Sign Up! Join our newsletters, get a FREE e-Edition
Hairston wasn't born with a bat in his hand--but he could have been. His baseball gene is as dominant as that of any Bell or Boone in the game. Hairston's grandfather Sam was a fixture in the Negro Leagues before getting a taste of the majors in 1951. His father Jerry Sr. was a 14-year major leaguer who managed the White Sox' Rookie-level Arizona League affiliate in 2002. His uncle John got four big league at-bats in 1969, while his brother Jerry Jr. starts at second base for the Orioles. Scott has the tools to surpass all of them. He won the Arizona junior college triple crown in 2001, then tied for the minor league lead with 73 extra-base hits and topped the Midwest League with a .426 on-base percentage in his first full pro season. One MWL manager compared him to Gary Sheffield. Hairston is a strong, solidly built athlete with the physique of a running back. With a short, compact stroke, he can turn around any fastball and drive pitches to all parts of the ballpark. When pitchers stopped throwing him strikes at low Class A South Bend, he adjusted and took walks. Hairston has a good eye and above-average speed. While he is not the basestealing threat his brother is, he could swipe 10-15 bases a season. He's out of the Jeff Kent mold, a power-first second baseman made even more valuable because of the exceptional wallop he provides for his position. Hairston spent at least four days a week in the Arizona Fall League working on his defense, especially on turning the double play. He has the tools for second base--quick hands, good range, adequate arm--but most who saw him in the Midwest League projected him as a left fielder. One scout who covered the league said he didn't see Hairston put any effort into his defense, let alone run out a grounder, but the Diamondbacks don't have any questions about his makeup. They also don't doubt he'll be able to stay at second base. After tearing up three levels in two seasons, Hairston will continue his ascent at Double-A El Paso this year. If he continues his fast progress, he could reach Triple-A Tucson by the end of the season. Arizona incumbent Junior Spivey was a 2002 all-star, but the Diamondbacks will get both in the lineup when the time comes by moving one to the outfield.
Because teams were wary of Gosling's agent, Scott Boras, the Diamondbacks gambled that they could get him in the second round of the 2001 draft. They were correct, and signed him for $2 million--the largest bonus outside the first round that year. In his pro debut last year, he won 14 games in Double-A in the hitter-friendly Texas League. Gosling has a great understanding of his craft. He can spot his low-90s fastball on both sides of the plate, and it has a natural tail that makes it tough for hitters to make solid contact. He has command of both a slider and a curveball, and he changes speeds well. There have been minor issues with Gosling's durablilty, delivery and control in the past, but he answered them in 2002. About all he needs is further refinement with his command and more pro innings. Despite his limited experience, Gosling has an outside chance to make the Arizona rotation in 2003. It's more likely that he'll begin the season in Triple-A, but he could be the first starter summoned if the Diamondbacks need reinforcements.
Though he set several Nevada and Big West Conference records, Overbay wasn't drafted until his senior year--and even then he lasted until the 18th round because scouts didn't think he profiled well at any position. He has made other teams pay for the oversight, becoming the first short-season player to drive in 100 runs and batting .345 in four pro seasons. Overbay is a line-drive machine, similar to Sean Casey and Mark Grace. He has a sweet, short stroke and adeptly uses the entire field. He has consistently produced tons of doubles in the minors, and he has the build to develop more over-the-fence power. The Grace comparisons don't entirely work because Overbay doesn't draw as many walks and isn't particularly smooth around first base. Scouts who saw him in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League didn't think his approach was conducive to hitting home runs. Now 26, he never has been young for his league. Overbay's promise was a major reason the Diamondbacks decided to trade Erubiel Durazo in a four-team deal that allowed them to upgrade their rotation with Elmer Dessens. Overbay will start at first base for Arizona and benefit from Grace's veteran counsel.
