Top LineupC – Daulton Varsho – Although some within baseball say he may eventually move away from the position, this year’s Diamondback UTR OAS catcher Daulton Varsho stood far above the rest of his organizational catching competition in 2018. Even with the recent acquisition of Carson Kelly from the Cardinals in the Paul Goldschmidt deal, the 5’10”- 190 lb. lefty keeps his standing as the potential heir to the major league job. After all, when you add in the rare ability of Varsho’s bat (.294 in 2018; .301 career) with plus speed (19 stolen bases last year) to the fact that he’ll most likely spend all 2019 with Double-A Jackson, and that the major league squad houses a trio of catchers (Carson Kelly, John Ryan Murphy and Alex Avila) who sported a combined .179 batting average in 2018, Varsho couldn’t arrive to Chase Field soon enough. With a healthy, solid performance this coming season, Varsho very well could see time in the majors as soon as late 2019, even if it’s in a utility role, as some say he could see time at second base or even the outfield, so to utilize his 55 grade speed. 1B – Zack Shannon – Despite his prospect stock falling a bit, I firmly believe 2017 – 1st round draft choice Pavin Smith will eventually wind up as the Diamondbacks first baseman of the future. He has too much power not to find a way to tap into it. However, when you look at the Diamondbacks 2018 season in a statistical microcosm, first-year Diamondback Zack Shannon did a pretty good job despite being old for the level he played. And speaking of power, the 6’3”- 230 lb. righty, drafted in the 15th round out of Delta State University, has it in surplus. Not only did Shannon lead Division II Gulf South Conference in home runs in 2018, but the nation with 31 and in runs-batted in with 93. Arizona assigned Shannon to Rookie Missoula to start his pro career and did exactly what you would have expected; led the Pioneer League with 14 home runs, ranked second in OPS (1.116), third in slugging percentage (.677) and fifth in with 55 runs batted in. At this point, what Shannon did was great, however he has mountains to climb in order find himself in serious prospect discussions moving forward. We here will absolutely be rooting for him as he takes a step up the organizational ladder to either SS Hillsboro or LoA Kane County. 2B – Jose Caballero – When scanning the middle infield landscape organizationally, you immediately see a plentitude of second basemen at the high levels includingIldemaro Vargas, Domingo Leyba, free agent signee Kelby Tomlinson and Andy Young, whom I’m not a bit surprised St. Louis added him in the Paul Goldschmidt deal. Young is a real good prospect who has the overall goods to become a major league regular, But with the sea of talented middle infielders the Cardinals boast in their system, it’s a huge gain for Arizona and gives this year’s UTR OAS Jose Caballero another hurdle to clear in his ascent up the organizational ranks. Make no mistake though, the 5’10” – 185 lb. Panama native is no slouch. The 2017 – 7th rounder out of Chipola College (FL) started his career with Rookie Missoula in 2017. He batted .319, logged a .377 on-base percentage, .844 OPS and talled 63 total bases in 36 games. The organization gave Caballero a well-earned promotion to SS Hillsboro and he responded with a .290/.367/.464/.831 slash line along with five home runs, 12 steals, and 14 walks to 20 strikeouts in 37 games, which earned another jump, this time to LoA Kane County, where he saw practically zero slowdown. He bumped up his overall slashline, and although his stolen base total dipped slightly, (12 to 5), he registered a perfect 1:1 BB:K ratio (16:16). I love this kid and with a possible promotion to HiA Visalia in 2019, it will be very intriguing to see if Caballero’s skills, his baseball acumen and instincts can take another step offensively. If so, he could rocket up prospect boards. 3B – Buddy Kennedy – The trade of Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis left a gaping hole at first base for the Diamondbacks. You just can’t replace what “Goldy” contributed to the organization, not only on the field, but as a community ambassador. However, on the field, the immediate solution was to shift 28-year-old slugger Jake Lamb across the diamond from third base, opening up the hot corner for 2018 trade acquisition Eduardo Escobar, who the Diamondbacks received from Minnesota for three Class-A players last July. This now slows things down a bit behind both players prospect-wise as Lamb isn’t eligible for free agency until 2021, while Escobar isn’t up until the year 2022. But in a way, it actually ramps up prospect excitement a little more at both positions. At third base this season, 2017 – 5th rounder Buddy Kennedy laid his claim as this year’s OAS and a definite one to watch at the hot corner. The Diamondbacks lured the 6’1”- 190 lb. righty from a commitment to the