It’s rare for a Major League Baseball team to find themselves in the unique position the Arizona Diamondbacks enter the 2012 campaign in. That is, a defending division champion, as well as possessors of one of the highest touted farm systems in the MLB. But where does that leave the top prospects that are ready to crack their way into the show?
At the beginning of most seasons, the top five prospects on any given MLB club are seen as having a chance to find their way onto the big club at some point during the year. But for the 2012 Arizona Diamondbacks, even the most big league-ready prospects like Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer will be hard-pressed to see significant time in Chase Field this season (barring injuries of course).
The Diamondbacks return every significant piece of their 2011 Division Champion roster, and thanks to General Manager Kevin Towers, have added even more talent in free agency. A pitching rotation that was already bringing back ace Ian Kennedy and 16-game winner Daniel Hudson, was bolstered by Towers’ acquisition of Trevor Cahill from Oakland. Now that the Diamondbacks have resigned lefty Joe Saunders to a one-year deal, and assuming Josh Collmenter ties up the fifth spot in the rotation, that leaves the biggest names on Arizona’s prospect list down on the farm to begin 2012.
Baseball America lists pitchers as the top three prospects in the Diamondbacks system this season. 2011 first round pick (3rd overall) Trevor Bauer tops the list, Archie Bradley is second (First Round, 7th Overall), while lefty Tyler Skaggs, probably the most MLB ready, is third. Lefties David Holmberg and Patrick Corbin, seventh and tenth on Baseball America’s list, are also on the cusp of being big-league ready.
So if there isn’t a spot for the DBacks’ most talented prospects in the starting rotation, why not give them a taste of the majors by starting them off slow in the bullpen, right?
Wrong. Towers beefed the pen up this winter too. In what seems like an eternity, the Diamondbacks bullpen enter the season with already solidified roles. J.J. Putz returns from a 45-save season as closer, and David Hernandez owns the 8th inning slot. Right-handed specialist Brad Ziegler and southpaw Joe Paterson return, and newcomers Craig Breslow (Oakland trade) and free-agent acquisition Takashi Saito make it highly improbable for any prospect to nudge their way into the pen to start the year.
I wouldn’t expect any Paul Goldschmidt-like breakthroughs with position players either. Why? Well, for one, Paul Goldschmidt has first base locked down, another position that seemed to be by committee for more seasons than we’d like to remember. I don’t think there is anyone associated with baseball that isn’t looking forward to seeing what Goldie will do with 500 at-bats in a major league season.
Ryan Roberts, another breakthrough player in 2011 at third base, returns to the hot-corner in Spring Training uncontested, and a healthy Stephen Drew at short and Aaron Hill at second, with capable backups in Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald return in the middle.
The top rated position prospects for the DBacks just happen to be infielders as well. 3B Matt Davidson (35th overall pick, 2009) is the fifth overall rated prospect by Baseball America in the system, and shortstop Chris Owings (41st overall pick, 2009) is eighth on the list.
The only outfielder recognized by Baseball America on the DBacks’ top ten is A.J. Pollock, the 2009 first round pick (17th overall) who hit .307 for Mobile-AA last season. Some see Pollock as an eventual replacement for Chris Young should the club decide, but that won’t happen this year. And with Up-Town fixture Justin Upton in RF, free agent newbie Jason Kubel in left, and reigning Gold Glove winner Gerardo Parra breathing down his neck, there is zero room for breakthrough in the outfield.
You won’t likely see another season like 2011 with fresh talent making a name for themselves as Goldschmidt, Collmenter, and Parra did, but you can probably expect for the Mobile Bay Bears (Double-A) and Reno Aces (Triple-A) to be very, very good.
Over the next few weeks as we prepare for Spring Training, we’ll look a little more in-depth into the top prospects in the system, and what you can expect to see from each of them in 2012.