Last year it was High-A Visalia where the bulk of the exciting minor league talent began the season, this year it’s Double-A Mobile. This wave of good young prospects has moved along, somewhat in unison, as the BayBears are loaded with interesting guys. But if you know anything about the strengths of the Diamondbacks’ minor league system, you’re well aware that it’s pitching-heavy. A lot of that pitching is in Mobile right now.
As a team, the BayBears are floating near .500, currently at 22-23 on the season. Offensively, the team sits right in the middle of the pack by OPS, but is near the bottom in OBP. They’re fourth in home runs with 24, but trail the league leaders (Chattanooga) by 20. They’re seventh in stolen bases with 19, trailing Biloxi with 50 total. The team is dead-last in walks, but has struck out the third-fewest times. On the pitching side of things, they’re in the middle of the pack in both ERA and WHIP, strikeouts and walks, hits and home runs allowed. Despite some serious talent, they’re not exactly tearing up the Southern League.
At the Plate
Brandon Drury is the headliner here as far as offensive talents go. He’s the top position player in Arizona’s system and started the year in Double-A even though he destroyed the Southern League at the end of 2014 and had a strong showing in Spring Training. In my looks this spring, I still saw some raw tendencies that could be exploited and it was clear that he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump to the majors even though fans wanted to see it. After a horrendous start to the year, one in which scouts intimated that he was pressing at the plate and had gotten away from his good approach, he’s started to settle in. His average has risen to .272, something that took a lot of work considering where he began. Drury has been a doubles machine in his minor league career and he’s right back at it with 12 of them in 45 games, along with a triple and a homer. His strikeout rate is at a career low, but so is his walk rate, which paints a bit of a picture of him being impatient at the plate and making a lot of bad contact early on. He’ll need to continue to grow that approach or he’ll be exposed at higher levels. Right now, it appears that he’ll spend the bulk of 2015 at Double-A while the team can sort out the whole Lamb/Tomas/Hill/Owings/Ahmed/Pennington mess.
Socrates Brito is the other name of major interest in a crowded BayBears outfield. Noted for his raw athleticism and approach, Brito is an exciting player with big upside and big work to do to attain that upside. He’s off to a mediocre start to the 2015 campaign, and part of that is facing Double-A pitching for the first time. He’s cut his strikeout rate but his already-low walk rate has dipped even further. The approach at the plate is a major key for Brito as he’ll have to work himself into good counts and punish hittable pitches, letting the bad ones go, which is far easier said than done. Without an elite hit tool, he has to maximize his opportunities.
Around the rest of the outfield, Zach Borenstein is hitting well since being demoted from Triple-A Reno. He has some fourth outfielder upside with left-handed power. Mitch Haniger, part of the Gerardo Parra trade, has a similar future, albeit from the right side and without as much power but more speed. Alex Glen is another one with a chance to see major league time down the road. If you thought the Diamondbacks’ outfield is crowded, know that Mobile might have it even worse.
On the Mound
It’s a three-headed monster for the BayBears in the rotation, with Aaron Blair, Braden Shipley and Yoan Lopez drawing scouts from far and wide to check out Mobile. Blair has really stolen the show, and while Shipley’s raw stuff still grades out better, Blair is flashing the kind of pitchability that puts guys on a major league mound for a long time. With a heavy two-seamer and a quality changeup, plus an average-ish curve, he’s exceeding expectations even for a second round choice. His strikeout rate has fallen some, which was to be expected as he climbs the ladder, but he’s not walking many hitters and has proven tough to hit. One aspect that still shows up, however, is the number of home runs he’s allowed (six this season, in nine starts). His HR/9 has remained higher than one would expect with his kind of arsenal, and he was victimized by the long ball during Spring Training if you recall. Still, his 1.08 WHIP is making sure that those are solo shots since he’s not allowing many base runners. He could see AAA at some point in the relatively near future and if I had to guess, I think he gets big league time this fall, even if it’s in a relief role in September.
As Blair has taken off, Braden Shipley has slipped behind. He’s had a rough go in his first nine starts in Double-A this season, after struggling some in four starts there at the tail end of 2014. The culprit? A lack of command. He’s walking nearly as many batters as he’s striking out right now, something that debilitating his overall game and undercutting his true ability. As an inexperienced but talented pitcher when drafted, the command was something that was thought to develop along the way. Unfortuantely, it hasn’t come around as expected as of yet. At 23, now’s the time one would like to start to see that take shape and it’ll have to come a long way if he’s to continue climbing the ladder. My expectation has always been that he’ll continue to grow as a pitcher, but might take a while longer than many would hope for. He should spend all of 2015 in Double-A and his stuff hasn’t changed, so he’s going to have to refine the mechanics and learn to make it work for him as opposed to fighting to control his raw stuff.
Yoan Lopez was signed out of Cuba over the winter, blowing the D-backs’ international bonus pool for the next two seasons in the process. It was a big gamble by the organization, one that will cripple their ability to sign guys on the international market through 2017. Unfortuantely, Lopez has dealt with some injuries on the year and has made only six appearances, five of them starts. He’s currently on the shelf and hasn’t pitched since May 19th. His 2.30 ERA over 31 innings is sparkling, but his peripherals paint a more pedestrian picture. He’s not struck out many and has a middling walk rate. Luckily, he hasn’t allowed many hits and has only been taken deep three times, assisting in keeping his ERA down. It hasn’t been a dominant run in the Southern League for the 22-year old by any means, but he’s held his own and once healthy, will look to keep building for the future. He should spend all of 2015 in Mobile.
- Bracho is a strikeout machine that’s turning heads around baseball and dominating everyone he’s facing as “The Next Enrique Burgos“ if you will
- Sherfy has proven to be somewhat hittable, but is still generating K’s while allowing a few too many walks, although his upside is still there
- Will Locante has had a tough start to his year with as many walks as strikeouts, but his BABIP is unsustainably high, suggesting his fortunes could turn around at any moment
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