While the Diamondbacks are in the process of reloading their farm system, there have been some very notable happenings with  current crop of minor leaguers. The most noticeable change can be seen in AAA Reno, where they not longer have the services of Didi Gregorius. He, of course, was called up to the majors for the first time since being sent down after the Australia series. A relatively serious injury to Cliff Pennington paved the way for this move, although Gregorius had been doing everything he needed to do to earn a call-up while in Reno. He was sporting a .310/.389/.447 line through 57 games when he was called up. Keep in mind, Reno is a hell of a place to play if you’re a hitter, and the same can be said for the bulk of the Pacific Coast League. Still, this should prove rather interesting as Chris Owings has slumped a bit after his hot start, leading to the same old question: who’s our shortstop? It’ll likely remain Owings for now, but either Didi or Aaron Hill may be moved this season before the trade deadline. The organization has enough holes, they need to use the chips they have to fill them.

Of other highly encouraging news, right-hander and 2013 first round pick Braden Shipley was promoted to High-A Visalia recently. His numbers in South Bend weren’t overwhelming, but this is the exact reason why minor league numbers, especially at the lower levels, can be so misleading. According to reports, Shipley was pitching very well for the Silver Hawks, better than his 3.74 ERA would indicate. He joins fellow 2013 top pick Aaron Blair in his promotion as the two climb the ranks together. Keith Law of ESPN recently ranked Shipley as the 23rd best prospect in the game, not all that far behind wonderkid Archie Bradley (who was ranked 12th). The Diamondbacks’ woes in the rotation may not last forever, although it kind of feels like it if you’ve been keeping up with the team this year. Hope is on the horizon, even if it is still a ways off.

In other less encouraging news, other Diamondbacks top pitching prospect Jose Martinez has been shut down for the year after undergoing stress fracture surgery in his elbow. The young flame-thrower had arguably the most upside of any pitcher in the system, which is saying something in comparison to Bradley and Shipley. The 20-year old Dominican threw a grand total of six innings this season, which will not speed up his development whatsoever. It could be worse (shoulder surgery), but this appears to be a major blow to his stock. We’ll have to wait patiently for his return. He ranked 4th on Jason Parks’ top-10 list of the Diamondbacks via Baseball Prospectus. Here’s what Parks had to say about Martinez:

The 19-year-old has some of the best arm speed in the minors, a lighting-fast release that makes an already sexy fastball play even sexier because of its combination of velocity and late action. The build, the arm speed, and the potent fastball/curveball combo reminds some scouts of Yordano Ventura, but the overall pitchability is below average and drags the utility of the arsenal down. With improved command, Martinez could emerge as a premier prospect in baseball…

Obviously tough news for Martinez and the organization as he had work to do but will have to wait until at least 2015 to do it. Now on to the rest of the update.

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Andrew Velaquez remains on a tear through the Midwest League. The kid took home top honors in the last Minor League Update and apparently hasn’t cooled off. This is a pleasant surprise from the 2012 7th-round pick out of a Bronx, NY high school. He wasn’t necessarily highly regarded when drafted and some thought it was a reach on the part of the Diamondbacks, but the kid continues to develop and progress. This has to be seen as a win so far for the Arizona player development system. At just 19-year old, the sky’s the limit for him, although he’s really yet to be tested at anything higher than Single-A. A promotion could be coming soon.

The pitching staff has had to deal with the loss of three of the four top arms in the system (Shipley, Martinez, Blair), yet the team remains in first place. Of particular note, lefty Daniel Gibson has turned April’s cold start into a red-hot month of May, where he hasn’t given up a run in his last ten appearances out of the Silver Hawks’ bullpen. The 2013 7th round selection could be getting the call to Visalia any day. Hector Hernandez has done a nice job of filling the shoes of the departed pitchers mentioned above, but at this stage in his career, isn’t anything more than an organizational arm.

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The hitter-friendly California League forces all observes to take a heavy dose of context into account when looking at offensive stats, but what Alex Glenn and Brandon Drury are doing is kind of ridiculous, even for that run environment. Both guys have remained hot since we last checked in. Glenn was a 12th rounder back in 2012 while Drury was the best prospect acquired in the Justin Upton deal a few years back. Drury is the better prospect and continues to turn heads. He recently appeared on Baseball Prospectus’ “What Scouts are Saying” feature, where an anonymous scout noted that Drury continues to grow and impress while looking more and more like a guy that will be a regular in the majors in the middle of a batting order. This is clearly welcomed news and I’ve been high on the kid since last year, before many were following him closely.

There haven’t been many notable pitching performances for the Rawhide in recent days, but that’s largely due to the tough park to pitch in. What’s most intriguing is that Braden Shipley made his High-A debut a few nights back, going six innings while surrendering four earned. He did strike out seven and walk only two, which has to be encouraging since it’s the highest level he’s faced as a pro. Two home runs really hurt him, but that’s the price you pay as a pitcher in the California League. Aaron Blair remains solid for the ‘Hide, but continues to yield fly balls, which could end up being problematic. This team has a big time strikeout guy in the bullpen in Enrique Burgos, but control continues to allude him as he’s walking over half a batter per inning. At 23, he needs to start ironing out his command or he’ll never progress. If he does, he could move quickly as the arm should play at higher levels as long as he can control it.

