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Cintron gives the Diamondbacks system hope amid the criticism it has received for all of the top draft picks who haven't panned out. He has steadily improved in each of his past three seasons, earning league all-star honors in the last two. He has become a more determined player since batting .200 in Rookie ball in 1997 after coming out of a Puerto Rico high school. There's nothing to dislike about Cintron's physical talents. He's a capable switch-hitter who has batted better than .300 in each of the past two seasons and was among the batting leaders in the Puerto Rican League this winter. He's tall for a shortstop, yet possesses exceptional range at a demanding position. Durability isn't a question, as he has played 253 games over the past two seasons. He also has a tremendous desire to learn and improve. Cintron could be Arizona's shortstop of the future, yet he had no qualms about playing third base in Puerto Rico because big leaguers Alex Cora and Luis Lopez were at shortstop and second base. But there's no masking Cintron's 32 errors last summer. He simply needs to become more consistent. He'll offset a dazzling defensive play with a throwing error on a routine play. Despite his range, he's not a blazing baserunner. Any comparisons to Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter are premature because Cintron has hit just 10 homers in four years. Despite his high batting averages, his on-base percentages have been mediocre because he rarely walks. If Cintron had a year of Triple-A experience under his belt, the Diamondbacks might have traded Tony Womack this winter in an effort to strengthen their team in other areas. It's a tribute to Cintron's potential that Arizona hasn't made him yet another of its prospects included in a deal for an established veteran. If he continues to improve, he'll be in line for a September callup. Cintron was added to the 40-man roster this winter, so he'll get an opportunity to impress new manager Bob Brenly this spring. Should he establish himself as a big league regular, it would be a shot in the arm for a 1997 Diamondbacks draft that has been largely unsuccessful.
Cust has mashed the ball in four years as a pro. The Diamondbacks wisely let him play the entire 2000 season at Double-A El Paso, where he ranked fourth in the Texas League in runs and on-base percentage (.440). He has the most power of any prospect in the organization. His lefthanded uppercut swings have drawn comparisons to Geoff Jenkins and Jeromy Burnitz. Cust enhances his offensive ability with his willingness to take a walk, which means he doesn't help pitchers by getting himself out. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, Cust may be better suited for the American League. A former first baseman, he has moved to the outfield and shown little aptitude or hustle there. His big swing makes him susceptible to strikeouts, as he has whiffed 295 times over the past two seasons. Cust irked the Diamondbacks by leaving his Dominican League team after playing just three weeks. He could have used the time to work on his planned switch from left to right field. The team was encouraged that Cust was getting better reads on fly balls in right this winter. Should he improve in right, he could reach Arizona by the end of the 2001 season.
The Diamondbacks were upset when they lost Abraham Nunez to the Marlins in December 1999, as he was the player to be named to complete the Matt Mantei trade. They would have been more upset if they didn't have Terrero, a legitimate five-tool player and one of Latin American coordinator Junior Noboa's top finds. Terrero made the most of a brief opportunity by making two exceptional defensive plays in the annual Hall of Fame game last July. His Cooperstown performance reinforced his ability to play exceptional defense in either center or right field because he has quality range and arm strength. He has stolen 55 bases over the past two seasons, and team officials believe he might hit for power as he gets stronger and advances through the system. Terrero does have a long swing and has averaged more than a strikeout a game as a pro, unacceptable for someone who hasn't produced many home runs. Arizona believes he'll become a more disciplined hitter and less susceptible to outside breaking pitches. A solid full year at Class A in 2001 would put Terrrero back on track after he spent most of the last two seasons at Rookie-level Missoula. His progress would be a big lift in the wake of Nunez' departure and the struggles of other outfielders in the system.
