Let me just start off by saying a couple of things. First, prospect season is one of my favorites and I look forward to it each and every year. Rankings are fun and, when taken with a grain of salt, can make for some very excellent baseball conversation over baseball’s dead period. This is also one of the few times in the year where scouting reports and information surface about players who are out of the prospect spotlight. There’s always going to be banter about Yoan Moncada and J.P. Crawford, but this is often our first foray into the guys that have just started making a name for themselves. They go on our radars, and if they work out like predicted, stay there. And if they don’t, well, there’ll be a fresh wave next year.
Second, I’ve never been less sure of how to rank the Diamondbacks’ prospects at any point in the last three years. This is my fourth go-round and the water’s never been this muddy. Here’s why: the D-backs have a ton of prospects that offer some level of intrigue, but don’t have the well-rounded, impact toolsets to truly set themselves apart. There are a bunch of guys with one or two strong tools, but other areas of their game where there’s legitimate concern. The system’s awash with these types of players and it makes for extremely difficult ranking. My guess, and this is before the first major publications’ lists come out, is that there’s going to be plenty of variation from list to list this season when it comes the D-backs, and that’s just a result of a system that’s been decimated by trades and, frankly, doesn’t have many standout players. But intriguing ones, well, there’s plenty of that.
So let’s talk about a couple of players that didn’t make the Top 30, but offer something intriguing. There are just so many guys that fall into this category, it’ll be easier to explain through a couple of examples.
Mack Lemieux, LHP: Lemieux was drafted in the sixth round out of a Florida JUCO. He spent just one year there after being drafted by the Nationals (14th round) out of high school and turned them down. Clearly Lemieux upped his stock in his single junior college season, entering the draft again and getting selected much higher. In 35.2 innings with the AZL D-backs and the Hillsboro Hops, Lemieux surrendered just 32 hits, struck out 43 and walked 15. Those are good numbers, and better yet, he’s got a prototypical pitcher’s frame with room for projection. He can touch the mid-90’s from the left side with an already strong curveball. If his command and changeup improve, he looks like a potential #3 or #4 starter. If they don’t, he’s got the makings of a quick-to-the-majors left handed reliever that can get righties out. There are some kinks to work out and he’s still raw, but you can see where there’s real upside here for a guy who just turned 20 last month.
Jason Morozowski, OF: selected in the 13th round of the 2015 draft, Morozowski played quite well in his debut in the Pioneer League. He turned 22 this season and opened 2016 in full season ball with Kane County where he struggled mightily. He battled a few injuries, lost playing time and wound up in Hillsboro, where he played quite well. Though it’s a pitcher’s park, he managed 20 extra-base hits in 38 games, including nine homers. He profiles best in a corner — probably left field — where the defensive value is limited, though he’s shown glimpses of having the power to back it up. While he’ll strike out plenty, he’s shown an ability to draw walks. He’s got some cleaning up to do with his swing mechanics (noisy hands), but you can’t teach power and the ability to square up the baseball. He’ll turn 23 next June and certainly be heading back to full season ball next season, so he’s either going to hit and continue moving up the ladder where he could be an attractive bat, or scuffle once more and end up buried on the org’s depth chart.
Yoan Lopez, RHP: the quandary to end all quandaries, Lopez’s struggles aren’t a mystery. He’s had personal troubles, leading him to leave his team twice, but he ultimately ended up back with his club both times. He’s got a fastball that can touch the mid-90’s and a curveball that, when it’s on, can miss bats. There’s significant effort in his delivery at times and now that he’ll turn 24 in January, it’s probably time to admit that if the organization is going to get anything at all useful out of Lopez, it’s going to come from the bullpen. Should he embrace such a role and be able able to stick with it, you’re looking at a guy that with improved command, could be solid arm. If that command doesn’t come around, and frankly, he’s lost significant development time and is getting to the age where improvements can be harder to come by, you’re looking at a pitcher that just never makes it past AA. There’s upside still present and a couple of pitches that can play up, but it’s all buried beneath several layers of doubt.
In the three guys above, you can see where it can be tough to rank players. Each guy has merit. Lemieux is young and projectable, but hasn’t pitched much and hasn’t even seen full season ball yet. Morozowski has the kind of power you’d like to see in an outfield corner and can get on base a little bit while playing a solid left field, but struggled in his first taste of full season ball and will 23 in mid-June of 2017, placing him a bit behind the age curve of where you’d like prospects to be. Lopez has some decent stuff and when he’s on, he’s shown flashes of being able to make hitters miss, but his warts are large and obvious. Deciding just what to make of these guys is difficult. I’ve seen all three first-hand, and while you see glimpses of things you like, there are detractor for each, be it lack of experience, age, or the inexplicable.
I don’t expect you to pity me, the poor guy attempting to rank the team’s prospects (albeit with the help and support of some scouts I trust). Rather, I forewarn you that this year, things are going to be more muddled and uncertain that ever before. Regardless, we’ll wade into the situation anyways and make the best of it. At least Mike Hazen might hold on to a few of these guys so we get to see what they become.
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