Welcome my loyal Prospect disciples, sit back, relax, drink your coffee, crack a Beck’s if you wish, and get your popcorn ready. For Minor League Preview season has returned! Today we start with the improving Arizona Diamondbacks system, though improving might be disingenuous as this might have been the worst system I covered last season. Then again, there wasn’t even any mention of Jon Duplantier in last year’s write up, so maybe it was on me. Then again, again, when in doubt blame Dave Stewart, so I will. Dave Stewart, it’s your fault!! Your low brimed ice grille no longer has the same affect it had in your Oakland A’s salad days!!! Enough about Dave Stweart. For we are just a little over 12 months into the Mike Hazen era, and so far it is glorious. Big shouts to Abington, Massachusetts. Hazen has not only righted the ship on the major league level, he’s also coming off a strong draft, that was a thirst quenching boost to a thirsty system. In fact four of the players discussed in today’s breakdown were selected in last June’s draft. This shouldn’t come as a shock as the Princeton grad started his front office career in player development, and scouting, helping to build the Red Sox current young core. Needless to say Arizona is a system on the rise, let’s see what they have blooming on the farm.
Author’s Note: This season I’m switching up the Minor League Previews, scrapping the tiered system that I’ve used for the last few years, in favor of a more standard ranking system. There was a fair amount of confusion regarding the tiers, so I’ve decided to move to a more standard ranking.
1. Jon Duplantier, RHP | Level: A+ | 2017 Stats: 12-3, 136 IP, 1.39 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 165 K, 42 Bb
Following a shoulder injury late in his final season at Rice, Duplantier headed to pro-ball last year, hurt, and in need of a mechanics tweak. The righty spent the off-season refining his delivery, which resulted in a healthy season of domination across both levels of A ball. In fact Duplantier’s 1.39 ERA was the lowest in the minors since Justin Verlander’s 1.29 in 2005. The righty relies on a four pitch mix, led by his low to mid 90’s sinking fastball, plus slider, and above average curveball and changeup offerings. Looks like a mid-rotation arm with strikeout upside. I imagine Duplantier is likely to start the season at AA, before seeing promotion to AAA around mid-season. A late September call-up is possible, but more than likely he makes his big league debut in 2019. ETA: Early 2019
2. Marcus Wilson, OF | Level: A | 2017 Stats: .295/.383/.446, 9 HR, 54 RBI, 15 SB
Wilson is a good all around player with some ceiling to be a fantasy difference maker. He gets above average grades for his hit tool, approach, power, and speed, he has the profile to contribute to all 5 categories in a meaningful way. The numbers speak for themselves, and though it took two years of rookie ball, Wilson was always considered a project. He’s come out the other-side a polished product with tantalizing fantasy tools. Based on early off-season prospecting, Wilson seems to be underrated on a lot of other prospect ranks, take advantage of that and buy. Likely two years away from his MLB debut, my guess is we see Wilson late 2019 or early in 2020. ETA: Early 2020
3. Pavin Smith, 1B | Level:A | 2017 Stats: .318/.401/.415 0 HR, 27 RBI, 2 SB
Let’s just get this out in the open, I’m a little nervous about Smith’s power translating to pro-ball. While Smith’s production wasn’t bad, and he did manage to connect for his first homer in a playoff game, 3-4 homers in the statline would have gone a long ways. The contact and approach are outstanding, let’s hope he can snap out of the power drought and tap into 20-25 homer power. Some view Smith as the replacement for Goldy in Arizona, but a move to a corner outfield spot would not surprise me. Could move quickly this year, a possible promotion to AAA by season end, seems reasonable if he combines his power, contact, and approach. I’d put his ETA around May-July of 2019. ETA: Early 2019
4. Andy Yerzy, C | Level: RK | 2017 Stats: .298/.365/.524 13 HR, 45 RBI, 0 SB
