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After an altercation with a police officer in April of 2020, Kristian Robinson’s minor league career come to a screeching halt. It took more than three years for a legal resolution to come and the former Diamondbacks top prospect to return to the sport he loved.
On May 30, 2023, he suited up for the Visalia Rawhide, the Diamondbacks’ Low-A affiliate. It was his first minor league game since September of 2019.
“Nothing beats playing at 6 p.m., 7 p.m. every night,” Robinson said. “I’ve been reminded of that and am just grateful for it.”
On Saturday, Robinson’s minor league career took a somewhat surprising turn, as the Diamondbacks designated their former top prospect for assignment.
The move opened space on the 40-man roster for infielder Buddy Kennedy, whom the team promoted from Triple-A Reno.
“A lot of it was just necessitated by the [fact that] we needed the roster spot,” Diamondbacks farm director Josh Barfield said. “[Robinson] was … far away from the big leagues.”
Robinson faced significant mental health challenges during his time away from the game, and Barfield added that Robinson has been dealing with “some personal things.”
While it seems likely that another team will claim Robinson off waivers given his prospect pedigree, the Diamondbacks would like to retain him if they can.
In 32 games with the Rawhide, Robinson slashed .274/.394/.436 with four homers, 17 RBI and 16 stolen bases. That was good enough to earn him a promotion to High-A Hillsboro on July 13, where he hit .265/.359/.441 in 10 games.
Robinson tweaked his knee when hit by a pitch on July 27, and has more recently been playing in games in the Arizona Complex League after being cleared by team doctors.
Once deemed the organization’s No. 1 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline, swing-and-miss has continued to be a concern for the now 22-year-old. This year, Robinson has run strikeout rates in excess of 30 percent this year at every minor league stop.
Public prospect rankings are split on Robinson’s outlook. He is ranked as high as the No. 11 prospect in the Diamondbacks system by MLB Pipeline. FanGraphs, meanwhile, does not include Robinson in its top 44 Diamondbacks prospects.
How Deyvison De Los Santos turned his season around
After seeing Deyvison De Los Santos progress from Low-A to Double-A in his age-19 season, the Diamondbacks continued to be aggressive with their power-hitting, corner-infield prospect by sending him to the Arizona Fall League at the end of 2022.
De Los Santos, who had struggled in his brief taste of Double-A, did not fare well, slashing just .219/.286/.328 with no homers and 22 strikeouts in 70 plate appearances.
To start 2023, the Diamondbacks sent De Los Santos back to Double-A, hoping that he would adjust with time. From the start of the year through July 1, that did not happen. De Los Santos hit just .206/.269/.308.
At that point, the Diamondbacks placed the 20-year-old on the development list, allowing him to travel to Arizona to work with hitting coaches Nick Evans and Drew Hedman. The primary goal was to simplify his swing and make it more repeatable.
“We gave it time out at the affiliate, wanted to see if it was gonna get better, and it wasn’t really getting better,” Barfield said. “Being so young and being so competitive, he was trying to get three hits every at bat. He was trying to do too much.”
After 13 days on the development list, the Diamondbacks sent De Los Santos back to Double-A Amarillo on July 14. The early returns have been promising.
In 103 plate appearances, he is slashing .309/.340/.515 with four homers, 15 RBI and six doubles.
“You always hope that it plays out that way,” Barfield said. “You pull them out of game action to make some changes, and, when they come back, they’re better. And fortunately, in this case, it has so far.”
De Los Santos’ production has dipped slightly in August, which is something to monitor moving forward. Nonetheless, the organization deemed his performance throughout July — both his hard work while on the development list as well as his play after returning to Amarillo — as worthy of the Minor League Player of the Month award.
“You always want to reward guys in this game,” Barfield said, “especially after guys have struggled and they make an adjustment, and they go out there, and they perform the way they’re capable of.”
De Los Santos may never be known for his approach. His walk rate since returning from the development list is still just 3.9 percent, but he has monstrous raw power for a 20-year-old.
Moving forward, the primary question facing De Los Santos is whether he will hit enough to be able to put his power on display. He does not project to provide much defensive value; a move to first base seems likely down the road.
For now, he is a 20-year-old holding his own in Double-A. That is not a bad place to be.
What to expect from newly promoted Diamondbacks pitcher Bryce Jarvis
As part of the roster moves over the weekend, the Diamondbacks promoted pitching prospect Bryce Jarvis to the majors.
Jarvis is the third Diamondbacks pitching prospect to debut this season, joining Brandon Pfaadt and Slade Cecconi. All three were selected in the shortened 2020 draft, with Jarvis being taken higher than the others at No. 18 overall.
Despite his status as a first-round pick, Jarvis has struggled to live up to the hype. In 2022, he made 25 starts in Amarillo, posting an unsightly 8.27 ERA, 1.88 WHIP and .322 batting average against.
Entering this season, Jarvis altered his delivery with a particular emphasis on increasing extension and deception on his four-seam fastball.
Those changes seem to have paid dividends, as Jarvis posted a 3.86 ERA in three starts for Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A Reno, where he has spent the majority of his season. In 22 appearances (16 starts) with Reno, Jarvis had a 5.48 ERA, 1.53 WHIP and .258 batting average against.
Those numbers are not fantastic by any means, but they are much better than they look, given the extreme hitter-friendly environment in the Pacific Coast League.
“It’s been a really positive year for him,” Barfield said. “He went through his ups and downs and a lot of struggles last year in Double-A, and he did a really good job and the staff did a really good job with him this offseason and into the start of the year, making some adjustments. Some mechanical, some were just usage. He really bought in, and I thought we saw a lot of positive dividends from that.”
