The upper minors are a mixed bag. On one hand you have some of the most talented, close-to-the-majors guys in system playing their tails off in AA, trying to get the call. On the other, you have a big crop of major league vets who are toiling at AAA hoping to get one last crack at the big leagues. The final piece in this four-part series examines the seasons of AA Mobile and AAA Reno players. There are a bunch of guys who should figure into the 2016 Diamondbacks club between these two levels, so don’t sleep on these guys.
Mobile BayBears (Southern League)
- 70-67 – 2nd (out of 5) in the Southern Division
- Mobile BayBears Roster
Most Productive Hitters
After a bit of a rebound season in Visalia in 2014, Socrates Brito made sure to keep his foot on the gas in 2015 when he played 129 games in Mobile, then played in 18 major league contests. He was first on the team in triples (15), second in doubles (17) and third in home runs (9) while cutting his strikeout rate from 2014. Brito also stole 20 bases in 26 attempts while playing a high quality right field for the BayBears.
Zach Borenstein, a 25-year old left fielder who was acquired from the Angels in the Joe Thatcher trade, did damage for Mobile in 85 games before a brief trial in AAA. He showed solid plate discipline while slashing .314/.394/.511 in a half a season’s worth of at-bats, including ten homers.
A midseason addition, middle infielder Jack Reinheimer had a very productive year for the BayBears after coming aboard in the Mark Trumbo trade. He was productive in every way while hitting 24 doubles and stealing 21 bags between Jackson and Mobile.
Most Productive Pitchers
This was 23-year old Braden Shipley‘s year to prove he belongs and he did just that while leading Mobile in innings pitched by a wide margin and finishing the year on a high note. In his final ten starts, Shipley posted a 3.10 ERA over 62.1 innings with 54 strikeouts to just 15 walks. In his 27 starts he allowed just seven home runs, something that is surely good to see from the former first rounder.
Silvino Bracho was revelation in 2015. He began the year in Visalia and after six quick outings was promoted to Mobile where he racked up 16 saves via a 0.96 WHIP. His 59 strikeouts in 44.2 innings were fourth on the team, impressive for a guy who appeared in just 37 contests, all as a reliever. His promotion to the majors was well-earned.
Not to be outdone, Adam Miller attempted to keep pace with Bracho in the strikeout department, totaling more (63) but needing more games to do it (50). Walks were routinely a problem for Miller, but he never yielded a homer and punched out enough guys to skate by with a 2.88 ERA.
Braden Shipley was the team’s top prospect and the only full-time fixture in the rotation. The former 15th overall pick and Futures Game pitcher had a rocky first half before really settling in during the final two months of the season. His strikeout rate fell a bit while the walk rate stayed pretty stable from the season previous, although he walked just 15 batters total in his final ten starts. The stuff is still there – the mid 90’s heat, the plus changeup, the potentially plus breaking ball – it’s just a matter of Shipley refining the mechanics, improving his command and making it all work for him.
Socrates Brito’s big year really started with a reasonable showing in the AFL the year before where scouts were impressed with the athleticism, defense and potential to hit for power. The knock on him was the hit tool as he just didn’t make enough quality contact to get to that power. He progressed in a big way in 2015 against the most advanced pitching he’d seen, making lots of quality contact and letting his athleticism do the rest. He projects as a possible starter who may end up more of a 4th outfielder long term.
When the D-backs and Mariners made a deal in June, Gabby Guerrero’s name grabbed plenty of attention. Given his bloodlines, that’s understandable. It’s profile similar to uncle Vlad’s – big, loose swing with a power arm in right field. Unfortunately for the younger Guerrero, he lacks the natural bat-to-ball ability of the soon-to-be Hall of Famer. The M’s sold low on him and he showed some positive signs for Arizona after coming over, dropping his strikeout rate while hitting for a little more power. There’s a ways to go here – contact problems could derail him – but there’s plenty of optimism left for the 21-year old.
A sleeper in the Trumbo/Castillo swap, Jack Reinheimer has shown an ability to do a lot of things well if not one thing particularly great. The reports on his defense suggest that he can handle short but is probably best off at second. He has shown an ability to flash line drive power and manage the strike zone while stealing bases. The whole package isn’t tremendous, but it has value even if he ends up a utility player.
Starting the year in High-A and ending it in the majors, Silvino Bracho’s breakout was nothing short of spectacular. He’s not a big guy and we’ve seen some interesting results thus far in his small major league sample, but he’s got 7th or 8th inning upside should he really settle into his role in the big league ‘pen.
Velocity is the name of the game with Adam Miller, a guy who’s been clocked at triple digits. As you can imagine, he’s walked more than his share, too. Turning 26 this offseason, he remains an intriguing guy, but that’s about it at this point.
Zach Borenstein is in a similar category: a productive player who’s old for his level. Some have argued that he’s earned his chance, yet scouts aren’t intrigued as he’s not the most athletic left fielder and doesn’t have enough pop to make up for it. At this point, he looks like an up-and-down guy at best.
It was a tough campaign for Jimmie Sherfy after he walked 28 batters in 49.2 innings and gave up enough hits to inflate his ERA to 6.52. He still struck out more than a batter per inning, but lefty continue to haunt him without an effective changeup.
Dominic Leone came over with Reinheimer and Guerrero in the Trumbo deal, but after a strong 2014 MLB season, found himself back in the minors in 2015. He battled injuries but was effective in AA. At 24, he needs to get back to the majors in a hurry or risk getting passed up.
