Hello and welcome to the first installment of Farm System Breakdown, a series of articles that I am extremely excited to be producing! This series will be exactly what it sounds like: a comprehensive breakdown of each team’s farm system, including breakdowns of the organization’s top hitters and pitchers, potential breakout candidates, the top individual tools in the system, and draft strategy. We will go team-by-team and division-by-division, starting with the AL West and NL West and moving eastward. Before we begin, let me lay out some parameters for this series.
- Players will be considered prospects so long as they have fewer than 130 at-bats (hitters) or 50 innings pitched (pitchers) at the Major League level at the time of writing.
- The rankings and tool grades are based off of my own personal opinion and evaluation.
- Tool grades are based on the traditional 20-80, 5-point increment scouting scale.
- All tool grades are potential; the grades indicate what I believe each tool will develop into by the time the player is fully developed, not what each tool is currently.
- Any statistics referenced in the article are courtesy of Fangraphs or Baseball Reference.
Without further ado, let’s begin breaking down one of my favorite farm systems in all of the minors: The Arizona Diamondbacks.
Top Five Position Players
1. OF Kristian Robinson
Hit: 50|Power: 60|Raw Power: 70|Field: 55 (CF)|Arm: 60|Run: 55
The 19-year-old Bahamian native has raked during his last two minor league systems, and his advanced offensive output earned him an aggressive promotion to low-A Kane County. The two things that stand out about Robinson are his frame and athleticism. At 6’3 and 190, Robinson has a lean and extremely projectable frame. He has the potential to add significant impact strength to a swing that already produces loud contact. Additionally, Robinson may be the best overall athlete in the entire Arizona system, with quick-twitch athletic actions at the plate to go along with good foot speed. At the plate, Robinson has a quiet swing that produces loud results. He has a relaxed stance with a quiet load that gets him into really sound hitting position. Robinson’s fantastic rotational acceleration and his ability to delay torso rotation at foot strike enable his bat to get through the zone super quickly, which leads to some monstrous exit velocity readings for a 19-year-old. Another thing that is super impressive about Robinson offensively is his approach. He does a good job of making pitchers come to him, as for the most part he does a nice job of not expanding the zone. Robinson is disciplined for a young hitter, with a 10.6% BB rate in 191 plate appearances in 2019. Making more consistent contact will be the next step in Robinson’s development, as he strikes out at a fairly high clip right now and struggles to consistently find the barrel. For that reason, his hit tool is probably average long-term, as I think he is probably a .260-.265ish hitter. Defensively, Robinson’s athleticism and plus arm gives him a good chance of playing center field at the next level. As he continues to fill out he may slow down and lose some range, but I don’t know how likely that is just because of how athletic he is. Overall a guy who has the potential to hit 25-30 bombs while playing a premium position is always a rare player, and that is what Robinson is. I am looking forward to seeing what Robinson looks like in full-season ball, and he has the chance to really rise up prospect lists as older guys above him graduate.
2) OF Alek Thomas
Hit: 60|Power: 45|Raw Power: 50|Field: 50 (CF) 55 (COF)|Arm: 40|Run: 60
Thomas is an outfielder who can be an everyday regular for a contending team with a chance to stick in CF. He presents an intriguing skill set to go along with statistical production thus far in his minor league career. Thomas lacks prototype size at 5’11 and 175 pounds, but he makes up for it with explosive athleticism and strength. His dad is the strength and conditioning coach for the Chicago White Sox, so it is no surprise that Thomas is this strong at this point in his career. Offensively, Thomas is in the same vein as a Brett Gardner/Adam Eaton type player. He has a strong hit tool and can hit the ball to all fields. In what will become a recurring theme with many of these D-Back hitters, Thomas is a professional at-bat taker in the sense that he does not expand the zone and is not afraid to draw walks. His home run power is not his strong suit, but it is not a weakness by any means. Thomas’ explosiveness and plus bat speed will allow him to be a 15ish homer guy at the ML level. Defensively, Thomas is a strong defender who uses his speed to create range in the OF. He takes good routes to the baseball and gets good reads off the bat. Thomas has a really quick first step and his ability to cover ground in the OF makes up for his subpar arm strength. His range makes him a viable candidate to play CF, but he probably fits best in LF in the long run. Overall, Thomas’ hit tool and sound defensive ability gives him a strong likelihood of becoming an everyday major leaguer.
