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The talented trio of Drew brothers (Stephen and older siblings J.D. and Tim) have been drafted a total of four times in the first round--and Stephen almost made it five. The top position player available in the 2004 draft, Drew slipped to Arizona at No. 15 because of his bonus demands. Negotiations dragged into the spring of 2005, and he joined Camden in the independent Atlantic League. He finally signed with Arizona on May 30, minutes before a midnight deadline. Drew agreed to a five-year, $5.5 million major league contract that included a $4 million bonus and another $2 million in easily obtained incentives. His indy league time allowed Drew to hit the ground running at high Class A Lancaster, despite missing two weeks with a nagging hamstring injury. He tired at Double-A Tennessee as his layoff took its toll, but rebounded to hit .337 with six homers in the Arizona Fall League. One scout calls Drew "the perfect combination of baseball tools and baseball skills."He's a middle infielder who's a middle-of-the-order run producer as well. He uses the same setup and has the same picture-perfect swing as his brother J.D., and Drew already has an advanced knowledge of the strike zone. He has the ability to hit for average with power to all fields. His stroke has natural loft and plenty of backspin in its finish. Because he never played in a college summer league or with Team USA, Drew's ability to hit with wood was a question mark, but that issue was eliminated with his strong pro debut. Defensively, Drew has good reactions and soft hands while flashing above-average arm strength. He's a slightly above-average runner, though the hamstring troubles muted his speed. Questions about Drew's makeup and desire lingered throughout his amateur career. His seeming unwillingness to play summer ball in college, as well his constant time off with injuries, left some to wonder if Drew's desire matches his obvious abilities. J.D. has had the same tag in the major leagues. Drew's stoic on-field demeanor is also often interpreted as a lack of fire, though he begged his way back into the lineup with the hamstring problems when the Diamondbacks wanted to shut him down. At the plate, Drew can overadjust to cold streaks, becoming either overly contact-oriented or pull-conscious. He's often lazy in the field, waiting on grounders and flipping throws to first base. He doesn't always show the first-step quickness to stay at shortstop, though he has the athleticism to be an above-average second baseman or center fielder. In just three months, Drew established himself as Arizona's shortstop of the future. However, the anticipated signing of 2005 first-round pick Justin Upton could move Drew to another position in the middle of the diamond. With no obvious candidate at the major league level, he'll get a spring-training opportunity to win the major league starting job unless the Diamondbacks bring in a veteran.
Jackson has hit at least .300 at every minor league stop in his brief pro career, and his .354 average at Triple-A Tucson represented a career high when he was called up in late July. He was unable to replicate his success with Arizona due in part to his inconsistent playing time. While Jackson's bat is his only above-average tool, it's exceptional. His simple mechanics and contact-oriented approach allow him to spray line drives into the gaps seemingly at will. His pitch recognition is off the charts, and he's strong enough to hit at least 20 homers annually. Drafted as a third baseman, he now projects to be an average first baseman. Jackson can be too passive at times at the plate, waiting for the perfect pitch instead of hammering one he could drive. Arizona straightened his stance at the end of 2004, but returned to a pronounced wide setup in 2005, sapping him of some power. Despite Tony Clark's 30-homer season, the Diamondbacks want Jackson's bat in their lineup. He should be their everyday first baseman in 2006.
Quentin's pro debut was delayed by Tommy John surgery after he was drafted in 2003, but he has made up for lost time. He has batted .316 with 42 homers in two pro seasons. Quentin is a classic corner outfielder with above-average hitting skills, plate discipline and power. Despite his plate-crowding tactics--he leads the minors with 72 hit by pitches in the last two years--he can cheat on inside pitches and crush them as easily as he takes outside pitches to the opposite field. His instincts make him a plus baserunner and have enabled him to get by in center field when he moved there in July. His arm hasn't regained its pre-surgery strength but is solid for right field. Quentin's effort in center field was universally praised, but he just doesn't cover enough ground to play there on a regular basis. His pure speed is average at best. Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green and Chad Tracy are blocking Quentin on Arizona's outfield corners, but he has nothing left to prove in Triple-A. He could begin his big league career in center and move to right down the road.
