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Top Ten Prospects: Arizona Diamondbacks
Complete Index of Top 10s

By Kevin Goldstein
December 7, 2005


Chat 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 struggled.
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 GM.

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.


1. STEPHEN DREW, ss      Born: March 16, 1983 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 195 B-T: L-R
Drafted: Florida State, 2004 (1st round)   Signed by: Luke Wrenn

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.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Camden (Ind) .427 .484 .744 82 17 35 8 3 4 18 8 18 0 0
Lancaster (Hi A) .389 .486 .738 149 33 58 16 3 10 39 26 25 1 1
Tennessee (AA) .218 .301 .386 101 11 22 5 0 4 13 12 24 2 3


2. CONOR JACKSON, 1b        Born: May 7, 1982 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt.: 225
Drafted: 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) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Tuscon (AAA) .354 .457 .553 333 66 118 28 2 8 73 69 32 3 2
Arizona .200 .303 .306 85 8 17 3 0 2 8 12 11 0 0


3. CARLOS QUENTIN, of        Born: August 28, 1982 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt.: 225
Drafted: 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 best.

  

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) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Tucson (AAA) .301 .422 .520 452 98 136 28 4 21 89 72 71 9 1


4. CARLOS GONZALES, of        Born: October 17, 1985 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-1 Wt.: 180
Signed: 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.

  

The Future:
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.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
South Bend (Lo A) .307 .371 .489 515 91 158 28 6 18 92 48 86 7 3


5. DUSTIN NIPPERT, rhp        Born: May 6, 1981 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-7 Wt.: 215
Drafted: 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) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tenessee (AA) 8 3 2.38 18 18 3 0 117 95 4 42 97 .226
Arizona 1 0 5.52 3 3 0 0 15 10 1 13 11 .185


6. MIGUEL MONTERO, c        Born: July 9, 1983 B-T: L-R Ht: 5-11 Wt.: 190
Signed: 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 in 2005.

  

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 Double-A.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Lancaster (Hi A) .349 .403 .625 355 73 124 24 1 24 82 26 52 1 2
Tennesee (AA) .250 .311 .352 108 13 27 1 2 2 13 7 26 1 0


7. GARRETT MOCK, rhp       Born: April 25, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt.: 215
Drafted: 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.

  

The Future:
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) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Lancaster (Hi A) 14 7 4.18 28 28 0 0 174 202 19 33 160 .284


8. MATT TORRA, rhp      Born: June 29, 1984 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 225
Drafted: 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.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Yakima (SS) 0 1 1.80 5 2 0 0 10 11 1 4 10 .297


9. MICAH OWINGS, rhp       Born: September 28, 1982 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt.: 220
Drafted: 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 pitch.

  

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.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Lancaster (Hi A) 1 1 2.45 16 0 0 0 22 17 0 4 30 .221


10. SERGIO SANTOS, ss       Born: July 4, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt.: 240
Drafted: 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 plays.

  

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 him.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Tuscon (AAA) .239 .288 .367 490 55 117 21 3 12 68 34 108 2 2


Photo Credits:
Drew, Montero: Larry Goren
Owings, Torra: Paul Jasienski
Mock: Bill Mitchell
Jackson, Nippert, Quentin, Santos: Steve Moore
Gonzales: Bob Romer

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