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From the addition of No. 2 overall pick Druw Jones to the rapid rise of top shortstop prospect Jordan Lawlar, 2022 was another solid year for an Arizona Diamondbacks’ farm system that remains widely regarded as one of the 10 best in baseball.
With the minor league season officially complete, it is time to look back on what transpired. I sat down with Diamondbacks farm director Josh Barfield to discuss. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.
How has Druw Jones progressed so far, and do you expect him to be ready for next spring?
Barfield: We have some experience with this injury. He’s on schedule. Everything’s been smooth so far. He is not to the point where he’s swinging or anything like that yet, but if he sticks to the same timeline as [Jordan] Lawler and Corbin [Carroll], he should be ready around the beginning of the year, give or take.
I imagine it must have taken an emotional toll to get hurt in his first batting practice with the organization. How has he walked through this from a mental standpoint?
Barfield: He’s a really mature kid. He’s been around the game. I think that just helps with handling the different things that are thrown at you. He’s been great. There is the initial shock and disappointment, but then after that he was, you know, “What’s next? Let’s get to work.” And he’s had that mindset throughout the rehab so far.
Jordan Lawlar has emerged as possibly the organization’s top prospect after Corbin Carroll. What have you seen from him this year, and what do you hope to see from him in the Arizona Fall League?
Barfield: I’ve seen a really mature approach for such a young kid. He’s got a great swing, the ability to use all fields, drives the ball already. I think we projected that, but we’re already seeing that. On the bases, he might be one of our best baserunners in the system already. And that’s not just base-stealer, but baserunner. Really good anticipation. Defensively, he has all the physical tools to be able to play short. He’s just getting that consistency and reps, but I foresee him being able to stick at shortstop.
I did notice Lawlar had 29 errors in 87 minor-league games this year. Is it just a matter of being more consistent at this point?
Barfield: I think it’s just consistency. I think it’s tightening up some of the technique as he’s fielding, some of the mechanics of it. He’s already working and making strides, and I think that’ll be one of the big things we look for in the fall league.
Brandon Pfaadt has gone from Division II reliever at Bellarmine to arguably the best pitching prospect in the organization in the span of three years. What has impressed you about his development?
Barfield: He just keeps getting better and better. In 2021, we were like, oh man, this guy’s kind of interesting. He can throw strikes. Has a pretty good changeup. This year, it’s like, all right, now he’s throwing harder, the breaking ball is getting better. Amarillo is not an easy place to pitch, but he does just fine there. Then he goes to Triple-A, which has even better hitters and is a tough place to pitch, and he’s dominating there. The consistency, the ability to throw strikes and the ability to miss bats stand out.
Blake Walston was 5-0 with a 2.89 ERA in his last 10 starts for Double-A Amarillo. How did you see him improve down the stretch?
Barfield: He had a tremendous finish. I didn’t even really realize it was that good. I was just there a few weeks ago. We always talk about wanting to see guys finish strong, and he finished strong. I think he’s got a ton of ability. It’s a matter of learning how to use all his weapons and how to attack hitters and set up hitters. He’s really growing in that, as well as being able to go out and execute his game plan. He’s already really, really talented, and he’s only going to get better.
Did you see Walston make any specific changes down the stretch that might have led to his late-season surge?
Barfield: Just tightening up some of the mechanics, specifically with the lower half and trying to stay on the rubber a little longer. He’s seen it pay dividends.
One of his goals was to be healthy the whole season and to pitch deep into games. He’s a really competitive kid. That, along with seeing some of these other guys that he’s been around starting to break into the big leagues is only motivating him more.
At age 19, Deyvison De Los Santos is the youngest player in the fall league. What excites you about him as a player, and what went into the decision to send him?
Barfield: The ability to be an impact major league bat is what excites me. He’s got 80 raw power, but I think he’s got a chance to be a good hitter. He’s already showing that. You see him in Double-A as one of the youngest guys in the league. And if he wasn’t first, he was like second or something in hits in the minor leagues.
He’s mature, you know? He hadn’t played a lot of baseball really, being so young. But he shows maturity out there. He doesn’t look overmatched. Seeing him not overmatched in Double-A made us feel comfortable challenging him with the fall league.
Obviously it’s a small sample, but Ivan Melendez struggled a bit out of the gate after being drafted with the No. 43 overall pick in the 2022 draft. What did you see from him in his first taste of pro ball?
Barfield: The thing that stood out is just the work ethic. This guy eats, sleeps, breathes baseball. He is a baseball rat, which is awesome. Those are the guys that get the most out of their ability.
There is an adjustment. It’s tough for these guys coming in, especially position players, having two or three months off and then jumping right into pro ball and jumping right into Low-A. So there’s that adjustment period. I think most of it was just timing, which will come with reps.
