It’s always prospect season, but now it’s really prospect season. The Diamondbacks’ farm system has grown by leaps and bounds over the last two years. Notable international signings and draft picks have helped bolster the farm, and they’ve even scooped up some talent on trades while shedding plenty. It’s not a marquee system yet, but it’s trending in a positive direction. The major league team has had a good run over that time frame — even including their recent late-season collapse — while also managing to boost their stock in the minors. That’s a great sign for Mike Hazen’s work.
But we’re here to rank prospects and ranking prospects is hard. A lot of the organization’s top talent is located in the lower levels where there is limited data and limited reports. Checking in with people close to the organization and evaluators around the game, plus my own looks, there’s plenty of optimism. What there isn’t plenty of is extended track records of successful results. Minor league results have to be regressed and knowing just how much to regress them is both really difficult and highly-dependent on the player in question. Some guys have tools that will translate. Some guys have the mental aptitude to get the most out of their attributes. Many will, instead, get lost in the shuffle and stall.
On that topic of regression, let’s play a little game. It’s rare to see just how minor leaguers would perform if they were thrust into the majors, but it does happen. The Rule 5 draft offers an opportunity to get a glimpse inside the transition. So let’s look at some profiles and think long and deep about how they might perform at the major league level before talking about how they actually did perform at the major league level. Play along and remember your answers!
- Age: 20
- Level: Appalachian League (Rookie)
- Position: SS/OF
- Physical: athletic, 6’1″, 175-pounds
- Stats: 50 games, .362/.427/.495, 0HR, 16 2B, 5 3B, 22SB
How do you think player would perform in the majors? The Appalachian League is comparable to Pioneer League (Missoula for the Diamondbacks). The player recorded tremendous offense for a second year in a row, had projectable tools, and profiled for solid up the middle defense? Choose from the options below in a 100-game sample:
A) .261/.303/.372 with 6 HR’s and wRC+ of 94 (6% below league average)
B) .238/.275/.343 with 7 HR’s and a wRC+ of 78 (22% below league average)
C) .208/.282/.297 with 4 HR’s and a wRC+ of 55 (45% below league average)
- Age: 21
- Level: AA
- Position: RHP
- Physical: big body, durable, 6’5″, 230-pounds
- Stats: 26 starts, 130 IP, 4.68 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 7.65 K/9, 3.93 BB/9
How would this player perform in the majors? He had success in lower levels with a heavy sinker in the low 90’s and an average slider with a developing changeup. Choose from the options below in a 40-game, 19-start, 133.1 IP sample:
A) 3.17 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 6.35 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 85 FIP- (15% better than league average)
B) 4.15 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 7.05 K/9, 3.48 BB/9, 102 FIP- (2% worse than league average)
C) 4.77 ERA, 4.55 FIP, 6.70 K/9, 3.85 BB/9, 117 FIP- (17% worse than league average)
- Age: 22
- Level: AA
- Position: OF
- Physical: long and lean, 6’5″, 194-pounds
- Stats: 126 games, .292/.332/.394, 4 HR, 29 2B, 5 3B, 18 SB
How would this player perform in the minors? He has some feel to hit and scouts have long been awaiting the power to show up from his long, lanky frame. He’s best in left field but can cover center in a pinch. Choose from the options below in a 94-game sample:
A) .232/.250/.300 with 1 HR’s and a wRC+ of 46 (54% below league average)
B) .226/.265/.341 with 7 HR’s and a wRC+ of 58 (42% below league average)
C) .262/.293/.379 with 10 HR’s and a wRC+ of 80 (20% below league average)
All three of these guys have made expanded prospect lists over the years and all were selected by major league teams and left on the MLB roster for a full season. It’s not like these players were scrubs — they were worthy of a major league roster spot for a full season according to the teams that selected them. They had attributes that were attractive to other organizations and were at least somewhat well-regarded in the game, though they clearly weren’t so highly-prized that they were protected by their own teams.
So how did you do? Was it challenging? Here are our three mystery players:
Player 1: Allen Cordoba
The correct stat line was Option C. Cordoba was picked up by the Padres from the Cardinals and flailed miserably in his major league time. After a full season in the bigs, he was reassigned to High-A for 2018 and hit even worse than he did in the majors.
Player 2: Brad Keller
The correct stat line was Option A. Old Friend Keller was taken from the Diamondbacks’ system by the Royals this winter. He stuck all year and performed surprisingly well. His heavy sinker induced nearly 55% ground balls and while he didn’t strike a lot of guys out, he didn’t walk anybody. His results were similar (from a FIP standpoint) in both relief and as a starter. He should stick in the majors next season.
Player 3: Victor Reyes
The correct stat line was Option A. Another Old Friend, Reyes was chosen from the Diamondbacks by the Tigers this spring. He got sporadic action and was one of the worst hitters in all of baseball. A measly walk rate and no pop kept him from finding any kind of success. He should probably head to AA for the Tigers to open 2019.
