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The Arizona Diamondbacks have spent a hefty sum of money to bring aboard a young Cuban talent with lots of upside.

No, this is not a delayed reaction to their signing of right-handed slugger Yasmany Tomas. The Diamondbacks have bagged another one: Yoan Lopez.

Ben Badler of Baseball America was the first to report Arizona’s agreement with the 21-year-old right-hander. According to’s Jesse Sanchez, the deal is for an $8.27 million bonus:

Maybe that doesn’t sound like a “hefty sum,” but it is for this particular type of transaction.

As a player under 23 years old and with fewer than five years of professional experience, Lopez wasn’t free to sign a major league free-agent contract like other recent Cuban defectors. He qualified only as an international amateur, and his $8.27 million agreement is a record-sized bonus under the current rules (more on those later).

To boot, Lopez could have gotten more money. As Sanchez noted, he turned down a $9 million offer to sign with Arizona. Indications are that he did so because the Diamondbacks lured him with an opportunity to get on a fast track to the big leagues.

Here’s what Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart told Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic: “We feel that he’s capable of competing right now for a spot in our rotation.”

The Diamondbacks are going to put this belief to the test in the near future, as Lopez will be present at their major league camp when spring training opens next month. If Lopez blows everyone away this spring, maybe he will open 2015 in Arizona’s rotation.

Such is the optimistic projection for what lies ahead, anyway. According to Badler, a more realistic expectation for Lopez’s immediate future involves him starting out at Single-A in 2015.

Going off of what is known about Lopez, however, Arizona’s optimism wouldn’t seem to be misplaced.

At 6’4″ and 195 pounds, Lopez at least has the frame of a major league starting pitcher. And at 21 with three seasons in the Cuban National Series under his belt, he’s far more experienced than your typical international amateur.

As for Lopez’s stuff, word is it was already good and is getting better.

When Lopez was pitching in Cuba, Badler says he sat in the low 90s with his heat. But since defecting last year, he’s added some strength and can now throw harder.

A lot harder, according to Sanchez. As he wrote last month, Lopez has been clocked as high as triple digits:

Here’s presuming the Diamondbacks are thrilled about this and what it could mean going forward.

If Lopez could see an improvement in his velocity after only a couple of months since his defection, perhaps there’s a next step to be taken as he begins his pro career proper. Maybe it won’t be long before he’s sitting comfortably in the mid-90s and touching 100 with regularity.

Even if Lopez doesn’t make that leap, a fastball that hovers in the 93-95 mph range is plenty good enough. That Lopez also has some diversity in his repertoire is a bonus, and a GIF prepared by Badler makes Lopez’s slider look like it could be a legit out pitch against major league hitters.

Where things become a bit more gray is exactly how good of a feel Lopez has for pitching. And since that’s a gray area, it’s a good guess that’s where he needs work. And if you need work there, you’re probably not ready for the big leagues just yet.

The reality that Lopez may be a long shot to crack the majors out of the gate in 2015, however, is not the biggest downside of his deal with the Diamondbacks. That would be how they’re now going to be at a disadvantage signing international talent in the future.

The system that’s been in place the past couple of years allows for teams to have allotted pools of money they can spend on bonuses for international amateurs. Any team that goes over their spending limit is hit with penalties, most notably taxes and restrictions on future signings.

For the 2014-2015 signing window, Arizona only had a bonus pool of $2.3 million. Signing Lopez took them way over that limit, so the Diamondbacks must pay a 100 percent tax on the overage and will be barred from signing any amateur for more than $300,000 in the next two signing windows.

Because of the tax, their $8.27 million deal with Lopez is more like a $16.5 million deal. Because of the future spending restrictions, they won’t have a shot at signing any similarly talented players who might hit the international market in the near future. FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron sees that as quite the gamble:

And yet, there are defenses to be made here.

Even a price tag of $16.5 million for Lopez doesn’t sound too bad. Because he comes with projectability and a certain amount of major league readiness, he’s a safer bet than your typical international amateur. We also have plenty of examples that say top talents from Cuba can cut it in the majors.

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Former Major League Baseball pitcher Matt Mantei was arrested and jailed in Michigan on Tuesday.

Per TMZ Sports, Mantei was booked into Berrien County Jail after being charged with assault and battery.

Details of the situation that led to Mantei’s arrest were not immediately available.