The fifth overall pick in 1996 by the Expos, Patterson became a free agent because Montreal didn't properly tender him a contract. He signed with Arizona for $6.075 million and pitched well until needing Tommy John surgery in May 2000. He improved steadily last season and the Diamondbacks won four of his five big league starts. Patterson has worked diligently to return to his pre-injury form and made a breakthrough in 2002. He regained the shoulder-to-shoetops curveball that always has been his best pitch. He can buckle hitters with the bender while buzzing them with a 93 mph fastball that he locates well. He loves to compete. Patterson's fastball still hasn't quite returned to its previous 95-96 mph range, though he was consistently in the low 90s last season. Missing much of 2000 and 2001 cost him time to work on the development of his changeup. A spot in Arizona's rotation is Patterson's for the taking this spring. Even if his old velocity never returns, he learned to pitch without his best stuff while recovering from surgery and is the better for it now.
Webb set the Kentucky single-season strikeout record (since broken by Athletics first-rounder Joe Blanton) in 2000, the year Arizona drafted him in the eighth round. After being shut down with a tired arm in his first pro summer, he has been solid ever since. He ranked fourth in the Texas League in both ERA and strikeouts last year. Webb's fastball tops out at 94-95 mph but is best at 92, where it really sinks. He also has a heavy slider, and his stuff reminds scouts of Bob Wickman's. His two-seam fastball can be so dominant that he could rely on it almost exclusively. With 40 hit batters and 23 wild pitches over the last two seasons, it's obvious Webb still has work to do to master his command. His pitches have such live, late movement that he can be difficult to catch. He just began to incorporate a changeup into his repertoire last year. Like his former El Paso teammate Mike Gosling, Webb has an outside chance to make the Diamondbacks roster in 2003. He could be used as either a starter or a long reliever. Whatever the case, he should be a major league mainstay in the near future.
Signed at 17 for a mere $3,500, Gonzalez was sent home from the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League because of homesickness. He returned to the Diamondbacks last April and threw a no-hitter in his second low Class A start. He was even better after a promotion to high Class A Lancaster. His roll continued into the offseason, as he led the Mexican Pacific League in wins (eight) and ERA (1.89). Unlike most true four-pitch pitchers, Gonzalez can reach the mid-90s with his fastball. He was clocked at 96 mph in the ninth inning of one of his starts at South Bend. His slider is his second-best pitch, and he has a curveball and changeup. Gonzalez has great feel for altering the speed of his pitches. He wants the ball in big situations. Gonzalez isn't lacking much beyond experience. If he can improve his command within the strike zone, he has the stuff to dominate hitters. Counting winter ball, he racked up 250 innings in a nine-month period, so Arizona should monitor his 2003 workload carefully. Gonzalez looks ready to make the jump to Double-A. If he keeps developing this rapidly, he could be in Arizona by September.
Santos may have been the victim of overexposure. He was identified as a top prospect by the time he was a high school sophomore, and scouts expected more than he delivered as a senior. Arizona drafted him 27th overall and used a $1.4 million bonus to sign him away from a scholarship to Southern California. Santos has prodigious power, which he displayed by driving balls to all parts of the park in a private workout at Bank One Ballpark prior to the 2002 draft. He hadn't shown consistent pop in high school. Santos has a compact swing and can make adjustments. His instincts and makeup are solid, and they enhance his average speed and defensive tools. His arm strength is a plus. Santos still has to learn to play balls off wood bats, and his 28 errors ranked third in the Pioneer League. Considering his size and that he's still growing, he probably will get too big for shortstop and have to move to second or third base. His swing can get long, hampering his ability to make contact. Santos has enough power for any position and will be a middle-of-the- order hitter in the majors, perhaps as early as 2005. He'll spend this year in Class A.
The Diamondbacks had inside information on Tracy, because area scout Howard McCullough's son Clayton played with him at East Carolina. In his first full season, Tracy stayed above .400 in Double-A through early June. He tailed off because of a shoulder injury, but still led the Texas League in batting, hits and doubles and was the league's player of the year. Tracy is a classic line-drive hitter. He has a short, compact swing and takes the ball where it's pitched. He makes contact with ease and can fight off pitches until he gets one to his liking. With his stroke and knowledge, he should add more home run power in time. A first baseman in his first two years of college, Tracy remains a work in progress at the hot corner and made 26 errors last season. He puts the bat on the ball so effortlessly that he cuts into his walk totals. He didn't need surgery, but his shoulder problem cost him a chance to play in the Arizona Fall League. Tracy will begin 2003 in Triple-A as Matt Williams plays out the end of his five-year contract. Craig Counsell may provide competition, but Tracy could be Arizona's starter in 2004.
