Diamondbacks fans have long anticipated the major league debut of top pitching prospect, Brandon Pfaadt, as well as legal clearance for the player formerly deemed the organization’s top overall prospect, Kristian Robinson. Both happened last week — and within 48 hours of each other.
We have only good news to report on Robinson — more on that later — but not so much for Pfaadt, who gave up four homers to the Texas Rangers in his major league debut. Despite a strong showing for the first four innings, Pfaadt unraveled in the fifth, allowing five runs in the frame for a total of seven in the game.
When reflecting on the game several days later, manager Torey Lovullo said that he should have removed Pfaadt sooner.
“[Pfaadt] made some mistakes in the fifth inning,” Lovullo said. “I take responsibility for that. I probably left him in there a batter or two too long. But up until that point, I felt like he had controlled the zone, made pitches. Given up two runs through four innings. The pitch count was still manageable.
“I’m curious to see what he’ll look like in his next outing. I know he’s an easy bet to go out and figure it out and come in here motivated to get some work done.”
Pfaadt will get that next outing on Tuesday against the Miami Marlins, who have scored the fewest runs of any team in baseball entering Monday. It will be a significantly more favorable matchup for Pfaadt than the Rangers, who currently rank second in the league in scoring.
For a full breakdown of Pfaadt’s debut, check out my five takeaways story from last week. Now, let’s get on to some other news around the D-backs farm system.
Kristian Robinson secures visa, nearing return to minors
Since an altercation with a police officer in April of 2020, Robinson has been ineligible to play in any minor league games. Now, after more than three years of being stuck in limbo, his professional baseball career is finally getting back into full swing.
According to farm director Josh Barfield, Robinson completed both his probation and community service hours without incident. That led to Robinson’s case being charged as a misdemeanor instead of a felony, which opened the door for him to obtain the work visa he needs to play in minor league games in the states.
The Diamondbacks reinstated Robinson from the restricted list on May 1. They now have until May 31 to activate him, at which point they will need to make a corresponding 40-man roster move. (Robinson did not previously count toward the 40-man limit while on the restricted list.)
Barfield said that Robinson will open the year with Low-A Visalia. He has not played in a minor league game since Sep. 2, 2019, when he was a member of the Kane County Cougars — a Chicago-area Single-A affiliate that has since been phased out.
Prior to Robinson’s court case being opened more than three years ago, he was arguably the best prospect in the organization.
“His physical gifts are unique,” Barfield said. “He is a big strong kid. He looks like a football player. When you see him, from where he was two years ago to where he is now, he’s definitely put on strength and added mass. He can still run, especially for somebody at that size.
“The power is the thing that really stands out. I watched him in a group in [batting practice] this spring, and it was him, Deyvison De Los Santos and Kyle Lewis, arguably two of the biggest power bats in our organization. And he put on an absolute show, even amongst that group. So, the power is still there. It’s very, very real.
“I think he could be an above-average corner outfielder as well, just the way he runs, tracks balls down. He’s had a lot of time to work on his defense over the last couple of years, so I think it’s going to be even improved from where we saw it before. So, you know, you talk about five-tool players. He has the ability to be a five-tool player if it all comes together.”
As would be expected, Robinson has gone through a lot from a mental standpoint over the last three-plus years. Barfield spoke highly of Robinson’s growth in that regard.
“This has been a really difficult process for him,” Barfield said. “We know that he put himself in this situation, but at the same time, I think he’s very apologetic. He’s learned a lot.
“To see where he is now from even where he was about a year ago, just from a mental standpoint, he’s come a long way. He’s got this smile, his joy back.
“For a while there, he wasn’t the same Kristian, understandably, going through all this. And, I think, now, being around the guys, knowing that there’s light at the end of this tunnel and that he’s gonna be able to play very soon … he seems to be in a really good place.
“He was very excited when he got that news,” Barfield said. “That’s the biggest smile I’ve seen on his face in quite some time.”
Ryan Bliss, Bryce Jarvis surging
Several D-backs prospects put up big numbers in April, but the organization ultimately settled on Double-A Amarillo infielder Ryan Bliss as its Minor League Player-of-the-Month. In 18 games, Bliss had a 1.050 OPS, and his .410 batting average ranked third in all of the minors.
