Monday, February 7, 2011

TEAM #18 – Arizona Diamondbacks

Jarrod Parker looks to be healthy once again

The 2010 Diamondbacks looked to be quite far removed from the 2007 version that lost the NLCS after winning the West Division—and for good reason as only four players remained from that squad by season’s end. Now that would be fine if the Diamondbacks were restocking from a loaded farm system, but since 2008 the Diamondbacks’ Minor League system has ranked 16th, 29th and then 26th last season ( . So finishing in the 18th position is at least an indicator that things are looking up. Looking up is a welcome change, as the Snakes top prospect last year, Jarrod Parker, spent 2010 recovering from Tommy John surgery, while their 2009 top draft choice, A.J. Pollock injured his elbow in spring training and missed the entire campaign. This combination of bad luck and poor performance cost Josh Byrnes his job and has paved the way for a new regime, headed by Kevin Towers—an interesting choice given the .489 Win Percentage in his fourteen years at the helm of the Padres .

While we don’t envy the work that Towers has in front of him, at least the cupboard has not been left completely bear. Between a renewed Latin American effort that has seen the Diamondbacks triple the number of scouts in the region since 2007 and a 2009 draft that we ranked second overall, there is talent in the system. This was buoyed by what appears to be some successful dealing by interim GM, Jerry DiPoto, last season that not only yielded Dan Hudson at the Big League level, but added Tyler Skaggs, Pat Corbin and David Holmberg to the prospect ranks. The problem is that, with the exception of Parker, everyone of their top seventeen prospects spent most of 2010 in A-ball or lower—meaning the system is still a couple of years away from helping at the Major League level. Another problem lies in the talent distribution, as while the system is loaded with left-handed pitching prospects, Parker is the only right-hander of any consequence. Further obstacles were created with the 2010 draft, which, on the whole was a weak draft for the Diamondbacks and, was made weaker by the health situation of Barret Loux. On the offensive side of things, the strategy seems to be to find big bats—regardless if their only positional value is on the corners.

We expect to see the Diamondbacks to continue an upward climb in these rankings over the next couple of seasons, and we wouldn’t be shocked if 2011 sees a couple more of the remaining players from the 2007 team dealt for further prospect help. So, while we don’t expect significant improvements, in the near-term, at the Major League level the future for Minor League talent offers hope. We’d just stop drafting all of those ‘corner’ bats.

Best Pick from 2010 – While we are fairly comfortable with how we did with the Diamondbacks’ rankings in general, our recognition of Matt Davidson (ranked #5) as an ‘underdraft’ was likely our best choice. While we still have concerns in regards to Davidson’s eventual upside, he has likely elevated his status, on a consensus basis, to just outside the Top 100 prospects in baseball.

Worst Pick from 2010 – There was way too much industry consensus on the Diamondbacks’ system to make anything jump out, but looking back, A.J. Pollock may have difficulty living up to the #4 tag we placed on him last year-despite our expressed concerns.

Grade A

1) Jarrod Parker, RHP

There was a point during the 2009 season where we were convinced that Parker had become the best pitching prospect in the Minors. Shortly thereafter, he was shut down for what eventually turned out to be required Tommy John surgery. While the return rate from the surgery has made remarkable improvements over the last decade, this remains a concern that will likely not be fully answered until sometime in 2012. The news out of instructionals has been encouraging, as not only is Parker back on the mound, but his velocity is in the mid-90s. We will get a chance to see what this means in game conditions this spring. Parker possesses some of the highest prospect upside in baseball. If healthy, he would be competing for the mythical title of Minor’s best pitching prospect. Hopefully we will have a better idea of how close he is to his former self by mid-year. While it is possible that Parker will see Arizona at sometime in 2011, look for the Diamondbacks to be very cautious with him and his innings. He is likely to begin the year in AA.

