Stocked with top draft picks Isan Diaz (2nd round, 2014), Marcus Wilson (2nd round, 2014) and top international prospect Jose Herrera ($1.06M, 2013), the AZL D-backs fought their way to an above-.500 record in the Arizona Rookie League. Not everyone lived up to expectations, but some exceeded them and others scuffled. As has been the case in previous reviews of the Missoula Osprey and the DSL D-backs, the bulk of the players for the AZL D-backs are extremely young and inexperienced. For many, this was their first taste of pro ball, and luckily, they got off to a good start by playing competitive baseball all season long, something the major league club has struggled with for several seasons now.

AZL D-backs at a Glance

Arizona Rookie League (R) Ranks (out of 13 total teams)

  • Record: 29-27 (6th)
  • Runs: 283 (5th)
  • OPS: .684 (7th)
  • HR: 13 (t-9th)
  • SB: 62 (t-6th)
  • K: 506 (8th)
  • BB: 218 (t-2nd)
  • Runs Allowed: 268 (5th)
  • ERA: 3.86 (5th)
  • WHIP: 1.30 (3rd)
  • K: 466 (12th)
  • BB: 156 (1st)
Team Review

While going 29-27 is hardly dominant, it’s great to see that the team won more than it lost and was in the top half of the league. For an organization that has had to battle some tough times, raising expectations starts with the minors, as players down there need to believe that they’re winners. No one likes losing and it can be toxic for players and teams, so a winning record in the low minors might not mean a ton, but it’s at least a good start.

At the plate, the AZL D-backs were a middle of the road ballclub. Their run-scoring was largely aided by walks, enabling them to get on base at a high rate. Because they struck out more than average and hit for less power than average, the on-base element was critical to the club’s success (raise your hand if this sounds familiar). If we’re looking for positives here, this is yet another indicator that some of the young players are doing things that will help them down the road. Learning to take a walk is a critical thing for inexperienced hitters and surely a positive that can be built upon.

The pitching staff must have been taking notice, because they issued the fewest walks in the league, which helped offset their total lack of strikeouts. Essentially, the team used this combination to become an average staff. They weren’t going to overpower batters, but they did themselves a favor by being relatively tough to hit and refusing to put batters on for free. Again, these aren’t incredibly dominant performances but instead a nice sign of maturity from a young group of players.

Top Prospects

Marcus Wilson, OF: the first of back-to-back picks in the second supplemental round, Wilson was popped with the 69th pick in this year’s draft. An athletic, loose, toolsy outfielder, he has speed for days and a frame that, if filled out properly, could handle more muscle resulting in one of the game’s best athletes. He’s a raw talent and will need some serious work, but his natural swing is pretty smooth although he lacks power as currently constructed. Defensively, he’s a center fielder all the way with the ability to be a real threat on the bases. His debut line was .206/.297/.285, showing how he struggled to make consistent contact. He also took more than his share of punchouts (27%), showing that he’s going to need some help getting prepared for a pro career. Still, he’s a tremendous athlete that’s worth the gamble and he may repeat the level to begin 2015.

Isan Diaz, 2B: the 70th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Diaz hails from the Northeast but has a smooth, fluid stroke at the plate. He’s not the most athletic of guys but shows the type of lefty swing and approach to suggest that the should make plenty of good contact with mostly gap power. He’s an okay defender at the keystone, with a move to third base a distant possibility depending on how his body matures. Still, Diaz’s value will be all about the bat and he scuffled in his debut after being drafted, triple-slashing .187/.301/.289. Before you freak out, it appears he was unlucky with a .248 BABIP and his walk rate (11.8%) would suggest that he understands the strike zone. He’ll likely move on to the Pioneer League for 2015, depending on how instructs go.

Jose Herrera, C: the Diamondbacks invested heavily in Herrera back in 2013, but the then 16-year old never even took the field after being signed. Instead, he waited until 2014 to make his debut, and with a signing bonus of $1.06 million, he’s the team’s biggest international investment in some time. Rather than cut his teeth in the DSL, he came stateside and played in the local complex league, the AFL. As a 17-year old adapting to pro ball and life in a foreign country, he struggled to hit but showed why he has a chance to  stick as a catcher long-term, playing relatively good defense behind the plate. He hit a light .227 in 43 games and is likely to repeat the level in 2015. Patience is the name of the game here as there’s really no need to rush the young Venezuelan. We’ll check back in with him next season to see if he starts to catch on.

