Name: Paul Goldschmidt
Age on Opening Day: 23
Salary: $414,000 (pro-rated portion - joined D-backs August 1, was with club for 54 of 162 regular-season games; $414,000 * 54/162 = ~$138,000) (Note: pro-rated portion of payroll likely a product of days with club rather than games, so salary imprecise)
2011 Stats: 48 games, 177 PAs, .250/.333/.474, 8 HR, 26 RBI
2010 Stats: N/A
We've had a bit of a lull in recent weeks, sifting through the disappointing seasons D-backs fans weathered from Zach Duke, Armando Galarraga, and Barry Enright. When the combined 2011 season statistics of three consecutive pitcher report cards is 36 games, 24 starts, 157 IP, 5.79 ERA, 81:56 K:BB, and 30 HR, you're bringing up some seriously repressed memories, particularly for a team that made the post-season. (Side note: for those of you with harrowing takes of regression, we weathered 157 innings of a 5.79 ERA this year - I think it's safe to bet on our prospects to deliver a bit better performance than that in the back end of the rotation in 2012.) Here to save us from the drudgery of the F-range report cards we've been powering through lately is none other than Paul Goldschmidt, the slugging first baseman who stole the hearts of D-backs fans with his impeccably-timed moonshots and adorable, bashful smiles. Think that was a bit too mancrush-ish? Deal with it. Goldy rules.
First, some back-story on Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt was actually first drafted out of high school in 2006 by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sure, he was a 49th-round pick and was a mortal lock not to sign, but I'd nonetheless like to take a minute and allow for a collective sigh of relief for the reader.
::one minute later::
And we're back. Goldschmidt went to college hoping to build up his MLB draft stock, heading to Texas State University, a school that could be called "small" in no other state, given its enrollment of over 20,000 students. His first season with the Bobcats was so-so, with Goldschmidt showing off his patience with a .422 OBP and hitting a solid .338, but slugging just .388, a number that is absolutely shocking considering the player we've come to know. He broke out with the Bobcats the following year, hitting .360/.447/.689 in 57 games for Texas State in 2008, then kept it up his Junior year, hitting .352/.487/.685. Goldschmidt ended his college career with 36 home runs - a Texas State record - in 586 at-bats, with a 97:109 K:BB ratio, including a 29:54 K:BB ratio in his Junior campaign. But, of course, Goldschmidt was at "small" Texas State, and he slipped to the eighth round in the 2009 draft due to his positional limitations and the inferior level of pitching he faced in college.
However, the D-backs' amateur scouting staff was enamored with Goldschmidt, particularly former D-backs scout Trip Couch, who signed Goldschmidt after the D-backs drafted him. A quick blurb from the story linked there:
It's part of why he gets high marks in the "makeup" category, scout-speak for a player's intangibles. Former Diamondbacks scout Trip Couch, who signed Goldschmidt out of Couch's area in Texas, recalled telling then-scouting director Tom Allison that he gave Goldschmidt an 80 in makeup, the highest grade possible on the scouting scale.
"After Tom met him, he goes, 'I think you're a little light on the makeup grade,' " Couch said.
Of course, the fact that Goldschmidt has legitimate plus-plus raw power and a great feel for the strike zone helped his draft stock as well. After signing, he quickly went to work trying to correct his flaws - a swing that scouts felt was too long and actions in the field they felt were stiff - while simultaneously terrorizing every level of the minors leagues he faced. He hit 18 home runs in 76 games at Rookie-level Missoula in his pro debut, putting up a .334/.408/.638 line in 331 plate appearances with 27 doubles and three triples. That was good enough to have him skip full-season Low-A South Bend (and me, sadly) and move straight to Hi-A Visalia in 2010, where he kept clobbering the ball, posting a .314/.384/.606 line in 599 plate appearances in his full-season debut, crushing 35 home runs.
Amid that all, though, Goldschmidt went plenty under-appreciated, for reasons both legitimate and otherwise. He appeared in just half of the four "major" (all a matter of opinion) scouting sources' D-backs top-ten lists - those sources being John Sickels at Minor League Ball, ESPN's Keith Law, Baseball America, and Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein - with Law and BA giving no mention to the first baseman. Sickels ranked Goldschmidt highest, though still at just #9 in fairly weak system and as a B- prospect, appreciating Goldschmidt's power but citing concerns that he could struggle to hit for average in the upper levels because of his high strikeout rates. Goldstein was the other one to put Goldschmidt in his D-backs top-10, putting the slugger exactly tenth as a two-star prospect, appreciating Goldschmidt's digging abilities at first and his power, but offering a perfect world projection of "solid but unspectacular everyday first baseman." That's a phrase that always seems to put images of Adam LaRoche in my head, and I think it's fair to say that the best-case-scenario for Goldschmidt now exceeds those limitations. That's not to say I was an enlightened one, either, as I also sold Goldy short, putting him 11th on my list last off-season.
