Wrap: Kevin Goldstein took your Diamondbacks questions
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections
of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development
personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards
of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time)
are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.
The Diamondbacks improved by 26 victories in 2005, but after the previous
season’s 51-111 debacle, there was nowhere to go but up.
The team began its offseason housecleaning by dealing Randy Johnson
to the Yankees, and then made a splash in the free-agent market by signing
righthander Russ Ortiz and third baseman Troy Glaus to big-money contracts
that were criticized for both their length and dollar amount.
While Glaus performed to expectations, Ortiz and other veteran pitchers
The Diamondbacks will move forward with a front office that has experienced
significant turnover. Franchise founder Jerry Colangelo left in a dispute
over the direction of the club in 2004. Former agent Jeff Moorad was
approved as a general partner in February 2005. Joe Garagiola Jr., the
only GM in franchise history, resigned to become Major League Baseball’s
senior vice president of baseball operations in August. Red Sox assistant
GM Josh Byrnes came aboard in October to replace Garagiola, and he hired
Boston director of baseball operations Peter Woodfork to be his assistant
On the diamond, the Diamondbacks are trying to make a transition from
veterans to youth. Two of the top hitting prospects in the system, 2003
first-round picks Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson, have nothing left
to prove in the minors, yet are blocked. Plans are to give Jackson an
opportunity to play first base every day in 2006 despite Tony Clark’s
renaissance, while Quentin may have to wait out the contracts of outfielders
Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green.
The Diamondbacks system has taken a major step forward over the last
three years under the direction of scouting director Mike Rizzo, as
their top four prospects match up with any team’s. Leading the
way is Stephen Drew, as Arizona took advantage of other teams’
fear of the shortstop’s signability to scoop him up with the 15th
overall pick in 2004. The Diamondbacks didn’t sign Drew until
a week before the 2005 draft, but he performed well enough in his pro
debut and in the Arizona Fall League to earn consideration as the major
league shortstop as early as 2006.
With the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, Arizona selected shortstop Justin
Upton. In their minds, that gave the Diamondbacks the best player in
each of the last two drafts. Upton would rank atop this prospect list
if he had signed. Negotiations with Upton and advisor Larry Reynolds
hadn’t been contentious, but the sides remained $1.5 million ($6.25
million vs. $4.75 million) apart.
In a system loaded with hitters but weak on arms, Rizzo spent eight
of his next nine selections following Upton on college pitchers. Supplemental
first-rounder Matt Torra and righthander Micah Owings both made this
Top 10 list. The progression of this group of arms will be crucial to
the Diamondbacks’ future, as they look to be more conservative
on the free-agent market. If they can outlast or unload some of the
bloated contracts that will be an issue over the next three years, Arizona
is in a position to contend annually in the weak National League West.
March 16, 1983 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 195 B-T: L-R
Florida State, 2004 (1st round) Signed by: Luke
Background: The talented trio of Drew brothers
(Stephen and older siblings J.D. and Tim) have been drafted a total of
four times in the first round—and Stephen almost made it five. The
top position player available in the 2004 draft, Drew slipped to Arizona
at No. 15 because of his bonus demands. Negotiations dragged into the
spring of 2005, and he joined Camden in the independent Atlantic League.
He finally signed with Arizona on May 30, minutes before a midnight Eastern
Time deadline. Drew agreed to a five-year, $5.5 million major league contract
that included a $4 million bonus and another $2 million in easily obtained
incentives. His indy league time allowed Drew to hit the ground running
at high Class A Lancaster, despite missing two weeks with a nagging hamstring
injury. He tired at Double-A Tennessee as his layoff took its toll, but
rebounded to hit .337 with six homers in the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: One scout calls Drew “the perfect combination
of baseball tools and baseball skills.” He’s a middle infielder
who’s a middle-of-the-order run producer as well. He uses the
same setup and has the same picture-perfect swing as his brother J.D.
Drew has an advanced knowledge of the strike zone, and he has the ability
to hit for average with power to all fields. His stroke has natural
loft and plenty of backspin in its finish. Because he never played in
a college summer league or with Team USA, Drew’s ability to hit
with wood was a question mark, but that issue was eliminated with his
strong pro debut. Defensively, Drew has good reactions and soft hands
while flashing above-average arm strength. He’s a slightly above-average
runner, though the hamstring troubles muted his speed.
Weaknesses: Questions about Drew’s makeup and desire lingered
throughout his amateur career. His seeming unwillingness to play summer
ball in college, as well his constant time off with injuries, left some
to wonder if Drew’s desire matches his obvious abilities. J.D.
has had the same tag in the major leagues. Drew’s stoic on-field
demeanor is also often interpreted as a lack of fire, though he begged
his way back into the lineup with the hamstring problems when the Diamondbacks
wanted to shut him down. At the plate, Drew can overadjust to cold streaks,
becoming either overly contact-oriented or pull-conscious. He’s
often lazy in the field, waiting on grounders and flipping throws to
first base. He doesn’t always show the first-step quickness to
stay at shortstop, though he has the athleticism to be an above-average
second baseman or center fielder.
