The Arizona Diamondbacks announced several roster moves on Sunday morning, headlined by the promotion of pitching prospect Bryce Jarvis. The Diamondbacks selected his contract from Triple-A Reno, designating catcher Carson Kelly for assignment in a corresponding move. They also reinstated catcher Gabriel Moreno from the 10-day injured list and optioned starting pitcher Ryne Nelson to Triple-A.
Jarvis, Arizona’s first-round pick in the 2020 draft, will be making his MLB debut. He is a top-30 prospect in the D-backs’ system, according to Baseball America (18th) and MLB Pipeline (29th).
The Duke University product made a solid first impression in 2021, tossing 75 1/3 innings across three levels. He had particular success at High-A Hillsboro, posting a 3.62 ERA in seven starts. However, he struggled following his promotion to Double-A Amarillo: his walk rate rose, his home run rate doubled, and his ERA ballooned to 5.66. He remained in Double-A the following season, where his struggles only intensified. Walks and home runs continued to cause him trouble, and his opponents were having more success on balls in play. He finished with a ghastly 8.27 ERA in 25 starts.
Nevertheless, Jarvis earned a promotion to Triple-A in April 2023. Free passes remained a problem for him at Reno, where he walked more than 11% of the batters he faced, but he got his home run rate in check, and his ERA came down to a more respectable 5.40 in 16 starts.
In late July, Jarvis transitioned to a bullpen role, a temporary change to address an area of need within the organization. The 25-year-old told Michael McDermott of Inside the Diamondbacks that there are still “long-term plans” for him to be a starter, but “for the rest of this year,” the team needed him more in the bullpen.
That being that case, it’s unlikely Jarvis will be taking Nelson’s spot in the rotation. With Nelson at Triple-A, the Diamondbacks only have three starting pitchers on the 26-man roster: Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, and Brandon Pfaadt. However, Zach Davies is expected to return from the IL shortly, and Slade Cecconi could rejoin the rotation as well. Cecconi, the team’s No. 14 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, made a start on August 2 before moving to the bullpen. He has only made a single appearance out of the ’pen in that time. Prior to his call-up, he made 20 starts at Triple-A Reno, pitching to a 6.38 ERA.
Nelson has been sturdy for Arizona this season; he is tied for third in the National League in starts and 21st in innings pitched. That said, he has a 7.60 ERA and 5.49 SIERA in his last seven starts, and the Diamondbacks have lost five of those seven games. Neither Cecconi nor Jarvis is a surefire upgrade over Nelson, but the D-backs certainly needed to shake things up. Before yesterday’s victory over the Padres, they had lost their last nine games. Their pitching staff has a 4.93 ERA in August, and they have been outscored 46-23.
Moreno’s return should give the pitching staff another much-needed boost. His offensive performance has been underwhelming in his first season with the Diamondbacks, but he has done well behind the dish. His 9 Defensive Runs Saved are tied for fifth among catchers. Meanwhile, his pitch framing doesn’t grade out particularly well (33rd percentile, per Baseball Savant), but he has still been a more valuable framer than Kelly (22nd percentile) and Jose Herrera (3rd percentile), who have covered behind the dish since Moreno hit the IL on July 23.
As for Kelly, 29, it’s not a shock to see him cut from the roster based on his recent results but it’s a significant development from a wider lens. He was once a top 100 prospect with the Cardinals and was one of the prospects that came to Arizona in the Paul Goldschmidt trade, along with Luke Weaver and Andrew Young. The former was flipped to the Royals last year for Emmanuel Rivera, who was optioned to the minors yesterday, while Young was lost to the Nationals in the minor league portion of the 2021 Rule 5 draft.
Kelly was once hoped to be the club’s catcher of the future and he showed well in his first season in the desert. He hit 18 home runs in 2019 and walked in 13.2% of his plate appearances, leading to a .245/.348/.478 batting line and 107 wRC+. But since then, he’s hit just .225/.303/.366, including a line of .226/.283/.298 this year. He could have been retained for one more season via arbitration, owed a raise on this year’s $4.275M M salary, but the D’Backs have decided to move on instead.
Today’s move means that none of the three players from the Goldschmidt trade remain on the roster. The transaction tree is technically still alive thanks to the presence of Rivera, but the deal looks unquestionably disappointing in retrospect. The club will put Kelly on waivers in coming days and he will almost certainly clear, given his salary and recent performance. Since he has over five years of service time, he will have the ability to reject an outright assignment while retaining all of his salary. The Diamondbacks will remain on the hook for that, allowing another club to sign him and pay him only the prorated league minimum, with that amount subtracted from what the Diamondbacks pay.