The following column will take a look at top prospects in Arizona's farm system from two angles -- opportunity and talent. The opportunity ranking, on a scale of 1 - 10, will be based on how likely it is that the player will have a fantasy impact in 2014. The talent ranking, on the same scale, will assess the player's raw skills. A player with a high talent ranking might be worth keeping an eye on, but if he has a low opportunity ranking it will be because his position is spoken for at the big league level (for the time being).
The top prospects listed here are chosen based on Jonathan Mayo's rankings at MLB.com. Statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.
Archie Bradley - SP
Listed as the Diamondbacks' top pitching prospect, the University of Oklahoma product is moving through the ranks of Arizona's farm system with a lot of hype. The focus on Bradley became even more magnified after first Trevor Bauer and then Tyler Skaggs were traded away. In 2013, he managed to strike out 119 of the batters he faced in 123.1 innings AA Mobile, but he also walked 59 in that time. Bradley pitched to a 1.97 ERA, though his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was 3.33. According to Mayo, Bradley projects to have at least average command. With that kind of strikeout potential, average command could put Bradley at or near the top of the Diamondbacks rotation in the next couple of years.
For 2014, Arizona's rotation figures to go Corbin/Cahill/Miley/McCarthy/Delgado. This looks decent on paper, but remember that at times in 2013 it seemed like Corbin was the only pitcher who threw well enough to have a rotation spot locked in. Do not be surprised to see Bradley pitching at the big league level at some point in 2014.
Opportunity - 5, Talent - 9
Chris Owings - SS
A position player among a slew of Arizona pitching prospects, Chris Owings will have a chance to win the starting shortstop job for the Diamondbacks in 2014 right out of spring training. He'll have to contend with Didi Gregorius, who is more of a defensive specialist. Owings got a taste of the big leagues in September last year, albeit in only 61 plate appearances. He recorded 81 RBI and 20 stolen bases for the Reno Aces in 2013 while hitting for a .330 average, but remember that the Pacific Coast League is incredibly favorable to hitters. The stolen bases do suggest that Owings has respectable speed, and the power stroke is beginning to develop.
Owings is a better hitter than Gregorius in both the power and average departments. If Owings can hold his own defensively, the Diamondbacks should be intrigued enough by the power potential to give the starting gig to him. He will not be a top-10 shortstop right out of the gate, but if injuries crop up after a few weeks Owings could be worth a flyer off of waivers.
Opportunity - 10, Talent - 6
Zeke Spruill - SP
Spruill came over to Arizona in the Justin Upton trade and managed to post a respectable 4.21 ERA in Reno in 2013. He got 11 innings of action at the big league level last year, striking out 9 and walking 5. His fastball is his best pitch and his low home run rates (0.78 HR/9 innings in the PCL) suggest that he will be an effective ground ball pitcher. He'll eventually be able to slot into the bottom half of Arizona's rotation. As for 2014, Spruill is waiting behind not only the starting five named earlier, but also Josh Collmenter and Bradley.
Opportunity - 3, Talent - 5
Jake Barrett - RP
The Arizona State product has an upper-90s fastball that should put him on the fast track to the Diamondbacks bullpen, according to Jonathan Mayo. He threw 60.2 innings in Arizona's farm system in 2013, moving quickly from the rookie league to AA Mobile. He struck out 68 batters and walked 18 in those 60.2 innings and recorded 33 saves. He only allowed 1 earned run in his 24.2 innings at AA. Small sample size, yes, but Barrett is clearly a rising star among Arizona's relief prospects. The Diamondbacks may well have their closer for 2014 in Addison Reed (and owners should not forget about J.J. Putz and Brad Ziegler), but given the volatile nature of major league bullpens it is very possible that Barrett could find himself locking down a few games for the Diamondbacks this year.
Opportunity - 6, Talent - 7
Matt Stites - RP
Stites is listed as the Diamondbacks' #15 overall prospect on Mayo's list, but like Barrett, I believe he is on the fast track to the majors. He and Barrett were both selected as Arizona Fall League stars and Arizona has been high on him since he came over in the Ian Kennedy trade. His strikeout to walk ratio for his minor league career to this point is 174:25. If that is not absurd enough, witness his 0.70 career WHIP. Mayo projects him to be more of a setup pitcher, hence his "5" opportunity ranking to Barrett's "6" for 2014 fantasy purposes. Again, though, relievers get shuffled through bullpens at a high rate due to ineffectiveness and injury, so Stites could find himself on the mound for a few ninth innings for Arizona.
Opportunity - 5, Talent - 7
Nick Ahmed - SS
Ahmed is another player who came over to Arizona in the Justin Upton trade. He has decent speed as evidenced by his 26 stolen bases in 136 games for AA Mobile in 2013 and 40 for the single-A Braves in 2012. He only posted a .288 OBP in 2013, but at every other stop he has been well over the .300 mark so his on-base skills should continue to improve with more time at the higher levels. Ahmed is behind both Owings and Gregorius at shortstop as of this writing, but if Aaron Hill has to miss any time with an injury again the Diamondbacks could conceivably move Owings to second base. A lot of "ifs" here, so Ahmed only gets a "2" ranking for opportunity right now, but he is an interesting player to keep an eye on.
Opportunity - 2, Talent - 6