The 2016 second round pick broke out in a big way in 2017, mashing in advanced rookie ball. He eased questions about his propensity to swing and miss coming out of the Canadian prep ranks, by flashing a great deal more discipline, striking out 18.1% of the time. Instead of sapping power from Yerzy’s bat, the change in approach actually boosted his game power, as he slugged .524 while walking 9.6% of the time. Yerzy still has a long way to go with his defense. But the bat shows enough promise, that he could blossom into a top fantasy catcher, if he can stick behind the plate. The defense delays his ETA by at least a year. ETA: 2020
5. Daulton Varsho, C | Level: A | 2017 Stats: .311/.368/.534 7 HR, 39 RBI, 7 SB
The son of former Phillies outfielder Gary Varsho, the 2nd round supplemental pick is named after his father’s former teammate Darren Daulton. Sort of poetic justice I guess that he’s a catcher, or perhaps it’s some other film starring Tupac. As a player he brings 20 homer power, contact, on base ability, and great base-running for a catcher. He has a shot to stick in a multitude of defensive roles if catching doesn’t pan out, and the bat should play everywhere. Varsho could easily be a top 3 fantasy catcher prospect this time next year if he sticks at the position. I’m much higher on Vasho than many in the scouting, and fantasy prospecting community. I see massive offensive upside in the 2017 draftees bat. If Varsho sticks at behind the plate it’s bound to delay his arrival. I feel like I just said this… ETA: 2019
6. Anthony Banda, LHP | Level: AAA | 2017 Stats: 8-7, 122 IP, 5.39 ERA, 1.44, 116 Ks, 51 Bb
Banda is exactly how I like my lefties, hard-throwing, stone-faced, and heavily tattooed. Entering 2017 many viewed him as the best prospect in the Diamondbacks system, but an up and down season, and progress from other players in the organization has seen him drop a few spots. That said, he fits the mold of another D-Backs lefty, that took a few years to get all together, I’m of course talking about T.J. McFarland! Just kidding, I’m not a f-ing idiot, I’m talking about Robbie Ray. Banda misses bats with his combination of a plus curveball, above average mid-90’s four-seamer, and average changeup. The fastball has continued to tick up year after year maxing out at 95-96 in 2016, and jumping again to 98 MPH at times in 2017. His best offering is by far his curveball, routinely garnering plus grades from scouts across the board. Now all this might sound pretty rosy for a starter who owned a ERA over 5, and I agree it is. On the other-hand he spent the majority of the season in the PCL, and plays his home games in Reno, a hitter’s paradise. This might explain some of his home run issues, though having a “home run issue” isn’t exactly the best fit for a starter in the current environment. Particularly one that will call Arizona home. While we’re setting my previous glowing prose on fire, why don’t we touch on the log-jammed D-Backs rotation. With Grienke, Ray, Godley, Corbin, and Walker it’s butthole tight for spots, and with Shelby Miller likely expected back at some point in 2018, there’s even fewer the next two years. Meaning the most immediate impact Banda could make, may be out of the bullpen. As a hard throwing lefty with a nice 1-2 combo with his high-90’s heat and breaking ball, he might work nicely as a two inning relief type. Banda made his MLB debut in 2017, making 8 appearances, 4 of them starts. He’ll likely start the season back in Reno, but is really only a rotation option if there’s a string of injuries. ETA: 2018
7. Jazz Chisholm, SS | Level: A | 2017 Stats: .248/.325/.358, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 3 SB
After a breakout 2016 season in rookie ball, big things were expected of Chisholm entering 2017. He looked solid enough for a 19 year old in full season ball for a couple of months, before his season ended on a meniscus tear, that required surgery. The power Chisholm flashed in 2016 didn’t manifest itself, but I’m willing to give him a pass as he didn’t have time to properly adjust to the level. His strongest tools look like speed, and defense, but there’s some pop in the bat.