Originally drafted in the 25th round by the Seattle Mariners in 1991, Mantei made it to the big leagues four years later with the Florida Marlins.

He pitched in 10 MLB seasons from 1995-2005 with the Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox. The right-hander finished 24th in National League MVP voting during the 1999 season, when he had a career-high 99 strikeouts in 65.1 innings, with a 2.76 ERA and 32 saves, for the Marlins and Diamondbacks.

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A previous regime considered Arizona shortstop Nick Ahmed too stubborn to succeed at the plate. He still bristles at the memory. It is a good thing he never paid it much attention.

“I always have been convicted in knowing what I wanted to do,” Ahmed said last week. “It just took me longer that I would have liked to be able to do it.”

Ahmed, who won his first Gold Glove in 2018, is having his second consecutive career year on the offensive side. He has career highs with 17 homers and 73 RBIs with a month left in the season, besting the 16/70 RBIs he had a year ago. He ranks third among NL shortstops in RBIs, his OPS has risen from .701 to .768, and his 4.1 WAR trails only the Cubs’ Javier Baez at the position.

Health has had something to do with it. Ahmed is on pace to have more than 550 plate appearances for the second year in a row after being limited by season-ending injuries the previous two, a right hip impingement in 2016 and a fractured metacarpal in 2017.

More than anything, however, his success can be traced to a commitment to a hitting approach that through trial and error he came to embrace. If it works, don’t fix it.

“The old school way of teaching hitting was what I got taught from a really young age — swing down on the ball, use your hands, hit the ball on the ground. I got taught that my whole life, and I wasn’t very good,” Ahmed said.

“So when I got past that a little bit and started to do some of my own thing, it was unconventional to a certain degree. People didn’t like how it looked and how I practiced. They thought I was stubborn. I was like, ‘No, I know what is right, and I’m going to keep working at it.’ I guess in a way it is gratifying to work through that. The old jargon that is well out of date now. It has been a long process. It’s going to keep coming.”

Ahmed, 29, was acquired from Atlanta as part of the Justin Upton trade in 2013, and he always was considered among the best defensive shortstops at every level on his way through the Arizona system. His offensive production lagged, however, raising concerns in the organization about his ability to fit at the major league level despite Gold Glove-caliber defense.

“The nuts and bolts of it is trying to create a swing where I can load to see the ball, make a good decision, and get a swing that is on plane for as long as possible, creating margin for error,” Ahmed said.

“People can believe what they want, but there are cases, guys all around the league, who have turned themselves around. Guys who weren’t very good to guys who are playing very well. Nothing is fixed. Everything can grow and get better. That’s the way I like to think about things.”

Ahmed did not name names, but players such as Dodgers infielder Max Muncy and Boston’s J.D. Martinez are examples of hitters who have had success as their careers progressed.

The Diamondbacks have noticed. The front office had preliminary discussions with Ahmed’s camp last offseason about the viability of a contract extension, and momentum for an extension certainly will pick up this winter as Ahmed approaches his final year of arbitration eligibility.

“He has grown into a very, very good hitter, and that’s not stoping either. He continues to show no satisfaction with where he is at,” said Arizona manager Torey Lovullo, who also alluded to Ahmed’s leadership and clubhouse presence.

“Those decisions (about his future in Arizona) are obviously not in my area, but I can talk about what he means to this team and this organization and certainly say that he has shown us how important he is every single day.”

The trade of Zack Grienke left the D-Backs with plenty of money to spend moving forward — the principle reason for the trade — and a long-term extension for Ahmed appears both affordable and wise. He makes $3.66 million this season and would be due a bump to perhaps $6 million-$6.25 million in his final year of arbitration, if it comes to that.

Minnesota shortstop Jorge Polanco signed a five-year, $25.75 million contract this spring, a deal bought out his three arbitration years. Ahmed could expect any long-term deal he signs to have a greater average annual value since he is closer to free agency.

“I like it here. I like the group here. I like the players. I like the way this organization is run. I like the coaching staff,” Ahmed said.

“If (a long-term deal) is an option, we’ll explore it at the end of the year. Right how I’m focused on baseball.”

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The Diamondbacks have acquired right-hander Matt Andriese from the Rays, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter link). Robert Murray, also of The Athletic, was the first to report that Tampa and Arizona had a trade in place. The Rays will receive two minor leaguers in return — catcher Michael Perez (as per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times) and righty Brian Shaffer (as Rosenthal was the first to report). In a corresponding move, the D’Backs announced that right-hander Randall Delgado has been designated for assignment to create a 40-man spot for Andriese.