Gonzales' tools always had excited the Diamondbacks, and he exploded in 2005. He won the MVP award and ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the low Class A Midwest League, where managers rated him the best batting prospect, best defensive outfielder, best outfield arm and most exciting player. Most aspects of the game come easy to Gonzales. He has a quick, fluid swing and strong wrists, projecting as a .300 hitter with 30-plus homer power. He makes adjustments like a veteran and commands the strike zone well. He takes good routes and has a plus arm in right field. Gonzales' speed is currently just average, and it should continue to regress as he fills out. He can get pull-happy and has some holes on the outer half of the plate, but those are easily correctable issues. He doesn't walk as much as he could because he makes contact so easily. Gonzales has the chance to be a special player, but there's no reason to rush him, especially considering Arizona's outfield. He'll begin 2006 in high Class A, where he could put up monster numbers in the friendly confines of Lancaster.
Considered the system's best pitching prospect entering 2004, Nippert pitched poorly before requiring Tommy John surgery that June. He surprisingly returned in late May and won the Double-A Southern League ERA title. He picked up his first major league win with five one-hit innings against the Dodgers in late September. In a system loaded with elite offensive prospects, Nippert is one of the few pitchers with impact potential. His fastball sits at 92-94 mph and touches 96, and he can throw his spike curveball for strikes or bury it in the dirt. He has the makings of a decent changeup, and his height and arm action allow him to deliver all of his pitches on a steep downward plane. Nippert struggled with his control in his brief big league stint, as he lost confidence and began to nibble at the plate. His fastball can get straight, but he makes up for it with his command and his downhill plane. Nippert will get the chance to win a rotation job in spring training. A little Triple-A seasoning wouldn't hurt if he doesn't make it.
Montero was seen as a catcher with some promise, but nobody expected his 2005 breakout campaign. He challenged for the California League triple crown and played in the Futures Game, though he slowed down in Double-A, in part because of a ribcage injury. Under the tutelage of Lancaster manager Bill Plummer and hitting coach Damon Mashore, Montero shortened his swing and began to let his strength work for him at the plate. He focused on just putting good wood on the ball instead of trying to pull everything. He has average arm strength, blocks balls well and calls a good game. Montero's Double-A struggles also were the result of a return to bad habits. He began to overswing, allowing pitchers to expose his holes. His throws sometimes lack accuracy, and he erased a slightly below-average 32 percent of basestealers in 2005. Even the Diamondbacks were surprised by Montero's explosion, and they rewarded him by assigning him to the Arizona Fall League. He'll begin 2006 by trying to show he can handle Double- A.
Mock was seen as a first-round talent entering his junior year at Houston, but a broken ankle hurt his performance and he fell to the third round. In his first full season, he gutted through pitching at one of the friendlier hitter's parks in baseball to lead the California League in wins and strikeouts. Mock has a full arsenal, touching 94-95 mph with his four-seam fastball while mixing in an 88-91 cutter with excellent movement. His slider and curveball are both quality offerings, and he commands all of his pitches well. He's a big-bodied power pitcher who maintains his stuff deep into games. Scouts remain concerned about the difference between Mock's stuff and results. He gives up too many hits, leaving too many pitches over the heart of the plate when he clearly has the command to work the corners. His changeup needs more work, but it should be an average pitch in the end. Mock's bulldog approach helped him survive the tough environment of the California League, and with a few refinements, he could take off. He'll start 2006 in Double-A.
Torra was seen as just a solid arm with a weak program entering 2005, but he became a supplemental first-round pick who signed for $1.025 million after leading NCAA Division I with a 1.14 ERA for a 16-33 Massachusetts team. After racking up high pitch counts for the Minutemen, he worked just 10 innings in his pro debut before being shut down with biceps tendinitis. Torra made significant improvements to his physical condition prior to the 2005 season, and his stuff took off. He works low in the strike zone with a 92-94 mph fastball that he can dial up to 96. He throws a power curve with true 12-to-6 break that he can begin or end in the strike zone with equal effectiveness. His mechanics are simple and repeatable. Torra has yet to face any sort of advanced competition. His changeup is still a work in progress. His heavy college workload was a concern to some scouts. Torra should be 100 percent for spring training and will begin 2006 at one of Arizona's two Class A affiliates. He could reach Double-A by the end of the year.
