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Diamondbacks looking toward the future in Arizona Fall League

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SCOTTSDALE – After posting Major League Baseball’s worst record this season, the Arizona Diamondbacks are looking toward the future at this year’s Arizona Fall League.

The team’s top prospect, starting pitcher Archie Bradley, is among seven Diamondbacks playing for the Salt River Rafters, the organization’s Fall League affiliate. Viewed as potential anchor in the rotation, Bradley struggled with an elbow injury last season and is hoping to get things back on track here against tough competition.

“You’re playing against guys you heard about on minor league reports and all kinds of stuff. These are some of the best players in the minors,” Bradley said. “The lineups you face are similar to what you’re facing in the big leagues.”

Bradley wound up compiling a 4.45 ERA and 3-7 record in stops with Triple-A Reno, Double-A Mobile and the Diamondbacks’ rookie affiliate. He walked 49 batters in 83 innings while striking out 75.

In three starts with the Rafters, Bradley is 0-2 with a 10.29 ERA, walking six and striking out six in seven innings pitched. But he and his coaches are focused on other aspects of his game.

“Numbers and results aren’t everything for me right now,” Bradley said. “I’ve gained something and learned something and gotten better every time I’ve been out here. In my last start, I threw a slider for the first time in my life.”

Diamondbacks director of player development Mike Bell said Bradley is doing good things with the Rafters.

“He is showing he’s healthy, his arm strength is returning, he’s throwing a lot of good change-ups and breaking balls, and his fastball is showing some life,” Bell said. “I’m not overly concerned about the results. That’s why we send players to develop.”

While much of the attention is centered on Bradley’s progress, the other six Diamondbacks prospects are under a microscope as well. That includes catcher Peter O’Brien, rated as the Diamondbacks No. 7 prospect by, who has turned heads with three home runs and seven RBI with a .449 on-base percentage in 11 games through Thursday.

Standing 6-foot-3 and well over 200 pounds, O’Brien has the build of a slugger. He came to the Diamondbacks in the trade that sent Martin Prado to the New York Yankees after hitting 33 homers between High-A and Double-A.

O’Brien has played first base and catcher in the minors, but with Paul Goldschmidt entrenched at first base the Diamondbacks project him as a catcher.

“My biggest focus this year was my defensive work behind the plate, my plate discipline and pitch recognition,” O’Brien said. “I think I’ve made some huge strides in those aspects and will keep doing what I need to get where I want to.”

O’Brien has played some games at first base and designated hitter for the Rafters, but Bell said O’Brien’s ability to play catcher, retain a game plan and be an offensive threat have the Diamondbacks excited.

“He’s been called a catcher, but he’s played first and done some other things just because the makeup of this fall team,” Bell said. “But he’s got really good hands. He’s extremely intelligent and has good recall.”

Diamondbacks pitchers Bradley, Enrique Burgos, Kaleb Fleck and Jimmie Sherfy are throwing for the Salt River Rafters, O’Brien, third baseman Brandon Drury and outfielder Evan Marzilli are in the field.

Playing for the Rafters through Nov. 13, these top-level prospects suit up for six games per week, hoping to show scouts why they deserve a shot at the big leagues. According to the Fall League, almost 60 percent of participants end up in the majors.

Bell said every Diamondbacks player in the Fall League should think he will be one of players to make it, and for good reason.

“Brandon Drury is a very talented third baseman. He’s young but advanced and is going to be a big-leaguer, but we don’t want to rush him,” Bell said. “Evan Marzilli is an unbelievable outfielder. I think he compares with A.J. Pollock, Ender Inciarte and those guys. We also have some electric arms in the bullpen. Enrique Burgos, Kaleb Fleck and Jimmie Sherfy all have back-of-the-bullpen stuff.”

The Diamondbacks have some new faces in management after their underwhelming season, starting with Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa. The newly created position gave La Russa the authority to evaluate Arizona’s entire operation. Since coming aboard, he fired manager Kirk Gibson and demoted General Manager Kevin Towers, who later left, and brought in Chip Hale and Dave Stewart as the new manager and GM.

Bell, who has been director of player of development since 2010, said the changes could affect how the organization evaluates its prospects.

“We had a lot of the same people in places for a while. It’s always interesting when new faces come in because they evaluate our team with a fresh point of view,” Bell said. “I’ve talked to Tony and Dave numerous times, and we’re all working together to get this right.”