D-backs camp filled with high-end talent

April 2nd, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Alek Thomas, Corbin Carroll and Jordan Lawlar. They’re the No. 18, 19, and 23 prospects in MLB’s Top 100 ranking heading into the 2022 season. They’re all Arizona Diamondbacks.

The D-backs claim the only farm system with three Top 25 overall prospects, and they’re all position players to boot. Among the D-backs’ trio is an interesting mix of nearly ready (Thomas), the in-progress (Carroll) and the just starting (Lawlar).

“I wish I could say we had the blueprint that we use with every guy, but it's all kind of individualized,” said director of player development Josh Barfield. “Over the last few years, we've been fortunate enough to get some premium position players, and they're all a little different. We try and put them in a position where they're challenged, but not overly challenged. Then once it seems like they're good there, we try and move to the next level.”

That conveyor belt is moving early in 2022.

The D-backs handed out level assignments to their Minor Leaguers earlier this week, and one of the most aggressive was to Carroll, who jumps to Double-A Amarillo.

The 21-year-old outfielder went off at High-A Hillsboro in 2021, going 10-for-23 (.435) with five extra-base hits in seven games, before he suffered a right shoulder injury on a swing. The issue required season-ending surgery, meaning Carroll last played in the Minors on May 10. Even with that time off and his months-long rehab, the D-backs felt comfortable pushing him to the Minors’ second-highest level, given how advanced he looked both before and after the injury.

“I think he's going to be so focused on [his process] that, even if he does get off to a slower start, he will find a way to pull himself out of it,” Barfield said. “He's going to be worried about the things that he can control -- going up there, making good swing decisions, keeping his swing in a repeatably good spot.

“That’s what good hitters do to be really, really successful, and he has those attributes.”

Lawlar’s move to Low-A Visalia is much more traditional by comparison, but that doesn’t make it any less noteworthy. The 2021 sixth overall pick exhibits an interesting blend of all five tools, earning 55s and 60s across the board on the 20-80 scouting scale, but was slowed down by his own shoulder injury during his first taste of the Minors last summer that lasted all of two games.

Like Carroll, he has been healthy in camp and has used both his offensive and defensive skills to prove to the D-backs that he’s ready to move off the complex.

“We talk a lot about baseball IQ, and we always say that's not something that you innately have,” Barfield said. “It's something that's learned, and it comes from aptitude and a desire to learn and grow. Those guys [Carroll and Lawlar] have that in spades. I feel like yes, this is going to be his first real experience in professional baseball, but in a lot of ways, he's better prepared than a lot of kids that he plays against.”

Thomas almost didn’t open in the Minors at all.

The club’s top prospect is coming off a monster year, in which he hit .313/.394/.559 with 18 homers and 13 steals in 106 games at Double-A and Triple-A. The 21-year-old outfielder exhibited a plus hit tool and above-average power to go with his good speed and glove from the grass to climb the prospect rankings and put himself in a position to compete for a Major League outfield spot.

A small downturn in Thomas’ results over a small sample this spring (.222/.276/.296 in 29 plate appearances) may have kept him from breaking past Daulton Varsho, Jake McCarthy and Pavin Smith in the Arizona outfield mix, but with his budding power, the left-handed slugger might not be at Triple-A Reno much longer following his return.

“I think he continues to get stronger,” Barfield said. “I think his approach is going to continue to be more refined. You look at his swing, and it's kind of unique. You don't see a ton of guys that hit the way he hits, but it works for him. He's a really good athlete who controls his body, and he's a guy that, when you throw him a challenge, he tends to rise to the occasion.”

Notably, Thomas (2018), Carroll (2019) and Lawlar (2021) were all high-schoolers when they entered the D-backs system through their respective Drafts. Arizona is set to make the No. 2 overall pick come July, and the top three 2022 Draft prospects are, you guessed it, high-school bats.

Something to prove: Geraldo Perdomo
You could say Perdomo already proved himself in a way. Arizona’s No. 8 prospect debuted in the Majors early in 2021 when the big club needed an infielder before returning to Double-A, where he hit just .151 with 47 strikeouts in his first 47 games with Amarillo. Sensing how far south his bat was headed, the D-backs asked the switch-hitter to press pause in early July and head back to the complex in Scottsdale to iron out issues with his swing. He returned a month later and hit .327/.407/.530 over 35 games the rest of the way, prompting late promotions to Triple-A and even the Majors.

He could continue to get MLB looks at shortstop with Nick Ahmed expected to miss Opening Day, but one thing’s clear, wherever Perdomo plays, he’ll have to prove he can put together a much more consistent offensive season in 2022.

“I think he was trying to hit the ball hard, but not doing it in the right way, not doing it an efficient, repeatable way,” Barfield said. “We cleaned up some of those inefficiencies, and his swing became a lot more repeatable. The impact was significant. He went from one of our bottom guys in the whole organization, as far as exit velocity, and really jumped up. It was really cool to watch.”

Prospect we’ll be talking about in 2023: Deyvison De Los Santos
Speaking of exit velocity, Barfield’s praise of his club’s No. 14 prospect pop is clear and decisive.

“He is an 80 raw power right now,” he said.

De Los Santos, who signed for only $200,000 as part of the July 2019 international class, finally got to see the Minors last season and responded by hitting .329/.421/.610 with five homers in 25 games in the Arizona Complex League. He moved up to Low-A Visalia late in his age-18 season, and it’s there he’ll return to begin 2022.

The right-handed-hitting third baseman relies on using a strong lower half to launch balls over the fence, as he’s continued to do this spring, and he may be prepared to tap even more into that pop as he rounds out his offensive game in his second taste of the California League.

“I've seen a lot of guys that have huge raw power, and they hit their home runs,” Barfield said. “But they end up being up-and-down guys because they get to the big leagues and there are a lot of holes there. I think his ability to recognize and to manipulate the barrel, along with the power, that's what makes him really impressive to me.”

Camp standout: Jacob Steinmetz
As impressive as the Arizona hitting group is in the Minor Leaguers, their pitching group might be just as deep with Blake Walston, Ryne Nelson, Drey Jameson, Bryce Jarvis and Brandon Pfaadt earning strong praise from evaluators, among others.

Perhaps about to join that group is the club’s third-round pick from a year ago, Jacob Steinmetz. Currently ranked as Arizona’s No. 25 prospect, the right-hander, who drew headlines for being the first Orthodox Jewish player ever drafted, was a projectable selection as a 6-foot-5 right-hander whose stuff could come along eventually. That may have already happened.

“He’s a tall athletic kid, and he could spin a curveball,” Barfield said of his first impressions from 2021. “But since he’s come back, he’s up to 97. When he left us last year, it was 90-91.”

Spring Training velo bumps aren’t all uncommon, and it’ll be on Steinmetz to hold this velocity throughout the summer, no easy task this early for a pitcher from the northeast. But even this early of a jump seems to have surprised the D-backs and could give them yet another big arm in their rebuild.