The Rockies drafted Owings in the second round in 2002 after he made a run at the national high school career home run record. A two-way star at Georgia Tech, he fell to the 19th round (Cubs) in 2004 because of signability concerns. After transferring to Tulane and leading the Green Wave in homers and pitching strikeouts in 2005, he went in the third round and signed for $440,000. Scouts long preferred Owings' power arm to his bat, and he showed why in his pro debut. He saw his fastball jump to 94-97 mph as a reliever. He also made some adjustments with his mid-80s slider, which became a plus pitch with late downward break. He's an aggressive strike-thrower who's not afraid to work inside. Owings' changeup is average at best, and will be his point of emphasis when he returns to the rotation in 2006. He still needs to mature from thrower to pitcher, working harder on setting hitters up instead of challenging them on every pitch. Arizona believes Owings could move quickly as a reliever but offers more value as a starter. He'll most likely open 2006 in the Lancaster rotation.
Arizona continually has pushed Santos since it drafted him in 2002's first round, and he finally hit a wall at Triple-A in 2005. He didn't get his average above .200 until late May, and he hit only one home run after July 1. Santos' pure tools remain impressive despite his poor performance. He has plus bat speed and good power for a shortstop. While he slumped at the plate, he did improve significantly in the field. Santos has soft hands and an above-average arm, and he made great strides in his reads and work on double plays. Santos overreacted to his slow start and fell apart mechanically, leaving him susceptible to inside pitches and completely inept against lefthanders (.148 average). While he has a quick first step at shortstop, his speed limits his range, and he may be better suited for third base. Despite his rough season, most scouts still see significant potential in Santos. Clearly not ready for the majors, he'll return to Triple-A. If Stephen Drew is assigned to Tucson, Santos will move to a different position to accommodate him.
The Diamondbacks believe they got a steal in Carter. After a stellar freshman season at Stanford, he was buried on the Cardinal roster for two years because of a shoulder injury and defensive inefficiencies. Since signing as a 17th-round pick in 2004, he has led the short-season Northwest League in slugging and RBIs in his debut, then followed up by topping the system in homers and RBIs in his first full season. Carter's tremendous bat speed and plus-plus power make him a potential middle-of-the-order threat. Built like a fireplug, he's capable of hitting 500-foot bombs. He doesn't need to make perfect contact to hit the ball out, nor does he have to pull the ball. He's a grinder who gives it his all, despite a lack of physical gifts. Carter's power bat is not just his only plus tool, it's his only tool that even grades out as at least average. He's a well-below-average runner and limited defensively to first base, where he's awkward and lacks range. Stuck behind former college rival Conor Jackson on Arizona's depth chart, Carter has seen time in left field but isn't an option there. He struggles with good breaking balls, and some see him as a classic 4-A slugger. He'll return to Double-A to open 2006, with a decision on his position not necessary until his bat forces its way into the lineup.