Grade A -

2) Tyler Skaggs, LHP (2010 Performance Scores– Dominance 63; Control 67; HRrate 48; Stamina 63)

A late season injury his senior season caused Skaggs to slip a bit in the 2009 draft, but for most of his senior season he was among the elite prep pitchers in a strong prep draft class. While we liked Skaggs coming into 2010, his performance even surprised us, as he posted the #3 Performance Score in the MWL—behind Shelby Miller and Jacob Turner. The Diamondbacks thought so much of Skaggs that they made him the key piece in the trade that sent Dan Haren to the Angels. At 6’4”, 195lbs, there appears to be plenty of projection with his 90MPH fastball, but the reality is that his fastball’s main value is in setting up his plus-curve. Skaggs toyed with MWL hitters in 2010, as he is able to command his fastball/curveball combo with pin point control. The only thing standing in the way of Skaggs becoming a solid Major League #2 is a playable change. Given that he won’t turn 20yo until mid-season, expect the Diamondbacks to give him plenty of time to work on the change, as he begins 2011 in the California (CAL) League.

Grade B+

3) Matt Davidson, 3B (2010 – Power 72; Discipline 32; First Base Rate 46; Speed 28)

We spent most of the spring in 2009 vacillating between Davidson and Borchering, before finally coming down on the side of Borchering’s power potential. The Diamondbacks made the decision easy for themselves, as they selected both of them in the 2009 draft. With their first full season in the professional ranks complete, we still aren’t sure which of the two we prefer, but Davidson has put up the superior Performance numbers for the time being—finishing 2010 with the Midwest League’s (MWL) #8 Score. With powerful, quick hands, Davidson possesses plus power and solid contact skills. On the downside, his aggressive plate approach has seen him fan 25% of the time as a pro, and his speed is borderline base-clogging. Defensively, his upside is adequate at third base, but he may end up at first or in left field. Davidson’s value is completely tied to his bat, but that looks legitimate at any position that he plays. Look for Davidson to return to what should be a loaded team in Visalia in 2011.

4) Bobby Borchering, 3B/1B (2010 – Power 66; Discipline 47; First Base Rate 53; Speed 33)

While Davidson has clearly posted superior numbers since the 2009 draft, we still aren’t sure that Borchering won’t end up the better hitter in the long run. Borchering has plus-plus power potential, solid contact skills and slightly better strike zone management skills than does Davidson. In addition, his switch-hitting ability gives him another small advantage. What was even more encouraging was how he finished 2010, going .305/.385/.532 over his last 160 PAs. Given his below average speed and poor footwork, defensively his chances of remaining at third seem minimal—despite the Diamondbacks plans to keep him there in 2011. While Borchering hasn’t quite lived up to our 2009 pre-draft expectations, if he carries over his 2010 finish into the CAL in 2011, he is likely to considerably move up the prospect lists. We wouldn’t be betting against it.

5) Chris Owings, SS (2010 – Power 62; Discipline 63; First Base Rate 36; Speed 31)

While Owings has slowly crept up in our estimation, ceiling concerns still trouble us in assessing him. Nonetheless, before foot tendon issues cut his 2010 season short, he managed the #12 Performance Score in the MWL. On the positive side, Owings looks to possess average middle infield power and contact skills with solid strike zone management skills. The downside is that he has only average speed and a frame that may make that below average by the time he fills out. He is extremely impatient at the plate, something that makes him look more like a #7 or #8 hitter to us. Defensively, he has an upside of being adequate at short or solid at second. While the ceiling may be that of an average starting shortstop on a second division team, his comps look more like a utility infielder. Don’t get us wrong here, there is a lot to like, we just aren’t enamored with his projection curve. Owings should begin 2011 in the CAL.

Grade B

6) Patrick Corbin, LHP (2010 – Dominance 63; Control 66; HRrate 36; Stamina 31)

Acquired from the Angels in the Dan Haren trade, Corbin put together a solid 2010 campaign, as he posted a Top 20 Performance Score in the MWL, before posting the #4 Performance Score in the CAL. While his raw stuff shows promise, it his projection that has us most intrigued, as he is presently a slightly built 6’3” lefthander with a 90MPH fastball, that, at times, possesses filthy movement. His secondary offerings would best be categorized as ‘developing’ with at least average potential. He commands his entire repertoire well and scores high on his pitchability. The downside is that Corbin is a JuCo pitcher that will turn 22yo this season. The time for physical maturation is upon him, and one must face the potential that there may not be much in the way of additional development. The difference between the two scenarios is a potential #2/#3 vs a #4/#5. Corbin is likely to be bumped up to AA in 2011, where we will be looking for a bit of an uptick on his fastball and more consistent confidence with his secondary offerings.

