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November 8, 2006

Future Shock

Arizona Diamondbacks Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Excellent Prospects
1. Chris Young, CF
2. Justin Upton, CF
3. Carlos Gonzalez, RF
Very Good Prospects
None
Good Prospects
4. Miguel Montero, C
5. Alberto Callaspo, 2B/SS
6. Dustin Nippert, RHP
7. Mark Reynolds, 1B/2B/LF
8. Brett Anderson, LHP
Average Prospects
9. Micah Owings, RHP
10. Emilio Bonifacio, 2B

1. Chris Young, CF
DOB: 9/5/83
Draft: 16th round (White Sox), 2001, Texas HS
Acquired: December 2005- Traded by White Sox with Orlando Hernandez and Luis Vizcaino to Arizona for Javier Vasquez.
What he did in 2006: .276/.363/.532 at Triple-A (466 PA), and .243/.308/.386 at MLB (78 PA)
The Good: Long, loose athlete has plus power and speed; solid approach, good range in center; dramatically cut strikeout rate in 2006.
The Bad: Will never compete for a batting title; swing can get long; arm is nothing to write home about; prone to streaks and slumps.
The Irrelevant: Played for Jerry Hairston Sr. in his first two seasons of rookie ball in the White Sox chain, played with Scott Hairston this year at Tucson.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: Think of how cool Mike Cameron would be if he could hit .270-.290 every year. That's Chris Young: probably not a 30-30 player, but he could be a 35/25 one, and while that's not as sexy, that is a better player.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low-he's all but a finished product, and should be in the Arizona outfield next year.

2. Justin Upton, CF
DOB: 8/25/87
Draft: 1st round (1st overall), 2005, Virginia HS
What he did in 2006: .263/.343/.413 at Low-A (501 PA)
The Good: More tools than Home Depot: power to all fields, runs like the wind, cannon for an arm. Nobody in the minors has these kinds of tools in terms of their quality and multiplicity, and few come even close. For a player in his first year in center, he showed plus range and good instincts.
The Bad: So then why the hell didn't he play all that well? Good question. By all accounts, he simply didn't play hard. Remember the kid who was the smartest one in school, but got Cs because he was bored? It might be like that. That doesn't work over the long haul, and the team hopes a lesson has been learned.
The Irrelevant: In 15 plate appearances with the bases loaded, he had three walks and five hits, including a pair of grand slams.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An elite player-the kind that gets his number retired.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. One year since being signed, Upton is still pretty much all potential after one of the more disappointing seasons of any prospect in 2006. He could have a massive earth-shattering year at Visalia, but he can't do that by playing another season on cruise control. Unlimited potential with no results to judge makes you one of the top prospects in the game. Unlimited potential with one mediocre season under your belt does not. That's why he's number two.

3. Carlos Gonzalez, RF
DOB: 10/17/85
Signed: Venezuela, 2002
What he did in 2006: .300/.356/.563 in Hi-A (452 PA), .213/.294/.410 at Double-A (69 PA)
The Good: He's the guy in the picture in the dictionary next to the entry for "right field prospect." Hits for average, hits balls over the fence, and has a true right field arm.
The Bad: Some say his play looks effortless, some say it is effortless-a big difference. His approach at the plate is over-aggressive at times, which some people blame for the struggles at Double-A.
The Irrelevant: Accumulated exactly 252 total bases in each of the last two seasons.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An All-Star in right field who can hit .300, slug 30 home runs, and win Gold Glove awards (if the voting had any legitimacy).
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Gonzalez has tools and production, but he's still just 21 years old and has plenty of untapped potential. Double-A will be his first big test, but he's ahead of the curve age-wise right now, so there's no need to rush things.

4. Miguel Montero, C
DOB: 7/9/83
Signed: Venezuela, 2001
What he did in 2006: .270/.362/.436 in Double-A (337 PA), .321/.396/.515 at Triple-A (154 PA), and .250/.294/.313 at MLB (17 PA)
The Good: Proved that his 2005 breakout was for real with another solid offensive season; made even bigger strides defensively; unique combination of power and contact skills; constantly improving walk rate.
The Bad: His short, stocky body isn't all that pretty; he needs to improve against lefthanders (15 of 17 HRs were against RHPs).
The Irrelevant: Became the first Venezuelan-born catcher in franchise history when he made his September debut.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A solid average-to-slightly-above starting big league catcher.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. Montero will start the 2007 at Triple-A Tucson, but is undoubtedly the organization's backstop of the future.

