Welcome to the first article of my new series Diamonds in the Rough. This time we cover the 2021 Arizona Diamondbacks.
In deep dynasty leagues, the ability to spot high-upside lower-ranked prospects before they become household names in the fantasy baseball community can make a big difference to the long-term success of your team.
In this series, I will break down two hitting prospects and two pitching prospects from each team (in alphabetical order), which are currently ranked lower than No. 15 on their team's latest MLB.com Prospect Rankings but have the tools and talent to rocket up prospect rankings in the near future. These are my diamonds in the rough.
Uncovering these diamonds in the rough will give you an edge in your drafts and on the waiver wire.
2021 Arizona Diamondbacks Diamonds in the Rough
The first article in this series will discuss diamonds in the rough from the Arizona Diamondbacks system.
Jeferson Espinal, CF (#26)
Bats: L | Throws: L
Tools: 50 Hit | 45 Power | 60 Run | 60 Field | 45 Arm
Highest Level: Rookie
13.208 OF Jeferson Espinal
Espinal has premium tools and should continue to shoot up rankings this year 📈 Hit .347/.413/.437 with 26 SB in 56 games in 2019 and could be a Top 100 prospect this time next season pic.twitter.com/TnSmuGNOjH
— Jake (@GatorSosa) April 20, 2020
The Diamondbacks signed Jeferson Espinal for $200,000 at the end of the 2018-2019 international signing period.
Espinal is a toolsy CF with above-average contact and plus or better speed. Further, his run tool has garnered grades of 70 from some evaluators. Espinal's premier speed and athleticism also translate to a plus defender with range in CF and the ability to competently man all three OF spots.
In 56 games between the Dominican Summer League and the Arizona Fall League in his pro debut in 2019, Espinal raked to the tune of .347/.413/.437, with 2 home runs and an impressive 26 steals (in 36 attempts). Espinal is an aggressive baserunner and with his patient approach and propensity for getting on base, he should have no problem continuing to rack up steals as he ascends through the Diamondbacks system.
Though Espinal only hit 2 home runs (in 56 games) in his professional debut, many evaluators feel that Espinal can tap into some power through his above-average hit tool, plus bat speed and filling out his projectable 6'0 180lbs frame. Diamondbacks farm director Josh Barfield has referred to Espinal as a "man-child" who is "physically imposing" with "that kind of discipline you don't see often from a young kid."
Espinal has the tools to rise through prospect rankings and be a top 75 prospect by the end of the season. Though we may have to wait until 2024 or even 2025 to see Espinal in a major league lineup, he may very well be a top 10 prospect by the time he debuts.
AJ Vukovich, 3B (#29)
Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 40 Hit | 55 Power | 45 Run | 45 Field | 45 Arm
Highest Level: High School
The Diamondbacks drafted AJ Vukovich, a Louisville commit, in the 4th round (119 overall) of the 2020 MLB draft and signed Vukovich well above slot for $1.25 million.
Standing at 6'5 210lbs, Vukovich has a strong frame and has good athleticism for his size. Prior to being drafted, Vukovich was a standout high school basketball player at East Troy High in Wisconsin and averaged 27.8 points and 13.1 rebounds per game in his Senior season, when he was a finalist for Wisconsin's Mr. Basketball Award, the award given to the best high school basketball player in the state of Wisconsin.
In 2019, Vukovich displayed his mammoth power by finishing second in the High School Home Run Derby (behind Blaze Jordan). Vukovich is a powerhouse with good bat speed and natural loft in his swing, which helps generate well above-average power.
Vukovich frequently draws comparisons to Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo due to his frame, monster power and potential swing-and-miss issues. However, according to Barfield during 2020 instructs, Vukovich "absolutely rakes...[h]e has as much, if not more pop than any guy here. It’s not just swing-and-miss pop; he barrels up two or three balls every game -- missiles, home runs. He’s been incredibly impressive...[h]e’s also a better athlete than I think we all realized."
