Things have been a little quiet on the Diamondbacks front of late. After a flurry of moves in the front office and with the big league club, things have seemingly tapered off a little bit. This was to be expected to some degree. First, there was the trade that brought to the desert Taijuan Walker (and a piece) for Jean Segura (and pieces), the swapping of catchers, and even the signing of veteran enigma Fernando Rodney. Things started with some kind of bang, and while the “newsiness” has slowed down some, it’s not like Mike Hazen has been sitting on his hands. The Diamondbacks continue to work on the periphery and have added several pieces to the 2017 puzzle over the last few weeks. Here’s a quick rundown of three key moves from the very recent past.
Diamondbacks Add RP Jones in Rule 5 Draft
The Rule 5 Draft took place about two weeks ago, and while the Diamondbacks didn’t lose any of their unprotected minor leaguers in the major league portion of the draft, they did some claiming of their own. The D-backs plucked right-handed relief prospect Tyler Jones from Yankees with the sixth selection. On the older side of thins, Jones is pretty damn close to not being a prospect anymore now that he’s 27 and has never pitched above AA. Drafted by the Twins in 2011, he pitched very well but moved very slowly for Minnesota, then Atlanta, then New York as he’s bounced around some. He remains of intrigue, however, thanks to some gaudy strikeout numbers and an ability to limit the free passes and homers. Those are good things to avoid, generally.
As a Rule 5 selection, Jones will be forced to remain on the D-backs’ active, 25-man roster all year long or be offered back to the Yankees. It’s unclear if the Yankees would want him back given that the depth of their very own bullpen is a big reason why Jones was relegated to AA last year in the first place. Jones has simply been buried behind higher-profile prospects in the past. He’ll get his chance now, however, and it’ll be fascinating to see if his big fastball/slider combination will play at the highest level. He should be expected to yield some fly balls, but not to the point where they actually become helpful as he’ll likely sit somewhere in the batted-ball danger zone. The key will be not allowing contact in the first place without backing down from big league hitters and putting them on base. That’s a tightrope to walk if there ever was one.
While the odds of this transaction paying off in a meaningful way are somewhat slim, this is absolutely the kind of move that Mike Hazen and company should be making. The Rule 5 Draft has long-provided an avenue for opportunity to players like Jones who are buried in the minors but are ready for a chance to do more. While the costs associated with the Rule 5 Draft doubled thanks to the new CBA, the D-backs may still be getting a bargain should they retain Jones for the transaction cost of $100,000 or return him to the Yankees for the transaction cost of $50,000. The organization successfully pulled this off with Oscar Hernandez a few years back and even Ender Inciarte had his own brush with the Rule 5. Tyler Jones may just be the latest under-the-radar find from this vehicle, or not, but the intent and scouting appear to be solid here.
Sampson and His Stuff Signed to a Minor League Deal
Keyvius Sampson was a fourth rounder back in 2009 who took a larger-than-expected bonus from San Diego to sign. Sampson began his pro career as a starter despite being a short-ish right handed pitcher with plenty of effort in his early delivery. Those tend to be red flags for most evaluators, signaling a perennial future in the bullpen. The Padres attempted to wait it out, however, and continued his work as a starter through the first half of the 2014 season with AAA El Paso. It was his second stint at the highest of minor league levels, and once again, he struggled in the PCL. Truth be known, he’d been effective all through the minors until arriving in AAA, so it’s not some kind of surprise that he was given every chance to start even if evaluators had recognized his relief future a few years earlier.
The move to relief didn’t last, however. Sampson was claimed from the Padres by the Reds in 2015 and went right back into the rotation, first in AA, then AAA, then his first taste of the majors. In 52.1 innings, he was just above replacement level. Last season, he spent split his time between the rotation and the bullpen at AAA Louisville, then returned to the majors, this time primarily in relief. He made two spot starts, then did the bulk of his relieving in a multi-inning capacity, often being called on to pick up for a failed starter. As has been the case for Sampson throughout his career since he reached the upper minors and beyond, the was plagued by two things the Diamondbacks are all too familiar with: walks and home runs.
