Arizona Diamondbacks: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Arizona Diamondbacks

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, 2007.

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Arizona Diamondbacks

You'd be hard-pressed to find an organization more excited following the completion of a season when it finished tied for last place. But that's the vibe coming from the Diamondbacks.

In part, that's because of what happened in Arizona last season. The team actually was on the fringes of playoff contention until Labor Day, and it finished in the top half of the National League in scoring, pitching and fielding. Brandon Webb solidified his status as a legitimate ace by winning the NL Cy Young Award, and the Diamondbacks solidified their commitment to him and Chad Tracy as franchise cornerstones by signing them to long-term extensions. The club also gave manager Bob Melvin a two-year extension.

Arizona also worked in the first wave of its touted prospects into the big leagues. Conor Jackson took hold of the first-base job by putting up a .368 on-base percentage and 15 homers as a rookie. Stephen Drew seized the shortstop position with an .874 on-base plus slugging percentage in his first half-season in the big leagues. Outfielder Carlos Quentin had his moments and an .872 OPS in his first half-season, and Enrique Gonzalez and Tony Pena showed they're ready to contribute to the pitching staff.

And there's even more excitement about the talent that's still on the way. Drew, Jackson and Quentin ranked as the top three prospects on this list a year ago, but the system remains loaded despite their graduations to the majors.

Outfielder Justin Upton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, takes over as the top prospect after signing before the 2006 season began. His pro debut had its ups and downs, but his talent is undeniable. The Diamondbacks also have been successful adding talent via trades, with outfielder Chris Young and do-everything infielder Alberto Callaspo the most notable examples. And their successful Latin American program has produced outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and catcher Miguel Montero, who will be ready for the big leagues soon, and a younger generation of prospects coming up behind them.

The organization also had the depth of talent to bring Randy Johnson back from the Yankees in the offseason. Arizona did give up three talented prospects in shortstop Alberto Gonzalez and righthanders Ross Ohlendorf and Steven Jackson (as well as big league righthander Luis Vizcaino), but it didn't give up any potential cornerstones and has plenty of depth to compensate.

One of biggest keys to the steady flow of talent has been the successful drafts of former scouting director Mike Rizzo, who left to take a job as assistant general manager with the Nationals after another promising draft. The most promising member of Arizona's Class of '06, Missouri righthander Max Scherzer, isn't even on this prospect list because he has yet to sign. The Diamondbacks are expected to land him before spring training, and also found plenty of good arms behind him, led by Brooks Brown (supplemental first round) and Brett Anderson (second).

With its influx of talent, Arizona has had to say goodbye to a lot of veterans, including franchise icon Luis Gonzalez after the 2006 season. But while the Diamondbacks fondly remember a past that included the 2001 World Series title, they're firmly focused on the future. The deferred salaries that weighed down the club's finances finally are coming off the books, and it's no accident the team unveiled a new logo and color scheme for the 2007 season.

The transformation of the Diamondbacks is well under way, and the outlook is bright.

1. Justin Upton, of   Born: Aug. 25, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS--Chesapeake, Va., 2005 (1st round)Signed by: Greg Lonigro
Justin UptonBackground: Upton and his brother B.J. are the highest-drafted brothers in baseball history, with B.J. going second overall to the Devil Rays in 2002 and Justin doing him one better in 2005. He held out until January 2006 before finally signing for a then-draft-record $6.1 million bonus. Because of his last name and unbelievable tools, Justin has been on the scouting radar since he stood out at the 2002 Area Code Games--as a 14-year-old. He kept up his level of play throughout his prep career and was Baseball America's 2005 High School Player of the Year. While he played shortstop as an amateur, the Diamondbacks immediately moved him to center field to take advantage of his plus-plus speed and allow him to worry less about defense. The returns in his first pro season were mixed. While scouts loved his tools, they weren't as enthusiastic about his demeanor. He ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the low Class A Midwest League, behind Jay Bruce (Reds) and Cameron Maybin (Tigers), two other outfielders drafted in 2005's first round.

Strengths: The term "five-tool prospect" somehow doesn't seem strong enough for Upton. He does everything exceptionally well and already has the body and composure of a big leaguer. If one thing stands out, however, it's his bat speed. He whips his bat through the hitting zone and has great leverage in his swing, which allows him to sting the ball like few players can and gives him plus power potential. His arm and speed are plenty good enough for center field, and though he was raw at the position he was taking better routes to balls by season's end. Even as he was learning, Diamondbacks officials say he "out-athletic-ed" the position early in the year.