3) C/OF Daulton Varsho
Hit: 55|Power: 45|Raw Power: 55|Field: 45 (C), 50 (CF)|Arm: 45 (C), 50 (OF)|Run: 60
Varsho is one of the most interesting players in all of the minor leagues because of his position (catcher) and his skillset. Varsho is a legit plus runner whose legs help him create range in the outfield, which is his ‘secondary’ position. The reason why I put ‘secondary’ in quotes is that Varsho may be in the process of moving off catcher. He has played more innings in the outfield than at catcher in his brief time in the major leagues, and his defense at catcher isn’t at that point where you are de-valuing him by not sticking him behind the dish. Varsho doesn’t have a particularly great arm, which will become especially important in the defensive value of catchers with the seemingly-imminent implementation or robo-umpires. Additionally, Varsho’s smaller frame (5’10/190) may not be suited for catching every day. At the plate, though, Varsho is rock-solid. He has a clean, quiet swing without too much wasted movement. He gets into his legs in his load and loads his hands in conjunction with a pretty aggressive stride. Even swinging out of a wide base Varsho is able to show flexibility in his lower half, as he rotates well. Varsho has been a gap-to-gap, line-drive hitter who controls the barrel well, and the power has developed nicely in the minor leagues. There is 15-20 homer potential in there, but I still think he is a bit more contact-oriented. He also does a nice job of letting the pitcher come to him, as he shows solid plate discipline skills. If Varsho goes back to catching primarily his bat will easily outperform the low offensive bar for catchers, but his transition to the outfield may put a little bit more pressure on him to perform offensively.
4) OF Corbin Carroll
Hit: 60|Power: 40|Raw Power: 50| Field: 60 (CF)|Arm: 55|Run: 70
The only former first rounder on this list of hitters, Carroll is a speedy, top-of-the-order type of player with developing power. Carroll is similar to Alek Thomas in some ways, as both guys have advanced hit tools with defensive upside in the outfield. Also like Thomas, Carroll (5’10/165) has a smaller frame that packs a punch. Both guys project to have a bigger power output than one would expect just by looking at them. At the plate, Carroll has a very smooth, connected swing that has really good leverage and a natural upward bat path. For a guy his size, Carroll also generates impressive bat speed, and he rotates his lower half really well in his swing. While Carroll’s swing looks pretty and it could certainly develop more power, I still think he is too contact/ground ball-oriented right now. Right now he looks to be making more of an effort to just put the bat on the ball and let his speed put pressure on the defense. I would like to see him make a more concerted effort to impact the baseball. Regardless, Carroll still possesses a pretty swing that could run into 10-15 homers a season. Defensively, Carroll has the potential to become an advanced defensive center fielder. His double-plus speed creates great range in the outfield, allowing him to run down balls in all directions. His arm is above average, as well. A player with those defensive skills is hard to come by, making Carroll a big-time asset at a premium position. Overall Carroll has yet to play a full minor league season, but when he does I think he will show everyone an exciting player: a guy who gets on base a lot and showcases electric speed and defensive ability. Adding strength will have to be a point of emphasis for Carroll to take his next step, though.
5) SS Geraldo Perdomo
Tools: Hit: 55|Power: 40| Raw Power: 50|Field: 60 (SS)|Arm: 55| Run: 55
A switch hitting SS with superb ball/strike recognition and advanced glovework, Perdomo has as good a chance as anyone to become an everyday player at SS. Perdomo is tall and lanky at 6’3 and 184 lbs, but he moves really well for his size. His footspeed and lateral mobility help on the defensive end and on the base paths, were he is a base stealing threat. Offensively, Perdomo’s elite ball/strike recognition and walk rates make him a viable candidate to be an everyday player one day. His home run and extra base hit power has not shown up in games yet, but Perdomo has a very projectable body and has above average bat speed. If he develops a bit more physically I could see some more power coming for him, but to me Perdomo has below-average future game power. He just seems to be more of a guy who is trying to just put the bat on the ball and let the power take care of itself. I am bullish about Perdomo’s defense at shortstop. I think he can become a really good defender at the position. Perdomo has soft hands that work well with his feet, creating sound infield actions. His general athletic ability makes it possible for him to make throws from a variety of different releases and arm angles. He has a strong, accurate arm, too. Overall, Perdomo will need to develop more power to jump the guys ahead of him on this list, but I can definitely see him being a top-of-the-order table setter who will provide good defense at a premium position.
