We’ve looked at the bottom of the 2016 Top 30 Prospect List. We’ve seen the middle of it, too. I’ve talked about how I do this and why I do this, so there’s that, too. A ton of names have been dropped, tools talked about and projections detailed. And while none of the aforementioned prospects cracked the forthcoming top 10, they’re still important players. They’re depth, trade bait or the next wave of great D-backs minor leaguers. But you didn’t click on this to talk about players 11-30, you’re after the top players and I won’t keep you any longer. Have at it and enjoy!

#10 Peter O’Brien, 1B/OF

  • Age: 25
  • Acquired: 2014 Trade for Martin Prado
  • 2015 Level(s): AAA Reno (131 games), MLB Diamondbacks (8 games)
  • 2014 Rankings: 10
  • Volatility: Medium
  • Trending: Up

Look, I’ve never been a big Peter O’Brien guy, and here’s why: in today’s game of baseball, teams look at the whole player, not just the number of home runs a guy can hit. Those days are behind baseball and O’Brien was born ten years too late. But he’s in the top ten for a reason, and that’s because he can hit the baseball. He’s not a catcher, he’s not a third baseman and he’s not an outfielder. He should play first base if he plays any defensive position at all. He can struggle to make good contact at times, but the hit tool showed signs of development and the power is absolutely legit. He doesn’t run much and he could really improve his stock by walking more, but this kind of power is hard to find. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t fit the Diamondbacks as he will get no chance to play first for obvious reasons and the team has embraced the value of defense under Chip Hale. He may be a second division starter at first for a rebuilding team right now, which again, doesn’t fit Arizona. He could and should be traded this winter, otherwise, he’ll be back in Reno – baseball’s purgatory.

 #9 Jamie Westbrook, 2B

  • Age: 20
  • Acquired: 2013 Draft, 5th Round
  • 2015 Level(s): A+ Visalia (123 games)
  • 2014 Rankings: 30
  • Volatility: Medium
  • Trending: Up

I’ve liked Westbrook since I saw him in the AZL a few weeks after he was drafted but hesitated to really move him up the list in the past. The results have always been solid, but this season he broke out in a major way, hitting .319/.357/.510 with 33 doubles and 17 home runs for Visalia. That’s a lot of pop for a guy listed at 5’9″ and 170-pounds. Better yet, he didn’t have to cheat to reach those numbers as his contact rate remained high. He’s an average defender at second base and an average runner, so the defense will play, but the bat has continued to make strides as the Arizona native has progressed up the ladder. There’s probably some park factor built in here, but even if you regress his numbers some due to the hitting environment in the CAL League, you’re still left with a highly productive player. He’s a grinder type, a guy who doesn’t possess the elite tools that you’ll find elsewhere on this list, but has managed to make what he has work for him very well. The upside is probably that of an average second baseman with a role as a second division starter or utility man more likely. He’ll start next season at AA Mobile as one of the youngest players in the league.

#8 Socrates Brito, RF

  • Age: 23
  • Acquired: 2010 International Signing ($90,000)
  • 2015 Level(s): AA Mobile (129 games), MLB Diamondbacks (18 games)
  • 2014 Rankings: 17
  • Volatility: Low
  • Trending: Up

It was a breakout year for Brito. Well, maybe not a breakout (he did big things in 2014), but it was a breakthrough as the toolsy outfielder made his big league debut at the age of 22. After hitting .293/.339/.429 with five home runs in the hitter friendly CAL League last year, he managed to turn it up another notch this season by hitting .300/.339/.451 with 15 homers. Sometimes a breakout in Visalia is a mirage, but Brito really put it together this year in the Southern League against better pitching and proved that there’s more development left. At 6’2″ and 200-pounds, he’s a plus runner with a plus arm and average hit and power potential, resulting in an above average every day outfielder if it all clicks. If it doesn’t, he’s got the floor of a bench outfielder and will likely give the Diamondbacks some kind of production. Now it’s just a matter of determining what that level of production will be, and he’ll need playing to time for us to figure it out. He may fight for an outfield spot on the Opening Day roster if a major league outfielder is traded. If not, he’ll likely head to AAA Reno, the most likely bet.