Arizona was known to be checking in on the starting pitching market, though rather than splurge on a big name, the Snakes landed a versatile and somewhat underrated asset in Andriese. The 28-year-old has mostly been deployed as a swingman in his three-plus MLB seasons, with the Rays using Andriese as a starter and in both short and long relief roles. He has only started four of his 27 appearances this season, though that stat is somewhat misleading, as you might expect given Tampa Bay’s unconventional use of its pitching staff. Andriese has appeared multiple times as the second pitcher into the game after the likes of Ryne Stanek or Sergio Romo began things as the Rays’ “opener.”

Matt AndrieseDespite the ever-shifting roles, Andriese has been largely successful in Tampa, including a 4.07 ERA, 8.9 K/9, 50.6% grounder rate, and 3.28 K/BB rate this season over 59 2/3 innings, plus a career-best 11.4% swinging strike rate. It represents a nice rebound from an injury-filled 2017, as Andriese was limited to 86 innings (starting 17 of his 18 games) due to hip and groin problems.

The D’Backs have dealt with their own share of pitching injuries this season, though things have somewhat stabilized with a regular starting five of Zack Greinke, Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray, Zack Godley, and successful bounce-back project Clay Buchholz. Still, with Ray and Godley both delivering inconsistent results, Andriese gives the Snakes some extra rotation depth, as well as a valuable durable arm for the bullpen.

Andriese will be eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, and thus the D’Backs had to surrender a not-overwhelming but decent prospect package for Andriese’s three years of control. The 2018 Baseball America Prospect Handbook ranked Perez as Arizona’s 30th-best minor leaguer prior to the season, with ranking Shaffer 23rd in their current top-30 ranking of the Snakes’ system.

Perez, 25, has long been heralded as a strong defensive catcher, and he has begun to make some strides at the plate over the last two seasons at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. In 250 career PA at Triple-A, Perez has a solid .291/.348/.445 slash line, though that is both a rather small sample size and perhaps a product of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Even without a big bat, however, Perez still projects as a potential glove-first backup catcher type, which is useful for a Rays team that has long looked for consistency behind the plate. Topkin reports that Perez will join the Rays’ roster on Thursday for his first taste of Major League action.

Shaffer was a sixth-round pick for the Diamondbacks in the 2017 draft.’s scouting report cites the 21-year-old’s slider as his best pitch, and he also possesses a fastball that has touched 94mph. Shaffer has delivered good results in his brief pro career thus far, including a 2.70 ERA, 9.2 K/9, and only a 1.8 BB/9 over 106 2/3 frames at the A-ball level this year.

Between this trade and sending Nathan Eovaldi to the Red Sox earlier today, the Rays have continued to churn their roster, even while falling short of an actual rebuild. Indeed, after today’s win over the Yankees, the Rays are now 52-50 for the season, though they are still realistically out of the pennant race (8.5 games back of the last wild card slot). In the short term, Tampa finds itself short two valuable arms for its pitching mix, as it remains to be seen how the Rays’ pitching strategy will continue to evolve without Andriese and Eovaldi around to cover innings.

This represents the third major trade between the Rays and D’Backs in under a year, after the offseason deals that saw Brad Boxberger come to Arizona and the three-team deal (also involving the Yankees) that most notably saw Steven Souza go to Arizona and Brandon Drury head to New York.

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Editor’s note: The Diamondbacks selected Joshua Rojas’ contract on Monday. He will be with the team in Denver on Monday.

LOS ANGELES – As the Diamondbacks’ corner outfield production continues to sputter, one of their newest prospects is making his case in Triple-A Reno to be a possible solution in the majors.

Infielder/outfielder Joshua Rojas, acquired as part of the four-player package from the Houston Astros for Zack Greinke, entered Sunday with ridiculous numbers since the July 31 trade.

In his first eight games with Reno, Rojas was 18 for 35 (.514) with four doubles, one triple and three home runs. He wasn’t doing bad before the trade, either, hitting .315/.403/.575 in 439 plate appearances split between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Round Rock.

