As you may recall, the 2015 MLB Draft left us with some concerns about the Diamondbacks. The biggest concern was due to the fact that Arizona had the largest bonus pool of any team and, with a soon-to-expire CBA in place that left future draft allocations uncertain, failed to utilize that pool of money for competitive advantage. Aiding the critique was the fact that Arizona didn’t draft a high school player until the 12th round when it popped RHP Wesley Rodriguez, a New York pitcher who’d recently undergone Tommy John surgery and is yet to throw a professional pitch. I wasn’t a fan of the team using it’s fourth, fifth and sixth round selections on college relief pitchers either, but that took a backseat to the two previous issues stated. The team did well in getting Alex Young and the fast-moving Taylor Clarke in the second and third rounds, but altogether, it felt like they left some opportunities on the table.
Enter the 2016 draft and I’ll be honest, I had no idea what to expect. Would they stick with a college-heavy approach, hoping to snatch up a player or two that might support this contention window? Would they go young and start building for the next contention window, one that’s so far off its existence is honestly questionable? Would they go heavy on catchers given that it’s the dearth of the farm system? A focus on arms? A focus on position players? A balanced approach? I could go on but understand that, at least speaking for myself, there was no clear idea of what the team would do.
With that established, let’s look at what transpired Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Here are some notable selections, followed by my initial thoughts on the draft.
Competitive Balance Round A (39th overall) — Anfernee Grier, OF, Auburn: the scouting report on Grier is exciting, but offers some caution, too. Grier is a toolsy center field who has plus raw power, plus speed and can stick in center field. His arm is likely below average, but it’s just enough to keep him in center and he can be pushed to left if it’s really a problem. He’s had issues recognizing spin and can pile up the strikeouts, but professional coaching will try to help him adjust. The profile sounds something like Colby Rasmus, a center fielder who provides value in the field, on the bases and with the power production, but isn’t going to hit for average. That’s okay, the team can find average elsewhere and sneaking power into the lineup in center field is a hell of a luxury. No issues at all this selection.
Second Round (52nd overall) — Andrew Yerzy, C, York Mills Collegiate Institute: hailing from an Toronto high school, Yerzy was drafted higher than anyone really expected, making the pick sound like a reach to potentially save money for an over-slot deal later in the draft. After a little digging, however, it appears the Arizona had simply identified Yerzy as a guy they really wanted and took him early in order to offer him a large enough bonus to buy him away from Notre Dame, a commitment he was serious about honoring. Yerzy is not a lock to catch — he’s improved behind the plate but has a ways to go to impress scouts. What he can do is hit, especially for power. Playing for the Canadian Junior Team, he showed well against strong competition. It’ll be a slow burn for him, but the bat can carry him even if it turns out he can’t continue catching.
Third Round (89th overall) — Jon Duplantier, RHP, Rice: several mock drafts had Duplantier coming off the board before Arizona made its first pick, not still being on the board when Arizona made its third choice. The pick had many on Twitter asking “how the hell is this guys still available?” That’s a great sign in terms of value and reminds of the D-backs’ sneaky pick of Taylor Clarke in the third round a year ago. After striking out 148 in 111 innings (second-most in NCAA), Duplantier quelled some of the concern after he missed his entire sophomore season with shoulder trouble. At worst, he’s an electric late-inning arm out the bullpen. At best, he’s a mid-rotation starter with some swing-and-miss stuff. It would not be a surprise to see the team use him out of the bullpen this season to acclimate him to pro ball, then use him as a starter in 2017 and beyond.
Fifth Round (149th overall) — Joey Rose, 3B, Toms River High School: the Diamondbacks have done well in the recent past scouting and plucking talent from the Northeast. Rose didn’t surface in Baseball America’s Top 500 draft-eligible prospects list, but a quick check on Rose reveals the goods. He’s athletic, although maybe a touch stiff, has arm strength and shows some pop with the bat. Committed to Oklahoma State, the team showed confidence in signing him by selecting him in the fifth round and Rose reciprocated those feelings, tweeting that he couldn’t wait to join the D-backs’ organization just minutes after he was selected. It looks like he’ll sign but the devil’s in the details, so we’ll have to wait and see. Still, Rose has some projection and looks the part, plus he mixes up the draft by adding a second high school selection in the first five picks.
Sixth Round (179th overall) — Mack Lemieux, LHP, Palm Beach State CC: drafted last year by the Nationals (14th round) out of a Florida high school, Lemieux spurned Washington, intending to enroll at Southern Florida. Instead, he went the JUCO route and ended up at Palm Beach State, making him draft-eligible just a year after he graduated high school rather than having to wait three years if he’d attended a four-year school. It worked out in his favor as he was picked considerably higher and the 6’3″ lefty was effective in his lone collegiate season. With a low to mid 90’s fastball and a big curve, the idea here is that the team got a pitcher that’s more proven than most high schoolers, but is two years younger than most college picks. If nothing else, it’s a creative pick with some upside.