Green was one of the top high school prospects in Louisiana in 2001, but he decided to stay at home and pitch at Louisiana-Monroe, where his father Jerry once played basketball. Green missed his freshman year after taking a line drive to the head, and went undrafted despite being eligible in 2003 and 2004. He began to generate some buzz after his sophomore year with a strong showing in the summer Jayhawk League, and he took another step forward last spring under the tutelage of Indians alumnus and volunteer assistant coach Chuck Finley, a 200-game winner in the big leagues. Green finished fifth in NCAA Division I with 141 strikeouts as a junior before signing for $500,000 bonus as a second-round pick. His main weapon is a 91-93 mph fastball that touches 97. His primary breaking pitch is a slider known more for its velocity than break, though it has the makings of a plus pitch. His changeup also shows promise. Green needs to pitch with more confidence, as he's prone to attempting to get batters to chase pitches as opposed to challenging them. The Diamondbacks see Green as a future starter, though some scouts see him as more of a lateinning reliever. He'll begin the year in the rotation at one of Arizona's two Class A affiliates
Smith spent two years as a middle reliever at Louisiana State before taking off as a starter in 2005, when he had a 28 2/3-innings scoreless streak and became the first Tigers pitcher to record back-to-back complete-game shutouts since former No. 1 overall pick Ben McDonald in 1989. Smith overmatched batters during his pro debut at Rookie-level Missoula, leading the Pioneer League in wins, innings and strikeouts. He has excellent command of an average fastball with good movement, using it to set up his out pitch, a big-breaking curveball that's effective against both lefties and rightes. His changeup is more than just a show-me pitch, but he rarely throws it. Smith projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter because of his stuff, though his lack of size leads some scouts to profile him as a reliever. Doctors discovered a tiny hole in his heart when he was a freshman, but it's not life-threatening and doesn't affect his pitching. Coming from a major college program, Smith wasn't tested by Rookie ball. His full-season debut will give Arizona a much better feel for how good he can be, and he may skip two levels and head directly to high Class A.
Pena's has become the poster child for the Dominican age scandals early in the decade. Once thought to be Adriano Rosario and five years younger, he missed almost all of 2004 while his true identity and the circumstances of his signing were investigated. Given an opportunity to compete for Arizona's fifth starter's job in spring training last year, he developed a strained elbow that bothered him throughout the season. Pena's fastball, once in the upper 90s, sat at 91-93 mph in 2005. His breaking ball and changeup are both average, and he commands all of his pitches well. Without his power fastball, Pena struggled with the intricacies of pitching, failing to set up hitters and grooving too many fastballs. Some scouts think his aggressiveness lends itself better to relief work. The Diamondbacks hope a well-rested Pena will be at 100 percent for 2006. If he shows up firing bullets at spring training, he'll begin the year in Triple-A and should get his first big league look later in the season.
Signed out of Venezuela at age 16, Gonzalez didn't reach Double-A until 2005, his seventh year in the system. He led Tennessee in victories and strikeouts, finishing strong with a 2.27 ERA in his final 10 starts. Gonzalez has good command of an above-average fastball that sits at 92-94 mph and touches 96-97 several times a game. He also mixes in a cutter and an average slider. His changeup lacks deception, but he has confidence in the pitch and keeps hitters on their toes with his willingness to use it. His fastball is a little too straight, so when his secondary stuff isn't working, hitters easily can look for his heat. While his move to the rotation in mid-2004 has made him a better pitcher, his future big league role may be as a reliever. He's not big, leading to concerns about his durability over a full major league season. Gonzalez will begin the year in Triple-A.
The Diamondbacks admit they rushed Zeringue in 2005. His assignment to Double-A for his first full season was understandable considering he tore up high Class A in his 2004 pro debut. But Zeringue struggled with his approach, lost his power and was physically spent by the end of the year, batting just .186 in the final month. He still has the tools to project as an everyday player if he can get back on track. He has a quick bat and can drive the ball to all fields, and he's a good right fielder who runs efficient routes and has a plus arm. Zeringue pressed once his struggles began, and began to overswing and expand his strike zone. He's a guess hitter who looks for fastballs he can drive. Once Southern League pitchers figured that out, they threw him nothing but breaking balls outside the zone. His lack of conditioning played a role in his late-season decline, and he participated in Arizona's offseason program to help him cope with the rigors of a full season. Despite his poor showing, the Diamondbacks have faith that Zeringue can bounce back in a return to Tennessee in 2006.
Chico took a circuitous route into the pros, turning down nearly $700,000 as a Red Sox second-round pick out of high school, then flunking out of Southern California and Palomar (Calif.) Junior College. He was pitching in a San Diego semipro league when the Diamondbacks took him in the third round in 2003. He had no trouble with the lower levels of pro ball but got hit hard in Double-A in both 2004 and 2005. After Chico was demoted to high Class A last year, Lancaster pitching coach Jeff Pico changed his approach and tweaked his mechanics. Chico has the stuff to be a starter in the big leagues, starting with a fastball that sits at 88-91 mph and can touch 94. He has an average curveball and has made nice progress with his changeup, which he throws with good arm action. Chico must learn how to set up batters more effectively. He displays a lot of confidence on the mound, but needs to understand how to pitch as opposed to trying to blow batters away. Chico was one of the youngest starting pitchers in the Southern League last year, and the Diamondbacks hope his experience there will serve as a lesson learned. He'll return there to start 2006.
