- June is a fun time, if you’re a fan of minor league baseball. We finally get the short season leagues up and running, so all minor league levels are playing. We have the All-Star Game for most levels, and of course, the most anticipated event: the amateur draft.
Having struggled last year, the Diamondbacks found themselves picking in the top 10 this year. This brings hopes of finding the next superstar to step onto Chase Field. Many believe they have done just that with the 7th overall pick, Arizona selected Pavin Smith, a junior first baseman from the University of Virginia. In his junior season, Smith set the UVA record for RBI, while slashing .342/.427/.570; hitting 13 home runs; and striking out only 12 times. Smith was arguably the best college bat available in the draft and should move quickly through the system, should he prove capable of playing left field (as the Diamondbacks hope). Beyond Smith, college bats were the beginning theme of the draft for Arizona. Drew Ellis, .367/.457/.729, 20 HR, a power hitting 3B from Louisville, came next. Daulton Varsho, .362/.490/.643, 11 HR, a bat first catcher from the University of Milwaukee Wisconsin, followed to round out the first 3 picks. All 3 have questions defensively and may possibly need to switch positions before making it to the show, but the offensive potential is certainly there.
Finding high upside talent is just as important as proximity to the majors on draft day, or draft week as it has become. Arizona was also able to find some intriguing talent outside of day one. The beginning of day two brought high upside, high school talent. SP Matt Tabor (3.82), SP Harrison Francis (4.112) and 3B Buddy Kennedy (5.142) all appear to have very high upside and plenty of time to progress through the Diamondbacks minor league system. Tabor is a big arm with a heavy fastball that is projected to be a plus pitch as he fills out. Harrison Francis, whose brother Bowden was drafted in the 7th round, projects to have two plus pitches as his fastball catches up with his plus changeup. Buddy Kennedy from Millville High School (New Jersey) slashed .493/.550/.985 as a senior. Kennedy found some time in the off-season to train with another famous Millville Alum, Mike Trout, which certainly can’t hurt.
Other names to keep an eye on from the 2017 draft class include Big 10 Pitcher of the Year Brian Shaffer (6.172) from Maryland and 1st team All WAC Conference SS Ryan Grotjohn (10.292), who led the WAC in batting avg. at .390. These two as well as a few small school standouts, Tra’Mayne Holmes (11.322) from Faulkner University, Trent Autry (17.502), Florence-Darlington Tech and William Gorman (32.952) Rochester Institute of Technology, will be welcome additions to the team. Holmes led Faulkner to the NAIA World Series where the 5 tool player was selected to the All World Series Team. Autry threw 2 no hitters including a 16K effort against Monroe College in May and Gorman leaves RIT as the all-time leader in HR, RBI, TB and SLG%.
Overall, I believe that the Diamondbacks did well, mixing the need for an influx of talent that is not far from the majors as well as finding high upside talent that will need to develop. I’m not a believer in giving a grade immediately, as we have no idea how these 40+ players will progress, but I think the grade ultimately will be determined by the first three picks. If Smith, Ellis and Varsho can hit their way to the majors, I think it’s deserving of a high grade.
I’m a little longer than I would like here, but I don’t want to miss touching on the All-Star selections for A, A+ and AA, as those All-Star games have just passed. What I enjoy most about the minor league all-star games is that they tend to be a great balance of prospects and journeymen. It’s basically all about production, so it doesn’t matter if you’re a non-prospect in your third go around in AA or the best prospect in the system; if you’re performing on the field, you get your shot. The Midwest League (A) All Stars were the dominant Jon Duplantier, Tyler Mark, Tommy Eveld, Sam McWilliams, Marcus Wilson, and Anfernee Grier. Duplantier and Marcus Wilson earned starts. Duplantier and Eveld surrendered the only runs for the West team, but they did pull out a 5-2 victory. Marcus Wilson batted third and went 1 for 3, while Anfernee Grier went 0-1.
The California League (A+) All-Stars Bo Takahashi, Jose Almonte, Kirby Bellow, Bud Jeter, Mason McCullough, Sergio Alcantara and Marty Herum; with Alcantara and Herum earning starts. Herum and Alcantara both had singles with Herum knocking in a run. Bo Takahashi struck out 3 in 2 shutout innings to earn the win while Bud Jeter got the final 2 outs to seal the win for the North.
The Southern League (AA) All-Stars didn’t have the same luck. While Taylor Clarke, Joey Krehbiel, Gabriel Moya, Kevin Crow, Colin Walsh and Rudy Flores were all selected to the team, the game was unfortunately rained out and, for obvious reasons, won’t be made up.
Across all three levels, the Diamondbacks were well represented with both highly regarded prospects and top performers. All three leagues will get ready to pick up the 2nd half of the season after the break.
Featured Image Credit: BaseballCensus