Top Five Pitchers
1) RHP Corbin Martin
Fastball: 60|Curveball: 55|Slider: 55|Changeup: 55|Command: 45
Martin was one of the main pieces in the 2019 deadline day deal that sent Zack Greinke from Arizona to Houston. While Martin struggled through 19 big league innings last year, he has a plethora of weapons he can use to get hitters out. Martin’s fastball sits in the 94-96 range (topping out at 98), and the pitch’s high spin rate gives the fastball a lot of carry (would you expect anything different from a pitcher drafted by Luhnow and the Astros?). He uses the vertical break on his fastball to his advantage, attacking hitters up in the zone and often getting whiffs there. Martin is in the process of recovering from Tommy John Surgery right now, so his fastball velocity will be closely monitored by many as he works his way back to the mound. Martin’s fastball control/command is better in relation to his other pitches, but he did struggle to throw strikes with his fastball at times last year in the big leagues. In terms of secondary stuff, Martin throws a hard slider and a curveball, both of which have sharp break and late movement. The slider has a lot of horizontal movement, and the late biting action on the pitch makes it hard for hitters to put in play. The same goes for his curveball, which is a sharp 12/6 breaker that can miss bats at the bottom of the zone. With both breaking balls, the lack of consistent command is what keeps them from being a true plus offering. Martin’s changeup is another above average pitch. He throws it pretty hard (85-87), but the pitch gets late movement and has an element of depth to it, as well. Martin shows the ability to get it below the zone, and the movement and fade generates whiffs against lefties. With a plus fastball and three above-average secondaries, Martin has top-of-the-rotation upside, but a lot hinges on his recovery from Tommy John Surgery.
2) LHP Blake Walston
Fastball: 55|Curveball: 70|Changeup: 50|Command: 55
The D-Backs 2019 first rounder, Walston was drafted out of high school because of his projectable frame and nasty curveball coming from the left side. Listed at 6’5/195, Walston has plenty of room to grow and add strength, meaning that a future jump in fastball velocity would not be surprising at all. Right now Walston’s fastball sits in the 88-92 range and he shows the ability to get run on the ball at times, as well. He does a good job of throwing the pitch for strikes and locating to both sides of the plate. The pitch is more of an average offering for Walston right now, but projected velocity gains and his feel for control/command gives me hope that the pitch will eventually be above average. Walston’s curveball is what makes him such a coveted pitching prospect. The curve has enormous depth and sharp downward break. Walston is able to manipulate the ball due to heavy wrist action at release, which creates that sharp downward break that can miss so many bats. In addition to that north/south action on the pitch, Walston’s curveball has a bit of an east/west element to it, as well. The curveball is just a super impressive pitch all the way around. Walston also shows the ability to turn over a changeup. He can throw the pitch in the strike zone, and it is more than just a pitch he uses to catch hitters off balance. The change has legit late fade that plays well against righties, and he feels comfortable throwing it in most situations. I think the changeup has average potential, which is nothing to turn your nose up at, especially with the other weapons in his arsenal. Mechanically, Walston does a lot of things that hard throwers do in their mechanics. He has a deep hip hinge and really good hip/torso separation at foot strike; all the more reason to think more velocity is coming. Overall Walston is still very young, but the stuff’s projection is undeniably good. How he develops physically is what will take him to the next level as a prospect.
3) RHP Bryce Jarvis
Fastball: 55|Slider: 50|Changeup: 70|Command: 55
Instead of pitching in a collegiate summer league in 2019, Jarvis went to Driveline and added several miles per hour to his fastball. That uptick in velocity is what took Jarvis to the next level as a pitching prospect. He went from a 37th round selection in 2019 to a 1st round selection in 2020, where the Diamondbacks scooped him up with 18th overall pick. Jarvis has always been a very polished strike thrower, but with a better fastball he’s able to miss more bats than he ever has. Jarvis also possesses a very advanced changeup which earns a 70 grade from me. He throws his change with good arm speed, and the pitch gets exceptional run that misses a lot of bats. The slider is more of an average pitch. It won’t ever put hitters away at a super high level due to a lack of crazy break/spin, but it is good enough to get some uncomfortable swings. Jarvis is a very polished strike thrower who shows above-average command, especially with his fastball. Overall Jarvis was one of my favorite arms in this past draft cycle, and I feel pretty comfortable with a mid-rotation projection for him.
