2009 Draftee Report Card, Part Two: Middle Infielders

  The Diamondbacks entered the 2009 draft with 4 extra draft picks in the first round and the 1/2 sandwich round, and came out of the draft with 37 out of 55 picks signed. Keith Law ranked the Dbacks as having the best draft in 2009, and other reviews of the Diamondbacks' draft have been positive as well. With so many quality players signed, this draft certainly has the potential to be the most productive draft the Diamondbacks have had in their short history, and the team had a nice balance of high-upside high school talent and safer college picks at each stage of the draft. In this series of articles, we're going to take a look at each signed draftee's debut season, and see how they performed. If a scouting report on a player is available, we'll also take a look at that. There will be five parts of the '09 draftee piece, grouping the players by position each week, with a sixth week to take a quick overview of the system. This week we're looking at the middle infielders. Next we're going to lump the outfielders and catchers together (due to the relatively small number of players picked at each spot). Finally, we'll spend two more weeks looking at the whopping 19 pitchers the organization selected and subsequently signed. Then, when we're all done with the five weeks of '09 additions, both of us will offer our respective 2010 amateur opinion Diamondbacks top prospect lists. 

 

    The grades we used in this article are relative to the league average statistics and the average age of the players in the league that the player was in. In addition, each player's draft position and personal strengths and weaknesses are taken into account (i.e. how they were supposed to do). It's best to remember that the draft is generally a crap-shoot - you can never know which guys will make it and which won't. Some players' careers may be lost to injuries, others just may never be able to make the adjustments to the more advanced levels of hitting or pitching. If two or three players out of a draft become solid major leaguers, the draft is generally thought a success. It's not that uncommon for a team to have a draft where none of the players drafted have any significant impact on the major league club (just ask Pittsburgh). It happens. It's why the draft is 50 rounds long and teams have 25 players on their big-league rosters. If one major league player out of this draft became an all-star and a handful of them became regular big-league players, the organization got a good haul. So when you see these grades, imagine that they're in a perfect world, where there's no injuries, and players don't regress. These are absolute best-case scenarios, because as much as we'd like to, we can't predict the future.

 

    Going into next season, the middle-infield at the major-league level is a concern for the D-Backs.  At shortstop, after an outstanding 2008 campaign, Stephen Drew's lackluster 2009 season leaves the organization wondering what they're going to get out of the former top pick, and, in our opinion, one of the top-2 shortstops in the organization's history (along with Tony Womack), in 2010.  Granted, with Royce Clayton and Damian Easley having manned the position, that's not an especially distinguished honor.  Regardless of the question of what we're going to get from Drew, though, he appears set in stone as the starting shortstop, as there are no other major-league-ready starter-quality options for the position for this season.  Perhaps we could deal him during or after next season if we feel his arbitration price will rise significantly in his second year (his first arbitration year, this year, should be relatively inexpensive after a mediocre season) of arbitration and top prospect Pedro Ciriaco proves himself to be ready for the majors after an assignment to Reno to start 2010.  Elsewhere in the system, the organization has Reynaldo Navarro about to repeat Mid-A at age 20 unless he has an exceptional winter in Puerto Rico, and Mark Hallberg having a stock drop after a poor season at Mobile and a position change to second base.  So, since the organization has the position fairly solidified for the near future, they were able to go high-upside on a few guys, including a potential all-star at the position in Chris Owings, early on in the draft before adding some college depth later on.  This gives them the flexibility to have some of the quality bats moved off of short to second base in the event that they cannot adjust to the defensive requirements of the position.