Rodrigo Takahashi, RHP: there aren’t many Brazilian baseball players in the majors or minors, but the D-backs have one in Takahashi. He’s just 17-years old and made his pro debut stateside rather than in the DSL and held his own. At just 5’11”, he’s not big on stature but was relatively tough to hit, surrendering just 34 knocks in 41 innings. His 3.78 FIP was relatively good considering his competition level and experience. The size is a bit of a concern as not many 5’11” pitchers stick in the rotation these days but it’s far too early to tell in his Takahashi’s case. He received the highest bonus of any Brazilian prospect in 2013, so the D-backs must have an inclination that he’s got a shot to stick as a starter. I like him to either repeat the level or start 2015 in the Pioneer League where he’ll be just 18-years old.

Anthony Basora, LHP: Basora is a 6’4″ lefty who was originally signed by the Reds. He spent two seasons in the DSL before coming stateside this year at the age of 19. After three solid seasons in the Dominican Summer League, he struggled in the States. He gave up 25 hits in just 14 innings, including three long balls while striking out 11 and walking four. It looks as if he may have been injured as he missed most of the month of August. He appeared in 12 games, all in relief, and it looks like Basora’s got a long way to go if he’s going to materialize.

Top Performers

Position Players: Gerard Hernandez, Matt McPhearson and Raul Santana provided the punch at the plate for the AZL Diamondbacks. Hernandez was a 21st round selection out of a Pinnacle HS (in Scottsdale, AZ) in 2014 and used his hometown advantage to put a hurting on opposing pitchers, ultimately earning a short trip to the Pioneer League before the season was out. He’ll need to learn some plate discipline, however, as he walked only eight times in 47 games. McPhearson was a 4th round choice in 2013 and showed tremendous growth in 2014. He decreased his strikeout rate, got on base more and stole 23 bags. Santana was old for the league at 21-years old, but hit for the most power of any regular fixture in the lineup.

Pitchers: the AZL Diamondbacks had a few standout performances on the mound in 2014. Yefrey Ramirez, a 6’2″ righty, led the way with 0.80 WHIP over seven games with a 1.93 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 37.1 innings. He was strong and got some time in the Pioneer League late in the season where he wasn’t quite as dominant. Anfernee Benitez is a 6’1″ left-hander from Panama who was solid in his second stint in the AZL, posting a 1.13 WHIP and striking out 50 in 56 innings with just 16 walks. He was the team’s most durable starter on the year, producing a bulk of quality innings. Gabriel Perez was a lights-out reliever, but at 23, looks to have limited upside. Spencer Medick was a 2014 sign out of independent ball and at 23, carved up the competition. He’ll need a new challenge in 2015 and may be the latest D-backs treasure out of independent baseball.

Most Valuable Position Player: Matt McPhearson, CF

With a .381 OBP, McPhearson was on base all of the time. He used that speed to rack up the second most steals in the AZL with a total of 23. He was thrown out just three times, proving that he’s more than just fast, he can actually read a pitcher and take the base. In his second pro season, McPhearson cut his strikeout rate by 7% while still walking at a strong clip (12%). The patience is nice to see given that he’s not much for power and at 5’8″, it’s not likely to come. But, if he can get on base, he can use his biggest weapon in his speed. Look for him to move up to the Pioneer League in 2015, with a shot at full season ball also in the mix.

Most Valuable Pitcher: Anfernee Benitez, LHP

Benitez was solid for the AZL D-backs all season long, leading the team in games, starts and innings. He reportedly sits 88-91 with a change up that’s a work in progress. Listed at 6’1″ and 176-pounds, there’s reason to think he could still add some velocity. He threw a bevy of quality innings for the team, with a solid WHIP (1.13), a fair number of strikeouts (50) while limiting the walks (16) over 56 innings and 15 appearances. He’ll be just 19 next season when he should make his way to the Pioneer League.

Parting Thoughts

The AZL Diamondbacks weren’t overly talented, yet they scrapped and fought their way to an above-.500 record. Several marquee players logged time there but ended up at higher levels (Toussaint, Reed and others), contributing to the team while they were on the roster. Ultimately, there was some nice growth from guys like McPhearson and notable debuts from players like Hernandez and Takahashi. It’s just the beginning for most of these guys and there’s a long way to go, but there are encouraging signs if you look hard enough.