Eighth Round (239th overall) — Ryan January, C, San Jacinto College North: another JUCO pick, the D-backs went back to the catching ranks to nab a player with a very similar profile to Andrew Yerzy as January has a bat-first profile and improving catching skills. With big time power potential, January played on a loaded San Jacinto (TX) team after being a Massachusetts high school standout and eschewing a commitment to LSU to have the chance to get drafted sooner. It worked and he’ll enter the D-backs’ system as a catcher, where there’s a reasonable chance he stays behind the plate.
Ninth Round (269th overall) — Tommy Eveld, RHP, University of South Florida: here’s a fun one. Eveld went to South Florida on a football scholarship as a quarterback, injured his knee and ended up on the baseball team. A lot of high school quarterbacks play baseball, but not Eveld who’d never played organized baseball until he ended up in the Bulls’ bullpen, touching the mid 90’s with his heater while possessing a slider and developing changeup. At 6’5″, he’s an athletic pitcher with almost no mileage who’s raw but projectable. Again, points for creativity.
Thirteenth Round (389th overall) — Manny Jefferson, SS, Pepperdine: Jefferson won’t stay at shortstop and was actually drafted as a second baseman. He could play third or an outfield corner, but has some power in the bat and the team will more than likely worry about finding him a defensive home as a secondary concern. A junior, Jefferson could conceivably turn the team down and head back to school, betting on a big senior season outweighing the lost leverage in signing. This isn’t a sure thing, but that’s okay.
Twenty-Seventh Round (809th overall) — Gabe Gonzalez, RHP, College of Southern Nevada: this is Gonzalez’s third draft-eligible season and he’s been drafted all three times. With big raw stuff, Gonzalez finally found some success in his sophomore season at Southern Nevada where fellow D-backs farmhand Grant Heyman and some dude named Bryce Harper are alumni. He can touch the upper 90’s but control is a problem, one that hopefully D-backs coaches have a chance to smooth out unless he opts not to sign, hoping to go higher next year.
Twenty-Eighth Round (839th overall) — Edmond Americaan, OF, Trinity Christian Academy: a Curacao native, Americaan attended a Florida high school for the last three years and offers a speedy, toolsy profile from the left side. He can play center field and should have the contact skills to hit near the top of the order, but the biggest question will be signability. An Auburn commit, it’ll be intriguing to see if the D-backs are willing to do what it takes to pull Americaan to pros and away from his college commitment. This would appear to be a long shot, but they know the situation best.
Thirtieth Round (899 overall) — Brandon Martorano, C, Christian Brothers Academy: there’s a reason Martorano fell to the 30th round and it has nothing to do with his ability. The New Jersey high school catcher has a solid set of skills, but is committed to play for perennial powerhouse North Carolina next season. It would take big money for the Diamondbacks to buy him out of that commitment, but it’s worth a shot as by the 30th round, drafting for success is a tough proposition.
Thirty-Fourth Round (1019th overall) — Connor Owings, 2B, Coastal Carolina University: the younger brother of current Diamondback Chris Owings, younger brother Connor has a similar build to Chris’ but lacks some of the polish that’s helped his brother shine. Connor is noted for a power over contact approach at the plate and is just an average runner, making him a better fit further down the defensive spectrum.
(Obviously there were some other guys drafted and I’ve tried to pick the highlights, but you can find the full list here.)
Overall, this is a really intriguing draft class. Grier is the headliner for a reason and there’s athleticism here that we just haven’t seen in the D-backs’ system much lately. Yerzy went higher than expected, and the lack of polish catching has me concerned, but the team identified a profile they liked and picked him high enough to try to buy him out of his Notre Dame commitment, a strategy that takes some guts. Duplantier has the kind of ability to make his choice look like the steal of the draft in short order. There are some upside high school picks here, a few of which are unlikely to sign, but others that will and that helps the system. By spending eight picks on JUCO athletes, the team took some middle ground by adding young, yet more-refined talent. The team drafted five catchers, but they’ll be lucky to sign four of them.
Without seeing signing figures, which are a ways off, I have to say that I like the creativity and focus on upside in this draft. After a year in which they focused on “safe” in a lot of ways, this class certainly has more risk but, depending on who signs and who doesn’t, more potential. Once again, the Diamondbacks have done a solid job with talent acquisition. Now we’ll have to see how they develop and assess the talent they’ve just procured, something that’s been troublesome in recent years.
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