Hazen: D-backs keep drafting athletes — without the Shohei Ohtani expectations

Jul 10, 2023, 12:45 PM

Caden Grice, Diamondbacks, MLB Draft...

Caden Grice #31 of the Clemson Tigers throws to second base for an out against the Miami Hurricanes in the first inning during the ACC Baseball Championship game at Durham Bulls Athletic Park on May 28, 2023 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

(Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

The flow chart of decisions made by the Arizona Diamondbacks in past MLB Drafts eventually ends with the success of the major league club halfway through this regular season.

Arizona has leaned hard into building a farm system where pure athletes and skill development meet with the hope of blossoming.

Even without a high first-round draft pick in 2023, general manager Mike Hazen’s crew is once again prioritizing athletes and multi-dimensional skillsets.

The D-backs began the draft Sunday by selecting shortstop Tommy Troy out of Stanford, took infielder Gino Groover in the second round and with a competitive balance selection nabbed two-way player Caden Grice, a big-bodied power lefty who the team wants to keep on the mound. In that, you could see familiar trends of what the Diamondbacks have done in past drafts, even if they went toward college players over high-school-aged guys.

“I do think that our push to just sort of add those athletic, dynamic players in our system has proven to be valuable to us,” Hazen told Arizona Sports Bickley & Marotta on Monday.

Those versatile athletes tend to hold developmental value better than one-trick players, Hazen added.

Grice is the extreme as an athlete — but an extreme that Arizona will not pursue in his further pro development.

The 6-foot-6 pitcher who topped out with a 95 mph fastball also mashed 18 home runs for Clemson. But the Diamondbacks see the intrigue in his upside if they specialize him to focus on his pitching.

“We think he’s Shohei 2.0,” Hazen joked, referencing the Los Angeles Angels’ star two-way player. “We love that athleticism. … We think the progression on the mound as a starter, a left-handed starter, getting him as deep as we did is very intriguing for us. Anytime you have a two-way player in high school or college, there’s some conversation in the draft room: ‘How does the offense take away from prep as a pitcher?’

“That time is better spent kind of honing your craft as a pitcher.”

Is it tempting to consider pursuing two-way types like Ohtani?

To Hazen, there’s an obvious reason to think about it.

Even considering some of the best hitting pitchers like former D-back Zack Greinke, a career .225 hitter, getting anyone even relatively close to Ohtani appears to be out of the realm of reality.

“You just think of the value you create if it’s two-way — it’s two roster spots in one,” Hazen said. “What’s crazy about it is, it is so hard. We can’t do it. We’ll try it. It is so incredibly difficult to be proficient at both of those skills. It further underscores what’s happening right now with that player and how incredible he is.”

So there’s the realistic middle ground for the Diamondbacks: Finding multi-skilled athletes who will provide them options either on the field or on the mound. Not both.

“I think we have a type, right?” Hazen said of Troy, who went 12th overall and can play shortstop or other infield spots. “I think you’ve seen over the last couple years, the smaller guy with some pop and the good athlete and he kind of fits that bill.”

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Hazen: D-backs keep drafting athletes — without the Shohei Ohtani expectations