Four Arizona Diamondbacks from my January Top 50 list broke camp with the big league club, and one more has been promoted since. (Note January Top 50 Prospect Ranking in parentheses)
Let’s start with the prospect setting the fantasy baseball world on fire, Christian Walker (38). OK, maybe not quite, but he’s a popular add/FAAB play in medium-to-deep leagues. The perfect storm of skills meeting opportunity I talked about in my February article is falling into place. He had a productive spring training (.367/.429/.612), and some early season success (3 HR, .276 AVG, 1.013 OPS thru Sunday’s 4/7 game). All of his HR have come against RHP. Not surprisingly Jake Lamb struggled early and then injured his quad performing a basic baseball task. So Walker expects to get regular at bats in the middle of the order for at least the next 6 weeks in Lamb’s place. Even before the injury the Dbacks were giving Lamb run at 3B to make room for Walker’s bat. Walker gets lots of talk as a lefty masher, but let’s not forget Walker crushed RHP in the minors. His last 2 years in the minors he put up lines of .310/.373/.602 and .275/.344/.545 vs RHP. His age, right handed-ness, skill set and career arc, kind of remind me of Jesus Aguilar. That being said, I’m not saying Christian can walk on water. He hits in a pretty poor lineup and in a pitchers park. Enjoy it while it lasts, see where it goes, and maybe it can turn into something special.
Merrill Kelly (14) Had zero buzz when signed out of Korea, then slowly crept upward in early drafting leagues. The buzz cooled again with a rough spring, but is once again trending after 2 early season intriguing starts. He notched a quality start and a win in his debut vs San Diego. His only big mistake was a home run to Fernando Tatis Jr. in the 6th. His 2nd start was a gem going 8 innings giving up just a wall-scraper of a home run to Mitch Moreland. He walked zero and struck out 9 Red Sox. He pounded the strike zone throwing 70 of his 94 pitches for strikes. His velocity was up to 94, but his best pitches were his change up and curveball. I’m excited about Merrill Kelly the rest of the season, as at least a streamer at home, and maybe more.
Jon Duplantier (2) was promoted earlier than I expected but it makes sense. The injury prone RHP is healthy at the moment so might as well use him to get MLB hitters out than risk crapping out in Reno. His first two appearances were used to finish out games for Merrill Kelly. He went 3 spectacular innings in his debut, and pitched an uneven inning in his second. He’s pitching 93/94 mph and utilizing all his pitches. There is no room in the starting rotation at the moment, but that could always change. It’s conceivable he could quickly transition to starting games if he’s being used in long relief stints. I’m a big Duplantier fan, glad to see him in the majors, and may regret not tabbing him the system’s #1 prospect.
Carson Kelly (19) was one of the 3 catchers to make the Dbacks out of camp. Not many teams carry 3 catchers so it’s clear they want to bring him along slowly. Kelly has started 3 of the clubs first 10 games and has done fine. Alex Avila went on the IL so his usage will increase. Kelly’s had so few MLB at bats it’s tough to know what to expect, but I trust his contact skills, and more experience can only help his cause.
Yoan Lopez (15) earned a spot in the Dbacks bullpen out of spring training. The Dbacks usually go to extraordinary measures to not have prospects get innings in their MLB bullpen, so it’s significant he made the team. He won’t have a set late inning role for the time being. He’s yet to produce the insane K numbers in the majors as he has in his minor league career.
Minor League assignments for prospects of interest: (top 50 rank in parentheses)
Taylor Widener (8) will be the ace of the Reno Aces. Don’t be surprised if he gets a call up during the year, even if it’s to work in the pen much like Duplantier. 3B Kevin Cron (18) heads back to AAA. He will crush baseballs there and deserves a chance in the majors. A solid Spring Training helps that cause, as does Jake Lamb’s injury. In his way is Eduardo Escobar, a healthy Lamb, and Arizona staying in contention. It’s only a matter of time.
