With the 2022 now a go and the current present of the D-backs looking murky at best, we turn to guys who have either gotten a cup of coffee in 2021 or will make their debuts with the team in 2022. One of these players includes a consensus top prospect that we’ve been waiting on for years in addition to a bunch of bottom of the roster guys who can provide value off the bench or out of the bullpen. Alongside each player, I’ve given a future value grade, likely ETA when they’ll appear, and the type of potential role they could provide the team this year.
Outfielder Alek Thomas (55 FV)
Thomas was a 2nd round pick in the 2018 draft who has developed into a consensus Top-50 prospect. The combination of exceptional bat control, plus speed, the potential for a big jump in future projectable power with a slight swing change, and solid defensive tools makes Thomas a potential everyday option for the D-backs in center field, or at least until Corbin Carroll arrives next year. With changes in the CBA potentially rewarding teams for calling up prospects on Opening Day who place well in Rookie of the Year balloting, we could see the D-backs elect to open up with him with a strong Spring. If not, we will likely see him around May 15th at the latest when the team has kept him in Reno long enough to add another year of control.
Shortstop Geraldo Perdomo (50 FV)
A surprise injury to Nick Ahmed and poor roster management caused Perdomo to be thrown to the wolves for a week, which saw his swing and confidence shattered. That resulted in him struggling for the first half of the season there before being called back to the complex to fix his swing. After the swing changes, he came back to AA and finished the year strong before getting another look at the MLB level thanks to another injury to Ahmed. His second stint was much better than the first, although I still think there is room for growth in the minors before the team should make him the everyday shortstop. Perdomo is still growing into his 6’2” frame and it may take years before we see the power tool develop like was the case with Ketel Marte.
RHSP Ryne Nelson (50 FV)
Ryne Nelson was my most improved prospect in 2021, going from a guy I thought was a sure reliever into a guy who I now project as a sure starter. Nelson lead the organization in strikeouts and was near the top in innings pitched as he was healthy and dominant at two separate levels. Hegives the D-backs a nice combination of solid floor with a 65 grade heater and a plus slider that generates a lot of whiffs. He also features a curveball that he uses to steal strikes early in the count and the change-up has become a usable offering. One more step in Nelson’s development is being able to further refine his control to be able to jump ahead of more patient hitters he’ll face in AAA and MLB. Depending on the team’s starting rotation depth, Nelson could be here sooner rather than later if one or two guys are unable to perform at a high enough level or injuries.
RHSP Brandon Pfaadt (45+ FV)
D-backs took a flier on Pfaadt in 2020 after seeing his outstanding Cape Cod performance the summer before and it has yielded a great early return on investment. Pfaadt has the upside of your typical #4 starter, a guy who should be able to eat innings (~180) and provide near league-average run prevention. Pfaadt’s heater is merely average, but it plays up due to his ability to command 4 pitches. A bit of refinement on his change-up and he’s knocking on the door on an MLB rotation spot. He could be a late-season injury replacement or a call-up if the team unloads a couple starters at the deadline.
RHSP Luis Frias (45 FV)
Frias started 2021 in High A and finished the year in the majors. He’s a behemoth who possesses a 96 MPH heater, a splitter, and two inconsistent breaking balls. The two knocks on him are his delivery and his pitches all showing below average spin, which suggests both command issues and a possible lack of swings and misses. With that in mind, I’d give him about 50/50 odds at best of still being a starter 12 months from now but as a reliever any bump in velocity and not necessarily requiring a 3rd pitch could make him a potential setup man. For 2022, he might make a few starts and a few relief appearances.
RHRP J.B. Bukauskas (40+ FV)
Bukauskas struggled in his first look at the big leagues, as he looked mentally overwhelmed at times despite putting up strong numbers in Reno. That’s just part of your typical growing pains for a young player, we should see him grow more comfortable this year. The stuff is good enough for a future back-end arm with a mid to upper 90s heater and a slider that can be a wipeout pitch when he really gets on top of it. Commanding his fastball will be the key for him to take a hold of a bullpen spot, as the pitch got hammered when he left it over the heart of the plate. Like Thomas, JBB could end up making the team with a strong Spring. If not, the team still has two options left to move him up and down.
RHRP Levi Kelly (40+ FV)
Health is the number one key for Kelly to re-establish himself as a prospect again. With 2021 ultimately being a lost year of development combined with the odd 2020 year, Kelly’s chances of developing into a starter have dwindled down to almost zero. That doesn’t mean his career is over, as he has plenty of paths available to establish himself in the big leagues as a reliever. If he can rediscover his 2020 stuff, where he was regularly pumping in 96-97 with a 70-grade slider, we’re talking about potentially a major weapon in the back-end in the bullpen if not the closer outright. I believe the 2021 issues were mainly the result of a shoulder injury that just never healed right while hoping that shoulder injury that resulted in him being left off the 40-man roster is completely behind him.
OF Jake McCarthy (40+ FV)
Unless Thomas takes the world by storm and forces the D-backs to call him up, I have McCarthy getting the first crack in center field. McCarthy has intriguing enough power, speed, and defensive tools but major concerns about his ability to make sufficient contact at the MLB level. I’m pretty confident in his overall plate discipline, he does a good job at swinging at mostly strikes although he does have some holes in his swing that he’ll need to close up. The key for McCarthy’s development will be to get the ball off the ground and make more solid contact when he gets pitches to hit. If he can make improvements in that area, he seems like at worst someone who take the major platoon in right field while the team waits out for younger outfielder prospects to develop.
INF Buddy Kennedy (40 FV)
Kennedy has a bit of an odd profile as a prospect. He seems destined to end up on the right side of the infield due to the lack of defensive tools and there are concerns about his overall hit tool after seeing his strikeout rate jump to 26% in AA. If looking for what kind of value his bat needs to provide to be an everyday player, I project him to be at least 10 runs below average between defense, baserunning, and inability to avoid double plays if given 600 plate appearances. However if limited to a part time role off the bench where he hits against LHP, the team could be able to limit the downside of his lack of defense and get some value out of the bat. Coincidentally, the new CBA introduces the designated hitter to the National League which could be an opportunity for him to get ABs vs. LHP.
RHRP Mitchell Stumpo (40 FV)
Stumpo had a big year as he pitched well across 4 levels with most of his appearances coming in AA. Stumpo’s 4SFB was 93-96 in the fall with a spin rate around 2400 RPM and a cutter/slider hybrid in the mid 80s with spin rates around 2600. Given how quickly he’s been able to convert from a D-III position player to pitcher, there may be more left in the tank. If there isn’t Stumpo is an up and down arm who can be deployed in medium-leverage situations, although he saw a lot of late-inning work with Amarillo. Since he’s Rule 5 eligible next off-season expect him to get a look in the MLB bullpen if the team needs another movable arm.
Which prospect are you most excited to arrive in 2022?
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