It appears that the Diamondbacks intend to play Vukovich at 3B, where he has strength and a solid arm. However, some evaluators project Vukovich as more of a 1B or corner OF and coming into the draft, Vukovich himself expressed that he saw himself as a power-hitting corner OF.
Regardless, it is going to be Vukovich's plus raw power that will be his ticket to the show. If Vukovich can improve his hit tool and cut down on strikeouts, while continuing to progress at 3B and foster his defensive versatility, Vukovich could develop into an everyday player for the Diamondbacks with easy 30+ HR upside and the potential for more.
Matt Tabor, RHP (#21)
Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 55 FB | 50 CH | 55 SL | 60 CNTRL
Highest Level: A
The Diamondbacks drafted Matt Tabor in the 3rd round (82 overall) of the 2017 MLB Draft.
In 95 IP during his age 20 season at Class A in 2019, Tabor posted a stellar 2.93 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 101/16 (22.5%) K/BB. In addition, Tabor posted an impressive 26.8% strikeout rate and 15% whiff rate in 2019 and has only averaged 1.66 walks per 9 IP through his first three professional seasons.
Tabor is athletic and has a clean, repeatable delivery with good balance and extension. In 2019, Tabor's fastball averaged 92.7 MPH (max 96 MPH) and could gain a few ticks as Tabor adds strength to his projectable 6'2 180lbs frame. Tabor also sports an above-average spin rate on his fastball of 2,450RPM (according to Fangraphs), compared to the MLB average of 2,309 RPM, and has demonstrated an understanding of analytics and data in refining his approach.
Another interesting aspect of Tabor's pitchability is the bullet slider that he developed in 2019. Tabor's bullet slider tunnels effectively with his high spin fastball and plus changeup. After incorporating the slider into his repertoire, Tabor increased his strikeout rate by more than 8% from 2018 to 2019.
Tabor has three above-average or better pitches with high spin rates, elite control and solid strikeout upside.
Though still being overlooked by many in the fantasy baseball community, Tabor has mid-rotation upside. Tabor has the potential to invade top 100 lists by the end of the season if he continues to dominate the strike zone.
Liam Norris, LHP (#20)
Bats: L | Throws: L
Tools: 60 FB | 45 CH | 55 SL | 55 CB | 40 CNTRL
Highest Level: High School
Per @jimcallisMLB, the #Dbacks have agreed to a deal with third-round #MLBDraft pick Liam Norris for $800,000 (slot value = $657,600).
Here's a look at the @Dbacks' 2020 @MLBDraft picks, slot values and signing bonuses: https://t.co/2vyeu0k1DO pic.twitter.com/QHZQjBJTaM
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) July 1, 2020
The Diamondbacks drafted Liam Norris, a UNC recruit, out of High School in the 3rd round (90 overall) of the 2020 MLB draft.
Once viewed as a potential first-rounder, Norris saw his draft stock fall due to control issues and wavering velocity in his Sophomore season (2017-2018). However, he has since been able to regain some of that velocity in his Junior season (2018-2019) and 2020 instructs.
In his Junior year in 2019, Norris posted a pristine 5-1 record, with a 1.35 ERA and 77 Ks. Over 141 IP in high school, Norris compiled a whopping 237 Ks. However, Norris also struggled mightily with command during his high school tenure, with 107 BB over those 141 IP.
Norris is a powerful specimen on the mound. Standing at 6'4 215lbs, Norris sports a fastball with late-life which sits in the low 90s (max 96 MPH). Further, his slider and curveball have both shown potential to be plus pitches and play well off his lively fastball.
According to Barfield at 2020 instructs, "[u]sually, when you think of high school guys, you think of them as being more projection than stuff … but [Norris'] stuff has been really, really impressive...[h]e’s touched 94 mph regularly and is commanding the ball well. He’s been one of the bright spots.”
Norris has an advanced three-pitch mix with a developing power fastball with late life. There is no question that Norris has nasty stuff that could play in a major league rotation. Norris has big strikeout upside, but his future role may depend on his ability to improve his command and control.
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