It’s that time of year again, the time when everyone starts to recalibrate their prospect rankings. Several midseason lists have appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America and other sites. Last week I profiled our Top 30 Prospect List from last winter and provided some updates, noting that some things have changed. There have been some graduations and some disappointing campaigns. Touki Toussaint was dealt, which took the highest-upside player out of the system without warning and set a dangerous precedent for the organization.
And while the system still has notable names within it, it’s surely weaker than it was a year ago. Taking Archie Bradley, Toussaint and Jake Lamb out of the Top 10 will do that to you. That reshuffles things a bit and creates opportunities for other players to slide in as the landscape changes. Below you’ll find our Midseason Top 10, a recap of each player’s 2015 campaign and additional notes. Also, make sure to check back later in the week when we’ll have a Q & A with Baseball Prospectus scout, author and podcaster Mauricio Rubio to discuss the list and prospects contained. Now, on to the prospects!
1. Dansby Swanson (21), SS, AZL D-backs – Swanson jumps to the front of the list as the number one overall player taken in the 2015 Draft. Although the draft was thought to be weaker than those in the past, those concerns were due to depth and injuries more than talent at the top. And at the top is where Swanson remained, through all of the turbulence, making him the first overall selection. One could argue that Brendan Rogers was the best overall talent, but that’s splitting hairs and Swanson was a much safer pick that fits the team’s timeline of contending in the near future.
He was a number one pick for a reason, and that’s because Dansby Swanson can more or less do it all, although he doesn’t necessarily have one loud tool. Defensively, he can handle shortstop and can likely do so for the foreseeable future. He has a short, quick stroke at the plate that’s very repeatable and doesn’t have much extra noise in it. The swing is geared more for line drives, but as he’s shown over and over again at the highest level in college, he has the pop to put the ball over the fence, too. As a baserunner, he projects as a tick above average and he has above average speed, although it may not truly be plus.
We’re looking at a guy here who’s a solid big league regular and has a chance to be an All Star in his prime. Something along the lines of a .285 hitter with 12 homers, 15 steals and a reasonable OBP is what we should be looking for. Best of all, he’s advanced and will head straight to High-A Visalia for the rest of the year (after a quick recharge in the AZL). He could very well join the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Michael Conforto and other recent advanced college draftees to shoot through the minors.
2. Braden Shipley (23), RHP, AA Mobile – I haven’t thrown in the towel on Shipley and his electric stuff, but after the first half he’s had, I’m damn close to sliding him down another notch or two on this list and a poor second half will result in just that. Still, we’re talking an athletic pitcher with potentially three plus pitches and average command. That’s a monster of a guy if he learns to make it all work, likely a very solid number two. Unfortunately, there’s a big “but” here and that’s the caveat that currently Shipley is not consistently making it all work at the moment. Instead, he’s up and down as he works on throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters, something that appears to developing with mixed results.
It’s also important to note that teams don’t just tell their developing arms to go out and strike out everybody in the opposing lineup. Some guys are ready to roll from day one (see the next guy on the list) and others have specific skills that need to be improved. For Shipley, it’s the ability to command and control his pitches, something takes time for a developing arm. This very much reminds me of Garrit Cole’s rise through the Pirates system when he wasn’t generating the K’s that others had expected, but when Pittsburgh took the training wheels off, they revealed a dominant pitcher. Shipley lack’s Cole’s fastball, but you get the idea.
Also, we knew Shipley would be a bit raw out of college and would be a slow-mover. To see him in Mobile having inconsistent results is not a shock and is every bit to be expected from him. It’d be nice if everyone could blast through the minor league system, but that’s just not realistic. I’m betting on the upside here, even if the picture isn’t very pretty at the moment. Should the second half not improve, I’ll have a lot to reconsider this winter.
