There are a lot of headlines to cover in this edition of the Minor League Update. The Diamondbacks’ minor league affiliates have been playing well on the season and there have been some notable tidbits to emerge over the last couple of weeks. In case you missed it, we posted a “Who To Watch” version of the update last week that covered all four of the short season affiliates. Definitely check that out if you haven’t already as we covered a ton of players, including all of the large bonus international signees and the most recent draft class.
In full season news, we have to lead with Visalia Rawhide right-hander Braden Shipley being named to the MLB Futures game. In the last four or five years, the Futures Game has taken on a life of its own with the entire baseball world seeking a glimpse of the next great players. The rosters are divided into the USA and the WORLD as American players take on the international prospects. Only top-flight prospects get invited to participate, so every matchup is a good one. Shipley will represent the D-backs and we’ll all be watching to see what he can do against a lineup full of soon-to-be stars. It’s quite an honor for the 2013 first-rounder. Arizona was well-represented in last year’s contest with Archie Bradley, Chris Owings and Matt Davidson taking part. Aaron Blair and Jake Lamb could have conceivably joined Shipley this season, but Braden will carry the flag by himself in 2014.
Speaking of Aaron Blair, he’s been on fire as of late and Steve Cummings of Cal League Heat was kind enough to pass along a scouting report of one of Blair’s most recent outings to be shared with Inside the ‘Zona readers. Steve spends a ton of time scouting and writing about the California League and knows the league inside and out. He’s seen the Rawhide several times this year and pass along tidbits here and there. His website, Cal League Heat, is a fantastic resource and quite possibly the best place to stay up with scores, news and other information about California League baseball. Enjoy the report in the Rawhide’s section of this update and be sure to say “thank you” to Steve for sharing!
The last headline to cover has to do with two Diamondbacks representing the organization in minor league home run derbies. Brandon Drury and Jon Griffin participated in the California/Carolina League and Southern League contests, respectively. Drury came in second in to the Reds’ Jesse Winkler, finishing just one homer shy of the lead. Griffin also finished second, albeit to Cubs super prospect Kris Bryant. Despite the runner-up finishes, it’s great to see the organization represented in these types of showcases.
South Bend Silver Hawks (47-34), Low-A Midwest League
The catching position is an area of weakness for the Diamondbacks’ minor league system. One of the better catching prospects plays for the Silverhawks, however, in Michael Perez. The left-handed Puerto Rican was a fifth round choice back in 2011 and was ranked as the 13th-best prospect in the system by MLB.com. Perez got off to a tough start in 2011 in the AZL after being drafted, then played well with the Missoula Osprey the following year. Where his career hit a speed bump was when the Diamondbacks assigned him to High-A Visalia of the California League to start the 2013 season, skipping him over Low-A altogether. At just 20, he struggled mightily (.530 OPS) and was sent down to Low-A halfway through the season where he certainly performed better, but didn’t exactly tear it up (.686 OPS). He’s doing better in his second pass through the league (.763 OPS in 2014) and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him get another crack at the California League before the season is over.
After being switched off the catching position, many in the Diamondbacks organization thought that Stryker Trahan would take off. The logic was that he could focus on hitting without having to worry about calling pitches and playing the most physically demanding position on the diamond. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case. In 72 games in the outfield, Trahan has the worst batting line of any regular Silverhawks player and it’s safe to say at this point that his development has stalled. He’s hitting just .194/.259/.353 in 283 plate appearances. The power is still there (10 home runs is second on the team), but his 105 strikeouts represent a massive 37% strikeout rate. Without having specific details, one would assume that he has major pitch recognition issues and likely struggles when he doesn’t get a fastball. This is a bad sign for the former first rounder and the Diamondbacks minor league system as a whole.
Starting pitching has been a trouble spot for the Silverhawks following the promotions of Aaron Blair and Braden Shipley, but a few relievers are pitching very well. The team’s closer, Silvino Bracho, continues to build his status as a strikeout machine who’s nearly impossible to hit, while 2013 draftee Daniel Gibson has remained hot after a tough start to the season. Will Locante has gotten in on the action as well and if he can continue to limit his walks, he could see a more a advanced assignment.
