Every year for the past several years, I keep saying that the Arizona Diamondbacks will win the NL West, and every year for the past several years, the Diamondbacks have let me down. So this year, I pick the Giants to win the division, and the Diamondbacks come through with their breakout performance. They even did it with the help of a couple key rookie performances. Josh Collmenter used his literal over-the-top delivery deception over the course of 154 innings to solidify the rotation behind Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. And Paul Goldschmidt staked a claim to the first base job in 2012, although it took a few games into the post-season for the team to realize that Lyle Overbay wasn’t going to help them win anything. I’m not sure Collmenter will fare so well the second time through, but he deserves a long look next season. Goldschmidt’s strikeout rate is also a bit high, but while he may not end up a star, he should be a 2-4 win first baseman.
Looking down to the farm system, the Diamondbacks have tons of excellent pitching. Jarrod Parker made a successful recovery from Tommy John, and the now-traded righty still has a high ceiling. Beyond just Parker, Tyler Skaggs sent his stock soaring by dominating High-A and AA in convincing fashion, and while I don’t see a high ceiling just yet, he’s still filling out and has a pretty high floor. Lower-level guys like Pat Corbin and David Holmberg even add a little depth, though they may not even up being mid-rotation guys. Making matters more interesting, the Diamondbacks had excellent pitching draft, nabbing Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley, Andrew Chafin, and Kyle Winkler (who could be a steal if healthy). Bauer, Bradley, and Chafin all have huge potential.
Poking through position player prospects isn’t as fun. Matt Davidson continues to hit, and the increasing likeliness that he’ll stay at third is reassuring. Matt Borchering is a worse hitter and will need to play first base, and that has diminished his stock quite a bit. Two outfielders, Collin Cowgill and Adam Eaton, had nice seasons, but neither of them project as stars and possibly not even starters. The Diamondbacks traded the better of the two – Cowgill – along with Parker for Trevor Cahill, which thins the system even more. AJ Pollock might be better than either of them, but no one’s sure he’ll be a starter either.
The DBacks system, overall, is a fairly solid one. The high-end pitching is a big plus, and it’s better that two of them are near big-league ready while two are a bit farther away. The spacing will help rotate them in, especially as the big-league rotation is pretty set at the moment. Not having any impact bats, however, is a concern, and it’s one that needs to be addressed. How that will happen is a bit of a mystery, but the major-league team doesn’t need too many reinforcements for the immediate future. There’s quite a bit to like about the system, especially if you like pitching, but it does drop off a bit after the top few.
Trevor Bauer SP
Age/Level (as of 4/2012): 21/AAA
Bauer is one of the weirder prospects in baseball. With his unusual preparation routine and unorthodox (Tim Lincecum-like, somewhat) delivery, Bauer’s college production caused excitement and worry. The excitement came from the outstanding numbers, but the worry came from the excessive innings and rigid mentality as Bauer only wants to use his own routines and regimens. Despite all that, Bauer has front-of-the-rotation stuff with a mid-90s fastball, a plus to plus-plus curveball, an above-average slider, and an above-average change-up, not to mention a splitter, and he has average control, though this is the part of his game that needs work. The heavy workload in college is a concern, but while he seems stuck in his ways, I’m not sure why you’d worry about changing someone this late in the game when it’s worked for him so well.
Archie Bradley SP
While Dylan Bundy was the Oklahoman making the headlines and the earlier pick, Bradley is impressive in his own right. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and can hit 98, and he has a devastating power curveball. The change-up is still in its early stages, and it will certainly need time to develop. As for his mechanics, they look very mechanical with a stiff landing at the bottom, and he looks like he has to think his way through it, though the arm action looks good. That’s not surprising considering he played a lot of football in high school, and after a few years, it will hopefully smooth itself out. Bradley’s an excellent prospect.
Tyler Skaggs SP
Skaggs has crushed the minor leagues. While the fastball sits 89-92, it’s sitting in the 90s more often as he fills out, and Skaggs adds two above-average pitches in his curveball (the more consistent of the two) and change-up. If he fills out and adds a bit more velocity, the 2 seems more likely, but if he stays where he is, he’ll need his above-average control to stay that way in the majors. Mechanically, that seems possible, as his delivery is repeatable, but he takes a noticeable step toward first that affects his arm vs. glove side command. It hasn’t been a problem so far, and at such a young age, he could handle a step back and still be way ahead of the game. Full speed ahead.
