Top Ten Prospects: Arizona Diamondbacks
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Kevin Goldstein
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, 2005.
Background: Quentin had a storied amateur career. As a three-sport star at University of San Diego High -- also Mark Prior's alma mater -- he set school records for homers and RBIs; was his league's defensive player of the year in football; and was a member of a state champion basketball team. He hit a three-run homer in his first career at-bat at Stanford, where he was the Pacific-10 Conference freshman of the year in 2001 and an all-league selection in each of his three seasons. He led the Cardinal to a final four appearance at the College World Series each year. Though they knew impending Tommy John surgery would delay his pro debut until the following season, the Diamondbacks grabbed Quentin with the second of their two first-round picks in 2003 and signed him for $1.1 million. He was initially rusty when he returned to the diamond, hitting just .150 in his first 10 games at high Class A Lancaster. He hit .350 the rest of the year, which included a midseason promotion to Double-A El Paso. Quentin finished fifth in the minors with a .435 on-base percentage and set what is believed to be a minor league record by getting hit by 43 pitches.
Strengths: Everything about Quentin’s game screams prototypical right fielder, as his tools grade out average or above across the board. He’s a strong yet graceful athlete with good bat speed and a smooth swing. He makes excellent contact with power to all fields, and projects as a .280-.300 hitter with 25-plus home run power. He has a mature approach at the plate and recognizes which pitches he can drive. An excellent defender, Quentin gets good jumps and has above-average range. His accurate arm already bounced back to a tick above average just 18 months removed from surgery. He displays tremendous baseball instincts, and Arizona loves his leadership and his bulldog mentality, which was made clear at Stanford when he played his entire junior season with the injured elbow.
Weaknesses: Quentin’s biggest strength is his lack of any glaring weakness. He sets up on top of the plate and his swing brings much of his torso over the plate, which is why he gets plunked so often. Some scouts think this will make him susceptible to getting busted inside with good fastballs, but he has yet to have that problem. He could become more patient at the plate, but his aggressive approach has done wonders so far. He hit lefthanders well in his pro debut, but rarely for power, and can be susceptible to outside breaking balls. Both of his minor league stops were hitter-friendly environments, so his 2004 numbers may be inflated.
The Future: The Diamondbacks believe Quentin could succeed in the majors right now, but they'll probably play it safe and start him at Triple-A Tucson in 2005. If Luis Gonzalez can’t return from his own Tommy John surgery by Opening Day, Arizona fans might get an early preview of Quentin’s skills. He's almost assured of making his major league debut in 2005 and assuming a starting job in 2006.
Background: Jackson’s power and patience made him one of the most desirable college hitters in the 2003 draft, and he has shown why so far in his brief pro career. He set a short-season Northwest League record with 35 doubles in just 68 games during his pro debut. He followed Carlos Quentin’s path in 2004, splitting the season between high Class A and Double-A while producing every step of the way.
Strengths: Jackson is one of the best pure hitters in the minors. He has above-average bat speed and makes sharp contact to all fields. He rarely swings at bad pitches and rarely misses good ones. The Diamondbacks have worked on straightening his stance in order to produce more power, and he responded by tying for the Arizona Fall League lead with eight homers.
Weaknesses: Jackson’s bat will be good enough for any position, good news considering his defensive skills. Primarily a third baseman in college, he has been disappointing as a pro left fielder. His below-average speed is only complicated by poor instincts and routes, and his arm is lacking.
The Future: Like Quentin, Jackson will begin the season at Triple-A with the hope that he’ll be ready for full-time duty in 2006. He eventually may have to move to first base.
Background: Santos first popped up on scouts' radar as a high school sophomore, but a disappointing senior season seemingly dropped him out of the first round. The Diamondbacks bucked the consensus by taking him 27th overall based on his track record, and they've looked smart for doing so. He reached Double-A at age 20 and was having a solid season until it was ended by surgery on his non-throwing shoulder.
Strengths: Santos’ profile is that of the new breed of shortstop -- big, strong and athletic. His pure bat speed is among the best in the system, and he has shown some aptitude for driving the ball. He makes the plays he gets to at shortstop and has one of the better infield arms among Arizona farmhands. He's an average runner.
Weaknesses: While Santos seems certain to hit, his long-term position remains in question. He may outgrow shortstop and his range probably fits better at third base anyway. His power and arm still profile well for the hot corner. An aggressive hitter, he needs to draw more walks.
The Future: Santos’ shoulder has bothered him throughout his pro career and the Diamondbacks believe it has held him back offensively and defensively. They believe he's on the verge of a breakout and have no intention of moving him off shortstop at this time. He could be their big league starter at short in 2006.
Background: The Diamondbacks originally targeted pitching for the second round of the 2004 draft, but with Zeringue still on the board they couldn't pass up a player they evaluated as a mid-first-round talent. After signing for $630,000, he obliterated high Class A pitching and kept mashing in the postseason, hitting .447 with 12 RBIs in nine games.
Strengths: Zeringue’s quick, compact swing generates hard line drives and good power from gap to gap. Surprisingly athletic for his size, he has solid speed and baserunning aptitude. His arm is strong and accurate.
Weaknesses: Zeringue needs to become more disciplined at the plate. He’s currently a mistake hitter and guesses on most pitches, leaving him well behind fastballs or chasing breaking pitches when he’s wrong. Despite his right-field arm, his routes and instincts may be better suited for left. His swing lacks loft, so his power upside is limited.
The Future: Despite Arizona's depth on the outfield corners, Zeringue could move quickly. He’ll begin his first full season at the organization's new Double-A Tennessee affiliate.