 #7 Marcus Wilson, CF

  • Age: 19
  • Acquired: 2014 Draft, 2nd Round
  • 2015 Level(s): Rookie Missoula (57 games)
  • 2014 Rankings: 27
  • Volatility: Extreme
  • Trending: Up

Marcus Wilson is the reason you can’t scout stats, especially at the lowest levels at of the game. He’s perhaps the most physically gifted player in the system and has a ceiling that might go unmatched. The problem is that he was drafted as a raw, unrefined athlete that had a lot of work to do, and that still largely holds true. But Wilson drew praise for making adjustments this year and the fact that he’s so raw gives hope that as the growth continues, the results could really take off. Seeing him in person in the spring, it was readily apparent that he’s a kid who wants to learn is open to growing his game. He’s a plus-plus runner, has an at least average arm and should be able to play an above average defensive center field. He has a lot of work to do in the cage but could develop an average hit tool with close to average power as his frame fills out. There’s a ton to dream on here, but it’s a long ways off at present. Wilson will probably spend another season in extended spring training and head to Low-A Hillsboro in 2016 as the organization will probably take it slow with him.

 #6 Isan Diaz, 2B

  • Age: 19
  • Acquired: 2014 Draft, 2nd Round
  • 2015 Level(s): Rookie Missoula (68 games)
  • 2014 Rankings: 21
  • Volatility: Medium
  • Trending: Up

Diaz was drafted out of a Massachusetts high school in 2014 as a bat-first middle infielder. The bat didn’t play up in his first season in the Arizona Summer League, but it burst onto the scene in a big way in 2015 with Missoula. In just 68 games, he hit .360/.436/.640 with 23 doubles, six triples and 13 home runs. The batting average benefitted from an unsightly BABIP and the unpredictable defense common at the rookie level, but regressing his numbers some would still make him look like a monster. And that’s probably an overly aggressive term, but at just 19 in his second pro stint, the power numbers aren’t fake or a result of park factors and he did take a large number of walks. He also struck out a little more than one would like to see, but this early in the development curve, you can live with that. Diaz makes a ton of quality contact thanks to innate bat-to-ball skills and has above average bat speed. He’s played shortstop primarily in his first two stints, but will likely slide over to second base at some point where the defense could be plus. Here you’re looking at a potentially above average hitter who can play potentially above average defense up the middle. Put that together and a role as an everyday second baseman with upside comes into focus quickly. It’ll be important for him to continue to produce offense at a high level, but the package is certainly one to get excited about. He could skip Hillsboro and head straight to Kane County next season.

 #5 Brandon Drury, 2B

  • Age: 23
  • Acquired: 2013 Trade for Justin Upton
  • 2015 Level(s): AA Mobile (67 games), AAA Reno (63 games), MLB Diamondbacks (20 games)
  • 2014 Rankings: 4
  • Volatility: Low
  • Trending: Up

Drury continued his march up the minor league ranks in 2015 with stops at Mobile, Reno and then, ultimately, Arizona. After a slow start in AA due to him pressing after not making the big league club out of camp, he got back on track and did nice things after a promotion to AAA. For all of the things he did well, however, the exposure to better pitching revealed some things that still need refinement. His walk rate dwindled at Mobile and he hit for less power than ever all year long. It projects as average power down the road and he’s more of a 15 home run type rather than being a 20+ homer guy. That’s fine so long as he stays at second base, a place that’s crowded for the Diamondbacks heading into 2016. The upside with Drury, being that he’s very close to needing an every day major league job, is that of an average second baseman who probably hits a touch better than he fields. If the power can come back, things could climb higher and that’s something we just won’t know until he faces more major league pitching. He looks like a safe bet to contribute at the highest level in short order, even if there are some bumps in the road at first. Drury has always battled and always made adjustments, something that will serve him well. He’ll be in the Opening Day discussion come March.

 #4 Alex Young, LHP

  • Age: 22
  • Acquired: 2015 Draft, 2nd Round
  • 2015 Level(s): AZL Diamondbacks (1 game), A- Hillsboro (6 games)
  • 2014 Rankings: n/a
  • Volatility: Medium
  • Trending: Steady

Young had first round potential but slipped to the Diamondbacks with the first pick in the second round. He has three average or better pitches right now with a fastball that has touched 94, a potentially plus changeup and a potentially plus slider. That package could make him a very quick mover through the minors. At 6’2″ and 205-pounds, he has a touch of projection left, but it’ll be his command and the development of his secondaries that his ultimate utility hinges upon. One scout called him a “no-shit major leaguer” after scouting him at TCU and a source confirmed that there were a number of other teams picking early in the second round who were disappointed that he didn’t slide another couple of picks. He has #3 starter upside but will have to build up his stamina over the next two seasons to reach a full starter’s workload as he did spend time at TCU pitching out of the bullpen (mostly due to the fact that the team was loaded with quality starters –  Brandon Finnegan anyone?). There’s impact potential here, especially if the sinker/changeup combo can keep the ball on the ground. He’ll likely head straight to Kane County in 2016, but the team could be aggressive and jump him to High-A Visalia instead. This is a guy who could crack the roster in September of 2017 if everything clicks.