University of North Carolina, signing him for $550K, then assigning him to the Arizona League. He came with a good hit tool, plus-speed, a solid glove and good arm. He finished his debut season as the AZL squad leader in hits (48), runs scored (29), triples (8) and total bases. This more than garnered him a promotion for 2018, finding himself with Rookie Missoula for the 2018 season where he improved drastically. Kennedy played in only seven more games (57) than in 2017 (50), but scored 17 more runs, collected 26 more hits, clubbed 8 more doubles, and saw his strikeout rate decrease over 10 percent. How can you not be excited when talking about Buddy Kennedy? At 19 years old, much like Caballero above, Kennedy has the potential to skyrocket up prospect boards with another season of improvement like he had in 2018. SS – Blaze Alexander – I’m as big a Jazz Chisholm fan as anyone. So much so, in fact, that I drafted the 5’11”- 165 lb. Nassau, Bahamas native in the much-talked-about Pennsylvania Furnace League Jim and I share after his debut season in 2016. But this is UTR and although I firmly recognize that Chisholm is the Diamondbacks #1 prospect heading into 2019, I’ll also identify that Blaze Alexander is right on his heels. Coming in at #10 on the 2019 Baseball America Diamondbacks Top 10, what sticks out mostly about Alexander is his 80 grade arm. In the summer of 2017 during a Perfect Game National Showcase, Alexander made history throwing a ball from shortstop to first base clocked at 99 mph, breaking the PG National Showcase record. This if course prompts some to consider the idea of converting the 19-year-old to the pitcher’s mound. But for now, Arizona plans to move forward with the 6’0”- 160 lb. righty at shortstop, and he made a good step in that direction after dismissing a South Carolina University commitment, and signing with the organization after being taken in the 11th round in 2018. Alexander went straight to AZL where his bat took center stage, batting a team-leading .362 with 25 runs scored, 10 doubles and a near perfect BB:K ratio (19:21). After 28 games, the organization saw enough and promoted the Cape Coral, FL native to Rookie Missoula where he continued to hold his own with a .302/.364/.509/.873 slash line with nine more doubles and another 27 runs score. Obviously Alexander is a great athlete with a plus arm and growing bat. I just hope he can iron out the errors at short (16 in 33 games started). Call me selfish, but one of my favorite ball players growing up was Shawon Dunston. Watching him rocket throw after throw from short day after day still amazes me, and to think we have the chance to see another should get anyone excited. Just keep in hitting kid. Keep on hitting. LF – Ryan Grotjohn – I’m going on record to say that Diamondbacks left fielder David Peralta is one of the most grossly underrated outfielders in the National League. He played 146 games last year, batted .293 with 30 home runs and drove in 87 and is under contract in 2019 with arbitration 3 in 2020 and full free agency in 2021. But aside from contract status, when healthy, it’s guys like him that are the reason you win fantasy championships. So, I believe it’s safe to say that Peralta’s job is safe for the next few years. Therefore, in pure UTR mode, we’ll look at 2018 in a nutshell and we determined that 2017 – 10th rounder Ryan Grotjohn is a more than choice. However, he’s no pushover. In fact when the Diamondbacks drafted the 6’2”- 175 lb. lefty, they were getting an absolute professional hitter. In his senior season with Cal-State Bakersfield, Grotjohn led the nation in hitting for a good portion of the 2017 season, finishing with a .390 average along with 15 doubles, 51 runs scored and 23 walks to 20 strikeouts. Despite spending all his time at shortstop defensively, evaluators projected that Grotjohn would be better suited in a utility role due to his athleticism on both sides of the ball. Well, they were right as, he may have found a home in the outfield, committing zero errors in 60 games playing left field in two levels last season, all while batting .287 with eight homers, 22 doubles, stealing six bases and scoring 58 runs over three levels last season. It’s difficult not to root for guys like this. Honestly, as long as the Ryan Grotjohn’s of the world keep on hitting, they are just as important to both professional baseball organizations as they are fantasy rosters. CF – Jorge Barrosa – This is almost the perfect UTR set up. Fellow Bahama native (re: Chisholm) and first-year outfielder Kristian Robinson ranks within several Diamondbacks top prospect lists. And rightfully so. When your overall bat and glove skills draw comparisons to the likes of Andruw Jones, recent free-agent acquisition Adam Jones, Jermaine Dye or Jorge Soler, umm, you take direct notice. However, as I said, it’s almost the perfect UTR setup because while all the attention is