It’s never been a problem of raw stuff for Sampson. Despite being only about 6’0″, he’s got a fastball that he can run up in the mid 90’s and a hammer curve that he’s possessed since Kevin Goldstein (RIP) first wrote him up way back in the summer of 2010. In fact, his fastball shows tremendous rise and his curveball tremendous depth, becoming a potentially useful 1-2 combination. His changeup has received varied amounts of praise at times, but should be at least useable in some small capacity. The D-back have signed him to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training where he’ll try to prove that he has some refinement left, and with is 26th birthday looming, he’d do well to find it sooner than later. While it’s unlikely he breaks camp with the team, he may wind up an option for the organization to stash in AAA Reno until he’s either improved or needed. With no minor league options remaining, he may prove difficult to keep around, but can provide some cheap, upside insurance in the near-term.
Arizona Takes a Chance on Former Top Prospect Arcia
Of the three moves listed here, this might be the most difficult to understand of the bunch. Let’s start with the known fact that Oswaldo Arcia has been mostly very bad over his 288 career MLB games, hitting .235/.298/.422 en route to -1.0 fWAR through parts of four seasons. The very fact that he played for four (!) teams last year should signal some kind of warning. On the one hand, Arcia was thought highly enough of to receive playing time from four (!) clubs. He was also not good enough that four (!) different clubs all balked at retaining his services. Now out of minor league options, he’ll be in Scottsdale this spring at Salt River Fields as he’s signed a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks.
Arcia is also the most notable of this group, perhaps, thanks to the fact that he was once one of Minnesota’s top prospects and ranked 60th in Baseball Prospectus’ top 101 back in February of 2013 (and topped out as the organization’s #4 prospect, behind Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Aaron Hicks). As a prospect, he displayed plus raw power and an above average ability to square up the baseball. He hit for strong averages, played a reasonable right field, and started tapping into his power in games as he climbed the minor league ladder. Upon reaching the majors, Arcia hit 34 home runs over his first 200 games. He also struck out 244 times as his strikeout rate went from around 20% in the minors to 31% in his first two major league seasons, and while he cut it in 19 games with the Twins in 2015, it went right back up across his new-uniform-plagued MLB journey last season.
Frankly, it’s an odd profile for the D-backs to roll the dice upon. There’s still plenty of raw power to think that Arcia can produce through hitting the ball hard, but he’s shown nothing except an inability to make contact in The Show, resulting in a vastly underwhelming overall package. Worse yet, Arcia has rated poorly in the outfield from a defensive standpoint throughout his big league time, making him a seemingly terrible fit in Arizona. Yes, he’s just 25 and hits left-handed, but Mike Hazen has talked about the need to install outfielders that are capable of handling big outfields and Arcia seems particularly unable to do so while also lacking enough in the way of complimentary skills to offset his trouble fielding. The cost is negligible and perhaps the Diamondbacks have identified some kind of fix to attempt, but that’s all speculation at this juncture. Otherwise, this seems a curious gamble, even if a cheap one. It seems that there are better depth profiles out there, so color me a little confused, though the stakes are admittedly very low.
A Need for Continuous Improvement
These moves are small in nature. They won’t likely have huge impacts, though Jones could hamstring the roster some, Sampson could finally learn some command and be a useful big league reliever, and maybe, just maybe, Arcia hits enough to warrant big league playing time and becomes a modestly valuable asset. Or, maybe Jones heads back to the Yankees, Sampson gets a cup of coffee then DFA’d, and Arcia cements his status as a AAAA player. My crystal ball doesn’t work very well is what I’m saying here. The methodology is mostly sound, however, and you can even make a case for Arcia if you try hard enough. Like every team in baseball, the D-backs are actively looking for the one or two small moves that will pay big yields. Those moves do happen on occasion and you just have to keep rolling the dice in order to come up lucky once in a while. These were some, there will be others. Go ahead and add Tyler Jones, Keyvius Sampson, and Oswaldo Arcia to your spring watch lists as the organization continuously attempts to improve the larger roster picture, as they should.
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