“He has very good, consistent at-bats,” Diamondbacks Assistant General Manager Jared Porter said. “He drives the ball to all fields and gets on base. He sees a lot of pitches. He’s in complete control of the majority, if not all, of his at-bats.”

In Reno, Rojas has bounced between left field, right field, third base and shortstop. He also has experience in his career at second base.

The Diamondbacks could use the help in their outfield. In 39 games since June 23, the Diamondbacks’ corner outfielders entered Sunday with a combined .341 slugging percentage, the lowest mark in baseball.

That stretch coincides with Adam Jones’ struggles (.240/.284/.296 in 134 plate appearances) and a power outage from David Peralta that could be traced to his shoulder injury.

Rojas, who was born in Glendale and attended Millennium High in Goodyear, had solid, if not eye-catching, production during his first two seasons of pro ball. A 26th-round pick out of the University of Hawaii in 2017, he has seemingly made huge strides at the plate this season. The Diamondbacks liked him enough to demand his inclusion in the Greinke package.

“He has a very good plan in place when he goes up there,” Porter said. “He fouls a lot of pitches off. He knows himself very well as a hitter. He knows when to get big, when to stay small. He tends to put a lot of hard contact on the baseball on pitches in the zone.”

Catcher Carson Kelly was in the starting lineup for the 60th time this season on Sunday afternoon. In each of those starts, he has hit seventh, eighth or ninth.

After slamming two homers in Friday night’s 3-2 win, manager Torey Lovullo sounds like he’s getting closer to finally moving Kelly into a run-producing spot in the lineup.

When he was asked about the idea several weeks ago, Lovullo said he didn’t want to move Kelly up in the lineup only to have to move him back down if he were to struggle.

“I’ve been thinking about it; it’s a good point,” Lovullo said. “At that time when I was making those comments, I was saying I don’t want to put too much on his plate. But I think maybe a little bit of a migration is more in my thoughts today than it was last week or last month.”

Kelly entered Sunday with a .268/.354/.553 line that includes 17 doubles and 16 homers in 260 plate appearances. Though his playing time has been somewhat limited, he is having the best offensive season of any Diamondbacks hitter other than Ketel Marte.
Short hops

The Diamondbacks reinstated right-hander Matt Andriese from the injured list and optioned lefty Robby Scott.

Reliever Greg Holland, who was designated for assignment on Wednesday, was released on Sunday, thus making him a free agent.

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Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta will undergo shoulder surgery and miss the remainder of the 2019 season, manager Torey Lovullo announced in an appearance on 98.7 FM Arizona Sports today (Twitter link via 98.7’s John Gambadoro). Specifics on the procedure, including a timeline, have yet to come to light.

Peralta, 32, has thrice been placed on the 10-day injured list due to inflammation in his right AC joint this season — the most recent placement coming on Saturday. The ongoing discomfort, it seems, has reached a point where continued rest and rehab won’t suffice.

Shoulder troubles limited Peralta to just 99 games this season and may have contributed to the downturn in offensive performance he experienced this year. While he still turned in an above-average .275/.343/.461 batting line (104 OPS+), that output falls shy of 2018’s robust .293/.353/.516 performance (127 OPS+).

Peralta’s name came up a bit prior to the July 31 trade deadline, but it was never clear that the team was all that focused on moving Peralta, who is controlled through the 2020 season via arbitration. Peralta earned $7MM this year on the heels of that solid showing, and he’ll be eligible for one more raise this winter before qualifying for free agency in the 2020-21 offseason. Any trade involving Peralta this winter would obviously constitute selling low, and the D-backs’ outfield situation is teeming with uncertainty. Jarrod Dyson and Adam Jones will be free agents at season’s end, while Steven Souza is recovering from a catastrophic knee injury (torn ACL, torn LCL, partially torn PCL, torn capsule).

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On Wednesday, his 39th birthday, former Marlins right-hander Brad Ziegler announced his retirement from baseball.

The note posted to Ziegler’s Twitter account reflects on the adversity he faced early on. A 20th-round draft pick of the Phillies in 2003, he was released after just six innings of game action. The journey to his eventual major league debut in 2008 involved a stint in the independent leagues, surviving a skull fracture and completely reinventing his delivery to compensate for a lack of fastball velocity.