Bruney was only 17 when he signed as a raw talent from a town of 2,200 on the tip of northwest Oregon. Credit the scouting department for finding him and the development staff for refining him into a closer prospect. He dominated in the Arizona Fall League after a strong 2002 season, not allowing a run in 16 appearances. Bruney routinely hit 99 mph with his fastball in his first two years in the organization. He now works more in the mid-90s, and the pitch has natural cutting action, making it that much more difficult to hit. His slider has improved, and his most important achievement has been refining a consistent delivery. Control has been a problem at times for Bruney, though as he has grown he has learned he doesn't have to throw 99 mph every pitch to be successful. His average of 3.1 walks per nine innings last year was by far the best ratio of his career. He doesn't have much of an offspeed pitch, but he rarely needs one. If Matt Mantei can't stay healthy and Byung- Hyun Kim gets his wish to become a starter, Bruney could become Arizona's closer in the near future. He needs at least one more year of minor league apprenticeship first.
Terrero ranked No. 1 on this list a year ago and has as much all-around upside as anyone in the system. But he has been plagued by injuries throughout his five-year pro career, including hamstring problems, a broken hamate bone and a fractured ankle. Though his 104 games in 2002 were a career high, he still spent nearly a month on the disabled list. A gifted physical specimen, Terrero is long and chiseled. He has power to all fields and runs like a deer. With his long strides he gobbles up ground both in the outfield alleys and while on the bases. He has a strong arm and has been a major league-ready center fielder since starring in the 2000 Hall of Fame Game at Cooperstown. Terrero has had trouble staying on the field long enough to develop a consistent approach at the plate. He has trouble recognizing and adjusting to breaking pitches, and he does a poor job of controlling the strike zone. He has the speed to steal 30 bases a year, but his instincts aren't there yet. Terrero has all the tools to be a major league center fielder for a decade. He has been on the radar screen so long that it's easy to forget that he's just 22. He should start the season at Triple-A Tucson.
Like Darin Erstad, Olson is a native of North Dakota who made his way south to fashion his career. He first attended Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, where he was clocked at 93 mph as a pitcher, and then went to Florida, where he was the outstanding player in a 2000 NCAA regional at Baylor. Olson is a gifted athlete with gap power. While tinkering with his stance in the Arizona Fall League, he still managed to hit .374 with eight doubles and six stolen bases in 31 games. He's an above-average runner who has the ability to steal 15 bases a year. He has a good arm at shortstop and a feel for the position. His athleticism also makes him one of the organization's best defenders at both third base and the outfield (his primary college position). Like a lot of young hitters, Olson needs to refine his plate discipline and make pitchers come to him. The Diamondbacks plan to keep Olson at shortstop unless he plays his way off the position. He'll start there in Triple-A this year.
Snyder immediately became the best catch-and-throw guy in the organization after he signed. That's a testament to his skills behind the plate rather than a shot at the rest of the catchers in the system. A big man with a Carlton Fisk-type body, Snyder is mobile and quick with soft hands. He receives the ball well and already has learned how to frame pitches on the corners. He uses his feet well and does a fine job of blocking balls in the dirt. His arm strength is good, and his release is quick and accurate. Snyder also has all the intangibles teams want in a catcher. He calls his own game, as he did at Houston, and has strong leadership traits. The loft in his stroke bodes well for his power, which he displayed often during his pro debut in high Class A. Snyder's swing can get long, which hurts his ability to make contact and hit for average. Rod Barajas was the Diamondbacks' first homegrown catcher to reach the majors, and Snyder has a chance to be the second. He'll spend most of 2003 in Double-A.
There is no questioning Villarreal's toughness. He sustained a hairline fracture of his right thumb when struck by a line drive in a late April start in Double-A and still made his next two starts--in pain all the while--before letting the organization know about the injury. Until he got hurt, he was the most dominant pitcher in the Texas League, going 4-1, 1.26 with scoreless streaks of 11 and 19 innings. Villarreal features an 89-92 mph fastball and the best slider in the system, yet his changeup may be his most effective pitch. He throws all his pitches for strikes and improved his command within the zone in 2002. Villarreal missed a month before returning, and afterward he didn't baffle hitters as much as he had before the injury. He'll try to find that groove again when he begins 2003 in Triple-A.
