On a Thursday we took a look at the top prospects and performers for the DSL D-backs and AZL D-backs. Continuing that trend, we’ll dive into part two of the four part series, this time evaluating the Missoula Osprey and Hillsboro Hops where things look much, much better. Let’s get started.
Missoula Osprey (Pioneer League)
- 42-33 – 1st (out of 4) in the North Division
- Missoula Osprey Roster
Most Productive Hitters
Isan Diaz led the way for the Osprey in 2015. The comp round pick in 2014 broke out in his second minor league season. Diaz showed tremendous pop for a 5’10” shortstop, finishing second in homers (13) and first in doubles (25) for Missoula. He snagged a dozen steals while slashing .360/.436/.640, and while he’ll likely make the move to second down the road, he cemented himself as one of Arizona’s top young talents in the system. A .434 BABIP did him some favors, but even with a significant reduction in that department, he would still appear to be extremely productive.
2015 11th round selection Austin Byler was excellent, too. A senior sign out of the University of Nevada-Reno, he was regarded as one of the top players available on day two of the draft. The D-backs wasted no time in selecting him. He was first on the team in homers (15), second in doubles (22) and stole nine bases as a first baseman. The 22-year old walked a ton, hit for average and power in his debut season. He was a bit old for the level and could clearly handle the Pioneer League. He’ll get off to a delayed start in 2016 thanks to a 50-day PED suspension this fall.
21-year old catcher Luke Lowery had a nice season at the plate after being selected in the 14th round of the 2015 draft. He showed power (nine homers and 12 doubles and five triples) while mixing in a nice walk rate. For an organization light on catching, this was a pleasant surprise.
Most Productive Pitchers
While the starters had a tough time in Missoula, relievers Cameron Smith, Cody Clark and Gabriel Moya pitched well. Smith served as the long man and an occasional starter, striking out 62 and walking only seven in 53.2 innings. Clark allowed only 18 hits and walked 12 in 29.2 while striking out 48(!). Moya was similarly nasty, striking out 36 in 23.1 innings while allowing just 15 hits and eight walks. At 22, 21 and 2o-years old respectively, all three were anchors for a Osprey staff that struggled as a whole.
Diaz leads the way as the top prospect for the Osprey – he’s 19 and lit the league on fire. With good bat speed, a good approach and some surprising power, he has the look of a prospect who could really see his stock take off. Playing primarily as a shortstop, he should have excellent chops if/when he slides over to second as scouts expect.
Marcus Wilson has as much upside as any player in the system, and after struggling in 2014, the player drafted one pick before Diaz showed signs of growth. The speedster can cover center field with ease and can fly on the bases. Scouts see average power potential although he hasn’t tapped into it yet. He made more contact in 2015 after working on his swing and continued to show good awareness of the strike zone. Expect Wilson to come along slowly – he’s still just 18 – but the sky’s the limit here.
Matt Railey is another toolsy outfield but served a PED suspension to start the season after he tore his hamstring early in 2014. He’s behind the curve at this point due to the lack of development time, but with plus speed, a plus arm and potentially plus power, the 20-year old will hope to rebound in a full 2016 campaign.
The breakout of Isan Diaz has to be the surprise of the season. He was definitely on the radar coming into the season, but will shoot way up the prospect rankings after his 2015 breakout. How long he stays at short is something to watch, but it’s the bat that will keep Diaz in the game and that bat took a huge leap forward this season. Kal Simmons also received a 50-game PED suspension along with Byler, which makes you wonder what exactly was going around the Missoula locker room. It’ll hurt both players moving forward.
Hillsboro Hops (Northwest League)
- 43-31 – 1st (out of 4) in the South Division
- Hillsboro Hops Roster
Most Productive Hitters
First overall selection Dansby Swanson was, no surprise, the top hitter for the Hops. Although he played just 22 games, Swanson slashed .289/.394/.482, he walked as often as he struck out and showed some pop, too (11 extra base hits). It was a successful debut for the top pick after he had an extended break following the College World Series.
22-year old first baseman Trevor Mitsui didn’t hit for average, but he made up for it with his slugging. He led the team in homers by a large margin (10) and was second in doubles (14). He made a lot of contact but didn’t walk much. Limited to first base, Mistui is going to have to keep on slugging.
It was a strong debut of sorts for 22-year old outfielder Zach Nehrir. A 16th rounder in 2015, he was first in doubles (15), second on the team in steals (11) and showed very workable plate discipline. For a 16th round pick, he may have the upside of a fourth outfielder.
Most Productive Pitchers
21-year old right hander Carlos Hernandez was simply dominant for the Hops, racking up 93 strikeouts in 85.1 innings. He walked only 27 in his 15 starts and allowed just 58 hits. The knock on Hernandez is his height (just 5’11”) and his spotty track record (played two lackluster seasons for the Osprey in ’13 and ’14). Still, it’s hard to ignore what he did on the mound and perhaps he made some adjustments that’ll allow him to keep it up moving forward.
