Baseball has arrived. Pitchers and catchers for the Arizona Diamondbacks reported to Spring Training on Wednesday, Feb. 12, as the 2020 regular season approaches.
Several new faces from Arizona’s young and talented farm system will make appearances throughout Spring Training. Led by 19-year-old outfielders Alek Thomas and Kristian Robinson, the Dbacks have built a blossoming prospect pipeline through trades, scouting and draft picks.
Arizona Diamondbacks farm director Josh Barfield, who was in Reno on Monday for an Aces Hot Stove Luncheon, is impressed by the system’s depth at each level.
“I think the biggest thing that jumps out is the number of guys that have such a diverse skill set,” he said. “You look at the system a couple of years ago and there’s only a handful of them. Now, we have so many that it gives you promise for what the Diamondbacks have in store.”
Daulton Varsho received a non-roster invitation to Spring Training. The 23-year-old backstop hit .301 with 18 home runs and a .899 OPS in 108 games with Double-A Jackson last year.
The left handed-hitting Varsho is the son of former big-league outfielder Gary Varsho, who played for the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies over an eight-year career.
Daulton shares his dad’s unique blend of athleticism and power. He was the only catcher in Double-A or Triple-A to steal 20 bases in a season since 2006. Varsho’s speed wasn’t limited behind the dish defensively, he had four starts in center field with the Generals.
“He has a chance to be an impact player on both sides of the ball,” Barfield said. “Guys like Varsho are pretty special. The bat is going to play. He has defensive versatility, and he’s a great athlete. The ceiling for what he can accomplish at the Major League level is incredible.”
First baseman/outfielder Seth Beer joins Varsho as another left-handed offensive force to receive a non-roster invitation to Spring Training. He was one of four prospects involved in the Dbacks’ trade of pitcher Zack Greinke to the Houston Astros last season.
Beer, 23, slugged his way to Houston’s Double-A Corpus Christi level last season, hitting .299 with 16 home runs and a .950 OPS. He added one homer and 17 RBIs in 24 games with Double-A Jackson.
The 28th overall selection in the 2018 MLB Draft, Beer has been touted for his power since his college career at Clemson. But his defensive fit at first base or left field was put to the test last season.
Beer had 74 starts at first base and 33 starts in left field over the two Double-A levels. His prowess at the plate can fit nicely with the Dbacks.
“It shows just how special his bat is. You want to find ways to get him in the lineup,” Barfield said. “He’s put up monster numbers since he’s been in pro ball. He played some outfield in college and he’s really worked on it with us. He’s another guy that’s potentially knocking on the door, so getting him on the field is crucial.”
Along with Varsho and Beer, more prospects from the Dbacks’ deep farm system also received non-roster invitations to Spring Training.
Geraldo Perdomo — a 20-year-old shortstop from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic — batted .275 with three triples and 26 stolen bases with Single-A Kane County and High-A Visalia.
First baseman Pavin Smith hit .291 with 12 home runs and 67 RBIs with Double-A Jackson last season. Smith, 24, was the seventh overall selection by Arizona in the 2017 MLB Draft out of the University of Virginia.
Third baseman Drew Ellis hit .235 with 14 homers and 63 RBIs in 118 games with Double-A Jackson. Ellis, 24, was a second round pick by the Dbacks in the 2017 MLB Draft.
Spring Training is more than an exhibition to get back into the swing of things. For Barfield, it’s a chance for Arizona’s highly touted prospects to prove their worth.
“There’s a lot more to come for what these players have in store,” Barfield said. “You have a bunch of names from Double-A and some other levels putting what they have to the test. We have so many guys that can produce on the offensive side and it’s their time to show it.”
A pair of right-handed Dbacks pitching prospects will toe the rubber as non-roster invitations to Spring Training.
J.B. Bukauskas joined Beer as one of the four prospects involved in the Grienke deal. The 23-year-old ended 2019 with a 5.44 ERA and 109 strikeouts over 92.2 innings with Double-A Corpus Christi and Double-A Jackson.
Houston selected Bukauskas with the 15th overall selection in the 2017 MLB Draft out of the University of North Carolina. He comes equipped with a four-pitch mix, which includes a mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider that breaks on both sides of the plate.
Questions surround Bukauskas if he’s better suited as a starter or coming out of the bullpen. He had 16 starts and six bullpen appearances with the two Double-A clubs last year.
Josh Green is another intriguing right-hander in Arizona’s system. He sported an 11-5 record and 2.71 ERA over 126.1 innings and 22 starts with High-A Visalia and Double-A Jackson last season.
Green, 24, was a 14th round selection by Arizona in the 2018 MLB Draft. He has a standard four-pitch mix of fastball, slider, curveball and changeup.
The Baton Rouge, La. native may spend a decent portion of the 2020 campaign getting his cleats settled with Double-A Jackson. But he’s brought an impactful presence to the mound thus far.
“The pitching has really shown up throughout the system,” Barfield said. “They’ve collected a mix of prep arms and prized college prospects. It’s good to have. When you have so many guys that compete and push each other, it only brings the best out of them.”
Arizona added four Triple-A Reno Aces to its 40-man roster earlier this offseason. Infielders Andy Young and Wyatt Mathisen joined right-handed pitchers Taylor Widener and Riley Smith as the newest Aces to sport Sedona Red in Spring Training.
“It’s well deserved for them to be added to the roster,” Barfield said. “They’ve put up numbers throughout the organization and have a chance to really be glue guys for the organization.”
Several new players have been assigned to Triple-A Reno in the process. Outfielder Trayce Thompson signed a minor league deal with the Dbacks on Feb. 2 and received an invitation to Spring Training.
Thompson, 28, totaled 24 homers, 10 doubles, three triples and 56 RBIs for the Columbus Clippers, Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. He was released by the Indians in August.
He is also the brother of Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson and the son of former Los Angeles Laker Mychal Thompson.
Outfielder Jon Jay and pitcher Edwin Jackson signed minor-league deals with the Dbacks and were assigned to Triple-A Reno on Feb. 4. Both players are entering their second tenure in Arizona and received invitations to Spring Training.
Jay, 34, has played 10 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox in his big-league career. He won the 2011 World Series with the Cardinals.
Jackson, 36, has played 17 years in the Major Leagues with 14 different teams. He was a 2009 All-Star selection and won a World Series championship with Jay and the Cardinals in 2011.
Reno’s Triple-A team is molding into shape with depth in the outfield and on the mound. Barfield expects the Aces’ system to produce in the big leagues throughout the year.
“A lot of them have that Major League experience,” he said. “They have a chance to make the team out of spring training. If not, they bring depth to the Triple-A level and share that leadership to some of the younger guys. … It’s nice to have that safety blanket.”
Arizona’s promising farm system will take the field in the coming weeks. The Diamondbacks kick-off Spring Training against the Colorado Rockies on Feb. 22 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz.
— Isaiah Burrows