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National League West Notebook

April 8, 2005

Arizona Diamondbacks

What The System Has Produced Lately: During their 111-loss campaign last season, the Diamondbacks debuted more than a dozen rookies, the best of the lot being righthander Greg Aquino, who emerged as a legitimate closer option; slugger Scott Hairston, who hit 13 home runs; and catcher Chris Snyder. However, Hairston’s poor defense at second base leaves him without a position for the future, and none of the Diamondbacks’ young starting pitchers reminded anyone of 2003 Rookie of the Year Brandon Webb, whose 119 walks allowed led the majors.

Best-Stocked Position: After spending their two first-round picks on corner outfielders in 2003, the Diamondbacks went to the same well with second-round pick Jon Zeringue in 2004. His strong pro debut put Zeringue hard on the heels of those first-rounders, Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin, who raked their way to Double-A last season. Josh Kroeger, who tied for the minor league lead with 51 doubles last season, may be the odd man out.

Best Teenage Prospect: The Diamondbacks have drafted heavily for college players but have continued to bring in young talent from Latin America. Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, signed in 2002 out of Venezuela, should add to their embarrassment of riches in the outfield corners soon. His first full season came to an end due to a broken hand, but the 19-year-old should get another shot at the low Class A Midwest League in 2005 after hitting .277-9-44 for short-season Yakima.

Prepare For Takeoff: Righthander Garrett Mock didn’t sign with the Twins when drafted in the 14th round out of Grayson County (Texas) CC, gambling instead that he would improve his status after two seasons at Houston. To that end, he pitched through a broken bone in his lower leg during his junior season with the Cougars to earn a third-round look from Arizona. The organization prizes that kind of feistiness, as well as a sinking fastball that can touch 97. After limiting hitters to a .233 average in 77 pro innings in his debut, a healthy Mock will have the consistency of his curveball and changeup tested in high Class A this season.

Time Is Running Out For: The Dodgers included Koyie Hill with their payment for Steve Finley last season, and Hill homered early in his Arizona stint off Jose Mesa. But a broken ankle set him back and opened the door for Snyder, who followed an impressive Double-A season by hitting five homers in 96 big league at-bats. He’s two years older than Snyder, and unless he beats him out for the big league job this spring, he will either be relegated to a reserve role or set up as trade bait again.

Colorado Rockies

What The System Has Produced Lately: The Rockies turned over their roster to young players in 2004 and will continue the youth movement in 2005. At times, they could field lineups with rookies in the outfield (Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe), third base (Garrett Atkins), shortstop (Clint Barmes) and catcher (J.D. Closser). Only Closser, acquired in a 2002 trade with the Diamondbacks, wasn’t originally signed by the Rockies. Lefthander Jeff Francis finished his Minor League Player of the Year campaign with a respectable seven-start big league stint, and will be the latest pitcher to try to tame Coors Field. Chin-Hui Tsao should be the Rockies’ new closer, with Scott Dohmann slotted as one of his top set-up men.

Best-Stocked Position: Atkins will get his chance to man third base, but the job won’t be his for long. Top prospect Ian Stewart has one of the minors’ best swings, is at least an average defender and has the makeup and work ethic to move swiftly. His presence should push Jeff Baker and his power bat (.512 minor league slugging percentage despite nagging wrist injuries) to the outfield. Matt Macri, a fifth-round pick in 2004, likely will have to find a new position for his potent bat as well.

Best Teenage Prospect: Shortstop Chris Nelson, the No. 9 overall pick last season, compares favorably as an offensive player with the Rockies’ plethora of third basemen. Nelson (19) has quick hands and strong wrists, which have scouts projecting him to hit for above-average power, and his speed rates above-average as well.

Prepare For Takeoff: With the organization’s logjam at third base, Macri worked out in instructional league at second base. The former prep shortstop has the athletic ability to be passable there and the arm and hands to be an above-average defender at second. He also has power to burn and showed good plate discipline in his college career.

Time Is Running Out For: The organization still considers him a prospect, but Jayson Nix has to realize what kind of player he is to follow his brother Laynce to the big leagues. His dismal 2004 season saw him get pull-happy as he tried too hard to hit home runs. His work ethic and feel for the game, as well as his offensive potential, will earn him another chance, but Nix can’t afford another sub-.300 on-base percentage.

Los Angeles Dodgers

What The System Has Produced Lately: The Dodgers have used their farm system to fill holes via trades. Just last year, they acquired Milton Bradley from the Indians for outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and righthander Andy Brown; sent catcher Koyie Hill, lefthander Bill Murphy and outfielders Reggie Abercrombie and Jereme Milons to the Diamondbacks in the Steve Finley and Elmer Dessens deals; and exchanged righthander Jason Frasor, who became the Blue Jays’ closer, for outfielder Jayson Werth, who became one of the Dodgers’ bigger bats. Righthander Edwin Jackson stumbled in 2004 but at 21 could still develop into a fine starter or dominant reliever.

Best-Stocked Position: While the Dodgers lost big league third baseman Adrian Beltre to free agency, two quality hitters are coming up through the system, and each should be able to handle the hot corner defensively. Andy LaRoche lived up to his $1 million signing bonus as a draft-and-follow, hitting 23 homers in his first season and showing potential with the glove in his first season at third base. Blake DeWitt, one of two first-round picks by the Dodgers, has excellent hand-eye coordination and some of the best raw power in the system in a compact frame.