 #3 Braden Shipley, RHP

  • Age: 23
  • Acquired: 2013 Draft, 1st Round
  • 2015 Level(s): AA Mobile (28 games)
  • 2014 Rankings: 2
  • Volatility: Medium
  • Trending: Steady

Although Shipley has progressed slowly in his minor league time, that was always part of the plan. A converted shortstop in college, the long game was always intended here as he just hadn’t pitched much when he was selected 16th overall in 2013. But when he did pitch, well, scouts liked what they saw. He still has a plus fastball that sits in the mid 90’s and a plus changeup that’s one of the best in the majors. His curveball has come a long way and Shipley finished the season strong after a somewhat disappointing first half. Those signs are encouraging as the athletic right hander still has plenty of projection left. Most of that is in the form of his command, but he could still fill out a touch more and provide a little more power down the line. It’s a major league arsenal right now, but the aforementioned command is still evolving and that’s the remaining key to his development. But as we’ve known all along, this wasn’t going to be a quick process and the small steps forward that Shipley continues to make are encouraging. He should start the year in AA again and hope for a midseason promotion to AAA. If he pitches well, there’s a chance that he could enter the picture as a reliever in September 2016 if the Diamondbacks need to strengthen their bullpen in hopes of contention.

 #2 Aaron Blair, RHP

  • Age: 23
  • Acquired: 2013 Draft, 2nd Round
  • 2015 Level(s): AA Mobile (13 games), AAA Reno (13 games)
  • 2014 Rankings: 3
  • Volatility: Low
  • Trending: Up

Aaron Blair is the Diamondbacks top pitching prospect because he’s the complete package. He’s durable, he gets ground balls and he’s been productive at ever level. The upside isn’t the highest – he’s not going to be a big time bat-misser – but the production is something that every team covets. Blair has gotten better each season since being drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Marshall and the Diamondbacks hope there’s a couple of gears left in his game that he hasn’t tapped into yet. As of now, he offers an above average fastball and an above average changeup to go along with an average curveball, making a perfect recipe to become a middle of the rotation starter. The value is in the quantity of the innings as much as the quality given that his body is built for a bevy of innings year in and year out. He’s the safest guy on the list to reach the majors and even though it was a bit confusing that he wasn’t called up in 2015, he’ll certainly be in the discussion to break camp with the team in 2016 as he was probably one of Arizona’s five best starters at the end of the year. His game is built on command, and with slightly above average stuff, that could really play up in Arizona where it’s traditionally tough to pitch.

 #1 Dansby Swanson, SS

  • Age: 21
  • Acquired: 2015 Draft, 1st Round
  • 2015 Level(s): A- Hillsboro
  • 2014 Rankings: n/a
  • Volatility: Low
  • Trending: Steady

The 2015 draft lacked a standout superstar, but landing Dansby Swanson first overall gave the Diamondbacks the opportunity to draft a player who can move quickly and has no weaknesses in his game. After an outstanding collegiate career at Vanderbilt, Swanson took his time signing (which is normal), then had his face damaged due to an arrant Yoan Lopez fastball in practice. Rather than jumping straight to A+ Visalia as the team had planned, he recovered and went to Hillsboro where he caught on quickly. Swanson drew praise for his work ethic and leadership, but the tools aren’t bad either. He’s an average runner and average glove at short with a potentially plus hit tool and potentially average power. When you put those things together, you have a chance for an above average every day shortstop, something that’s hard to find throughout baseball. It’s not difficult to see a guy who hits .285 with 12-15 homers and plays solid defense every day at the major league level (keep in mind that for a shortstop, those are solid numbers). He should head to Visalia to begin the 2016 campaign, and if it all clicks, he’ll see AA before the year is out. That could put him on track to arrive in the majors in late 2017. It’s not the sexiest number one overall pick of all time, but Dansby Swanson is a relatively safe bet to reach his ceiling in short order.

