Cleat Geeks

Snakes Alive; Ranking the Diamondbacks Top Ten Prospects, #5-1

This is the second part of my two-part series ranking the top ten prospects in the Diamondbacks system, with #5 being the worst and #1 being the best. You can read the first part of this 2 part article here.

5. Alex Young, left-handed pitcher, 22 years old

alex-youngTCUWhy He’s in the Top Five: Thought to have first round draft potential, Young was instead taken in the second round by the Diamondbacks following his junior season at Texas Christian University – my brother’s alma mater – and could break into the majors as early as September of 2017. In three seasons with the Horned Frogs, Young registered 180 strikeouts, 136 hits allowed, 48 earned runs, 48 walks, and 181 innings pitched; his 2015 season was particularly dynamic, as he threw 97 innings, had 103 strikeouts to just 22 walks, and posted a 2.22 ERA. Upon being drafted by Arizona, he pitched just one game with the team’s Rookie ball affiliate in the Arizona League before being promoted to Hillsboro in short-season Single A ball. With the Hops, he dominated to the tune of five strikeouts, one walk, and one run allowed covering six innings and five appearances (one of which was a start). He was predominantly a reliever at TCU (just four starts in 44 appearances in his first two years at the school), which means he has limited wear and tear on his arm, but 16 of his 17 appearances in 2015 were starts and a loaded TCU rotation that included 2014 Royals first-round pick Brandon Finnegan was probably the main reason Young was relegated to the bullpen in the first place. He has three pitches that are at least average currently, his fastball has topped out at 94, and both his changeup and his slider have plus potential. His 6-foot, 2-inch, 205-pound frame allows him to develop even further.

AlexYoungHopsWhy He’s Not Ranked Higher: There’s a recurring theme here, and it’s not necessarily a great one. For all the pitchers the D-backs have in their system, very few – if any – appear to be obvious ace or front of the rotation starters. Young is another of that group; his ceiling is probably a #3 starter. Furthermore, Young likely needs at least two more seasons to reach the stamina and workload level of a full starter, his secondary pitches are still raw, and he allowed 10 longballs in his junior season at TCU, a weakness that is further glaring when you keep in mind that Chase Field is one of the most homer-friendly ballparks in the majors. It will be pivotal if he’s able to consistently keep the ball on the ground with his changeup and sinker combination. The Diamondbacks could elect to provide Young with a stiffer challenge by starting his 2016 season at High A Visalia as opposed to the lower-level Kane County.

4. Socrates Brito, outfielder, 23 years old

SacBritoWhy He’s in the Top Five: Signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 17-year-old in 2010, Brito is the main reason why the Diamondbacks were not afraid to trade Ender Inciarte to the Braves for Shelby Miller. Brito is a five-tool star who has put it all together over the last two seasons. He discovered his power stroke at High A Visalia in 2014, rapping 10 homers and 30 doubles, and then followed up with 9 longballs, 17 doubles, and 15 triples in the more pitcher-friendly Southern League at Mobile in 2015. He’s an exceptional runner and base stealer (27, 38, and 20 steals in the last three seasons, respectively), he hits for average (.293 and 300 the last two seasons, .312 in 2012), and he has a strong throwing arm. Brito didn’t disappoint when he was promoted to the majors as a September call-up last year, either; he went 10 for 33 with three doubles and a triple. He’s 6-2, 200 pounds and is more than capable of being an above-average everyday outfielder in the majors. Even his floor isn’t that low – a fourth or fifth outfielder who would still offer some level of production. He has nothing left to prove in the minors and should play an impactful role for the Diamondbacks in 2016.

Socrates+Brito+SiriusXM+Star+Futures+Game+3ks9cqEGyuNlWhy He’s Not Ranked in the Top Three: Brito has a similar problem to the aforementioned Peter O’Brien: barring injury, Peralta, Pollock, and Tomas have a stranglehold on the three starting outfield spots, so Brito is far from guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster. His most likely realities are a bench role, another stint in the minors, or perhaps starts against right-handed pitching. Brito has also been bitten by the strikeout bug in the past as he fanned 124 times in 129 games and 523 at-bats in 2013 and then whiffed 109 more times last season, and it might not hurt him to boost his walks and on-base percentage, especially if he wants to stick at the top of the lineup. He drew just 29 free passes last year and 37 in 2013, and his career OBP is a modest .333. Still, there are few weaknesses to Brito’s overall game and identifying any feels like nitpicking.

