More young talent on the way for D-backs after NL title

March 21st, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The D-backs made it to the World Series in 2023 with one of the younger rosters in Major League Baseball, so there’s optimism in Arizona that the good times can keep on rolling.

Having a well-stocked farm system doesn’t hurt, either. The D-backs cupboard got emptied a bit last year, with the graduation of National League Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll and right-hander Brandon Pfaadt, the main reason the system ranked No. 16 in MLB Pipeline’s 2024 preseason farm system rankings, a drop from No. 3 a year ago at this time. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t players who could be ready to make an impact in back of Carroll and Pfaadt in 2024, and beyond, something the organization will need to keep up with the uber-competitive National League West.

“It’s a tough division year in and year out,” new D-backs farm director Shaun Larkin said. “I think the key to sustainable success is having a young core up in the big leagues and then you supplement over the years with the player development system. Then you go out and get the players you need to surround it. I think the core that we have in the big leagues, watching them through last year and knowing what was going into this year, with what we have coming up behind it, there’s no reason why we can’t sustain this for a long amount of time.”

Top prospect Jordan Lawlar is the first name that obviously comes to mind, given that he made his big league debut last year and landed on the postseason roster in a bench role, but he’s not the only one knocking on the door. Larkin, who was hired last November to replace Josh Barfield, rattled off hitters like Jorge Barrosa and Blaze Alexander and a pitcher like Cristian Mena, as leaders of the next wave. Larkin is wrapping his arms around this new system after spending years in player development with the Dodgers and Cleveland before that (developing a relationship both with GM Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo during his time as a player, scout and player development staffer with the organization) and can’t help but like what he sees.

“Not only are we deep, but we are especially deep in the middle-lower Minor Leagues, which opens up the window even longer,” Larkin said. “At the upper levels, we have some guys who will contribute really soon and for a long time, hopefully. Young Major League team, opportunities don’t come as frequently, but when they do, we have some guys who are ready. As we look down, not only for this year, but the years down the road, there’s a lot to be encouraged with.”

Camp standout: Tommy Troy

In his junior year at Stanford, Troy put up huge numbers, finishing with a .394/.478/.699 line en route to becoming the No. 12 overall pick in the 2023 Draft. He followed that up by reaching High-A ball during his pro debut, posting an OPS of .843 over 27 total games and enhancing the expectation that he’d move quickly through the system. He evidently is eager to live up to that, showing up at Salt River Fields as early as he possibly could to prepare himself for his first full season.

“He’s been here a long time; he’s gotten after it,” Larkin said. “He’s been here since January on his own accord, rocking and rolling. He looks really, really good, fit, strong, ready to go.”

Where he’ll eventually go, at least defensively remains a bit of a question. At Stanford, he mostly played third and second with some outfield mixed in, though he played more shortstop in the Cape Cod League in 2022. The D-backs sent him out as a shortstop, though, and there are no plans to move him any time soon. He’s looked good there this spring, too, though Lawlar’s presence ahead of him in the system makes it easy to wonder how that will shake out.

“He’ll play short as long as he possibly can,” Larkin said. “I think it’s a good place for young infielders when the at-bats are there. It’s only going to help them in other spots, should that come up. He’ll play short out of the gate and hit in the middle of the lineup. No one is going to stop his progression.

“Now, we’re going to be mindful and smart, we’re not going to move guys in a rush and just do it for the sake of moving players, but we’re not going to hold anybody back.”

Breakout candidate: Yilber Diaz

Diaz isn’t a complete unknown as the D-backs No. 15 prospect, but he’s largely flown under the radar. He signed for just $10,000 in February of 2021. He was already 20, comparatively ancient when put up against the 16- and 17-year olds who sign during most international signing periods. He’s moved up the ladder, touching Double-A at the end of last year. He misses bats with a plus fastball and curve, and he’s added a slider to give hitters a different look. His command (5.0 BB/9 in his career) and lack of a changeup might point to a future in the bullpen, but he’s struck out 11.1 per nine and maintains his stuff deep into starts and throughout a season.

“He’s pumping mid to upper 90s with the breaking ball to go with it,” Larkin said. “No one really knows him, but we do and we’re really excited about him. We’re expecting big things from him. He’s humble and an incredibly hard worker and is someone I think we could all circle.”

Diaz might have started coming out of the shadows a little bit during his Spring Breakout outing. He did give up a run on two hits over his 1 2/3 innings of work, but he didn’t walk anyone and didn’t throw a fastball under 96 mph while spinning the ball in the 2800-2900 rpm range with his breaking stuff.

Something to prove: Druw Jones

Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan for Jones since he was drafted. Injuries – his left shoulder right after he signed and quad and hamstring issues during his first full year – have allowed him to play just 41 games heading into the 2024 season. There is grace given when health is the reason holding someone back, especially early on, but the expectations of being the No. 2 overall pick in the Draft, not to mention the son of a former All-Star, set the bar perhaps unfairly high.

The fact of the matter is Jones is just 20 for all of the 2024 season and the D-backs are still extremely high on the center fielder. There’s no doubt about the tools, and he showed off one of them with a 94-mph throw to home plate in the D-backs’ Spring Breakout game.

“How can you not be excited?” Larkin asked. “A 20-year-old kid who has electricity in his veins. We watch him run the bases, play center field, it’s unbelievable. And the ball jumps off the bat.

“He’s had a tough go to start his career, everyone knows that. But he’s healthy. He’s getting after it and working hard. He has the skill set. There’s a reason why he was picked so high. I think he’s really excited to play a full season healthy, just go out and play. And we’ll see where we’re at at the end of the year.”