 

    Despite typically being a position of strength for Arizona, with players like Jay Bell, Orlando Hudson, Junior Spivey, Craig Counsell, and even a solid stint from Roberto Alomar (before being traded and consequently self-destructing) having manned second base for the Snakes in years past, the second-baseman situation for 2010 in the majors is a bit more complicated than the shortstop situation.  For the starting job, the team has incumbent starter Ryan Roberts, waiver-trade acquisition Tony Abreu, September call-up sensation Rusty Ryal, and fan-fave Augie Ojeda all in an competition, although all indications are that the 24-year-old Abreu will be given every chance to win the job.  This means that, in all likelihood, one of the other three will probably not be on the team by Opening Day.  Roberts' great offensive numbers from last season put him in a favorable position, although simply as a RHP-platoon guy and pinch hitter, and Ryal has spent his offseason playing in the outfield to try to give himself value as a utility player.  Ojeda, however, only is getting older and had a poor season last season offensively, so despite his good defense it's hard to imagine him being on the roster next season.  Perhaps the most frustrating part of all of this, however, is the fact that we have given away a plethora of good options for second-base in recent years.  The Rule 5 Draft will forever be synonymous with the Diamondbacks' handing over of Dan Uggla to the Marlins, and in recent years we have traded Scott Hairston, Alberto Callaspo, and Emilio Bonifacio, although Bonifacio has yet to live up to his prospect hype, and Callaspo was traded for good reason (assault on his wife, plus a potentially good return in Billy Buckner).  Also, options in the minors were fairly grim, as Taylor Harbin was the only legitimate prospect at the position going into this season, and put together a mediocre season at Visalia in which he really struggled to get on base.  So, the team drafted a plethora of middle infielders, making the safe assumption that many of them will have to move off of shortstop and to second base by the time they get close to the major leagues.


1/2 Sandwich Round, Pick 41 Chris Owings 
Born: August 12, 1991 in Leesville, South Carolina School: Gilbert HS Height: 5'11" Weight: 170 Position: Shortstop Bats: Right  Throws: Right
Rookie-level Missoula: ABs: 108 BA/OBP/SLG: .306/.324/.426 XBH: 5 2Bs/1 3B/2 HRs ISO: .120 K:BB 25:3 SB:CS 3:0 BABIP: .383 Errors: 10

Zephon: Chris Owings, going into the draft, was a high school shortstop with good, not great, tools, and solid defensive skills. According to Nick Piecoro, Conor Jackson said that Chris Owings was his favorite player in the instructional league. There were some questions about whether or not he'd need to move to second eventually, along with his signing bonus demands, so he fell to the supplemental round. The Diamondbacks ended up giving him a $950,000 bonus, significantly above the $820,000 bonus slotted for the 41st pick. He doesn't have a lot of power, but he uses the whole field. He should hit for average with line drive gap to gap power, and has already shown that in his short debut season. He has above average speed, but stealing bases really isn't part of his game. Overall, I think Owings should end up being a steal at pick 41, since he's easily first round talent. Like Bobby Borchering, Owings signed at the last minute, so there's limited at bats to look at, and 108 abs really isn't enough to make any long term predictions with. Once again though, I'll try to make an objective analysis anyway, but don't put a lot of stock in this year's stats. When I do look at his stats, I see good Avg/Obp/Slg, and a solid strike out to walk ratio. His stike out to walk ratio is a big positive, and it's always nice to see a player with more walks than strike outs, since you rarely see that in first year players straight out of high school. (One typo completely changes the review, the lack of walks compared to the amount of strike outs are a real negative, and bump down the grade down a level) Another positive is the 120 ISO, which shows some significant power potential for a middle infielder. The only real negative in his debut are the 10 errors, especially once you consider the limited playing time. If Owings makes it to the major leagues as a shortstop, it's going to have to be after Drew leaves free agency. If he rises through the minors quickly, the only place on the team is going to have to be at second base.  Above average numbers,  a good ISO percentage, but the errors and lack of walks are really the only negative, which knocks down the A grade to a B. I think Owings can end up being a real stud, especially if he sticks at short. Grade: B (Short Term: B-, Long term: A-).

