Johnny Estrada (left) has been a consistent presence both offensively and defensively for this young D-Backs’ team. (11alive.com)
One can’t help but be impressed with the turnaround this year in the desert, but not so much by the gain the Diamondbacks have achieved, which is modest, but by the means with which it has occurred.
This team is good, improving, but best of all, young. Youth has definitely been served in Arizona, and the message is loud and clear: this club is not only a contender this year, but is building a machine that should be capable of winning for years to come.
Let’s break down how these baby snakes have been built.
Catcher: Chris Snyder, taken in the second round in 2002, was clearly not ready for the job last year, so allowing him to apprentice this season behind newcomer Johnny Estrada has worked out very well. He’s just 25, and although his action this year has been limited, he’s showing that he’s capable of handling more now.
Should Snyder prove incapable of handling the everyday job, on the horizon is Miguel Montero, a player the D-Backs signed out of Venezuela in 2001 who just turned 24. Recently promoted from Double-A where he was among the top 10 in OPS, all Montero did was hit .464 in his first nine games at Triple-A.
First base: Rookie Conor Jackson, 24, has taken over the job this season and is enjoying a solid freshman year. He has great strike zone judgment and patience and looks like he’ll develop into a real hit machine. Jackson was taken by Arizona in the first round (19th overall) in 2003.
Chris Carter, 23, was taken in the 17th round in 2004 by Arizona. He’s been tearing up the PCL this season, ranking third in walks, tied for fourth in RBI, sixth in hits, eighth in OPS (914), ninth in runs, 10th in OBP (.401) and tied for 10th in slugging (.514).
Second base: The Diamondbacks picked up Orlando Hudson in the Troy Glaus deal this offseason. Hudson’s been around a while, but is still just 28 and is improving as a hitter. His real strength, however, is in the Gold Glove calibre defence he provides.
Alberto Callaspo, just 23, was acquired in the offseason in a trade with the Angels, and the way he’s tearing up the PCL right now, he’s definitely ready for a job. He leads the league in runs (74) and hits (135), is second with 10 triples, fourth with a .329 BA and ninth in walks.
Shortstop: The future just arrived when Stephen Drew, who somehow lasted until the 15th pick for Arizona in 2004, got the call up to the Show a couple of weeks ago. Drew hasn’t needed much of an adjustment time, batting .306 with power through his first 49 at-bats. Major keeper here.
Third base: Chad Tracy, 26, another homegrown product (seventh round, 2001), established himself as a serious force last season. Although he’s failed to take the next step this year, Tracy is showing better patience and is even stealing some bases. Arizona recently locked him up until 2009, with a 2010 option.
Brian Barden, a 25-year-old the D-Backs took in the sixth round in 2002, has shown he’s ready for the bigs with his play at Triple-A the past two years. This season, he’s third in the PCL in RBI (74), fourth in hits and doubles and tied for sixth in runs. In short, he needs a big-league gig.
Outfield: Another prime prospect, Carlos Quentin, has just been called up from Triple-A, where he was tied for first in doubles (30), ranked fourth in OBP (.424), ninth in OPS and 10th with 66 runs. In his first 16 at-bats with the Diamondbacks, he’s smoked four home runs. Quentin, 24 next month, was a first rounder (29th overall) in 2003.
Twenty-six-year-old Scott Hairston is another high round homegrown talent, taken in the third round in 2001. He was tearing up Triple-A and got called up by Arizona, only to immediately hurt himself. Hairston is currently rehabbing at Tucson and ranks second in the PCL in slugging (.599) and OPS and is tied for second with 20 homers, while placing seventh in OBP and in a tie for seventh in batting.
Another promising young outfielder, Chris Young, 22, was a rising star in the White Sox system before landing in Arizona in the Javier Vazquez trade. He’s developing great power, tied for sixth in the PCL in homers and tied for 10th in slugging (.514).
Perhaps the finest outfielder in the system, and in fact one of the best prospects in the game, is Carlos Gonzalez. The 20-year-old was signed out of Venezuela in 2002 and after winning Midwest League MVP honours last year, is dominating the California League, pacing the circuit with 86 RBI and batting .316, good for seventh.
Starting pitchers: The current collection of starters is very young, except for Miguel Batista. Brandon Webb, 27, has really come into his own this year. Claudio Vargas, 28, is a decent third or fourth starter, and the young guns — Enrique Gonzalez, 24 and Edgar Gonzalez, 23 — both show tremendous promise.
Still on the way is Dustin Nippert, 25, who’s tied for second in wins in the PCL with 11 and is fifth in strikeouts. Journeyman Mike Bacsik has won 10 games at Tucson, and he’s still just 28 so could yet make his mark in the Show.
Relief pitchers: Among the bullpen arms worth tracking are Triple-A closer Tony Pena, who was recently promoted to the majors; Doug Slaten, moved up to Triple-A after posting a sub-2.00 ERA at Double-A; Brandon Medders and Brandon Lyon, still both just 26, and Mike Koplove, third in the PCL with nine holds.
The Diamondbacks have assembled among the finest collection of young talent in all of the majors, and most of it is homegrown, a tremendous testament to the system’s developmental program.