The D-backs are in the midst of a fine April. They’ve won 12 of their first 14 games at home this season, a tally that seems like it took forever to reach last year. They’ve averaged something like 7.5 runs per game at home and they are halfway through a 10-game homestand that’ll eventually bring the division-leading Rockies to town. We’ll see who’s leading the division by the end of the weekend.
But I want to take us away from the majors and down below a few levels today. In case you’re new to these parts of the internet, we do our diligence in covering the minor leagues, too. The Diamondbacks entered the winter with one of the worst farm systems in the game according to virtually every major publication. I was bearish on them, too, noting that the system lacked impact talent with their best prospect projecting as a number four starter. But here’s the thing about prospect evaluation: it’s always changing. Guys grow, guys improve, and some guys stall out. That’s just how player development works (though the D-backs get universal praise for their work in this arena with Mike Bell running the show).
Truth be told, the D-backs have seen their share of early season breakouts in the minors. A few guys have started showing up around the web in reports and are starting to get a little traction nationally for their early season work. Most days I tweet out strong minor league performances from the day before using the hashtag #DbacksMinors. You can search twitter for these, but in doing so, I often start calling out the same players with some frequency. That’s not a bias, it’s just that some guys start to stand out from the pack. Below are a few players that have done exactly that thus far, along with a recap of how they’ve fared in 2017 to begin the year.
Marcus Wilson, CF, Kane County Cougars (Single-A)
- Age: 20
- Height/Weight: 6’3″, 175-pounds
- 2017 Top 30 Prospect Rank: 12
I’ve been high on Wilson since he debuted as a raw athlete still learning the finer points of the game. His development has been slow and steady as he spent his first three springs in extended spring training. A solid season in 2016, in which he walked 51 times in 69 games, earned him a shot at full-season ball to open 2017 and he’s not disappointed. Blessed with tremendous strike zone judgement, he’s struck out just 13 times and walked 12 times in 17 games. Getting on base is key for Wilson as he’s a 70-grade runner who stole 25 bases last season and already has three under his belt this year. But the real surprise has been the boost to his power output. In his first three minor league seasons, Wilson totaled three home runs. In less than a month, he’s already hit five homers this season for a team that’s playing in miserable Midwest conditions where it’s been cold and often wet. He’s got five doubles and triple to go along with those homers, and with the low strikeout numbers, it’s not as if he’s selling out for power. Wilson has the range for center field but could slide to left if needed where his speed would be a real asset. Drafting raw 17-year olds is a risky proposition, but in his fourth season, Wilson seems to be turning some kind of corner, though sample size issues surely apply.
Jon Duplantier, RHP, Kane County Cougars (Single-A)
- Age: 22
- Height/Weight: 6’4″, 225-pounds
- 2017 Top 30 Prospect Rank: 14
If you’re unfamiliar with Duplantier’s draft story, it goes a little something like this: he was a first round arm that fell due to injury concerns. Duplantier attended Rice, a program known for abusing pitchers’ arms and the right-hander had his issues with a shoulder injury his sophomore year. He was stellar in his junior season, was drafted in the third round, then threw just one inning for Hillsboro after signing due to some elbow soreness (and there were reports of hamstring issues in fall instructionals). He arrived this spring in great shape with a clean bill of health, however, and has been destroying Midwest League hitters. Duplantier has touched 97 this spring but sits more comfortably in the 92-93 range with his heater and has a strong curve that’s a swing-and-miss offering. While his changeup lags behind, it’s something he has time to improve. In four games (three were starts, the other would have been a start were it not for a rain delay), he’s averaged just over five innings per game, has allowed just eight hits, no earned runs, walked four and struck out 28 batters. When guys put the ball in play, they’ve hit it on the ground twice as often as in the air. There will always be concerns for his health, but so far so good for Duplantier who is in line for an early season promotion and will start shooting up lists as long as he’s on the mound.
Taylor Clarke, RHP, Jackson Generals (Double-A)
- Age: 23
- Height/Weight: 6’4″, 200-pounds
- 2017 Top 30 Prospect Rank: 3
Clarke entered the winter as the Diamondbacks’ second best pitching prospect and has done little to dispel that notion in 2017. He can sit comfortably in the low to mid-90’s with his fastball and pairs it well with an potentially plus slider and a developing change that lags behind his other two offerings at present. While the upside isn’t huge, Clarke has remained solid in second AA stint in the Southern League. He was pummeled in his second start, but has been excellent in his other three. For the season, he’s pitched 16 innings, walking five and striking out 19. Batters are hitting just .217 against him thus far. Like Duplantier above, there were injury concerns about Clarke entering his draft year, but he’s remained healthy into his third minor league season, something that bodes well for the Tommy John survivor. Should he keep it going, it won’t be a shock to see him reach AAA Reno this season with a shot at a late season debut in 2017 or, at the very least, at some point in 2018. Whether or not he remains a starter seems silly on its face as he’s pitched well in that capacity, but he could be rushed to the majors as a reliever if the team needs him in the bullpen where he may ultimately be more productive depending on how his changeup comes along.
