Following the five-round 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, MiLB.com takes an organization-by-organization look at each pick with help from team scouting executives.
Like every team in the big leagues, the D-backs approached the 2020 Draft with a plan -- and no idea how things would play out around their picks. After five selections, the hand Arizona wound up being dealt was one it was comfortable with -- drafting pitchers.
Arizona nabbed arms with four of its five 2020 picks, including its first two, on the event’s opening day. D-backs general manager Mike Hazen was pleased with what came his team’s way early.
“We went pitching this year,” Hazen told reporters after the first two rounds. “Had a pretty good idea that that’s the way this was going to go down, just where we had all the pitching ranked on our board. It was pretty stacked up pitching for those first 30-plus picks. We had a pretty idea that’s the way it was going to come down.
“I’m a firm believer that you can never have too much (pitching talent), and we’re building out a decent crop of young pitchers that hopefully will be part of our organization for years to come.”
In all, Arizona ended the First-Year Player Draft with three collegiate pitchers, one prep arm and one high-school position player; a group the D-backs brass is confident will contribute to the next era of winning in the desert.
First Round: RHP Bryce Jarvis (No. 18 overall)
Arizona plucked MLB.com's 25th-ranked Draft prospect with its first selection, choosing Jarvis out of Duke. The right-hander posted a 2.81 ERA across 48 total appearances (20 starts) in two-plus years with the Blue Devils and was off to a torrid start in 2020, going 3-1 with an 0.67 ERA in four starts before the season was halted. A total package stood out to D-backs director of amateur scouting Deric Ladnier.
“The combination of everything,” Ladnier said. "As we’ve said before about him, the advanced ability to use four pitches, the ability to pound the strike zone. A lot of times nowadays we talk about pitch shape and design and tunneling and all those things, and all those things that we do with players once they get into our system, it takes guys time to figure out how to do that. Obviously, he’s a little bit older, but the one thing that was so intriguing is he’s already mastered that, quite frankly. His ability to use all of his pitches effectively, his ability to change speeds, hit a spot with his fastball, he’s done all that.”
None of Arizona's top five prospects heading into the Draft was a pitcher -- but the next five were all hurlers. Jarvis jumps right into the mix in the club's talented pitching ranks. The son of former big leaguer Kevin Jarvis, Bryce’s repertoire is led by a 60-grade fastball and changeup with plate control that enabled him to amass 40 strikeouts and just two walks in his four starts this spring.
“I think over the last couple of years, we’ve been able to stockpile some premium talent,” Ladnier said. “Now obviously we’ve got to get them out there playing so that we can reap the benefits of our investments, but people ask me, ‘Were you looking for bats? Were you looking for pitchers?’ Today, we were looking for the best players, and they happened to be two college pitchers. We were very pleased that both were there, and we can hopefully get them in our system and start developing them.
“[Jarvis] not only has the ability, but he’s got the advanced approach for pitching. I know that is going to allow him to advance quickly through our system and hopefully impact our Major League club sooner than later.”
Competitive Balance Round A: RHP Slade Cecconi (No. 33 overall)
The D-backs stayed in the ACC for their second selection, taking Jarvis’ conference rival Cecconi out of Miami.
“Obviously he’s got the size, got the stuff, four-pitch mix, really intelligent, comes from a really good family,” Ladnier said. “He’s not as advanced as Jarvis is in his ability to control the zone. I mean, he’s an elite strike-thrower. You can look at his numbers and tell that, but we knew with him, there’s some things that we’re going to have to do. We certainly believe in the ability.”
Cecconi also made four starts this spring, going 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA to wrap up his season-plus with the Hurricanes. The righty is listed at 6-foot-4, 219 pounds -- with a frame that enables him to reach 96 mph with his 60-grade fastball. The D-backs see a lot of projectability in Cecconi from a physical standpoint as well as a mental one.
“A lot of these guys, their games are being called by their (college) coaches,” Ladnier said. “He will admit that. It’s like maybe he wanted to use his changeup more, maybe he wanted to use his curveball more. Those are the types of things that we’re going to have to teach him to do so that he gets more confident.”
Cecconi has a more limited body of work, arriving on the scene this year as a Draft-eligible sophomore, but he and Jarvis make for a formidable duo of righties in the D-backs’ pitching ranks.
“We had both of those guys ranked very highly,” Hazen said. “Both guys we feel like have stuff. They’re advanced college pitchers that we would hope from a development standpoint could move through our system fairly quickly and get up to the big league level.
“Even Bryce and Slade, we probably got four or five starts out of them this year. It was enough, obviously. We had scouted them. We had seen them a few times each and we had history with them, but it’s a lot less than we used to. I think that was probably the most challenging thing.”
Third Round: LHP Liam Norris (No. 90 overall)
Arizona missed out on a second-round pick after signing free-agent pitcher Madison Bumgarner during the offseason, the team visited the prep ranks for the first time in the third round with the selection of Norris. Similarly sized to Cecconi at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Norris also can touch 96 mph with his fastball.
The southpaw struggles with command, though. Norris walked 107 batters in 141 innings in high school, but Ladnier believes the improved strike-zone command the D-backs saw during his abbreviated high-school season will continue to develop and join Norris’ other tools.
“We had enough information in the past to see the difference and the change that he made,” Ladnier said. “We felt like the upside of a high-school left-handed pitcher with the type of stuff he had, we were really intrigued and glad to get him where we got him. We just felt like the upside was too good to pass on him.”
Fourth Round: 3B A.J. Vukovich (No. 119 overall)
The lone bat picked up by Arizona in this year’s Draft belongs an East Troy, Wisconsin, slugger. Vukovich may turn out be a steal, the D-backs nabbed him over 30 picks below his overall rank of 86th on the Top 200 Draft list. Vukovich finished second to Red Sox selection Blaze Jordan in the 2019 High School Home Run Derby and has 55-grade power from his right-handed swing. While he moves well for his size, listed at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, some scouts are split on his defensive future and whether he can stay at third base, move across the infield to first or slot in at a corner outfield position.
Fifth Round: RHP Brandon Pfaadt (No. 149 overall)
While Pfaadt may not have been in MLB.com's Top 200 and put up a 4.09 ERA in three seasons at Division II Bellarmine in Kentucky, he stood out on the collegiate summer circuit. After going 6-2 with a 1.79 ERA in 25 relief appearances for Mankato of the Northwoods League in 2018, the righty was also stellar in the Cape Cod League last summer with a 2.81 ERA in nine outings (two starts).
“Had really good reports on him coming out of the Cape,” Ladnier told MLB.com. “We had a chance to see him in the spring, and [he’s] another guy that’s up to 96 mph, plus curveball, feel for a changeup. Really good delivery, big, strong, durable guy that we felt had upside as a starter like Liam Norris.”
The 2020 Draft gives the D-backs an infusion of pitching talent, and Jarvis and Cecconi especially profile as two players who could climb quickly toward Phoenix. While Norris and Pfaadt might be further away, Arizona loves each pitcher’s upside, and Vukovich’s power has the potential to make him a gem other organizations missed out on. The D-backs are in an interesting spot after entering what looked like a rebuild period following the trade of Paul Goldschmidt before finishing second place in the National League West last year. The club’s latest selections are positioned to help Arizona extend its window of contention.
Tyler Maun is a reporter for MiLB.com and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.