Cody Reed was the team’s second round choice in 2014 and the lefty didn’t disappoint in his second pro season. In 63.1, he struck out 72 and walked 21, a positive change in both directions from his 2014 debut. The southpaw has been noted for being “robust” and will have to continue to monitor his weight. Regardless, he was part of a productive Hops pitching staff this season and will see Kane County in 2016.
Jared Miller is a hulking lefty at 6’7″ and 240-pounds and the former 11th rounder found success in his second pro season. In nine starts, he posted an 0.91 WHIP and struck out nearly a batter per inning. He was demoted to Hillsboro after struggling at Kane County, but found a groove after moving down a level.
Look, Dansby Swanson is the best prospect in the organization and one of the top 15 prospects in all of baseball. He’s clearly the headliner here. With a upside of a plus hit tool, plus speed, average power and average defense at short (or plus at second), he could be one of the better shortstops in the game in short order. While he may not be the type of player you’d hope is available first overall (he’s not Bryce Harper), he could be a perennial All-Star as a well-rounded, impact player at a marquee position.
On the pitching side, fellow 2015 draftee Alex Young leads the way as the best pitching prospect for the Hops. Selected in the 2nd round out of TCU, Young looked very polished in his limited time on the mound after signing. Reports indicate a chance for three plus pitches, although two plus and one average is more realistic. He’s got middle of the rotation upside and could move along very quickly, similarly to Aaron Blair who has a comparable list of offerings from the right side.
At just 19, lefty starter Cody Reed was very productive playing against mostly older competition. That said, reports from scouts still show concerns for his body and his stuff backed up a little bit (although I’m skeptical of how the organization has handled some of its “prized arms”, suggesting that maybe there was something intentional going on here). Most I’ve talked to suggest that he’s a #4 starter if all goes right.
Taylor Clarke was extremely effective for the Hops after being selected in the third round of the 2015 draft. Reports of his velocity holding firm in the mid 90’s and touching the upper 90’s was encouraging given his injury history. He’s a sleeper to move quickly as a starter, or perhaps even more quickly as a reliever. The goal is starter for now, but when 2017 comes along and the team wants another flamethrower in the bullpen, Clarke could hear his name called.
Sergio Alcantara is a guy that I’ve had my eye on for a few seasons now, but truth be told, this was a down year for the 19-year old Dominican shortstop. An opening assignment to full season ball in Kane County proved too much to handle, and after 20 games of hitting .113/.169/.127, he was sent back to extended spring training, then jumped on board with the Hops where he hit .253/.314/.327. His defense at short is phenomenal but the bat and a lack of physicality still hold him back.
There’s no doubting that Carlos Hernandez made himself a top prospect with his performance in 2015. The only issue is that 2015 is the only year he’s performed at a level above league average. Granted, he surpassed that mark by a wide margin this year, but until it happens twice, we’ll have to remain cautiously optimistic. At 21 and still in short season ball, Hernandez needs to keep this up right from the beginning of 2016 where he should start in Kane County.
A bevy of relief prospects to keep an eye on include: Ryan Burr, Breckin Williams, Jared Miller (who pitched as a starter in ’15) and Jeferson Mejia. Burr and Williams were taken early in the 2015 draft, Miller is 6’7″ lefty who was taken a little later and Mejia is a big right-hander who came over in the Miguel Montero trade. They had varying levels of success this season but will be watched going forward.
Fernery Ozuna had a similar season in 2015. He went to Kane County with Alcantara as his partner up the middle (the two have played together since the DSL) and struggled to hit, although not to the degree that Alcantara did. Similarly, he was sent back to extended spring training, then the Northwest League where he performed better. Ozuna is likely a bench player long term, should he make it.
Grant Heyman ended up with the Hops, but only after he was injured in May with the full season squad in Kane County. At 6’4″ and swinging from the left side, Heyman has the physical makeup of a potentially plus-power hitting outfielder. He’s made plenty of contact to be successful, although he doesn’t walk a ton. There’s still some hope here for the 21-year old who could end 2016 in AA if things break right.
The biggest surprise has to be the utter dominance of Taylor Clarke, the 2015 3rd rounder. Yes, Carlos Hernandez did some good things, too, but Clarke didn’t allow a single run in 21 innings. In that span, he struck out 27, gave up just eight hits and walked only four. It’s safe to say that the Northwest League wasn’t much of a challenge for him. He should move to Kane County as a starter in 2016 and looks like he’ll handle the promotion just fine.
The number of prospects worth talking about here dwarfs the crop in the DSL and AZL. Part of that is how the team has drafted: the college players in 2015 started at these levels. The other part is where prep talent from 2014 is now: these guys populated the Missoula squad pretty heavily. There are some real dudes here, too. The prep draftees are a ways off, but Swanson, Young, Clarke and any of the college relievers could catch fire and move quickly. Late 2017 is possible for these guys, even if they have to play off the bench or come out of the bullpen. There are real, useful pieces here. Now, let’s just see which ones are still Diamondbacks when Spring Training rolls around…
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