Midseason prospect lists are starting to roll out as we’re more than halfway through the full season affiliates’ seasons and the short season teams are well underway. New prospects have been added thanks to June’s draft and the D-backs got all of their picks in the top ten rounds signed. RHP Matt Tabor was the last to do so and the club went well over slot to sign him but got it done in the end. With the new infusion of players and a few graduation/trades, the Top 10 looks different this time around, as it probably should.
More so than the full offseason list, the midseason rankings make me a little uneasy. For the full season guys, you’re working with just over half a season’s worth of reports and data. For the short season guys, there’s only 20 games or so to go on and the reports are farther and fewer between. I’ve been able to catch some games in person, but not as many as I’d like. Some of the 2017 signees have played less than ten games, so that’s an issue. You get the idea, this isn’t an easy task for a variety of reasons. Rather, it’s yet another snapshot in time and things will change. The Top 30 will look different from this list in five months’ time, and that’s okay. So let’s get to it.
#10 Anfernee Grier, CF
- Age: 21
- Acquired: Drafted first competitive balance round, 2016 (39th overall)
- Level(s): Single-A Kane County (78 games)
- Top 30 Rank: 5
Grier’s debut in Hillsboro last season went about as expected. A bit raw from a developmental standpoint, he struggled to hit and control the strike zone but stole nine bags in 20 games and played an excellent center field. His sophomore campaign shows some signs of growth. Grier’s overall line isn’t flashy (.262/.356/.339), but he’s cut his strikeout rate by nearly 6.5% and upped his walk rate by 7.3%. He’s still a threat on the bases as he’s swiped 18 bags (but he’s been caught nine times) and Grier still does a fine job patrolling center field. The power hasn’t shown up yet, but that’s not necessarily his calling card. His ability to make contact and get on base will the keys to his continued development, and while there’s a long way to go, there are some positive signs of growth. If he starts tapping into his potentially plus raw power, well, he may just really start to take off.
#9 Dawel Lugo, 3B
- Age: 22
- Acquired: 2015 trade from Toronto for Cliff Pennington
- Level(s): Double-A Jackson (83 games)
- Top 30 Rank: 9
Lugo lit the world on fire last season in Visalia, then was excellent in Mobile after a mid-season promotion. He went back to AA (now in Jackson) to begin 2017 and his progress has somewhat stalled. He’s still making plenty of contact but his low walk rates continue to hurt his on-base percentage. He’s hit fewer home runs so far this season, but his overall power output remains mostly unchanged thanks to plenty of doubles. Lugo can play third base and stay there, though he’s not exactly plus defensively. Most were hoping he’d be pressing for a promotion to AAA Reno by now, and while the challenge might be a good thing, he hasn’t exactly forced the organization’s hand. There’s still potential for a second division starter here, but that’s not a sure thing.
#8 Drew Ellis, 3B
- Age: 21
- Acquired: Drafted second round, 2017 (44th overall)
- Level(s): Short Season Hillsboro (8 games)
- Top 30 Rank: n/a
Ellis had a monster redshirt sophomore year at Louisville, a team that made it to Omaha last month. He hit .355/.448/.701 in his final season with the Cardinals, walking as often as he struck out (40 times each), hitting 20 homers and 18 doubles. The power output wasn’t surprising as he’s a big man at the hot corner with easy plus power from the right side. There are some defensive concerns about whether or not Ellis’ body will allow him to stay at third, possibly forcing him to first base. Should he remain at third, his value looks good, but if he’s forced to move to first, he’ll still have enough raw power to float him. The biggest question will be whether he can make enough steady, solid contact against more advanced pitching, but time will tell there.
#7 Marcus Wilson, CF
- Age: 20
- Acquired: Drafted 2nd Competitive Balance round, 2014 (69th overall)
- Level(s): Single-A Kane County (64 games)
- Top 30 Rank: 12
Wilson’s swing has long been a work in progress, something we’ve explored here before. He’s made further refinements this season and they’ve paid off in a big way. He’s hit .294/.395/.485 this season, easily the best line of his career so far. He’s launched a career high eight home runs to go along with 13 doubles while stealing nine bases in 13 attempts. Wilson is plenty capable of holding down center field from a speed perspective, though he’s still learning the finer aspects of taking quality routes and his arm isn’t necessarily a strength. With a strong approach at the plate and a swing geared for more and better contact, Wilson has all of the makings of a top of the order bat if it all breaks right. If not, he should make for a quality fourth outfielder. There’s still a long way to go here, but Marcus Wilson continues making strides, and with his raw tools and athleticism, there’s impact potential should he maximize his skill set.
