1. John Patterson, RHP
Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-6 Wt: 197
Drafted: HS–Orange, Texas, 1996 (1st round) Signed by: Ray Corbett
1997 Travis Lee, 1b
Background: Patterson is Exhibit A on why young pitching prospects should not be evaluated solely on minor league performance. Since signing for $6.075 million as a loophole free agent in 1996, he has gone 18-27 at four minor league levels. Last year, he had a 5.18 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. His numbers, not great at El Paso, got far worse at Tucson. But a closer look shows that Patterson has struck out 389 hitters in 335 innings, while walking just 136–an outstanding ratio for a pitcher at any level. He threw well in the Pan American Games as part of a Team USA that qualified for the 2000 Olympics, but a pulled rib-cage muscle hampered him in August in Triple-A.
Strengths: Patterson's fastball is solidly in the low to mid-90s and has touched 98-99 mph, but it is just his second-best pitch. His curveball is a hard, sharp-breaking downer in the low 80s that can freeze the best hitters in the game. He throws the pitch from the same high three-quarters release point as his fastball, and at 6-foot-6 with extra long arms, Patterson looks like he's dropping the pitch down from the top of the hitting background. The Diamondbacks credit Patterson's father, a former Triple-A pitcher, with teaching his son excellent pitching mechanics that have kept John healthy and throwing strikes.
Weaknesses: Aside from fine-tuning his command, especially the location of his curveball, Patterson's biggest adjustments will be mental. He tends to give hitters too much credit instead of relying on his outstanding stuff. He also nibbles around the strike zone, especially early in the count, when he could just overpower many batters with middle-of-the-plate strikes. Incredibly, Patterson didn't hit a single batter last year, a sure sign he needs to pitch inside more often. His changeup is a secondary pitch that needs improvement, but frankly he would be doing hitters a favor if he threw more changes.
The Future: If Patterson starts well at Tucson in 2000, he will be first in line for a spot in Arizona's rotation. He has as high a ceiling as any young pitcher in baseball. All he needs is to make the mental adjustments in becoming more aggressive.
1999 Club W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO El Paso (AA) 8 6 4.77 18 18 2 0 100 98 42 117 Tucson (AAA) 1 5 7.04 7 6 0 0 31 43 18 29
2. Jack Cust, OF
Age: 21 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 200
Drafted: HS–Flemington, N.J., 1997 (1st round) Signed by: Dave May
Background: In his first full season out of Rookie-level ball, Cust finished among the top 10 in the five full-season Class A leagues in average (fourth), home runs (second), RBIs (fifth), slugging percentage (first), doubles (fifth), extra-base hits (second), on-base percentage (second), walks (fifth) and runs (fifth).
Strengths: Cust has excellent bat speed and tremendous raw strength. His swing has a natural uppercut, and he can drive the ball even when he doesn't make perfect contact. He gets completely focused on a particular area of the plate on each pitch.
Weaknesses: While Cust's defense in left field has dramatically improved, his natural athletic ability hampers him. He's best at going back on the ball, but has below-average speed and arm strength.
The Future: Imagine Jim Thome's offensive line and you have a representation of what Cust could become in the big leagues. He will strike out a ton, but no hitting coach with an ounce of wisdom will tell him to change his approach.
1999 Club AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB High Desert (A) .334 455 107 152 42 3 32 112 96 145 1
3. Byung-Hyun Kim, RHP
Age: 21 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 176
Signed: South Korea, 1999 Signed by: Clay Daniel
Background: After just 53 innings of minor league experience, the sidearming Kim joined the Diamondbacks. He earned a save in his debut by striking out Mike Piazza to end the game. He was hampered late in the year by a back injury.
Strengths: Due to his exaggerated, twirling delivery that is equal parts Hideo Nomo, Scott Sullivan and Luis Tiant, Kim has unique stuff. His fastball is 90-94 mph, but his nastiest stuff is an array of sliders, including one that appears to break up when it reaches the plate.
Weaknesses: Kim had trouble adjusting to American culture and the baseball lifestyle. He lost confidence after getting hit hard for the first time in the big leagues.
The Future: It's easy to forget that Kim pitched in the majors at such a young age last year. A full, stable year in Triple-A might be the best short-term course for him.
