The minor league season is in full swing, as all eight minor league affiliates are now playing. After the draft, the Hillsboro Hops (SS-Rookie Advanced) Missoula Osprey (SS-Rookie), Arizona Rookie League D-backs (Complex) and Dominican Summer League D-backs (International) all started their seasons, with the exception of the Dominican team who had started just prior. They’re all underway now, and rather than give the full breakdowns, we’ll take a brief departure from the usual form and instead discuss these lower levels by identifying which players we’ll want to keep a close eye on as the season progresses. Let’s get right to it as there’s a lot of ground to cover.
DSL Diamondbacks – Players to watch
Francis Martinez, OF (6/28/97): in a world where signing bonuses often equate to pedigree, Martinez received the second-largest bonus of last year’s international class. The 6’4″ outfielder has tools scouts can dream on. The size, speed and power all project as above average and while he’ll likely get a chance to play some center field, Martinez projects as a right fielder with a plus arm and range. He received a $350,000 bonus on July 2, 2013. Big kids often mean big swings and it’s something that the staff will have to coach up, but the profile is very promising.
Oswaldo Garcia, C (11/28/95): during the 2012 signing period, Garcia signed the biggest deal of any Columbian prospect, getting $430,000 from Arizona. He’s a big target behind the plate with a strong arm and plus power at the dish. He’ll have to refine his catching abilities from a defensive standpoint as it’s still relatively new to him, but there’s hope that he sticks. If he doesn’t, he has the arm for third base or perhaps right field.
Jose Ordaz, OF (8/11/96): Ordaz was the youngest player signed during the 2012 international signing period and got his career started last season at just 16-years old. The 6’1″ lefty struggled in his first go around in the DSL and is back there again for 2014. He has a chance to stay in center field defensively and is more of a solid player than a standout one, but keep his age in mind. He’s still incredibly young for his league, so patience is the game plan here.
Josue Herrera, SS (2/3/97): Herrera is the son of an international scout by the same name, who has signed Starling Marte among others. He received a $150,000 signing bonus as part of deal that helped Arizona secure Francis Martinez (above). On the international market, anything goes and the package deal to land Martinez is surely a sign of how badly the D-backs wanted the outfielder. Herrera, on the other hand, is likely headed to second base long term and isn’t an exciting prospect by the sounds of things, although his backstory is quite intriguing.
Luis Madero, RHP (4/15/97): the 6’3″ righty from Venezuela commanded a hefty bonus of $160,000 when the D-backs inked him at last year’s deadline. He’s noted for having good feel and command for his age, with more velocity to come. He’s already touching 92 with his heat, but that could very well change as he fills out is 175-pound frame and adds strength through professional coaching and weights routines. He’s a live arm with room to grow.
Jose Lopez, OF (12/15/96): the 6’0 outfielder looks like a lock stay in center field, although he lacks the size to really grow into something powerful. Still, scouts have been impressed with his athleticism and, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America, he has plus speed, a strong arm and the chance to hit for average. He could become a leadoff or number two type of hitter down the road as the power isn’t expected to become anything more than fringe average.
Rafael Santana, OF (10/24/95): the 6’2″, 185-pound outfielder is older than the others listed and signed for only $25,000, yet has drawn some interest. He has a plus arm, plus speed and some pop in the bat, so Santana appears to be a worthwhile gamble.
AZL Diamondbacks – Players to watch
Jose Herrera, C (2/24/97): the prized Venezuelan backstop received the largest signing bonus of any prospect in the Arizona system in the last few years when he got $1.06 million back in 2013. He was the youngest player signed during the international signing period and the team opted to delay his debut, holding him back to until this year where they turned him loose in the Arizona Rookie League, skipping him over the DSL. He’s known for his offensive potential as a switch hitter with the ability to hit for average and power. The stocky catcher has taken to the art of catching well and should stick behind the plate long term. Whether he continues to switch hit depends on his ability to improve his left-handed swing.
Touki Toussaint, RHP (6/20/96): Arizona’s number one selection earlier this month, Toussaint will start his professional career in the AZL. He inked his deal with the D-backs just last week and hasn’t appeared in a game yet, but should take the mound soon. The loose arm and easy action of Toussaint produces low to mid 90’s heat and he has an absolutely gnarly curveball. His changeup is a work in progress and you can bet Dave Duncan will be helping him with it this winter. The sky’s the limit for Touki.
Ismael Pena, OF (12/15/95): Pena is a big outfielder who may have to move to first base down the road. He received a large bonus of $750,000, the most the team spent on any one player in 2012, when he signed in December. Although he’s lived a good chunk of his life in Canada, Pena was signed out of the Dominican Republic. He struggled to a degree in his rookie campaign in the DSL but is making his American debut this year.
Rodrigo Takahashi, RHP (1/23/97): the Diamondbacks made a splash in Brazil when they inked Takahashi in December of 2013. At just 5’11”, 180-pounds, the right hander isn’t physically imposing but impressed the D-backs enough to earn a six figure bonus of $160,000, the most for any Brazilian prospect in 2013. The youngster has two advanced secondary pitches and has added velocity. He’s making his professional debut in the AZL this season.
