Diamondbacks breakout player candidates for 2024
Jan 23, 2024, 12:22 PM
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Breakout seasons from Corbin Carroll, Gabriel Moreno, Geraldo Perdomo and Kevin Ginkel in 2023 made the Arizona Diamondbacks’ pennant win a reality, even with each “breakout” meaning something a little different.
Carroll went from a highly-anticipated prospect to one of MLB’s best all-around players during his rookie campaign. Moreno established himself as a major league catcher with Gold Glove defense and a bat that picked up down the stretch.
Perdomo improved his .547 OPS in 2022 to .712 as a stubborn at-bat to accumulate 2.3 rWAR, and Ginkel emerged as a late-inning threat on the mound the D-backs will continue to rely on.
The Diamondbacks brought in reinforcements this winter from outside the organization to improve the roster, notably acquiring third baseman Eugenio Suarez and signing left-handed starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. But from the start of the offseason, general manager Mike Hazen has said it will take continued growth from the younger players in the building to continue building toward a championship.
Who is positioned to make a jump, be it from minor-league standout to MLB contributor or starter to star?
10 Diamondbacks breakout possibilities
SS Jordan Lawlar: Top prospect to MLB starter
Lawlar is the top-ranked prospect in Arizona’s system, has a career .893 OPS in the minor leagues and is someone Hazen said the organization sees as a future star.
The 21-year-old’s first MLB experience was not the smoothest, though, considering he went 4-for-31 with 11 strikeouts in 14 games after the D-backs called him up and cut veteran Nick Ahmed in September.
But Lawlar still hit 20 home runs and stole 36 bases in the minors last season while continuing to develop defensively. He cut down on strikeouts in 2023, worked his walks and is among the fastest players in the farm system.
A question going into camp this spring will be the plan with Lawlar in 2024. He only played 16 games with Triple-A Reno, which went very well (1.049).
Would he start back in the minors for further seasoning? Could the right-handed bat platoon some with Perdomo, a switch hitter who has performed better from the left side? Could Lawlar grab the horns of a starting job at some point in 2024?
Alek Thomas: MLB starter to plus hitter
Thomas has been a major leaguer for the better part of two seasons now and has one of the most impactful hits in franchise history. His pinch-hit two-run homer to tie Game 4 of the NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies in October at Chase Field led to a comeback victory to even the series 2-2, a series the D-backs won in seven games.
He is a two-time Gold Glove finalist, having quickly established himself as one of the game’s top defensive center fielders with the ability to cover a vast Chase Field outfield with elite closing speed.
But he’s also had two seasons with a 75 OPS+ (100 is league average) with extreme platoon splits and a lack of walks. Consistency at the plate is the next step for the 23-year-old.
Thomas is fast, can hit the ball hard the other way and blast mistakes over the fence, but his offensive production has fluctuated. The D-backs sent him down for a month in 2023. His first 28 games after coming back up were very good (.826 OPS), and the rest of the year was not so good (.598).
Then he hit four postseason home runs.
The flashes are there, as is the belief. Manager Torey Lovullo said at the time of Thomas’ demotion the outfielder is too good to be a platoon player. This season will be another chance to show that.
Brandon Pfaadt: Promising finish to consistent starter
An argument can be made Pfaadt’s breakout already happened. He worked his way into the D-backs’ postseason rotation with improvements down the stretch and rose to the stakes of playoff games with a 3.27 ERA in five starts. A national audience got a good look at the youngster pitching at his best as a major leaguer.
Pfaadt moved to the first-base side of the rubber last year after getting pounded in his first couple MLB opportunities. He had a 9.82 ERA through six starts in which he allowed nine home runs and 38 hits through 25.2 innings.
He maintained a calm confidence and came back after making his adjustments, giving the D-back functional starting pitching down the stretch, which was pivotal considering the state of the rotation behind Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly.
Lovullo kept Pfaadt on a leash, though, not allowing him to see many hitters three times. Before he debuted, Pfaadt was considered a top 40 prospect and a strikeout machine in the minor leagues.
What does he look like over a full season and is he a major leaguer to stay? He sure looked like one late last year.
OF Druw Jones: High potential to top prospect
Jones will, miracle barring, not make an impact on the major league club in 2024, but this breakout is for him as a prospect.