Drafted in the second round of the 2021 draft, Bliss was viewed as a slick-fielding infielder with solid hit and speed tools coming out of Auburn. He hit a combined .267/.326/.448 slash line in his first taste of pro ball in 2021, with most of those at-bats coming with Single-A Visalia.
In 2022, he made the jump to High-A Hillsboro. He struggled offensively, hitting just .214/.298/.343 in 484 plate appearances.
“[It] was a really trying year for him,” Barfield said. “I mean, it’s probably the first time he hasn’t had success in his life in the game of baseball.
“The struggles that he went through, the way he handled it, the makeup it has, he’s a very competent, very determined individual,” Barfield added.
“We even gave him an out last year if he wanted to go back, similar to what we did with [Geraldo] Perdomo a couple of years ago, putting him on the [development] list, going back to the complex and working on his swing. He was adamant about seeing it through and continuing to grind.”
Despite his struggles throughout 2022, Bliss notched nine hits in his last seven games and was eager to carry that success into the 2023 season. So far, he has done that and then some.
“It was more of a mentality change,” Barfield said. “Instead of just trying to get big and hit homers to to the pull-side, he went back to what he did in college, using the whole field and being a complete hitter.
“It’s paid huge dividends for him.”
In addition to the D-backs’ in-house award, Bliss also received Minor League Player of the Month honors for the Double-A Texas League as a whole.
Awards aside, another D-backs’ prospect who put up impressive April numbers is 2020 first-round pick Bryce Jarvis. In three starts with Double-A Amarillo, Jarvis went 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 17 strikeouts in 14 innings. That earned Jarvis a promotion to Triple-A Reno, where he allowed only two total runs in his first two starts.
This is really the first time that Jarvis has had consistent success since reaching Double-A in June of 2020. Last year, he struggled mightily with Amarillo, tallying an 8.27 ERA, 1.88 WHIP and .325 opponent batting average over 25 starts.
Jarvis tweaked a number of things last year to try to get back on track, but none of it seemed to work. Over the offseason, Jarvis and his coaching staff honed in on improving his extension on his four-seam fastball. Adding extension can make pitches appear faster than they actually are — or, in Jarvis’ case, help a four-seamer that previously looked much slower than it actually was appear more like it actually is. Jarvis made significant strides in that regard over the offseason, and the results speak for themselves.
With the success he has had so far this season, don’t be surprised if Jarvis finds his way into the majors before too long.
“With the pedigree, he is somebody that if he continues to do what he’s doing, he’s going to put himself very quickly on the big league radar,” Barfield said. “We’ve already gone through a number of our pitching depth there. So he’s put himself back in that conversation with his performance so far.”
Diamondbacks prospect notes
Since being optioned to Triple-A Reno on April 24, outfielder Jake McCarthy has slashed .324/.400/.529 with five walks and just four strikeouts in 40 plate appearances. While McCarthy has showed encouraging signs, his path back to the majors remains unclear, as recently recalled outfielder Dominic Fletcher has excelled and the team is still carrying 14 position players (one more than usual) on the roster as it is.
Drey Jameson has made two appearances in Triple-A Reno since being sent down on April 24. He has gone 1-0 with a 9.00 ERA, 1.90 WHIP, six walks and eight strikeouts over 10 innings. Jameson leaned heavily on his slider in both of his starts, throwing it a combined 49 percent of the time.
Diamondbacks 2022 first-rounder Druw Jones was placed on the injured list on April 24 with a right quad strain. Barfield told the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro at the time that Jones could miss a couple of weeks. Based on that timeline, Jones could return any day.
Shortstop Jordan Lawlar, widely viewed as the D-backs’ top overall prospect, got off to a strong start for Double-A Amarillo this year, hitting .286/.409/.600 over his first 10 games. He has struggled mightily since, and his season slash now sits at .174/.314/.384. In May, Lawlar is 1-for-20 with three walks and 10 strikeouts.
Right-handed pitcher Dylan Ray, the D-backs’ fourth-round draft pick last year, took the D-backs’ Minor League Pitcher-of-the-Month honors for April. In five starts with High-A Hillsboro this season, he has a 3.75 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 32 strikeouts against just three walks in 24 innings.