3. Aaron Blair (23), RHP, AAA Reno – you can make the case that Blair belongs above Shipley and I won’t fight anyone on it. It’s a personal preference between floor and ceiling. He’s done everything asked of him and more as he’s completely mowed down the minors and looks destined for a big league call-up sooner than later. His strikeout numbers have dwindled as bit as he’s advanced, but that was to be expected as he was simply far too advance for Single-A hitters. His command is solid, though, and it allows him to do a couple of things: limit the walks and keep the ball hit on the ground. This is a dream scenario for a pitcher who’s going to pitch half of his games at Chase Field and a couple at Coors every year. Keep the runners off the bases, get ground ball outs – perfect.
But while that’s a very productive profile, it’s also not the sexiest one. If you’re reading here, you’re smart enough to know the value of a guy who can keep the bases clear and the ball on the ground, but there’s always variability to a pitcher who allows a lot of contact, and in a place like Chase, sometimes that contact is going to burn you. Blair looks like a very durable, reliable, contact-oriented pitcher who can give you lots of innings, they just may be more solid than impact innings as he’s either a low number three or high number four in the making.
I know Blair’s hype has escalated as he’s moved up the ladder, and that’s for a good reason. He’s earned the excitement the hard way and really exceeded expectations. If he were in the rotation right now, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t have a chance to be the team’s third-best starter immediately. But the ranking here reflects his status as a prospect. It’s not a race to see who can get to the majors first, it’s a race to see who can become the best major leaguer. As mentioned in the Shipley comments, this will be a fun one to re-evaluate in a five months.
4. Brandon Drury (22), 2B/3B, AAA Reno – Kevin Towers will always be remembered for dealing Justin Upton, even it wasn’t entirely his fault. Although he turned Upton into Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and, eventually, Peter O’Brien, it’s Drury who may turn out to be the most memorable player acquired in the deal. Drury had hit initially for Atlanta in the low minors before he had a down year and stalled. Luckily, Visalia was just the place to jump start him back to relevance and he’s never looked back, destroying the Southern League in the second half last year after turning 21.
He was assigned there this year and got off to a horrendous start after some inspiring play early in Spring Training. Reports indicated that he was pressing, likely trying too hard to try to get back into the major league discussion. While that didn’t work, I like that he competed like hell to get back into better habits at the plate and he promptly turned things around and earned a promotion to Reno before the All Star Break. He’s doing what you’d expect in the PCL, hitting a ton. He’s alternating starts between second and third base, showing his versatility as Phil Nevin works him into the lineup nearly every day.
By now, he’s proven he can play either position well enough to warrant his bat in the major league lineup, and while I’d caution fans not to get too caught up in his AAA numbers, he still projects as a guy who can hit for average and at least average power, producing more doubles than homers by a wide margin, but contributing nonetheless. The ceiling here is a Role 6 player who’s more likely to be a league average regular (Role 5). If the team can make him work at second base, the bat stands out more as it’ll be less power-reliant. If they end up needing him at third, it’ll be less of a standout feature, but probably solid enough to play for an extended period of time. Essentially, he’s more of a solid prospect than a standout one, but that’s alright for a guy who was little more than a throw-in from the low minors.
5. Alex Young (21), LHP, AZL Dbacks – Young was Arizona’s second selection in the 2015 draft out of TCU and showcases three average to above average offerings. The fastball velocity was 91-93 consistently from the left side and he’s got an average changeup and average breaking ball that can play to plus at times. The key for him will be establishing the fastball, something he did well at TCU, and hoping to work on his secondaries enough for them to play up into pitches that can generate swings and misses. He’ll likely never be a strikeout-heavy pitcher, but as one major league scout told me, he’s a “no shit major leaguer.”
And with the 43rd overall pick in a weak and shallow draft, this is what you’re looking for. There were other teams that did not have a compensation pick and picked near the D-backs in the second round that lamented they missed out on the polished college arm – he was clearly in demand. While he may never profile as more than a number four, this is the type of pitcher that you can hand the ball to ever fifth day and rely on to put up a competitive outing. Should he be able to add a little velocity and/or command the secondaries consistently, he may even outperform the initial projections. The Diamondbacks deserve credit for plucking him out of the mix with their second round pick.