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In Mobile, the biggest story has been Jon Griffen’s epic home run streak. He’s fallen back to earth and is hitting .268/.363/.525 on the season, which isn’t terrible, but is hardly incredible for a 25-year old in AA. Top prospect Jake Lamb, on the other hand, has but a mediocre start behind him and is really heating up. Over his last ten games he’s raking to the tune of .410/.489/.795 with eight doubles. This is a welcomed sign and he’s destined for Reno at some point. Considering the woes in the Diamondbacks’ outfield, someone to contribute at third base could push Martin Prado into the outfield, which might be a good thing. This is a ways off and Mark Trumbo should be healthy by then, but it’s always good to have the kids knocking on the door. Lamb has cut down his strikeout rate in AA, his highest level played, which should help ease the concerns over his penchant to swing and miss.

Starting pitching has been a sore spot for the BayBears of late after Chase Anderson was promoted to the majors and Andrew Chafin was promoted to AAA Reno. Starter Bradin Haggens took home Minor League Pitcher of the Month honors for May, but his production hasn’t been as enticing as the award would suggest. The bullpen has had to pick up the slack and they’ve done a reasonable job of that. Top relief prospects Jake Barrett and Jimmie Sherfy have had some up-and-down results and appear a ways off yet. They’re getting opportunities to pitch in high leverage situations, though, so they should emerge stronger for the experience.

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A couple of veteran bats have been driving the Aces, who have won six straight and are just a game back in their division. Mike Jacobs earned Minor League Player of the Month honors for May and is tearing up the PCL. Like years past, Jacobs could be trade bait at the deadline for someone looking to add a veteran bat. At this point, he’s nothing more than bandaid for a contending team, but maybe he gets himself out of AAA purgatory this summer. We’ll have to wait and see. Shortstop prospect Nick Ahmed has been holding his own in Reno .296/.383/.376 on the year. The knock on the defensive superstar has been his ability to hit, and while the PCL is a hitters’ paradise, he’s doing a good job of showing that he’s not exactly lost at the plate. Should an infielder get traded this summer, and before Pennington returns, Ahmed could find himself in the majors.

Mike Bolsinger has taken back to AAA with a vengeance and is making the case for himself to get another shot at the majors. While he lacks the bat-missing abilities to be a major league star, he’s showing some growth and looks capable of improving upon his debut. Keep in mind that he’s doing this in a run environment that absolutely punishes pitchers and it’s even more impressive. Matt Stites, the return on Ian Kennedy‘s trade to the Padres, has moved up to Reno and was installed as the team’s closer. He’s hitting the upper 90’s with his heat and has had a string of good outing so far in AAA. You’d like to see him walk fewer hitters, but his control hasn’t been atrocious. Big league hitters will be tougher customers, however, so that appears to be the one thing he could stand to improve. There’s a reasonable chance that he’s the next minor leaguer called up to the bullpen if and when someone is needed. Will Harris could also fill this role and he’s been solid AAA, although not stellar.

The Diamondbacks do not boast one of the stronger farm systems in baseball, but they aren’t completely devoid of talent either. This year’s draft will help with that, but they could also stand to trade a few veterans if the opportunity arrises given that they’re well out of contention.

One last note, brought to you by Darren Willman of baseballsavant.com, is a minor league winning percentage chart for every organization. The Diamondbacks are just behind the Mets for top honors. They’re winning, just not at the major league level. Still, organizations always like to bring up their prospects in a winning environment and Arizona is doing that in 2014.

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4 Responses to Minor League Update: Didi called up, Shipley promoted

  1. Puneet says:

    What happened to Will Harris? He looked so promising last year. It looks like Matt Stites/Evan Marshall could provide some stability in our bullpen for the future.

  2. Jeff Wiser says:

    Honestly, most journeyman relief pitchers are basically what Will Harris is: okay when they’re on, AAA guys when they’re not. That’s really why they’re relievers in the first place. If they were better, they’d be starters. Bullpens in baseball are super volatile, can’t get too attached.

  3. Mike Smith says:

    Didn’t I recently read that Dave “the Guru” Duncan said our minor league system was virtually void of big league arms? That doesn’t quite agree with the picture you are painting.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      Mike, I didn’t see the comments you’re referencing, but I did hear his harsh criticism of Archie Bradley. With that said, there’s only three guys that look like big league pitchers who can be above replacement level in Shipley, Bradley and possibly Aaron Blair. There a handful of others who might have some success in the back end of the rotation as fill-in types. What the team is lacking is impact. While Shipley and Bradley may be able to deliver it, there’s almost no one else who appears to be in the game-changing mold, and as we know, no one is a sure bet.

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