Over the All-Star Break, while Braden Shipley was representing the Diamondbacks in the Futures Game, the team announced that right-hander Aaron Blair has been promoted to AA Mobile. Blair began his 2014 campaign in Single-A South Bend with the Silverhawks where he made six starts. His ERA was ugly due some shoddy work by the bullpen, but he was effective nonetheless (3.09 FIP). Perhaps most surprising were his strikeout numbers. Thought of as a ground ball pitcher when he was drafted in the first supplemental round with the 36th overall pick in 2013, he racked up 11.10 K/9 in his first stop on the new season. Blair was quickly promoted to High-A Visalia where he made 13 starts. Like most pitchers in the California League, he gave up some homers and saw an inflated BABIP and ERA, but his peripherals remained strong. In 72.1 innings, he struck out 10.08 per nine while walking only 2.61. With a nearly 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio, Blair got the call and he’s now on his way to Mobile.
The quick movement for Blair is somewhat unexpected. True, he’s was drafted highly and had polish when he entered the system, but reaching AA half way through his first full minor league season can’t be viewed as anything other than a success no matter what happens in Mobile. Speaking with Baseball Prospectus’ Ron Shah, he described Aaron Blair as “unspectacularly good.” He uses a four-pitch mix to fool hitters, but none of his pitches grade out as elite. Instead, he’s more of a package of decent stuff that knows how to pitch. He’ll surely have some refining to do as AA should give him trouble, but that’s to be expected. I still view him as a #4 starter long-term, kind of Wade Miley-esque but with a little more velocity from the right side. It’ll take him some time to get there, but if all were to go according to plan, there’s a chance we see him with the Diamondbacks as early as late 2015. I’d expect the strikeout numbers to fall a little as he climbs the ladder, but there’s no reason to think he can’t be a useful big league starter at this point. In fact, he’s as safe a bet as there is in this system.
Speaking of the system, Zach Borenstein was recently added to it. Since being acquired from the Angels in the Joe Thatcher deal, Borenstein has gone right to work in the for AA Mobile. He was playing for Anaheim’s AAA affiliate in Salt Lake City when dealt, but has gone back down to AA and is making short work of it. If you don’t recall, he was the Angels’ minor league player of the year in 2013 when he hit .337/.403/.631 with 28 homers in 112 High-A games. Keep in mind, however, that just as the California League punishes pitchers like Blair above, it also aides hitters significantly. Analysts have been confused on just what kind of hitter the big-boned outfielder is because he’s shown raw power at times but can change his approach to use the whole field. Either he’s a well-balanced hitter or there’s going to be a problem down the line. We don’t know just yet.
An interesting note on Borenstein, he’s had abnormally high BABIP’s throughout his minor league career. A lot of that comes from playing in hitter’s parks (California League, Pacific Coast League), but some of that could also come from hitting the ball hard. With the data and reports available, we simply can’t say. Instead, we’ll have to monitor his performance in AA and see if he gets a crack at AAA Reno before the season is over. He could have simply been lucky and padded his stats or the performance could be for real. If it were truly legit, however, I’m not sure he’d have been dealt in the first place, especially considering the lack of depth in Anaheim’s minor league system. I’m not sold he’s more than a replacement level big leaguer, but he could be the next David Peralta. Either way, he appears to be potentially useful, and considering that Joe Thatcher and Tony Campana were the pieces traded to acquire him (and minor league reliever Joey Krehbiel), I’d call it a wash at minimum with a chance to pay out in Arizona’s favor.
As you may have noticed, Diamondbacks shortstop prospect Andrew Velazquez has been in the news lately for setting a minor league record for consecutive games reaching base (73!). It’s always nice to have minor leaguers performing at a high level, but Velasquez has been a relatively unknown commodity to those who don’t follow D-backs minor leagues. The diminutive prospect has spent the entire 2014 season at Single-A South Bend after being popped in the 7th round of the 2012 draft out of a New York prep academy. I had him as the 23rd best prospect in the system at the end of 2013 season, and despite the strong 2014 performance, he’s far from an elite prospect. His .385 BABIP has a lot to do with his success, although one could also point to a declining strikeout rate and increased walk rate. Those are all positive signs and he’s shown some newly found pop in 90 games this year. He could see High-A Visalia before the season is over (and once his streak is over as it’s still active) and I’d like to see how he performs there before getting overly excited. Still, credit where credit’s due and fantastic job, Andrew, on making #DbacksNation proud!
Keep up with the next wave of D-backs here at Inside the ‘Zona and look out next week for our mid-season top-10 prospect list.
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