Weaknesses: Upton evokes comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr. in center field, but he didn't show Griffey's enthusiasm in his first season. Several managers and scouts in the MWL didn't like Upton's attitude and effort. They said he showed bad body language and often ran slowly to first, and they saw a few blowups in the dugout when he broke bats or got into arguments with his manager. The Diamondbacks, however, say they have no concerns about Upton's makeup and that he held his own on and off the field. From their perspective, he came to the MWL with a bullseye on his chest and was pitched like Albert Pujols from Opening Day, so it was natural that he occasionally got frustrated. At the plate, Arizona wants Upton to control the strike zone better and get into hitter's counts where he can be aggressive. At times he slides out to the front side a bit, but he has such tremendous bat speed that he just has to stay back and trust his swing. In the field, he still has to learn the nuances of playing the outfield, from learning how to charge the ball to hitting the cutoff man to becoming more of a field general.

The Future: The Diamondbacks say Upton has a strong desire to get to the big leagues quickly, and they have no plans to hold him back. They think the makeup questions will become little more than a footnote to his career as he matures. He'll open the season at the team's new high Class A Visalia affiliate and could put up huge numbers in the hitter-friendly California League.
South Bend (LoA).263.343.413438711152811266529615
2. Chris Young, of   Born: Sept. 5, 1983B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2Wt: 180
 Drafted: HS--Bellaire, Texas , 2001 (16th round)Signed by: Paul Provas (White Sox)
Chris YoungBackground: The White Sox were the first team to steal Young, getting him in the 16th round in 2001 after he broke his left arm three days before the draft. But the Diamondbacks may be the ultimate winners after grabbing him in the Javier Vazquez deal before the 2006 season. Young missed the first three weeks of the season with a broken right wrist but made his major league debut by season's end.

Strengths:  Arizona knew it was getting a good player in Young, but he turned out to be even better than expected. He quickly took to the organization's selective-aggression approach at the plate and dramatically cut down on his strikeouts while maintaining his power stroke. He's a great athlete, with well above-average speed that could make him a 30-30 man in the majors. He's a pure center fielder with a long stride that allows him to get to a lot of balls.

Weaknesses: The Diamondbacks have worked with Young to get more timing and rhythm in his swing so he can handle offspeed pitches better. His arm is his only tool that doesn't rate as a plus, but it's more than adequate.

The Future: Young is ready to take over in center field. Arizona is loaded with talented young outfielders, but he's the best center fielder of the bunch.
Tucson (AAA).276.363.532402781113242177527117
Arizona .243.308.386701017402106122
3. Carlos Gonzalez, of   Born: Oct. 17, 1985B-T: L-LHt: 6-1Wt: 180
 Signed: Venezuela, 2002Signed by: Miguel Nava
Carlos GonzalezBackground: Gonzalez broke out as a prospect in 2005 with an MVP campaign in the Midwest League. While his 2006 season wasn't quite as loud, he still showed the all-around ability that gets scouts excited and allowed him to stand out among the crowd of standout prospects at the Futures Game.

Strengths: The Diamondbacks have an embarrassment of outfielders with all-around ability, and Gonzalez can hit with any of them. He has a quiet approach at the plate with good bat speed and quick hands, giving him above-average power. He became more confident with his game last season. He's a prototype right fielder and has the best outfield arm in the organization.

Weaknesses: Gonzalez can get in home run mode and overswing, which slows down his bat, and he gets so anxious at the plate sometimes that he expands his strike zone. He didn't always hustle last season, but he apologized after an early-season benching and played hard the rest of the way. He led Cal League outfielders with 12 errors. He has played center field during winter ball in Venezuela, but he'll probably slow down to a slightly below-average runner as he fills out and settle in right.

The Future: Arizona moved Gonzalez up to Double-A Tennessee at the end of last season to give him a taste of more advanced pitching, a sign it wants to move him aggressively. He'll return to Double-A with the new affiliate in Mobile to open 2007.
Tennessee (AA).213.294.41061111360257121
Lancaster (HiA).300.356.5634038212135421943010415
4. Alberto Callaspo, 2b   Born: April 19, 1983B-T: B-RHt: 5-11Wt: 173
 Signed: Venezuela, 2001Signed by: Carlos Porte/Amador Arias (Angels)
Alberto CallaspoBackground: Faced with a logjam of middle infielders, the Angels dealt Callaspo to Arizona last February for pitching prospect Jason Bulger. Callaspo was a do-everything player for a Triple-A Tucson team that was Baseball America's Minor League Team of the Year. He was the toughest full-season minor leaguer to strike out for the third year in a row, averaging 20.5 plate appearances per whiff.