6. Gabby Guerrero (21), OF, AA Mobile – while it’ll be remembered in the near-term as the Mark Trumbo-for-Welington Castillo trade, Guerrero has the potential to be the long-term asset that pays the biggest dividends for the Diamondbacks. They currently have little major league depth in the outfield with Socrates Brito being the only outfielder on the 40-man roster who’s not in the majors. So Guerrero, who’s the nephew of Vladamir Guerrero, fills a need and provides some upside.
Unfortunately, that upside comes with some warts. He has the athleticism and arm to be an average to above average right fielder with enough bat speed to put up some power numbers. The plate discipline, however, is notably bad and he needs to learn to work counts and get into favorable ones to allow the bat to shine. At present, he simply doesn’t make enough quality contact to maximize his potential. He’s never walked at all and strikes out too much to justify his low walk rate. He’s only 21 and he could very well repeat AA in 2016 as he works to refine his approach. If he does, he could be come an every day outfielder who hits for enough power to warrant his mediocre on-base percentage. If he doesn’t, he’ll be a fourth outfielder type who provides some pop off the bench. The jury is still out here on if those changes can be made.
7. Marcus Wilson (18), OF, A- Missoula – Wilson drew praise as a second rounder in the 2014 draft as a plus-plus athlete with speed to spare. A center fielder all the way, he’s a guy who should always play above average defense and steal a bunch of bases. His bat, however, remains a big question mark as he’s struggled to control the barrel and make consistent contact. At present, he takes plenty of walks but swings and misses a bunch. With that said, it’s his kind of athleticism that has a chance to turn that around.
After catching him in person this spring, it’s easy to see why he was so intriguing, but the weaknesses at the plate were noticeable as well. He worked very closely with Shelly Duncan when I saw him to make adjustments and talk hitting. He clearly has the desire to adjust but there’s a long way to go. Wilson is a project for the D-backs but he’d be the best athlete in center field for them in a long time should he figure it out at the plate. He has All Star upside but a floor of a guy who never reaches the majors. There are a ton of possible outcomes here and it’s just way too early to tell how this one pans out.
8. Wei-Chieh Huang (21), RHP, A Kane County – Huang seemingly came out of nowhere to grab attention in Single-A Kane County this spring. He put up stellar start after stellar start and a lot of folks were asking where this kid came from. Taiwan, in fact, is where he came from as he was an international free agent signed in 2014. Since coming over, he’s absolutely obliterated the Midwest League, racking up the K’s, not walking hardly anyone and pithing to a minuscule ERA and WHIP.
But, as guest Mauricio Rubio pointed out on The Pool Shot a couple weeks back, just about any pitcher with a plus changeup can demolish Single-A hitters as they just haven’t been exposed to that kind of a pitch. Huang has said pitch and he’s getting by easily with his fastball/changeup combo. When he’s promoted, which should come any time now, he’ll face a much stiffer test and we should be able to better gauge his upside. As things stand now, he’s a 21-year old righty with an average fastball, a plus changeup and a developing breaking ball. Although he has plus command, the arsenal isn’t necessarily all that inspiring and the likely outcome appears to be a back end starter if all goes well. As mentioned before, a promotion to Visalia will tell us a lot here.
9. Jimmie Sherfy (22), RHP, AA Mobile – I’m as morally opposed to including receivers in my top prospect lists as anybody, but at this point, you can really pencil in any one of about five to eight players depending on your preference. Sherfy gets the nod here from me because I truly believe he can be effective at the major league level with his blend of velocity and funk, even if he always walks and extra guy more than you’d like. He’ll get plenty of swings and misses and might end up more of a right-handed matchup guy, but he’ll be a valuable piece of the bullpen for a long time. This is about productivity in the short term and upside should his command improve. If it does, his likely future outcome improve tremendously. He should get a shot in 2016 at some point.