#6 Taylor Clarke, RHP
- Age: 24
- Acquired: Drafted 3rd round, 2015 (76th overall)
- Level(s): Double-A Jackson (17 starts)
- Top 30 Rank: 3
Clarke has been incredibly good for Jackson this season. His 2.66 ERA is supported by his 2.85 FIP and he’s struck out 87 and walked just 26 in 82 innings of work. Batters have hit just .222 against him and after finding success across three levels last year, he’s back to carving up hitters. His fastball sits in the low 90’s but he can reach for more when needed. He has advanced command that allows him to locate his fastball for strikes while mixing in a solid slider and an improving changeup. There’s upside for a #4 starter here, but some evaluators think he’s best served in a relief role, something the team could potentially explore this season if they find themselves in need of bullpen help down the stretch. Either way, Clarke looks like a big league arm, and while he’s not particularly young, he has been increasingly effective. At this point, he’s ready for another challenge. Don’t be surprised if he moves up this list come the next installment of the Top 30…
#5 Jazz Chisholm, SS
- Age: 19
- Acquired: 2015 International Sign ($200,000 bonus)
- Level(s): Single-A Kane County (29 games)
- Top 30 Rank: 7
Chisholm is the most explosive player in the system and arguably carries the most upside. Unfortunately, an ACL tear after just 29 games ended his season early and he’ll miss the remainder of 2017. Granted, his injury is different in nature than a pitcher tearing a UCL, but there’s always some question of how a player will come back from the injury. Will it limit his range at all? Will he be any less explosive? There’s also concern over missed development time, and while he’s just 19 at present, he’s also a bit raw. Chisholm was striking out at a 31.2% clip at Kane County prior to his injury, suggesting there’s plenty of work to do at the plate. After notching 13 hits in his first 11 contests, he managed to hit just .220 in his next 16 games before going down. Though he possesses more power than your average shortstop prospect, the swing and miss is a concern. He’ll have to learn to be more selective at the plate, but that comes with time, time that he’ll now miss. The upside is still there for an impact talent, but there are now more question marks that cloud the overall picture. Should he thrive in 2018 those will be put to rest, but for now we have to be a bit more cautious.
#4 Domingo Leyba, SS
- Age: 22
- Acquired: 2015 trade from Detroit and New York (with Robbie Ray) for Didi Gregorius
- Level(s): Short Season Hillsboro (6 games), Double-A Jackson (9 games)
- Top 30 Rank: 6
Leyba was impressive this spring, holding his own against some major league competition in Spring Training before being sidelined with a shoulder injury that cost him much of the first half of the minor league season. I had a chance to speak with him during his rehab stint in Hillsboro and he was happy to be healthy again. When asked about his rebound 2016 season, one where put a tough 2015 campaign firmly in the rearview mirror, he credited the maturity in his approach, something the coaching staff helped him develop. That patience led him to working counts more often and getting pitches he could drive rather than swinging early in the count and getting himself out. Leyba has walked more ever since and hit for more power in the process. The team has never converted him to second base and after seeing him at short for a few games, it’s clear that he has the chops to stay there, though defense might just be average at best. The organization has options with him, which will only help get him to the majors where he’ll showcase plenty of contact and sneak in extra-base pop. He has the makings of a big league regular and it shouldn’t be long before he’s in Arizona full time in some capacity.
#3 Anthony Banda, LHP
- Age: 24
- Acquired: 2014 trade from Milwaukee (with Mitch Haniger) for Gerardo Parra
- Level(s): Triple-A Reno (17 starts)
- Top 30 Rank: 1
Banda has faced challenges in the PCL, just like every other pitcher on the face of the planet. The competition is stiffer, but the hitting environment is extreme, too. He’s already matched a career-high in home runs allowed (10) as over 10% of all fly balls he’s allowed have ended up in the seats. That’s surely an issue, but the PCL is extreme, even more so than what he’ll face in the National League. Banda has struggled with walks at times this season, but has been very efficient at others. He’s still striking plenty of batters out and he’s yielded just a .235 average against all season long, the lowest of his career. The stuff remains solid — a low to mid-90’s heater from the left side, a curveball that can draw whiffs, and a changeup that’s gotten better over the years. There’s all the makings of a solid #4 starter here, a guy who logs plenty of quality innings, but will rarely dominate. That’s a valuable piece for a team on a budget as the Diamondbacks always are. The team appears to want to limit his service time, but with the Super Two deadline gone, he may be in line for a call-up if/when the need arises. If not, look for him to potentially come out of the bullpen in September and definitely be in the mix next spring for a rotation spot. He could also be a trade chip come the deadline.