On Deck

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6 Responses to Top Draft Picks Headline AZL D-backs in 2014

  1. Robert Shaps says:

    Jeff,interesting article, however, your kind words and support for Marcus Wilson is almost irresponsible. Top draft choices do not hit .206 in rookie ball! No excuses, unacceptable and most likely termination if he was not given a sizable amount of money. I went to several games and he stunk up the ballpark. 40 strike outs with only 5 extra base hits. I apologize for the criticism, but there are plenty of other players deserving attention.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree with you completely

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      Thanks for bringing this up, Robert, I think it’s a topic that deserves a lot of attention, probably more than I can leave in this comment. But I’ll try:

      Trying to know a player’s worth after just 39 games in rookie ball, especially that player’s debut, isn’t justice. There’s always going to be an adjustment period. Some guys figure it out rather quickly, others never do. But, there are plenty of big league all stars who didn’t get off to amazing starts in their pro debuts. 39 games of lack-luster baseball don’t tell us a player’s future by any means.

      And you don’t have to take it from me. Professional scouts like Jason Parks (former Baseball Prospectus, now Chicago Cubs) and Kiley McDaniel (formerly Yankees/Pirates/others, now FanGraphs) will assure you the same. At this stage in Wilson’s game, it’s not about production, but rather about forming habits that will ultimately lead to production. He has some of those already, but will have to make adjustments to tap into his potential.

      What we don’t know is if those adjustments were in progress this season, if he was playing through some type of nagging injury or if the move to living life on his own while facing the best pitching he’s ever seen were contributing factors. For example, what if the D-backs coaching staff had altered his swing, something they think will help him long term? That would surely be a difficult thing to adjust to after tens of thousands of swings from his “natural” set-up. I can’t say that’s what happened, but these are the types of variables we don’t know about and can’t fairl judge from just a couple dozen games.

      The value of numbers in relationship to scouting tools lies on a continuum. Stats are most valuable for players in AA and AAA, where we can start to get a pretty good feel for how they’ll perform with each step up the ladder. The usefulness of numbers fades pretty fast after that, down to the point where stats in complex leagues (AZL, GCL, etc) become nearly meaningless.

      In other words, if just scouting the stats were all that was required, then we wouldn’t need scouts in the first place. We’d all just build teams by surfing the internet.

      But, you mentioned that you saw him in person, and I don’t want to take away from that. Perhaps you’ve seen something specifically troubling outside of his batting average. What you also saw was his athleticism, no doubt. And if he can learn to tap into that (remember, he’s 18 and going through a steep learning curve, likely the steepest of his young life) with the help of the coaching staff, that kind of speed and ability can become incredibly useful.

      I’d also add that he was selected 69th overall for a reason. Out of a pool of several thousand kids, he went in the top 1%. Scouts know their jobs and the narrative all along was that he was “raw” and “would take time to develop.” That’s fine, because as you recall, he’s just 18. Four or five years for a premium athlete to learn the game of baseball isn’t at all unreasonable. In fact, it’s often the norm.

      The athleticism can also be a detriment for young players, as guys like Wilson have been the very best athlete on his team his whole life. He’s largely gotten by on using his athleticism alone without having to refine his approach, work counts and do the little things that make a big leaguer successful. This is part of what has to be learned, and he’s basically just started “going to school” so to speak.

      At the end of the day, does he make it? I’m not sure, and frankly, the odds aren’t exactly good for any prospect considering the failure rate in the minor leagues. But he has a chance, and a relatively good one at that, so long as he learns from his coaches and grows as a professional player. To declare any kind of verdict right now is ludicrous after a bad month and a half.

      He has the tools but he has to learn to apply them. His stats to date don’t tell us how good he will be, they instead just show us where he is right now and what he has to work on. It’s just one snapshot of his career, and right not, it’s not a flattering one, but he has plenty of time to change it.

      I hope that made sense!

      • Anonymous says:

        Hey Jeff,
        Great rebuttal and I agree with most of your points. Marcus is a gifted athlete, but it doesn’t always translate into becoming a gifted hitter. Maybe he will become a major league player, however, the statistics of the making the bigs are against all propects and lets not forget he still hit .206 in rookie ball and hasn’t even been introduced to a major league breaking ball. I wish him good luck.
        Thank you for letting me air my amateur opinions. It was fun.

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