There's no getting around the fact that the D-backs were a disappointment on the field in 2020, finishing in last place in the National League West.
But that doesn't mean the organization didn't take some significant steps forward as it continued to build one of the top farm systems in the game, ranking No. 9 this year according to MLB Pipeline.
Four of Arizona's five picks from last year's MLB Draft found their way into the Top 30 with right-handers Slade Cecconi (No. 6) and Bryce Jarvis (No. 8) ranking in the Top 10.
With his team out of the postseason hunt at last year's Trade Deadline, GM Mike Hazen managed to add another Top 30 prospect in outfielder Stuart Fairchild (No. 14) and right-hander Humberto Mejia, who just missed the cut.
"I would caution on the [negative] outlook for 2021," Hazen said at that time. "I think we’re situated in a fairly strong position. We’re going to have one of the better farm systems in the entirety of the league. I don’t say that, that’s not a trophy for me, that is so that we can bring up players that are going to be guys who can help us win a World Series."
Among that group is an immensely talented collection of players like outfielders Corbin Carroll (No. 1), Kristian Robinson (No. 2) and Alek Thomas (No. 4) along with shortstop Geraldo Perdomo (No. 3).
They reflect a strategy the D-backs have used since Hazen took over prior to the 2017 season -- select as many middle-of-the-diamond players as possible, because if they can play center field then they can easily play a corner if needed, and if they can play shortstop, they can play other places in the infield.
On the pitching side, the team has built up a collection of hard throwers that have a good feel for pitching like left-hander Blake Walston (No. 5), Cecconi, Jarvis and right-handers Luis Frias (No. 9) and Levi Kelly (No. 10).
Catcher Daulton Varsho, who graduated from the Top 30 list last year, showed his versatility at the big league level last year by also playing center field. Meanwhile first baseman Pavin Smith (No. 15) also had some impressive moments when he was called up last year and displayed the ability to play the corner outfield positions.
Both players could contribute again in 2021 and the D-backs are hopeful that they will be just the beginning of a wave.
"I think we’re going to get within a fairly tight window of having a decent size group of our farm system making an impact at the Major League level," Hazen said. "I would say I’m hopeful that within the next year we see significant progress towards that."
Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the 2020 preseason list to the 2021 preseason list:
Jump: Pavin Smith, 1B/OF (2020: 24 | 2021: 15) -- After scuffling initially out of the gate after being the D-backs’ first-round pick in 2017, Smith broke out in the second half of 2019, and played well enough at the club’s alternate site in 2020 to earn his first call to the big leagues.
Fall: Andy Young, INF (2020: 15 | 2021: 30) -- He did have a power breakout in 2019 (thanks, Reno!) and made his big league debut in 2020, but he’s a utility guy who is turning 27 this season.
Players are graded on a 20-80 scouting scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average. Players in parentheses have the same grade.
Hit: 60 -- Corbin Carroll (Alek Thomas, Pavin Smith)
Power: 60 -- Kristian Robinson
Run: 70 -- Corbin Carroll
Arm: 70 -- Blaze Alexander
Defense: 60 -- Geraldo Perdomo (Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas, Jeferson Espinal)
Fastball: 70 -- Ryne Nelson
Curveball: 60 -- Blake Walston (Levi Kelly)
Slider: 60 -- Levi Kelly (J.B. Bukauskas)
Changeup: 60 -- Bryce Jarvis
Control: 60 -- Matt Tabor
How they were built
Draft: 20 | International: 5 | Trade: 5
Breakdown by ETA
2021: 9 | 2022: 10 | 2023: 8 | 2024: 3
Breakdown by position
C: 0 | 1B: 2 | 2B: 0 | 3B: 2 | SS: 2 | INF: 1 | OF: 7 | RHP: 13 | LHP: 3