The D-backs took Jones No. 2 overall in the 2022 draft behind current No. 1 prospect Jackson Holiday of the Baltimore Orioles. Since then, Jones has been limited by multiple injuries and held to 29 minor league games at an affiliate.
But he got hot at the plate in the final month of the season for Single-A Visalia, slashing .296/.412/.437 in 19 games with 14 walks and five extra-base hits.
Jones has great speed, size at 6-foot-4 and raw talent that makes for an exciting prospect offensively and defensively, someone who could slide next to Carroll and Thomas in the fastest, most athletic outfield in baseball some day.
— Full Count Baseball (@FullCountGA) January 9, 2024
OF Jorge Barrosa: Prospect to MLB contributor
Barrosa is a 5-foot-5, switch-hitting outfielder with speed. But in the group of Carroll, Thomas, Jake McCarthy and Dominic Fletcher, Barrosa is the youngest and has already put together a strong season in Triple-A Reno. He slashed .274/.394/.456 with 13 home runs, eight triples and 15 steals, spending all of 2023 in Triple-A. He is a 70 grade fielder by MLB pipeline.
He is the second-youngest position player on the 40-man roster (Lawlar), as he will turn 23 in February. He spent time with the big leaguers during the postseason on the taxi squad.
The D-backs are looking at a Carroll-Thomas-McCarthy-Lourdes Gurriel Jr. outfield with Fletcher in the mix with MLB experience, but Barrosa continuing to produce could force a look.
INF Blaze Alexander: Prospect to MLB contributor
Similar to Barrosa, Alexander spent all of 2023 with Triple-A, although he missed a couple months on the injured list after a hit-by-pitch.
He hit when healthy, though, showing off some light-tower power with a 466-footer as one of his eight homers. Alexander slashed .292/.408/.458 after slugging .540 with 20 home runs in 2022. His K rate was a bit high at 27%.
Alexander plays multiple infield spots with a big arm, as he was hitting 99 mph on the radar gun from shortstop back as an amateur. His rise through the system has been streamlined, playing mostly at High-A in 2021, Double-A in 2022 and Triple-A last year. His versatility defensively potentially opens more doors.
RHP Slade Cecconi: Prospect to starting pitcher
Cecconi received his first MLB opportunity in 2023 and outside a disaster inning against the Orioles (6 ER) it went pretty well in 27 innings. He has a filthy slider with terrific vertical movement and a fastball he can rear up to the mid 90s. He didn’t use his changeup or curveball much and when he did, they were not effective in a small sample size.
He was optioned after the blowup outing against Baltimore, and at the time Lovullo said getting past 18 hitters will be something Cecconi needs to conquer. That is unless his two-pitch combination translates to becoming a plus reliever at some point, but he is set up to compete for a rotation spot this spring.
RHP Ryne Nelson: Up-and-down rookie to more consistent big leaguer
Nelson’s final send off in 2023 was a heroic 5.1-inning effort with one earned run in Game 4 against the Rangers. He was the cleanup man after a bullpen game went horribly wrong, but in doing so he saved the bullpen for Game 5.
The season as a whole was up and down with Nelson making 27 starts, third on the team. He put together some solid stretches, particularly in June and July when he threw at least seven innings in three of five starts. But he allowed six earned runs in back-to-back starts in August leading to getting optioned to work on his breaking stuff.
Can he miss more bats after last year’s experience will be something to watch going forward. He will also compete for a spot in the rotation along with the likes of Cecconi and Tommy Henry.
RHP Justin Martinez: Raw filth to bullpen weapon
Martinez lit up the radar gun in his MLB debut last season, hitting 102s with the hardest fastball on the team. His splitter had an astounding 58.3% whiff rate as his most effective pitch.
But the 21-year-old also walked 11 batters in 10 innings, and those manufactured jams led to 14 runs scoring.
Martinez would certainly give hitters a different look if he can find himself back on the roster.
RHP Luis Frias: Quad-A to full-time major leaguer
Frias jumped back and forth from Arizona and Reno throughout 2023, making strides as the season progressed. He stayed put on the major league squad in September and through the postseason. Taking out his April and May, he boasted a 2.22 ERA the rest of the season with 18 strikeouts and 10 walks in 24.1 innings.
He is still 25 years old, one of the younger relievers to make a MLB impact thus far.