PHOENIX — Kevin Towers made it a priority to add depth to the Diamondbacks’ minor league system when he arrived in late 2010, and he has. The infusion of young talent should help the D-backs make the trade of their choosing this winter.
The system is especially rich in starting pitching prospects and in capable shortstops, which many consider the two most desirable market commodities. Add in a couple of third basemen and a couple more hard-throwing relievers and there is ample quality.
While it takes two to make a deal, the Diamondbacks could use their young talent as a way to either land a bigger fish or as options to plug holes if a veteran is moved. It is a comfortable place to be.
Some of the up-and-comers will be harder to reach than others. Top right-hander Archie Bradley, for example, is not going anywhere. Bradley, who just turned 21 in August, was the D-backs’ minor league pitcher of the year, and many scouts believe he can be a top-of-the-rotation starter in the major leagues.
Everyone wants him. The D-backs have him. End of story.
A look at the system.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
RHP Archie Bradley: Bradley, the seventh player taken in the 2011 draft (Trevor Bauer was No. 3) was dominating at two levels this season, blowing through the Class A California League in April before spending most of the season at Class AA Mobile. He was 14-5 with a 1.84 ERA in 26 starts, pitching with a mid-to-high-90s fastball that tops out at 99. He struck out 162 in 152 innings. Scouts would like to him locate a little better and use his secondary pitches more, but that will come with age. He will get a long look from the D-backs next spring.
SS Chris Owings: Owings was the best player in the Pacific Coast League this year while spending most of the season at age 20, making him one of the youngest players in the league. He is an aggressive hitter, as he showed in his brief September look. Teams wanted him at the trade deadline, and they certainly will be after him again this winter.
3B Matt Davidson: Davidson has shown power all the way through the system since being the 35th player taken in the 2009 draft — six picks before Owings — with 20, 23 and 17 homers in his previous full seasons while moving up a level each season. His best trait as a hitter is his ability to use the whole field, the Paul Goldschmidt approach. His footwork at third continues to improve.
LHP Tyler Skaggs: Do not let his inconsistency lull you. Skaggs still has the fastball and breaking pitch that got him to two Futures Games, and scouts still like his prospects. When he gets his fastball up to 92 mph and locates it well, he can be lights out, because that sets up his mid-70s curve. With all the hype that has followed since his acquisition with Patrick Corbin for Dan Haren at the 2010 trade deadline, it is easy to forget that Skaggs just turned 22.
POSITION OF STRENGTH
The D-backs have three young shortstops who appear to be major league-capable, and one veteran major league scout believes that gives the organization a great deal of leverage moving forward.
“There is big value in major league shortstops, and they have three options” with the emergence of Owings this season, the scout said.
Didi Gregorius’ range and arm strength are well above major league average, and some in the organization believe Class AA Mobile shortstop Nick Ahmed has just as many tools. Ahmed won the minor league Gold Glove at short this year.
Owings is the most offensive-minded of the three, and Towers has indicated that Owings and Gregorius could be used in a tag-team situation next season if they are both around since Owings hits right-handed and Gregorius hits lefty. Towers also suggested that Ahmed could be a long-range alternative if a shortstop were to be moved. Cliff Pennington is under contract for 2014, but Willie Bloomquist is a free agent.
“Owings can swing the bat,” the scout said. “He can run, throw, range. Extra-base-hit power. He can really whip the bat through the hitting zone.”
CLASS OF 2013
Right-handers Braden Shipley of the University of Nevada and Aaron Blair of Marshall, the D-backs’ top two draftees, started the season at short-season Hillsboro but were promoted to Class A South Bend late in the regular season. They were instrumental in the Silver Hawks’ run to the championship series; Blair had two postseason victories and Shipley had one.
Third-round pick Matt Palka, a first baseman from Georgia Tech, hit .310/.392/.516 with nine homers and 48 RBIs at two stops.
Seventh-round pick Daniel Gibson, a left-hander from the University of Florida, gave up two earned runs in 28 2/3 innings. He profiles as a situational specialist, but the D-backs will not rush him into that role.
Right-hander Jimmie Sherfy, a 10th-rounder out of the University of Oregon who is just 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, hits 98 mph with his fastball and has a swing-and-miss slider. He had seven regular-season saves in 17 appearances and two more saves in the playoffs at South Bend.