Tuesday I posted the first half of the Diamondbacks’ Midseason Top-10 Prospect List and this will serve as the second and final installment. If you missed yesterday’s work, I’d suggest revisiting it before diving in here. If you’re the wild and crazy type, well, just keep reading! First the prospects, then the capsules:
*Note: OFP (overall future projection) is based on 5 average big leaguer, 6 above average big leaguer, 7 a regular All Star and 8 is Mike Trout. Risk weighs minor league track record, age, level and injury history.
Jake Lamb, 3B (10/9/90) – selected in the 6th round of the 2012 draft (213th overall)
Lamb is clearly the top hitting prospect in the Diamondbacks’ system. While there’s more upside for other hitters, the departures of Chris Owings and Matt Davidson have left Lamb atop the list for the time being. He’s climbed the ladder steadily since being selected out of the University of Washington in 2012, and had it not been for a hamate bone injury last season , he might be even closer to the majors. Regardless, the production remains high in AA Mobile and his stat line would suggest that he’s in need of a greater challenge.
But this is why scouting the stats alone can be dangerous. The eyewitness reports on Lamb have never been nearly as glowing as those who focus on his numbers. While he’s capable of using the whole field and definitely has some power, he’s been incredibly lucky. His lowest, yes, lowest BABIP of his career was a .371 clip back in 2012 after he was drafted. His current .388 BABIP is surely inflating his stats. That said, he’s doing some things right. He’s not a gifted fielder but can handle the position. He’s got some swing and miss to his game, resulting in relatively high strikeout rates, but he’s also showed some patience and has increased his walk total. His 51 extra-base hits in 93 games are certainly encouraging, too.
Lamb is perfect example of a divided perception of a prospect. The stats would suggest that he’s destined for great things and could possibly handle major league pitching right now. The scouts would suggest that he’s no more than a big league regular long term and probably not someone who’s ever considered an All-Star. Where does the truth lie? We don’t know, but for now, color me cautiously optimistic.
Touki Toussaint, RHP (6/20/96) – selected in the 1st round of the 2014 draft (16th overall)
The Diamondbacks benefitted from Toussaint sliding down the draft order last month when he fell into their lap at 16th overall. At one time considered arguably the top prep pitcher in the draft, Touki has made his debut in the AZL, making four appearances and totally six innings. He’s young and talented, but expect the Diamondbacks to take their time with him considering all of the pitcher injuries that have cropped up lately. They’ll work to refine his mechanics and make sure to keep his innings totals at a very manageable level while he adds strength and weight to his wiry frame.
Toussaint’s results thus far are essentially useless, but reports of him in the mid 90’s with his heat are certainly encouraging. While I profiled him after the draft, the reports have indicated that he’s got a free and easy motion with plenty of velocity. The fastball is good, but the curveball is downright filthy. It’s not a big bender but rather a hammer that comes out of the hand like a fastball before simply diving in front of the plate. It’s a true out pitch and while Touki struggles to command it at times, it has all the makings of a true weapon. He also has a changeup in his arsenal, but it’s a distant third pitch at the moment, not because it’s not good, but simply because the others are so far ahead.
There’s obviously a long, long ways to go with Toussaint, but his ceiling is that of an ace with a more realistic possibility of being an electric number two starter. Look for the organization to take it extremely slow with him as he’s a big investment in the future of the franchise and Arizona is desperate for impact arms.
Aaron Blair, RHP (5/26/92) – selected in the 1st supplemental round of the 2013 draft (36th overall)
Take everything that was just said about Toussaint and reverse it when talking about Aaron Blair. Whereas Toussaint is a young, electric arm, Blair is a polished college draftee who is making his way to the majors in a hurry. His ceiling isn’t anything to get all that excited about, but he has an ability to get hitters out and his strikeout rate, while expected to decline a little, has been a nice surprise. Blair profiles as a solid number four starter capable of chewing up innings and providing a ton of quantity for his club.
Baseball Prospectus’ Ron Shah has described Blair as “unspectacularly good” in the sense that he’s a collection of average-ish tools but the sum of the total is greater than the parts. He has a low to mid 90’s heater and an above-average changeup to draw weak contact. His four-pitch mix also includes a slider and a curve, but both pitches are little behind his fastball/changeup combo. When drafted, Blair was described as a heavy sinkerball pitcher who would generate a ton of grounders. While in the minors, however, he hasn’t exactly been killing worms. It’s hard to say if that’s something to be concerned about at this point, especially given that his command has been solid and he’s striking batters out at higher rate than expected. Still, fly ball s in Chase are always a risky proposition, so we’ll have to wait and see if he can keep it on the ground.
