Though Tommy Henry appears to have been cast into the wilderness, the Diamondbacks are continuing to promote their young pitchers, and get their feet wet in the major leagues. While Brandon Pfaadt has been putting up all the shiny numbers for Reno, the team has opted to go with a less-heralded prospect, in the shape of Drey Jameson. He turned 25 last month, and was one of Arizona’s four 1st round picks in the 2019 draft, now joining Corbin Carroll in the big leagues. Taken #34 overall, Jameson came out of Ball State University.
It's a faculty whose previous most-successful player was likely outfielder Thomas Howard, who played 11 years in MLB. 2017 D-back Jeremy Hazelbaker was also a Ball alumni. Jameson didn't even get to throw a dozen innings in pro-ball, before COVID shut everything down for the 2020 season. But when things reopened last year, he started in High-A Hillsboro, and got promoted to Double-A Amarillo at the beginning of August, after striking out 77 batters in 64.1 innings for the Hops. He added 68 more Ks over 46.1 IP as a Sod Poodle. His 11.8 overall strikeout rate ranked second among D-backs starting prospects, behind only Ryne Nelson, and slightly ahead of Pfaadt's 10.9 per 9 IP.
He began this season in Amarillo again, and it took less than a month before Jameson was moving on up. In his last three Double-A outings, he gave up one run in 17 innings, with a K:BB of 20:1. However, the results at Reno have been less impressive. Over 22 starts and 114 IP, Drey has a 6.95 ERA. While he is still striking out close to a batter per inning (109 Ks), he also allowed 21 home-runs. There hasn't been much improvement. His last six starts, Jameson is 1-5 with a 7.79 ERA and seven HR over 34.2 innings. On the other hand... it's Reno and the Pacific Coast League. At least, I hope that is a significant factor.
The D-backs seem to think so, manager Torey Lovullo saying of the PCL, “The guys that come here, we throw the numbers out. We’re focusing on the data.” And Drey may have the best stuff of any Arizona prospect. Pitching coordinator Dan Carlson said, “He has all the things that you can’t teach guys, You can help guys improve their skills, but I can’t teach everybody to throw 100. I can’t teach everybody to get super sink on their fastball or nasty slide to their slider.” That velocity is particularly appealing in a system where we have frequently bemoaned the lack of fireballing pitchers. Only one of the 2,910 MLB pitches this year which reached three digits, came from an Arizona arm (this one, by Luis Frias to Jazz Chisholm).
MLB.com currently rate Jameson as the Diamondbacks' #9 overall prospect, and #5 pitcher. Their assessment is: "Jameson has a lightning-quick arm and sits in the mid-90s, with the ability to touch triple digits with his four-seam fastball. He also added a two-seam fastball to his repertoire last season, which is turning into another solid offering and some feel it may be better than his four-seamer. He complements the fastballs with an effective changeup and a pair of hard breaking balls. The sinking changeup, which profiles well with the two-seam fastball, is currently Jameson’s best off-speed pitch, though his slider could eventually take over that role."
Over on si.com, Michael ranked Jameson at #6 and the third-best pitcher. "This spring, he flashed 100+ in shorter bursts. He pairs up the gas with a slider: he manipulates the shape well, with Statcast potentially misclassifying some of them as cutters when it’s a harder and more subtle break. He also has a curveball, which uses a similar grip to the slider but Jameson has worked on being able to differentiate it from his slider. He rounds it out with a changeup, which is seldom-used but an effective fourth offering."
There are concerns. A few places have expressed doubt over whether Jameson can stick as a starter. His small stature, perhaps under the listed six feet, is a mark against him. Baseball America said "hitters are able to identify the ball early in his delivery, causing his fastball to play below its velocity." But it appears Arizona will give him the chance at the highest level in that role. The major league results from Arizona’s pitching prospects have been mixed, to put it mildly, over the past few seasons. For every Ryne Nelson there has been a Corbin Martin or J.B. Bukauakas. I'm still excited to see what Jameson can do, and with spots likely open in the 2023 rotation, these last few weeks offer a glimpse of the future for the Diamondbacks.