Strengths: Callaspo has amazing plate coverage, but what's more impressive is his knowledge of the strike zone and knack for taking borderline pitches. He can spray line drives all over the field. He has good speed and good actions at second base, and he can play almost anywhere on the field. He's a loosy-goosy player who brings energy to the ballpark each day, and that rubs off on his teammates.

Weaknesses: Callaspo doesn't have much power, so he has to get on base to maximize his value. He did a much better job of that last year. His lack of basestealing savvy keeps him from taking full advantage of his speed.

The Future: While he's best at second base, Callaspo also played shortstop, third base and the outfield last season. The Diamondbacks anticipate him making the big league team in a super-utility role out of spring training.
Tucson (AAA).337.404.47849093165241276856278
Arizona .238.298.310422101106460
5. Miguel Montero, c   Born: July 9, 1983B-T: L-RHt: 5-11Wt: 190
 Signed: Venezuela, 2001Signed by: Junior Noboa
Miguel MonteroBackground: Montero emerged by batting .349 at high Class A Lancaster in 2005, and he proved last year that his breakout was no fluke. He earned a midseason promotion to Triple-A, and the Diamondbacks showed their confidence in his future by trading Johnny Estrada to the Brewers over the winter.

Strengths: While he didn't tear it up as he did the year before, Montero may have been more impressive in 2006 because he never struggled and proved himself as a catcher. He has a quick, short swing and uses the entire field, and he still has the power to jerk balls out of the park. He has an average arm and quick release.

Weaknesses: Montero loves to hit so much that he was little more than a backstop a couple of seasons ago. But his work behind the plate has improved dramatically, both from a mechanical standpoint as well as the energy and leadership he brings. He will expand his zone at times, so he still can improve his understanding of the strike zone.

The Future: Montero again played winter ball in Venezuela, which should further prepare him for the big leagues. He may share time with Chris Snyder to start the season, but Arizona expects him to take over the starting job for himself before too long.
Tennessee (AA).270.362.4362892478180104639440
Tucson (AAA).321.396.51513421435072914211
Arizona .250.294.31316041003130
6. Micah Owings, rhp   Born: Sept. 28, 1982B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 220
 Drafted: Tulane, 2005 (3rd round)Signed by: Mike Vlarezo
Micah OwingsBackground: Owings was a second-round pick by the Rockies out of high school, but he went to Georgia Tech instead and was a two-way standout there. The Cubs picked him as a draft-eligible sophomore in 2004, though he lasted until the 19th round because of signability concerns, and he again declined to sign. He transferred to Tulane and the Diamondbacks finally landed him in 2005. He was pushed to Double-A in his first full season and excelled, winning a midseason promotion to Triple-A and going undefeated the rest of the way. He was the winning pitcher in the Triple-A championship game as Tucson defeated Toledo.

Strengths: After working out of the bullpen in his pro debut, Owings moved into the rotation and showed why so many people describe him as a warrior. While he threw 94-97 mph as a reliever, he paces himself as a starter and usually works at 88-92, though he has the extra velocity when he needs it. His mid-80s slider shows flashes of being a plus pitch. He does a lot of the intangible things good pitchers do, and he's a great athlete who fields his position well. He made a run at the national high school home record and is still a good hitter.

Weaknesses: Arizona put Owings in the Double-A rotation to work on his secondary pitches. While he didn't struggle, his slider and changeup still need to become more consistent. While he went 10-0, Triple-A hitters weren't fooled by his offspeed stuff.

The Future: Owings is a big 24-year-old with strong makeup, so the Diamondbacks won't hesitate to bring him up once he shows he's ready. He'll likely open the season back in the Triple-A rotation.
Tennessee (AA)622.91121200746641769.246
Tucson (AAA)1003.70151510889643461.291
7. Mark Reynolds, inf   Born: Aug. 3, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 200
 Drafted: Virginia, 2004 (16th round)Signed by: Howard McCullough
Mark ReynoldsBackground: Reynolds played shortstop in a Virginia infield that also featured Ryan Zimmerman and Rockies prospect Joe Koshansky, but an injured wrist in his junior season dented his draft prospects. He started to emerge in 2005 and broke out in 2006, hitting 31 homers between two stops before playing for Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament. He led that squad with four homers in just six games.

Strengths: Reynolds always had bat speed and power potential, and he finally has put together a consistent approach at the plate to tap into his ability. In the past he would show his strong hands in batting practice but float out on his front foot in games and sell out to pull the ball. Now he's staying back and is a threat to put a charge in the ball every time up. He's a versatile defender who played at first, second, third and the outfield last season. He's an average runner.

Weaknesses: While Reynolds can play a lot of positions, he'll never be a standout with the glove. His best spots are second and third base, and his ceiling is as a power-hitting second baseman in the Jeff Kent mold. The slow change in his approach illustrates how stubborn he can be.

