2020 Prospect Opportunities — Diamondbacks

Today, we finally get to our last division, as we finish our series in the National League West to discuss potential opportunities for prospects to earn starting jobs at positions currently manned by a player at risk of losing his job if his poor play continues. We’ll begin with the Diamondbacks.

American League Prospect Opportunities

National League Prospect Opportunities
NL East NL Central NL West
Braves Brewers Diamondbacks
Marlins Cardinals Dodgers
Mets Cubs Giants
Nationals Pirates Padres
Phillies Reds Rockies

At Risk: Christian Walker
Replacement: Kevin Cron

Finally, at age 28 and after multiple cups of coffee in the Majors dating back to 2014, Christian Walker earned regular playing time for an entire season. And, he actually performed pretty well, showing plate patience and power. There are really no obvious warning signs here, but for a first baseman without much defensive value, the offensive bar is high, so it’s not a given that Walker is going to clear it again.

At age 27, Kevin Cron is old to be considered a prospect, but he enjoyed one heck of a breakout at Triple-A last season. He posted an absurd .481 wOBA driven by a .446 ISO (not a typo), 33.9% HR/FB, and a 16.2% walk rate. He was also an extreme flyballer, so he was able to take full advantage of all his power. He swung and missed far too frequently during his Diamondbacks debut, but we’ll need to give him more than 78 plate appearances of course. He should be on your radar if he lands into a starting job, especially in OBP leagues. At the very least, he should earn some time at DH.

At Risk: Kole Calhoun
Replacement: Josh Rojas

The Diamondbacks signed Kole Calhoun to a two-year, $16 million contract, so he’d probably really have to stink up the joint to lose his job over what is going to be a small sample. That said, his offense was in decline before rebounding last year, as his wOBA hit a career low of just .283 in 2018, before bouncing back to .330 last season. His strikeout rate has risen for three straight seasons, while his SwStk% hit a career worst, representing a meaningful jump from 2018. Without last year’s big power surge, it would have likely been another miserable offensive year. So the question is solely whether he could maintain all or most of that power surge at age 32. Luckily, his fielding remains above average.

GIVE JOSH ROJAS A STARTING JOB! I don’t think the man ever made it onto the Diamondbacks top prospect lists, but after a breakout 2019, he deserves to be on everyone’s radar. It was the power spike that drove that breakout, as his HR/FB rate surged in the mid-to-high teens from single digits in 2018, while his ISO rocketed into the mid-to-high .200 range. Impressively, he didn’t even have to give up some contact to achieve those power gains. His strikeout rate remained in the mid-teens, while his SwStk% was around just 7%. Furthermore, he posted double digit walk rates everywhere. And lastly, fantasy owners will also salivate over his 33 steals. He needs to be pounced on if he finds himself with a starting job.

At Risk: Merrill Kelly 켈리/Alex Young
Replacement: J.B. Bukauskas

When Mike Leake announced that he was opting out of the 2020 season, it meant that both Merrill Kelly and Alex Young would likely earn more starts. Given his experience, it would probably be the former becoming the regular fifth starter. While Kelly wasn’t terrible in his return from the KBO, his skills during his MLB debut weren’t very good, resulting in a weak 4.73 SIERA. Starting pitchers without swing and miss stuff (only a 9.8% SwStk%) are going to find it even more difficult with the implementation of the NL DH. While Alex Young is technically a prospect who could replace Kelly, I don’t find him appealing at all. He posted a similar 4.68 SIERA during his debut and doesn’t have a very exciting history of strikeout rates in the minors.

I would rather take a shot on J.B. Bukauskas. The team’s seventh ranked prospect hasn’t pitched at Triple-A yet, but a pitcher is much more likely to jump straight from Double-A to the Majors and succeed compared to a hitter. Bukauskas has had an interesting minor league career, as his strikeout rates have generally been pretty strong, with fantastic SwStk%. However, as is often the case with young pitching prospects, his walk rates have been high. In fact, since his stint at Single-A in 2018, he has posted double digit walk rates everywhere he’s gone. I’m willing to bet on a pitcher with 60 grades on three different pitches (fastball, slider, changeup) as pitchers with such a potentially dominant repertoire just don’t come around too often. So buy the stuff and hope the control improves, which is usually the correct strategy compared to buying the control and hoping the stuff improves.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Feels like Daulton Varsho could also capitalize on playing time if anyone underperforms – it might just mean he’s playing multiple positions while the rest of the lineup is optimized to include him. What’s your take on his readiness, Mike?