It’s that time of year again, one that’s perhaps better than any other. Every fall, many of the best prospects in baseball descend upon the Valley of the Sun, the place where half of their seasons started. For the viewer, it’s a tremendous opportunity to see some of baseball’s best prospects up close and personal, hearing the grunt of the pitcher (not Robbie Ray or Zack Greinke grunts, but still grunts nonetheless), the sound the ball makes when it’s pounded foul off the plate, and the chatter from infielders determining who’s covering the bag. It’s about as “real” of a snapshot of baseball as one can get anywhere in the world and should be on every baseball junky’s bucket list.
One little note, though: all that stuff I said about the best prospects in baseball, it doesn’t so much directly apply to the players the Diamondbacks are sending to the AFL. By MLB.com’s numbers, there are 11 prospects out of the top 100 in baseball that’ll be repping their parent club in the AFL. None of them are D-backs, but that’s largely due to the team having such a poor farm system (though it has come a long way in relatively short order). Still, none of shortstop Jack Reinheimer, right-handers Yoan Lopez and Ryan Atkinson, lefty Colin Poche, outfielder Victor Reyes or catcher Michael Perez figure to crack the D-backs’ top 10 prospect list this winter. Heck, some are in jeopardy of not making the top 30, so to call it a lackluster crop might be putting it lightly. But it’s the crop Diamondbacks fans have been handed, so let’s proceed — regardless of pedigree.
Victor Reyes, OF
- Age (D.O.B): 22 (10/5/94)
- Acquired: traded for the 75th overall pick in the 2015 draft, sort of
- Level(s) in 2017: Double-A Jackson (120 games)
- Top 30 Rank: n/a
While he’s not going to turn any heads with huge tools, Reyes in an interesting prospect. He’s not a big guy, standing a slender 6’3″ and 170-pounds, but the switch-hitter has a knack for making contact. He doesn’t strike out much, but he doesn’t walk much either. There’s no over-the-fence power to speak of, but he’s been something of a doubles machine at Jackson this year (27) as he’s on pace to double his previous career-high. He’s nabbed 15 bags this season in 24 tries, making four straight minor league seasons with double-digits steals.
All that might sound like a nifty little center field package, but that’s kind of the rub. Reyes has played some center but has more regularly lined up in left field. It’s not a game-changing defensive profile for the 22-year old who’ll turn 23 around the time the AFL kicks off. Fringy defense, a non-impact bat, limited on-base skills and non existent raw power potential makes for a strange profile. Reyes relies on batted balls becoming hits and that’s just not something you can feel all that comfortable betting on long term, especially at the major league level.
Going forward, maybe Reyes fills out some, those extra doubles become a few more homers and he doesn’t slow down too much defensively, making for a poor-man’s David Peralta. If that’s the case, he’s a solid bet to be stashed in AAA and called upon when needed. Maybe Reyes takes that rotational, line-drive swing and turns it into something with a bit more loft and he joins his contemporary fly ball revolutionaries, producing enough power to warrant a more serious look. Or, perhaps, he is what he is: a contact oriented hitter with little power and defense who’ll produce at the minor league level but likely can’t survive against big league pitching on a consistent basis. The AFL will be an interesting data point in determining his direction and eventual utility.
Yoan Lopez, RHP
- Age (D.O.B.): 24 (1/2/93)
- Acquired: 2014 International Sign (Cuba), $8.27 million
- Level(s): High-A Visalia (19 games), AZL D-backs (1 game)
- Top 30 Rank: n/a
Hey, look who’s back. The struggles and issues of Yoan Lopez have been well-documented. He was signed for a large figure out of Cuba back in 2014 with several big league sources claiming the Diamondbacks vastly overpaid for the young righty. He wasn’t necessarily sharp right out of the chute, looked visibly stressed during Spring Training the following year, bailed on his team, came back, bailed again, came back and went semi-underground, then reemerged this season in Visalia as a 24-year old reliever. It’s been long, winding road to this point to say the very least.
And while that’s all very interesting, there are parts of that story that shouldn’t be held against Lopez. He signed for the most money he could get, which is what just about any amateur player (and most professionals) would do. It’s not his fault that the previous front office was either ill-prepared or just plain ignorant of the penalties the team would face in inking him. It’s also not his fault that the front office promoted him as a close-to-MLB-ready arm even though he wasn’t there yet. Immaturity and/or culture shock are also quite understandable — he was literally human-trafficked to the U.S. to play baseball — leaving the only life he’d known in the rear-view mirror. How he’s dealt with those issues are fair game to a degree, but one can empathize, too. Context is important, but he’s here now and trying to rebuild a shattered reputation. That should count for something.