Background: Originally signed as a shortstop with the surname of Valera, Aquino became a pitcher in 1999 after batting .156 in low Class A. His power arsenal led to a full-time move to the bullpen last year, and an emergency callup to Arizona despite struggling in Triple-A. He converted his first 10 save opportunities in the majors.
Strengths: When everything is clicking for Aquino, he's nearly unhittable. He throws a mid-90s fastball and has touched triple digits, but gets far better movement and location when he dials his heater down a little bit. His low-80s slider has gone from unreliable to a plus pitch featuring two-plane break.
Weaknesses: Aquino can still be inconsistent, particularly with his command. He needs to learn how to set hitters up, as opposed to simply trying to blow them away. The Diamondbacks were so bad last year that he has yet to close a meaningful big league game.
The Future: Aquino's performance was one of Arizona's few pleasant developments in the majors last year. He enters 2005 as the team's unquestioned closer.
Background: Snyder was already on the fast track entering 2004, when his timetable was moved up quite a bit. Following the trade of Brent Mayne and an injury to Koyie Hill, Snyder became Arizona's starting catcher for the final part of the season. He hit five homers in his first 14 big league games.
Strengths: Snyder has value both at the plate and behind it. He’s a big, strong catcher with plus power and an advanced understanding of the strike zone. He's also a solid receiver with good actions and a strong arm. He has good instincts and natural leadership tendencies, with Randy Johnson praising him for his ability to call a game.
Weaknesses: Whether Snyder develops into a frontline catcher depends on his ability to hit for average. His long swing leads to plenty of strikeouts. He’s a well below-average runner.
The Future: The Diamondbacks don’t want to enter 2005 with a pair of rookie backstops. Snyder will battle Hill for the starting job in spring training, with the loser heading to Triple-A.
Background: Kroeger's athleticism was obvious when the Diamondbacks drafted him -— he turned down a football scholarship from NCAA Division II Truman State (Mo.) as a wide receiver -- but he was raw as a baseball player. He started to figure the game out in 2003 and took another step forward last year, when he topped the system with 266 total bases and tied for the minor league lead with 51 doubles.
Strengths: Kroeger is a natural hitter with a smooth, level swing and good power. He’s especially adept at driving the ball in the gaps. He has the arm for right field and the slightly above-average speed to play center in a pinch.
Weaknesses: Scouts say Kroeger's 2004 stats overstate his true ability. His overly aggressive approach was exploited in his big league debut, as he struck out 21 times and drew just one walk in 55 plate appearances. He already has lost a step from his high school days and may continue to slow down. His effort has come into question at times.
The Future: Kroeger proved in September that he’s not ready to hit big league pitching. Set to return to Triple-A, he could get buried by Arizona's outfield depth.
Background: D’Antona broke Wake Forest's career home run record (58) and was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year in 2003. He teamed with Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson to form the "Three Amigos" at Lancaster. Unlike his cohorts, he didn't thrive after a promotion to Double-A, mainly because of an ailing shoulder.
Strengths: D’Antona has massive power and doesn’t need to perfectly center the ball to hit it out of the park. Scouts still talk about the home run he hit into the restaurant above the left-field bleachers at Bank One Ballpark in a predraft workout. He has a plus-plus arm at third base.
Weaknesses: Despite his arm, D'Antona projects as a first baseman because he has limited range and sloppy footwork. He's pull-happy and has some holes in his swing, which can get a bit long. He needs to learn how to work counts better. He's a below-average runner.
The Future: D’Antona’s injury has put him a step behind Jackson and Quentin for now. He'll be separated from them when he begins 2005 by returning to Double-A.
Background: He began last year as Adriano Rosario, 18-year-old phenom. He ended it as Ramon Pena, a 23-year-old who had falsified his visa information. The Diamondbacks weren't blamed in an investigation that found Pena used his cousin’s identification when he signed. They also were cleared of any wrongdoing when it came to light that independent talent developer Ivan Noboa (whose brother Junior coordinates Arizona's scouting in Latin America) double-dipped, collecting $100,000 from the team as well as $100,000 from Pena's $400,000 bonus.
Strengths: He may be much older than originally thought, but Pena still has the best pure stuff in the system. He effortlessly commands a 92-94 mph fastball that he can dial up to 97-98 to blow batters away or dial down to 88-91 to add movement. His slider has developed into a solid offering. The two-pitch combination is enough to make him a closer if he has to move to the bullpen.
Weaknesses: Pena needs to add deception to his changeup in order to remain a starter. He currently favors overpowering hitters as opposed to setting them up, an approach that won't work against better hitters. With his true age revealed, he has gone from advanced to raw for his age.
The Future: The Diamondbacks added Pena to their 40-man roster. While he looked rusty pitching in the Dominican Winter League, his primary focus was on resolving his legal problems. Granted a visa under his true identity in January, he'll begin the season by returning to Double-A.
Background: Chico’s entry into pro baseball had more than its share of speed bumps. Selected by the Red Sox in the second round out of high school, Chico turned down nearly $700,000. By his sophomore year, he had flunked out of Southern California and Palomar (Calif.) JC, reducing him to pitching in a San Diego semipro league in 2003. The Diamondbacks signed him for $365,000 that June as a third-round pick.
Strengths: Chico blew away low Class A hitters last year, using a low-90s fastball with good movement. His curveball features late, sharp, downward break and his changeup should become an average offering. Arizona praises his work ethic and bulldog mentality.
Weaknesses: Chico is a little small, so his pitches lack downward plane. While he spins his curveball well, he has problems throwing strikes with it. He has little confidence in his secondary pitches and sometimes tries to rely solely on his heater, which leads to overthrowing and more control problems.
The Future: Chico’s shortcomings were more evident in Double-A, but he finished strong after learning there's more to pitching than fastballs. He'll return there in 2005, working toward reaching his ceiling as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.