Duo Streaks Toward Middle Of D-backs' Future Lineup
By Jack Magruder
TUCSON—By the end of the 2005 season, Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin could be joined at the hip. They could probably answer each other’s mail right now.
Jackson and Quentin first got to know each other as arch-rivals in the Bay Area during their college days at California and Stanford, and they became friends as teammates on Team USA in 2002. They were separated by a mere 10 picks in the 2003 draft and now have become fellow travelers in the fast lane of the Diamondbacks system.
They have adjoining locker cubicles as nonroster invitees to big league camp in Tucson, which also serves as the Triple-A Sidewinders’ clubhouse, and are likely to start the regular season right there, side by side, on the final rung of Arizona’s organizational ladder.
Jackson and Quentin hit third and fourth in the batting order in the first half of 2004 at high Class A Lancaster and the second half at Double-A El Paso and are without question the top two hitting prospects in the organization. It has been quite a 20-month carpool, and the Diamondbacks believe the best is yet to come.
“They have both made a lot of progress and have shown a lot of potential in what are still brief professional careers,” general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. says. “We see them as potential impact offensive players in the big leagues. We could not be happier about the progress they have made.”
Jackson and Quentin had remarkably similar numbers from their corner outfield spots in their two stops last season. Left fielder Jackson hit .324-17-91 in 484 at-bats, with 32 doubles and seven stolen bases. Right fielder Quentin hit .332-21-89 in 452 at-bats, with 31 doubles and six stolen bases.
The two took another step up in the fall, playing in the Arizona Fall League, where Jackson continued to put up big numbers, going .324-8-26 in 111 at-bats for division-winning Scottsdale. He tied for the league lead in homers and tied for fourth in RBIs. Quentin strained his lower back early and played just four games before the D-Backs shut him down for the rest of the winter, but the injury was not serious and he was back participating in drills this spring.
The two have developed into fast friends and confidants along the way.
“It’s been good to have a buddy kind of rising up with you. It’s nice, because we can get to know each other’s swings and when we talk hitting, we are on the same level,” Quentin says. “We push each other in a positive way. Both of us are very competitive, and we want to go out and perform. We are teammates, but there is a good competitive little thing. He’ll say the same.”
Indeed, Jackson does.
“We talk in-season and out of season. We are good buddies. We talk about on the field stuff and off the field stuff. It’s a good relationship we’ve got,” Jackson says. “We definitely have an internal competition. If he gets a hit, I want to get a hit. It’s definitely our friendship and a bond that we are going to carry out through the rest of our careers.”
Jackson got an earlier start when he played the 2003 season while Quentin had Tommy John surgery to repair a damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in August. Jackson batted .319-6-60 at short-season Yakima, leading the Northwest League in RBIs and doubles (35) in 68 games.
The Diamondbacks made Jackson their first pick that summer, the 19th overall selection, and have since heard that he would not have made it much farther. When Quentin was available when their turn came around at No. 29 overall, ostensibly because some teams may have wondered about his elbow, the Diamondbacks got their man there, too.
“We were very confident if we did not take Conor in the first round, he would not be there,” Garagiola says. “As we’ve been told by a couple of teams, they were definitely taking him. He was their No. 1 guy. We knew we had to take him with our first pick, and we really liked Carlos.
“We were very pleased that Carlos was still there when it came time to make our second pick. My guess is that some people backed off because of his arm injury, but we weren’t bothered by that. I think that worked to our advantage. We were comfortable that he would be fine with that surgery.”
Jackson attributes some of his success to the presence of Quentin right behind him in the lineup.
“I see a lot of good pitches,” Jackson says. “They are definitely not throwing to me because they have him behind me. He’s one of the best hitting prospects in baseball right now.”
Quentin, who is similarly complementary of Jackson, set a minor league record by being hit by a pitch 43 times, 27 in 65 games at Lancaster, but said he does not plan to alter what so far has been a successful approach. He said he might try an arm guard, although he has found them cumbersome.
“It didn’t affect me that much, so I will just go about my business the same way,” says Quentin, saying his first pro season was “probably the best I could hope for.
“Obviously you want to hope to do better in anything you do and want to strive to do better, but I was happy with that and I’m going to try to keep improving on it. All you can do is go out there and play. When you get your chance, hopefully capitalize. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Jackson, who will get some work at first base this spring to broaden his options, figures it about the same way.
“It’s been a good little run so far,” he says. “Obviously, the ultimate goal is to get up here and stay in the big league locker room. So I’m going to go out and have the best spring training I can and go where they put me and try to produce again.
“You can’t really worry about who’s in front of you. You just have to worry about what you have to do.”