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Top Ten Prospects: Arizona Diamondbacks
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Will Kimmey
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, 2004.
The Diamondbacks and Devil Rays, 1998 expansion brethren, both tried to jumpstart their franchises with free-agent signings while simultaneously building up their farm system. The ploy worked in Arizona, as Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling pitched the Diamondbacks past the Yankees in the 2001 World Series.
Because they began to contend in their second season, the Diamondbacks made trades sent prospects such as Brad Penny and Vicente Padilla away for veterans. They also spent a lot of money to lure major league free agents (which also cost them seven compensatory draft picks from 1998-2000) as well as amateurs in Travis Lee and John Patterson, two loophole free agents from the 1996 draft.
While Arizona has remained in contention, millions of dollars in deferred payments will have to be made soon, forcing the team to trim payroll and go with more youth. The biggest sign of that came when the Diamondbacks traded Curt Schilling to the Red Sox in November. Though Arizona spent some of that savings in the subsequent Richie Sexson deal with the Brewers, it reduced its 2004 payroll by roughly $10 million.
At just the right time, the farm system has started to produce. Eight rookie pitchers found their way onto an injury-ravaged staff in 2003, and nine of the team's Top 30 Prospects entering the season made it to the majors. Righthander Brandon Webb led the surge, going 10-9, 2.84 to win BA's Rookie of the Year award. Oscar Villarreal and Jose Valverde proved to be key arms out of the bullpen, while role players Alex Cintron, Robby Hammock, Matt Kata and Lyle Overbay also contributed. The emergence of Cintron, Hammock and Kata made it easier to include Craig Counsell, Chad Moeller and Junior Spivey (as well as Overbay) in the Sexson trade.
The future looks even better. The organization's top two prospects, Scott Hairston and Sergio Santos, could form a potent offensive double-play combination. While Hairston and Santos were both early-round draft picks, the Diamondbacks have enjoyed success deeper in the draft, netting college players such as Webb, Overbay, Hammock and more than a half dozen players among their current Top 30 Prospects after the first five rounds. Spivey and Cintron were 36th-rounders.
Thanks to their minor league affiliates, the Diamondbacks' organizational presence extends all the way across the Mexican border from Texas through Arizona and into southern California. Arizona's scouts have uncovered several prospects in Mexico, including major leaguers such as Erubiel Durazo and Villarreal. Righthanders Edgar Gonzalez and Sergio Lizarraga and outfielder/first baseman Jesus Cota also hail from south of the border.
Arizona hasn't forfeited a pick because of a free-agent signing since the 2000 draft, and parlayed a bonus selection for the loss of Greg Colbrunn into slugger Conor Jackson in 2003. With more high-end selections to come and the hope for continued success in the late rounds and Mexico, the Diamondbacks system is on its way up. That couldn't have happened at a better time for the franchise.
Top Prospect: Scott Hairston, 2b
Age: 23 Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 190 Bats: R Throws: R
Background: Hairston's baseball pedigree is unquestioned. His grandfather Sammy spent most of his career in the Negro Leagues before getting five at-bats in 1951 for the White Sox, the same team for which Hairston's father Jerry played 14 seasons. His uncle John got four at-bats for the 1969 Reds. Brother Jerry Jr. took over as the Orioles' second baseman in 2001. Hairston shows the potential to become the best of the lot. He won the Arizona junior college triple crown in 2001 and tied for the minor league lead with 73 extra-base hits in his first full season in 2002. But like his brother, Hairston spent a significant part of 2003 on the disabled list. He pulled a muscle in his back while swinging the bat and tried to play through it. After a month of posting subpar numbers and further aggravating his back, Hairston missed six weeks. MRIs showed nothing more than muscular damage, so the back problems aren't likely to recur. He took a month off after the regular season ended before reporting to the Arizona Fall League, where he proved there were no lingering effects by hitting .365-3-13.
Strengths: A majority of scouts would agree Hairston's bat is ready for the majors now and allows him all-star potential as a second baseman. He demonstrates a quiet, balanced approach at the plate and stays on top of and inside the ball well with a short, compact stroke. Hairston's excellent bat speed also allows him to generate plus power, and he could top the career home run output of his father (30) or brother (24) in just one season. Hairston's total package at the plate could result in Gary Sheffield-like production. He runs well enough to reach double-digits in steals, but won't to be the threat on the bases that his brother is.
Weaknesses: The Jeff Kent comparisons that follow Hairston are based on his offense and defense. Hairston has trouble making the pivot on double plays and isn't comfortable throwing from different angles. He has spent time working on his defense in the AFL the last two seasons, and while he has made progress he also boots routine plays. While Hairston's hands, range and arm are average, most scouts project his future to be at third base or the outfield. The defensive questions were one reason Hairston slipped to the third round of the 2001 draft, allowing Arizona to sign him for $400,000. Hairston often is one of the first players at the ballpark, but he spends most of that extra time in the batting cage. Some in the organization wonder where he'd be defensively if he allocated more time to improving his weaknesses. Hairston never has been shy about watching home runs or aggressive in charging down the baseline on routine outs. His plate discipline slipped in 2003, but his back problems may have been a contributing factor.
The Future: Even after being slowed by injury, Hairston could make Arizona's Opening Day roster with a strong spring training. Otherwise, he'll begin 2004 at Triple-A Tucson with an in-season promotion a distinct possibility.