Ziegler led the league in relief appearances this past season, so he could surely secure a contract for 2019 if interested. This paragraph explains why he has decided to hang up his cleats:

The daily grind has taken its toll on my body. There were really tough times in the past two seasons when I wondered if I could physically continue doing what it would take to stay on the field, and even if I could continue to perform at the level I always had. However, I took great pride in taking the ball as often as I could—82 games pitched this year! And I can thank the Dbacks for giving me another chance to pitch in exciting, meaningful games down the stretch and to prove to myself that I wasn’t going to be pushed out of the game because I couldn’t compete anymore—I’m walking away knowing I still can. Every time I stepped on the field, I gave it absolutely everything I had. Now it’s time for me to turn the page and embrace what’s next.

At times, Ziegler was unpopular among Marlins fans. Previous ownership gave him a two-year, $16 million deal and (irresponsibly) advertised him as a key component to the “super bullpen” that would make Miami a postseason contender. He endured significant slumps early in the 2017 and 2018 seasons while battling through injury. At least they got Tommy Eveld out of it!

However, don’t let your perception of Ziegler get distorted by his most vulnerable moments: he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of MLB ground ball specialists.

Not only did he go out on top…

…Few other relievers have ever matched his combination of durability and run prevention.

In the goodbye letter, Ziegler takes pride in topping 100 career saves (a milestone he reached with the Marlins), but that severely downplays his production. Of the 13 other relievers with 700-plus innings and an earned run average at least 40 percent better than league average (140 ERA+), all except Mark Eichhorn were put in position to finish games on a regular basis. This guy was elite, regardless of which inning(s) he was assigned to work.

Ziegler maintained an unusual disparity between his earned run average (2.75) and Fielder Independent Pitching (3.50). Especially out of the bullpen, we’re accustomed to seeing pitchers rely on strikeouts to escape jams, but he was below average in that regard (16.3 K% from 2008-2018 compared to MLB-wide 19.8 K%).

Instead, Ziegler found consistent success by inducing weak contact, moving his pitches in such a way that they couldn’t be squared up or elevated. During each of his major league seasons, according to Quality of Pitch calculations, he ranked in the 100th percentile in terms of late break. Opponents simply couldn’t get their bats underneath it.

Since 2008, here are the most valuable fastballs among qualified MLB relievers:

Kenley Jansen, 136.8 runs above average
Aroldis Chapman, 89.0
Craig Kimbrel, 87.6
Brad Ziegler, 82.0

Baseball, to me, is so entertaining in part because of its diversity of cultures, skills, styles and strategies. We’ve gradually lost some of that as MLB front offices try to optimize their rosters to be as efficient as possible. For more than a decade, Ziegler was a refreshing change of pace.

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Born Sept. 10, 1963 in Walnut Creek, Calif. – a San Francisco suburb – Randy Johnson was an elite athlete who used his height to his advantage in both baseball and basketball. He turned down the Atlanta Braves after they drafted him in the fourth round in 1982, opting for a combination baseball/basketball scholarship at the University of Southern California.

Johnson began concentrating solely on baseball following his sophomore year and was drafted by the Expos in the second round in 1985. This time, Johnson turned pro.

“I just enjoy baseball a lot more (than basketball),” Johnson said as a minor leaguer in the Expos system.

The control problems that plagued Johnson as a collegian also surfaced in the minor leagues, but Johnson displayed his 97-mph fastball as well – earmarking him as a big league prospect.

By 1988, the Expos had brought Johnson to the big leagues – making the 6-foot-10 Johnson the tallest player in big league history. But midway through the 1989 season, Montreal dealt Johnson to the Seattle Mariners in a trade that brought star lefty Mark Langston to the Expos. For the next three-and-half years, Johnson struggled to find his control – showing spurts of dominance (including his June 2, 1990 no-hitter against the Tigers) while leading the American League in walks three times.

In August of 1992, Johnson sought out the Rangers’ Nolan Ryan, who was nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career. Ryan suggested that Johnson make a few adjustments to his delivery, and on Sept. 27 Johnson faced Ryan in a game at Arlington Stadium. Johnson threw 160 pitches in eight innings, striking out 18 Rangers in a game Texas won 3-2.

From virtually that point on, Johnson was a different pitcher.

“I told Randy he could be the most dominating pitcher in baseball if he would just work on his game,” Ryan said in 1992. “He was a lot like me when I was younger. He was just pitching and not doing a lot of thinking.”