Virtually everyone in the organization noticed something was wrong last spring when Patterson's fastball was clocked at just 90 mph. It took another month before doctors found a torn ligament in his right elbow. A month after that, the Diamondbacks decided he needed Tommy John surgery after seeking several medical opinions. They have a lot invested in Patterson, who received a $6.075 million bonus as a loophole free agent out of high school. Before his elbow injury, everyone held high hopes for Patterson because his 96 mph fastball was only his second-best pitch. When healthy, he throws a knee-buckling curve that he disguises well thanks to his smooth mechanics. He also has excellent command of his fastball and curve. The rehabilitation period has given Patterson time to assess why he has gone 18-29 as a pro. He needs to trust his stuff and not give in to hitters. He hasn't hit a batter since 1998, a sign that he's letting opponents get too comfortable. His changeup and command could use some tweaking. This could have been the season Patterson broke into Arizona's rotation for good. If all goes well, he could return to Triple-A by mid-May. The Diamondbacks expect to bring back their entire 2000 rotation, so there's no need to rush him.
Score another one for Latin American coordinator Junior Noboa. Everyone in the organization raves about Gil. They don't care that he batted .225 in Rookie ball in his pro debut. They merely want him to get acclimated to playing in the United States and get experience, with the results coming later. Gil has the range and arm strength to play shortstop, and he needs little polish because of his smooth footwork. He's so good defensively that he could push Alex Cintron to second base should both reach the majors. His size gives him good offensive potential, and the Diamondbacks adore his dedication to the game. Gil was a bit overmatched debuting in the United States at 17. He committed 35 errors and had just 12 extra-base hits and 11 walks, though the Diamondbacks insist they weren't disappointed. He just needs experience to work on all facets of his game. He'll continue to get plenty of instruction without being suffocated and will get plenty of time to develop into the big-time player Arizona envisions. With the more established Cintron well ahead of him in the organizational ladder, there's no reason to hurry Gil.
If the last name sounds familiar, it's because Cresse is the son of former Dodgers bullpen catcher Mark. Brad made a name for himself by driving in the winning run in the 2000 College World Series title game, capping a senior season in which he led NCAA Division I with 30 homers and 136 RBIs. Cresse loves to play and made an impressive transition from the college game to the high Class A California League. He even held his own after a late promotion to Double-A. Power is his best tool, and it's obvious that he's been around the game for most of his life. His work behind the plate was better than advertised. Though Cresse wouldn't admit it, he showed the effects of a long 2000 season during his rough stint in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .169. He was vulnerable to breaking pitches in the final weeks. Roving catching instructor Ron Hassey will continue to work with Cresse's defense, which is still the weakest part of his game. Cresse is on the fast track, as evidenced by his start in the Cal League, his jump to Double-A and his placement in the AFL in his first pro summer. He probably needs a full season at Double-A unless he improves dramatically, but his future appears bright.
The Diamondbacks kept their eye on Ward even though his stocked dropped during his junior year at Long Beach State. He didn't disappoint them as a second-round pick in 1999, vaulting all the way to Triple-A in less than a half-season. Former Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter raved about Ward last spring, and it was easy to see why. Ward possessed the fearlessness of a veteran reliever instead of someone in his first major league camp. But reconstructive right elbow surgery shelved him for nearly all of 2000. Before his injury, Ward threw 94 mph and had a sharp slider. He probably won't return until midseason because of his rehabilitation, and his maximum-effort delivery is a cause of concern. He hasn't thrown an offspeed pitch since moving to the bullpen. He struggled with his control before the severity of his elbow injury was diagnosed. He also gained extra weight on a thick body during the layoff. The Diamondbacks can afford to be patient with Ward, who isn't required to be placed on the 40-man roster because he's just entering his third professional season. He already has received a taste of major league camp and a severe injury, so nothing should faze him. He loves to compete, and Arizona's biggest task may be to keep Ward from rushing back too quickly.
The Diamondbacks respected Capuano's commitment to academics by letting him complete his degree at Duke after he signed as a junior in 1999. They assigned him to extended spring training after he graduated last year, then sent him to Class A South Bend, where he was dazzling. He shared the organization's pitcher-of-the-month award for July, then won it outright in August. The Diamondbacks believe they might have found a late bloomer in Capuano, who now can devote all his time to baseball. He went 10-4 on a 60-78 South Bend team thanks to his great mound presence. His best pitch is his curveball, and he has a 90 mph fastball, good velocity for a lefthander. His delivery is reminiscent of former big leaguer Danny Jackson's. Capuano can refine his control, but his biggest need is experience. He spent time in instructional league and the Arizona Fall League after the season. He's 22 and doesn't have overpowering stuff, so he might be as good as he's going to get. Still, the Diamondbacks are anxious to see what he can do in a full professional season. With lefthanded starters at a premium, the Diamondbacks might have found themselves a jewel if Capuano can improve his command by devoting more time to baseball.