Best Teenage Prospect: No organization has more teens with talent than the Dodgers. DeWitt and fellow first-rounder Scott Elbert, a lefthander, both were drafted out of Missouri high schools and will start the season as 19-year-olds in low Class A. Julio Pimentel, a19-year-old righthander, will be in the high Class A Vero Beach rotation. Pimentel has a four-pitch mix with low-90s velocity.

Prepare For Takeoff: Known more for basketball than baseball in high school, outfielder Matt Kemp remains relatively raw, but the Dodgers love his upside. With better pitch recognition, he should be able to turn his tape-measure power displays in batting practice into more than 17 home runs, which he hit last year at low Class A Columbus.

Time Is Running Out For: Chin-Feng Chen’s window for being a productive Dodger appears to have closed. Chen has spent the last three years with Triple-A Las Vegas and strikes out too often to expect his power numbers to carry over to the big leagues. His poor defense in left field and at first base is not helping his cause either.

San Diego Padres

What The System Has Produced Lately: Rookie of the Year Khalil Greene zoomed to the majors and quickly established himself as a top defender and steady bat. Infielder/outfielder Xavier Nady hasn’t established himself as a regular but could get platoon at-bats at first base, third and possibly left field in 2005. Speedy Freddy Guzman, once he recovers from a spring elbow injury, will push newly acquired Dave Roberts in center soon. Traded for outfielder Brian Giles, Oliver Perez (a Padres discovery out of Mexico) and Jason Bay (now on his fourth organization) were Pittsburgh’s best two players last year.

Best-Stocked Position: The Padres have depth behind the plate, including George Kottaras, who could be the organization’s best pure hitter. A 2002 draft-and-follow, Kottaras remains somewhat raw defensively but has a natural swing from both sides of the plate that should produce power and high averages down the road. Humberto Quintero, acquired from the White Sox in 2002, has improved offensively the last two seasons to go with his premium catch-and-throw skills. The son of a part-time Padres scout, 2004 third-rounder Billy Killian was polished enough to get an emergency callup to Triple-A in his debut season.

Best Teenage Prospect: It was a bad year to have the No. 1 pick, and to be the No. 1 pick. But don’t give up on shortstop Matt Bush just yet. He has plus tools with a major league arm and excellent range, and has the bat speed to produce offensively eventually. Bush’s tough debut on and off the field—he hit .192 in 99 at-bats and was arrested in June for his part in a fight outside an Arizona nightclub—may not keep him from being an everyday shortstop, though he may hit toward the bottom of the order.

Prepare For Takeoff: The Padres snagged righthander Ben Krosschell in the 16th round out of a Colorado high school, correctly reading his signability and swaying him from a New Mexico State commitment. He showed a fastball that reaches 93 mph, an average slider and has some projection left thanks to a loose, live arm. His strong debut should allow him to start 2005 in full-season ball in the Midwest League.

Time Is Running Out For: The Padres wanted power when they signed Michael Johnson as a fifth-year draft-and-follow out of Clemson. Instead, he has proved too willing to take a walk and not aggressive enough to tap into his raw power. Injuries also have limited Johnson, 24, who finally should reach Double-A.

San Francisco Giants

What The System Has Produced Lately: The Giants got significant help for their pitching staff down the stretch last season from homegrown arms, most of all lefthander Noah Lowry (6-0, 3.82). Righties David Aardsma, Kevin Correia, Jesse Foppert, Brad Hennessey and Merkin Valdez all worked in the majors in 2003 and/or 2004 and should contribute again this year. Only Pedro Feliz, relegated to utility status, figures to get major at-bats among homegrown Giants in 2005.

Best-Stocked Position: While the Giants have plenty of righthanded pitching, led by top prospect Matt Cain, they are equally encouraged by their corner outfield prospects. Right fielder Nate Schierholtz, moved from third base, and 2004 third-round pick John Bowker, a left fielder, bring line-drive bats and possible 20-30 home run power from the left side. Eddy Martinez-Esteve, the club’s top 2004 draft pick, is its most polished bat in years, though limited to left if not first base after offseason shoulder surgery. Left fielder Todd Linden and right fielder Dan Ortmeier also have potential to be big league starters.

Best Teenage Prospect: Marcus Sanders tore his labrum playing football as a high school junior, and his loss of arm strength depressed his draft stock, allowing the Giants to snatch him as a draft-and-follow in the 17th round in 2003. His smashing debut last year included a .415 on-base percentage, and he led the Rookie-level Arizona League in stolen bases (28) and runs (54). If his shoulder can handle it, he’ll move from second base back to shortstop in his first crack at full-season ball.

Prepare For Takeoff: While Martinez-Esteve turned heads with his bat in his debut, so did Bowker. His college numbers were hurt by playing at Long Beach State’s spacious Blair Field, and Bowker showed a consistent line-drive stroke and gap power after signing. He’s limited to left field but could move quickly.

Time Is Running Out For: Linden has stalled in Triple-A due to too many strikeouts, while injuries have sapped power from corner infielder Lance Niekro and outfielder Tony Torcato. Only Niekro has yet to play in the big leagues, but none of the three looks like a regular anymore. Niekro, who had his best power season as a pro last year, looks like the best bet to contribute if he can stay healthy.

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