Shappi's pro career got off to a blistering start, as he won 16 of his first 18 decisions, including an 11-1 run at low Class A South Bend to start 2005. He got knocked around after a promotion to high Class A, yet still tied Toronto's Zach Jackson for the overall minor league lead in wins with 16. Shappi is a strike-throwing machine, and he has to be fine with his command because he can't get hitters out on pure stuff. His fastball sits in the high 80s, and while his slider is an above-average pitch, it also lacks velocity. He also throws a usable changeup. All of Shappi's pitches are made better by his outstanding command and his ability to hit the corners at will. His low pitch counts allow him to work deep into games, and he finished sixth in the minors in innings pitched. A Rhodes Scholar candidate at UC Riverside, Shappi brings a lot of intelligence to the mound. He understands his limitations as well as batters' weaknesses. His lack of a true out pitch leaves him susceptible to lefthanders and eventually may lead him to the bullpen. Despite his struggles in Lancaster, the Diamondbacks believe Shappi is ready for Double-A.
Barden consistently has hit for average throughout his minor league career, and he took another step forward in Triple-A last year by establishing career highs in home runs and RBIs. He has a line-drive approach and uses all fields, and he did a better job of recognizing mistakes and punishing them in 2005. Barden never will be a true power hitter, and he racks up too many strikeouts for a player whose primary offensive value revolves around his batting average. He's a free swinger who draws few walks. He's no more than an average runner, though he has good instincts on the basepaths. He's an above-average defender at third base, with good hands, quick reactions and plus arm strength. Blocked by Troy Glaus in Arizona, Barden saw time at second base last year. The Diamondbacks think he could fill in at all four infield positions if needed. He'll get a shot in spring training to earn a reserve role on the big league club.
The Diamondbacks had to wait three years for Medders to fulfill the promise of his 2001 pro debut, as he failed in a conversion to the rotation in 2002 and missed most of 2004 after labrum surgery. After he replaced an injured Jason Bulger as Tucson's closer in early 2005, Medders was one of the most reliable relievers in the Arizona bullpen during the second half. He has a low-90s fastball with plenty of sink, and he added a cutter that was a key to his success. He also throws an average slider and an occasional changeup. His awkward delivery hides the ball for a long time, making all of his pitches difficult to pick up. Scouts praise his aggressiveness. To profile as more than a setup man, Medders needs to find an effective pitch against lefties, who hit .339 against him at Tucson and 78 points higher than righties did against him in the majors (.239 versus .161). Medders enters 2006 with a job in the Arizona bullpen all but locked up.
D'Antona was the system's biggest disappointment in 2005. Wake Forest's career home run leader with 58, D'Antona had been grouped with Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin as part of the "Three Amigos."Arizona's first three picks in the 2003 draft, they all produced in high Class A and were promoted together to Double-A in mid-2004. While Jackson and Quentin now are pushing for big league jobs, D'Antona has severely regressed. He has tremendous raw power and doesn't strike out much, but his overly long swing and pull-conscious approach left him behind most fastballs and exploitable on the inner half of the plate in 2005. Drafted as a third baseman, he has a plus-plus arm but is slow and clumsy in the field. He moved to first base in the final month of the season. D'Antona needs to makes adjustments in his approach, and will return to Double-A in an attempt to rediscover his power.