Prinz is a local kid made good so far. He attended Centennial High in Peoria, Ariz., and was drafted out of Phoenix Junior College. He made the transition from starter to sidearm reliever prior to the 2000 season, saving him from being relegated to a mere organizational pitcher. With the help of former minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson and sidearm specialist Brad Clontz, Prinz made a significant improvement to vault into prospect status as a closer. He throws a 94 mph fastball that's murder on righthanders. He quickly developed the mentality to want the ball in a save situation, and his arm proved resilient enough to close. He needs to polish his slider as a second pitch. While he throws plenty of strikes, he needs to improve his location because he was hittable last year. That was especially true against lefthanders, who batted .344 off him in Double-A. Prinz still has plenty of room for improvement, which is encouraging considering how far he's come along as a closer in his first year. He probably will be the closer at Triple-A Tucson and could reach the majors in late 2001. He would add some youth to a mostly veteran Arizona bullpen.
Another Junior Noboa find, Valverde may have closer potential. He struggled at the beginning of 2000 at Class A South Bend, but dominated the competition at Missoula, where he didn't allow a run in 12 appearances. Valverde has an intimidating body and intimidating stuff. He regularly throws in the mid-90s and has touched 98 mph. His slider and splitter can be overpowering as well. He throws with a loose arm action that makes him less susceptible to injury. His biggest problem at South Bend was his inability to harness his fastball, which he did a better job of following his demotion. The Diamondbacks would like to see him throw his splitter more often. Valverde probably will start 2001 at high Class A Lancaster with the hope he can jump to Double-A by the end of the summer. Once he develops into more of a pitcher than a thrower and becomes more acclimated to the United States, the Diamondbacks believe he could make a quick jump through the system.
Overbay was an 18th-round find by former area scout Brian Guinn, who is no longer with the organization. He is a run-producing machine despite not having overwhelming power. He gained instant recognition by becoming the first player ever to drive in at least 100 runs for a short-season team, then drove in 96 more last year while reaching Double-A. Overbay possesses solid mechanics at the plate with the ability to drive the ball to all fields and make necessary adjustments. He hit just 14 home runs last season, but team officials believe his swing and maturity might translate into more power as he advances. Though Overbay didn't tear up the Arizona Fall League, he held his own. He still needs work around the first-base bag, but he has made strides defensively. He has shown enough with the bat to start 2001 at Triple-A.
For all the praise given to Junior Noboa's work in the Dominican, the Diamondbacks also have done a fine job in Mexico. At the major league level, they've gotten a lot of mileage out of veteran Armando Reynoso and struck gold in 1999 with Hermosillo star Erubiel Durazo. Villareal could be another future standout. The team raves about his maturity as a pitcher, specifically his refusal to give in to batters and his cleverness in mixing his array of pitches. Villarreal throws around 90 mph, which is good enough to make his slider and changeup more effective. The Diamondbacks were encouraged by reports from the Mexican Pacific League, where he was Mexicali's best starter. Because of his youth and Arizona's influx of college signees last summer, Villarreal probably will spend his second consecutive season at Class A. The Diamondbacks have plenty of time to decide whether he'll be a full-time starter or reliever. He has split his time between the two roles thus far.
Barber might have been the third-best pitcher on a powerful South Carolina team last spring, but he quickly made an impression with the Diamondbacks. He may have been the most mature of the five pitchers the Diamondbacks took with their first eight selections, and he made a quick jump to high Class A High Desert. There was some concern, however, about Barber's workload in college. He split his time between starting and relieving and eventually wore down during his first pro season. Yet Arizona saw enough of him to believe he can become a dependable reliever quickly. He possesses two quality pitches, a sharp slider and a 92 mph fastball. There's an outside chance Barber could begin the season in Double-A is he performs well and has a fresh arm in the spring.