5. Alberto Callaspo, 2B/SS DOB: 4/19/83
Signed: Venezuela, 2001 (Angels)
Acquired: 2/06, traded by the Angels to the Diamondbacks for RHP Jason Bulger
What he did in 2006: .337/.404/.478 at Triple-A (554 PA), .238/.298/.310 at MLB (47 PA)
The Good: He has the best contact skills in the minors, with only 140 career strikeouts in 2690 minor league at-bats. A versatile infielder with soft hands, he can play second, third, or shortstop with equal aplomb. His 56 walks this year set a new career high.
The Bad: Average inflated by .373 mark in offensively-friendly Tucson; gap power at best, and he's a merely average runner who is not a threat on the base paths. There's a thin line between versatility and "future utilityman."
The Irrelevant: In 116 May at-bats he struck out exactly once.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A starting middle infielder capable of hitting .300, but with very few secondary skills.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. He's ready, but unless the team wants to break him in as a bench player, there's no room at the big league inn where they have more TV channels and those nice fluffy robes.

6. Dustin Nippert, RHP
DOB: 5/6/81
Drafted: 15th round, 2002, University of West Virgina
What he did in 2006: 4.87 ERA and 140.1-161-52-130 (IP-H-BB-SO) at Triple-A; 11.70 ERA and 10-15-7-9 at MLB
The Good: Six-foot-seven, and he takes advantage of it with a low-90s fastball that comes downhill and a curve that seemingly drops out of the sky because of how high up it starts towards the plate from.
The Bad: Very inconsistent, not only from game to game or inning to inning, but even batter to batter. He's struggled mightily in two major league callups, and is prone to nibbling when his control falters; susceptible to big innings.
The Irrelevant: His twin brother Derek is also a 6-foot-7 righty. He spent three years in the Diamondbacks system, but never got out of the Pioneer League.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A number two or three starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Nippert definitely took a step backwards in 2006. The body and stuff remain, but the results have not. Thought to be a lock for the rotation by now, his development has been somewhat delayed, and the team would like to see some sustained success like they saw from him in the Southern League in 2005, when he lead that league in ERA.

7. Mark Reynolds, 2B/LF/3B/1B/SS?
DOB: 8/3/83
Drafted: 16th round, 2004, Virginia University
What he did in 2006: .337/.422/.670 at High-A (322 PA), .272/.346/.544 at Double-A (127 PA)
The Good: Came out of nowhere to sit among the minor league-leaders in home runs and slugging before missing the last part of the season to play for Team USA. Considering the home parks and the talent levels involved, his performance in the Southern League might be the more impressive of the two assignments.
The Bad: Struck out 109 times in 387 at-bats; unorthodox stance and swing mechanics; can play all four infield positions, but none of the exceedingly well; still hasn't proven to have enough bat as a corner outfielder.
The Irrelevant: His batting by positon:

POS   AVG   AB  HR
------------------
1B   .200   10   1
2B   .333   66   6
3B   .289   90   8
SS   .378  111   8
LF   .270   74   5
DH   .306   36   3

In A Perfect World, He Becomes: Maybe an average third baseman or left fielder, even an star-level second baseman if he can improve defensively, which is possible but unlikely. His best value might be as a player who can fill in for starters at six positions for 300-400 at-bats.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average to Low. Reynolds was clearly the Arizona breakout player of the year, so it's hard to expect another round of major improvements across the board. The more people saw him throughout the year, the more they believed that his improvement with the bat was for real. He'll likely begin 2007 in Tuscon as Arizona tries to figure out what to do with him.