4) RHP Jon Duplantier
Fastball: 55|Curveball: 50|Slider: 55|Changeup: 50|Command: 45
With 36.2 major league innings under his belt, the former Rice standout Duplantier just barely qualifies as a prospect. Duplantier possesses a very strong physical frame. At 6’4 and 225, Duplantier has the ideal size and strength of a major league starting pitcher. Duplantier’s fastball is a two-seamer with sharp movement in on the hands of righties. He does a good job of throwing the pitch for strikes and locating it to spots that induce soft contact. Duplantier is able to get under the hands of righties and throw it to the front hip of lefties to create uncomfortable swings and at-bats for hitters. The question with his fastball will be whether or not it misses enough bats, as many pitchers have ditched the 2-seam/sinker pitch in favor of the high heater. Even if Duplantier doesn’t generate whiffs with his fastball at a super high rate, I still think he can be productive as a guy who gets groundballs and is tough to square up. Duplantier uses a slider and a curveball, but the slider is his main off-speed pitch. The slider has a decent amount of gyro spin, creating an element of drop to go along with traditional slider sweep. The slider did not miss many bats during Duplantier’s brief big league stint in 2019, partially due to issues with strike throwing/command, but I still think the movement is good enough for the pitch to be above average or even plus one day (if the command improves). Duplantier uses his curveball mainly against lefties early in the count to get ahead, but it shows big depth, 12/6ish shape, and tumble down in the zone. He also throws a changeup that has decent lateral movement, and it is probably a solid average pitch in the long run. Duplantier has not pitched in 2020 due to some elbow problems, which may mean he will settle into a reliever role when he comes back to monitor innings. If that is Duplantier’s role long-term, I could definitely see him having a good deal of success as a late inning relief option.
5) RHP Slade Cecconi
Fastball: 55|Slider: 60|Changeup: 55|Command: 50
From a pure stuff perspective, Cecconi was one of my top five college arms in this past draft. I think that Cecconi has huge potential if he stays healthy, but that’s a pretty big if. He has dealt with various injuries dating back to his time as a prep pitcher, which does cause some concern. When he’s on the mound, though, the former Miami Hurricane is a joy to watch. He has a strong, muscular 6’4/220 pound frame that is built to handle a starter’s workload. In terms of his arsenal, Cecconi relies on a fastball, slider, and changeup. The fastball sits in the 92-94 range, but that velocity does tend to drop as he gets later into games. Cecconi has shown an ability to locate to his glove side very well with the fastball, and he can miss bats with the pitch too. Cecconi also mixes in a two-seam variant of his fastball, and he has thrown some fastballs with wicked bite. The ability to have a fastball that can miss bats with the four-seamer and one that can induce soft contact with the two-seamer could benefit Cecconi in the long run. Cecconi’s slider is his best pitch in my opinion; a true plus pitch. He is able to pound the pitch down and away to righties to induce whiffs, and the swing-and-miss aspect of the pitch is very encouraging. Cecconi’s slider isn’t a true frisbee, as there is a gyroscopic element that gives it the drop that makes the pitch so devastating. I also really like Cecconi’s changeup. The change flashes good run away from lefties, giving him a pitch that moves well off of his slider. He is still ironing out his feel for strikes with the pitch, but the type of movement he gets on the pitch is definitely intruiging. Like other arms in this system, Cecconi’s health will be really important in his future success. If he can stay healthy, I think Cecconi will slot in nicely at the middle-to-back end of a big league rotation.
Projected Breakout Player
LHP Tommy Henry
I may not pick a 23-year-old as a breakout player too often in this series, but it makes a lot of sense here with Tommy Henry. The former University of Michigan standout was a pitchable lefty coming out of college two drafts ago, but Henry has added significant velocity according to reports coming out of the D-Backs alternate site. Henry lived in the 88-91 range as a Wolverine, but he was able to have such success because of his ability to locate, change pace, and keep hitters off balance. With reports saying now that he is in the 93-95 range, Henry really could start to blow hitters away with a combination of a more electric fastball and that signature command. Henry also sports a changeup that runs away from righties and a slider that he commands well enough below the zone to get chases. Because of the fact that Henry had many desirable qualities in a pitcher before he added velocity, the uptick in his fastball makes him all the more likely to have a big year in 2021.
Best Individual Tools
Best Hit Tool: OF Alek Thomas
Thomas’ athletic, compact swing sprays the ball to all fields and makes contact at a good clip. His swing should play well as he continues to ascend towards the major leagues.