So what did we learn from this exercise? Cordoba was playing a long way from the majors at the time of his Rule 5 selection, but he had simply torn the cover off the ball and played valuable defense. He was 20-years old and raking but found himself treading water all year long. Keller had made it to AA by 21 and performed reasonably. There was nothing that really stood out from his MiLB stat line, but his command and stuff suggested that he could at least keep the ball in the yard. He certainly did that. Reyes has had the attention of scouts for a long time as a toolsy outfielder with feel for the barrel but no real punch. The frame suggested the power would come, but it hasn’t shown up at all and his limited ability to get on base really hurt him.
The takeaways for this author are:
- There’s a massive gap between the lower minors and the majors (duh), but that gap shrinks considerably by AA
- Excellent stats in Rookie ball are great, but they have to be taken with a coarsely ground grain of salt
- Profiles like generating ground balls and limiting walks are more stable than hitting for average
- Even for guys in the upper minors, the transition to the majors can be abrupt
- Flaws in the minors get exploited in the majors — one can’t look past low OBP or a lack of power and just expect them to improve
- Stats are certainly better indicators in High-A and AA than they are in Rookie ball and Low-A
- It’s all still a mixed bag to some degree and refinement takes real time
- Rushing players almost never works out
- A whole lot more that we’ll talk about as the list rolls out
Hopefully that was fun. It’s a small sample of players — no doubt — but it highlights just how far off some players really are. That’s important here because so many of the Diamondbacks’ top prospects are Rookie ball guys at this point. A large quantity of them haven’t experienced full season baseball yet, so we have to tread carefully. But it also is what it is — there’s just not much to be excited about in the upper levels for Diamondbacks fans. Most of the talent is a long way off and you can thank both Dave Stewart (negatively) and Mike Hazen (positively) for that.
And rather than leave you with no real prospect content here, let’s just touch on some guys that were considered for the top 30 but fell short.
Tra Holmes, CF
I like Holmes and he was the first player to just miss the cut. It’s a speed and defense-oriented profile for him with a quick, compact swing that should make plenty of contact. He can get on base and notch his share of doubles while always being a threat on the bases. He’s a 4th outfielder type who will probably start his 2019 campaign at Kane County (A) next year.
Ildemaro Vargas, Util
Vargas is another player who narrowly missed the cut. In his favor, he’s defensively versatile and can hit enough to warrant a bench role. But he is already 27-years old and highly replaceable. Players like him are just about always available on the waiver wire or through trade for cheap. He’s a personal favorite, but his time to make a lasting impact has likely passed.
Dominic Miroglio, C
I may regret not having Miroglio inside the top 30. He’s been known for his defense and relative athleticism behind the plate, but he’s also hit quite well at two stops in the minors since being drafted. He found tougher sledding in a short stint at AA Jackson where he may open the 2019 season. He’s likely more of a backup catcher, but he should stick and be serviceable enough behind the plate to carve out a role. Whatever he does with the bat will be icing on the cake.
Zack Almond, C/1B
Almond absolutely raked for Missoula this season after being drafted in the 35th round of the 2017 draft. He’s a hulking dude who’s caught primarily but it’s unclear if he sticks back there. Guys that size (listed 6’3″ 210-pounds but I’d guess he’s heavier from what I saw) rarely stay behind the plate, but Almond probably has enough pop to warrant a move to first base. He was older than a lot of his competition this season, so more needs to be seen, but he’s hit 13 home runs and 18 doubles in just 75 professional games.
Jose Almonte, RHP
Almonte is a guy I’ve liked a bunch in the past, but his velocity was reportedly way down in the spring and he didn’t pitch all season. Scouts have been lukewarm on him and he has struggled with command at times, but he’s also shown some impressive strikeout numbers in the rotation, too. It’ll be interesting to see where and how he resurfaces.
Josh Green and Jackson Goddard, RHPs
Green is reliever right now and Goddard may head that way in the future. Green features a fastball in the low to mid 90’s and a slider that’s a touch slurvy. Goddard has more of a sinking fastball that plays up in shorter bursts. Both could make waves in relief roles going forward, though I’d probably have Goddard just ahead of Green as both were 2018 draft picks.
Jamie Westbrook, LF
Westbrook first hit AA as a 21-year old. He got his third crack at the Southern League this season and finally found his footing. He’s been moved out of the infield and into the outfield where he’s basically LF-only. It’s a weird profile for the position as he doesn’t project for much power or on-base but will make contact and won’t strike out too often. I’m still not really sure how it all fits, but he did make it to AAA at the end of the season and could be an up/down guy.
Joey Krehbiel, RHP
Krehbiel is major league ready and got his first cup of coffee this season. He can get his K’s but his fly ball tendencies are a bit worrying. It doesn’t help that he’s going to be 26 next season. He could be a middle relief candidate 2019, but he’s not necessarily a guy that the team will latch their future to.
Joey Rose, 3B
I got several looks at Rose this season during his time in Hillsboro (A-) after a midseason demotion from Kane County (A). He’s stocky and built like a brick with plenty of present strength. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave much room for physical projection for the 2016 5th rounder. He struggles to make consistent contact and seemed to be looking for pitches to pull down the line. There’s a lot of refinement needed here and the defense may not hold up at third long term depending on how his body develops.
There will be plenty more to come here, so stay tuned. The top 30 will keep rolling out over the next few weeks. In the meantime, feel free to drop your questions/comments below!
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