Starting in October and running through the end of the year, MiLB.com's new State of the System series evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each Major League organization, highlights prospects who've made the biggest strides in 2020 and offers a peek at 2021.
Even in its shortened form, the D-backs' 2020 season was lackluster at best. After a formidable 2019 campaign, Arizona was expected to battle with the Dodgers for the National League West. Instead, the team faltered and finished the season 25-35, including a ghastly 20-game stretch in which the club went 2-18.
Still, plenty remains to be excited about in Arizona. For the second consecutive Trade Deadline, the organization flipped some established veterans in an effort to boost its farm system, which has steadily grown into one of the more alluring in the sport. The D-backs pride themselves on their young, homegrown, high-ceiling talent, aiming for 2022 as their estimated year of contention. Arizona, however, still saw some of its more highly regarded youngsters reach the big leagues this season. Daulton Varsho's defensive versatility led him to an everyday role in the lineup, while 2017 first-rounder Pavin Smith impressed at the plate in his first 12 Major League games.
Meanwhile, a handful of the D-backs' top prospects gained valuable development at the team's alternate training site in Scottsdale, including top-100 prospects Kristian Robinson, Alek Thomas, Geraldo Perdomo and Corbin Carroll. The quartet highlight an evolving system chock-full of potential, and the D-backs are hopeful those four will be the faces of their future for years to come.
System strengths: Despite all four of Arizona's top-100 prospects being position players, the D-backs are most optimistic about their pitching potential down on the farm.
"We have a large amount of quality arms, but the starters and relievers we've built up over the last couple of years -- that's what we're most excited about moving forward," said director of player development Josh Barfield.
Of those arms, names like fifth-ranked prospect Blake Walston and 12th-ranked Slade Cecconi jump off the page. Walston, a 19-year-old southpaw from Wilmington, North Carolina, was the organization's youngest prospect at the alternate site this summer. Selected by Arizona as its second first-round pick (No. 26 overall) in the 2019 Draft, Walston has not been in the organization long but has dazzled in his short time while gaining valuable experience facing big league hitters. Cecconi, the competitive balance round selection in this year's Draft, has also impressed early, with his fastball touching 98 miles per hour at the alternate site.
After Walston, the next five ranked D-backs prospects are right-handed pitchers, headlined by Corbin Martin -- who is recovering from Tommy John surgery -- and 2020 first-rounder Bryce Jarvis.
Areas for growth: Arizona could likely improve on infield depth. However, players like Andy Young and Seth Beer back up top infield prospect Perdomo, giving the D-backs some legroom in an area where they were often stretched thin in years prior. Young, the club's No. 17 prospect, appeared in 12 Major League games in the truncated 2020 season. Beer, who was acquired by Arizona at the 2019 Trade Deadline as part of the Zack Greinke deal, wields a powerful bat and could receive a call up in early 2021.
Perdomo remains the most captivating of the group, however. The 20-year-old switch-hitter topped out in the California League in 2019, where he hit .301 with a .794 OPS in 26 games. Listed as MLB.com's No. 79 overall prospect, Perdomo is also regarded as the best defensive prospect in the D-backs system.
What changed in 2020: Much like 2019, the D-backs traded away experienced veterans for a prospect haul. This year's key trades bolstering Arizona's system including dealing righty Archie Bradley to the Reds for No. 13 prospect Stuart Fairchild and outfielder Starling Marte to Miami for No. 30 prospect Humberto Mejia. Additionally, including the signing of Jarvis and Cecconi, the D-backs also snagged left-hander Liam Norris in the 2020 Draft, further bolstering their strong pitching repertoire.
Alternate site standouts: Robinson wasn't officially added to the D-backs' alternate site roster until mid-August, though he had been working out in Arizona previously. Still, it didn't take long for the No. 39 overall prospect to look like he was in mid-season form. A five-tool athlete known for his impressive power and speed and his defensive arm, Robinson has perhaps the highest ceiling in the system.
After signing with the D-backs at the age of 17, Robinson spent his first year of professional ball in the Rookie leagues. In 2019, he swatted nine homers and drove in 35 runs in 44 games with Class A Short Season Hillsboro before being promoted to Class A Kane County for the remainder of the year. Across both levels, the ninth-ranked outfield prospect hit .282/.368/.514 and tallied 131 total bases.
"[Kristian] is a monster," Barfield said. "He can do a lot of things on the field that can get you really excited. ... He did really well at the alternate site, and he's continued to do well at instructs."
Cecconi is another standout, with Barfield noting the right-hander impressed on all fronts facing big leaguers.
"He came in and kicked the door down," Barfield said. "From the time he's stepped on the mound, he's been incredibly impressive. From his pose, to his stuff to his make-up, he's looked like a game changer."
Impact rookies: A former top-100 prospect, Varsho's ability to play multiple positions made up for some struggles at the plate in his rookie season. The 24-year-old made his Major League debut on July 30 and played in 37 games. He hit just .188 but showed some power with three home runs and five doubles. The Wisconsin native caught 10 games and played 19 in the outfield while serving as the team's designated hitter seven times.
Smith debuted in mid-September after spending the entirety of the 2019 season with Double-A Jackson. In 123 games for the Generals last year, the 24-year-old Virginia product posted a .291/.370/.466 slash line. He showed his contact skills in the big leagues, albeit in a small sample, by ripping 10 hits in 12 games, including his first Major League home run on Sept. 25.
Next big thing: While the front office is upbeat about the organization's arms, it would be hard for D-backs fans not to be excited about the package of outfielders in Robinson, Thomas and Carroll. Arizona is banking on this highly-touted trio to lead the next wave of talent in the desert, with No. 23 prospect Dominic Fletcher gaining consideration as well. Robinson and Thomas are both ranked as top-10 outfield prospects and are slated to arrive in the big leagues in 2022. Carroll is expected in 2023, but Barfield notes that with the development opportunities that arose this season, those timelines could be sooner.
Along with their talent, the chemistry of the group is also special, according to Barfield.
"These guys push each other and continue to grow together," Barfield said. "They want to get better, but they want to see the other guys do well, too. It's a pretty unique situation, and we're hoping that carries over into the big leagues."