Visalia Rawhide (41-41), High-A California League
The offense for Visalia has been headlined by third baseman Brandon Drury and left fielder Alex Glenn for most of the season, but another player has emerged as a threat to be taken seriously: center fielder Socrates Brito. The left-handed Dominican outfielder is having his finest season to date and has done a terrific job of climbing the organizational ladder. At just 21, he’s played at five stops for the Diamondbacks and hit at every one of them. Signing for a reported $190,000 back in 2010, Brito is a bit of a “tweener” according to Ron Shah of Baseball Prospectus. He has the arm to play anywhere but lacks the pure speed of a centerfielder. If he has to move to a corner, likely right field, he’ll need to hit for more power, which has never been his calling card. At 6’2”, 200-pounds, there’s always hope that power arrives, but it’s apparently still something that will need to be coached and refined as it’s not a natural tool. Still, Brito is making a name for himself and if nothing else, appears to be a potential fourth outfielder at the major league level.
On the mound, Shipley and Blair are the headliners, but there are some relief prospects that are performing well, also. J.R. Bradley took a hot start at South Bend and has applied it since being promoted to Visalia where he’s struck out 25 batters in just 17.2 innings. The team’s closer, Enrique Burgos, remains on a tear as he’s struck out 36 in 28.2 innings this year while surrendering only 20 hits. Lefty Keith Hessler has been just as dominant, striking out 43 in 34.1 innings. None of the above are high-ranking prospects, but rather names to hold onto as part of a future bullpen.
As promised, here are some notes from Steve Cummings’ scouting report on Blair. Remember to check out all of Steve’s work at Cal League Heat.
AARON BLAIR vs. SAN JOSE GIANTS
6/21/14, RECREATION PARK, VISALIA, CA
7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K’s
106 pitches total, 41 balls, 65 strikes
- FIRST TIME THROUGH THE ORDER
- 42 pitches, 9 up, 9 down, 5 K’s, four of them swinging.
- SECOND TIME THROUGH THE LINEUP
- 26 pitches, 3 H, all singles, 1 HBP, 1 BB, 1 K (looking), 1 R
- THIRD TIME THROUGH THE LINEUP
- 39 pitches, 8 up, 8 down (left the game after the 7th
Aaron Blair came into this outing against the San Jose Giants with a hiA record of 1-2 and was coming off of a strong seven-inning start against Inland Empire. MLB.com has Blair ranked as the Diamondbacks’ #3 prospect, behind Rawhide alum Archie Bradley and current Rawhide teammate Braden Shipley.
Blair came out of the home bullpen sharp, setting the Giants down in order in the first with a lineout and two swinging strikeouts on 15 pitches.The second inning was even quicker, 10 pitches that induced a flyball out to shallow right and two more swinging strikeouts. In the third, Blair finished a perfect trip through the order with groundball out, a flyout to right and a called third strike. 42 total pitches, 25 for strikes.
The second time through the order saw some San Jose baserunners and a run scored, as Blair pitched to contact more in the fourth. Six batters came to the plate and two singled, one was hit by a pitch and the outs were recorded by two groundballs and a flyout to right. The fifth started with Blair’s only walk, followed by a single, then two K’s (1 swinging, 1 looking) and another flyout to right.
Blair retired the last eight batters without incident, starting with the final two outs in the fifth. He had a 1-2-3 sixth and did the same in the seventh. 12 of the 26 batters Blair faced saw five pitches or more. The fastball was pretty sharp as Blair worked to both sides of the plate, but the curveball was up and down. He missed down and away to several right-handers but stuck with it. He did get a swinging third strike on an absolute Bugs Bunny curve that started at a right-handed batter’s shoulder and then fell into the strike zone. Hittable in location, but not from the trajectory of where it came from.
