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A college-heavy 2017 draft haul helps, and the D-backs had nowhere to go but up.
The D-backs have a group of advanced arms ready to contribute in the near future, led by Jon Duplantier, Anthony Banda and Taylor Clarke as starters and Jimmie Sherfy, Jared Miller and Yoan Lopez in the bullpen. They have a mix of righties and lefties, and there is solid pitching depth that extends into the lower levels as well with Matt Tabor, Sam McWilliams, Jhoan Duran and others.
The D-backs position group is extremely green. Only one of their top nine position player prospects has played a day above low Class A, and beyond them almost all of their high-upside, potential everyday guys are in Rookie-ball. While some such as Pavin Smith and Daulton Varsho project to move quickly, the D-backs won’t have much in the way of minor league reinforcements should injuries take a toll on their big league lineup in the next year or two.
Notable Graduations: Arizona graduated no players from its Top 30 Prospects last year.
Track Record: The D-backs couldn't be sure what they were getting when they drafted Duplantier in the third round in 2016. They weren't even sure when spring training began in 2017, before he ultimately turned in one of the best minor league pitching seasons in recent memory. He led the minors with a 1.39 ERA that trailed only Justin Verlander's 1.29 ERA in 2005 among qualified minor league starters since 1993. Duplantier put together an impressive junior year at Rice but had missed the previous season with a shoulder injury that did not require surgery. On top of that was the perception that Rice pitchers tend not to stay healthy once they turn professional. Duplantier's first impression wasn't great, either. In the summer after the draft, he logged only one inning before being shut down with an elbow issue, then missed instructional league with a hamstring injury. But he showed up at spring training with a delivery he smoothed out with rehab coordinator Brad Arnsberg, who helped him lower his arm angle. Scouting Report: Duplantier has an athletic build and a solid, sturdy frame with room to grow. His arm action is a bit funky because he extends his arm straight behind him just after separation, leading to a delivery that can appear stiff or robotic. But he repeats it well, and coaches say he makes adjustments quickly when he gets out of whack. Duplantier has the potential for a legitimate four-pitch mix. His fastball velocity fluctuated at times in 2017, but he sat mostly 90-94 mph. His stuff ticked up late in the season, when he sat 93-94 mph and topped out at 97. He throws both a four-seamer and a two-seamer and both pitches have armside run. His most consistent secondary pitch is a spike curveball, but coaches believe his new slider has the most upside. He also throws a changeup that generates average to above-average grades. Duplantier is proud that he was able to make all of his starts in 2017, saying he grew more confident in his health as the season progressed. Still, the D-backs proceeded cautiously by waiting until mid-June before promoting him from low Class A Kane County to high Class A Visalia. The Future: Duplantier's late-season stuff indicates he has the potential to be a front-line starter. For some, though, his injury history and delivery mark him as a possible reliever. Another strong year in the rotation at Double-A Jackson will strengthen his starter case.
Track Record: Despite some rough results at Triple-A Reno, Banda reached the big leagues in 2017, throwing well in two starts and struggling in two others before finishing the season in the bullpen as a September callup. Scouts say he continued to flash impressive stuff throughout the season but went through stretches where his command backed up. Scouting Report: Banda has gradually added velocity to his fastball and now sits 93-94 mph and touches 96. His breaking ball and changeup can both be inconsistent but have a chance to be above-average pitches. Scouts thought Banda left too many pitches over the plate in 2017, though pitching at hitter-friendly Reno didn't help. Some in the organization thought Banda's continued uptick in velocity might have played a part in his inconsistent command and the occasional lack of effectiveness of his secondary pitches. The Future: Banda showed flashes of mid-rotation potential during his brief time with Arizona and dominated at times in relief. His future remains as a starter, but if the big league rotation remains crowded, he might have to wait for an opportunity.
