Four Reno Aces: Diamondbacks hold onto top farmhands

Wyatt Mathisen is safe from the Rule 5 Major League Draft.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage photos

The Arizona Diamondbacks added four Triple-A Reno Aces prospects to its 40-man roster on Wednesday. 

Third basemen Wyatt Mathisen and Andy Young joined right-handed pitchers Taylor Widener and Riley Smith to bring the Dbacks’ roster to 39 players. 

Arizona’s roster additions protect the four players from the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 12.

The Rule 5 Draft is a non-amateur draft that allows big-league teams to select players in both Double-A and Triple-A farm systems who haven’t been added to a team’s 40-man roster. To receive eligibility, a player must have signed at the age of 18 or 19 and spent five years with the organization.

It discourages MLB teams from hoarding prospects within its minor league farm systems. If the big-league club cannot find a spot for the player on its 40-man roster, he enters the draft where another team can add him to its 40-man roster. 

The Rule 5 Draft is significant for future prospects. First baseman Kevin Cron and starting pitcher Taylor Clarke were two of four players protected and added to Dbacks’ 40-man roster last season. Both players made their MLB debut that same year and made an impact on the team. Cron had six home runs in 39 games with Arizona. Clarke sported a 5.31 ERA in 23 games and 15 starts. 

Boosted by the July 31 Zack Greinke trade that landed four prospects from the Houston Astros, the Diamondbacks are building a talented farm system.

Four more Aces from last year’s squad can be donning Sedona Red by next season. 

Mathisen, 25, hit .283 with 23 homers and a 1.004 OPS (on-base plus slugging) in 87 games with Reno. The Corpus Christi, Texas native was battling a .183 slump to start the year. His left foot landed opened and exposed in the batter’s box on his follow through. The minor difference in placement didn’t let him get the ball up in the air as much, often ending in hard-hit ground balls that couldn’t get past the infield.

But Mathisen fixed his compact right-handed stance in the box and batted .324 with 17 homers over May and June. 

“I wasn’t hitting anywhere close to as well as I am now,” Mathisen said last season. “I just made that small mechanical change in my swing and ever since then I’ve gotten my timing back and I’m seeing the ball much better.” 

Mathisen’s versatility bounced around Greater Nevada Field. He had 49 starts at third base, 17 starts at second base and eight starts at first base. His quick-handed glove nets line drives down the first and third base lines. 

Before his prominence at the hot corner, Mathisen was drafted in the second round of the 2012 MLB Draft as a catcher out of Calallen High School. 

Andy Young’s big-league future could be more than a cup of coffee.

Young, 24, has continued his accession through the minor leagues. He was one of the players in the Dec. 6 trade that sent Arizona’s six-time National League All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals last offseason.

Young split the 2019 campaign with Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Reno. He batted .280 with 21 home runs and 53 RBIS with the Aces. His powerful right-handed bat to all parts of the field helped Reno rally from a slow start to  finish third in the Pacific Coast League with 242 homers on the year. 

“It’s good to be wanted and I was happy with that,” Young said last season. “It’s good to be traded for someone so well known and respected for a guy like Goldschmidt. In that regard, I was really happy. I knew coming in here was going to be different, but I just take it as it’s no different than the year before. I’m just working on the things I can control.”

Taylor Widener in action for the Aces last season in a game with Las Vegas.

Widener, 25, was a 12th round selection by the New York Yankees in 2016. He was dealt to Arizona in 2018 and has risen in the minors ever since. 

In his first season at Triple-A Reno, Widener had an 8.10 ERA in 100 innings pitched. He led the Aces with six wins and 109 strikeouts. 

The right-hander is equipped with a 94 mph fastball to complement a hard-breaking slider and deceptive changeup. On occasion, Widener will showcase a mid-80s cutter to force ground balls. 

Widener is the 13th ranked Dbacks’ prospect according to MLB Pipeline. 

Riley Smith had 12 starts for the Aces in 2019.

Smith, 24, had impressive stints in Double-A and Triple-A last season. He sported a 2.27 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 13 starts with the Jackson Generals. Smith earned the promotion to Reno by mid-season. He pitched his way to a 6.89 ERA in 12 starts with the Aces. 

Mathisen, Young, Widener and Smith will join Arizona’s 40-man roster for the upcoming year. Pitchers and catchers report between Feb. 11 and Feb. 14.

— Isaiah Burrows

Andy Young homers against the Iowa Cubs last season.
Young is congratulated by Abraham Almonte after circling the bases.
Versatile Mathisen stays on his toes, playing several positions.

About Isaiah Burrows

Tahoe Onstage sportswriter Isaiah Burrows also is a general assignment reporter for CarsonNow.org, an online news source in Carson City. He is a journalism major at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he writes sports for the Sagebrush student newspaper. He is the Reno Aces beat writer for Tahoe Onstage.

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