The Future: In just three months, Drew established himself as
Arizona’s shortstop of the future. However, the anticipated signing
of 2005 first-round pick Justin Upton could move Drew to another position
in the middle of the diamond. With no obvious candidate at the major
league level, he’ll get a spring-training opportunity to win the
major league starting job unless the Diamondbacks bring in a veteran.
California, 2003 (1st round) Signed by: Fred Costello
Background: Jackson has hit at least .300 at
every minor league stop in his brief pro career, and his .354 average
at Triple-A Tucson represented a career high when he was called up in
late July. He was unable to replicate his success with Arizona due in
part to his inconsistent playing time.
Strengths: While Jackson’s bat is his only above-average
tool, it’s exceptional. His simple mechanics and contact-oriented
approach allow him to spray line drives into the gaps seemingly
at will. His pitch recognition is off the charts, and he’s
strong enough to hit at least 20 homers annually. Drafted as a
third baseman, he now projects to be an average first baseman.
Weaknesses: Jackson can be too passive at times at the
plate, waiting for the perfect pitch instead of hammering one
he could drive. Arizona straightened his stance at the end of
2004, but returned to a pronounced wide setup in 2005, sapping
him of some power.
The Future: Despite Tony Clark’s 30-homer season,
the Diamondbacks want Jackson’s bat in their lineup. He
should be their everyday first baseman in 2006.
2005 Club (Class)
August 28, 1982 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt.: 225
Stanford, 2003 (1st round) Signed by: Fred Costello
Background: Quentin’s pro debut was delayed
by Tommy John surgery after he was drafted in 2003, but he has made up
for lost time. He has batted .316 with 42 homers in two pro seasons.
Strengths: Quentin is a classic corner outfielder with
above-average hitting skills, plate discipline and power. Despite
his plate-crowding tactics—he leads the minors with 72 hit
by pitches in the last two years—he can cheat on inside
pitches and crush them as easily as he takes outside pitches to
the opposite field. His instincts make him a plus baserunner and
have enabled him to get by in center field when he moved there
in July. His arm hasn’t regained its pre-surgery strength
but is solid for right field.
Weaknesses: Quentin’s effort in center field was
universally praised, but he just doesn’t cover enough ground
to play there on a regular basis. His pure speed is average at
The Future: Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green and Chad Tracy
are blocking Quentin on Arizona’s outfield corners, but
he has nothing left to prove in Triple-A. He could begin his big
league career in center and move to right down the road.
2005 Club (Class)
October 17, 1985 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-1 Wt.: 180
Venezeula, 2002 Signed by: Miguel Nava
Background: Gonzales’ tools always had
excited the Diamondbacks, and he exploded in 2005. He won the MVP award
and ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the low Class A Midwest League, where
managers rated him the best batting prospect, best defensive outfielder,
best outfield arm and most exciting player.
Strengths: Most aspects of the game come easy to Gonzales.
He has a quick, fluid swing and strong wrists, projecting as a
.300 hitter with 30-plus homer power. He makes adjustments like
a veteran and commands the strike zone well. He takes good routes
and has a plus arm in right field.
Weaknesses: Gonzales’ speed is currently just average,
and it should continue to regress as he fills out. He can get
pull-happy and has some holes on the outer half of the plate,
but those are easily correctable issues. He doesn’t walk
as much as he could because he makes contact so easily.
Gonzales has the chance to be a special player, but there’s
no reason to rush him, especially considering Arizona’s
outfield. He’ll begin 2006 in high Class A, where he could
put up monster numbers in the friendly confines of Lancaster.
West Virginia, 2002 (15th round) Signed by: Greg Lonigro
Background: Considered the system’s best
pitching prospect entering 2004, Nippert pitched poorly before requiring
Tommy John surgery that June. He surprisingly returned in late May and
won the Double-A Southern League ERA title. He picked up his first major
league win with five one-hit innings against the Dodgers in late September.
Strengths: In a system loaded with elite offensive prospects,
Nippert is one of the few pitchers with impact potential. His
fastball sits at 92-94 mph and touches 96, and he can throw his
spike curveball for strikes or bury it in the dirt. He has the
makings of a decent changeup, and his height and arm action allow
him to deliver all of his pitches on a steep downward plane.
Weaknesses: Nippert struggled with his control in his brief
big league stint, as he lost confidence and began to nibble at
the plate. His fastball can get straight, but he makes up for
it with his command and his downhill plane.
The Future: Nippert will get the chance to win a rotation
job in spring training. A little Triple-A seasoning wouldn’t
hurt if he doesn’t make it.
2005 Club (Class)
July 9, 1983 B-T: L-R Ht: 5-11 Wt.: 190
Venezuela, 2001 Signed by: Junior Noboa
Background: Montero was seen as a catcher with
some promise, but nobody expected his 2005 breakout campaign. He challenged
for the California League triple crown and played in the Futures Game,
though he slowed down in Double-A, in part because of a ribcage injury.
Strengths: Under the tutelage of Lancaster manager Bill
Plummer and hitting coach Damon Mashore, Montero shortened his
swing and began to let his strength work for him at the plate.