10. Yoan Lopez (22), RHP, AA Mobile – things haven’t gone so well for Lopez since he was signed last winter. Although the D-backs brought him in under the premise that he’d have a chance to compete for a starting spot in the rotation in the very near future, he’s instead slipped to the last spot on this list, and even that might draw some ridicule for being too high. The situation is that bad. Not exactly what you want from the guy you blew your international bonus pool on, but that can’t be held against Lopez here. This is about performance, both present and future.
Unfortunately, the present has been clouded by blister problems that sidelined Lopez for a good chunk of the AA season and has limited him to just seven starts all year. He’s back now and just trying to get his feet back under him for the BayBears. The scouting reports remain largely unexciting. It’s an average-ish fastball, average-ish secondaries and average-isn command potential. There’s no clear out pitch, no dominant fastball, no plus command. It’s a back-end profile that appears farther away than anticipated. That could hold value for the team, it just appears to be of limited value unless some unforeseen improvements are made.
And I do still believe it’s important to keep that in mind with Lopez. He’s making a massive transition, coming from Cuba to Central America, to Arizona and then to Mobile, Alabama, which kind of sounds like the vacation from hell. He’s facing better hitters in AA than he consistently faced in Cuba and is having to adjust on the mound, too. I really want another half a season of baseball to evaluate him before making a hard conclusion here.
There are a few areas here that I’d like to very briefly address before we take things more in-depth with Mauricio later in the week. Before firing off your comments, please take a look below:
- First, the organization of the top three players is sure to draw some ire. I think it should. In my mind, Swanson is the top guy, but it’s not by a massive margin.
- I like the upside of Shipley to the safety of Blair, but you can easily make the case to flip the two. It’s a preference thing and certainly not a knock on Blair – what more could you possibly ask from the guy? Without know what Braden Shipley may be working on, I’m hesitant to weigh his stats too highly. If they continue, however, that may change.
- Drury gonna Drury – all he’s done is hit. Oh, and he played shortstop for the Aces the other day. No, he’s not changing positions, but I think it reaffirms what my eyes have seen: that he can definitely handle second base.
- Placing Alex Young was difficult and having him fifth might be bold, but he’s a safe bet to reach the majors as a productive starter, if not a dominant one.
- Gabby Guerrero and Marcus Wilson are outfielders with huge question marks but huge potential, as well. For both the issue is and will be making consistent contact of the quality variety.
- Huang belongs on the list with what he’s done, but he shouldn’t be any higher given the limited utility of his arsenal. This is a place where scouting the stats is potentially misleading.
- Spots 9 and 10 were incredibly difficult to pin down. There are a bevy of prospects that you could argue deserve a spot at the end of the list. Sergio Alcantara, Colin Bray, Peter O’Brien, Domingo Leyba, Cody Reed, the list goes on. Right now I’m going with Sherfy and Lopez, but that may change this winter
- The system as a whole is a weak in comparison to most other organizations. When your top tier contains an solid middle infielder, a mid-rotation starter, a guy with big stuff who still can’t throw strikes and another solid middle infielder, you’re in trouble. There’s no potential ace. No potential batting champ. No raw power monster. You could argue that it’s a decent collection of players, but it’s not a deep and impactful group. By the time we reach the sixth and seventh spots, we’re really starting to get into fringe-starter territory and looking at utility guys, some number five starter candidates and a reliever. That’s not going to turn many heads. Maybe some of that will change as guys head to the AFL (Lopez?) and others break out, but as of now, it’s a lower-tier system for Arizona.
For more on the Midseason Top 10, check out my chat with Mauricio Rubio of Baseball Prospectus, where he weighs in on each prospect, talks tools and upsides as well as providing a couple of additional names to watch out for.
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