Top Ten Prospects: Arizona Diamondbacks
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Will Kimmey
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, 2004.
2. Sergio Santos, ss
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Background: Scouts viewed Santos as an elite prospect as early as his sophomore year at Mater Dei High. His senior year didn't live up to his advance billing, so he slipped to the 27th overall pick, where the Diamondbacks were more than happy to pay $1.4 million to keep him from attending Southern California. In his first full season, he earned a promotion to Double-A El Paso less than a month after his 20th birthday.
Strengths: Santos brings a full toolbox to the field everyday, as well as tremendous enthusiasm and confidence. His strength and power stand out the most, and he has launched tape-measure shots to all fields. Santos also has shown the ability to make adjustments at the plate. A big-bodied shortstop like Cal Ripken Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, Santos has a cannon arm to go with solid feet and range.
Weaknesses: Santos has made 62 errors in 1½ pro seasons. His arm strength allows him to wait longer on balls, resulting in getting bad hops or hurrying his throws, and his hands aren't great for short. Many scouts forecast a move to third base or the outfield. He also could be more patient at the plate, which would help unleash his power potential.
The Future: Santos and the Diamondbacks want him to remain at shortstop, though he has the bat to play anywhere. He'll return to Double-A to start 2004.
3. Dustin Nippert, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 210.
Background: The Diamondbacks lengthened Nippert's stride after signing him, and it helped him finally gain command of his power repertoire. He endured a scare during the 2003 season, when doctors found a golf ball-sized tumor under his left armpit. It was benign and removed arthroscopically, but did cost him two months. Arizona signed Nippert's identical twin Derik as a 36th-rounder in 2003.
Strengths: Nippert pounds the strike zone with two plus pitches, a 92-96 mph fastball and a power curveball with a 12-to-6 break. He stays tall during his delivery and throws on an intimidating downhill plane, getting the most out of his 6-foot-7 frame. Nippert didn't have a third pitch until his changeup gained consistency in the Arizona Fall League.
Weaknesses: While Nippert throws plenty of strikes, he sometimes delivers too many and can leave his fastball up in the zone at times. He must learn about wasting pitches in pitcher's counts. He also needs to further integrate his changeup into his repertoire.
The Future: After two strong minor league seasons and a stellar AFL, Nippert will skip a level and jump to Double-A. He has the stuff to develop into a front-of-the-rotation starter.
4. Chad Tracy, 3b
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190.
Background: Tracy won the Double-A Texas League batting title with a .344 average in 2002, then led the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in hits and all minor league third baseman in batting as an encore. He's starting to remind scouts of Wade Boggs, whom Tracy lunched with this summer while at the Futures Game.
Strengths: Tracy rivals Scott Hairston as the organization's best hitter. The Diamondbacks have no doubts he'll hit .300 in the majors because he's so quick at getting the bat barrel to the ball and adept at making adjustments. He hits laser-beam doubles to the gaps with regularity. A first baseman for two years in college, Tracy has made tremendous defensive strides over the last year. His footwork has improved and his arm rates average to above.
Weaknesses: Tracy never has demonstrated enough power for a corner infielder. He's working on lifting the ball better in the Dominican this winter. He doesn't walk much because he makes contact with such ease.
The Future: Before the Richie Sexson trade, Tracy had a chance to win the third-base job and keep Shea Hillenbrand at first base. Now Tracy probably has to settle for a reserve job behind Hillenbrand in 2004.
5. Adriano Rosario, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190.
Background: Rosario is so mature and confident on the mound that some low Class A Midwest League observers questioned his age in 2003. But the Diamondbacks hired a private investigator to verify his background before signing him for $400,000 just before the 2002 draft. A shortstop growing up, Rosario hit 98 mph at Arizona's Dominican complex that April, causing scouting director Mike Rizzo to immediately set aside his predraft duties to fly down to sign him.
Strengths: Rosario has the makings of three plus pitches. His throws his four-seam fastball up to 97-98 mph, and his two-seamer has more movement at 93-95. His slider and changeup are inconsistent at times but also be out pitches. He has a clean delivery and calm demeanor on the mound.
Weaknesses: The Diamondbacks don't question his durability, but are curious to see how he holds up after going from 77 innings in 2002 to 160 in 2003. For a pitcher with his stuff and command, he should miss a lot more bats than he did in the MWL.
The Future: The Diamondbacks don't shy away from saying Rosario has No. 1 starter potential. Nor will they be afraid to let him join Dustin Nippert in what could be a very powerful Double-A rotation in 2004.
6. Conor Jackson, of
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205.
Background: After signing for $1.5 million, Jackson set a short-season Northwest League record for doubles and also led the circuit in RBIs. Arizona moved him from corner infielder to outfielder because of Arizona's infield depth. His father John plays admiral A.J. Chegwidden on TV's "JAG."