In 1993, Johnson went 19-8, led the AL with 308 strikeouts and finished second in the league’s Cy Young Award voting. After a 13-6 record in the strike-shortened 1994 season (when he again led the AL in strikeouts with 204), Johnson went 18-2 in 1995 while striking out 294 batters, leading the league with a 2.48 earned-run average and winning the Cy Young Award.

Johnson missed most of the 1996 season after undergoing back surgery, but rebounded in 1997 to go 20-4 with 291 strikeouts. But with his contract up following the 1998 season, Johnson was traded midway through ’98 to the Astros – where he went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in 11 starts, leading Houston to a playoff berth.

As a free agent following the playoffs, Johnson was one of the most sought-after players in the game. But at 35 years old, some thought Johnson’s best days were behind him.

Instead, they were just beginning.

Johnson signed a four-year deal with the Diamondbacks, and the second-year club instantly gained credibility – not to mention a legitimate ace. From 1999-2002, Johnson captured four straight National League Cy Young Awards, three ERA titles and struck out at least 334 batters each season. The ultimate triumph came in 2001 when Johnson was 21-6 in the regular season, then posted a 3-0 record in the World Series – sharing the Most Valuable Player honors with Curt Schilling and leading Arizona to a seven-game series win over the Yankees.

Johnson remained with the Diamondbacks through the 2004 season before Arizona traded the 41-year-old fireballer to the Yankees. Johnson won 34 games in two seasons with New York before heading back to the Diamondbacks for two more seasons. He finished his career in 2009 with the Giants, where he won his 300th career game.

After he signed with Arizona prior to the 1999 season, Johnson posted more than half – 160 – of his 303 career victories.

In 22 seasons, Johnson led his league in strikeouts nine times, earned four ERA titles and recorded 100 complete games to go along with 37 shutouts. He was named to 10 All-Star Games, and only four left-handed pitchers (Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton, Eddie Plank and Tom Glavine) have ever won more games.

His 4,875 strikeouts rank No. 2 all-time behind Ryan’s 5,714, and his 10.61 strikeouts per nine innings rank first all-time. Johnson owns six of the 33 300-strikeout seasons in the history of the game. Five of the top 11 single-season strikeout seasons belong to the pitcher known as the Big Unit.

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Leading off a game at Salt River Fields last week, Geraldo Perdomo took five fastballs, four of them wide of the strike zone, tossed his bat aside and trotted to first base. In his next trip to the plate, he took another fastball for a ball, then shot a curveball into center field for a single.

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Perdomo, the Diamondbacks’ young shortstop prospect, recognizes offspeed stuff well. He has good hand/eye coordination and makes consistent contact. He seems to swing at the right pitches. Most important, he finds his way on base at a steady clip.

During his time in the Arizona Fall League, Perdomo, who turns 20 this month, has exhibited the kind of offensive approach that has helped him quickly ascend through the minor leagues. It also is an approach the Diamondbacks are cultivating throughout their system.

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The first batch of position-player prospects under Diamondbacks General Manager Mike Hazen are nearing the majors. Many have attributes similar to Perdomo.

Catcher Daulton Varsho, first baseman Pavin Smith and Perdomo all are coming off seasons in which they rarely struck out. Three prospects acquired via trade – first baseman Seth Beer, infielder/outfielder Josh Rojas and infielder Andy Young – each had a relatively low strikeout rate, high walk rate or good on-base percentage, or some combination. The same could be said of young outfielders Alek Thomas, Kristian Robinson and Corbin Carroll.

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By and large, those players make up the organization’s next wave of hitters. To varying degrees, the Diamondbacks believe they all have a prevailing skill. They all have the ability to control the strike zone.

“We feel like the best hitters in baseball have that skill, have the ability to do that,” Hazen said. “Contact is important. We know that strikeouts are a part of the game – guys are going to strike out – and there are times you sell out to power. But being complete hitters is maximizing all those skills. Those guys have those skills. It’s something we value and we’re going to value moving forward.”

The Diamondbacks are not breaking new ground in their focus on controlling the zone, but it does stand in contrast to the type of team they were before Hazen and his group arrived. In 2016, the Diamondbacks had the fourth-highest strikeout rate and tied for the third-worst walk rate in the National League.

