Welcome back to my annual off-season series that has a quick-and-dirty review of all 30 minor league systems around baseball. This feature began way back in 2008.
The Arizona Diamondbacks
If you were perusing this series back in 2013 you would have read this:
The Sleeper: Jake Lamb, 3B: I really wanted to include Lamb on the Diamondbacks’ 2013 pre-season Top 15 prospects list but he ultimately fell just short and landed in the sleeper category. Arizona third basemen enjoyed a solid season and two prospects — Lamb and Brandon Drury (considered for The Riser section) — saw their values rise significantly. Injuries held the Washington native to just 69 games on the season so he’s currently getting extra work in during the Arizona Fall League.
Now on to the new stuff:
First Taste of The Show: Yoshihisa Hirano, RHP: One thing the organization doesn’t do overly well is supplement its roster with homegrown players (other than in the bullpen). Yes, it’s happened in the past — with the case of a Jake Lamb or Paul Goldschmidt — but not nearly often enough for a team that is constantly fighting a battle with the budget.Those first four to six years of a player’s availability are so valuable to teams now; the club didn’t get back as much as I would have liked for Goldschmidt in terms of impact talent but they were desperate for “controllable talent.” Now on to Hirano, another new player but one that was not developed in house and cost the Diamondbacks more than they should have payed for an unproven commodity. Now, things worked out OK and Hirano had a nice year. He showed good command of both his fastball and plus splitter while inducing a healthy number of walks. The club will hope that Hirano, soon to be 35, will be effective for the final year of his two-year contract, while serving as insurance for first-year closer Archie Bradley.
The Draft Pick: Alek Thomas, OF: Thomas was a steal in the second round of the 2018 draft and more than made up for a first round selection I really didn’t like — and they didn’t end up signing, anyway. The young outfielder got off to a great pro start and collected 82 hits in just 56 games. He hit for average, showed a great eye and displayed his speed. Thomas, still 18, reminds me of a young Jacoby Ellsbury; he currently utilizes an all-field approach and doesn’t tap into much power with his swing, which induces a ton of ground balls. Incredibly athletic, he also has the make-up and maturity to thrive in pro ball. I’d like to see the Diamondbacks quiet his hands at the plate and also lessen the leg kick to help him maintain good contact as he moves up to higher levels.
The Riser: Jazz Chisholm, SS: In some ways, Chisholm had a breakout year but there are also some red flags. He played his first full year after injuries interrupted his 2017 season, but didn’t really take off until he moved up from low-A to high-A — a league that inflates hitting numbers. But Chisholm also carried over that 36 games of success with a strong Arizona Fall League showing (albeit in 10 games). The worse thing the Diamondbacks could do with this young shortstop is rush him. He needs to return to high-A ball for some more at-bats to sharpen his pitch recognition and learn to better handle breaking balls. Even with his success it high-A ball, it came with a .443 BABIP and 33% strikeout rate. The good news is that he has a very quick bat, which helps him generate easy power, and a low-maintenance swing.
The Fallen: Pavin Smith, 1B: Smith has great make-up and you really have to root for the guy but I’m not convinced there is an impact big leaguer here. Even hitting in the offence-boosting California League didn’t help him in 2018. He has raw power but doesn’t tap into it at all with a swing that generates too many ground balls for a slow-footed first baseman. There isn’t impact bat speed here, either. He has a good eye at the plate (57-65 BB-K%) but lets too many hittable pitches go by at times.Without adjustments, Smith is probably a solid triple-A slugger or perhaps he’ll make some coin in Korea.
The 2019 Contributor: Taylor Widener, RHP: Carson Kelly, C: The Diamondbacks should lean more heavily on young players in 2019 with Jon Duplantier, Carson Kelly and Widener the most likely key contributors. The former Yankees prospect saw his stuff play up even more in 2018 at double-A as his fastball command improved and his changeup became more of a weapon. He struck out 176 batters in 137.1 innings. The breaking ball will ultimately help determine is Widener can survive as a starter or will need to move to the bullpen. If he pitches well in triple-A to open up the 2019 season, he could be one of the first arms called up.
The 2019 Sleeper: Geraldo Perdomo, SS: A value signing out of the Dominican, Perdomo has quickly developed into one of the diamondbacks best prospects but he has just 30 games of experience above rookie ball. He has a very mature approach at the plate. He has a great eye and he makes a lot of contact while utilizing an all-field approach, although he pulled the ball more in low-A while seeing his pop trend upward. He doesn’t have a huge frame but the quick bat and increased fly-ball numbers could result in at least 15 homers as he matures as a hitter. Defensively, Perdomo has a chance to be a strong defender at shortstop.
The 2019 Lottery Ticket: Luis Frias, RHP: This 20-year-old right-hander missed all of 2017 but looked good in 2018 while playing in rookie and short-season ball. Miscast as a starter, Frias nonetheless needs innings so that is a good role for him for now. I definitely see a future in the ‘pen, though. He has a mature build with limited projection left. But he can also dial the heater up into the 96-97 mph range with a high 3/4 delivery. His curveball needs to be tightened up and he doesn’t really finish it well, but it shows decent break. I don’t believe the changeup has much potential. Still, there might be a couple more ticks to reach if he sticks to one or two innings of work.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.