D-backs focus on pitching, athleticism in Draft
College hurlers Shipley, Blair taken with club's top two picks of 2013
PHOENIX -- With young starting pitchers like Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs already making an impact at the Major League level and top prospects like right-hander Archie Bradley tearing up the Minors, the D-backs certainly boast plenty of talent in their pipeline on the mound.
But as Arizona has seen firsthand this season with injuries to veterans Brandon McCarthy, Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy, teams can never have enough starting pitching.
With that in mind, the D-backs selected two advanced college arms with their first two picks in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft on their way to taking 16 pitchers and 25 position players overall throughout the three-day process.
"You think about how it breaks down from rotation projections in Spring Training to how it is now, I think that makes it clear," D-backs scouting director Ray Montgomery said. "It really is dangerous to think that you're set at any position, because in the blink of an eye, things change so rapidly and before you know it, you're searching for it."
The D-backs began their 41-man haul by grabbing Nevada right-hander Braden Shipley with the 15th pick overall. The club wasn't sure the 21-year-old would fall all the way to their slot, so when his name was still on the board when Arizona went on the clock, it was an easy decision.
"We were pleasantly surprised he was still available at our pick," Montgomery said. "If you would have asked me in February or March if I thought he would be there at 15, I probably would have told you no. In that regard, I'm happy that we had the opportunity to select him."
Shipley was actually a shortstop for the most part his freshman season at Nevada but transitioned to the mound the following year. With a fastball that touches 98 mph but generally sits about 92-94, Shipley could have the pure stuff of a No. 1 starter, and because he's only been pitching full time for a couple of seasons, the D-backs think Shipley has more room for growth than most college pitchers.
Arizona next selected Aaron Blair out of Marshall University with their Competitive Balance pick (36th overall). Blair, who is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, has a three-pitch mix, including a fastball that can touch 94 mph and a curveball and changeup. He finished his season this year 5-5 with a 2.85 ERA.
"I've seen him 93-96 and he's got a plus changeup, as does Shipley," Montgomery said. "They go about it differently though. Blair is a little more physical. But both are strike-throwers and eat innings, but big physical guys on the mound. That's what we're looking for."
After the D-backs got their two standout pitchers, their next five picks all went to position players. The ability the club prized most in its draftees was their athleticism.
"Athletes can make their bodies do things that other people can't," Montgomery said. "So when you combine athleticism with tools in whatever position you're at, it makes for a better overall package."
Arizona's third-round pick, Daniel Palka, certainly fits the mold of a player with natural ability and athleticism. A first baseman out of Georgia Tech, Palka has about as much raw power as anyone in the class, launching 17 home runs and driving in 66 runs this season for the Yellow Jackets.
He also displayed gap power, tallying 13 doubles and three triples in 2013 while playing both first base and the outfield.
"He's a big physical kid with big left-handed power," Montgomery said. "He's produced at Tech and in the summers. It was an appealing pick for us and we're happy to have him."
Within their Draft class, the D-backs nabbed two local products, taking Basha High School shortstop Jamie Westbrook in the fifth round and Arizona State outfielder Cory Hahn in the 34th round.
Hahn, a former Mr. Baseball in California as a prep player, was paralyzed from the chest down in 2011 while sliding head-first into second base in just his third collegiate game. The D-backs hope to hire him for a position in the organization sometime in the future.
"It was a very emotional selection for us to make," D-backs President and CEO Derrick Hall said. "When Ray Montgomery and his staff had come up with the idea and presented it to me, it was a no-brainer. And it's not about us. It's really about Cory and his family."