A month before the 2002 draft, Arizona scouting director Mike Rizzo got an urgent call from Latin American scouting coordinator Junior Noboa, asking him to come to the Dominican Republic. Rosario had hit 96 mph on the first pitch of his workout for the Diamondbacks and later reached 98 mph. Arizona made sure it signed him, paying a bonus of $400,000. The initial plan was to keep him in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, but he was so dominant that he earned a late-season look at Missoula. While his statistics weren't as gaudy in the United State, he still touched 99 mph and pitched at 95. He also showed a Francisco Rodriguez-style power slider that sat at 87-88 mph, and he threw strikes. What's scary is there's still room for projection because he's so young, long and lean. Rosario is developing a curveball and changeup to give hitters something offspeed to worry about. He could move quickly once he figures those secondary pitches out.
Like the traded Erubiel Durazo, Cota is a native of Hermosillo, Mexico, who hits lefthanded and honed his skills at the high school and junior college levels in Tucson. The comparisons extend further. Cota has a strong, short stroke similar to Durazo's, and is tearing up the minors just like Durazo did. Cota won the Pioneer League triple crown in his pro debut and led the high Class A California League in RBIs in his first full season. He still chases pitches and doesn't have Durazo's strike-zone discipline, but he thrives with runners in scoring position. Cota has power to all fields and can turn around the best fastballs. He was disciplined for not running out a ball late in the 2002 season but seemed to learn from the benching. Cota moved from first base midway through the year after 1999 first-round pick Corey Myers was moved from third base to first, and showed he could play left field adequately. He's limited in terms of athleticism and speed, so he'll never be a standout defender. He's ready for Double-A in 2003.
A big, strapping flamethrower from Baseball City, D.R.--San Pedro de Macoris--Valverde was clocked at 100 mph during spring training in 2002 and claims to have thrown 101 in the Texas League the year before. That's all well and good. But after being added to the 40- man roster in November 2001, Valverde had a lost season in his first crack at Triple-A. He relied almost exclusively on his power fastball but had trouble with location, and the veteran hitters in the Pacific Coast League had no trouble timing him and sending his heat in the other direction. Control is his main issue. He hasn't learned to spot his fastball on the edges of the plate. He also hasn't developed a reliable second pitch, though he has worked on a cutter and a slider. He needs something to keep hitters from cheating on his fastball. It got to the point last season that the Diamondbacks would remove Valverde after a good inning rather than risk him losing confidence by getting hit around in a second inning. He has spent time on the disabled list in each of the last three years with shoulder (2000), elbow (2001) and back ailments (2002), and has never pitched more than 51 innings in a season. His top-notch velocity keeps Valverde on the radar screen, though he still has plenty to prove in Triple-A.
A late bloomer in high school, Barden didn't receive many scholarship offers and signed with Oregon State after the Beavers noticed him in a summer tournament. He became a two-time all-Pacific-10 Conference third baseman, and pulled off something even rarer after signing last June. Despite missing the first half of the season, he made the California League all-star team. Barden doesn't have a classic power hitter's body but has a compact stroke that produces gap power. He makes continual adjustments at the plate and seldom gives away at-bats. He has a great mental approach, never getting too high or too low. Barden looks like a future Gold Glover at third base and scouts consider him similar to David Bell. If he continues to hit as he did in his debut, Barden will give Chad Tracy a run for the right to succeed Matt Williams at the hot corner in Arizona.
The son of longtime Dodgers bullpen coach Mark Cresse and the godson of Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda, Cresse has cooled off since his scintillating 2000 performance. He led NCAA Division I with 30 homers and drove in the College World Series-winning run for Louisiana State, then hit 17 homers in 48 high Class A games after signing. He has a power stroke and previously showed the ability to make adjustments, but he struggled at the plate in 2002 as he was shuttled between Double-A and Triple-A. The Diamondbacks also believe his offensive woes were related to a conscious effort to improve his defense, which was successful. He improved his catch-and-throw skills, increasing his success against basestealers to 39 percent, up from 27 percent in 2001. His footwork and accuracy on throws got better, and he grew more adept at game-calling--something catchers don't do at LSU. Cresse could reassert himself as a prospect in Triple-A if he learns to not put so much pressure on himself and let his natural gifts work for him.
