Even though the Arizona Diamondbacks finished 2014 in the cellar of the National League West with their 64-98 record, the team was not without its fair share of breakout performers last summer. A duo of young players, starting pitcher Chase Anderson and outfielder David Peralta, displayed plenty of promise for the Phoenix faithful and left them with something to anticipate moving forward.
The following players, each currently part of N.L. West organizations, have little to zero experience in the majors and are not necessarily some of the league's more well known prospects. However, similar to Peralta and Anderson last year, each could end up as vital components of their respective big-league clubs before the conclusion of the 2015 campaign.
Nick Ahmed (2B/SS, ARI)
Speaking of the D'backs, Ahmed was yet another player that made his big-league debut in 2014. In total, the steady-gloved middle infielder played in 25 games for Arizona last season, seeing 75 plate appearances. Although he has yet to do much with the bat in the majors, putting up a .200/.233/.271 slash with a homer and two doubles, the story was much different in the minors.
Last year for Triple-A Reno, Ahmed posted his best effort with the stick since the Atlanta Braves drafted him in the second round of the 2011 Draft. Over 104 games in the Pacific Coast League in 2014, the former UConn star recorded a strong .373 OBP to go along with 26 doubles, four triples and a 12.2 K%.
Another attribute that Ahmed brings to the table is solid baserunning skills. He combines decent speed and athleticism with natural instincts on the paths. During his four seasons on the farm, the soon-to-be 25 year old has swiped 104 total bags with a career-high of 45 coming back in 2012.
Ahmed received the majority of his playing time in Arizona last season filling in for injured shortstop Chris Owings. His route to MLB at-bats in 2015 will likely be in a utility role, as Owings projects as a long-term regular at short. However, Ahmed could be in line take over at second base should veteran Aaron Hill (220 games since start of 2013) run into more injury issues.
Gary Brown (OF, SFG)
Heading into the 2012 season, Brown was named as the No. 18 prospect in the game according to Baseball Prospectus. However, a somewhat disappointing campaign with Double-A Richmond in 2012 followed by a lackluster performance the next year for Triple-A Fresno has driven his name from the ranks of the minor-league elite.
Be that as it may, Brown put together a decent bounce-back effort in 2014 at Fresno. Across 596 plate appearances last summer, the 2010 first-round draft selection hit .271 with 40 extra-base hits, 89 runs scored and 36 stolen bases in 56 attempts. That work earned Brown a September call to the show, in which he went 3-of-7 with one RBI for the Giants.
The defending World Series champions might not have any apparent holes in their everyday projected lineup at the moment, but injuries do happen, especially with veteran center fielder Angel Pagan.
Pagan has managed to play just 167 games over the past two seasons and is now on the wrong side of the curve at 33 years of age. This is definitely where Brown's wheels, arm and above-average ability in center could come into play for the Giants. If he continues to progress at the plate, Brown could turn into a steady source of steals and runs atop the San Francisco order at some point.
Jairo Diaz (RP, COL)
LaTroy Hawkins is 42 years old, has exactly 1,000 appearances (only 98 starts) under his belt and made his major-league debut back in April of 1995. LaTroy Hawkins is also the current closer in Colorado.
Not to disrespect his 23 saves (26 chances) and 3.31 ERA from last season, but honestly, how long can we expect Hawkins to keep this up. Guessing that the elder statesman's performance is about to take an understandable nosedive, Diaz may just be on the shortlist of candidates that will be given a shot to assume the closer role for the Rockies in 2015.
Diaz is a new addition for the club, as he was brought to Colorado in a deal that sent infielder Josh Rutledge to the Angels back on December 11th. The rocket-armed righty made his debut in the bigs in 2014, working 5.2 impressive frames over five games for the Halos. Utilizing his top-notch heater (avg. 97.2 mph) on over 80 percent of his deliveries, Diaz allowed just two earned runs on four hits while racking up eight punchouts.
Those numbers closely resemble what Diaz was able to accomplish Double-A Arkansas last year. Over 27 appearances in the Texas League, the 23-year-old hurler was sensational, converting all 11 of his save opportunities while sporting a 2.20 ERA, 1.99 FIP and 13.2 K/9. Could Diaz become the next dominant catcher-turned-pitcher, e.g., Kenley Jansen or Jason Motte?