Matt Davidson 3B
Projection: 2-4 WAR
As it becomes more likely that he’ll stick at third, Davidson’s stock should remain fairly high, but as his strikeout rate continues to be high, that stock will never skyrocket. Davidson’s defense will probably end up a tick below average due to his limited range, but he has a strong arm and can handle the position. At the plate, Davidson has above-average power and can take some walks, but he strikes out a lot. Davidson will make the big jump to AA next season, so we’ll get a better idea if that will hinder his development or not.
Andrew Chafin SP
Age/Level: 21/ Low-A or High-A
Chafin has excellent stuff, but he doesn’t have the resume. Drafted out Kent State, Chafin has a low-90s fastball, a plus slider, and an improving change-up, but he’s had frequent bouts with a tired arm during his first year as a starter in college. The tired arm could have just been due to the innings increase, and he has a strong frame to pitch from. His delivery, in addition, looks solid and repeatable. Chafin has a few question marks, but I thought he was a very strong pick in a very strong pitching draft for the Diamondbacks.
AJ Pollock OF
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Pollock probably won’t end up a star, but he’s got a solid set of tools that could make a him a valuable starter. Probably not suited for center field on an everyday basis, Pollock should be above-average in a corner, and he looks healed from an elbow injury that cost him all of 2010. At the plate, Pollock makes lots of hard contact, and he had 41 doubles to demonstrate some pop as well. Pollock is getting a bit old in terms of being a prospect, but he continues to perform and still has significant value.
Pat Corbin SP
Skaggs grabbed all the attention in the Dan Haren trade and in AA this past season, but Corbin was pretty impressive himself. Armed with a low-90s fastball along with two average secondary pitches (slider and change-up) that flash better, Corbin carved up hitters, and he doesn’t walk many hitters. Corbin’s delivery has him step toward first a bit, and he doesn’t quite make it all the way back to the plate. But he’s athletic and repeats it well enough. Corbin is certainly a step down from Skaggs, but he could still be a valuable member of that rotation.
David Holmberg SP
Yet another pitcher coming down the pipeline, Holmberg continued to pitch well until a mysterious bout of control problems hit in High-A. Holmberg’s fastball sits around 90 but has some sink to it, and he has an above-average change-up. But his curve isn’t a consistent third pitch, and the control issues are a concern given that his control was a major plus point for him before. If his control comes back, his stuff will play up a bit, but if it doesn’t, he may have problems making it out of the minors.
Adam Eaton OF
Projection: 1-3 WAR
I really want to love Eaton. He’s small, makes a lot of contact, and he walks about as much as he strikes out. But he has little power, is a corner outfielder, and those walks might dwindle if/when pitchers realize there’s nothing to fear from him. That being said, he can play all outfield positions, can hit, and can draw a few walks, and while that doesn’t shout future regular, having good fourth outfielders around isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Wade Miley SP
Age/Level: 25/AAA or MLB
Projection: 4/5, Middle Reliever
Miley performed pretty well during his minor-league career, but his major-league debut largely exposed him for what he is – a back-end starter. Miley has an arrow straight low-90s fastball and three secondary pitches that are all about average. Without a plus pitch, he’s likely to get hit around and won’t strike out many hitters, and his career might be dictated by him improving his fringe-average control. With other high-upside guys closing in on the Arizona rotation and Trevor Cahill taking another spot, Miley’s time is running out.
Big Question – Bats
Three of the top 10 D-Backs prospects are position players, and none of them are particularly good bets to be impact bats at the major-league level. Making matters worse from this perspective, the team spent most of its 2011 draft picks on pitchers, though they were good picks, and did not try to reload offensive talent. The Parker trade, then, didn’t add any offensive talent. The Diamondbacks are not exactly hurting for offense at the major-league level as of this moment, but many of those players are nearing free-agency. They’ll need offense eventually, but it won’t come from the farm system.