Frankly, since coming back aboard the ship, all Lopez has done is dominate. In 29 games with Visalia he’s allowed just three earned runs while striking out 51 batters and walking only nine. He’s old for the level and clearly advanced, but he’s hopefully built some confidence in the process. Reports have had him in the mid to upper 90’s with his fastball and showcasing a plus slider. While he’s missed developmental time that could have been spent trying to keep him in the rotation, he’s a legitimate flamethrower right now out of the bullpen and that’s where he probably stays. Sure, it’s not the upside we once pined for, but he may just turn into a useful big leaguer nonetheless. At present, he looks like a guy that could find his way to the major league bullpen in short order, provided there’s enough command to make use of his raw stuff. The arm is still there, and while it’s been a tumultuous process, Lopez is looking like a prospect yet again.
Jack Reinheimer, SS
- Age (D.O.B.): 25 (7/19/92)
- Acquired: 2015 Trade with Seattle (for Mark Trumbo)
- Level(s): Triple-A Reno (124 games), MLB D-backs (2 games)
- Top 30 Rank: 24
Reinheimer is making a return trip to the AFL for the Diamondbacks where he played back in 2015. He got his first big league action this season when a slew of injuries hit the club, but Adam Rosales was traded for and Jack found his way back to Reno where he’s been holding his own all year. The bat probably doesn’t play enough for him to ever be a big league regular, but he makes enough plays defensively that he can hang around as a utility player or be shuttled back and forth between the majors and the minor for the next few seasons. Reinheimer has a quiet, short stroke at the plate and will make contact while taking some walks, but there’s little power to speak of. There’s also little projection remaining, so it would seem that he’s destined for a bench role long-term.
Michael Perez, C
- Age (D.O.B.): 25 (8/7/92)
- Acquired: Drafted 2011, 5th Round
- Level(s): Double-A Jackson (80 games), Triple-A Reno (1 game)
- Top 30 Rank: n/a
Perez just turned 25 and is in his 7th minor league season. He was just promoted to AAA Reno after a solid season at AA Jackson where he slashed .279/.365/.424 with 23 doubles and five home runs in just over a half a season’s worth of games. It’s been a slow burn for Perez, who put himself on the map with a strong showing in the Pioneer League back in 2012, but he’s been pretty quiet ever since. He was noted early in his minor league career as having a strong arm and has progressed defensively over time. Knowing how this current front office values catching, the Puerto Rico native must be doing something right. There are limited reports on him considering how much he’s struggled offensively over the years, so the AFL will provide an opportunity for him to show just how far he’s come. There might just be a backup catcher in there after all.
Ryan Atkinson, RHP
- Age (D.O.B.): 24 (5/10/93)
- Acquired: 2016 Independent Ball Sign
- Level(s): Single-A Kane County (10 starts), High-A Visalia (9 starts), Double-A Jackson (6 starts)
- Top 30 Rank: n/a
Another indy ball sign for the Diamondbacks appears to be paying dividends. Atkinson was not selected after his senior season at Cincinnati and ended his baseball career, albeit briefly. He got the urge to pitch again, tried out for the Evansville Otters, made two appearances and was picked up immediately by Arizona. He pitched well in the low minors last season and has climbed the ladder to AA Jackson in 2017. Across three levels this season, Atkinson has struck out 159 batters and walked 58 over 134.1 innings of work. The walk rate is a bit high for a starter, but he’s struck out over ten batters per nine innings to balance the free passes. He throws a sinker in the low 90’s from an over-the-top arm slot paired with a curveball and changeup. His delilvery has some deception and he could ultimately wind up a back end starter or a middle relief prospect. It’s not a sexy profile, but considering the odds that faced Atkinson just two years ago, things have changed for the right-hander in a big way. He should be a fan favorite if nothing else.
Colin Poche, LHP
- Age (D.O.B.): 23 (1/17/94)
- Acquired: Drafted 2016, 14th Round
- Level(s): Single-A Kane County (13 games), High-A Visalia (16 games)
- Top 30 Rank: n/a
With attention usually focused on starting pitchers, it’s easy to lose sight of relief prospects. True, many of the game’s best relievers are converted starters, but some guys just thrive in the bullpen. Poche has done that since being drafted in 2016 out of Dallas Baptist. This season, he’s struck out 77 batters and walked just 18 over 47.1 innings, dominating Midwest and California League hitters who rarely see quality left-handed pitching. He doesn’t have big stuff and it’s questionable if he has a single plus pitch, but he’s been strong regardless. He’s not overly funky, throws from a 3/4’s arm slot and tends to sit in the upper 80’s with his fastball. Jumping from High-A to the AFL will provide quite a challenge and it’s yet to be seen if Poche can succeed against better, more polished hitters. There could be LOOGY upside if he’s able to continue his development.
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