The next wave of impact Dback bats gets promoted together to AA Jackson Generals in the Southern League. C Daulton Varsho (4), SS Jazz Chisholm (3), 3B Drew Ellis (15), 2B Andy Young (9) and even 1B Pavin Smith (12) move up. That’s quite an infield! Wouldn’t be too surprised if this is the major league infield in 3 years. (Andy Yerzy at 1B would be ideal). C Dom Miroglio (29), SP Emilio Vargas (17) will play for the Generals as well. OF Marcus Wilson (34) gets the chance to get back on the prospect track as well. It’s a big jump from A+ to AA and this season will tell a lot about these prospects. A lot of eyes will be on this squad in the Southern League.
OF Jake McCarthy (6) headlines the crew going to Visalia after impressing in his pro debut last year in Short Season (A-) Missoula. He’ll be joined by comment section darling C Renae Martinez (NR) and one of my favorite under-the-radar prospects in the system, 2B Jose Caballero (22).
The Kane County Cougars finally get some exciting upside prospects to watch in Northwestern Medicine Field. Alek Thomas (7) gets an aggressive assignment to full season ball after being drafted out of high school last June. After success in rookie ball, and a spring training invite, Arizona thinks he’s ready for full season ball, and will play near his hometown Chicago for Kane County. I’m excited to watch 2018 pop up prospect Geraldo Perdomo (11) and C Andy Yerzy (5). I watched Yerzy already block a bunch of balls behind the dish in first couple games, and look forward to getting eyes on him all year. A couple of college arms the Dbacks drafted last year in Jackson Goddard (42) and Ryan Weiss (31) will anchor the Cougar staff. Eduardo Diaz (37) and Tra Holmes (49) will repeat the level and I expect some exciting play. This is a much more prospect laden Kane County team than in recent years, and I’m looking forward to catching a lot of games.
A- (Short Season):
The Hillsboro Hops start their season June 14, and expected to be on their roster are some exciting arms in Matt Tabor (20), Harrison Francis (26) and Matt Mercer (28). A little surprising Tabor and Mercer aren’t starting in Kane County, Arizona must be taking it easy on their workload, or want to work on specific things with them in extended spring training. They all handled short season ball well last year, so I expect them to succeed and possibly move up multiple levels in 2019. I expect 3B Buddy Kennedy (16) to continue to look promising and develop and professional masher 1B Zack Shannon (46) to rake because that is what they do.
Noticeably absent on the minor league assignments are OF Kristian Robinson (1) and SS Blaze Alexander (10). Robinson being maybe the biggest high riser on prospect lists at the end of last year and Blaze being the biggest riser from the ’19 draft class. I thought they both might be joining 2019 draftee Alek Thomas in Low A Kane County for some full season ball. I don’t see this as a bad thing though. They’ll spend time in extended spring training then either go back to Missoula for a taste, or go straight to Kane County or maybe even straight to Visalia. The sky is the limit for these two in 2019, and I think the Dbacks will promote them as high as they deserve.
The ballad of Socrates Brito:
He’s technically not a prospect anymore. And 9 years after signing as a teenager, he’s not a Diamondback anymore. And frankly, in every short stint in the majors he’s either gotten injured or fallen flat on his face putting up horrible numbers. Despite all this, he’s been a favorite of mine for years, and I’d like to give him a proper sendoff. I drafted him in 2011, in the 13th round of a ridiculously deep dynasty league. The 303rd player taken in a draft made up of the J2 signing class of that year, and any minor leaguers not on the roster of any of the 24 teams of the league. I drafted him for his 80 grade name, but he soon became a legit prospect with the potential and tools to play in the majors. He put up numbers and earned chances to try to earn a shot for the big club in spring training. Unfortunately, Socrates was snakebit. In 2019, the Dbacks chose to keep 3 catchers, and even with a weak OF and Steven Souza Jr., injured they chose to waive Brito. He was claimed by the Padres, and quickly traded to the Blue Jays. Toronto thought enough of Brito to send Anthony Alford to the minors, and give him at bats in CF near the top of the lineup. We’ll see how long that lasts, but best wishes to him, I’m still a fan, and still own him in 2 leagues. Farewell Socrates Brito, Arizona Diamondback (4/28/2010-3/27/2019).