Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Arizona Diamondbacks.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Based on the offseason, it's easy to conclude the Arizona Diamondbacks are in "win now" mode. Senior vice president of baseball operations De Jon Watson would rather characterize it more as "raising expectations" mode, but it's clear that more emphasis was put on improving the big league roster at the expense of some high-level prospect talent.
Gone are top prospects Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair, sent to Atlanta for Shelby Miller. In came Jean Segura and prospect Tyler Wagner. Out went infield prospect Isan Diaz. But even with those hits, the cupboard isn't bare.
"I think we do have some depth in our Minor League system as far as position players and quality arms, whether it's starters or relievers," Watson said. "I do think we're in a good place."
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It's hard to teach velocity, and the D-backs do have a good amount of plus fastballs in the pipeline. There are six members from the team's Top 30 Prospects list in big league camp alone with fastballs that grade out as 60 or better on the 20-80 scouting scale. That doesn't count such non-Top 30 big arms as Enrique Burgos, Jimmy Sherfy or Will Locante, nor does it tally the premium fastballs of guys on the Major League side.
"It's never bad," Watson said of having guys who can throw hard. "Even at this past year's Draft, we got Ryan Burr, and he's up to 99 [mph]. He came out, went to Class A Short-Season, finished up in Kane County. He's another guy who should move relatively quickly, get to Double-A by the break, if not sooner."
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Slightly "smaller" arms such as Zack Godley and Silvino Bracho (more on him later) could contribute at the big league level in 2016. But the most intriguing one competing in big league camp might be Archie Bradley, who for some has been a prospect forever. It's easy to forget the right-hander won't turn 24 until August, given how long he's been on radar screens.
"You have to look at where the organization was, I guess it was three Spring Trainings ago, they were talking about him making the club out of camp," Watson said. "Now there's some competition, there's volume here, there's depth here, and you're not forcing these young prospects to the big leagues. I think that's one of the most important factors Dave Stewart and I and Tony La Russa have talked about: These guys have to earn this opportunity to play at the Major League level.
"We're getting to the point where we're adding depth, we're creating quality depth behind our big league club, so it'll be the next hand that's hot that will get the opportunity to compete at the next level."
Early games against college teams certainly won't make or break a prospect's chances of earning a spot on a big league roster. But for a young player just trying to make an impression, particularly in his first Spring Training with a club, every bit helps.
Gabby Guerrero, Vladimir's nephew, who came to the D-backs in the Mark Trumbo deal last summer, struggled with the move to Double-A, both before and after the trade. A solid Arizona Fall League may have helped him get his feet under him, and in his first action this spring, against the University of Arizona on Tuesday, he showed glimpses of the tools that have intrigued scouts for a while.
"He probably showed about a 75 arm on a throw from right field, and he banged a baseball to the right-center-field gap, a pure laser," Watson said. "He comes up the next time and has another sharp-hit ball to right field. He has been really exciting for these guys."
Watson also thinks Bracho will turn some heads. He was a surprising callup last year and impressed during his big league debut. Not a high-profile prospect -- he comes in at No. 30 -- all he's done is get guys out.
"No one talked about this guy," Watson said. "He's not one of those overly sexy hyped guys, but you look at his numbers, he's been putting guys to sleep for a while in the Minor Leagues. He's been 90-94 mph with a plus slider, so I think there's some upside there that he can come in and surprise some people and compete for a spot in our bullpen. It'll be fun to watch what he does here."
Offensive ability, combined with competing in the hitting-friendly California League, can certainly lead to breakout performances. Keeping an eye on Victor Reyes and Colin Bray might not be a bad idea.
It's not like they didn't hit in 2015, as the outfield duo finished third and fourth in the Midwest League in batting average. There could be more to come from both on both sides of the ball.
"They both had over 130 hits in the Midwest League last year," Watson said. "I think both have tremendous upside. They're both switch-hitters, both above-average runners and both solid-average defenders now. I think Bray is actually an above-average defender right now."
One other young outfielder with upside Watson likes is Marcus Wilson. The No. 23 prospect is tremendously athletic and toolsy, but the bat hasn't really come around yet.
"He made some tremendous adjustments for us last year in the Pioneer League," Watson said. "The strength factor is going to be a big part for him. As he matures, I think you're going to see his bat come to life."