For the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Triple-A Reno Aces, Double-A Jackson Generals, High-A Visalia Rawhide and Class-A Kane County Cougars, Thursday marked the beginning of the 2018 season.
D-Backs’ affiliates finished 2017 with a 455-454 record. The .501 winning percentage ranked sixth in the majors and four of the six teams made the playoffs.
The Aces finished the season 80-62 and won the Pacific Coast League Northern Division. The El Paso Chihuahuas, the Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, swept Reno in the semifinals of the PCL playoffs, but interim manager Greg Gross‘ squad still had a great season.
With the Aces at 2-0 to start the new season after 10-2 and 8-4 wins over the Fresno Grizzlies, here is a look at who to keep your eye on.
Triple-A Reno Aces
Impact Pitching Prospect: Taylor Clarke – N0. 7 prospect by MLB.com
When a minor league season begins, at least one question always gets asked; which prospect(s) will have an impact at the big level this season?
For the D-Backs, there is a good chance Clarke will have a chance to eat innings out of the pen. Even if it comes in September when rosters expand, a team can never have enough pitching. Nothing that Clarke does jumps off the page. He does not throw hard and his stuff is not electric. But, he does everything well. The right-hander spots his fastball well and that allows him to throw his breaking ball out of the strike zone. He also will feature an average changeup. He is able to keep batters from barreling up the ball consistently, which can work against major league hitters.
Impact Hitting Prospect: Christian Walker
Walker is not considered a prospect in terms of top 30 lists, but last season’s Pacific Coast League MVP has a great chance to help the D-Backs this season.
Walker, who already has a home run and four runs batted in over his first two games with the Aces in 2018, hit 32 home runs and drove in 114 in 133 games last season at Reno. He also did a decent job at the big league level. As a D-Back, he hit .250 in 12 at-bats (11 games) with two home runs and two runs batted in.
In fact, Walker will get his chance early in 2018. Manager Torey Lovullo told reporters after Saturday’s game that Matt Koch was optioned to Reno, and Walker was recalled.
Breakout Pitching Prospect: Joey Krehbiel
Krehbiel spent some time with the big league club during spring training. For a pitcher like him, that means he is on the organization’s radar.
The right-hander had an outstanding season at Double-A Jackson last season, pitching to a 3.27 ERA in 55 innings pitched (44 appearances). He struck out 74 and walked only 27 and opponents hit .224 against him.
Krehbiel is in the breakout category because he only made two appearances for the Aces last season. He has never been mentioned as a first or second option to help the D-Backs. But. if he can prove himself in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Krehbiel could get an opportunity.
Breakout Hitting Prospect: Kevin Cron – No. 20 prospect by MLB.com
Cron, the organizational player of the year in 2017, led the way for the Double-A Jackson Generals. He hit .283 with 35 doubles, 25 home runs and 91 runs batted in across 76 games, on his way to being named the league’s MVP.
But Cron was not protected by the D-Backs during last year’s Rule-5 Draft. He did not get selected. Cron will try to prove he deserves a 40-man roster spot this season. He will start the season on the 7-day disabled list, but a promotion to Reno will give him a chance to let his bat do the talking.
Keep your eye on…
This team is loaded with an unusual amount of talent for a minor league team. There are a number of relievers with major league experience including Albert Suarez, Jake Barrett, Silvino Brach0, Neftali Feliz and Kris Medlen.
This is great news for the organization. The farm system as a whole might not have a lot of top-end talent but having a lot of depth at the Triple-A level is never a bad thing.
Check out the Aces’ roster here.