State of the system – Arizona Diamondbacks

First of a series on major league farm systems

For the second time in three years, the Diamondbacks had multiple first round picks in 2011. Back in 2009, they had five of the first 45 picks, including back-to-back first rounders (picks 16 and 17) and three supplemental picks. Two years later, they became the first team to ever have two of the first seven picks, and paired them up with yet another supplemental pick.

As a result, they have restocked a depleted farm system. The Diamondbacks system is anything but depleted now, with its strength residing in the stable of young arms they have on the horizon.

Despite their offseason trade of Jarred Parker, who had been their top prospect for the past few years, the system is still loaded with pitchers, and the two taken at the top of last year’s draft should be the best of the bunch. Trevor Bauer was taken third overall out of UCLA, and could easily become the first player from that draft to appear in the majors. His methodologies on the mound and in preparation mirror that of Tim Lincecum, as do his mechanics and body type. If the Diamondbacks get half the return on Bauer that the Giants got on Lincecum, they will be thrilled.

Taken just four picks later was Oklahoma fireballer Archie Bradey, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound behemoth of a teenager who had to choose between professional baseball and a scholarship to both pitch and play quarterback at the University of Oklahoma. Bradley signed late and threw just two innings last season, but he is expected to move quickly within the Diamondbacks system, and we shouldn’t be surprised to see him start in full-season ball this year, much as the Pirates Jameson Taillon did last year.

The selection of two pitchers in the top 10 was not only unprecedented, but marked a direct contrast to the organization’s philosophy the last time it had multiple first-round picks.

In 2009, the Diamondbacks took position players with four of the first 41 picks in the draft. That’s not to say the philosophy was wrong. It was simply a reflection of the needs of the farm system at that time, and it appears that they did well with their selections.

Taken with back-to-back picks in that first round were third basemanBobby Borchering, who has since moved to left, and center fielder, A.J. Pollock. Borchering initially split time at third base with the player taken 19 picks after him, Matt Davidson.

Some at the time questioned why the Diamondbacks would select two high school third basemen at the top of the same draft, knowing not only that one would eventually have to change positions, but that neither one would be able to fully develop defensively as they climbed the organizational latter together. Those critics were right to a certain extent, as neither Davidson or Borchering has been able to play third base full time. But Davidson, clearly the better defender of the two, should get the chance to play full-time at the hot corner now that Borchering has shifted to the outfield, and he’ll need it as he is an adequate defender at best at the position.

The good news is both of them can hit, which is why organizations rarely worry about positional logjams in the early minors. Upon being drafted, Borchering was compared to Chipper Jones, although those comparisons were likely due to the obvious similarities of being a switch-hitting third baseman from Florida. Borchering doesn’t have anywhere near the plate discipline of Jones, and swings and misses have been a problem throughout his minor league career, but the power is there and should become even more prevalent once he learns to control the strike zone even better.

While Borchering is more of a power hitter, Davidson is a better all-around hitter and has nice power himself. His 60 extra-base hits last season were a solid number even when factoring in the friendly hitting environments throughout the California League.

Drafted in between the two third baseman, but certainly not forgotten, was Pollock, taken out of Notre Dame. After missing the entire 2010 season with an elbow injury, Pollock rebounded with a nice season in Double-A, posting a .307/.357/.444 line in a league where the average OPS was .739. Pollock is a refined player who has no overwhelming tools, but is no worse than average at any aspect of the game. The Diamondbacks don’t have any room in their outfield right now, so they can afford to give Pollock an entire season in Triple-A in 2012.

The Diamondbacks system is strong not just because of draft success, however. The organization has been active the past few years, willing to trade prospects for veterans, but also willing to restock the farm system by trading veterans. The D-backs got two more potential starters in Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin when they sent ace Dan Haren to the Angels in July of 2010.

Skaggs has developed into a potential middle-of-the-rotation starter, who spent half of the 2011 season in Double-A and would probably see some time in the majors late in the 2012 season on a team that wasn’t as deep at the major league level as the Diamondbacks. Corbin already spent the entire 2011 season in Double-A and should advance one more level next season. While he doesn’t have the same ceiling as Skaggs, he profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter and could help this year if they need spot starts.

Others to watch

Chris Owings—the 41st overall pick in the 2009 draft was finally healthy for an entire season in 2011, but the performance wasn’t great. His .246 batting average was a disappointment, but the bigger red flag was taking just 15 walks to 130 strikeouts. That kind of plate discipline won’t cut it at any level, and it’s even scarier given that it came in a hitter’s paradise of the California League. Owings still has the tools, but will need to put it together this season in which me may repeat High-A.

Anthony Meo and Andrew Chafin—Chafin, a lefty, and Meo, a righty, were the 43rd and 63rd picks in the 2011 draft, respectively. Both were drafted out of college, but neither pitched much last year after signing. Both are talented and need to be watched as they make their full-season debuts.

Wagner Mateo—He hasn’t done much of anything yet, but this former international bonus baby still has tools and should finally see full-season ball this year. He’s still got a long way to go, but he’s worth keeping an eye on.

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