamondbacks’ second compensation pick in last year’s draft. There are a lot of possible outcomes for him at the Major League level, which will depend on his command and ability to stay healthy. When right, Jameson has the potential to command three plus pitches and four above-average pitches which is why he set the Mid-American Conference single-season record for strikeouts with 146 in just 91 innings. The two issues I see playing against him are a high effort delivery, which could be a problem for consistently commanding the ball, and injury concern due to having a wiry 6’0” 165 frame. His summer debut didn’t do much to quiet any concerns as he struggled to throw strikes with a walk rate north of 15% and an ERA north of 6.00 over his first 11 2⁄3 professional innings.
Despite the overwhelming number of factors that may ultimately prevent Jameson from being a starter at the Major League level, I believe the selection was a good gamble for a potential top of the rotation arm or some other valuable role on the pitching staff. One area that can be a cause for optimism is he’s been able to maintain his velocity and stuff deep into his starts in college, which is the best sample we have moving forward. If starting does not work out, there is the fallback option of a fireman type reliever who can bridge the gap between the starter and the back-end of the bullpen. He’ll get a look with the team’s Low A affiliate in Kane County and could finish the year in Visalia.
Blaze Alexander: After signing for $500K two drafts ago, Alexander lit the world on fire in his summer debut. After missing much of Spring Training and the start to the year due to a fractured thumb, Alexander resumed with Low A Kane County and put up a solid, but not spectacular showing there. From a batted ball perspective, we saw more fly balls along with less ground balls but it came with a jump in pop up rate, opposite field rate, and less line drives. I’m not sure if the drop off in production can be 100% attributed to the thumb but it certainly didn’t help as it delayed his season at the very least.
In 2020, Alexander will start the year with Visalia and should get a lot of reps at SS and 2B with Geraldo Perdomo likely headed to AA. He should see a boost in raw offense due to some of the more hitter-friendly parks in the California League, but maintaining a 117 or better wRC+ at the higher level will be a sign of encouragement. At the MLB level, Alexander projects into a possible super utility infielder capable of manning 2B, SS, and 3B. I’m not sure if the team will also consider utilizing him as a corner outfielder, but it also a potential option down the road as well.
Tristin English: Perhaps no college player did more to improve his draft stock between the summer of 2018 and the summer of 2019 than English. A strong year at the Cape put him on the D-backs radar followed by a monster junior season for Georgia Tech that propelled him to the 3rd round of last year’s draft. English put up strong numbers with the team’s Short Season affiliate: a .290/.356/.482 slash (138 wRC+), 21 XBH (12 2B/2 3B/7 HR), and put a respectable strikeout (11%) to walk (6%) ratios.
English projects plus-plus raw power and a potential average or better hit tool, the question is more where he’ll stick defensively. The team is currently trying him out at 3B, which plays into his former 2-way status a bit, as the best development path. He’ll be developed exclusively as a position player, although he may start in Kane County as opposed to Visalia given the lack of experience relative to other college draftees at the position. The organization doesn’t really have a high-ceiling 3B prospect in their system although they have options to work with over the next 3-4 years.
Ryne Nelson: Nelson is a converted shortstop who became a full-time pitcher just two years ago. Like Jameson, Nelson is a dartboard type gamble for a potential top of the rotation arm who has decent fallback options. Nelson has a high velocity fastball that sits mid 90s with a top speed of 100 and can spin a good slider, which are good enough for him to be a back-end type reliever. He’ll need to develop a 3rd pitch in order to be able to stick as a starter, already showing somewhat of a feel for a split-change.
The high octane arm plus solid athletic ability gives Nelson a high ceiling, but he has a lot of issues to iron out. Nelson will need to be able to throw strikes and command the ball consistently with at least three pitches. I believe he’s more on track to start with Kane County and the team will slowly move him along the system.