This could finally be the breakout year for Spivey, who has played in just 78 games over the past two years because of left hand and right hamstring injuries. Despite his injuries, the Diamondbacks think enough of him that they kept him on the 40-man roster. He's one of the top five athletes in the organization, and the team was encouraged with his play this winter in the Mexican Pacific League. A healthy Spivey could give the team options down the road because he can play second or shortstop adequately. He probably will play second in Triple-A this year while Alex Cintron polishes his skills at shortstop. The organization would love to see Spivey regain the consistency he possessed in 1998, his last injury-free season. He doesn't have much power, but he has plenty of leadoff skills. At one time, the Diamondbacks touted Spivey and Danny Klassen as their keystone combination of the future. Klassen has reached the majors and Spivey definitely has the skills to join him, provided he stays healthy.
The Diamondbacks' first choice in the 2000 draft didn't come until the 69th overall selection because they gave up their first-rounder to sign Russ Springer away from the Braves. Arizona wanted a college pitcher with a huge upside and believes it might have found one in Schultz. Though he didn't have a banner junior season at Loyola Marymount, the Diamondbacks were impressed with Schultz' size and ability to throw a 95 mph fastball with consistency. They were careful about giving him rest and limited him to 25 innings in his pro debut. He probably will start 2001 at Lancaster. The club has big plans for him once he gains full command of his fastball and develops a decent breaking pitch and changeup.
Conti was an unheralded part of Arizona's first draft in 1996. He has made the most of his opportunities, hitting .290 or better at each level before receiving a promotion to the big leagues last June. He's one of the most fearless players in the organization, and it showed when he reached base safely in his first three plate appearances, including a pinch-hit RBI single in his first major league at-bat. He is one of the fastest players in the system, which shows in his defense in center and right field, and has one of the strongest arms despite his lean build. He threw out Atlanta's Brian Jordan at third base in consecutive games. Conti struggled in his big league debut, striking out in nearly one-third of his at-bats, and played sparingly in September. He admitted he needed to get stronger and spent the winter on a weight program rather than playing winter ball in the Dominican. Conti will back up Steve Finley in center field and probably will receive some time in right field this year. He's a fourth outfielder whose speed and arm are welcome assets on a team that's aging rapidly.
Bierbrodt received plenty of notoriety as the team's first-ever draft pick in 1996, then received a bonus that nearly doubled from $525,000 to $1.046 million because of a since-banned clause that was tied to the signings of other first-rounders. Bierbrodt has gotten bigger and stronger without getting too bulky, and he throws in the low 90s. He has a major league curve that impressed scouts last spring. But injuries continue to stunt his development and have hindered his chances of making an impact in the big leagues. He has been called up for brief stints the past two seasons but has yet to throw a big league pitch. Bierbrodt was shut down after two games in the Dominican League this winter with elbow stiffness. That disappointed the Diamondbacks, who hoped he would log enough innings to compete for a bullpen job this spring. He pitched just 15 games in 2000 because of a rib injury. It now looks like a longshot for Bierbrodt to make the Opening Day roster.
Much of the hype surrounding Good was deflated when he missed last season because of surgery to repair a torn medial collateral ligament in his right elbow. He had been named the system's pitcher of the year in 1999 after finishing third in the Midwest League in strikeouts and demonstrating fine control. The Diamondbacks were impressed with Good's maturity, considering he signed out of high school as an eight-round pick in 1998. He has an average 89-91 mph fastball and a plus curveball, and his strongest suit is his ability to throw four pitches for strikes. The Diamondbacks won't rush Good back because they drafted a slew of more experienced college pitchers last June. He probably won't be ready to pitch in a game until May, when he'll be sent to Lancaster.