Like Randy Johnson but with a much lower profile, Nippert never got comfortable with his gangly body and quality stuff while pitching in college. He began the 2002 college season in West Virginia's rotation, but pitched his way into the bullpen. Diamondbacks area scout Greg Lonigro stayed on Nippert because he's 6-foot-7 and threw in the low 90s. After Arizona signed him, Nippert tinkered with his three-quarters delivery, lengthening his stride and achieving immediate impact. His velocity improved to the mid-90s with a high of 98 mph, and his command got dramatically better. With a power curveball, he might have as good a 1-2 punch as any pitcher in the system, and he's intelligent on the mound. Nippert still has to refine his changeup but the Diamondbacks don't believe he's a fluke. They may give him a chance to prove that by jumping him three levels to high Class A this year.
White led NCAA Division I with an average of 16.0 strikeouts per nine innings at Jacksonville State in 2000. A big, strong lefthander, White uses a sharp curveball as his out pitch and owns a 91-92 mph fastball with nice life. He has shown only flashes of his ability in his three pro seasons, however, because of various physical ailments. He was shut down for most of 2000 with a tired arm, slightly tore his labrum late in 2001 and had his wrist broken by a liner last year. White should be ready for spring training, where he'll compete for a starting job in Double-A. The Diamondbacks still believe in him and want him to stay healthy so he can make some progress with his changeup and his control.
Good's performance stands out more than his tools. He was the organization's minor league pitcher of the year in 1999, but tore up his elbow in 2000 and had Tommy John surgery. He won 10 games while rebuilding his arm strength in 2001 and 13 more in Double-A last year. Good understands the art of pitching as well as anyone in the system. While his fastball tops out at 90 mph, he locates it well and mixes in curveballs and changeups. He can throw any pitch in any count and specializes in keeping hitters off balance. Good is expected to keep moving up the ladder, with a spot in the Triple-A rotation on the horizon. It's possible that his savvy could land him in Arizona in the next year or two.
Doyle and his twin brother Nathan led James Madison to a school-record 44 victories last spring. Jared led the Colonial Athletic Association with 11 wins, while Nathan, a shortstop, tied for top honors with 14 homers. Nathan wasn't drafted, but Jared went in the third round and made the short-season Northwest League all-star team in his pro debut. He excelled as both a reliever and a starter at Yakima. Doyle has a low-90s fastball that maxes out at 95 mph, a quality curveball and a changeup that may be his best pitch. He's not afraid to throw strikes and has a good idea of what he wants to accomplish. He keeps the ball down, giving up only one home run in 63 pro innings. Given his makeup, he should be able to handle high Class A if Arizona decides to skip him a level.
A draft-and-follow from 2001, Williams is the fastest player and best athlete in the system. He was recruited out of high school as a wide receiver by Florida and Florida State, but instead chose to pursue baseball. The 2002 Florida community college player of the year, he has one exceptional tool: speed. He has been timed consistently between 6.25 and 6.3 seconds in the 60-yard dash and is explosive. He's at full speed in one step and has a good understanding of how to steal bases. Little wonder, then, that he led the Northwest League with eight triples and 51 steals (in 58 attempts). The rest of Williams' game is raw. While he hit 14 home runs at North Florida, he has just enough pop to get himself in trouble. The Diamondbacks want him to make more contact and hit more balls on the ground to best utilize his jets. He's a legitimate center fielder, covering ground to both sides with an average arm. Arizona will be patient with his development.
Hammock had always hit since signing in 1998, but last year he established himself as a jack of all trades capable of filling three roles--backup catcher, corner infielder, corner outfielder-- with one roster spot. His ascent through the minors was slowed by a severe bone bruise in his right wrist in 2000. Once he returned, Brad Cresse cut into Hammock's time behind the plate. He alternated between catcher, outfield and third base last year. Hammock uses a short stroke, makes good contact, has solid power and does a fine job of recognizing pitches. He threw out 40 percent of basestealers in 2002 and showed agility at every position he played. The Diamondbacks believe he could become their answer to Eli Marrero after some time in Triple-A.