7) Marc Krauss, LF (2010 – Power 71; Discipline 37; First Base Rate 58; Speed 29)

We have been enamored with Krauss’ hitting ability since he posted a Top 10 Performance Score his junior year at Ohio. The Diamondbacks selected him in the second round, and he has continued to flat out mash since signing. 2010 saw him pound 25 home runs in the CAL. With plus power and above average contact skills, there is little doubt as to whether Krauss can hit. The questions come in to play with his lack of patience at the plate, nearly base-clogging speed and defensive limitations to left field or first base. The 23yo looks to begin 2011 in AA, where he must continue to rake if he is to be given serious Major League consideration.

8) A.J. Pollock, OF

We have had upside concerns with Pollock since before the 2009 draft, as he appeared to possess a tremendously high floor as a quality Major League fourth outfielder type, but little in the way of star potential. Losing the 2010 season to a fractured elbow, didn’t help his standing. Pollock is extremely advanced, and so the lost season may not hurt him as much as it might some. While he was ticketed to begin 2010 in the CAL, it is possible that the Diamondbacks could begin the 2011 season in AA. His 2009 MWL performance was not as strong as we would have liked to have seen, so we still have a great deal of questions surrounding his long-term prospects as an everyday player.

9) David Holmberg, LHP (2010 – Dominance 49; Control 65; HRrate 65; Stamina 74)

‘Crafty lefties’ who have never pitched in full-season ball are not usually greeted with much fanfare, but Holmberg does it so well, that we would be remiss to overlook him. The scouts will describe his fastball as barely a 90mph offering that offers little in the way of projection. What we will tell you is that his fastball is merely one of four offerings that he commands exceptionally well and that he gets batters to consistently beat into the ground (1.80 GO/AO ratio). At 6’4”, 220lbs and 20yo, Holmberg is a ‘hoss’ who looks to be tremendously durable and has the upside of a mid-rotation innings eater. We’ll know more in 2011 as Holmberg will get his first taste of full-season ball, but we think more of him than do most.

10) Ty Linton, OF

One of the more athletic prospects in the system, the Diamondbacks drafted Linton in the 14th round, but signed him to first round money. We had him as a solid early third round talent. Linton oozes tools, but is underdeveloped as a baseball player due to his two-sport prep career. With potentially plus power and plus speed, Linton could eventually develop into a quality Major League right fielder. But the cautionary note here is that this is all projection at this point, as Linton lacks performance success at this stage. Look for the Diamondbacks to keep him in extended spring training before likely assigning him to the Pioneer League (PIO) this summer.

11) Paul Goldschmidt, 1B (2010 – Power 79; Discipline 27; First Base Rate 43; Speed 53)

Goldschmidt fits the mold of many of the prospects that have appeared ahead of him on this list. That being he possesses significant hitting skills (especially his plus power), but strikes out far too often (26%) and is defensively limited to first base. We have difficulty in ranking Goldschmidt, because his bat is difficult to ignore, but the profile says power right-handed bench bat. We worry that his long swing will be exposed a great deal in 2011 as Goldschmidt moves up to AA. If he handles the jump better than we expect, he has the potential to move up on this list.

12) Raul Navarro, SS (2010 – Power 33; Discipline 69; First Base Rate 61; Speed 35)

Navarro is a 19yo, shortstop prospects that we appear to be higher on than most. With solid range, good hands and a powerful arm, Navarro has the makings of a quality Big League shortstop. With a short stroke that gives him plus contact skills an advanced plate discipline skills, Navarro looks to have an offensive profile that projects to carry well as he moves up the ladder. What he will never have is more than 10-15 home run power or blazing speed. Navarro will need a solid spring to earn a full-season assignment in 2011. While we feel he might struggle a bit as one of the MWL’s youngest everyday players, we would like to see him get the opportunity.

Other Potential Top 300 Prospects – 13) Wade Miley, LHP; 14) Keon Broxton, CF; 15) Wagner Mateo, OF.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2010 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2010 season.

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