1999 Club W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO AZL D'backs (R) 0 0 0.00 1 1 0 0 2 1 1 2 El Paso (AA) 2 0 2.11 10 0 0 0 21 6 9 32 Tucson (AAA) 4 0 2.40 11 3 0 1 30 21 15 40 Arizona 1 2 4.61 25 0 0 1 27 20 20 31
4. Jeremy Ward, RHP
Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 220
Drafted: Long Beach State, 1999 (2nd round) Signed by: James Keller
Background: Ward made two important changes that resulted in his becoming a second-round pick. He transferred from Wake Forest to Long Beach State prior to his junior year and then switched to the bullpen in April after struggling as a starter.
Strengths: When Ward switched to relief, he junked his changeup. Now he just attacks batters with a mid-90s fastball and an 86-87 mph slider. What impresses Arizona the most is Ward's makeup for the closer's role.
Weaknesses: Arizona has seen few weaknesses with Ward, but he could improve his command and calm a somewhat maximum effort delivery. For now, he will not attempt to reintroduce an offspeed pitch.
The Future: Diamondbacks closer Matt Mantei is just 26 and may be locked up soon in a long-term deal, so Ward has no pressure right now. Arizona's history, though, is not to hesitate to fill a bullpen spot with a youngster.
1999 Club W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO High Desert (A) 0 0 2.08 4 4 0 0 9 5 3 12 El Paso (AA) 1 1 2.45 19 0 0 7 26 18 9 26 Tucson (AAA) 0 0 0.00 1 0 0 0 2 2 2 1
5. Nick Bierbrodt, LHP
Age: 21 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-5 Wt: 190
Drafted: HS–Long Beach, 1996 (1st round) Signed by: Steve Springer
Background: Bierbrodt dashed to the big leagues by midseason, but he was sent down before appearing in a game. A rib-cage injury and a bout with elbow soreness shut him down for the second half. The elbow problem also kept him out of the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Bierbrodt has a complete arsenal of pitches that he can use interchangeably. His fastball is major league average with good life. His curveball and changeup are quality offspeed pitches.
Weaknesses: Aside from answering health questions, Bierbrodt must show he can get ahead of more hitters with his good stuff. He needs to improve his command, especially of his 86 mph sinker.
The Future: During the first two months of '99, Bierbrodt outpitched fellow prospects Patterson and Brad Penny, but injuries slowed him down. If Bierbrodt comes out healthy in 2000, he'll probably put himself back on a strong prospect's track.
1999 Club W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO El Paso (AA) 5 6 4.62 14 14 2 0 76 78 37 55 Tucson (AAA) 1 4 7.27 11 11 0 0 43 57 30 43
6. Alex Cintron, SS
Age: 21 B-T: B-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 180
Drafted: HS–Puerto Rico, 1997 (36th round) Signed by: Arnold Cochran
Background: Cintron was one of the most pleasant surprises in the Arizona system in 1999. A late-round draftee, he spent two years in Rookie ball before skipping over the Midwest League. He was named the California League's all-star shortstop.
Strengths: Physically, Cintron is a Derek Jeter clone. He is tall and rangy with excellent balance. His arm strength is above-average and he has quick, smooth hands. Cintron still has plenty of room to grow.
Weaknesses: Most of Cintron's problems have been on offense. He is adept at making contact but swings at everything and hasn't learned how to drive the ball or use his leverage. He is an average runner and isn't likely to become a basestealing threat.
The Future: Cintron fits the image of what the Diamondbacks wish they had at shortstop in Phoenix now–a smooth, dependable and sometimes spectacular defender who can hold his own with the bat. The faster his hitting comes around, the sooner Tony Womack will move from shortstop.
1999 Club AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB High Desert (A) .307 499 78 153 25 4 3 64 19 65 15
7. Rod Barajas, C
Age: 24 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 220
Signed: Cerritos (Calif.) JC, 1996 (NDFA) Signed by: Steve Springer/Luis Medina
Background: After an all-star season in Double-A and a trip home, Barajas was driving through Phoenix on the way to Tucson in September to prepare for the Mexican Pacific League season. Arizona officials, wanting to replace the injured Kelly Stinnett, pulled Barajas off the road with a call to his cell phone, then directed him to the next day's game.