Strengths: Jackson is as polished as any hitter in the 2003 draft. He has a very quick bat and only swings at pitches he can hit. He was called out on strikes a few times early in his pro career, and Diamondbacks officials said it was because he knew the strike zone better than the umpires. He has an average arm.
Weaknesses: Shoulder tendinitis forced Jackson to DH for most of the summer, so he's still adjusting to the outfield. He's working on reading balls and taking better routes. The Diamondbacks want Jackson to put more backspin on the ball, which they hope will add extra carry to take more of his doubles over the fence. He's a fairly strict pull hitter and could go the other way more often. He doesn't possess great speed but won't clog the bases either.
The Future: Jackson projects as a .300 hitter with 20-30 homers. He likely will begin 2004 at high Class A Lancaster, and it wouldn't be a shock if he got to Double-A before season's end.
7. Carlos Quentin, of
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 215.
Background: A product of San Diego's University High, where he was two years behind Mark Prior, Quentin became one of the best hitters in Stanford history. He played most of the 2003 season with a bad right elbow that required Tommy John surgery, which he had shortly after signing for $1.1 million. He played on Team USA with Conor Jackson in 2002 and they should be reunited in Arizona's outfield of the future.
Strengths: With a powerful bat and arm, Quentin has classic right-field tools. He should regain his plus arm strength. He drives the ball to all fields and doesn't have to pull pitches to send them out of the park. He's a disciplined hitter who gets on base.
Weaknesses: While Quentin has a lot of juice in his bat, he needs to do a better job of translating it into homers. He went deep just 35 times in 199 college games. He'll have to rebuild his arm strength, though with his determination that shouldn't be a problem.
The Future: Quentin started taking batting practice three times a week in November while finishing his political-science degree at Stanford. He'll open 2004 as a DH, probably at high Class A, and should be ready for right field in May.
8. Brian Bruney, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 220.
Background: Along with Sergio Santos, Bruney is one of few high school draftees who have panned out for the Diamondbacks, who are increasingly leaning toward college selections. A full-time closer for the first time in 2003, he responded with 26 saves. In November, he allowed the ninth-inning homer to Mexico's Luis Garcia that eliminated Team USA from the 2004 Olympics.
Strengths: Bruney's fastball and slider are plus offerings. He can put three digits on radar guns but gets better command when he throws 95-96 mph. His slider took longer to develop, but El Paso pitching coach Claude Osteen helped him turn it into a hard, 85-86 mph breaker last April. Bruney also has the perfect mentality for a closer, a burning desire to take the ball and a short memory.
Weaknesses: Bruney is a reliever because there's effort in his compact delivery and he has just a passable feel for his changeup. He throws it mainly against lefties, and it moves away from them. He's working to hold runners better.
The Future: Bruney should earn a role in Arizona's bullpen in 2004, possibly in the eighth inning. Among their relievers, he's the best suited to be the long-term closer.
9. Edgar Gonzalez, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 220.
Background: Gonzalez signed for $3,500 at age 17, but got homesick and left the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League before throwing an inning. He made his pro debut two years later in 2002, threw a Midwest League no-hitter in his second start, and reached the majors in June 2003. He won his major league debut against the Padres.
Strengths: Gonzalez is crafty beyond his years, mixing four pitches while moving them all around the strike zone. He throws his fastball at 88-91 mph, keeping 94-95 in his pocket for when he needs it. He also adds and subtracts from his changeup and uses three different curveballs, each with different movement and velocity.
Weaknesses: Gonzalez doesn't have a true knockout pitch, so he doesn't always miss bats or put hitters away at key moments. While Gonzalez studies hitters, he sometimes toys with lesser threats rather than challenging them and getting rid of them quickly.
The Future: A future No. 3 starter, Gonzalez spent the winter pitching in Panama to help him prepare for a spring audition for Arizona's rotation. The Curt Schilling trade enhanced his chances.
10. Mike Gosling, lhp
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200.
Background: Gosling fell to the second round of the 2001 draft because of his bonus demands and signed for $2 million—more than 53 of the 66 players taken ahead of him. He ranked as the No. 2 prospect and top pitcher on this list a year ago, then posted the worst ERA among Triple-A qualifiers in 2003. He tried to pitch through a small tear in his shoulder at the end of the season and had arthroscopic surgery afterward.
Strengths: At his best, Gosling flashes four average to above-average pitches and has solid command. He throws an 88-92 mph fastball that reaches 94, a plus curveball, a changeup and a cut fastball that he has added as a pro. He showed character by continually working hard while battling adversity and injury.
Weaknesses: Mechanics were the biggest culprit in Gosling's struggles. He dropped his elbow and pushed his pitches, which left fastballs up in the strike zone. His durability had been questioned in the past and is an issue again following his shoulder problems.
The Future: Gosling should be healthy and ready for spring training. He'll begin 2004 at Triple-A and could be one of the first arms summoned to Arizona when a need arises.