Having just returned to real life from six days in Arizona, I was faced with a harsh reality: getting up in the morning to go to real work is far less exciting than getting up to go to minor league camp. I mean, think about it. Arriving at real work requires braving Los Angeles traffic and trying not to spill coffee on my shirt. Arriving at minor league camp is a guessing game. Will there be live batting practice? Will there be cage work? Will there be morning games? I still have to manage the coffee situation, but it’s far easier to reason with under that context.
After spending a handful of days in camp, I walked away with a whole lot of notes and some new video of Diamondbacks prospects. We’ll get to that in a bit. In order to really break down what I saw and the players I scouted in a fair manner, I’ll break this up into two posts: one for pitchers and one for position players. Today we tackle the hurlers, and boy, did they not disappoint.
Alex Young, LHP
Young is the highest-drafted remaining Diamondback from last year’s draft (#RIPDansby). A second-rounder out of TCU, he was dominant as a starter in 2015 after making the leap to the rotation from the Horned Frogs’ bullpen. Blocked in college early in his career behind guys like Brandon Finnegan (whom the D-backs lit up on Sunday). Young always had a starter’s body and a starters’ repertoire and once he received the opportunity, he put it to good use.
Heading into 2016, he’s coming off of a limited debut in which he pitched just seven professional innings. After making The College World Series with TCU, Young was brought along slowly as he’d reached a new career height in innings last year. He has three average pitches now with a chance for all three to play up to plus. His sinking fastball sat 89-91 in a three-inning start I witnessed while he maintained his arm speed with his changeup and showed a sharp slider. During the College World Series, he was more 91-93, so I’d expect the fastball to play up a little more from the left side as he stretches out, which will only enhance the changeup and add to the slider.
I ranked Young fourth in the Diamondbacks’ system behind Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair, and Braden Shipley, which, if you’re doing the math, makes him my number two prospect right now. I’m bullish on the lefty, but there’s plenty of reason to think that he can move quickly, have at least two, if not three, plus pitches, and regularly display the kind of command to maximize them. The delivery is also clean – this is a very good overall package.
His first pitch is a slider, his final a up-and-in fastball that he blows by the hitter after working down in the zone.
Anthony Banda, LHP
It’s easy for a player, any player, to make a strong impression if you catch a particularly good outing. It can truly be love at first sight. I had that kind of moment with Banda a little over a year ago. In an exhibition game at Chase Field against a mostly major league lineup, Banda made an emergency start. He comported himself well despite not having pitched above full season A-ball and facing the best hitters he’d ever seen, including Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and more. Rather than getting shelled, Banda held his own, yielding just four hits and one walk with a strikeout in five quality innings. It wasn’t a dominant outing by any means, but located a low-90’s fastball, mixed his pitches, and survived in-tact. That showed me something.
Fast-forward a year. Banda put up great numbers in High-A while pitching in an extreme hitter’s environment and showed something new in a game against Team Tijuana (I know, I don’t get it either) – major heat. His fastball jumped up and sat 91-94, touching 95 from the left side. He maintained the velocity for three innings, mixing in a true 12-6 curveball that got swings and misses and a changeup that was average. He threw strikes, attacked hitters and showed a smooth, easy delivery. If those kinds of traits hold up as he hits AA, he’ll fly up the ladder. I had him 26th in the system this offseason and that’s bound to make me look foolish. That’s okay, I’ll gladly take being disproven if it means higher upside.
Taylor Clarke, RHP
A sneaky-good third round pick by the D-backs last June, Clarke was dominant out of the bullpen for the Hillsboro Hops. He’s a starter all the way, but the team took it easy with him as he’s already survived Tommy John surgery once and brought him along slowly. In 21 innings, he yielded just eight hits and struck out 27. To say it was a strong debut would be an understatement.
In an intrasquad game, he threw three solid frames while sitting 91-93 with a two-seamer that was often located down in the zone. He showed an 80mph changeup that was effective and an 85mph slider with sharp bite. Low minors hitters just couldn’t get a handle on him and he navigated his teammates with ease. He showed an ability to throw the fastball up in the zone when looking for a strikeout and was able to change the hitter’s eye level with the pitch when thrown in the middle of the count. The mechanics aren’t my favorite (although they work for plenty of guys), but they’re smooth and he threw easy.
The first two pitches are two-seamers off the plate while the third is a slider.
Brad Keller, RHP
Keller has been a favorite of mine as a 2013 eighth round pick out of a rural Georgia high school. A total scout-find, Keller has made solid progress throughout his career. Last year, in full season A-ball, he turned heads while pitching to a 2.60 ERA with a ton of ground balls over 142 innings. Keller is a big-bodied kid 6’5″, 230-pounds who should log a ton of quality innings.
Pitching opposite Clarke in the aforementioned intrasquad game, Keller filled up the bottom of the zone with a fastball that sat 89-91. He showed a good slider and a slurvy curveball that he started throwing in the middle of last season and is still developing. The contact that was made against him was weak and often on the ground, just as expected. It’s a back-end profile that’s not unlike what Aaron Blair offered, although Keller is clearly younger with further to go. The coaching staff was pleased after the outing with his ability to locate his fastball, attack the zone and throw quality strikes.
These four were exciting to see up close and personal. I’d fully expect Young to head Kane County and look for a midseason promotion. Banda should pitch the full seasons at AA Mobile with a chance for a late-season call-up, although he’s probably not going to make his debut until 2017. Clarke will likely join Young in Kane County and be promoted quickly if he dominates. Keller will head to High-A Visalia where his ground ball approach should play well and help him avoid the long ball. While none are number one starters in the making, all four should provide quality options down the road if they stay on track.
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