Blair is moving fast, as I noted last week. There’s a legitimate chance that he’s in the majors in late 2015 if all goes according to plan, but there’s no riskier a commodity than a pitcher. Health provided, Blair looks like he’ll become a productive part of the Diamondbacks rotation sooner than later.
Braden Shipley, RHP (2/22/92) – selected in the 1st round of the 2013 draft (15th overall)
Despite a late start to his campaign, thanks to some minor shoulder trouble, Shipley has flown up prospect lists midway through the season. After being in the back end of most top-100 lists to end 2013, Shipley has jumped up inside the top-25 on several notable lists. He started the year in Single-A South Bend was promoted two months ago and has performed well in Visalia aside from seven home runs surrendered in only eight starts. That’s part of the territory playing in the California League, however, and his batting average against has remained nearly unchanged (.263 in South Bend, .269 in Visalia) and he’s posting better strikeout numbers since getting moved up (8.80 k/9 in South Bend, 10.49 in Visalia). There’s no way over 14% of hits allowed will continue to leave the yard, even in a hitter’s paradise, so don’t let the ERA fool you.
Shipley has legit stuff. His fastball is routinely in the mid 90’s and can touch 97mph at times. His changeup is plus-plus already, although the command isn’t always consistent. It’s among the very best changeups in the entire minor leagues. What’s been most encouraging, however, is that his curveball has taken a step forward and is at least an average offering at present, with a possibility of becoming even more effective over time. With two major league caliber offerings already, and a functional third pitch, Shipley is well on his way to climbing the ladder to the majors. Like many young, inexperienced pitchers, his command has to improve and that’ll take time. He’s free and easy in his mechanics, so there’s no reason to think he won’t keep getting better.
All told, Shipley should develop into a solid number two pitcher. He’s not expected to be a true knock-out ace, but should provide a bevy of quality, impact innings down the road. That something that the Diamondbacks badly need, although he won’t likely arrive before mid 2016.
Archie Bradley, RHP (8/10/92) – selected in the 1st round of the 2011 draft (7th overall)
The top prospect of the system remains unchanged, although Bradley’s grip on the top spot has gotten a little less firm. After an elbow injury that had D-backs Nation holding it’s collective breath, Bradley has re-started his season. He was hit hard in Reno before the injury, which forgave the poor results. During his rehab, he’s pitched in the AZL (1 start) and AA Mobile (5 starts). During that time, his ERA is sparkling, but the underlying stats are troublesome. In his 25.1 AA innings, he’s struck out 19 and walked 15, but has pitched around the base runners and had more than his share of luck. He’s still not surrendering many hits, which speaks to his raw stuff, but the walks remain a glaring concern. The knock on Bradley coming into the season was that he struggled at times to command the zone and it appears that he’s still working through it. Until he does so, he won’t see the majors.
You know about the stuff: a mid to high 90’s heater and a hammer curve that among the best in the minors. His change remains behind the other two pitches but appears to be average at present with a chance to be above average long term. Bradley is the power arm that Arizona desperately needs as he’s ultimately capable of racking up big strikeout totals and has the pitcher’s frame to deliver a boatload of innings. In short, he’s everything you’re looking for in an ace, which is why he remains atop the rankings. He’s not even 22 yet, so while the walks and command give some pause, we shouldn’t lose sight of his potential. Reports on his makeup have him as a tireless worker and someone truly dedicated to his craft, so there’s no reason to change his stock as of now.
Can Archie Bradley save the Diamondbacks’ rotation? I think so, although we’re going to have to adjust our timeline and expectations. Provided he stays healthy, he’ll be in the mix again come early 2015.
That’s it for now! As was the case Tuesday, I’d love your thoughts on the top prospects of this system. Feel free to leave them below!
I’d like to acknowledge the hard, hard work put in by those who cover the minor leagues day in and day out. Without their efforts this would be almost impossible. For all your prospect needs be sure to monitor Jason Parks and his team at Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law of ESPN, Kiley McDaniel at Scout and John Sickels of Minor League Ball.
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