Perez hit a bump in the road for the first time in 2002 after three solid seasons in the lower minors, where he went 23-6 while working his way up from the Dominican Summer League through low Class A. He had trouble adjusting to the hitter's parks and more advanced opponents in Double-A. Perez has the stuff to be successful. He has a quality slider and an even better changeup, and his fastball tops out at 91-92 mph. He can throw his pitches for strikes in just about any count, his location is outstanding and he has a mature mental approach. That's why the Diamondbacks tried to jump him two levels, and though that didn't work, he was back to his old self once he was allowed to catch his breath in high Class A during August. With his tall, lean build, Arizona envisions him putting on weight and adding velocity, but he has gained just four pounds in the last two years. He might be best off by returning to high Class A and getting off to a quick start this year.
Cintron ranked No. 1 on this list two years ago, but the Diamondbacks have beefed up their system considerably since then and he has not moved forward in his development. Cintron continues to hit for average, but that represents the extent of his offensive contributions because he hasn't added hitting homers or drawing walks to his repertoire. He has added 30 pounds since signing, and while he's gotten stronger the extra bulk has cut into his speed and his range at shortstop. Cintron is adequate at short, second base and third base (his regular position over the winter in Puerto Rico). He no longer is Arizona's shortstop of the future, but he does have potential value as a utilityman or injury replacement. Cintron could make the Diamondbacks big league roster if they decide to carry seven infielders, or he could play second base opposite Tim Olson in Triple-A.
Cormier is similar to Andrew Good, another pitcher who relies more on guile than overpowering stuff. He set several school records in four seasons at Alabama, and signed with Arizona last June after turning down Houston as a 10th-rounder a year earlier. Cormier's changeup is his top pitch, and he throws an 88-92 mph fastball, a curveball and a slider. He has command of all four pitches to all four quadrants of the strike zone. In his pro debut, he issued just two walks in 29 innings. Cormier pitched mainly in relief after signing because he had worked 129 innings with the Crimson Tide during the spring, but he'll move back to the rotation this year in Class A.
Aquino has gone through major changes since signing in 1995. He spent his first 3 1⁄2 years as a shortstop before batting .160 in two tries at low Class A. His offensive struggles and his strong arm prompted a move to the mound in 1999. He also played under the surname Valera before last season. Aquino's fastball registers 96-97 mph consistently and he has more than adequate control for a power pitcher. His main problem is that he lacks a decent second pitch to keep hitters off his heater. The Diamondbacks remain hopeful he'll improve his slider and changeup, and they're comfortable with his development to this point. He'll probably start 2003 in high Class A.
Kroeger has regressed offensively as he has moved through the minors, and his strike-zone judgment completely fell apart in 2002. However, the Diamondbacks still see plenty of potential. Kroeger was just 17 when he signed, turning down a football scholarship to play wide receiver at NCAA Division II Truman State (Mo.). He's athletic and has raw power, but he continues to struggle with pitch recognition and is overly aggressive. He gets himself out rather than making pitchers work to do so. Kroeger is a natural right fielder, with the arm strength and range to play there. He has acceptable speed but hasn't refined his basestealing instincts. He needs to repeat high Class A this year.
For six weeks last year, the Northwest League saw flashes of the Jerry Gil who commanded a $767,500 bonus in 1999. He was brilliant at times in Yakima and looked like a five-tool player. He's easily the best defender and has the strongest arm among the system's infielders, and has been since he signed. But he has been slow to develop any understanding of the strike zone, as his career 224-26 strikeout-walk ratio attests, or any real approach at the plate. Scouts often wonder what he could be thinking in the batter's box. Gil has well above-average speed and is a basestealing threat--if he can get on base. Injuries sabotaged his 2002 season. He missed a month at high Class A with a quadriceps strain, and a sore elbow caused him to tail off in the NWL. The Diamondbacks still have confidence in his physical gifts and probably will return him to the California League in 2003.