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Four D-backs farm system questions heading into 2021

Arizona’s system has a few questions that could be answered this year.

2019 All-Star Week: High School Home Run Derby Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

It is not secret at this point, the Arizona Diamondbacks have transformed their farm system into one of the best in baseball.

Despite the obstacles of no minor leagues last season, a bevy of top prospects continue to develop. The system is filled with outfield and pitching depth, and several names popped at the team’s alternate training sites and instructional leagues in 2020.

With a full minor league season heading into 2021, the D-backs’ collection of young talent will be on full display. Questions still surround certain prospects and the system as a whole, so let’s get into it.

1.) How will the MiLB realignment impact the Diamondbacks?

COVID-19 sped up the minor league realignment, as up to a quarter of minor league teams are now dismantled and reconfigured this season.

Dozens of teams were eliminated and shifted around the affiliation ladder, leaving Low Class A, High Class A, Double-A and Triple-A as the four remaining levels. Single-season and rookie leagues were eliminated as a result of the realignment.

This process affects all 30 MLB teams, so what about the Diamondbacks in particular? Arizona’s new minor league levels are listed below.

  • Triple-A: Reno Aces
  • Double-A: Amarillo Sod Poodles
  • High-A (A+): Hillsboro Hops
  • Low-A (A-): Visalia RawHide

Much has remained intact for the Diamondbacks, but there are a few notable changes that prospects must adjust to. A new Double-A affiliate in Amarillo is quite a change from Double-A Jackson.

The former Double-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, the Sod Poodles won their first-ever 2019 Texas League Championship. Now, they will be home to a bevy of intriguing prospects within Arizona’s system. Amarillo is viewed as a hitter-friendly environment, and the Sod Poodles launched 139 home runs in 2019 as a result.

Hillsboro has become a full-season affiliate this season, leaping from Arizona’s single-season team to a High-A team. Visalia has replaced Kane County as the team’s Low-A affiliate. Reno is entering its 13th season as the D-backs’ Triple-A affiliate.

These changes bring new environments and adjustments for each team to adjust to. This significant realignment is a question worth keeping an eye on throughout 2021.

2.) Can Kristian Robinson showcase his full potential?

There aren’t many prospects as polarizing as outfielder Kristian Robinson.

At just 20 years old, Robinson oozes athleticism and All-Star potential. He’s shown flashes of raw 70-grade power and tremendous speed on the base paths, and he’s earned recognition as a top-tier prospect in the system.

Despite his physical traits and potential, Robinson has struggled to put it all together to this point. It’s still early, but Robinson has struggled to make consistent contact and struck out at a 29 percent clip at Kane County in 2019, as his mammoth 6-foot-3 frame makes him cover a lot of area in the strike zone. Defensively, Robinson may be limited to a corner outfield position—specifically left field— as he grows and matures.

We didn’t see much from Robinson at the alternate site and instructional league, but he’s still young and has time to fully tap into his array of tools. Robinson has the traits to be an impact major leaguer and potential star, but his offensive concerns raise questions heading into 2021.

3.) Which pitching prospect can stand out amongst the bunch?

Arizona’s three star-studded outfielders in Robinson, Corbin Carroll and Alek Thomas headline the top of the system, but the amount of pitching depth afterwards will be something of note this season.

The D-backs have collected a bevy of intriguing pitching prospects through the draft and trades over the past three seasons. The system is filled with right-handers such as Slade Cecconi, Levi Kelly, Bryce Jarvis, Luis Frías, J.B. Bukauskas, Drey Jameson, Justin Martinez, Corbin Martin and several others. Blake Walston, Tommy Henry and Liam Norris are three southpaws of note.

The D-backs have the arms to fill out their system, but there’s plenty of room for debate which prospect is the best of the bunch. You can make a viable argument for several names listed above. A full minor league season can help provide substance to who stands out the most. It may not be answered without a doubt, but it’s something to look forward to in 2021.

4.) Can A.J. Vukovich break out in 2021?

East Troy’s A.J. Vukovich was recognized as one of the top prep bats during the latter rounds of the 2020 MLB Draft, and the D-backs tagged him to a $1.25 million signing bonus as a fourth-round selection.

As is the case with hundreds of 2020 draftees, Vukovich didn’t get the luxury of testing his skills during a minor league season. Instead, he generated plenty of buzz at the team’s instructional site last season with athleticism and raw power.

Standing at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Vukovich fits the bill as a power-hitting third baseman. His low leg kick generates loud contact in his right-handed swing. If Vukovich’s strength and athleticism translate to at the plate, it won’t be long until he propels up the D-backs’ farm system. He has a chance to put his bat to the test in 2021, and it will be interesting to see where he begins the season.