Scouting director Mike Rizzo likes to budget for a low-cost college senior in the fifth round of the draft, and he may have found a bargain in Nicolas in 2004. He didn't sign until last spring, then led the Midwest League in on-base and slugging percentage in his pro debut. He also ranked third in homers despite missing six weeks early in the season with a broken right hand. He also hit .424-2-10 in the postseason as the Silver Hawks won the league title. Nicolas is a hulking first baseman. He has an excellent approach at the plate, understands the strike zone and features big-time pull power. His power bat is his only tool, however. He's a lumbering runner who relies on excellent instincts to make up for a lack of athletic gifts at first base. At 23 Nicolas was older than most MWL players, and some observers thought his performance was mainly just a matter of picking on younger pitching. He's exactly the type of player who could put up huge numbers at Lancaster's launching pad, but the Diamondbacks will look to get him to Double-A at some point in 2006.
Bulger was a surprise first-round pick in 2001 out of NCAA Division II Valdosta State (Ga.), where he was primarily an infielder for three years. He doubled as the team's closer as a senior and showed a mid-90s fastball that got scouts excited. Two of his brothers pitched professionally in 2005, Brian in independent ball and Kevin in the Royals system. Jason finally made it to the majors in 2005 after struggling as a starter for two years and having Tommy John surgery in 2003. Shelled by the Phillies in his big league debut, he recovered to deliver scoreless outings in six of his last eight appearances. Big and athletic, he fits the profile of a classic power reliever. His plus-plus fastball features plenty of sink, sits at 93-96 mph and touches 98. His curveball shows promise and he can throw it for strikes. Bulger can struggle with his command and is prone to overthrowing. He'll show too much confidence in his fastball and needs to learn how to mix it up better, particularly against lefthanders. At 27, Bulger isn't going to get much better but his stuff is good enough. He'll report to spring training as a favorite to earn a job in the Arizona bullpen.
After Kroeger hit .331-19-87 in 2004 while splitting time between Double-A El Paso and Tucson, some scouts still questioned whether his big numbers were simply the result of playing in friendly-hitter environments. They also wondered if his overly aggressive approach would continue to serve him well. Those concerns were well-founded, as Kroeger struggled through a disappointing 2005. While Kroeger's skills are solid across the board, he lacks the plus tool needed to project as an everyday player. He's a good athlete who turned down a football scholarship from NCAA Division II Truman State (Mo.) as a wide receiver. He has a smooth swing, some power and average speed. His range and arm are solid on an outfield corner. Kroeger improved his conditioning in 2005, and responded with a career high in stolen bases while also proving he can hold his own in center field when needed. Kroeger's lack of plate discipline and slider-speed bat continue to hurt him, and good lefthanders can tie him up inside. He'll return to Triple-A in 2006, and is starting to get buried by the Diamondbacks' outfield depth.
The Diamondbacks have placed a premium on Latin American prospects under scouting director Mike Rizzo, and Gonzales is their latest Venezuelan find. He was slowed in the first half of 2005 by a series of nagging injuries, but hit at least .300 in every month after April and managers rated him the Midwest League's best defensive shortstop. He's fantastic with the glove, with plus range to both sides. He excels at both starting and turning double plays. His fundamentals are top notch, and he made just 11 errors all year, a remarkably low number for a low Class A shortstop. Gonzales understands his limitations offensively, using a flat, quick stroke to lace line drives all over the field. His ability to make contact is his lone offensive skill, as he offers little in the way of power or plate discipline. He's an average runner. Gonzales could reach the majors on his glove alone and projects as a utilityman. He'll move to high Class A in 2006.
The Diamondbacks picked up a pair of supremely athletic outfielders from the Dodgers in a pair of 2004 deals. Swapped straight up for Elmer Dessens, Milons has outperformed Reggie Abercrombie, who was part of the Steve Finley trade. Milons turned down Division I-A football scholarships offers to sign with Los Angeles, and all six of his siblings played college sports, with his brother Freddie making it to the NFL as a wide receiver. Jereme, the MVP of the 2005 Midwest League all-star game, remains extremely raw but his total package reminds some scouts of a young Torii Hunter. Milons has plus speed and power potential, with a fluid swing that gets the bat into the zone quickly. He's a very good center fielder with a strong arm for the position. Milons can show flashes of greatness, and then in the same game show why he's still in Class A. He needs to improve his pitch recognition, and his defensive effort came into question last year. He seemed to go all out to make spectacular catches but dog it on routine plays. He'll likely advance to high Class A in 2006.
