An unbelievable second half led the Visalia Rawhide to within one win of a California League title, as they ultimately lost game five of the championship series. Along the way, top pitching prospects Aaron Blair and Braden Shipley logged most of their innings with the Rawhide while promising third baseman Brandon Drury powered the offense. Surrounded by a strong supporting cast, including Socrates Brito, Enrique Burgos, Rudy Flores and others, the Diamondbacks’ top prospects didn’t falter for Visalia. In an environment where hitters thrive and pitchers struggle, Visalia was solid all season long.

Visalia Rawhide at a Glance

California League (A+) Ranks (out of 10 total teams)

  • Record: 75-65 (5th)
  • Runs: 736 (5th)
  • OPS: .773 (4th)
  • HR: 142 (t-4th)
  • SB: 146 (t-3rd)
  • K: 1165 (7th)
  • BB: 402 (10th)
  • Runs Allowed: 715 (5th)
  • ERA: 4.52 (5th)
  • WHIP: 1.43 (t-6th)
  • K: 1209 (2nd)
  • BB: 470 (5th)
Team Review

The Rawhide were solid at the dish, finishing in the top tier of the league in most major categories.They hit for power and stole bases, showcasing a number of ways to produce runs. With a handful of solid hitting prospects, they certainly held their own, taking advantage of the California League’s gracious offensive environment. From a pitching standpoint, Visalia was in the middle of the pack in terms of hittability, but was aided by durable, effective starting pitching, thanks in large part to Spencer Arroyo, Brandon Sinnery and Andrew Barbosa. Overall, Visalia pitching did enough in a tough environment to keep the team competitive, then made it count in the playoffs.

Top Prospects

Braden Shipley, RHP: Shipley was the Diamondbacks top pick in the 2013 draft (15th overall) and he pitched well in his debut season. In his second pro season, he showed no signs of slowing down, starting his season in South Bend, pitching the majority of his innings in Visalia, then being promoted to AA Mobile before the year was out. On the season, he struck out a batter per inning over all three levels. Walks were a bit of an issue, but Shipley has always been projected as a guy who will take a little while to progress into a polished final product. Overall, it was a solid campaign and scouting reports suggest that the stuff is fantastic while the feel for pitching is still a work in progress. He should pick up where he left off in 2015 and spend most of his next season in AA.

Aaron Blair, RHP: make no mistake, Blair has improved his stock tremendously. After being drafted in the first supplemental round of the 2013 draft (36th overall), Blair was thought to be more of a durable, innings-eater type with a high floor but relatively low ceiling. He’s simply dominated since joining professional baseball, however, and rocketed up national prospect rankings. Like Shipley, he began his year in South Bend, logged most of his innings in Visalia, then earned a trip to AA Mobile to close out the year. He struck out 171 batters in 154.1 innings, surrendered 125 hits and walked 51. His strikeout and walk totals were solid and at this point he looks poised to see AAA before the conclusion of 2015, with a shot at the majors late in the year.

Brandon Drury, 3B: Drury crushed for the Rawhide, showcasing power and a solid approach at the plate. He came into the year with scouts divided as to his pedigree, but he did everything he could to show that he belongs near the top of the Diamondbacks’ system. Drury played the bulk of the season at Visalia before earning a late season promotion to AA Mobile. Across both levels, he popped 23 home runs and another 43 doubles while keeping his strikeouts at a very manageable level. He’s never taken a ton of walks, but managed to take a fair number of free passes in 2014. Scouts now view Drury as a guy with a strong chance to become a major league regular with the possibility for more. He should start next season at Mobile and see AAA Reno before 2015 is out.

Socrates Brito, OFalthough less well known than those above him, Brito has a tremendous set of physical tools that have yet to truly come together, although 2014 was a step in the right direction for him. At 6’2 and nearly 200-pounds, he oozes athleticism with plus speed and plus raw power that he’s still learning to tap into. He spent all of 2014 with Visalia, hitting ten homers and stealing 38 bases while slashing .293/.339/.429. The range of outcomes for Brito is wide as he could turn into a fourth outfielder type with defensive flexibility or he could make it all click and become a every day major league contributor. He’ll have to prove himself in AA Mobile next year where he’ll play most of the season as a 22-year old. Keep your eyes on him as he could really take off with another season to learn how to use his physical gifts.

