A look at the D-backs’ wealth of young talent
SCOTTSDALE — In 2006, industry bible Baseball America placed seven Diamondbacks in its annual preseason Top 100, a scout-informed survey of the top talent at the minor league level. The magazine hit the nail on the head.
That D-backs class, which included Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson and Chris Young, played a large role on the D-backs team that won the NL West in 2007. Most were around for the 2011 encore title.
Arizona is it again.
The Diamondbacks have six players in Baseball America’s Top 100 this spring. If the past is prologue, the D-backs are headed in the right direction.
The prospects, by the numbers:
No. 25 — Archie Bradley
No. 26 — Braden Shipley
No. 40 — Aaron Blair
No. 57 — Yasmany Tomas
No. 71 — Touki Toussaint
No. 78 — Jake Lamb
Until prediction becomes production, prospects are just that. More often than not, their tools translate at the highest level, although an injury or the inability to make (and keep making) the final necessary adjustments can detour some.
But the greater volume of talent, the greater the chance for some to make it to the top — and the D-backs rank third in the majors with six players in the top 100 this spring. Only Boston and the New York Mets have more, with seven apiece. Both those teams have five players in the top 80. The D-backs have six. The Chicago Cubs have six in the top 100 and five in the top 80.
Show of hands — who watched the 2014 World Series? Kansas City had nine players in Baseball America’s 2011 Top 100, including corner infielders Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery also were on that list, and Royals general manager Dayton Moore turned that trio into World Series mainstays James Shields and Wade Davis in a trade with Tampa Bay.
"I always look back … you look back at the Kansas City Royals last year," D-backs manager Chip Hale said when talking about talent in the organization’s pipeline.
"For years you heard about all the talent they had in the minor leagues. They are winning PCL championships. They are winning in the Texas League. All of a sudden, here those players come. I think that’s what we are kind of building in the organization. People don’t buy that until you win at the big league level. We’re getting a lot of winning ballplayers that are coming through the system, which should be important."
The most important question — when will young players take the final step? — is never easy to answer.
"I guess my answer is, we’ll see," Hale said.
Here is a look at the D-backs’ sextet on the cusp, as seen through Baseball America’s eyes. (Grades are on the scouting scale of 20-80, with 80 the highest.)
2011 first-round draft pick (seventh overall)
6-4, 235, 23 on Aug. 10
After a dominating 2013 minor league season that vaulted him into contention for a spot in 2014 rotation, Bradley suffered a mild flexor strain early last season and worked most of the season to return to form.
A few words from BA: "Some evaluators now see Bradley as a future No. 3 starter, with the proviso that improved command will get him back to the original projection of a frontline starter."
6-3, 190, turned 23 on Feb. 22
2013 first-round draft pick (15th overall)
Shipley moved from low-A South Bend to Class AA Mobile as a quick riser last season, when he also was invited to the Futures Game. A former shortstop in college, he is gifted athlete.
A few words from BA: "His fastball is a plus pitch in the mid-90s with late life and arm-side sink. His clean delivery projects to give him plus command. Shipley projects as at least a No. 3 starter."
6-5, 230, 23 on May 26
2013 supplemental first-round draft pick (36th overall)
Blair and Shipley have followed very similar paths since being selected 21 picks apart in the 2013 draft. Blair made three stops last season, too, finishing in Mobile. He averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings and had a 1.14 WHIP last season while junking his slider to concentrate on his curve ball.
A few words from BA: "Increased arm speed and an improved curveball caused Blair’s stock to jump in 2014. He has good control, and some scouts project solid-average command thanks to his clean, repeatable delivery and his big hands.
6-1, 252, 25 on Nov. 14
2014 free agent, signed for $68.5 million
Tomas is the latest in a line of Cuban sluggers to leave the island for the United State in recent years, after Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu. A big man, Tomas will be given a long look at third base, although it is not his most familiar position. He will serve in a production spot in the lineup.
A few words from BA: "Plus-plus raw power is the calling card for Tomas, a strong man with big lift in his swing. Tomas does a good job of staying inside the ball and can drive pitches to the opposite field. At times he sells out for power, resulting in a swing with holes and a tendency to chase pitches out of the strike zone."
6-3, 185, 19 on June 20
2014 first-round draft pick (16th overall)
Toussaint’s father was a politician who served in the government in Haiti, and he grew up playing soccer, not baseball, until he took up the sport at age 11. The D-backs were thrilled that Toussaint was available with their top pick last year, since most projections had him going in the top 10.
A few words from BA: "With big hands and a long wingspan, he uses explosive arm speed to deliver a fastball in the 90-95 mph range with plus life. He’s athletic and the ball comes out of his hand easy. Toussaint has ace potential if he tames his control."
6-3, 220, 25 on Oct. 9
2012 sixth-round draft pick (213th overall)
Lamb tore up the Southern League while a little more than months with Mobile last season, his first look at Class AA. He led the Southern League in batting average (.318) and was second in on-base percentage, slugging and RBI. He made a brief stop at Class AAA Reno before spending the final six weeks in the majors, where he had four homers and 11 RBI in 37 games.
A few words from BA: "He has above-average power to all fields, driving the ball even in Mobile’s pitcher-friendly park. His long swing can lead to high strikeout totals, but he has a good approach at the plate and draws his share of walks."