He focused on just putting good wood on the ball instead of trying
to pull everything. He has average arm strength, blocks balls
well and calls a good game.
Weaknesses: Montero’s Double-A struggles also were
the result of a return to bad habits. He began to overswing, allowing
pitchers to expose his holes. His throws sometimes lack accuracy,
and he erased a slightly below-average 32 percent of basestealers
The Future: Even the Diamondbacks were surprised by Montero’s
explosion, and they rewarded him by assigning him to the Arizona
Fall League. He’ll begin 2006 by trying to show he can handle
Houston, 2004 (3rd round) Signed by: Trip Couch
Background: Mock was seen as a first-round talent
entering his junior year at Houston, but a broken ankle hurt his performance
and he fell to the third round. In his first full season, he gutted through
pitching at one of the friendlier hitter’s parks in baseball to
lead the California League in wins and strikeouts.
Strengths: Mock has a full arsenal, touching 94-95 mph
with his four-seam fastball while mixing in a 88-91 cutter with
excellent movement. His slider and curveball are both quality
offerings, and he commands all of his pitches well. He’s
a big-bodied power pitcher who maintains his stuff deep into games.
Weaknesses: Scouts remain concerned about the difference
between Mock’s stuff and results. He gives up too many hits,
leaving too many pitches over the heart of the plate when he clearly
has the command to work the corners. His changeup needs more work,
but it should be an average pitch in the end.
Mock’s bulldog approach helped him survive the tough environment
of the California League, and with a few refinements, he could
take off. He’ll start 2006 in Double-A.
2005 Club (Class)
Lancaster (Hi A)
June 29, 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 225
Massachusetts, 2005 (1st round) Signed by: Matt Merullo
Background: Torra was seen as just a solid arm
with a weak program entering 2005, but he became a supplemental first-round
pick who signed for $1.025 million after leading NCAA Division I with
a 1.14 ERA for a 16-33 Massachusetts team. After racking up high pitch
counts for the Minutemen, he worked just 10 innings in his pro debut before
being shut down with biceps tendinitis.
Strengths: Torra made significant improvements to his
physical condition prior to the 2005 season, and his stuff took
off. He works low in the strike zone with a 92-94 mph fastball
that he can dial up to 96. He throws a power curve with true 12-to-6
break that he can begin or end in the strike zone with equal effectiveness.
His mechanics are simple and repeatable.
Weaknesses: Torra has yet to face any sort of advanced
competition. His changeup is still a work in progress. His heavy
college workload was a concern to some scouts.
The Future: Torra should be 100 percent for spring training
and will begin 2006 at one of Arizona’s two Class A affiliates.
He could reach Double-A by the end of the year.
Tulane, 2005 (3rd round) Signed by: Mike Valarezo
Background: The Rockies drafted Owings in the
second round in 2002 after he made a run at the national high school career
home run record. A two-way star at Georgia Tech, he fell to the 19th round
(Cubs) in 2004 because of signability concerns. After transferring to
Tulane and leading the Green Wave in homers and pitching strikeouts in
2005, he went in the third round and signed for $440,000.
Strengths: Scouts long preferred Owings’ power arm
to his bat, and he showed why in his pro debut. He saw his fastball
jump to 94-97 mph as a reliever. He also made some adjustments
with his mid-80s slider, which became a plus pitch with late downward
break. He’s an aggressive strike-thrower who’s not
afraid to work inside.
Weaknesses: Owings’ changeup is average at best,
and will be his point of emphasis when he returns to the rotation
in 2006. He still needs to mature from thrower to pitcher, working
harder on setting hitters up instead of challenging them on every
The Future: Arizona believes Owings could move quickly
as a reliever but offers more value as a starter. He’ll
most likely open 2006 in the Lancaster rotation.
HS—Hacienda Heights, Calif., 2002 (1st round) Signed
by: Mark Baca
Background: Arizona continually has pushed Santos
since it drafted him in 2002’s first round, and he finally hit a
wall at Triple-A in 2005. He didn’t get his average above .200 until
late May, and he hit only one home run after July 1.
Strengths: Santos’ pure tools remain impressive
despite his poor performance. He has plus bat speed and good power
for a shortstop. While he slumped at the plate, he did improve
significantly in the field. Santos has soft hands and an above-average
arm, and he made great strides in his reads and work on double
Weaknesses: Santos overreacted to his slow start and fell
apart mechanically, leaving him susceptible to inside pitches
and completely inept against lefthanders (.148 average). While
he has a quick first step at shortstop, his speed limits his range,
and he may be better suited for third base.
The Future: Despite his rough season, most scouts still
see significant potential in Santos. Clearly not ready for the
majors, he’ll return to Triple-A. If Stephen Drew is assigned
to Tucson, Santos will move to a different position to accommodate
2005 Club (Class)
Drew, Montero: Larry Goren
Owings, Torra: Paul Jasienski
Mock: Bill Mitchell
Jackson, Nippert, Quentin, Santos: Steve Moore
Gonzales: Bob Romer