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That led to the front office putting an emphasis on approach in the 2017 draft. Smith, the Diamondbacks’ choice that year at No. 7 overall, not only had more walks (38) than strikeouts (12) as a junior at the University of Virginia – he had more home runs (13), as well. After a slow start to his pro career, Smith finished this season with solid numbers (.291 average, .835 OPS) in Double-A.

Making sound swing decisions leads not only to good on-base ability, it also “pretty much translates in all the damage you do,” Diamondbacks minor league hitting coordinator Joe Mather said.

In the first part of the series, you told us who would be the starting eight on the D-backs, selecting just from those players who finished the year under Arizona control. Now, it’s time to fill out the bench roster. This does require a little more than a straight vote, for a couple of reasons. One: we need to ensure coverage at all positions. Two: there will be a 26th man available next season, due to the roster changes. Will this be used on Opening Day to give the D-backs an extra bullpen arm, or to extend manager Torey Lovullo’s bench?

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To ensure coverage, I have gone for one backup catcher, a middle infielder, a corner infielder and two outfielders. We have seen the fondness of Lovullo for having three catchers, but that approach seemed to be quietly dropped as the season progressed, and I think we’ll probably see that again going forward. Part of the reason for having three catchers was to allow for greater offensive ability to pinch-hit. But that tactic makes rather more sense when you have Jeff Mathis on your roster, than when you have Carson Kelly. Two spare outfielders also makes sense, given Ketel Marte’s ability to go back to the middle infield when necessary.

So, here are the five players who received most votes for those positions, based on the 320 ballots filled in.

Backup C: Alex Avila (125 votes)
If the fans had their way, we’d probably only have one catcher, and just run Kelly out there every day. But that’s not practical: only two catchers in the majors last year reached even 115 starts (Yasmani Grandal and J.T. Realmuto). Despite missing five weeks early due to injury, Avila had a solid bounceback season. The BA wasn’t great (.207), but he had great plate discipline, with a 17.9% walk-rate; among hitters with 200+ PA, only Mike Trout and Brandon Nimmo were higher. He will be a free-agent, coming off a two-year contract worth $8.25 million, and turns 33 in January. It’ll be interesting to see whether he stays in Arizona, or if the team looks for a cheaper, perhaps more defensively-minded alternative.

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Backup CI: Kevin Cron (132)
Cron wasn’t able to reproduce his AAA numbers – but, then again, how could he deliver a 1.223 OPS? In the end, he came in slightly below average, with a 98 OPS+ in his rookie year. In a small sample size, the power was there – six home-runs in only seventy-eight PA. But so were the strikeouts, with a K-rate of 35.9%, and a K:BB ratio of 7:1. That’ll have to change in his sophomore campaign, if the graduate of Mountain Pointe HS here in Phoenix wants to become a solid back-up to Christian Walker. In his defense, most (24 of 39) of Cron’s appearances came off the bench, and he performed creditably as a pinch-hitter with an OPS of .815 in that role.

Backup MI: Ildemaro Vargas (231)
Quite surprised to realize this was actually Vargas’s third season in the majors. But we saw a lot more of him in 2019, appearing in 92 games, compared to 12 and 14 the previous two years. His positional flexibility is key to his securing a roster spot. While he played most at second-base, he also started at third and shortstop, and even played some inning in both corner outfield spots. He made just one error in approaching three hundred innings at second, and didn’t embarrass himself at the plate, with an OPS+ of 82. A few more walks would be nice, as he only had nine in 211 PA, though Vargas struck out just 24 times, so was clearly putting the ball in play.

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Backup OF #1: Josh Rojas (268)
A bit of a surprise here, to see rookie Rojas receive most votes among the bench candidates. Might be some home cooking here, Arizona fans feeling a special attachment to a man born and brought up locally, just a few miles from SnakePit Towers. Josh is probably the first to play for the D-backs, who was a fan growing up. He was also the first prospect received from the Astros in the Zack Greinke trade to reach the majors. While his impact was limited (OPS+ of 64, 0.0 bWAR in 41 games), he didn’t embarrass himself in his rookie season. As the outfield is an area where we don’t have much depth at the higher end of the minors, he will potentially be useful next year, at minimum cost.

