Though they are just 58-57, the Arizona Diamondbacks find themselves 4.5 games behind the deadlocked Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants in the National League West standings.
The post-season remains a possibility for the Snakes, but the organization is especially excited about its long-term future because of a precious commodity that few teams have – starting pitching.
Young arms like Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill anchor the current Diamondbacks rotation, and more promising starters are on the way. Among them are Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and Archie Bradley.
Corbin, a 23-year-old left-hander who was acquired in the Dan Haren trade at the deadline in 2010, has shuttled between Arizona, Triple-A Reno and Double-A Mobile this season. He has pitched well at all three destinations.
Corbin made his Major League debut on April 30, and since rejoining the Diamondbacks on August 1, he is 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA in three starts. Overall, the second round pick of the Angels in 2009 is 4-4 with a 3.41 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and .237 opponent’s batting average.
The third overall pick of the 2011 draft out of UCLA, Bauer is the sixth-best prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com. The 21-year-old right-hander had a cup of coffee with the Diamondbacks earlier this season, struggling with a 1-2 record and a 6.06 ERA in four starts. Bauer has a 2.33 ERA between Mobile and Reno this season, including a 4-1 record and a 2.85 ERA in 11 starts in Triple-A.
Arguably the most highly regarded of the bunch is 21-year-old left-hander Tyler Skaggs. Packaged with Corbin from the Angels in the Haren deal, Skaggs was ranked No. 7 on Baseball America’s 2012 Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects List.
Like Corbin and Bauer, Skaggs has seen time at Mobile and Reno this year. He logged a 2.84 ERA in 13 starts at Mobile and has been filthy at Reno, where he is 4-1 with a 1.70 ERA and a .228 opponent’s batting average in eight starts. Skaggs was a supplemental first rounder out of high school by the Angels in 2009.
With Corbin already in the Major League rotations, and Bauer and Skaggs on the verge of being called up, the Diamondbacks could part ways with veteran Joe Saunders, whose contract expires after this season. Should the team fall out of contention, it could trade the 31-year-old left-hander for a prospect. He is 6-8 with a 3.52 ERA and has surrendered just two runs in each of his last two outings.
As soon as 2013, Arizona’s rotation could include Kennedy, Cahill and the three phenoms – Corbin, Bauer and Skaggs. Those five arms could remain together for several seasons.
Kennedy, the 27-year-old right-hander who was 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA last year and is 10-9 with a 4.34 ERA this season, is not eligible for free agency until 2016. Cahill, a 24-year-old righty acquired from Oakland who won 18 games for the A’s in 2010, is under cost-effective team control through 2015 (with more expensive $13 million and $13.5 million team options respectively in 2016 and 2017).
Though he is not nearly ready for the majors, the 20-year-old Bradley provides Arizona with another potential golden arm. Ranked No. 16 on Baseball America’s mid-season top 50 list this summer, the right-hander is 10-5 with a 3.86 ERA, a .173 opponent’s batting average and 120 strikeouts in 114.1 innings at low Single-A South Bend.
A first round pick (seventh overall) out of high school by the Diamondbacks in 2011, Bradley is considered the organization’s second-best prospect by MLB.com, ahead of Skaggs and Corbin.