Mar 1, 2015; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Aaron Blair (70) poses for a portrait during Photo Day at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Yesterday was a big day in Aaron Blair’s life. After being moved up from the AA Mobile BayBears, he made his first AAA start for the Reno Aces. Unfortunately, his big moment was spoiled by seven hits (two of which were home runs) and eight earned runs.
Although the line was downright abominable, it doesn’t take away from the reason for his promotion. Until this move, he had spent the end of last season and the beginning of this one in AA ball. During that time, he has minimized the damage done against him consistently. When he was drafted (36th overall in 2013), the book on Blair was a tall, strong kid with a loose, easy motion who was able to maintain his low-90’s velocity deep into games and strike people out with his changeup.
That book has held true with one exception: strikeouts. Until last season and AA ball, Blair sat around 10 K/9 while maintaining a sub-3.00 ERA and sub-1.20 WHIP. These are wonderful numbers for a prospect with his makeup. Since getting to AA last year, however, Blair was at 8.9 K/9. This season in AA he was at 6.9 K/9.
For most prospects, a drop of strikeouts of that magnitude would cause concern. For Blair, the underlying numbers tell a different story. Almost every measurable has stayed consistent or improved, save for the strikeout rate. Given that the minor leagues are where pitchers go to develop, the most logical explanation is that Blair used his K-pitches less in order to work on his third and fourth offerings. Coming into the 2013 draft, there were concerns about how his slider and curveball would play in professional baseball. Apparently they play well enough for outs, but not for strikeouts.
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Don’t be worried about his ability to pitch though, this type of thing happens all the time at the AA level. When Baltimore Orioles’ prospect Dylan Bundy was below AA he annihilated hitters with his cutter. People were worried about his changeup, so he moved to AA and began work on it. Results were poor at first, but not so bad that anyone questioned his potential as one of the top prospects in baseball.
The question on most minds this season has been “who can the Diamondbacks bring up to help in the pitching staff?” Well, to this point, they have used quite a few arms, as my colleague Guillermo Salcido pointed out. With this kind of turnover, how long will it be before Blair comes up to prove himself? Excitement is expected, but I have to temper the expectations a bit. Blair is going to need to put together a string of AAA starts that are of the quality and/or dominating variety. The Diamondbacks have rated Archie Bradley as more prepared since spring training and have continued to give him chances.
Where Bradley is playing upon return from his stint on the DL with shoulder tendonitis, Patrick Corbin’s rehab and status later in the season, Josh Collmenter’s work as a starter vs. a bullpen arm, the playoff run, and many other factors will determine when. My prediction is a limited call-up and minimal innings in September.
Aaron Blair is the top pitching prospect in the Diamondbacks minor leagues right now; but, there are too many variables to expect much more than slow and controlled movement of the top prospects. Maybe he blows up the world in AAA moving forward and the Diamondbacks are in the midst of a playoff berth after the trade deadline. If those were to occur, he would surely be up if a rotation spot could be improved.
Lastly, there is the Jeremy Hellickson factor. He has pitched so poorly in prolonged stints, that you have to wonder how much longer the Diamondbacks will turn to him. Is the future coming sooner because of ineptitude at the major league level, or will it be because of competitiveness? Only time will tell; but, for today, Aaron Blair gets to enjoy Reno and AAA ball. Hopefully with more victories in the future.