Dawel Lugo, 3B, Jackson Generals (Double-A)
- Age: 22
- Height/Weight: 6’0″, 190-pounds
- 2017 Top 30 Prospect Rank: 9
I’ve not been as “in” on Lugo as others, but he’s starting to change that impression. He hit relatively well in 48 AA games last season following a mid-season promotion and is following that up with a solid showing in his second crack at the Southern League. Through 17 games, he’s slashing .315/.367/.521 with three doubles and four home runs. He’s been a bit of a hacker at the plate as he makes a ton of contact for a guy with plus raw power — the issue being that a lot of that contact is less than ideal. He’s the rare case of a guy who could stand to strike out more so long as it meant fewer grounders. In 2017, he’s started to trend that direction, hitting more fly balls and with his pop, that’s a good strategy. He’s adequate defensively at third base where he shows off a plus arm that helps make up for average at best fielding. With a strong start under his belt, Lugo could see time at AAA before the season is out and warrant a late-season call up if the situation arises.
- SS Jasrado Chisholm (Kane County) got off to a torrid start but has cooled. The 19-year old was aggressively sent to full-season ball and has shown some power, but has had his issues with strikeouts.
- CF Anfernee Grier (Kane County) is off to a solid start and recently had a nine-game hitting streak snapped. He’s walking more, which is a good sign, and is fine in center field.
- C Jose Herrera (Kane County) has had his issues with Midwest League pitching in his first taste of full-season ball, though he’s just 20 and is a fine receiver with a potentially plus hit tool.
- RHP Sam McWilliams (Kane County) was traded to the D-backs from the Phillies prior to last season (for Jeremy Hellickson) and is off to a fabulous start, allowing just one earned run in 20 innings with 20 strikeouts and just one walk.
- RHP Wei-Chieh Huang (Kane County) has been converted to a relief role where he’s finding some success.
- SS Sergio Alcantara (Visalia) is holding his own in High-A. Never known for his bat, he had a sort of mini-breakout last fall and is handling the transition fairly well. He’s a lock at shortstop where he’s excellent defensively.
- 2B Henry Castillo and 3B Fernery Ozuna (Visalia) are both off to slow starts after being promoted to High-A to start the season.
- RHP Jose Almonte (Visalia) has piled up the strikeouts so far in the California League, but got roughed up last night, destroying his ERA. Rough outings happen to 21-year olds in the CAL…
- OF Victor Reyes (Jackson) is up to his old tricks, spraying the ball all over the field. He’s finally started to show some power, too, so his stock is trending upwards.
- LF Jamie Westbrook (Jackson) has been converted to the outfield from second base but the bat has seemingly stalled.
- LHP Alex Young, RHP Brad Keller and LHP Josh Taylor (Jackson) are all off to solid starts in AA. Young’s not striking out many and Taylor’s walked a few more than you’d like, but all have been relatively hard to hit.
- LHP Gabriel Moya (Jackson) continues to be a strikeout machine out of the bullpen.
- LHP Jared Miller (Jackson) was last season’s cinderella story, but has had a tough go things in AA to open the season. I’m personally wondering if he’s pitching through some pain.
- SS Ketel Marte (Reno) is absolutely raking, potentially forcing the Diamondbacks’ hand to trade an infielder (like Nick Ahmed?)
- OF Oswaldo Arcia and 1B Christian Walker (Reno) have five home runs each as the PCL seems be a perfect fit for their profiles as mashers.
- INF Ildemaro Vargas (Reno) is off to a solid start after a strong showing in Spring Training and looks like a future utility piece.
- RHP Braden Shipley and LHP Anthony Banda (Reno) have found tough sledding in AAA to open the year, albeit for different reasons. Shipley has surrendered 32 hits in just 22 innings while Banda has walked 14 batters in just four starts.
- RHP Enrique Burgos (Reno) hasn’t pitched particularly well in AAA to begin the year.
- RHP Jimmie Sherfy (Reno) has been solid for the Aces, striking out nine and walking just one in seven appearances.
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