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Minor League Report: Amarillo Sod Poodles

Where is the slugging?

Arkansas Travelers v Amarillo Sod Poodles Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

Youngest affiliation.

This Sod Poodles team is a very young franchise, not playing their first game until 2019. Back then it was the Double A team of the San Diego Padres, who had been playing as the San Antonio Missions until 2019.

But a new San Antonio Missions was to appear as a Triple A team, the former Colorado Springs Sky Sox, attached to the Milwaukee Brewers, so the original Missions moved to Amarillo and became the Sod Poodles.

The happy marriage with the Padres didn’t last long and after the cancelled minor league season in 2020 and the overhaul, the Diamondbacks exchanged the Jackson Generals for the Amarillo Sod Poodles. The Padres in 2021 returned to the San Antonio Missions, as the Brewers didn’t extend their two-year player development plan, and the team in San Antonio was downgraded to a Double A team again.

So in the end, Amarillo should thank the Brewers for their existence.

The first season in 2019 in Amarillo was highly successful as the team won the league and the division. Then in 2021, now as a Diamondbacks team, pitching held the team back to a 59-61 record. The same happened in 2022, with the team ending with a 68-69 record. A bit of a disappointment, with the Sod Poodles’ hitting squad being the best in the league, but the pitching staff the worst.

Although offensively the team doesn’t hit as well in 2023 as in 2022, the Sod Poodles are still one of the better teams in offence, with a combined .773 OPS that puts them as league second. But, again, in pitching the team is struggling with a 5.87 ERA and 1.602 WHIP well above league average. Just like in Hillsboro the team’s plague is the walks allowed and I can already tell you in advance that there is no outstanding pitcher in Amarillo (anymore) this season.

The sluggers.

Ryan Bliss: one of the top offensive guys in the Texas league.

He barely makes the MLB Pipeline Top 30, but the 2021 second round pick (below slot signing of $1,250,000) is finally showing some of the potential the Diamondbacks were hoping for when they drafted him. With Lawlar at shortstop, Bliss now gets the majority of his reps at 2B, which is probably the spot where he would hit the majors. Bliss did fine in Visalia, struggled in Hilsboro but is now one of the better offensive threats in Amarillo. He has a high BABIP this season, so maybe we should not be overenthousiastic about the .363/.401/.596 batting line, although he now leads the league in OPS after the promotion of Tristin English. His slugging and 10 homeruns are all Top 10 in the league. With such a high batting average, it doesn’t hurt that he hardly takes a walk. Bliss also strikes out less than before. So it is definitely a step up from what he showed in Hillsboro and getting on the bases as much as he does has resulted in a team-leading 19 stolen bases so far, a top 10 in the league. Bliss is definitely stepping into the “who knows” area.

A.J. Vukovich: finding a place in left field.

Just like Bliss Vukovich has been looking around where he will finally end up as scouting reports aren’t too high about his defensive value. He has had his share of games at 3B, but has mostly been deployed in left field, so it looks like the Diamondbacks hope he can hold himself up there. Obviously, the Diamondbacks bank on the raw power from this 2020 4th round pick and in Amarillo he has shown his worth in that area with a .512 SLG and an almost league leading 12 homeruns. But in the Texas League that SLG isn’t Top 10 slugging material (although still a well placed top 15) and the struggles with the aggressive approach haven’t disappeared: his strikeout percentage is still close to 30% while his walk percentage is a minuscule 6.7%, although slightly up from his career averages. But he is one of the younger players in AA so there is still room for improvement.

Jordan Lawlar: getting better.

Ranked as the no. 1 prospect in the Diamondbacks farm at MLB Pipeline thanks to the early struggles of Druw Jones, Lawlar’s hit tool can still be questioned, as his .248 batting average is definitely not impressive at all. But he has a healthy walk rate of 11.5% and his strikeout percentage has improved this year, although it is still above 20%. Though there are questions about the hit tool, Lawlar has showed quite some pop in AA this season and his 10 homeruns is Top 10 in the league. Just like Bliss Lawlar has shown great speed this season with a good 17 stolen bases. His 5 errors at shortstop aren’t what you hope from who is supposed to become our future shortstop in the majors, but Lawlar is still just 20 years old (a month away from becoming 21) and one of the youngest players in the Texas League.

Other ones to follow.

Adrian Del Castillo: getting hot.

He isn’t really known for his defensive skills and, according to FanGraphs, has no chance to stick at catcher. Nonetheless, that is where the Diamondbacks have been playing him most of the time in Amarillo and his caugh-stealing percentage of 29% is quite good. Offensively, the 2021 2nd round pick of the MLB amateur draft is getting hotter and hotter. After a slow start of the season the lefty has an impressive .286/.397/.592 slash line in June. This season, unlike previous years, he has struggled against left-handed pitching with a sad .606 OPS, so there is room for even more improvement.

Deyvison De Los Santos: adapting to AA.