Other pieces in this series: Top 30 Primer | Prospects 21-30 | Prospects 11-20

Minor League Season Recaps: AZL and DSL | Pioneer and Northwest Leagues | Midwest and California Leagues | Southern and Pacific Coast Leagues

16 Responses to 2016 Diamondbacks Top 30 Prospects: 1-10

  1. FishOnEmm says:

    I don’t think it is out of the question (as it was when KT made a similar comparison about Didi Gregorius) to compare Swanson’s makeup and talent to that of Derek Jeter. Whether or not he develops into that type of player is a different story… I believe that is his ceiling and he has a floor of being a solid if not spectacular starter in the majors.

  2. Bradford says:

    If you had to make a player comp. for the ceiling and floor of Swanson, which two players most likely fit the bill? I’m wondering if his ceiling is so high as to be very excited, or if he ends up being another Stephen Drew?

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      The floor is a second division second baseman, similar to what Danny Espinosa has been if you average his last two years. The upside is an average fielding shortstop with a slightly plus bat. That guy isn’t really majors right now. That might be an Asdrubal Cabrera in his prime type with a little less power and a touch more glove, plus the intangibles of leadership, etc. Maybe that’s Dustin Pedroia-lite at shortstop? He’s a one win guy at worst and a three to four win guy at best with maybe a big season or two in there in his prime. Think: solid but not great with good energy for the club.

      • FishOnEmm says:

        I think he will be our leadoff hitter in 1-2 years. He has always shown good on base ability and he is a solid baserunner from what I hear.

  3. Eddie says:

    Outstanding work as usual Jeff. Growing as a scout. What would Blair have to do to exceed #3 starter expectations? I can’t help but be bullish on #2 potential after he more than held his own in that high altitude in Reno. I can’t think of any recent Dbacks pitching prospects that actually excelled there.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      I think the separator will be his strikeout rate. All of the dominant pitchers in the game strikeout nearly a batter per inning or more. Blair saw his K/9 numbers drop under 7 K/9 in AA and AAA. If those drop further in the majors, he’ll be very pedestrian in that sense and puts a ton of pressure on the ground balls. But, I don’t think his initial K/9 rate will be the case forever. I think he grows and improves a little as he finds comfort in Arizona.

      • Eddie says:

        A couple of follow-ups, then. How could he boost strike out rates? They were quite high in ’14, I wonder what happened in ’15. Sharpen the curve? Add a two-seamer or cut fastball? Also, do you have any lefty/righty splits? Thanks.

        • Jeff Wiser says:

          I would chalk his early K rates to the fact that he was just much more polished than single A hitters. Since moving up, lefties have given him comparatively more trouble. But they haven’t *killed* him, they just show the traditional advantage. He currently throws a two seamer (sinker), change and a curve. I’d venture to guess that he’s going to need add a little bit to the changeup to get the opposite-handed hitters out. But those are the types of changes that take time and there’s still more growth left in terms of honing the arsenal.

      • Jeff Reynolds says:

        Strike outs per 9 innings is overrated. Maddux avg. just over 6 for his career. Blair can be a very good middle of the rotation guy just by inducing ground balls.

  4. […] the third and final installment of the Diamondbacks Top 30 Prospects was released. Dansby Swanson grabbed the top spot ahead of familiar names Aaron Blair and Braden […]

  5. Terry Miencier says:

    Braden Shipley as a reliever, in 2016, is a good move.

  6. John Crowley says:

    The fact that you have Marcus Wilson in your top 30 discredits your entire list.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      Does it also discredit the list from Baseball Prospectus and others that either had him in the top ten or very close? Disagreement is fine, no one knows precisely what all of these players turn into, but I’m curious what your argument against it is. Where would you rank him?

  7. […] explored this before, but I’m starting to feel like there’s a disconnect. When I rolled out The 2016 D-backs Top 30 Prospects, I followed it up with a note on the system as a whole. Basically, I tried to put everything into […]

  8. […] holds up. The team did get Victor Reyes back in the Cahill deal but he finished just outside the Diamondbacks Top 30 Prospects and is likely an org guy and not a difference […]

  9. […] way back when, we published a little thing called the Diamondbacks Top 30 Prospect list. That seems like a long time ago now. So much has changed. With prospects, things are always […]

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