At this point, Jarvis does not have the prospect status of Pfaadt or Cecconi, but there are reasons to believe he could be successful in the majors. Both his slider and changeup are promising, swing-and-miss secondary pitches in the mid-80s. Jarvis also throws a curveball in the low 80s. It’s a solid four-pitch mix.
Despite his improvements on his heater, the pitch still seems to play well below its mid-90s velocity would suggest. Opponents have hit .347 against it this season in Triple-A.
Jarvis could lean on his secondary pitches in the majors even more than he has in the past. It is also possible that the uptick in fastball velocity that comes with pitching out of the bullpen could improve the quality of the pitch.
Either way, the Diamondbacks are not ready to move on from Jarvis as a starter in the long-term.
“The move to the bullpen was more necessitated [by our] big-league need than his performance in the starting role,” Barfield said. “We still see him as somebody that has the potential to start down the road. But for this year, for these last few months and trying to win baseball games, we thought that he could help us out of the bullpen.”
Jarvis made his first bullpen appearance in Reno on July 28 in preparation for taking on a relief role in the majors. In 8 2/3 innings in that role in Reno, Jarvis had a 6.23 ERA but allowed only five hits. Opposing hitters slashed .172/.342/.345 against him.
Diamondbacks 2022 draft class roundup: Latest on Druw Jones, Landon Sims and Ivan Melendez
Suffice it to say that Druw Jones’ first full season as a professional has not gone as planned. After suffering a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery almost immediately upon being drafted, the D-backs’ No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 draft has been sidelined for most of the 2023 season with quad and hamstring injuries.
So far this season, he has managed to play in just 22 games. He has not fared well at the plate, slashing .184/.296/.224 in 88 plate appearances split between Low-A Visalia and the Arizona Complex League.
“It’s been a tough year for him,” Barfield said. “Little injuries here and there have cost him a lot of time.”
Despite Jones’ poor results offensively, his defense has been excellent and the Diamondbacks are not overly concerned about his bat.
“We’ve seen that he’s incredibly talented,” Barfield said. “Whether it’s offensively, defensively, you can see the talent and the reason why he was in contention to go No. 1 in the draft last year. We’re really excited about seeing him settle back in.”
Jones had been rehabbing in the complex league from his hamstring injury, but he was activated by the Visalia Rawhide on Tuesday afternoon and figures to spend the rest of the season there.
For now, the Diamondbacks are not planning to have him make any significant mechanical adjustments. They just want to see him healthy again.
“Before we make any big changes with anybody,” Barfield said, “we like to see him play first. And we haven’t really got a chance to see him play. We’ll watch how the rest of the year goes and then kind of adjust from there.”
After Jones, the Diamondbacks’ next selection in the 2022 draft was right-handed pitcher Landon Sims. Now 22 years old, Sims had an impressive career at Mississippi State, giving every indication of being an elite backend bullpen arm with the potential to transition his skills to a starting role.
Unfortunately, Sims suffered an elbow injury in his third start of his final year at Mississippi State, and he wound up needing Tommy John surgery.
Sims has spent the 2023 season rehabbing and, more recently, pitching in the minor leagues. After spending some time in the Arizona Complex League, Sims reached Low-A Visalia on July 24.
His four-seamer is still sitting in the 90-93 range, several ticks below the 94-96 mph velocity he showcased in college.
“It’s fluctuating,” Barfield said when asked about Sims’ fastball velocity. “We’ve seen him get up to 94, and I even think a 95 in an outing, but it hasn’t been consistently there yet. But again, coming back from Tommy John and missing so much time, he’s still in his buildup phase. So, for most guys, this is where they would be in the beginning of April. He’s going to take a little time.”
Sims had the surgery in March of 2022, so it has been roughly 17 months since the procedure. Generally, pitchers that far removed would have recovered their velocity at this point. It is reasonable to wonder if Sims’ velocity from years past will ever return.
To be fair, Sims has only thrown 15 innings in the minors so far this year, so the sample size is small. In 11 games split between Low-A Visalia and the Arizona Complex League, Sims has a 5.40 ERA and 1.40 WHIP with 16 strikeouts and seven walks.
He is currently working as a starter in Low-A Visalia, and he figures to get seven or eight more outings before the end of the year. Next season, the D-backs plan to continue developing him as a starter.
If you are a Diamondbacks fan, you have probably heard about what Ivan Melendez has done this year in High-A Hillsboro and Double-A Amarillo. After a fairly unexciting start in pro ball last year, Melendez’s monstrous power has begun to pay dividends.
In 359 total plate appearances in Hillsboro and Amarillo, Melendez is slashing .273/.345/.611 with 28 homers and 20 doubles in 81 games — the equivalent of half a major league season.
“He’s mashing,” Barfield said, “and I don’t think it’s because he’s in elevation. If you look at his expected numbers, they’re just as impressive. I want to say he’s got like a 1.200 expected OPS against left-handed pitching this year. That’s ridiculous.”
While Melendez’s overall results have been fantastic, some prospect evaluators have raised concerns about the prevalence of swing-and-miss in his game. In Hillsboro, Melendez’s strikeout rate was 33.6 percent. Since being promoted to Amarillo, it has crept even higher to 35 percent.
As Melendez continues to move up the latter, he will need to cut those numbers significantly to be considered a top-tier prospect.
“We’ll definitely look to cut down on some of those strikeouts,” Barfield said. “I think part of that is just approach and facing better pitching than he’s ever faced in his life.
“We always want to make sure guys are ready to have success in the big leagues, not just in the minor leagues. So, things like the strikeouts and your approach we’ll continue to work on and attack. But, for being in his first year, he’s well ahead of the curve.”
Top photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic