The Diamondbacks’ minor league system has generally been viewed as middle-of-the-pack. It’s not hard to see why; the team hasn’t had a ton of big names in recent years and has traded away most of the ones they did posses. Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer, Adam Eaton and even Matt Davidson have been shipped away in the last few years, influencing those rankings. Of course, the goal of the minor league system is not to finish highest on the rankings list but instead having the deepest, most talented pool of players to draw from. That pool has been diminished through trades, but strong drafts each of the last two years have kept this system afloat. All is not lost as you can see below.
Let’s just start with the first half of the list and go from there. Player capsules to follow:
*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.
Sergio Alcantara, SS (7/10/96) – signed as an international free agent in 2012 ($700,00 bonus)
Alcantara is a natural defensive shortstop with a great feel for the defense required to stick at short long term. He’s noted for being instinctive and having the smooth, fluid actions that make shortstop look effortless. He was the youngest player in the AZL last season and began his 2014 campaign in Missoula of the Pioneer League, where again he’s among the youngest players in the league. In both stops, he’s shown a tremendous knowledge of the strikezone, owning a career walk rate of 18% in his first 75 professional games. That likely won’t hold up through his minor league progression, but it’s certainly a welcomed sign that he has an idea of what he’s doing at the plate.
Speaking of his offense, it’s been unspectacular in 2014 and was merely “okay” during his debut season. It’s always tough to project 17-year olds who are facing older competition, but Alcantara does profile as somewhat of a light bat. He possess a reasonable hit tool but power is not expected to ever really develop. He’s not a major threat on the basepaths either, meaning his value will have to come from his ability to make a lot of contact, walk and play excellent defense. That all appears feasible at this point in time, however, and given his age, there should be plenty of development and growth yet. He has a chance to be a major league regular if all things click and a backup shortstop if the bat never develops enough.
Brandon Drury, 3B (8/21/92) – acquired in 2012 via trade from Atlanta Braves
Continuing to make progress, Drury is steadily climbing the minor league ladder. He was part of the Justin Upton trade back in 2012 and has produced well for Arizona at two minor league levels. He makes enough contact to be useful and has shown power growth as well. The California League is no doubt aiding his power output, but his 16 home runs in 93 games this year is a career high with a total near 25 a possibility. As he did in 2013, Drury is hitting a ton of double, too, suggesting he isn’t selling out to put the ball over the fence.
Defensively, I’ve heard mixed reviews. Drury has usually been noted as someone with improved defense at third who looks to be able to stick there long term but I’ve heard reports to the contrary, too. My guess is that it’s good enough to work but won’t be a positive attribute for him. He’s about to turn 22 and might get a crack at AA Mobile before the season’s over. His peripherals have held steady and he doesn’t have a crazy BABIP blowing up his stats, so his performance looks legit and another challenge is needed for him before we know just what Arizona has in Drury. We may not have to wait long to find out.
Justin Williams, LF (8/20/95) – selected in 2nd round of 2013 draft (52nd overall)
Like Alcantara above, Williams was extremely young for his league when he debuted in the AZL last year after being one of the youngest players selected in the 2013 draft. He’s a big-bodied kid with a powerful lower half and while he doesn’t run particularly well, he should have plenty of range to cover left field. He is new to the outfield and has some refining to do defensively, but professional coaching will take care of that. After a successful 2013 AZL debut, Williams received 11 games in the Pioneer League and got three starts for the South Bend Silverhawks before the end of the year. Despite the extra exposure in 2013, the organization has taken things slow with Williams, opting to delay his season debut and start him back in Missoula of the Pioneer League rather than giving him a full season at South Bend.
Over his first 29 games, Williams has hit well, but there are caution flags that can’t be ignored. It’s been well-known that he’ll have to grow into his power, but it’s been somewhat absent so far with just six extra-base hits in 129 plate-appearances. His strikeout rate has also spiked some, which was another preseason concern. Going back to Williams’ prep days, there’s always been concern over his propensity to chase out of the zone. His strikeout and walk numbers last year didn’t exactly quell the concerns and while it’s too early to tell this year, this is an aspect of his game to keep an eye on. All told, however, he has contact and power in the outfield, something the Diamondbacks are badly lacking.
Jake Barrett, RHP (7/22/91) – selected in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft (120th overall)
Barrett is the local success story having played for the Arizona State Sun Devils during his college days. He’s climbed the ladder steadily as a reliever all the way, usually serving as the closer on whatever team he’s currently playing for. He had a stellar 2013 campaign split between High-A Visalia and AA Mobile which resulted in some fans calling for him to be placed on the Opening Day roster. The team thought better of it and started him back down in Mobile where he was once again impressive, although not completely dominant. After 25 AA appearances, he was promoted to AAA Reno where he’s been absolutely crushed. Some of that is the PCL, but his WHIP is an ugly 1.76 and he’s walking as many as he’s struck out (6.52 K/9) in his first 10 games. There’s clearly some refining to do.
With a mid to high 90’s heater and an excellent slider, Barrett has two plus offerings to go along with an average changeup. His three-pitch mix should allow him to be effective against righties and lefties, something that every closer needs to be able accomplish. The one knock on him, however, has been his command and it’s clearly come back to bite him in 2014. Over 36 innings this season, he’s walked 4.75 batters per inning while his strikeout rate has fallen to just 7.75 K/9, which is pretty pedestrian. The pitch grades are legit, though, and if he can iron out some of the mechanical issues that are causing the lack of command, there’s no reason he can’t still reach his ceiling as an 8th or 9thinning guy. It’s just going to take a little longer than some would like given the current state of the ‘pen.
Jose Martinez, RHP (4/14/94) – signed as an international free agent in 2011 ($55,000 bonus)
This winter I spoke with Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus, who serves as the head of their prospect team. The one name he dropped time and time again? Jose Martinez. The righty is described as having one of the quickest arms in the majors and he can generate serious velocity. His fastball has natural life and can work in the upper 90’s while he has an absolute monster of a curveball, giving him potentially two plus-plus pitches. The changeup is lagging behind but isn’t useless for the 20-year old. He has the highest ceiling in the system but lacks any kind of polish at present.
Of course, all of this changed, or at best, was delayed, when Martinez suffered a stress-fracture in his throwing elbow. The good news is that it wasn’t a ligament damaged, but it will only further delay his growth which was dearly needed. He’s as raw as they come and his command is way behind his stuff at present. Depending on how he recovers, he could potentially see full season ball next year after he logged only six innings in 2014 before the injury shut him down. It was a tough break for the organization, but he’ll be just 21 next year and has time to develop. Getting him healthy is step one.
Check in Thursday for the second half of the list and let me know if you agree/disagree with anything you’ve seen in the comments below!
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