The third part of four reveals some surprising breakouts for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ minor league system. Recent draftees have spent a few years in the minor by this point and several posted careers highs and put their names on the map. The ultimate upsides can be debated, but there’s plenty to see here, a good sign for a mediocre system.
Kane County Cougars (Midwest League)
- 84-54 – 2nd (out of 8) in the West Division
- Kane County Cougars Roster
Most Productive Hitters
Leading the way for the Cougars was toolsy outfielder Colin Bray who put his name on the map this season. The 2013 6th round choice put his tools to use, hitting .308/.370/.410 while stealing 27 bases in nearly 500 plate appearances. After a broken foot derailed his 2014 campaign, this was a nice showing for the 22-year old.
Marty Herum was a free agent signee in 2013 who put together a strong campaign in his second attempt at the Midwest League. He’s 23 and an organizational type, but the third baseman did a lot of damage for he Cougars in 2015.
Fellow corner infielder Ildemaro Vargas only played 86 games for Kane County but made an impact when he was on the field. Another org player, Vargas .321/.385/.438 before heading to Venezuela for winter ball.
Most Productive Pitchers
After a tough sophomore campaign, 20-year old right hander Brad Keller got back on track in a big way this season. He led the Cougars in innings pitched and strikeouts while registering a 2.60 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP over 25 starts. The jump from the Pioneer League to the Midwest League is a big one, but Keller proved up to the challenge.
Zac Curtis led the way for relievers, notching 33 saves via a 0.83 WHIP and a 1.33 ERA. The 2014 6th round choice is short of stature (5’9″, 18o-pounds) but throws hard and generated plenty of strikeouts (75 in 54 innings).
Wei-Chieh Huang took the Midwest League by storm, elevating his prospect stock in a big way and earning a trip to the MiLB Futures Game. His season was cut short soon after, but his 76.2 innings were dazzling as he held opponents to .208 average, striking out 68 and walking just 16.
Colin Bray elevated his play in 2015 and made a name for himself. A good athlete with good size, Bray started to put the tools together on the field. He could be a plus center fielder and a near-average hitter with good speed on the bases, making him a fringe starter or useful fourth outfielder long term.
After coming over from the Blue Jays in the Cliff Pennington trade, shortstop Dawel Lugo continued to rake. The 20-year old was sent down by Toronto prior to the trade and he performed much better in his final 53 games. He hit for average and got on base a ton by managing the strike zone well. A slide to second may be in the cards, but the tools that earned him a large bonus on the international market remain.
Another trade-acquired asset, Victor Reyes did well after coming over from the Braves. He notched 24 extra base hits in 121 games, including 17 doubles, while making lots of contact. It’s a tough profile for Reyes, as he’s a corner outfielder by defense but doesn’t have the prototypical corner outfield power. Regardless, he pushed his stock forward and will get a chance to show more power in Visalia next season.
Brad Keller continued to fulfill the projections as a durable righty capable of throwing a bevy of quality innings. With low 90’s heat and a good changeup, he’s got the building blocks for a back end profile. By pitching well in full season ball at 20, he will get a great test in the California League in 2016.
Taiwanese signee Wei-Cheih Huang went from unknown to one of the team’s top prospects in half a season. His first half with the Cougars was too hard to ignore and he put himself on the map with his freshman campaign. The body gives some concern as he’s frail and doesn’t throw hard, but with some added bulk and strength, that may change. He’ll need to back up his performance next year before we know exactly what the D-backs have in the righty.
Relief prospects Zac Curtis, Jency Solis and Luis Ramirez piled up the strikeouts and saves for Kane County. Both Curtis and Ramirez are 23 while Solis is 22, making the trio a bit old for their level, but if they keep it up, they could start moving more quickly up the ladder.
It seems like forever ago that Jason Parks was here at Inside the ‘Zona blowing up Jose Martinez, but the oft-injured pitcher finally retook the mound in 2015, pitching solely in relief. The stuff is undeniable, but the missed development time has backed up his stock in a big way. A healthy offseason and spring could get him back on track.
The trade of Touki Toussaint rocked the baseball landscape and took the most talented arm from the Cougars early in the season. Wei-Chieh Huang’s breakout quickly changed the topic, however, as he was the most electric player for Kane County jumping from unknown to known in a big hurry.
Visalia Rawhide (California League)
- 84-56 – 1st (out of 5) in the North Division
- Visalia Rawhide Roster
Most Productive Hitters
No one hit for the Rawhide like second baseman Jamie Westbrook did. In his second full minor league campaign, the 20-year old set career highs in average (.319), power (33 doubles, 17 homers) and steals (14). After an aggressive assignment to full season ball last year, Westbrook held his own, then broke in 2015.
Not far behind was slugging 1B/RF Daniel Palka. Although old for the level, Palka slugged 29 homers and stole a completely surprising 24 bases. The damage done earned him a shot in the Arizona Fall League. Strikeouts are a concern, but he walked enough to offset them.
Most Productive Pitchers
Anthony Banda, a lefty acquired in the Gerardo Parra trade, led the way on the mound by defying the hitter-friendly California League. He kept the ball in the park and struck out a batter per inning while walking just 39 in 151.2 innings. He led the team in innings, strikeouts and managed a 1.25 WHIP, an excellent number considering the park effects.
Reliever Nickolas Sarianides served as the teams closer and the righty struck out an astonishing 91 batters 55.1 innings, earning 29 saves. At 26, he was clearly old for the level but proved more than capable of plowing through batters in the ninth.
Jamie Westbrook entered the season as a guy on most top prospect list for the D-backs, but he was buried in the back of the list. Even considering the hitter-friendly confines of the CAL, he pushed his name way up the ladder with his 2015 campaign. With average tools across the board, he doesn’t jump out at first glance, but proved that he might just do enough things well to become an average second baseman.
It was a down year for Domingo Leyba, the SS/2B acquired alongside Robbie Ray in the Didi Gregorius trade. He still has the tools to be player who hits for average with below average power, but if he somehow sticks at short, the profile looks much better. It won’t be a surprise to see the 20-year old start 2016 back in Visalia as he’s still ahead of the age/level curve.
It was a big season for 21-year old lefty Anthony Banda. Not only was he extremely productive, but he proved that he could survive facing older hitters in an environment that punishes pitchers. He ended spring training by making an emergency start against a major league Cubs lineup where he managed the situation well and seemed to carry the momentum into his minor league season. The back end profile may give the D-backs options as early as 2018.
Everyone know the California League creates offense, but the 29 homers by Daniel Palka and the 27 by first baseman Kevin Cron were far more than anticipated. There’s no denying that kind of power and it helped lead the Rawhide into the California League Championship series despite the dearth of pitching on the team.
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