Daigle's draft stock jumped in 1999 when he ended Barbe High of 47-game winning streak. One of several high draft picks the Diamondbacks have brought along slowly, Daigle might need all the time the organization is giving him. He signed late as a 1999 supplemental first-round and didn't begin his professional career until last summer. He spent time in extended spring training because of a tender right arm. Daigle has the physical presence to dominate but needs plenty of work. He throws his fastball at 90-91 mph but is raw. His command and secondary pitches are lacking at this point. Arizona officials believe Daigle, who attended a small high school, will get accustomed to stiffer competition. He likely will start 2001 at South Bend but could jump to Lancaster at midseason.
Sanchez pitched well enough last year to earn a spot on the 40-man roster. He has been likened to Dodgers lefthander Carlos Perez because of his animated, aggressive demeanor on the mound, but Sanchez throws much harder than Perez. Despite his small frame, Sanchez works in the low 90s. He still needs to improve his breaking pitch and develop a solid third pitch. His competitive nature will help him to advance further. He'll get strong consideration to start the season at El Paso, though Lancaster is a possibility. The Diamondbacks have a few righthanded starters who are more talented, but they have yet to show the durability of Sanchez, who ranked fourth in the Midwest League in innings in 2000.
One of the Diamondbacks' weaknesses at the major league level is a lack of athleticism. They took steps to correct that last June, when they drafted the versatile Olson. He threw 92-93 mph when he pitched in junior college and played both shortstop and center field at the University of Florida. Arizona liked his arm and the way he got quick, accurate breaks in the outfield, and figured he had the tools to play third base. He worked out at the hot corner in instructional league and may open 2001 there. Offensively, he has some to work to do after struggling to make contact or hit for power in his pro debut. He did manage to steal 15 bases in 18 attempts. Olson will move up to Lancaster in his first full pro season.
Martines established himself as a legitimate prospect in 2000. As impressive as his 2.26 ERA at High Desert was in 1999, his 2.81 mark last season may have been more impressive considering El Paso is one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the minors. Martines didn't appear to have much of a future until he followed the same path as Bret Prinz, learning to throw sidearm with the help former minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson and sidearm specialist Brad Clontz. Martines took to his new delivery quickly. He throws around 90 mph with nice command and has become more resilient. He'll need to develop a breaking pitch if he's able to take the final step toward reaching the majors. But he has a chance, based on how quickly he sparked a once-nondescript career.
Kroeger made an impresssive debut coming out of high school. The Diamondbacks marveled over his maturity as a person and as a player, which was exceptional for a 17-year-old. Kroeger led his Rookie-level Arizona League squad in homers and RBIs. His mental approach as a hitter was impressive, as were his swing and bat speed. Kroeger will play in either right or left field, and he'll be at least an adequate defender. He could develop into a David Justice-type hitter with the ability to drive the ball to left field in the future. Kroeger probably will start 2001 at South Bend. Despite his early success, the Diamondbacks want him to move slowly to enhance his chances for success.
Many players buy a car when they get their signing bonus after turning pro. Not Hall, a former track star in high school. He showed his dedication, using his bonus to purchase a batting cage for his backyard. He has put the cage to good use, showing solid hitting ability as a pro. Better yet, he has the speed and patience to bat leadoff. He led the Pioneer League in walks and stolen bases last season. Hall is as fast as Diamondbacks shortstop Tony Womack and usually makes a mockery of the competition during the farm system's 60-yard dash during spring training. He uses his quickness to get to balls in center but could do a better job reading balls off the bat. Hall has spent most of his three pro years in Rookie ball and must prove he can hit in a full-season league after slumping at South Bend to start 2000. He projects as a Lance Johnson type with a better throwing arm.
The Diamondbacks thought they got a steal in Owens, and he didn't disappoint by reaching Double-A in his first pro summer. But the hype turned to mystery as Owens struggled in his return to El Paso last season and continued to struggle after a demotion to South Bend. Owens' offensive problems carried over to his defense as well. The Diamondbacks are concerned that Owens has lost confidence after not tasting success for the first time. They're hoping he'll get back on track and perhaps hit for more power. The one improvement he did make at the plate in 2000 was increasing his ability to draw walks, though that was somewhat negated by his inability to make consistent contact. He'll start this year at Lancaster with the hope he can revisit El Paso and recapture his 1999 form.
