Some baseball fans see prospects as “a bunch of guys who won’t make it to the majors.” While that’s largely true, the ones that do are the lifeblood of any baseball franchise, and no one covers those prospects like Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus. Jason recently released his Diamondbacks Top 10 and followed it up with the Baseball Prospectus 101 where he and his team and ranked the best 101 prospects in the game (including three D-backs). To top it all off, the 2014 Baseball Prospectus Annual is now available and it’s read cover-to-cover by just about everyone you should trust in baseball, including Diamondbacks announce Steve Berthiaume. If you don’t follow Professor Parks on twitter, you really should and his work at BP is worth the price of admission on its own (making the rest of the content an amazing bonus).
Last week, Jason graciously agreed to do a Q&A for Inside the ‘Zona regarding the Diamondbacks’ system. His comments paint a hopeful picture for the organization and highlight some of the strengths of the franchise when it comes to talent procurement and player development. Because he sees so many prospects in person as a full-time scout, evaluator and writer, his insights are nearly unparalleled. Without further introduction, here’s our conversation:
Jeff Wiser: We know about Archie Bradley, he’s going to be a stud. Rather than gush over him, I want to take this opportunity to address a couple of other guys and trends within the Diamondbacks system. In a recent chat at Baseball Prospectus, you mentioned that Braden Shipley could shoot up lists over the summer and be someone that organizations that drafted before the Diamondbacks will regret passing on. What can we look for from him and what does he need to do to grow into a top-30 prospect?
Jason Parks: On-the-field production that backs up the scouting is what pushes players up prospect lists, and Shipley has the combination of stuff and pitchability to bring the entire package together in 2014. His fastball is plus-plus; his changeup could be plus-plus, AND…he throws a hammer curveball that could be plus. It’s a very sexy package, and if everything clicks, he could be a number two starter.
Wiser: You and Keith Law of ESPN had very different rankings on Chris Owings. Obviously you both think he’s talented and worthy of high regard, but why do you think you were higher on Owings than Law?
Parks: I honestly don’t care where Keith Law ranks players. I do—however—care where teams rank players, and I’ve spoken to several teams that are lower on Owings than I am, and the reasoning seems to be focused on his approach, and how you can see exploitable weakness against better arms. The book is going to get out on Owings, and you can bet he gets a steady diet of soft and spin early in counts, and it will be up to him to make the next adjustment. I really like the bat; he shows bat speed and good bat control, and I believe in his ability to make adjustments. A good scout source put a Michael Young label on Owings, and despite the negative connotations associated with Young in recent years, the player being referenced is a 200-hit middle infielder that can really hit fastballs and uses an all-fields approach. It’s not overly flashy and more blue-collar than blue-chip, but I think he develops into a very good major league player.
Wiser: I wrote a piece last week on what the Diamondbacks’ prospect landscape will look like come 2015 with Bradley and Owings likely to exhaust their eligibility this season. What other guys have a chance to jump into the Top 100 fray come this time next January?
Parks: Jose Martinez is going to be a frontline prospect. Justin Williams could make it interesting, as could Sergio Alcantara if the bat steps up. But Jose Martinez could really jump lists in 2014, and by 2015, he could be one of the top arms in the game. He has that sort of ceiling.
Wiser: Across the board, it appears that a lot of Diamondback pitching prospects, aside from relievers, favor the curveball instead of the slider when it comes to breaking pitches. From your knowledge, is this a deliberate emphasis on the part of the organization to keep pitchers from throwing sliders (which some studies have shown to increase injury risks) or is it simply a coincidence.
Parks: I’m really not sure. I think the curveball is a harder pitch to learn, to command, and to throw for strikes, so it’s common around baseball to see the slider taught to young arms (or arms that don’t take to the curveball). I’m not sure the violent snap of the curveball is all that better for the arm than the slider, but it would be interesting if the D-backs are big believers in the studies that suggest sliders add to the injury risk.
Wiser: The talent in the Diamondbacks’ system has appeared to come in waves. The most recent wave has either entered the majors or been traded away. The next wave seems quite a ways off, as you mentioned that there are a number of players to get excited about in the low minors (complex level). Which pitchers should we be watching closely in 2014?
Parks: I’ll keep saying this name until he becomes a ubiquitous presence in baseball: Jose Martinez. Not the biggest guy in the world, but a loose and easy arm; velocity projects to be in the plus-plus range on the fastball; hard curveball could be second plus-plus offering; big bat-missing weapon pitch, with an extremely tight rotation and vertical snap. It’s a frontline profile in the mold of a Yordano Ventura. Nasty.
Another arm to keep an eye on is Brad Keller. It’s not a fancy ceiling; rather, more of a workhorse type with a low-90s fastball and a solid-average secondary set. It’s a physically mature body, so don’t expect a big arsenal bounce as he climbs, but he’s going to log innings, miss some bats, and more importantly: make outs.
Wiser: What about hitters at that same level? Who might emerge this season?
Parks: I ranked Justin Williams and Sergio Alcantara on the D-backs top ten list, but an even deeper sleeper is Fernery Ozuna. Small package at second base, but a hit tool that is highly projectable; shows fast hands, excellent bat speed and control, and the ability to square up balls in all quadrants. He has pop, and I bet he keeps hitting against better competition. I wanted to rank him in the top ten in the system. The 18-year-old Dominican can rake. Just wait.
Wiser: Looking at Ray Montgomery’s scouting and Mike Bell’s player development system as a whole, what are some strengths of the Diamondbacks organization when it comes to developing young talent?
Parks: It starts with identifying talent at the amateur level, finding the type of arms with size, strength and the projection to have impact arsenals. They seem attracted to polish when it comes to arms as well, college types with size, athleticism, pitchability and advanced developmental profiles. In a way, Archie Bradley was a college arm; polished more than the average high school pitcher, with a mature body and a mature approach that has allowed him to move through the minors relatively quickly. Seems like the type of arm they like to target.
On the positional side, they seem to take more chances. They aren’t afraid to go high risk/high reward from the high school ranks, taking players that will need extra time in the developmental process, not made-ready types on the fast rise.
Wiser: Ok, Jason, last question: which NL West team should the Diamondbacks fear most in the next three to five years? Is it still the Dodgers with all of their money or does another team have the young talent to make a big move in the division?
Parks: You should always fear money, but financial boom doesn’t always equate to on-the-field success. I would fear both the Padres and the Rockies over the next three-to-five years. The Padres have a very strong farm system that could start yielding serious fruit over the next few seasons. The Rockies have every opponent’s nightmare: two potential frontline starters in their farm in Gray and Butler, and a slew of high-end offensive talent that has yet to impact the full-season leagues. If Tapia or Dahl really pop, the Rockies are going to be a very dangerous club in 5 years.
Wiser: Jason, thanks for taking some time to talk Diamondbacks prospects with us! We appreciate the first-hand insight and we’ll be looking forward to following these guys all year long.
Parks: No problem, my pleasure.
Please drop a question or two in the comments below if you have them. I’ll try to field as many as I can and perhaps Jason will weigh in if there’s something that he feels compelled to address. Also, if you get chance, be sure to thank him (via @ProfessorParks on twitter) for his time and sharing his thoughts about the future of the Diamondbacks organization.
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