 

IHSB: Zephon already mentioned that Owings has looked great in the Fall Instructional League, and he had a pretty darned good first stint in the minors at Missoula this year, displaying some pretty legit power, although he'll need to learn to draw walks. However, in going over the draft with Zephon while writing this piece, Owings is near the epicenter of a pretty interesting middle-infield jam, which, while convoluted at first sight, starts to clear up as you delve deeper into it. While this season's middle infield consists of Stephen Drew at shortstop and the jam of Tony Abreu, Ryan Roberts, and Rusty Ryal (with a possible Augie Ojeda pulse sighting) at second-base, a dilemma comes up when you realize that the team has Abreu locked up as a piece for the future at age 24, and Pedro Ciriaco lighting up the Arizona Fall League and set to start next season in Reno, waiting for his shot at the majors. So this means you have a veteran at shortstop in Drew, his long-term heir apparent in Ciriaco, and recent acquisition Abreu set to block not just Owings, but also David Nick, Taylor Harbin, Reynaldo Navarro, and Mark Hallberg. It simply appears that the organization suddenly has too many highly-ranked players playing in the middle infield (and without a surplus of lower-level premier starting pitchers, which is the one surplus you want). But here's the way I see it - in, say, a year or two, Roberts, Ryal, and Ojeda will all be gone. Abreu's arbitration years are 2011-2013, and he becomes a free agent in 2014. Drew's arbitration years are 2010-2012, and he is a free agent in 2013. So, the rumors that Drew is being shopped around this year are not so far-fetched. If we hope to contend, it would be best to retain him, but Ciriaco's excellent defense would be a great fit for an everyday shortstop job in 2011, and given his production and high level, he has a fairly high probability of reaching the majors, thus allowing us to acquire good arm prospects for Drew's last two higher-cost arbitration years. Then, by the time 2014 rolls around, the organization can hope that one of the Owings/Nick/Harbin/Navarro/Hallberg group is ready to step in and play second base (where many of them, including Owings, is better-suited). While having five guys for one future might seem a bit excessive, it's always hard to remember that prospects really are prospects for a reason - they rarely pan out into everyday-quality players. Injuries, lack of talent, and even non-baseball-related factors all step in to possibly ruin these kids' careers. Further, if more than one kid works out, that simply allows us to have extra pieces to send off in exchange for a deadline piece. Bottom line: Having too many good players at any position is better than having too many decent players at every position, and Chris Owings is a very good player. Grade: B+ (Short-term: A-, Long-term: B+)


Round 4, Pick 126 - David Nick
Born: February 03, 1990 in Cypress, California School: Cypress HS Height: 6'2'' Weight: 175 Position: Second Base Bats: Right Throws: Right
Rookie-level Missoula: 273abs BA/OBP/SLG: .286/.351/.440 XBH: 18 2Bs/3 3Bs/6 HRs ISO: .154 K:BB 49:22 SB:CS 16:8 BABIP: .329 Errors: 8

Zephon: I don't have any scouting reports for David Nick, so any kind of judgement I make is based on his physical make up or statistics. Nick's debut season is pretty damned good, especially for a fourth round pick straight out of high school, and instantly puts him on the map in terms of top prospects. An OPS of 791 in your debut season is pretty darn good, and the average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage, while not setting the world on fire, are all above average when compared to the rest of the Pioneer league. In addition, at 19, he's pretty young. He's got excellent XBH numbers, and his ISO is above average when compared to the league, and better than Owings. He's got decent stolen base numbers, but he will need to work on his jumps and selectivity. For stolen bases to be a net positive, you need to be successful 75 percent of the time, while Nick was successful 67 percent of the time.  He's also got a solid 2:1 K:BB ratio. I'm actually not to worried about the errors, considering he made the least amount of errors and had the most at bats of any of the players we've looked at today. Overall, David Nick had an above average debut season, and the bat is real, but there's always the question of where he'll end up playing. His best bet at getting playing time in the majors is probably second base, but he will have a fight with Tony Abreu, Ryan Roberts, Rusty Ryal, and possibly Chris Owings already in the fold. Hopefully he'll stick at second, because the bat really plays well there, and at 19, he's got plenty of time to improve and grow. Grade: A- (Short term: A- Long term: B+)

 