The Diamondbacks' expectations for Barajas have become more realistic after a disappointing Triple-A season in 2000. He led Tucson in homers and RBIs, but it wasn't a strong offensive club. And his .226 batting average and .253 on-base percentage were simply dismal. There was plenty of excitement after Barajas, who was signed out of a tryout camp, reached the majors late in his fourth season. But he proved susceptible to outside breaking pitches at Tucson and during a brief stint with the Diamondbacks in September. His stagnation caused concern whether the Diamondbacks could survive with him as the No. 2 catcher if they don't re-sign Kelly Stinnett. For all of Barajas' offensive shortcomings, though, he received strong praise from former Arizona manager Buck Showalter and several major league pitchers who have thrown to him on minor league rehabilitation assignments. There's no doubt he will be pushed at some point by Brad Cresse and recent signee Melvin Rosario, so it would behoove him to start hitting.
The Diamondbacks aren't going to get carried away and rave about their college pitchers in the 2001 draft in the same manner they boasted of their high school troika of Nick Bierbrodt, John Patterson and Brad Penny in 1996. But they do think they acquired more depth this time around, thanks to the quick development of pitchers like Webb. More than one Southeastern Conference coach said last spring that Webb had the best stuff in the conference, and his 123 strikeouts set a Kentucky season record. He has a long, lean pitcher's body. His best pitch is his curveball, and he consistently throws his fastball in the low 90s. He throws both a two-seam and four-seam fastball. Webb projects as a late-inning reliever. After a successful debut at South Bend last summer, he'll move up to Lancaster in 2001.
When the Diamondbacks took Slaten last June, they quickly learned how serious he was about pitching at UCLA. He already had spurned a significant offer from the Orioles as a draft-and-follow, and Bruins coach Gary Adams does an exceptional job of recruiting, so the Diamondbacks decided to do so as well. They flew Slaten and his family to Phoenix to attend a game at Bank One Ballpark, let him throw a bullpen session under the watchful eye of then-pitching coach Mark Connor and introduced him to some of the Arizona players. The capper came when Slaten walked into the Diamondbacks clubhouse and found a jersey with his name on the back hanging in one of the empty lockers. He signed soon after his visit. He has the frame to get stronger and add velocity to his 90 mph sinker. He also throws a nifty curveball and added a circle changeup as a sophomore at Pierce. Slaten stands a reasonable chance to start the season at Lancaster, about an hour's drive from where he grew up in Southern California.
The Diamondbacks believe they have a potential gem in Perez, who signed as a 17-year-old and was assigned to the Dominican Summer League, where he was undefeated. Working out at the team's academy in the Dominican helped Perez prepare for playing in the United States. He arrived last year, leading the Arizona League club in wins while averaging nearly a strikeout per inning. He even survived a couple of emergency starts in high Class A. At this point, Perez' fastball and curveball are adequate but nothing more. He has a knack for making the right pitch at the right time, and he doesn't try to blow hitters away. Perez stands a strong chance to begin this season at South Bend and could move up to Lancaster if his stuff improves.
Most projections had the Diamondbacks taking Ben Sheets with the fourth overall pick in the 1999 draft, but instead they went for Myers, a local high school product. Myers wasn't considered a first-round talent by most teams and signed for a below-market $2 million, though Arizona insists he wasn't a signability pick. Perhaps the club should use that excuse, because Sheets has become an Olympic star and a top rookie candidate for 2001, while Myers has struggled as a pro. He has yet to fulfill any of the promise of a top pick, though most scouts will say that expectations were unfair because he was no more than a one-tool player to begin with. Some thought Myers could make it on his hitting alone, but his bat hasn't shown in two seasons. He started his pro career at shortstop before moving to third base because of a lack of range. That hasn't worked so far, as he made 36 errors in 2000. Some believe he might need another position change to first base. The Diamondbacks remain optimistic because Myers' willingness to learn hasn't wavered. He'll be under scrutiny with an expected return to South Bend, where he hit .125 last year.