3. Jamie Westbrook, second baseman, 20 years old

JamieWestbrookWhy He’s in the Top Three: Westbrook is a local product who hails from Basha High School in Chandler, Arizona. He was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the fifth round of the 2013 draft and his rise through the minors has been meteoric. He had a solid debut year as an 18-year-old in 2013, batting .281 with a .356 on-base percentage, 11 doubles, eight triples, and four steals over 250 plate appearances and 57 total games with the Diamondbacks Summer League and Pioneer League affiliates at the Rookie ball level. That performance earned him a promotion to full-season ball at Single A South Bend for 2014, where his overall average was mediocre (.259), but he displayed a lot of extra-base hitting ability (27 doubles, eight homers, four doubles) and hit .285 with a .344 OBP in the second half of the season. Last year at Visalia was Westbrook’s coming-out party, especially in the power department. He walloped 17 home runs while hitting .319, slugging .510, and contributing 33 doubles. The 17 longballs could normally be taken with a grain of salt due to the hitter-friendly nature of Visalia, except that Westbrook is small at 5-9, 170, so the power display was unexpected. Even better, he only struck out 69 times and his contact rate remained high and consistent. Scouts don’t see him as any better than a utility player, but if he continues his power surge, I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t be an everyday player for the Diamondbacks at a position that is severely-weak organizationally and offensively-challenged league-wide.

JamieWestbrook2Why He’s Not in the Top Two: Westbrook doesn’t turn 21 until June 18th and the big-league club already has a surplus of options in the middle infield. Moreover, Westbrook’s tiny frame doesn’t do him a lot of favors, he’s viewed as an average defender who isn’t elite at anything, and his plate patience leaves a bit to be desired (85 walks and a .339 on-base percentage in the minors). He’s also not much of a threat to steal bases (career-high 14 last year, but only 10 total in the prior two years), although he is said to have sneaky speed. His offensive prowess is going to keep him on the radar and he will start the 2016 season as one of the youngest players in the Southern League.

2. Archie Bradley, right-handed pitcher, 23 years old

ArchieBradley3Why He’s in the Top Two: The seventh overall pick of the 2011 draft after committing to play both football and baseball at the University of Oklahoma, Bradley has long been not just one of the Diamondbacks’ best prospects, but one of the best prospects in all of the majors. He has terrific stuff that is at times overpowering: a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s that has reached as high as 98 mph, a mid-80s changeup, and a devastaing curveball. His first full season in the minors, at Single A South Bend in 2012, was nothing shy of dominant. He struck out 152 and allowed opponents to hit just .181 off of him in 136 innings that year, then preceded to fan 162 and allow a .215 BAA as an encore performance spread over Visalia and Mobile in 2013, including a 43-strikeout, four-earned run effort in five games and 28 2/3 innings at the former level. Bradley received his first promotion to the Diamondbacks when they placed him on the Opening Day roster out of spring training start in 2015 and – in his debut outing – he held the Dodgers to one hit and in six innings while also striking out six and walking four. He had a fruitful first three starts at the big-league level, amassing a 1.45 ERA, allowing just seven hits, and striking out 12 in 18 2/3 innings. Bradley had proven to be every bit of the hype (and then some) that had surrounded him since he was drafted, and it was merely a matter of when he would be fronting Arizona’s rotation.