IHSB:  David Nick's solid debut season - especially good for a fourth-round pick - put him on the map as a prospect to watch, as his above-average offensive output across the board and young age out of high school make him an attractive option for the future at second base if he can pan out.  But, of course, a lot of that depends on Nick continuing to progress.  An above-average season at Rookie-ball does not make for a guaranteed path to the majors in any way, and Nick clearly has things he needs to work on.  The bat, while nice, needs to continue to keep up with the levels, and there is always the question of adjusting to more advanced pitching and the off-speed pitches of higher levels.  Also, it's clear that Nick needs some work with his glove, as his bat, while perfectly sufficient for second base, likely will not carry him at any other position he would have to go to, whether the outfield, or, worst-case scenario, first base, if forced to move off of second.  A good season, and one that give promise for Nick's future, but the progression needs to continue or Nick could spend a good number of years stuck in the minors.  Grade:  B+ (Short-term: A-, Long-term: B)


Round 14, Pick 426 - Brent Greer
Born: October 16, 1987 in Manassas, Virginia School: Western Carolina U Height: 6'0'' Weight: 185 Position: Shortstop Bats: Right Throws: Right
Low-A Yakima - ABs: 273 BA/OBP/SLG: .300/.357/.436 XBH: 12 2Bs/2 3Bs/7 HRs ISO: .136 K:BB: 66:14 SB:CS 5:4 BABIP: .375 Errors: 17 

Zephon: This guy's season was a mixed bag. Great batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage. Decent XBH stats. Unfortunately, that's juxtaposed with a bad strike out to walk ratio and too many caught stealing for the stolen bases to matter. Oh, and  way, way too many errors. He's also got a really high BABIP though, and I think he's due for some regression next season. However, I don't think it'll be that high of a regression, but his numbers will more than likely be down next season.  I think his baserunning will improve as he gets more expeirence, and I think his defense can be improved to acceptable levels. His strike zone judgement, on the other hand, is going to need a lot work, and may be the hardest area for him to improve. Grade: B- (Short Term: C+ Long term: B)

 

IHSB:  Not a guy who's likely going to stay at shortstop, a position where defense is the key and offense can come later.  However, if he wants to have much major-league impact, he'd better hope that he can.  Second-base is filled with a mess of guys who will also probably be moved off of shortstop, and third-base is filled with a mess of Mark Reynolds and Bobby Borchering.  But the bat is impressive, strikeouts exempted, and if it keeps up with the advancement of levels, it could allow him to move around, which is some nice flexibility for a 14th round pick.  Grade: B- (Short-term: B+, Long-term: C)


Round 15, Pick 456 - David Narodowski
Born: 08/03/1988 in Vancouver, British Columbia  School: Kansas Height: 5'10'' Weight: 195 Position: Shortstop Bats: Right Throws: Right
Rookie-level Missoula - ABs: 206 BA/OBP/SLG: .233/.396/.369 XBH: 5 2B/1 3B/7 HRs ISO: .136 K:BB 47:53 SB:CS 7:5 BABIP: .266 Errors: 20

Zephon: I think the only two reasons why I really want this guy, and the two other "owski" guys we drafted to succeed, is one, that I'm Polish, and  the two families on my mother's side are the Lesnikowskis and the Wichowskis. So I definately have to give some love to my brethren. Also, if all three of the -owskis made it to the major leagues, it'd give Mark Grace and Darron Sutton quite a mouthful to handle.  The other reason is that he's a Canuck, which is awesome. But anyway, getting at some sort of analysis here, this is an interesting guy. The batting average is obviously low, but then again he's got an on base percentage 163 points higher than his BA. His OBP is a definite reflection of his plate discipline - as he drew more walks (53) than strike outs(47). His slugging percentage isn't all that high, probably due to the fact that he didn't have all that many doubles, but he does have some power potential, as his .136 ISO shows. I think the batting line is a bit deceiving, as his 765 OPS is in fact slightly above the league average of .754, although lower than the team average of .779. Now, I think we can safely say that David Narodowski will not be sticking at shortstop, especially when he's made 20 errors, the most of any of the 09 draftees. I wish there was some way to find out what kind of errors he made, wither it was his footwork or his throws. The real problem with Narodowski is that if he doesn't stick in the middle infield, he pretty much loses all value. The only other position where he'd still be valuable would be Center Field. But the point of all this is, Narodowski isn't all that bad, and he does have some positives going into next season.  Grade: C+ (Short term C+. Long term C+)

