Top Ten Prospects: Arizona Diamondbacks
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Kevin Goldstein
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.
The Diamondbacks improved by 26 victories in 2005, but after the previous season’s 51-111 debacle, there was nowhere to go but up.
The team began its offseason housecleaning by dealing Randy Johnson to the Yankees, and then made a splash in the free-agent market by signing righthander Russ Ortiz and third baseman Troy Glaus to big-money contracts that were criticized for both their length and dollar amount.
While Glaus performed to expectations, Ortiz and other veteran pitchers
On the diamond, the Diamondbacks are trying to make a transition from veterans to youth. Two of the top hitting prospects in the system, 2003 first-round picks Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson, have nothing left to prove in the minors, yet are blocked. Plans are to give Jackson an opportunity to play first base every day in 2006 despite Tony Clark’s renaissance, while Quentin may have to wait out the contracts of outfielders Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green.
The Diamondbacks system has taken a major step forward over the last three years under the direction of scouting director Mike Rizzo, as their top four prospects match up with any team’s. Leading the way is Stephen Drew, as Arizona took advantage of other teams’ fear of the shortstop’s signability to scoop him up with the 15th overall pick in 2004. The Diamondbacks didn’t sign Drew until a week before the 2005 draft, but he performed well enough in his pro debut and in the Arizona Fall League to earn consideration as the major league shortstop as early as 2006.
With the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, Arizona selected shortstop Justin Upton. In their minds, that gave the Diamondbacks the best player in each of the last two drafts. Upton would rank atop this prospect list if he had signed. Negotiations with Upton and advisor Larry Reynolds hadn’t been contentious, but the sides remained $1.5 million ($6.25 million vs. $4.75 million) apart.
In a system loaded with hitters but weak on arms, Rizzo spent eight of his next nine selections following Upton on college pitchers. Supplemental first-rounder Matt Torra and righthander Micah Owings both made this Top 10 list. The progression of this group of arms will be crucial to the Diamondbacks’ future, as they look to be more conservative on the free-agent market. If they can outlast or unload some of the bloated contracts that will be an issue over the next three years, Arizona is in a position to contend annually in the weak National League West.
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