Top Performers

Position Players: one can’t miss the display of power that first baseman Rudy Flores showed for the Rawhide, hitting 28 homers as a 23-year old. His continued high strikeout rate keeps him off the team’s top prospect radar, but he produced all year long for Visalia. 23-year old outfielder Alex Glenn was outstanding as well, hitting 24 homers and stealing 22 bases, improving his stock drastically. The aforementioned Drury was great, shortstop Raul Navarro was solid and outfielder Evan Marzilli held his own. Overall, the list of contributors was long for the Rawhide at the plate.

Pitchers: Visalia’s rotation was just okay, but it was durable and reliable with Spencsder Arroyo and Brandon Sinnery joining Blair and Shipley as productive starters. The bullpen shined with closer Enrique Burgos and fellow reliever Keith Hessler having productive seasons. Burgos can run in it up there with the best of them, touching the high 90’s frequently while Hessler showed a magnificent strikeout to walk ratio. In a league where pitching is incredibly difficult, the Rawhide benefitted from solid starts and shutdown back of the bullpen to power the to a runner-up finish in the California League.

Most Valuable Position Player: Brandon Drury, 3B

As the team’s top position player prospect, Drury came through in a big way all season long for the Rawhide. His 128 wRC+ led the team, while he finished at or near the top of the roster in hits per game, doubles, homers, OPS, ISO and more. He played the season at just 21-years old against older competition and did more than hold his own, he flat out dominated at times.

Most Valuable Pitcher(s): Enrique Burgos, RHP and Keith Hessler, LHP

Blair and Shipley were only part-time players for the Rawhide before being promoted, but the 23-year old Burgos and 25-year old Hessler shutdown opposing hitters all year long. Burgos served as the team’s closer and struck out 13.66 batters per nine, giving him some breathing room to deal with his high walk total (4.28 BB/9). In 54.2 innings of work, he gave up a measly 37 hits en route to posting a 2.47 ERA and a 3.43 FIP. Hessler, meanwhile, mixed in a bunch of strikeouts (11.83 K/9) and kept the walks low (2.73 BB/9) from the left side. This tandem locked down the back end of the bullpen for Visalia all year lon

Parting Thoughts

Another affiliate, another set of winners. This organization could use a culture change and it all starts below the big league level where nearly every affiliate experienced success in 2014, including a run for the title by Visalia. The team was loaded with top talent and none of it failed to produce, even accounting for the drastic run environment that is the California League. The pitchers did their thing despite the altitude and thin air while the hitters put up the kinds of numbers one would expect with those same conditions. From both a team and individual level, this was a great campaign for the Rawhide.

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6 Responses to Top Prospects Blair, Shipley and Drury Power Rawhide Success

  1. Travis says:

    Can’t wait to see Shipley play in the majors. I hope he gets an invite to spring training, to see what playing in the majors is like, but get sent back down to AA or AAA for the rest of the season. I fully expect him to be a starting pitcher two seasons from now.

  2. Jeff Wiser says:

    Hey Travis, me too! He’s kinda been one of “my guys” since he was drafted and fell right into the Dbacks’ laps at #15. Anyone with a changeup like that and a plus heater has a great shot. The curve has improved, too, so as long as he irons out the command, he should be a number 2/3 starter.

  3. Steve says:

    Great recap, Jeff. Two thoughts for you. 1.) Jimmie Sherfy was a sensation when he was in Visalia, I’m looking forward to what you have to say about him in the Mobile writeup. 2.) Can’t put a 20-80 scale number on this thought, but Brito really stood out to me this year. Your analysis was perfect, he could end up with a lot of different outcomes, but when you see him live he shows star potential at times. Seeing him score from second on a shallow ball right at an outfielder was one of those times for me. Should have been a play at the plate, but he flew, gracefully, and it made it look like it was a dumb move to throw home that gave the hitter second base. I won’t be surprised however he ends up. Let’s see if that homer jump was a Cal League thing or if he’s maturing on that side.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      Thanks Steve! I appreciate the kind words! I certainly do my best to keep up with the team given the logistical challenges. Brito is intriguing to me and looks like the kind of guy that could just surprise people an blossom. As I alluded to, the physical gifts are all present, he just has to learn how to use them on a consistent basis. It’ll take a lot of reps and coaching to make that happen.

      His physical gifts sound a lot like someone else I’m writing about right now: Lorenzo Cain. It took Cain a long time to mature, but now he’s hitting third for a team in the WS and can really do it all. Wide range of outcomes with something Cain-esque being the best case scenario, but it’s a possibility. And he gets bonus points for having a great name!


  5. Terry Miencier says:

    Jeff, in your parting thoughts you mention pitching and altitude. Visalia is 331 feet?
    Thank you always for your insight,
    Turlock, CA

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