8. Drew Ellis, 3B | Level: A- | 2017 Stats: .227/.327/.403, 8 HR, 23 RBI, 3 SB
A polished college bat, with a lengthy track record on the biggest amateur stage, leading the Louisville to the College World Series. McKay got most of the headlines, but it was Ellis that was the most productive Cardinal at the plate, leading Louisville in batting average, homers, and RBI. Ellis brings a polished approach, and lots of flyball (47.4%), and line drive (21.5%) contact. His flyball rate in short season A likely contributed to his low BABIP (.258), so there is some hope his batting average will reach acceptable levels, as both his BABIP and FB% stabilize. I like Ellis as a pick outside the Top 50 in first year player drafts. He’s sliding a little under the radar for a polished college corner bat. Plus he’s the proud owner of a super-goofy face.
9. Cody Reed, LHP | Level: A+ | 2017 Stats: 8-8, 136.1 IP, 3.17 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 139 Ks, 41 Bb
This is Alabama Cody Reed. The younger, and at this point, more promising Cody Reed. I just can’t quit Cody Reeds, and I don’t know why. To only complicate matters, this Cody Reed is also a lefty, the big difference is Diamondbacks Cody hasn’t sucked in the majors yet. Then again he was awful in the Cal League last year, repeating the Midwest League to start 2017, before having a better second run at Cal League. Reed’s still more than a year off, but should get the call later in 2019. He mixes a fastball in the low 90’s, a sharp slider, and changeup with some fade. All of his offerings grade average, but he shows good feel for all three, playing up his arsenal. Over the course of 2017 there was marked improvement in his command and control. Had some homer issues with Visalia, but much of that may have been Cal League related. ETA: Late 2019
10. Domingo Leyba, 2B/SS | Level: AA | 2017 Stats: .279/.354/.442, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 0 SB
A shoulder injury robbed Leyba of most of 2017, but he’s an intriguing deep dynasty prospect. Leyba is not only a pun dream, he’s a switch hitting middle infielder who’s shown the ability to barrel balls from both sides of the plate. Not a bad flier to take in a league where 250+ prospects are owned. Likely two years away, but it really depends on what he does in 2018. ETA: Late 2019
11. Jimmie Sherfy, RHP | Level: AAA | 2017 Stats: 2-1, 49 IP, 3.12 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 61 Ks, 10 Bb
“Super-Fly” is ready for the bigs, and his manager Torey Lovullo knows him well, as their sons played high school baseball together. There’s an outside chance Sherfy ends up the closer next year with Rodney out of the picture, but much of that depends on what they do with “bullpen ace” Archie Bradley. Sherfy at his best misses bats with an upper-90’s heater with late life, and a nasty slider that can be nearly impossible to barrel. Logged some innings in 2017, and looks like a lock for next year’s 25 man out of camp. ETA: April 2018
12. Taylor Clarke, RHP | Level: AAA | 2017 Stats: 12-9, 145 IP, 3.35 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 138 Ks, 52 Bb
Back of the rotation type with mid-rotation upside, mixes a mid-90’s four-seamer, an average slider, and servciceable changeup with above average control and command. Not a star but a solid arm for pitching depth in deeper leagues. ETA: 2018
13. Matt Tabor, RHP | Level: Rk | 2017 Stats: 0-1, 4.2 IP, 1.93 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, 9 Ks, 0 Bb
A high upside prep righty from the Massachusetts high school ranks. Great fastball but still needs to develop secondaries, particularly his slurvy breaking ball. Has solid command for a raw cold weather arm. ETA: 2021
14. Kristian Robinson, OF | Level: N/A | 2017 Stats: Signed during International Period
Terrific athlete with power/speed upside, though it’s a long ways away, as he’s just 16. Many scouts feel he has the talent, tools, and makeup to be one of the better offensive players from this J2 class. ETA: 2022
15. Jose Almonte, RHP | Level: A | 2017 Stats: 11-8, 139.1 IP, 3.55 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 162 Ks, 66 Bb
Fireballing righty acquired in the Brad Ziegler to the Red Sox deal in 2016. Has a big mid-90’s fastball with movement, a decent slider/changeup combo, and Almonte commands all of his pitches well. Has mid-rotation upside if he can maintain his control as he moves up through the system. ETA: 2020