Bonifacio reached low Class A as a 19-year-old in 2004, and Arizona felt a return there last year wouldn't put him behind schedule. The move paid off as he made improvements across the board. A small, speedy second baseman in the mold of Luis Castillo, Bonifacio never will hit for power but is a capable hitter who uses all fields. His most significant growth came in understanding his role as an igniter atop a lineup, as he more than doubled his walk total while also cutting down his strikeouts. Once on base, Bonifacio has plus-plus speed and knows how to use it, swiping 95 bases in 122 tries over the past two seasons. His quickness helps him defensively as well. He has good range but needs to improve his reads off the bat, and his footwork is sloppy, particularly around the bag. Bonifacio will spend his third straight year with Alberto Gonzales as his double-play partner, as they'll team up in high Class A this season.
Raab sparked some attention from scouts at NCAA Division II Wisconsin-Parkside in 2003, but he fell out of favor when he came down with a tired arm late in the spring and saw his velocity slip from the low 90s to the low 80s. The Diamondbacks drafted him in the 25th round and didn't have him pitch, immediately putting him on their offseason throwing program instead. A tall lefthander with the ability to throw strikes, Raab made continuous improvements throughout 2005 after joining the South Bend rotation in May. His fastball sits at 89-91 mph and peaks at 94, and he does an excellent job of adding and subtracting from it to throw off hitters' timing. His changeup has the makings of a plus pitch. Raab's primary breaking ball is a slider, which is average at best. His past makes his stamina a concern, but he held up in 2005 and can fall back on being a lefthanded specialist if needed. He'll start 2006 in high Class A with a chance to move up at midseason.
The Diamondbacks scout Mexico heavier than most teams and feel they've found a sleeper in Murillo. Like fellow infielders Alberto Gonzales and Emilio Bonifacio, Murillo took a step forward in most aspects of his game while repeating low Class A last year. Athletic and strong, he's a good hitter with some pop in his bat. The key to his 2005 success was that he made great strides in his pitch recognition, consistently putting himself in hitter's counts. He can become a little too enamored with his power at times. Murillo is no more than an average runner, and he could lose some speed as he fills out. He's an average defender with enough arm for third base. He's already 23, so the pressure of time is upon him. Murillo will join Gonzales and Bonifacio in high Class A this year.
At the cost of a third-round pick and $500,000, Arizona took Neighborgall, the ultimate high-risk, high-reward player in the 2005 draft. He likely would have been a first-round pick out of high school in 2001, but he sought a Josh Beckett-like big league contract ($7 million). The Red Sox took him in the seventh round and floated a seven-figure offer, but he opted to attend Georgia Tech instead. After struggling with his control as a freshman, the wheels came completely off as a sophomore, as Neighborgall pitched just 6 2/3 innings while walking 24. As a junior, he started well before falling apart again, finishing with a 7.13 ERA and 53 walks in as many innings. The numbers from his pro debut were markedly worse. He's one of the most fascinating and frustrating pitching prospects in baseball. He's one of the few pitchers in the game with two pitches (fastball and slider) that earn 70 or better raw grades on the 20-80 scouting scale. But at the same time, his extreme control problems leave most scouts doubting he'll ever make it. He sits in the upper 90s with his heater and consistently hits triple digits. His slider features two-plane break and comes at hitters with velocity (88-91 mph) that's typical of a fastball. He even sells his changeup with excellent arm action, and it can be a third plus pitch at times. Much of Neighborgall's troubles can be traced to his mechanics, which are just plain awful. His shoulder flies open, and his extremely violent landing often leaves him offline from the plate. His problems are also partly mental, as he has little confidence. The Diamondbacks admit there's no magic formula to fix Neighborgall. They started off in instructional league by having him pitch out of the stretch to remove the number of moving parts, and getting his landing to be both softer and more aligned with the plate. While they were happy with his progress, they have no timetable for him. If he pitches well in spring training, he'll begin the year as a starter in low Class A.