#2 Pavin Smith, 1B
- Age: 21
- Acquired: Drafted first round, 2017 (7th overall)
- Level(s): Short Season Hillsboro (14 games)
- Top 30 Rank: n/a
Smith didn’t waste much time in signing with the Diamondbacks after being picked seventh overall last month. His profile is a bit unique for his position as he’s not the mashing, slugger type at first base. There’s a chance for plus power, but it profiles as more average at present. What made Smith a hot commodity, however, is his ability to hit where he should make plenty of quality contact. As Jason Parks used to say, the hit tool is the often underrated in favor of raw power potential, but in Smith the team acquired a guy who should have little problem putting the bat on the ball consistently. He’s also showed a keen ability to control the strike zone — an organizational-wide priority — as he doesn’t strike out much and walks plenty. Smith has been on teams’ radars forever and the D-backs had plenty of data on the first baseman when they picked him, feeling secure in his abilities. He was a “safe” pick in that sense, but one that should provide plenty of value. If he’s able to make strides in the power department as he fills out his frame, then he could turn into something special. If not, he’s still a solid option at first base that lacks a bit of the prototypical pop for the position but gets on base and hits for average.
#1 Jon Duplantier, RHP
- Age: 22
- Acquired: Drafted 3rd round, 2016 (89th overall)
- Level(s): Single-A Kane County (12 starts, 1 relief appearance), High-A Visalia (2 starts)
- Top 30 Rank: 14
Duplantier’s stock has risen as much or more than anyone in minors over the first three months of the minor league season. He was a risk in the 3rd round last June after shoulder injuries troubled him at Rice. He’s put those troubles in the rearview mirror, however, and was invited to this year’s Future’s Game to represent the Diamondbacks. He allowed just 45 hits in 72.2 innings with Kane County (to go along with 78 strikeouts and only 15 walks) before recently being promoted to Visalia where he’s made two starts. His command is advanced and it’s shown early on. It helps that he has a fastball (well actually two of them — two and four-seam) that sits in the low 90’s but has been up to 96 and a knockout spike curve to go along with a slider and a changeup. It’s s full repertoire for Duplantier, though it’ll need minor refinements as he climbs the ladder. There’s mid-rotation upside here as he’s already polished for his age. If there are any questions, it’s these: can he stay healthy, and if so, how much projection remains? At 22 and given his frame, he’s probably a finished product in terms of adding velocity and that shoulder will always be a concern. So far, so good, however, and if he keeps it up, Duplantier could end up on the mound in Arizona as early as mid 2018. That said, don’t be surprised if they organization takes their time with the righty to make sure they don’t rush him into another injury. He’s already one of the better pitching prospects in the minors — they won’t want to jeopardize that.
There are a bunch of known commodities that missed this list. Hell, even Yoan Lopez has reemerged from, well, somewhere. Below are some younger names that have gotten a bit less press that are either new to the system or are starting to show positive signs. All are on my radar and should probably be on yours (ages in parenthesis).
- Buddy Kennedy (18), 3B: drafted in the 5th round in June, off to a hot start in the AZL, bat-first third baseman with a chance to really hit.
- Joey Rose (19), 3B: drafted in the 5th round 2016, can really pick it at third, hitting well early in Missoula.
- Eduardo Diaz (19), CF: 2015 international sign (Venezuela), tore up DSL in 2016, came stateside late last year, tearing up the Pioneer League at Missoula.
- Gabriel Maciel (19), CF: 2015 international sign (Brazil), skipped the DSL and played well stateside in his debut last year, speed to burn, switch-hitter, destroying Pioneer League pitching at Missoula.
- Luis Madero (20), RHP: signed at 16-years old out of Venezuela, has steadily climbed the ladder, big stuff, command showing signs of improvement, more strikeouts and fewer walks in Missoula, prone to fly balls.
- Yan Sanchez (20), SS: signed at 16-years old out of the D.R., has hit just about everywhere he’s played, a bit tall for a shortstop but can really play defense, power has started to show up in games at Hillsboro.
- Eudy Ramos (21), 3B: 2012 international sign out of the D.R., has shown the ability to hit for average and power, big-bodied kid, thick lower half, good hands, good arm, body may impact range at third, hitting well in Hillsboro.
- Jhoan Duran (19), RHP: signed at 16-years old out of the D.R., can run the fastball into the upper-90’s, breaking pitch still coming around, tall, lean, projectable, delivery is easy enough, holding his own in Hillsboro while being two years younger than the competition.
- Curtis Taylor (21), RHP: drafted it the 4th round 2016, big kid out of British Columbia, workhorse frame, heavy sinker can touch the upper-90’s, slider is solid, can be developed as a back-end starter or high-leverage reliever, plenty effective for Kane County.
- Emilio Vargas (20), RHP: 2012 international sign out of the D.R., fastball can sit touch the mid-90’s, secondary stuff still a ways off, probably a RP in the end, young enough to still develop, pitching well at Kane County.
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