D-backs add two power arms on draft's first day
JUN 06, 2013 6:43p ET
The D-backs landed Nevada right-hander Braden Shipley in the first round with the No. 15 overall pick before taking Marshall righty Aaron Blair at No. 36 overall in the compensation round.
Much like two years ago, when they landed highly-touted hurlers Trevor Bauer and Archie Bradley in the first round, the D-backs were thrilled to add a pair of polished arms early in the draft this year, further stocking a system already deep with pitching.
"I don't know that there's any organization in baseball that ever feels like 'We're good on the mound, we don't need anybody,'" D-backs scouting directory Ray Montgomery said. "So to add these two guys behind what we already have in the (Patrick) Corbins, the (Wade) Mileys, the (Tyler) Skaggs, the (David) Holmbergs, the (Andrew) Chafins, the Bradleys ... yeah, I'm excited about it."
While Montgomery declined to make any comparisons for the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Shipley, he did mention his athleticism in the same breath as that of Bradley, who is regarded by some as the D-backs No. 1 pitching prospect.
"He is a very good athlete," Montgomery said. "I think sometimes pitchers get lumped in as not being part of that, and I think with Archie and this guy, you're talking about two premium athletes who happen to be pitchers -- and very good ones."
Entering the draft, the 21-year-old Shipley was ranked as a top-10 prospect by Scout.com, Baseball America, MLB.com and Perfect Game. Accordingly, the D-backs were pleasantly surprised he was still available at No. 15.
"If you had asked me in February and March if I thought he would have been there at 15, I probably would have told you no," Montgomery said.
A junior, Shipley made 15 starts (107 1/3 innings) for Nevada last season, going 7-3 with a 2.77 ERA, 102 strikeouts and 34 walks. He earned Mountain West Conference Co-Pitcher of the Year honors.
Shipley pitched in high school but was recruited to Nevada as a shortstop. He barely pitched his freshman season but was a second-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection as an infielder. After that season, though, he went to Nevada manager Gary Powers and said he wanted to pitch.
"I went into coaches office after that year and said, 'Hey, listen, we're losing a lot of guys this year, I really want to be the Friday guy and I think I can help us out,'" Shipley said on a conference call Thursday. "I've always loved pitching, and I'm a guy that loves to compete and wants the ball."
The move proved fruitful, as Shipley went 9-4 with a conference-best 2.20 ERA his sophomore year and earned WAC Pitcher of the Year honors. After his sophomore season, Shipley went to play in the Alaska Baseball League, where he went 1-2 with a 2.76 ERA.
Scouting reports on Shipley say his fastball sits in the low-to-mid-90s and tops out in the high 90s. His fastball gets plenty of attention, but some believe his changeup is his best pitch. Shipley also throws a curveball as a third pitch that's expected to improve with experience.
"That curveball is really coming along for me," Shipley said. "It shouldn't take long before I have three 'plus' pitches."
Baseball America wrote Thursday that Shipley "also pitches with a mean streak on the mound and is fearless when it comes to challenging hitters and owning the inner half of the plate." The site also said Shipley immediately ranks as the organization's No. 2 pitching prospect, behind only Bradley.
"The one thing that really intrigued me in the end wasn't just what he does now, it's what I think he's capable of doing in the future," Montgomery said. "The athleticism and the combination of his ceiling was just too good a package to pass."
Montgomery said it's not clear yet where or when Montgomery will start his D-backs career once he signs. Same goes for Blair, whom Montgomery said has a similar power style.
Blair, 21, had a career 9-16 record at Marshall but in 2013 went 5-5 with a 2.85 ERA and was a Conference USA first-team selection this season. A Las Vegas native, Blair was drafted by the Astros in the 21st round of the 2010 draft but opted to go to school. Playing in the Cape Cod League last summer, Blair went 6-0 with a league-best 1.17 ERA.
Blair's fastball sits in the low 90s, and scouting reports say it has strong late movement. He also throws a solid curveball and a changeup on which scouts can't agree. Some say the changeup likely will be average at best, while others say the low-80s change is a true out pitch.
"They go about it differently; one's a little bit more physical -- Mr. Blair -- but they're strike-throwers, they eat innings," Montgomery said. "For us to get guys like that -- big, physical guys on the mound -- that's what we're looking for."
Blair recently tested positive for Adderall, a stimulant commonly used to treat attention deficit disorder that is banned without a prescription in by the NCAA. Montgomery said the positive test has been addressed and there are no concerns about it. Blair approached Montgomery and D-backs general manager Kevin Towers before reports of the test came out.
"I had a lengthy conversation with him during our pre-draft workout," Montgomery said. "He was regretful about it and remorseful. ... I respect him for coming forward and being open about it."
The D-backs changed gears a little with their final pick of the day, selecting Terrebonne (La.) High School outfielder Justin Williams in the second round with the 52nd overall pick. Williams, just 17 years old, is committed to LSU, though Montgomery said he doesn't expect any issues signing him or the team's first two picks.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Williams is praised for his raw power and bat speed. He batted .333 (22 for 66) with seven doubles, four home runs, 13 RBI and 18 runs scored this season. Last year, Williams played in the Perfect Game All-American Classic at PETCO Park and the Under Armour All-American Game at Wrigley Field, winning the home run derby at both events.
Montgomery said Williams, who played shortstop in high school, projects as a corner outfielder going forward. He'll likely join the D-backs for the Rookie League season.
"He's certainly not as advanced as obviously two college right-handers," Montgomery said. "But I'm excited to add that type of power. It's getting harder and harder to find."
The draft continues Friday, with the D-backs selecting at No. 88 overall in the third round.