A good athlete, Evan Marzilli managed to hit .246 in AA this season after hitting, wait for it, .246 in AA last season. He did show better plate discipline, however, and could profile as a glove-first defensive replacement with base running ability in center field down the road.
Who is this Silvino Bracho and what is he all about? We started getting that question on the website in early June and it didn’t slow down on twitter. As it turns out, Bracho had as impressive of a campaign as any D-backs minor leaguer and came from the periphery to do it. It goes to show the volatility of relievers as he wasn’t a polished college closer or a high bonus international sign, yet still took his craft to the next level and was rewarded for doing so. He will be a strong candidate to remain in the Arizona bullpen next season, depending on what the club does on the trade and free agent markets.
Reno Aces (Pacific Coast League)
- 70-74 – 3rd (out of 4) in the Pacific Northern Division
- Reno Aces Roster
Most Productive Hitters
It’s the PCL, but geez Peter O‘Brien had a year. He hit .284/.332/.551 with 26 homers, 35 doubles and nine triples. That kind of offensive production stands out even in Reno. The power is unquestionable and he made full use of it in 2015. The defense for O’Brien was questionable, but the bat certainly was not.
Jamie Romak had virtually the same numbers at third base: .284/.363/.549 with 27 homers, 42 doubles and three triples. He did get on base a better rate but also struck out more than his slugging counterpart. Either way, having these two as part of a 1-2 punch in the middle of a lineup made Phil Nevin look good all year long.
Brandon Drury got the call midway through the year and apparently liked the PCL hitter-friendly confines. He played all over the infield to stay in the lineup (he even played shortstop) and slashed .331/.384/.458. He didn’t hit many homers (2) but ripped 26 doubles in 63 before getting The Call.
Most Productive Pitchers
The jump to AAA didn’t seem to phase Aaron Blair, the Diamondbacks Minor League Pitcher of the Year. After a fabulous first half at AA Mobile, Blair continued to find success against tougher competition in arguably the worst parks for pitchers anywhere outside of Mars. His 1.22 WHIP and 3.16 ERA speak to that over his 13 games (12 starts). Like Shipley, he finished the year hot with a 2.69 ERA in his last ten starts.
Jhoulys Chacin went from transaction afterthought to a valuable piece of the Diamondbacks’ rotation in September. Along the way, he made 13 starts for Reno with a 3.22 ERA and allowing just three home runs in his 86.2 innings. He’s obviously not a prospect, but he was a valuable part of the team.
Kaleb Fleck served as the Aces’ closer towards the end of the season, a role that belonged to many along the way. The 26-year old was solid in the AFL last fall and racked up 66 strikeouts in just 52 innings for Reno as their most dominant reliever.
Aaron Blair obviously heads this group and while it was surprising in a sense to not see him get the call to the majors in 2015, we all know it’s just a matter of time as he’ll compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training. His survival in Reno speaks to his ability as that’s a place where pitchers often get hammered early and often. The strikeouts have dwindled some as he’s climbed the ladder, but that’s to be expected a degree. He’s managed to keep getting ground balls and, importantly, stay on the mound by avoiding injury. It’s a #4 profile for him, one that can potentially play up to the low-#3 range if it all breaks right.
Not far behind, Brandon Drury continued to hit, hit and hit while proving that he can definitely stick at second base in the short term. He didn’t showcase over-the-wall power but traded in some of the pop for contact, putting up strong averages every month of the season after he got off a slow start. He has the potential to be an every day second baseman with 10-15 homer power in his prime who’ll hit a ton of doubles and carry a reasonable average and OBP, something the team needs right now at the keystone. He will compete for the starting job this spring.
Peter O’Brien a big hitter without a home. His inability to play anything other first base remains a stumbling block, and although he smashed a ton of extra-base hits in Reno, it did come in a hitter-friendly league with plenty of strikeouts and few walks. The approach will still give him trouble at the highest level and he’s going to whiff a lot. For some teams, that might be okay, but he’s not going to supplant Paul Goldschmidt, the team can’t afford another Yasmany Tomas in the outfield defensively and even though I’ve said it 100 times, he’s not going to catch. Look for him to be traded this winter.
Kaleb Fleck is a 26-year old reliever toiling in AAA with control issues and a big arm. There a million guys like that in the minors, but Fleck still has a chance if he can learn to locate in a hurry. It’s a big arm that can play at the majors with just a little more refinement.
It’s been a ride for Jake Barrett lately. After looking like the closer of the future, he’s stalled between AA and AAA over the last two seasons. Now 24, his stock has started to dip firmly as he just hasn’t been able to be effective in Reno, and without that success, won’t get the chance to pitch in Phoenix. If he can put it together, he may just find himself in the D-backs’ bullpen in short order, but that needs to happen sooner rather than later for Barrett as the bullpen will be crowded in 2016.
It’s not that I didn’t think Aaron Blair could be successful in AAA, but he managed to defy the PCL’s effects in 12 starts and really not miss a beat. Yes, it would be great for him produce a few more K’s, but that’ll come with time as he continues to hone his craft. For now, the profile remains a strong one as an innings-eater who can hold down a productive rotation spot for the long haul. He’s already arguably one of Arizona’s five best starting pitchers and it won’t be surprising if he forces his way into the rotation come April, 2016.
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