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D-backs farm has buzz not felt since 2010

@JonathanMayo
March 11, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – There’s a different vibe in D-backs camp, prospect-wise, these days. It’s a sense that the farm system is on the rise, with more talent throughout the organization than has been seen in recent memory. “There is a little bit of a buzz, and a buzz I haven’t

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – There’s a different vibe in D-backs camp, prospect-wise, these days. It’s a sense that the farm system is on the rise, with more talent throughout the organization than has been seen in recent memory.

“There is a little bit of a buzz, and a buzz I haven’t felt since 2010, probably,” D-backs vice president of player development Mike Bell said. “It’s not because of the players we’ve had here. We’ve certainly had some very good players here and I think all the groups we had before, starting with Tom Allison on amateur to Ray Montgomery to Junior Noboa, they were bringing good players into the system and did a nice job internationally, through the Draft.

“I think Amiel Sawdaye and Deric Ladnier and Cesar Geronimo, they’ve taken us to a new level. And with the Draft picks that we’ve had and will have this coming year, I think there’s a lot of excitement.”

The D-backs will have seven picks before the third round of the 2019 Draft, meaning there’s much more talent to come in June. Even more exciting is that the system isn’t desperate for the infusion. Even after not signing 2018 first-rounder Matt McLain and 2017 top pick Pavin Smith not having the first full year some expected, there’s a lot of talent to be bullish on.

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It starts at the top, with exciting potentially elite-level players like Jazz Chisholm and Jon Duplantier, both of whom are in big league camp for the first time. No. 3 prospect Taylor Widener received his second big league camp invite, with this trio being in the Top 100, the first time the D-backs have had more than two representatives since 2015.

But it goes beyond that trio. Even in big league camp, there are examples of the depth building in this system. Bell points to No. 30 prospect Kevin Ginkel, a 22nd-round pick in 2016, as one who “really came out of nowhere to emerge.” Ginkel dominated across two levels in 2018 and then threw well in the Arizona Fall League to earn his invite. He tossed two scoreless innings in his first two Cactus League outings.

Bell and his staff don’t have to wait until Spring Training officially starts to get a sense of where things stack up for the upcoming season. Player development has evolved over time, and many of the prospects spend a lot more time in/around Salt River Field during the offseason, giving the D-backs a better sense of who is heading in the right direction and who might need some additional guidance.

“It’s changed a lot,” said Bell, who pointed out that they had more than 100 players in camp ahead of the mandatory report date. “And there are other teams doing it, changing their structure of their development calendar, going from the traditional instructional league in the fall and putting it in January; now you have training camps, leadership camps, strength and nutrition camps. Throughout the year, you’re touching the players once a month, once every six weeks, where you’re setting your eyes on them, you’re talking to them in person, gauging their needs and adjusting from there. “

Bahamian pipeline

It’ll be a tough job, but it looks like the D-backs’ international scouting staff will have to spend some more time in the Bahamas. Two of the team’s top five prospects come from the island which is becoming a much bigger baseball hotbed. Chisholm, who signed for $200,000 in July 2015, is the best Bahamian prospect in baseball currently, coming in at No. 60 overall. Not lacking in confidence, the 21-year-old has impressed with how he’s carried himself in his first big league camp.

“He is a big personality, he’s one of the most fun young people you can be around, and then to go into a big league clubhouse with that type of personality?” Bell asked. “It probably would have happened more 20 years ago when you might have some veterans push that down in a way. I think we have some really good people, Nick Ahmed has really embraced him, taken him under his wing. I think Jazz has a tremendous respect for the game and the players who have come before him, so he’s navigated those waters really well.”

Outfielder Kristian Robinson, No. 5 on the D-backs Top 30, may not be too far behind. Signed for more than $2.5 million in July 2017, the teenager is already ahead of the curve after surpassing expectations in 2018 by playing across two levels of rookie ball in the United States.

“He’s a few steps behind, but he’s coming on strong,” Bell said. “We thought he might be in the Dominican Summer League last year, that’s where we had him going. To do what he did in the Arizona League, to go to Missoula, to have the types of mature at-bats he had… just the way he processes the game is well beyond his years. I still think we have a responsibility to him to continue to put him at the right place for him and not get caught up with pushing him. But he is an exciting player.”

Camp standout

The D-backs are feeling good about the college bats they acquired in the 2017 Draft, and that’s even with their first-round pick not performing up to expectations, according to many. Second-round pick Daulton Varsho, despite missing time in his first full season with a broken hamate, has led the way, and the catcher looked like he belonged in big-league camp. And they’re excited to see what third baseman Drew Ellis does in year two.

But they’ve far from forgotten about that first-rounder, Pavin Smith. The No. 7 overall pick dropped to No. 17 on the Top 30 after a somewhat lackluster first full season in the California League, finishing with a .255/.343/.392 line. There are two things that make the player development staff feel like the 2019 season could be a strong bounce-back campaign. The first is that he performed much better in the second half of 2018. The second is how he’s looked in camp so far, as he’s incorporated some tweaks to his setup and swing at the plate.

“You put April and a part of May behind him and it was really good productive year,” Bell said. “To see him come in now, see the kind of shape he’s in, the changes he’s made with his swing, there’s reason to be excited there.

“Visually, I think his direction to the baseball is a lot better. There’s more impact to the middle of the field. And I think his presence and confidence to know he can go through the struggles he went through early and come out the other side, I think he’s walking around a little differently, with some more confidence in that regard. You put all those things together when he’s standing in the box and he’s looking like a different hitter.”

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.