Interesting note, Giants 3B Mitch Delfino tried to score on a flyout to right in the 4th and he blew up Rawhide C Ronnie Freeman on the play at the plate. The ball came out but Delfino was ruled out for the unnecessary contact. Freeman eventually had to leave the game.
Next time up for Delfino, leading off in the 6th, Blair threw behind him. Both benches were warned and but the inning continued and concluded without incident. Later, Blair came inside to Giants C Ben Turner and Turner was clearly miffed. Hard for me to say, because I saw Blair not having the finest control at times, despite the strong outing. But I think he had his catcher’s back in this situation. The Rawhide were up 3-1 at the time of the play at the plate, and the score was the same when Delfino came up in the top of the 6th. It wasn’t until the bottom of the 6th that the Rawhide scored four runs to blow it open, so the game situation hadn’t changed yet when Blair “missed” wide on Delfino. Then when the Giants’ catcher saw inside heat, the Rawhide had put the game out of reach (a cautious term in the California League).
Ultimately, Blair was on top of his game and the Rawhide cruised to a victory after the early offense.
Mobile BayBears (49-32), AA Southern League
Third baseman Jake Lamb continues to lead the way for the BayBears. The lefty-swinging 23-year old has really vaulted his prospect status after holding his own in some Spring Training at-bats with the Diamondbacks earlier in the year. If you recall, a hand injury derailed his 2013 campaign in Visalia before he was able to be promoted, but he’s picked up right where he left off. If the team should clear space at the big league level by trading Martin Prado, Lamb could be in for some major league time by the end of the season or in 2015. He’s hit 11 homers in 78 games to go along with 28 doubles and five triples. Perhaps most encouraging, he doesn’t show a big split between right or left-handed pitching, showing an ability to hit both well. He’s arguably the top hitting prospect in the system right now, although strikeouts remain a bit of an issue.
Archie Bradley remains on the Mobile roster as he continues to rehab from elbow troubles. In his lone start back on June 26th, he walked four and struck out one in just four innings. It’s hard to read into just four innings, but the walks have troubled him in the past and they were an issue in Reno before he went down with the injury. Scouts suggest that it’s not a big issue and will improve over time, but his command continues to be the one sore spot in his game. We’ll have to monitor them closely and hope he improves in this department. Notable bullpen arm Jimmie Sherfy has been solid for the BayBears. He’s has had some home run troubles of late, but remains a potent force when he keeps the ball in the yard. In his last ten games, he’s struck out 14 and walked only three in 10 innings.
Reno Aces (47-39), AAA Pacific Coast League
The Aces are virtually devoid of talent at this point with Didi Gregorius, Nick Ahmed, Ender Inciarte and now Nick Evans playing for the Diamondbacks. If there’s a single piece of information that describes the way the season has gone for Arizona, one needs to look no further than that simple fact. Tony Campana continues to do his thing, which is what it always has been: an empty average and some stolen bases. Tyler Bortnick, who has a utility infielder upside, is currently on the DL, leaving Reno even more shorthanded.
On the mound, things haven’t been any more inspiring. Left-handed prospect Andrew Chaffin continues to get hit around and give up too many walks. I’ve said it all along, but he’s going to have to become a reliever to make a mark on the majors. Actual reliever Kevin Munson is mowing down AAA batters and appears ready for a shot in the bigs, although lefties give him trouble. Will Harris hasn’t surrendered a run in his last nine appearances and might also receive another big league trial depending on what happens at the trade deadline. Potential rotation scabs Alex Sanabia, Bo Schultz and Lucas Harrell continue to be uninspiring and have very limited upsides. It’s a bleak situation from a talent standpoint.
Overall, AAA Reno has been utterly depleted by the need for replacements in the D-backs’ lineup, rotation and bullpen. Underneath the top level, there are some bright spots like Lamb, Drury, Shipley, Blair and others. Still, the system is weak and needs more talent before it can really be considered anything more than average. Perhaps some of the trades we laid out yesterday can help facilitate the talent deficit that is plaguing the organization. For that, we’ll have to wait and see.
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