These D-backs prospects have started 2024 strong

April 17th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Steve Gilbert’s D-backs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

PHOENIX -- With the Minor League season in full swing, we checked in with D-backs farm director Shaun Larkin to see who is off to a good start at each of the full-season affiliates in Arizona's system.

Triple-A Reno: RHP Justin Martinez (No. 27 prospect)
D-backs fans got a little bit of a look at Martinez when he made his Major League debut last summer and again this spring when he was in big league camp. Martinez has always had nasty stuff, including a triple-digit fastball. Command is the key for him to stick in the big leagues after he was recalled from the Minors on Wednesday.

He has a 2.70 ERA, 14 strikeouts and three walks across 6 2/3 innings in six appearances with Reno this season.

“He’s throwing strikes, throwing 100 mph, getting his split over for a strike consistently as well,” Larkin said. “That’s really encouraging for him. When he can get his split and slider over for strikes, his fastball plays even better. He throws 100, but if you can’t throw your offspeed stuff in the zone, guys will hit the fastball. Right now he’s mixing his pitches really well, throwing his split for a strike any time he wants to ahead and behind the count. He’s dominant to this point, and he’s in a really good place.”

Triple-A Reno: C Adrian Del Castillo
Castillo was selected with the 67th overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft out of the University of Miami. He’s another guy who saw some action this spring, and he has hit .368/.415/.816 (14-for-38) with four homers and 10 RBIs in 11 games with Reno this season.

“He’s been swinging a really hot bat at the start of the year,” Larkin said. “He can really hit. He’s putting the ball in play and doing a really good job there, but more importantly is his work behind the plate. He's done a lot better, his receiving scores have been really great early on to start the year and he's gravitated to some new concepts we’ve introduced to him. That’s going really well and he’s progressing forward. It’s a really encouraging sign for him.”

Double-A Amarillo: RHP Christian Montes De Oca
The 24-year-old has allowed one unearned run over 4 1/3 innings in three games this year, while striking out six and not walking a batter.

“Montes De Oca has been really good,” Larkin said. “Again another guy, I think he’s struck out over 50 percent of the hitters he’s faced and hasn’t walked anybody. He's done a really great job. A younger player just getting some more seasoning at that level, but I think his time is coming to get him moving [up]. There are some things he needs to tighten up, but he’s been really good early on.”

High-A Hillsboro: C Christian Cerda (No. 25 prospect)
It’s been a rough go of it for Hillsboro early on as the Hops have been hit hard by injuries, including losing first baseman Gino Groover, who suffered a broken left wrist. Shortstop Tommy Troy, the team’s first-round Draft pick last year, has been “banged up” a bit, Larkin said. Outfielder Jack Hurley, who has been out with an injury, is expected back in the next week.

Cerda, though, has been a bright spot for them behind the plate.

“When you watch him catch a game, it’s really fun to watch,” Larkin said. “He's engaged with the pitchers, the energy is fantastic, he cares, he’s passionate, so we're excited about that.”

Single-A Visalia: LHP Caden Grice (No. 19 prospect)
Grice was a Competitive Balance Round B pick in last year’s MLB Draft, selected 64th overall as a pitcher/outfielder out of Clemson University. The D-backs have shifted him to pitching full time, and while he’s got a ways to go, the results early on have been positive.

Grice hasn't allowed a run in two games (one start) with Visalia, striking out 12 with no walks in 6 1/3 innings.

“His first couple outings, he’s literally dominated the teams he’s faced,” Larkin said. “He’s still learning. He’s new to pitching in terms of years, so we’re going to continue to let him do his thing, but he’s been really encouraging to watch.”

The toughest part on Grice has been giving up the offensive side of things.

“Everyone wants to hit,” Larkin said. “If you watch him take BP, he’s going to launch balls. Our job is to lay out for a player like that what the best pathway to the big leagues is for them. And if you’re left-handed and can throw low-to-mid 90s, your progression is going to be pretty quick. He’s just learning who he is and adjusting to not swinging the bat anymore.”