Before becoming 20 years old yesterday (congratulations!), highly touted prospect Deyvison de los Santos was one of just two 19 year old prospects in AA. That says quite a bit about his pedigree and his rise in the ranks of the farm system has been spectacular, playing at Rookie and A in 2021 and finishing in AA in 2022 after starting the season in A. All that for just a $200,000 international signing bonus in 2019. De Los Santos is more than 4.5 years younger than the average player in the Texas League, so we should not be too sad about his .206/.277/.322 batting line. However, his underwhelming strikeout and walk percentages are in line with his career rates in the US thus far and so is his power in Amarillo this year when compared to the short stint in 2022. Add to that the low BABIP but even if that improves he probably won’t top the .700 OPS. He hits a ton of ground balls, so he needs to find his stroke and power back, and 2023 is probably more of learning and adjusting than anything else for the Dominican.

Conor Grammes: it is still possible.

Grammes is a tale of injuries and bad luck. Bad luck as in getting drafted in 2019 and then not pitching in 2020. Bad luck also as in getting injured in 2021 just a couple of games in and then not returning until mid July 2022 because of a UCL. Then a couple of months later back on the IL with an undisclosed injury, as far as I could find. That means he has pitched just a total of 85.2 innings ever since entering professional baseball in 2019. Grammes is highly thought of due to his stuff and the upper 90s fastball, but command has been a huge problem in the few appearances he has had. He hasn’t given up much hits, nor has he given up a homerun, and the strikeout rates are good, in both Hillsboro where he started the season as in Amarillo now. But the walks are a major concern, currently a 8.3 BB/9. But I guess it would already be a major accomplishment if Grammes stays healthy this year.

Who else?

  • You could be surprised to see Cam Duzenack in AA. After an unimpressive 2021 season in Reno, the 28 year old took a step back in 2022 and has played nearly all of 2023 in Amarillo. There he owns an impressive .305/.440/.509, but the problem is he no longer has a position and is being used as a plumber.
  • One of the top international Diamondbacks signings in 2017 ($600,000), Neyfy Castillo is another young kid, 22 years old, who showed some promising numbers in Visalia in 2021 and Hillsboro in 2022. This year he is struggling immensely in Amarillo with a K% over 35%, numbers that have been attached to his name ever since stepping over to the professional baseball leagues in the US. Those are lethal numbers when your batting average is a mere .220 and the walk percentage a tiny 5.8%.
  • Will Josh Green ever reach the major leagues? He had a rough season in Reno in 2021 and a terrible 2022 for both Reno and, after a demotion, Amarillo. This season it looks like the stuff is returning with a 2.82 ERA and 0.940 WHIP. It looks more to what he achieved in Visalia and that was 4 years ago and Green is now 27 years old. Time to step up.
  • Austin Pope is a 15th round draft pick of the 2019 MLB Amateur draft who moved to the bullpen after a disastrous 2021 starting performance in Visalia. He had to adapt to his new role in 2022 and was slaughtered in Amarillo, giving up a homerun every 2 appearances. Now Pope has found his place and has quietly become one of the better relievers on the team, albeit mostly pitching in middle relief. Still, a 3.08 K/BB is something to build on this season.
  • Jackson Goddard looks to be on a similar track as Levi Kelly. A 3rd round pick of the 2018 MLB Amateur draft, Goddard had a terrific 2019 in Kane County. Then came COVID and UCL that left him without pitching in both 2020 and 2021. He returned in July 2022 with the Hops and started the season in Amarillo but also spent some time on the Development List. Goddard is currently on a 7.23 ERA. There might still be some potential here as the 11.0 K/9 is quite good, but currently he allows too much walks and homers.
  • Another sad story is Mitchell Stumpo. It all started well, as Stumpo stormed through the Diamondbacks organisation in 2021, all the way from A to AAA. A great accomplishment for an undrafted amateur signing in 2019. But last year in Reno he struggled hugely with his command, although he wasn’t really punished for that, ending the season with a 3.53 ERA and 1.338 WHIP. He had a good showing for Team Italy at the WBC, but once back in Reno the wheels fell off (7 appearances, 23.40 ERA, 4.800 WHIP, 0.17 K/BB) and he was transferred to the Development List. He was activated again early May, but now in Amarillo. The strikeouts have returned, but so have the walks and in general Stumpo is very hittable. You could wonder how much longer the team is willing to keep up with this, because Stumpo is already 27 years old.
  • Blake Workman is another guy who might ring a bell, we actually considered him as a possible 40-man roster addition ahead of the Rule 5 draft. Just like some others in this article he made a name for himself in Kane County in 2019 but ever since making the step to AA in 2021 has been struggling with the long ball. The strikeout potential was interesting, with a 10.9 K/9 in the minors, but especially this 2023 and in 2022 he had troubles keeping the ball in the yard. After giving up 11 homeruns in 17 games, the Diamondbacks recently released Workman on June 19.