Strengths: Barajas was signed out of a tryout camp and has shown plus makeup as a professional. He works well with pitchers, has solid arm strength and a quick release. Barajas is a contact hitter with good upper body strength and power potential.
Weaknesses: How much he hits will determine whether Barajas will become a backup or starter in the major leagues. He has poor strike-zone judgement and hit just .263 with five home runs away from hitter-friendly El Paso last year.
The Future: Barajas, a manager's favorite at every level, will start 2000 at Triple-A and could help Arizona soon.
1999 Club AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB El Paso (AA) .318 510 77 162 41 2 14 95 24 73 2 Arizona .250 16 3 4 1 0 1 3 1 1 0
8. Luis Terrero, OF
Age: 19 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 183
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1997 Signed by: Junior Noboa
Background: In '99, Terrero led all short-season players in runs, but he also ranked fifth in strikeouts. He was named the eighth-best prospect in the Pioneer League in Baseball America's survey of the league's managers.
Strengths: Terrero has the same raw tools as the best outfield prospects from the Dominican Republic. He is a plus runner with good instincts on the bases. He stole 27 bases in 37 tries for league champion Missoula. Terrero's outfield skills are advanced for his age and he has an above-average arm.
Weaknesses: While Terrero has excellent bat speed, his swing is long and undisciplined much of the time. Like many young hitters, he is especially weak on breaking balls off the outside corner of the plate
The Future: Latin American coordinator Junior Noboa has made an annual ritual of introducing a plus-tool outfielder into the system. The club is hoping that Terrero has a smoother path than the traded Abraham Nunez and the injury-plagued Jhensy Sandoval.
1999 Club AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB Missoula (R) .287 272 74 78 13 7 8 40 32 91 27
9. Ben Norris, LHP
Age: 22 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-3 Wt: 185
Drafted: HS–Austin, 1996 (13th round) Signed by: Ray Corbett
Background: Norris has earned a midseason promotion in each of his four pro seasons. He had not struck out more than 94 in a season before '99. Norris went 6-2, 3.26 away from pitcher-unfriendly El Paso last year.
Strengths: Norris has tremendous mound presence, a veteran's moxie and an excellent work ethic. He pitches anywhere from 87 to 92 mph with a sinking fastball, but his best pitch is a plus changeup that he will throw at any time in the count. Norris added a cutter last year that helped him against righthanded hitters.
Weaknesses: The Diamondbacks had Norris throw fewer curveballs last year, feeling that the pitch was too hittable. But he had more trouble getting out lefthanded hitters, who batted .331 off him.
The Future: Norris could be similar to Arizona starter Brian Anderson in all respects except for having an additional 2-3 mph on his fastball. He should start 2000 at Double-A but will be looking at a fifth straight midseason promotion.
1999 Club W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO High Desert (A) 2 2 4.43 8 8 0 0 41 39 24 45 El Paso (AA) 10 6 4.16 20 20 0 0 119 132 53 87
10. Geraldo Guzman
Age: 27 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 160
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1999/Taiwan Signed by: Junior Noboa
Background: Guzman fits none of the conventional criteria for a prospect and could be the Latin version of Devil Rays lefthander Jim Morris–perhaps the most remarkable comeback story in baseball in 1999. Before pitching briefly in Taiwan last season, Guzman had last worked professionally in the Dominican Summer League in 1991. The Expos released him after he injured his shoulder, and he waited until last year for a second chance. In the midst of a strong showing in the Dominican League this winter, he was signed by the Diamondbacks and immediately placed on the club's 40-man roster.
Strengths: What attracted Arizona's–and everyone else's–attention was the 94-96 mph fastball Guzman flashed in October workouts. He also throws a power slider and showed athleticism from the mound.
Weaknesses: In most cases having such a fresh arm would be a plus, but Guzman will enter big league camp with little pitching experience. How he handles the mental and emotional part of the game will be vital.
The Future: Morris had a 10-year layoff before pitching at Double-A Orlando last year. He made it to the majors in September. Guzman will try to follow suit as he'll likely start 2000 in Double-A.
1999 Club W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H BB SO China Trust (CPBL) 0 0 2.48 9 0 0 1 13 15 3 6
Rest of the Best:
11. Jerry Gil, ss
12. Andrew Good, rhp
13. Jose Valverde, rhp
14. Ryan Owens, 3b
15. Jhensy Sandoval, of