Talking about top prospects is always a polarizing subject. Every scout has their own opinion on how much of a contribution a player will make at the big league level. Major League Baseball released their annual top 100 prospects list last week and I had to scroll all the way to 73 before I found RHP Jon Duplantier, the first Arizona Diamondbacks prospect, in this year’s rankings. The only other D-Backs prospect on the list is 1B Pavin Smith. While the Diamondbacks don’t have an overly deep farm system, they do have a handful of players who appear to be on track to make significant contributions as early as the 2019 season. Here are my top three.
John Duplantier, RHP 23 year old Jon Duplantier threw one inning in his 2016 pro debut before leaving due to elbow soreness. There were concerns that the highly touted pitcher would fizzle out in the minor leagues. A 1.39 ERA in 2017 between Low and High A put many of the concerns to rest. Duplantier made 24 starts, won 12 games, held opponents to a .192 batting average, only gave up 6 home runs, and got 1.52 groundouts per flyout. His numbers earned him MLB Pipeline’s Pitcher of the Year award as baseball’s top pitching prospect. Looking deeper into his stats shows that his BB/9 doubled from low A to high A, his BABIP allowed jumped from .240 to .321, and his K/9 increased by almost 3. I believe that Duplantier can finish the 2018 season in AAA, but he will need to lower the amount of free passes he gives up. As long as he continues to use his fastball to get ground balls, he can work in his curve and changeup to become a solid option for the Diamondbacks to consider as a rotation piece in 2019.
Prediction: Outside finishing in AAA, I believe Duplantier can lower his walks to below 3 per 9 innings and give up less than 10 home runs total.
Pavin Smith, 1B Pavin Smith disappointed me in 2017. You don’t often hear that about a guy who hit .318, had a .816 OPS, and hit almost as many balls the other way as he pulled, but I am still disappointed. The left handed first baseman was supposed to hit for power, but he didn’t hit a single home run until late in the playoffs during his time in low A. 223 plate appearances and no home runs. Scouts believe Smith will be a 20+ home run hitter in the big leagues, so he has a long way to go. Power doesn’t always show itself right away, and the rest of his numbers are very encouraging, so there is definitely a great deal of upside to the 21 year old. MLB.com ranked him 91st on there top 100 prospects list and has him landing with the Diamondbacks in 2020, potentially to replace Paul Goldschmidt, who will no longer be under contract. He walked three more times than he struck out, and did have 17 extra base hits, but the lack of over-the-fence power really jumps out. At 6’ 2” and 210 pounds, he’s already filled out his frame pretty well, so we can bet on the power stroke showing up very soon. Being such a selective hitter will see him advance through the minor leagues rather quickly, and the 2020 ETA doesn’t seem unrealistic.
Prediction: Smith will finish the year in AA and will have 15 home runs.
Daulton Varsho, C Another 21 year old teammate of Smith and Duplantier in low A who I really like is catcher Daulton Varsho. Varsho had an OPS of .902 over 212 plate appearances in 2017, adding 7 home runs and a respectable 30:17 strikeout to walk ratio. The thing I like most about Varsho is his ISO of .223. Compared to Pavin Smith’s .097 ISO, Varsho’s puts him in the “great” valuation, according to FanGraphs. Varsho is ranked anywhere from 3rd to 6th among Diamondbacks prospects, but I’d argue that he should be ranked 2nd ahead of Smith based on what he has delivered so far. With the current weakness at catcher on the big league roster, the D-Backs do need to be careful with Varsho. The temptation to rush him through the minor league system may be great, but development has to remain the first priority. He will most likely begin the season in high A, but a promotion to AA at some point is almost inevitable if he can play remotely close to 2017 standards.
Prediction: Daulton Varsho is the Batter of the Year in the Midwest League.
These three guys will all see time in AA in 2018, with Duplantier the most likely to see any AAA action. Having a pitcher and a catcher around the same age and working together in AA will lead to nothing but positive outcomes as they build a relationship that will hopefully continue into a successful partnership in the future when both make the jump to the big league roster. Pavin Smith needs to show some power this year to convince me that he can be a replacement of some level if Paul Goldschmidt isn’t with the team in 2020. This year’s draft is highly important for Arizona, as it is for every team, as they build for the future. They need to hit and hit hard. Their prospect pool needs them to.
Statistics from FanGraphs.
Photo from 2080Baseball.