 

IHSB: Narodowski's numbers remind me a bit of what Ryan Roberts put up for the big-league club this year, except with a much bigger disparity between the BA and OBP than RailRoad had.  But an OPS of .765 is a good start from a 15th-round pick.  However, the concerns do pile on the more you look at the kid.  20 errors is a lot, especially from a guy who wasn't playing everyday due to the presence of guys like David Nick and Chris Owings on the Missoula roster (he had 17 errors in 53 games at shortstop).  And since Narodowski is a guy with a fairly small build, it's not too hard to imagine that he's a guy who is going to have to thrive off of defense (see: Augie Ojeda, RailRoad) to make his contact bat valuable at multiple infield positions.  The huge number of walks is remarkable for a player his age, but the 47 strikeouts nonetheless are too many for his number of at-bats (given his build and power projectionability).  Narodowski needs to turn himself into a contact-hitting, high-walk, good-defense middle infielder if he's going to have any major-league value.  But he has a chance to do that, and that's good value for where he was taken.  Grade: B (Short-term: B+ Long-term: C+)


Round 22, Pick 666 (!!!) - Evan Button
Born: September 05, 1986 in St. Louis, Missouri School: Ole Mississippi Height: 6'0'' Weight: 195 Position: Second Base Bats: Left Throws: Right
Low-A Yakima - ABs: 14 BA/OBP/SLG: .143/.200/.143 XBH: None 
ISO: .000 K:BB: 3:0 (1 HBP) SB:CS: 0:0 BABIP: .182 Errors: 0

Zephon: Not much to say, except for OMG DEVIL PICK! If this guy makes it, he just has to go by the name Evan "The Anti-Christ" Button. All jokes aside, Satan's Pick will probably end up repeating the level, since he didn't exactly light up the world with his 14 at bats. Grade: Incomplete.

 

IHSB:  First, I feel obligated to note Button's status as Satan's pick.  Because it's kind of awesome.  Now that that's out of the way, he could hypothetically be pushed to Mid-A next season strictly because he is 23 years old and needs to progress to have any hope for salvageable value, despite the fact that he didn't do anything of note in the limited time he had in Yakima last season.  Or, since he is a 22nd-round pick, he could simply be an organizational guy (someone who fills in a spot in the system where there is an open roster spot for a backup position to provide depth).  Grade: Incomplete.  



Looking at the middle infielders taken in the draft is like looking at a microcosm of the Diamondbacks draft strategy. It's clear that the organization noticed that it had a need for high-ceiling middle infield talent, and hence went the high-upside high school route in taking Chris Owings and David Nick.  Then, later on, it took fliers on a few college guys with a little bit of polish in Brent Greer, David Narodowski (who has some Polish to go with his polish), and Evan Button, with the downside for them being A-AA organizational guys.  In my opinion, this strategy is the reason the Diamondbacks had such a great draft, and hopefully, it's a strategy that will pay off in the long run. In addition, with this draft the Diamondbacks have added to their depth at shortstop and second base, and we now have a lot more flexibility when it comes to trading a player like Drew, and we have a back up plan in case the Abreu/Ryal/Roberts experiment doesn't work.  Having looked at both the corner infield and middle infield, you can see that with the talent taken in this draft the Diamondbacks have not only added depth, but may have solidified the future of their infield as well.

Next week we'll look at the outfielders and catchers taken in the draft - A.J. Pollock, Marc Krauss, Keon Broxton, Tyson Van Winkle, Daniel Kaczrowski, Roidany Aguila, and pick number 1326 himself, Zach Varnell. 

Before we close, I, Zephon, would just like to once again make note of the resources we used to create this series of articles: Milb.com, Fangraphs.com, and Baseball-Reference.com; plus a special thanks to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic and emilylovesthedbacks for doing the final edits to the article. I'd also like to thank IHateSouthBend for collaborating with me on these articles. With out him, this series of articles wouldn't be possible, and wouldn't be nearly as good... So thanks dude. And to the everyone else on Snakepit, I'd just like to thank you all for the positive feedback you've given us so far. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned next week for part three!



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