Anthony Basora, LHP (2/17/95): Basora signed back in 2012 out of the Dominican Republic for $100,000. He had a reasonable debut in DSL last year before making his stateside debut in 2014. The 6’4″ lefty doesn’t have a ton of velocity at present, but shows advanced feel for a changeup. His delivery was noted for some issues back when he signed and the coaching staff is undoubtably working to make those changes.
Isan Diaz, 2B (5/27/96): the lefty-swinging second baseman was drafted in the second competitive balance round earlier this month out of a Massachusetts high school. He’s noted for having an excellent swing with both contact and some pop. His other tools are less outstanding, but he should hit, and if he hits, he should play.
Marcus Wilson, OF (8/15/96): Wilson was selected with the 69th pick in the 2014 draft, one spot above Diaz. The toolsy outfielder has a lot of refining to do, but scouts dream on his potential. He’s lanky and has a ton of room to fill out, but already possesses a smooth stroke and tons of speed. He should stick in center field.
Missoula Osprey – Players to watch
Justin Williams, OF (8/20/95): Williams was assigned to the Osprey of the Pioneer League rather than Low-A Midwest League with South Bend. It was perplexing to see him play another short season, but given that he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft at just 17-years old, he’s comparatively young for his peers. The slugging left fielder has all of the makings of a power hitter from the left side of the plate. I expect him to move to either Low-A South Bend or SS Hillsboro before the end of the year as he’s more skilled than most of his Pioneer League counterparts.
Sergio Alcantara, SS (7/10/96): back in 2012, Alcantara was arguably the best player the Diamondbacks signed although he didn’t receive the biggest bonus. Since then, he’s continued to impress scouts and has advanced hitting approach for his age. He held his own in the AZL last year during his debut, and is off to a good start in Missoula where he should spend the bulk of the year. While he doesn’t have much power to speak of, he’s got some contact ability and speed to go along with a profile as a long term shortstop.
Matt Railey, OF (3/16/95): Railey was the Diamondbacks’ third rounder out of a Florida high school. He was old for his draft age at 19 when selected, so he’s expected to be advanced. While he’s athletic, he likely lacks the true range to stay in center field. Railey’s a line-drive hitter with a natural aptitude for hitting, so he’s expected to make plenty of contact and grow into some power.
Fernery Ozuna, 2B (11/9/95): the diminutive, switch-hitting second baseman has been considered a sleeper since signing for low five figures back in 2012 out of the D.R. He very well may shed the sleeper tag in 2014 as he dazzled in his debut season last year, playing most of his games in the DSL before a late promotion to the AZL in 2013. He hit in both leagues and while he’s never expected to possess much power, there’s plenty of hope that he can make a ton of contact and let his speed play.
Tyler Humphreys, 3B (9/23/93): Humphrey’s was selected in the 7th round of the 2014 draft out of a Florida junior college. He’s noted for plus raw power and outstanding defense at third, but the question becomes whether or not his bat will play well enough for him to realize his potential. He has some swing-and-miss to his game and if he doesn’t make consistent contact, the power could be wasted. If he can refine his approach, however, he could abuse Pioneer League pitching.
Brad Keller, RHP (7/27/95): a steal in the 8th round of the 2013 draft, Keller had an excellent debut last season. Like Justin Williams, I thought he may start the year in Low-A South Bend but the team has opted to take it slow with the power righty. He should pitch well in the Pioneer League and may see either South Bend or Hillsboro towards the end of the season. Keller has the upside of a number three or four starter with late relief also a possibility.
Gabriel Moya, LHP (1/9/95): young pitchers are always an adventure, but Moya appears to be learning how to harness his stuff. The left-handed Venezuela spent the last two seasons in the DSL before making his stateside debut this summer. He’s always shown good strikeout numbers and is learning to limit the walks, but he’s pitched exclusively out of the bullpen before being transitioned to the rotation this year. If he can stick as a starter, his value rises immensely.
Hillsboro Hops – Players to watch
Grant Heyman, OF (11/7/93): Heyman was a relative sleeper in the 8th round of the 2014 draft. The outfielder was drafted out of JUCO powerhouse College of Southern Nevada where they play with wood bats, not the usual aluminum found in college baseball. He raked at Southern Nevada and is noted for having plus raw power. Heyman could start turning heads as early as this fall.
Zac Curtis, LHP (7/4/92): Arizona’s 6th round choice out of Middle Tennessee State, Curtis was a strikeout machine in college from the left side. A starter in college, Curtis has already transitioned to the bullpen where he should stick. There’s a chance that he moves quickly as he has a good feel for multiple pitches and knows how to use them thanks to his days in the rotation.
Brent Jones, RHP (1/10/93): Jones was the Diamondbacks’ 4th round choice out of Ivy League school Cornell. He has a power fastball and a plus curve when he can control it, but his other pitches lag behind. While he’s a starter at the moment, he likely becomes a reliever down the road where his stuff will play up.
Scott Schultz, RHP (12/15/91): a very successful swingman from Oregon State University, Schultz can start or relieve. He’s getting his chance in the rotation for now and will get every chance to stick there after being popped in the 10th round of the 2014 draft. Should he hit a speed bump, he’ll likely move to the bullpen where his stuff will play up, although likely as a middle reliever capable of logging multiple innings rather than as a high leverage guy.
Check in again next week when we take a peek at the other affiliates. For now, bookmark the players above, or better yet, stay tuned as we keep pace with them throughout the season!
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