8. Brett Anderson, LHP
DOB: 1/2/88
Drafted: 2nd round, 2006, Oklahoma HS
What he did in 2006: Signed too late to make his pro debut
The Good: Remarkable control of a surprisingly deep repertoire for such a young pitcher; has three solid pitches, including a changeup that he can throw for strikes. Advanced knowledge of setting up hitters, and very sound mechanically.
The Bad: Arguments persist as to whether Anderson is big-bodied or bad-bodied and unathletic. While command and control bring all of his offerings up at least a full grade, his fastball is only in the upper 80s, with the occasional 90 or 91 mph thrown in here and there. His delivery turns some off.
The Irrelevant: How does a teenager at a relatively rural high school become so polished? It probably helps that Brett's father, Frank, is the head baseball coach at Oklahoma State.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: It's far too early to say, but the D-backs are hoping for an above-average lefty starter who can pitch 225 innings a year.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Very High. While I'll go on record as saying I think TINSTAAPP is a load of hooey, Anderson has still yet to throw a pitch as a professional.

9. Micah Owings, RHP
DOB: 9/28/82
Drafted: 3rd round, 2005, Tulane University
What he did in 2006: 2.91 ERA, 74.1-66-17-69 at Double-A; 3.70 ERA, 87.2-96-34-61 at Triple-A
The Good: He's a big, durable righthander, and reached Triple-A in his first full season and held his own. His fastball has plus velocity, and he flashes a plus slider; gets high marks for his makeup and competitiveness.
The Bad: His changeup is still rudimentary, and while his other stuff grades out well, the question remains as to whether any of his offerings are a true major league out pitch.
The Irrelevant: A two-way star in college, Owings hit .356 this year (21-for-59) with six doubles and a home run (.508 slugging).
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A back-of-the-rotation starter or effective long reliever.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average-to-Low. Owings' ability to improve his secondary offerings and learn how to pitch with them will dictate his future. He'll likely begin 2007 back at Triple-A Tucson, but will be on the short list for a call-up should the need arise.

10. Emilio Bonifacio, 2B
DOB: 4/23/85
Drafted: Domincan Republic, 2001
What he did in 2006: .321/.375/.449 at High-A (608 PA)
The Good: On the scouting scale, he's a 70+ runner, and has swiped 156 stoles bases in last three years. He understands how to let his speed work for him by using a slappy approach at the plate, and he's a good defensive second baseman.
The Bad: Very concerning splits, including a home/road split of .391/.435/.583 vs. .248/.311/.314, and a lefty/righty split of .347/.407/.496 vs. .252/.288/.325. He doesn't walk enough for leadoff role, and he can't play on the left side of the infield, so it's make it as a starting second baseman or be doomed to years at Triple-A.
The Irrelevant: While not directly Spanish or Italian, the name Bonifacio's Romance-language roots translate as "good face." Insert your own scouting joke here.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: Luis Castillo is the obvious happy comp, but without some steps forward and more consistency, he might be more like Willie Harris.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average to High. Learning (or not learning) plate discipline is one of the hardest things to predict for a prospect. He'll either get it (and therefore get there), or he won't.

Avoiding A Deluge Of E-mail: Unsigned first-round pick Max Scherzer would rank fourth on this list, between Gonzalez and Montero.

The Sleeper: 19-year-old outfielder Gerardo Parra is a long-bodied, left-handed-hitting Venezuelan with tools galore, including power and a laser-guided missile for an arm. If you are saying to yourself that the combination sounds like Carlos Gonzalez from three years ago, you get a gold star on your homework.

The Big Picture

The purpose of this section is to eliminate the punishment some systems get in their rankings for calling up players they have developed. For example, the Marlins top 10 this year will not be an overly impressive list, yet this version of the rankings will more accurately show just how much young talent is in the organization.

Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2007)
1. Stephen Drew, SS
2. Chris Young, CF
3. Justin Upton, CF
4. Carlos Gonzalez, RF
5. Carlos Quentin, RF
6. Conor Jackson, 1B
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Alberto Callaspo, 2B/SS
9. Dustin Nippert, RHP
10. Mark Reynolds, 1B/2B/LF

Thank you, Mike Rizzo! It's obvious to anyone that the Diamondbacks system is loaded, and most of this top-level talent is the direct result of the work of Rizzo and his staff. One of the best and most respected scouting directors in the business, Rizzo departed this summer to join the Washington Nationals as the Vice President of Baseball Operations, where he is in charge of all scouting operations. Tom Allison, who spent the last eleven years in the scouting departments of the Mets and Brewers, replaces Rizzo and has some big shoes to fill. We're talking clown-sized shoes, but in the meantime, the Snakes are stacked.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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