Jake Lamb, Aaron Blair Highlight Diamondbacks’ Future

It’s been a flurry of an offseason for the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Recently hired General Manager Dave Stewart made bold moves. The most notable have been  the trade of catcher Miguel Montero to the Chicago Cubs and the big signings of Cuban defectors Yasmany Tomas, a third baseman/outfielder, and pitcher Yoan Lopez.

As Grading On The Curve’s Wayne Cavadi points out, the leadership in the Diamondback organization must really like what they see in the 6’3’’ Lopez, so much so in fact that they were willing to hamstring their spending power next season in order to get him.  Lopez’s $8.25 million bonus put the D-Backs over their international spending allotment for the 2014 season.  The penalties for going over include steep taxes and limits on the amount of money they can spend on international players, so they won’t be winning any bidding wars in 2015.

A franchise like the D-Backs has to build from the farm system up, so handcuffing their ability to buy young talent isn’t a solid business practice.  Young, talented players are currency in baseball.  A team can never have enough of them.

It may appear that the D-Backs will suffer, but Stewart and Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa have set up the franchise to survive a lean 2015 international class.

The Now

One thing that makes the signing penalties more palatable is that the Diamondbacks have the number one in pick in the 2015 Draft and a competitive balance pick in the second round, so they can draft to their liking.  Additionally, the Diamondbacks farm system, which is top-heavy in pitching talent and deep in hitters, is starting to yield some healthy crops.

For the pitchers,  Aaron Blair and Braden Shipley, both taken in the 1st round of the 2013 Amateur Players Draft, are sprinting up the minors.  Blair is the more polished pitcher, going 9-5 with a 3.56 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 2014.  His WHIP (1.253 in 2013) and strikeouts per nine innings (7.6 to 10) improved dramatically from 2013 to 2014, so it shouldn’t be long before he’s getting major league hitters out.

A well-rounded athlete, Shipley has less experience as a pitcher than Blair but projects just as well.  He played shortstop as a freshman at Nevada, hitting .287 before his golden arm convinced him to get hitters out for a living.  Like Blair, he has a mid-90s fastball and solid off-speed pitches that allowed him to go 7-8 with a 3.86 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 2014.  His athleticism will go a long way to helping him join Blair in the majors.

Keep in mind that Arizona’s most highly regarded prospect, Archie Bradley, is also on the cusp of making the majors.  He took a step back in 2014 after a dominant 2013.  If Bradley regains his form, then Arizona will have three young starters to join Patrick Corbin in the major league rotation.

Third baseman Jake Lamb leads the way for Arizona’s hitters.  Lamb put together a stellar 2014 at Double-A before brief stints in Triple-A and the big leagues, hitting .318 with a .399 OBP and .551 SLG.  What the D-Backs have in Lamb is a Freddie Freeman/Alex Gordon type hitter.  Here are some stats that show the similarities between the three during the seasons before they made the majors:

  • Lamb-2014 Double-A: .318 AVG/.399 OBP/.551 SLG/.389 BABIP
  • Freeman-2010 Triple-A: .319 AVG/.378 OBP/.521 SLG/.351 BABIP
  • Gordon-2006 Double-A: .325 AVG/.427 OBP/.588 SLG/.373 BABIP

Lamb does strike out a bit more than the other two did (22.6 percent of plate appearances in 2014 to Freeman’s 16.2 in 2010 and Gordon’s 19.6 in 2006), but the Diamondbacks love his potential.

Throw in shortstop Nick Ahmed, who after a solid .312/.373/.425 slash line at Triple-A, is vying for playing time.  Ahmed is solid defensively, and his low strikeout rate (12.2 percent) means he could be a serviceable major leaguer, especially considering most major league shortstops are glove-first players: of the 30 shortstops with at least 300 at bats in 2014, only five had an OPS above .750.

All of these players will be contributing before too long, and Tomas will add pop to the D-Backs lineup in 2015.

The Future  

Another reason Arizona shouldn’t worry about a lean 2015 international class is the depth of their farm system.  Lopez is the new shiny star of the D-Backs’future, and the hope is that he will join the rest of the pitchers discussed above before too long.  There is more, however.

Rudy Flores joins his own team mate Peter O’Brien and the likes of Kris Bryant of the Cubs, Joey Gallo of the Rangers, Miguel Sano of the Twins and Joc Pederson of the Dodgers in the bountiful supply of home-run-launching, high strikeout phenoms.  He hit 28 home runs to lead the organization in 2014.  With Paul Goldschmidt becoming a free agent after the 2018 season, Flores could be the first-baseman-in-waiting if Goldschmidt can’t be resigned.

Brandon Drury is another third baseman who is putting together a solid case as a future D-Back.  In 2013, he went .302/.362/.500 and followed that up with a .299/.362/.510 2014 campaign.

Andrew Velazquez, another shortstop, struggles defensively—he made 35 errors in 129 games in 2014—but a record-setting 2014 campaign (.290/.367/.428/.369 BABIP and 15 triples) means he may be hitting his stride offensively.

There are others, such as second baseman Garrett Weber and outfielder Tom Belza, who could be contributors, if not every-day players, to some good teams in the desert.  These players that make up the future of the Diamondbacks farm system are still a ways off, but combined with the players who are about to make a splash, a lean 2015 international class may not be so bad after all.