Track Record: Smith was one of the most well-regarded pure hitters in the 2017 draft because of his sweet swing, impressive contact ability and a solid statistical track record in the Atlantic Coast Conference. As a Virginia junior he hit .342/.427/.570 and homered (13) more times than he struck out (12).While that played well with the D-backs' beefed up analytics department, team officials say traditional scouting played a larger role in his selection. Scouting Report: Many D-backs scouts never saw Smith swing and miss, and the team believes that his power will develop last. His only professional home run came in short-season Hillsboro's final postseason game. Believers say the raw power is there, but it's a matter of Smith learning when to tap into it in game situations. No one doubts his ability to hit, with "advanced" and "special" used as descriptors by scouts. Smith doesn't run well, and though his arm and glove are fine at first base, scouts aren't sure he'd be an average defender in a corner outfield spot if he had to move. The Future: Whether Smith's future is at first base or in the outfield depends on Paul Goldschmidt, who is signed through 2019.
Track Record: The D-backs spotted Chisholm at a workout showcasing fellow Bahamas native Lucius Fox and signed him for $200,000, which looks like a bargain given how well regarded he is by rival scouts. Unfortunately, they did not have many chances to see Chisholm in 2017. He played just 29 games at low Class A Kane County before suffering a torn meniscus in his right knee. Scouting Report: Chisholm bats lefthanded and has big, strong hands and takes powerful, aggressive swings. His approach can get overly aggressive at times, leading to swings and misses, but he can generate huge power. He led the organization's minor leaguers in home runs during spring training. An average runner, he can improve his raw speed as he builds his lower half. Chisholm has smooth, athletic actions at shortstop and a strong arm, but like a lot of young infielders needs to improve his consistency and focus in the field. He's confident, talkative and well-liked by teammates and clearly enjoys playing the game. The Future: Chisholm will look to make up for lost developmental time in 2018. He could open the season in high Class A Visalia.
Track Record: The son of big leaguer Gary Varsho and the namesake of his father's former teammate, Darren Daulton, Varsho came off a huge junior season at Wisconsin-Milwaukee when the D-backs selected him 68th overall. He led the Horizon League in batting average (.362), on-base percentage (.490) and slugging (.643), then in his pro debut led the short-season Northwest League with a .902 OPS. Scouting Report: Varsho has an unusual profile in that he's a catcher who runs better than he throws--but most believe he will hit. With short arms producing a compact lefthanded swing, he has a mature approach, a good feel for the strike zone and makes consistent loud contact, showing power to all fields. His lack of arm strength is a concern, but D-backs coaches clocked his pop times on throws to second base as low as 1.9 seconds. If catching doesn't pan out, Varsho runs well enough to be a solid left fielder, and he might even be an option in center field or at second base. The Future: Some believe in Varsho's hitting potential to the extent that they might move him to a less grueling position to hasten his development. He has a chance to start at high Class A Visalia in 2018.
Track Record: The D-backs believed Wilson was so raw when they selected him in 2014 they viewed as a multi-year Rookie-level player. That's exactly how it played out, and after years of showing glimpses of his ability, particularly when it came to recognizing pitches, Wilson put things together in 2017, emerging as one of the organization's better position prospects. At low Class A Kane County he ranked third in the Midwest League in batting average (.295) and second in on-base percentage (.383). Scouting Report: Wilson has perhaps the best plate discipline in the organization, drawing raves from coaches for his ability to wait out pitchers until he gets something he can handle. He has average power, with some seeing the potential for 15 homers. He hit eight of his nine homers before the MWL all-star break, with some believing he might have worn down in the second half. He runs well and has a chance to stay in center field, though some scouts think that once he adds strength to his thin frame he might fit better on a corner. The Future: The D-backs were conservative with their promotions in 2017, so Wilson will get his first taste at high Class A Visalia in 2018.
