Last week we took a long, hard look at Diamondbacks position player prospects who are playing for the club in Spring Training. There are plenty of guys with a chance to make the team in some capacity and others we should see at some point during the 2016 campaign. It’s time to look at the other side of the equation now as there are some intriguing pitchers in camp with a chance to make an impact. So without further explanation, let’s look at some of the top pitching prospects we’ll continue to see in Sedona Red this spring.
Braden Shipley, RHP: there’s no denying Shipley’s upside. The young righty has big stuff, including a fastball that sits in the mid 90’s and a potentially plus-plus changeup. As has been the story since he was drafted, Shipley will take time to mature. But that time is drawing near as he overcame a tough first half with AA Mobile to really find his groove in the second half of the season where he was much, much better. Director of Player Development Mike Bell accredits some of that new success to cleaning up Shipley’s delivery, helping him repeat more consistently and throw more strikes. The stuff is good, and with the mechanics improved, it’s just a matter of time before Shipley gets the call. He won’t be on the Opening Day roster, and he probably won’t be the first starter called up when an injury arises, but he’s also not far away. Shipley should head to AAA to start the season where the results may not always be pretty given the hitter’s environment that encompasses the PCL. Still, he’s has made slow and steady progress and could get big league action in the second half of the season as either a starter or a reliever if the team is chasing the postseason with the intent to keep him in the rotation long term.
*Post-Publishing Note: as Nick Piecoro released yesterday, a bone spur and elbow trouble have also contributed to Shipley’s new mechanics. While the concerns over his elbow are indeed to be taken seriously, he has a clean bill of health according to the team right now. They are taking it slow with him as a precaution.
Yoan Lopez, RHP: with a strange and, at times troubling, 2015 season behind him, Lopez looks to start fresh in 2016. The stuff can be really good – a mid 90’s heater, a curveball that can flash plus when thrown well and a changeup that has a chance to be average. Harnessing that arsenal is Lopez’s biggest issue. He can’t always control the fastball, putting him behind in counts. The curveball is inconsistent and can either look sharp and filthy or loopy and hittable. To get to the changeup, he needs the fastball to be more consistent. Add in some effort in the delivery and it remains unclear what the D-backs have in the young right-handed Cuban defector. Does he find the control and command to stick as a starter? Does the delivery and inconsistency make him a reliever? That’s all yet to be determined as he will likely head back to AA to start the season. But as you watch him this spring, don’t be surprised to see some flashy outings interrupted by troubling ones. Lopez has what it takes, he just has to learn to use it more effectively and consistently.
Daniel Gibson, LHP: as Chip Hale has noted, Gibson has a chance to make the team for Opening Day as a second lefty option out of the bullpen. That’s for good reason as there’s plenty to like with Gibson – a low to mid-90’s fastball to pair with a strong slider and an average changeup. Gibson has a funky delivery that makes fellow lefties uncomfortable in the box and can face a right-hander without too much concern (his minor league splits have been very manageable). Being more than just a matchups lefty, even if that’s the preferred scenario, gives Hale more versatility and plays in favor of Gibson despite the fact that he hasn’t pitched above AA. If he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’ll likely head to AAA (if there’s room – there are a lot of relief prospects with this team) and will be on the ready list to get the call when it comes.
Jake Barrett, RHP: although Barrett seemed to hit a wall in AAA, his performance has been slightly better than his ERA would suggest. Thought to be the closer-in-waiting for some time now, he looks primed to stay in the mix throughout the spring. Barrett can touch the upper 90’s with his fastball and pairs it with a good, hard slider. His trouble has been in the free pass department as his walk totals have been higher than one would like to see, even for a reliever with strikeout stuff. Can he turn the corner? If he does, he’ll likely push Hale’s decision all the way to the end of camp where he could conceivably snag the final spot in the big league ‘pen. If not, it’s back to Reno, although it would stand to reason that we’ll see him at some point in 2016 unless the wheels really come off.
Tyler Wagner, RHP: recently acquired from Milwaukee, Wagner is a sinker/slider pitcher with good velocity and a potentially average changeup. He got his feet wet at the big league level last year, and although the results weren’t pretty, he had a strong showing overall. The results won’t wow you – he doesn’t generate a ton of strikeouts – but has a combination of durability and stuff that should make him a valuable back end starter. Similar to Aaron Blair in some ways, Wagner will generate a bunch of ground ball outs and is a sneaky bet to make plenty of starts for Arizona this season should a serious injury arrive. He’s young and cost-controlled, further cementing his status as a solid asset for the club. He won’t make the Opening Day roster, but he should see big league time in 2016. He’ll likely head to AAA and might be the first man called upon when something goes haywire for the D-backs.
Matt Koch, RHP: a while back I listed Koch as a sleeper in the Diamondbacks’ system, but that came with one caveat – the team convert him to a reliever. He pitched as one at Louisville and did so very effectively before the Mets drafted him and put him in the minor league rotation. He had a solid showing in AA last season as a 24-year old, but time is ticking and Koch might just find his easiest path to the bigs as a relief pitcher, not a starter. That said, the team lost considerable pitching depth this winter and it stands to reason that they may be reluctant to convert him just yet. His stuff has played up in brief relief stints, touching the mid 90’s with a good slider and better results. With a ton of relief options, the team will likely wait a bit longer before making a conversion, but he could be a useful relief pitcher for the club late in the season when rosters expand.
When making your way to Salt River Fields, keep your eyes peeled for these pitching prospects. It’s only a matter of time before these guys emerge, in some capacity, for the big league club. If the team is going to accomplish its goals, they are going to need help. Depth is a major component as betting on health and sustained performance is a risky maneuver. Even if these pitchers don’t start the season in the majors, their growth and eventual performance matters a great deal to the long term success of the franchise.
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