Best In-Game Power Tool: OF Kristian Robinson
Robinson has an extremely projectable body and fantastic bat speed, and as he continues to mature physically it is easy to envision him mashing 30+ bombs a season.
Best Raw Power Tool: OF Kristian Robinson
Best Approach/Plate Discipline: SS Geraldo Perdomo
Perdomo’s ability to not expand the zone and draw walks at an elite level is extremely impressive, especially with how young he still is.
Best Individual Defender: OF Dominic Fletcher
I love watching Fletcher play defense. The former Arkansas Razorback is known for his fantastic jumps and routes in the outfield. Fletcher doesn’t have great raw foot speed, but his ability to read balls of the bat and close on balls gives him the chance to be a good centerfielder without elite speed. If he does move to a corner, he has the defensive skills to be one of the best corner outfielders in baseball.
Best Arm: 3B Blaze Alexander
Blaze possesses both an 80-grade name and an 80-grade arm. Alexander has an absolute hose, and teams who were out on his bat during his draft year wanted to see him on the mound. Alexander has been clocked at throwing 99 MPH across the diamond. His arm tool is not only the best in this system, but it may be the best in all of the minor leagues.
Best Run Tool: 2B Glenallen Hill Jr.
The son of former big-leaguer Glenallen Hill Sr., the younger Hill possesses fantastic speed and a lightning-quick first step that plays on both sides of the ball.
Best Fastball: RHP Luis Frias
With a fastball that sits around 97-98 and tops out at around 100, it is easy to envision Frias chucking heaters in the D-Backs bullpen in the not-so-distant future.
Best Curveball: LHP Blake Walston
Walston’s curveball has huge depth and an element of sweep that makes hitters swing and miss as well as feel uncomfortable in the batter’s box.
Best Slider: RHP JB Bukauskas
A former first rounder out of the University of North Carolina, Bukauskas has struggled on the mound and with injuries during his minor league career. However, he still has a wicked slider that is enough for people to hold out hope that he can still salvage his former first round value. The slider has sharp break and traditional shape that has shown the ability to miss bats.
Best Changeup: RHP Bryce Jarvis
Jarvis’ ability to turn the ball over and get as much horizontal run on the pitch as he does is quite impressive, and I think his change is one of the better ones in the minor leagues.
Best Control/Command: RHP Matt Tabor
Tabor’s ability to pound the zone with strikes comes from his easy, repeatable mechanics. He fills up the zone with all three offerings, and is able to locate on both sides of the plate with his fastball.
Past Draft Strategy
The past two drafts, the D-Backs have shown a propensity to select players with a hit-over-power offensive profile. Matt McLain (2018 first round, did not end up signing), Jake McCarthy (2018 Supplemental round), Alek Thomas (2018 second round), and Corbin Carroll (2019 first round), all fit that bill. Players with a strong hit tool have an easier time developing power as they add strength, as they are already have a strong feel for the barrel. Some hitters in this upcoming draft that fit well with this strategy are high school shortstops Marcelo Mayer and Jordan Lawlar, as well as McLain and Miami catcher/outfielder Adrian Del Castillo.
On the pitching side, the D-Backs have gone the ‘college performer’ route. Some examples include Tommy Henry (Michigan), Drey Jameson (Ball State), Ryne Nelson (Oregon), Andrew Saalfrank (Indiana), Bryce Jarvis (Duke), and Slade Cecconi (Miami). Because of how poorly the D-Backs have played in the 2020 season, they may have a shot at the top-tier college arms in the 2021 draft, such as Kumar Rocker, Jack Leiter, Jaden Hill, and Gunnar Hoglund.
Overall, the D-Backs have a strong system. The farm is very balanced, with high level bats and arms alike. The developed hit tools of guys like Thomas and Carroll, the defensive upside of a Perdomo, and the all-around beast that is Robinson make me comfortable with the core of their offensive prospects. Their pitchers are very polished with multiple quality offerings, and they do a good job of throwing strikes as a system. Once Arizona supplements current big leaguers like Zac Gallen and Ketel Marte with their talented farm system, I think they have what it takes to become a contender. Add in a quality free agent signing or trade, and I really think this is an organization that can turn it around pretty quickly. The NL West will certainly be difficult, but the D-Backs have what it takes to be competitive.
Featured Photo: @DBacks