Track Record: Like shortstop Jazz Chisholm, Diaz was signed in 2015 while the D-backs were in the penalty for exceeding their international spending limit on Cuban righthander Yoan Lopez in 2014. Diaz signed for just $10,000 but has quickly emerged as one of the system's most exciting position prospects. He jumped to Rookie-level Missoula in 2017 and delivered 30 extra-base hits in 57 games. Scouting Report: Diaz is a toolsy player whom scouts and coaches feel has a chance to grow into a power-speed center fielder. Everything about his game is built on aggressiveness--whether it's at the plate, on the bases or in the outfield--and sometimes it works against him. He gets himself out too often, especially on the first pitch he sees, and he needs to learn to better manage his at-bats. He hunts fastballs but could stand to improve his breaking ball recognition, as well as use the whole field more. He's not a pure power hitter but has the juice in his swing to drive pitches. Diaz is a plus runner who gets good jumps and takes good routes in the outfield. His arm strength is above-average. The Future: Diaz is set for low Class A Kane County and his first taste of full-season ball in 2018.
Track Record: Clarke didn't allow a run in his 2015 pro debut, then advanced to Double-A in his first full season in 2016. He opened 2017 at Double-A Jackson and served as the club's best starter before a promotion to Triple-A Reno, where he acquitted himself well in a challenging environment. Scouting Report: Nothing about Clarke overwhelms hitters. His fastball ranges from 89-94 mph and sits 92-93 with average life, good downhill angle and some deception from his high three-quarters release point. His solid-average slider is his best secondary pitch, and he's continuing refine his changeup and curveball. Clarke is able to survive with four average pitches because of his consistent command and ability to repeat his delivery. Coaches rave about his mound presence and competitiveness. He can come across as quiet but he doesn't seem intimidated. His walk rate ticked up from 2016, but scouts continue to believe in his ability to command the ball and his overall pitching acumen. The Future: Clarke will return to Reno to start 2018 while he waits for a need to arise at the big league level. Once Clarke gets there, he projects as a reliable and durable back-end starter.
Track Record: Starting at third base on the same team as No. 4 overall pick Brendan McKay, Ellis led Louisville in batting average (.355), slugging percentage (.701) and home runs (20) in 2017 and was drafted 44th overall by the D-backs. He signed for just over $1.5 million. Ellis' pro debut at short-season Hillsboro started well, but he tailed off as he wore down after a long college season. Scouting Report: Ellis generates plus power out of his athletic frame, but some scouts have questions about his balance and weight transfer, which leads to him getting out on his front foot and lunging too often. He often has a solid approach and managed at-bats well in college, but some of that backed up as he struggled as a pro. Viewed as a questionable third baseman defensiveuly coming out of the draft, Ellis put some of those doubts to rest in pro ball. He lacks a certain amount of range and quickness but makes up for it with good hands, solid footwork, an above-average arm and a steady heartbeat that helps him slow the game down. The Future: Ellis struggled with wood bats in college summer leagues and did so again in his pro debut. He will seek a strong year from start to finish in 2018, perhaps at high Class A Visalia.
Track Record: Tabor added size and strength throughout his senior year of high school and jumped from sitting 88-90 mph to 90-94. The huge improvement made him a third-round pick last spring, and he signed for $1 million to pass up an Elon commitment. Tabor signed late and made just four appearances in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Scouting Report:Tabor stood 5-foot-11 and topped out at 91 mph in the fall before the draft but grew three inches and was bumping 95 by the spring. He credits some of the velocity gains to a new long-tossing program he picked up in 2016. Tabor has a clean, athletic delivery that he repeats well and a lightning-quick arm. His changeup, his best secondary offering, draws comparisons with that of former D-backs righthander Chase Anderson. He had a curveball in high school but traded that for a slider upon turning pro, and the pitch flashes plus. He has good feel for pitching, sometimes quick-pitching or altering the tempo of his delivery. The Future: The D-backs are impressed with Tabor's polish and makeup and see a potential No. 3 starter. He likely will start 2018 in extended spring training before reporting to one of the club's short-season affiliates.
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