The Future: Reynolds opened 2006 as a utility player in Class A, but he won't have to fight for at-bats in 2007. He will probably begin the season as the second baseman in Double-A, though he'll continue to get time at other positions as well.
Tennessee (AA).272.346.54411423317082111370
Lancaster (HiA).337.422.6702736492182237741721
8. Dustin Nippert, rhp   Born: May 6, 1981B-T: R-RHt: 6-7Wt: 215
 Drafted: West Virginia, 2002 (15th round)Signed by: Greg Lonigro
Dustin NippertBackground: After bouncing back from Tommy John surgery in June 2004 and taking the Southern League ERA crown in 2005, Nippert got off to a strong start last season in Triple-A, winning his first seven decisions to earn a big league callup. He got rocked in two starts with Arizona and didn't performs as well when he returned to Tucson, but the Diamondbacks were pleased that he completed 150 healthy innings.

Strengths: Nippert has top-of-the-rotation stuff, with a power fastball and power curveball. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and his curveball is a devastating pitch when he commands it. His changeup also has made progress, though it's a clear notch behind his other two pitches.

Weaknesses: The Diamondbacks are preaching patience with Nippert, mindful that a 6-foot-7 pitcher who missed a year will need extra development time. They're trying to establish more rhythm in his delivery so he can more consistently repeat his mechanics. He often fights where his hands are in his delivery. He's also still learning about the art of pitching and that every fastball doesn't have to be 95 mph.

The Future: Nippert will compete for a big league rotation spot in spring training, but he's not one of the top candidates. He has options remaining, so he'll probably go back to Triple-A with an eye toward contributing in Arizona in 2008.
Arizona 0211.7022001013579.349
Tucson (AAA)1384.872524101401611152130.290
9. Tony Pena, rhp   Born: Jan. 9, 1982B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 220
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2002Signed by: Junior Noboa
Tony PenaBackground: While most of the players involved in the Dominican age scandal a few years ago have washed out of pro ball, Pena (formerly known as Adriano Rosario and believed to be five years younger) looks like he'll contribute in Arizona. After he missed most of the 2004 season and performed poorly as a starter in 2005, he took to a new role in the bullpen last season.

Strengths: With a mid-90s fastball and a slider that usually sits in the high 80s, Pena has a power repertoire well suited to bullpen work. His velocity and movement give him room for error with his pitches, and working in relief has allowed him to just let those pitches go and not worry so much about finesse.

Weaknesses: Refining his command in the strike zone will be the final step in Pena's development, as major league hitters punished him after he had been dominant in the minors. His changeup is inconsistent and average at best, but that's not much of a concern now that he's pitching in relief.

The Future: Pena has missed time each of the past two springs because of visa issues, but if he comes to camp on time and in shape this year, he should win a job in the major league bullpen. He has the stuff to close in the future.
Tennessee (AA)200.891700620180517.231
Tucson (AAA)311.712400726171221.183
Arizona 345.582500131366821.290
10. Brett Anderson, lhp   Born: Feb. 1, 1988B-T: L-LHt: 6-4Wt: 205
 Signed: HS--Stillwater, Okla., 2006 (2nd round)Signed by: Joe Robinson
Brett AndersonBackground: Anderson was regarded as a likely first-round pick going into the 2006 draft, but questions about his athleticism caused him to slide to the second round, where the Diamondbacks were happy to grab him. He signed for $950,000, too late to play during the summer, but stood out in instructional league in the fall.

Strengths: He's the son of Frank Anderson, long one of the most respected pitching coaches in college baseball before he became Oklahoma State's head coach. That's a big reason why he's so polished with what scouts called the best command of any high school lefty in recent memory. His development is far ahead that of most teenagers, and he has smooth, repeatable mechanics. He throws a fastball that touches 90 mph but usually sits in the high 80s, and he has a good feel for his plus changeup. He throws two breaking balls--a hard slider and a slow curveball--and the Diamondbacks will let him take both into his first season to see which works better. He has a good feel for pitching and competes hard.

Weaknesses: The biggest knock against Anderson is his soft body and lack of athleticism and agility. He had trouble fielding bunts and covering first base at times in high school. The Diamondbacks will work to improve that, but Anderson is just fine over the rubber and manipulates the baseball as well as any teenager.

The Future: Anderson should move quickly for a high school pitcher, and he'll open his first pro season at low Class A South Bend
Did Not Play--Signed 2007 Contract

Photo Credits:
Upton: Andrew Wooley
Gonzalez, Montero, Owings: Steve Moore
Callaspo: Reynolds: Bill Mitchell
Anderson: Larry Goren