aimed toward Robinson, it places fellow first year player and Venezuela native Jorge Barrosa in the perfect spot to be this year’s OAS choice in centerfield. Signed for $415K in July 2017, the 5’9”- 165 lb. switch-hitter headed directly to the Dominican Summer League, where he spent 52 games. Before his mid-August promotion stateside to the Arizona League, the 17-year-old led the Diamondbacks1 squad in runs scored (57) and stolen bases (37), ranked second in hits (61), total bases (84) and doubles (8). His 37 stolen bases not only led the Dbacks1 squad, but ranked fifth in the DSL; while his 39 combined stolen bases across three levels led the entire Diamondbacks organization. Barrosa is praised for his hand-eye coordination, good instincts on the base paths and his ability to roam center with ease. Barrosa is also lauded for his high baseball IQ. There’s a lot to like here. It’s not out of the question for Barrosa to spend all of 2019 in Rookie Missoula, and if he shows off all his skills, he could potentially reach the Midwest League as a 18-year-old. Place him on all prospect watch lists. RF – Mark Karaviotis – With a contract structure similar to fellow outfielder David Peralta, Steven Souza Jr. should man right field for at least the next two seasons. Couple that with an upper-minors that is loaded with UTR post-age criteria guys and journeymen, right field is probably the weakest position within the entire Diamondbacks system. So, until the organization sorts out the mess, we’ll toss two-time Diamondback draftee Mark Karaviotis onto this year’s OAS list. The recently turned 23-year-old righty is no stranger to the organization, as the Dbacks drafted the Hawaii native out of Maui HS in the 39th round back in 2013, but Karaviotis decided to attend the University of Oregon, where he primarily played shortstop. In three years with the Ducks, he batted .255 with a solitary home run, 43 RBi and 12 stolen bases. This was enough for the organization to revisit him, drafting him once again, this time in the 19th round in 2016 Upon selecting him, the organization pulled him off of the shortstop position after he logged 10 errors in 40 games during his rookie season, but he got it done with the bat, hitting a combined .347 with three home runs, 33 RBi, 34 runs scored and 81 total bases in 51 games. In 2017, he spent most of his time at first base and posted a respectable .988 fielding percentage all while continuing to wave a solid bat. (.289/.379/.419/.798). Last season Karaviotis acted as the super utility man for HiA Visalia with time at first, second base and the outfield. Karaviotis will most likely spend all of 2019 in Double-A, where we will no longer track him due to UTR-level criteria. At this point, we believe his ceiling may be solid organizational filler. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Emilio Vargas – (15.5) / Double-A Jackson
**Vargas has been languishing within my Diamondbacks spreadsheets since we began this endeavour in 2014. Unbelievably, the 2013 International free agent signee is only 21 years old and has finally cracked the Arizona season-end UTR OAS roster. Vargas had a breakout season in the hitter-friendly California League in earning the starter role during the mid-season All-Star game. He also was named as the Cal League’s Pitcher of the Year. He posted a an 8-5 record, 2.50 ERA, 140 strikeouts over 108 innings in 20 appearances (19 starts), and received a promotion to Jackson during the final month of the season. This success was bolstered from his improved slider and changeup, that accompanies a mid 90’s fastball. More seasoning should be in the cards for Vargas, as he returns to Double-A Jackson.
2. RHP Jeff Bain – (14.5) / HiA Visalia
** Bain was the D-Backs 16th round pick in 2017 and has easily reached Visalia in his second season. He posted very strong numbers during his time with LoA Kane County in 18 starts. He finished 7-4 with a 2.52 ERA , and a 3.36 K/BB ratio before getting his HiA promotion. Bain keeps the ball in the yard with a strong groundball rate and only allowed 5 home runs in two stints.
3. RHP Riley Smith – (11.5) / HiA Visalia
** The 24th round pick in 2016 posted respectable numbers in 26 HiA appearances (25 starts).
4. RHP Bo Takahashi – (11.5) / Double-A Jackson
** Like Vargas, Takahashi has been a journeyman in the Diamondback system. The 21 year-old has seen 5 seasons on the farm and spent the most of 2018 at Double-A Jackson. Signed as an International free agent in 2013, Takahashi was added to the 40-man roster back in November. The 6′ 0″ 197 lb rihgt-hander made huge strides this past season improving his K% and BB% rates.
5. RHP Connor Grey – (10) / HiA VisaliaTop 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Carlos Bustamante – (12) / HiA Visalia
2. RHP Matt Brill – (11) / HiA Visalia
T3. LHP Junior Garcia – (8) / HiA Visalia
T3. RHP Kevin Ginkel – (8) / Double-A Jackson