Backup OF #2: Steven Souza Jr. (232)
The first two seasons of Souza’s time here have been an almost unmitigated disaster, with just 72 games played, none of them in 2019, and a value below replacement level. Steven is under team control for next year, in his final year of arbitration. But Souza has to be considered a non-tender candidate, even if he will get little or no increase from this year’s salary of $4.125 million. On the other hand, the lack of credible alternative candidates mean that price-tag would not be bad value, if he was able to return to the level of production seen when fully healthy, prior to 2018 (OPS+ of 105, 2.6 bWAR per 650 PA). Keyword in that sentence is, obviously, “if”…

26th man: Jake Lamb (122)
If the team were to go with an extra bench bat, Lamb was selected by readers to fill that spot. That might not be a bad position for him. As a left-hander, he would be a platoon partner for Walker/Cron at first, and Lamb can also play on the other corner of the infield. However, MLB Trade Rumors project a $5 million arbitration figure for Jake, which is high for an occasional player. He also struggled even against RHP this year, batting .177 with a .607 OPS, when previously that was his biggest plus: “Well, at least Lamb rakes against righties.” In 2019, not so much. Whether the team decides that was a blip or not, may well determine whether or not he is tendered a contract or follows Chris Owings into the wilderness.

Not selected
Jarrod Dyson (119)
Domingo Leyba (109)
Caleb Joseph (84)
Abraham Almonte (79)
Adam Jones (73)
Blake Swihart (29)
Yasmany Tomas (13)
Some free-agents to be of note here, including Dyson and Jones. It seems most people see Tim Locastro as a cheaper alternative to Dyson. And for all the benefits of Jones’s clubhouse presence, he’s clearly on the downside of his career, putting up his lowest OPS+ (87) in more than a decade. The rest are a combination of those whose future is still in front of them (Leyba and Joseph), apparently fungible outfield types (Almonte and Swihart)… And, in last place, the albatross which is Yasmany Tomas. He received just 13 votes. I’ll have to check the IP address those came from, I’d not be surprised if they were all over towards the East of the country… :)

Next up, probably after the weekend, the starting pitchers!

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“Guys who are pretty aggressive are going to see fewer pitches in their zone because the at-bat is going to be over sooner,” Mather said. “For a guy like Perdomo, who does a really good job of taking pitches out of the zone, it forces pitchers back in the zone, which is going to give him far more opportunities to hit balls over the middle of the plate.”

Arizona Diamondbacks catching prospect Daulton Varsho during spring training workouts on Feb. 15, 2019 at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Arizona Diamondbacks catching prospect Daulton Varsho during spring training workouts on Feb. 15, 2019 at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic)

As it happens, Perdomo is the only one of the aforementioned players that the Hazen regime inherited. The Diamondbacks signed him out of the Dominican Republic in July 2016, some three months before Hazen was hired. Still, Hazen has opted to keep him; the same is not true of the strikeout-prone Jazz Chisholm, another shortstop prospect whom the Diamondbacks traded to the Miami Marlins in July for starting pitcher Zac Gallen.

Before a fall league game last week, Perdomo described his approach as being dependent upon how he is pitched. If a pitcher is throwing strikes, Perdomo said he will appear aggressive. If not, he will wait him out. Asked how he was able to learn to hit like this, he said he considers himself fortunate.

“I was born like that,” he said, speaking through an interpreter. “That’s me. Nobody taught me how to hit like that.”

The Diamondbacks believe there is some universal truth to that. Hazen thinks an ability to control the zone is more innate than, say, good swing mechanics, but the club puts significant time into honing hitters’ approaches in the minors. One way it does that, Mather said, is to make batting practice more game-like by having hitters take rounds of BP in which they might not swing the bat if the pitches don’t call for it.

“We have them really lock into their pitch,” Mather said. “We’re not worried about them getting their five full swings. We’re worried about them making the right decisions.”

The organization also tries to be proactive with prospects who aren’t as advanced in their approaches. One example came early this season, when coaches sat down with Low-A infielder Blaze Alexander to encourage him to be more selective.

“It’s important because you have to learn this at the lower levels or you’ll never figure it out up here,” Diamondbacks Assistant GM Amiel Sawdaye said. “You’re trying to teach him that approach and hopefully it all meshes when he gets to Double-A or Triple-A.”

It will be years before anyone knows for sure if this wave of young position players can develop into successful major leaguers. But the Diamondbacks are hopeful they have a future core of hitters that has many of the same attributes as those who populate the lineups of teams still playing this October.

“The guys we’re going out and getting, they (already) get on base and have a good eye, and I think that’s a great start,” Mather said. “Power usually comes later.”