Photo by AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

Photo by AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

Why He’s Not #1: Given the adversity that Bradley has been through over the last couple of seasons, he’s either going to be a major boom or a massive bust. It feels like there is no in-between with him at this point, and I doubt there would be much argument if I placed Bradley in the #1 spot of these rankings or left him off the top ten list altogether. His 2014 season was largely trashed by a UCL injury to his elbow; he only pitched 83 innings (which included his rehab assignment in the Arizona Summer League), registering a 4.45 ERA, 75 strikeouts, and 76 hits allowed in 83 innings. His opponents batting average ballooned to .248, he walked 48, and his WHIP was 1.51. His 2015 season didn’t end up any better following the rousing first three games. Bradley took a line drive off his face in the second inning of his fourth start against the Rockies on April 28th, missed approximately three weeks, and returned appearing gun-shy. He would make just four more starts in the majors the rest of the season, lasting just 15 2/3 innings, allowing 19 runs on 27 hits, issuing 11 free passes, and striking out nine. He had another disabled list stint for shoulder inflammation, then continued to struggle in the minors. Even before the injuries, the biggest knock on Bradley was his wildness. He has walked 212 batters over 402 1/3 innings in the minors, and he had a career-high 84 walks in his first season in 2012. For the Diamondbacks, he walked 11 in his first three starts and his overall strikeout-to-walk ratio in the majors is 23-22 in 35 2/3 innings. He enters spring training this year having to fight for the #5 spot in the Opening Day rotation with a host of candidates, although I think his still-sheer ceiling will get him the job. If it doesn’t, he’ll probably be in Reno again, where I wonder if the hitter’s environment and any struggles would kill whatever remaining confidence he has. Bradley isn’t 24 until August, but this feels like a now or never scenario for him.

1. Braden Shipley, right-handed pitcher

BrandonShipleyWhy He’s #1: The 15th overall pick of the 2013 draft, the former University of Nevada product was primarily a shortstop for his first two seasons in college, but his talent as a pitcher had always been evident. He transitioned to the mound for good as a junior in 2012 and had immediate results. He dominated his initial season to the tune of 88 strikeouts, 73 hits, a 2.20 ERA, and just three home runs allowed covering 98 1/3 innings and then followed that up with 102 strikeouts, a 2.77 ERA, 84 hits, and just four homers allowed over 107 1/3 innings in his senior season. He also spent time as a reliever in the Alaska League in the summer of 2012, where he was lights-out for 17 innings. In 2013, he struggled over two levels of Single A ball, walking 14 and allowing 22 earned runs in 39 2/3 innings, but his last two seasons (3.86 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 126 innings spanning Visalia, South Bend, and Mobile in 2014 and a 3.50 ERA and 118 strikeouts in a career-high 156 2/3 innings for the BayBears last year) have been solid. He is incredibly athletic and has an electric fastball that is consistently in the mid-90s, but has reached as high as 98 mph, a devastating changeup that is one of the best in the minors, looks to be his “out” pitch in the majors, and has a lot of movement, and a plus curveball that has continued to get better. He has minimal wear and tear on his arm due to only pitching ten total innings in his freshman and sophomore seasons with the Wolfpack and his current 6-2, 185-pound frame allows him to fill out and add more power to his arsenal. Worst-case, Shipley will be a reliable #3 starter in the majors, but he has the ceiling of a high-end #2 starter. He’s currently in Diamondbacks camp as a non-roster invitee, but he should start the 2016 regular season at Mobile and earn a promotion to the majors as a September call-up.

Braden ShipleyWhy He Could Be Lower: His progression through the minors has been slow and his curveball and secondary pitches still need refining, but – then again – none of this is surprising considering that 2016 will only be his fifth season as a full-time pitcher. He’s still more of a thrower than a pitcher, he doesn’t always finish his delivery, and his fastball could use more movement. His biggest problem is his command and control, especially with the curveball; he has issued 42 and 56 free passes over the past two seasons and he walked as many as 40 in his tenure at Nevada. His strikeout rate per nine innings dipped from 9.07 in 2014 to 6.78 in 2015 and his strikeout to walk ratio was a career-low 2.11. Still, there is plenty to like about Shipley and he should only get better as he gains experience. This writing ranks him as the Diamondbacks top prospect entering 2016 because of his stuff, his athleticism, and the fact that he looks like more of a sure thing at this point than Bradley.

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