He did end up finishing stronger. He had like a .900 expected OPS the last month. I was also impressed with his defense. He played first mostly in college, but he showed a lot of athleticism and plenty of arm at third base.
So you guys still plan to use him at both first base and third base moving forward?
Barfield: Yeah. I was impressed. I watched a series late in the year and saw him make all the plays that you would ask a third baseman to make in the big leagues. And, you know, just getting more reps and more confidence over there, he’s got a chance to stick.
Yu-Min Lin put up really good numbers in rookie ball and Visalia this year. I’ve heard about a fastball, curveball, changeup, slider, splitter and even a “screw-ball like” pitch. What do you like about his arsenal?
Barfield: He’s got so many pitches, so many weapons. They’re all good. He can throw them for strikes. He has an ability to manipulate the ball that you don’t really see in an 18-year-old. He dominated the [Arizona Complex League]. That’s young hitters, aggressive hitters, so we challenged him to go up to Visalia, and he was really, really good there for such a young kid. He shows poise, maturity and confidence out there. He’s got all the pieces to be an impactful pitcher.
Barfield: He reminds me a lot of Stone [Garrett]. He was a guy that we got but didn’t have a lot of information about him. He went out and absolutely raked. He put up monster numbers in Double-A and then he went up to Triple-A for a little bit. If we sign him back, he’ll probably start there next year. I kind of expect him to be older with the maturity of the at-bats. He’s still young, and there’s some upside there with the bat. There’s big power and the ability to not only drive the ball but also to be a pretty good hitter.
As a minor-league free agent signing in 2021, Kyle Backhus has had a nice year for Double-A. What do you hope to see from him in the Arizona Fall League?
Barfield: Just continuing to challenge him. We’re pretty aggressive moving guys when they show that they’re ready. In his first full season, he has jumped up to Double-A as an undrafted guy. He’s shown flashes of some pretty high-end velo. He’s still trying to make it consistent, but we’ve seen 94-95 MPH from him.
It seemed like Mitchell Stumpo was a prime candidate to get some reps in the big leagues at some point entering this season. Looking at his numbers in Reno, it looks like his command has taken a bit of a step back this year. What is the next step for him?
Barfield: It’s the command. He got off to a really good start. There were some struggles there in the middle of the year, and part of that was challenging him to use his other weapons. He’s got a really good slider, so we challenged him to use some of his other weapons and I think there was an adjustment period there. If you look at what he’s done the last month or so of the season, it’s been really, really good. We’re still really excited about him. That was a great find as, you know, an Indy-ball guy basically.
Obviously injuries have played a role, but JB Bukauskas‘ projection seems to have slipped a bit in the minds of evaluators. What are you looking to see from him in the Arizona Fall League, and what are the next steps for him in general?
Barfield: He’s missed a lot of time, as you know, with the injuries. So, one would be that we can make up for some of those lost innings during the year. Two, just confidence. His stuff plays. He’s got good stuff. We’ve made some minor mechanical tweaks. He’s always had a good slider, and he’s got a really good changeup. When the command is there, when he’s filling up the strike zone, that’s where people start to get excited about a potential backend reliever.
It is still a small sample, but Corbin Carroll looks as advertised so far in the big leagues. What have you seen from him so far? I imagine you’re not too surprised that he’s had so much success so far?
Barfield: Yeah, I’m not surprised at all. We’ve seen this since the day he walked in the door. He’s always been a very polished hitter. He continues to have good at-bats, and I think that’s the thing I’m most proud of. He’s continuing to have good at-bats up here and not trying to do too much. He might be little, bit he impacts the ball. He really can drive the ball. Then there is his speed. He just can beat you in so many different ways, and he’s showing that up here.
Pitching coach Brent Strom said that Drey Jameson is faster than Corbin Carroll and can dunk a basketball from a squat. How much of a role does his athleticism play in being able to stick in a big league starting rotation?
Barfield: A lot. I mean, I don’t think there’s a lot of 5-foot-9 guys — or whatever he is — who can throw 100. I’ve got to believe that explosiveness and athleticism is a big reason why he’s able to not only generate so much velocity, but also repeat his delivery and maintain his stuff throughout starts. He is by far our most athletic guy in the system.
Some people say a player with Jameson’s size couldn’t last long-term in a big-league starting rotation. Strom said he’s so athletic that his size is “immaterial.” Have you had the same thought?
Barfield: He’s the exception to the rule. Most 5-foot-10 guys — most 6-foot-3 guys — are not as athletic as he is. That athleticism allows the other stuff to play up. I don’t think there’s anything stopping him from being able to start.
I think he’s listed as six feet, but after seeing him in person, I’m not so sure...
Barfield [laughing]: He’s not six feet.
Top photo: Michael Chow/Arizona Republic