Do These Snakes Have Arms?

Slade Cecconi, University of Miami, February 23, 2020 - photo credit Bryan Green on Flickr

Zac Gallen. I just wanted my first two words published for Prospects1500 to be “Zac Gallen,” my favorite current MLB pitcher. But to the real point, do the Diamondbacks have developing pitchers capable of joining Gallen in the rotation relatively soon and effectively?

The Diamondbacks’ system feels a bit underappreciated, but their pitching farm may be under the radar. The Diamondbacks’ budding homegrown bats; Kristian Robinson, Corbin Carroll, Alec Thomas, Geraldo Perdomo, and Daulton Varsho tend to grab the prospect headlines, but Mike Hazan and company have been stockpiling young arms, particularly the last two drafts whereupon 8 of the top 9 picks were pitchers.

I spent some COVID downtime watching 2019 minor league and 2020 collegiate outings of more than twenty Diamondbacks pitching prospects. Both a lot and not much have happened since then but I still came away with different opinions than I had two seasons ago.

Hazan’s concerted effort to farm arms really took focus during the 2018 MLB Draft when the Diamondbacks used their 3rd thru 9th round picks on pitchers; six college arms and one prep. The lone prep arm of the group, Levi Kelly, may have been the best find. Hazan also acquired two promising pitching prospects when he sent Zack Greinke to Houston receiving Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas as part of the return.

It’s been a while since we’ve gotten game action from this group and assuredly development has been had behind the scenes. Trying to refresh myself where some of these guys were at and piecing together where they are now, I’ve formulated my questions for 2021. Here are my biggest takeaways.

Ryne Nelson excites me more than when initially drafted in the 2nd round of the 2019 draft out of Oregon. Watching his Northwest League outings, he has a bulldog presence on the mound; intense and intimidating. The big fastball capable of triple digits plays into the motif. Back in 2019 he was still relatively new to pitching full-time and rawer than most big college pitchers, but the stuff is undeniable and he looks the part. If Nelson’s strike-throwing shows improvement, he could be on his way. Nelson was part of fall instructs but I did not hear any reports other than the velocity being there. If Nelson shows some refinement, particularly with his secondaries, he may be in play for a big-league rotation role.

Blake Walston was a recent high school grad just getting his first taste of pro ball in 2019, and it very much felt like that watching his brief NWL debut. Walston is a lefty with some great raw stuff, more than holding his own, but things just looked sloppy. Walston has a different delivery and I wonder if time has been spent cleaning it up. I don’t question his potential in the least, but I am anxious to see what he looks like now. If he stills looks as much a project in 2021, my excitement dwindles.

Conor Grammes wasn’t on my radar back in 2019 as a 5th round pick out of Xavier, but started getting some attention, and then really got my attention when instruct reports claimed his fastball touched triple digits. Grammes feels a little like Corbin Martin to me, in that the arm strength is elite. His delivery and effort are simple and low. He also feels a little like Ryne Nelson to me as he was an even rawer college pitcher coming out, not having pitched a whole lot in college, busier playing an everyday role. Grammes, like Martin, may be better suited as a relief pitcher but the rate of development sounds fast. I’m excited to see this electric arm in 2021 and if he pushes to be a few times through the order threat. If starting looks more likely, Grammes could be a fast riser in 2021.

These three were the most enticing, albeit further away arms to me. There is electric major league pitcher upside here, but how far away or near they are is unknown at this point. These next guys are, or should be, much closer.

Corbin Martin has already logged 19.1 MLB IP, but hasn’t pitched an inning as a Diamondback or in their system as injuries struck, including Tommy John surgery. I like watching Martin pitch. He works fast and is fearless. Martin is strong with a big fastball and very simple on the mound. Easy to do when you have an arm capable of hitting 111 mph (running into it). I just don’t know if Martin is a big-league starter though. His first stint didn’t go so well and he had been pitching well prior. The whole package feels too basic to me. Bully over pitcher, stuff over pitching, and I’m not sure how well that’ll play. Yet, maybe there doesn’t need to be, he wouldn’t be the first. Martin has an arsenal likely capable of getting through the order 2-3 times, but he may just be more productive relieving, as he was in college. An electric arm I’m curious to see post-injury in 2021.

Slade Cecconi and Bryce Jarvis were two of the better arms in a loaded 2020 college arm class. Cecconi is physically imposing with a big fastball whereas Jarvis is more refined and diverse. I watched a lot of these two in college and there’s no doubt they can develop into successful major league starters. Cecconi will probably take longer, but Jarvis’ ability to dominate college lineups may transfer well to the pros; stuff, strike-throwing, and capable of getting batters out in various ways. I’m expecting big things from these two pro debuts.

J.B. Bukauskas was an interesting 2019 watch. I think improvement has come since being added to the 40-man and actually already appearing this spring, but I was not impressed with the 2019 version. Bukauskas had a large arsenal and a large area those pitches ended up. There was not much in the way of commanding pitches I assume achieve high spin rates, moving late and all that goodness, but it needs harnessing in a big way. Bukauskas also strikes me as being limited athletically…not a good pairing for developing better strike-throwing. Perhaps that was found during 2020? His early spring training appearance was not televised so no clues to be had yet.

This is just a brief takeaway from my refresher on this system’s pitching prospects. We will touch on more of what I saw and how I saw it morph in 2021 down the road a little ways…after finally getting some more looks at this talented stockpile post-hiatus.

Nate enjoys picking up the prospect scraps, turning over rocks to share what muddy treats he can find. Residing high up the Rocky Mountains with his wife and children, trying to stay cool, getting a broader view. A fan of the underappreciated, overlooked and disregarded. A true mud person trying to make informed mistakes.

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