Then came 2011, and the supposedly-challenging test of Double-A. However, the Goldschmidt that left for the off-season after the 2010 season wasn't the same Goldschmidt that joined the D-backs for Spring Training in 2011. Goldschmidt had worked on shortening his swing, combining a more direct path to the ball with a quick trigger to help compensate for his less-than-elite bat speed and allowing him to better utilize his immense power potential. Goldschmidt was absolutely stellar in Spring Training, from the very moment he arrived in camp. The scene: The inaugural game at Salt River Fields. The setting: D-backs down by three and down to their final out, with two runners on base. Goldschmidt at the plate...
It seems fitting that that game-tying home run began a season filled with a meteoric ascension to the major leagues and numerous clutch blasts. Goldschmidt was assigned to Double-A Mobile to hit cleanup for the BayBears, and he wasted no time in making an impression. Goldschmidt laid waste to the Southern League in April, hitting .352/.495/.803 in his first 21 games in Double-A, sending nine of his 25 hits over the outfield walls and finally catching the attention of the prospect world. Goldschmidt's lowest single-month OPS at Mobile would end up being his .985 mark in July, and he finished his time with the BayBears with a prolific .306/.435/.626 line that included 30 home runs and a 92:82 K:BB ratio, excellent numbers in what is a pitcher-friendly Southern League environment. Fed up with the mediocrity that Juan Miranda, Xavier Nady, Russell Branyan, and Brandon Allen had brought to the position, the D-backs purchased Goldschmidt's contract from the BayBears at the beginning of August, and never looked back.
From the very start, the organization made it very clear that when he was called up, he would be playing every day, particularly with no legitimate platoon option on the roster at the time (the Lyle Overbay signing would come later). Goldschmidt's first assignment: head to San Francisco and face Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum on consecutive nights. Best of luck, kiddo. Goldschmidt went 1-4 with a single and a strikeout in his big-league debut with Cain on the mound. However, the next night, after popping out in foul territory during his first plate appearance, Goldschmidt came up to the plate against Lincecum in the fifth with a runner on first thanks to a Ryan Roberts walk and the D-backs down 1-0. What happened next can only be properly described by the video footage.
At that point, it seemed like whenever you might begin to worry that the clock had struck midnight on Goldschmidt, he would do something huge. Goldschmidt followed the Lincecum game with a 4-23 stretch with no extra-base hits. Then he hit a ninth-inning, two-out, two-strike, game-tying home run off of Houston Astros closer Mark Melancon to send a game into extra-innings that Arizona would eventually win. He doubled twice in the next series off of Mets starter Chris Capuano, then homered in Philadelphia twice, including one off of Cliff Lee to put the D-backs up 2-1 (they would lose that game, though). Goldschmidt then sunk into an 0-14 stretch. Of course, like clockwork, Goldschmidt had a 3-4 game that included another home run off of a fabulous pitcher - dominant Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard. Oh, and he went ahead and hit another home run off of Lincecum too, to the deepest part of the ballpark in right-center field. Y'know, just for kicks.
More videos, you say? Sure! Here's the Melancon HR:
Yes, Mr. Sutton, "incredible" is a good way to describe it. Now, the Lee HR:
Sure, the pattern may have been a roller coaster ride of streakiness, but the end numbers are incredibly encouraging. In 48 regular-season games with the D-backs, Goldschmidt hit .250/.333/.474 with eight home runs and a 53:20 K:BB ratio, good for a .356 wOBA and a 120 wRC+, the fourth-best total among D-backs with at least 50 plate appearances (which includes the 134 wRC+ Aaron Hill had in 142 plate appearances while donning Sedona Red). But, as we all know, the best was yet to come.
Arizona had made the post-season, and was faced with a best-of-five set against the Brewers. Goldschmidt sat in Game 1 as Overbay got the start against Yovani Gallardo, but was penciled into the lineup for Game 2 against Zack Greinke. Ryan Braun put the D-backs down 2-0 in the bottom of the first after Greinke mowed through the D-backs in the top of the first, but Goldschmidt came up against Greinke to lead off the second and delivered yet another incredibly well-timed bomb against another elite pitcher, taking Greinke deep to right-center field to pull the D-backs to within one. Sadly, the rest of Game 2 failed to live up to the well-timed precedent of Goldschmidt's home run, as Daniel Hudson was wobbly and Brad Ziegler was plain bad.
So Arizona was in an 0-2 hole and headed home, where they would face crafty right-hander Shaun Marcum. Goldschmidt first struck in the bottom of the first, following an RBI double from Miguel Montero with an RBI single of his own, putting Arizona ahead 2-0 right away and starting strong in front of the home crowd. A Corey Hart solo blast cut the lead in half, but Montero put Arizona back up by two with an RBI single in the third. Sadly, Goldschmidt flied out in the following at-bat, failing to score Montero from second (although that flyout may have well been a sacrifice fly had Justin Upton not been thrown out at home on the previous play). The 3-1 score held until the fifth inning, when Arizona was threatening and Marcum was trying to squeak his way out of another jam. Josh Collmenter was standing at third, Willie Bloomquist at second, and Montero had just been intentionally walked to bring up Goldschmidt. Then came a play I'll never forget.
It was epic. It's also a .gif, for those who find themselves unable to hit replay quickly enough.
Goldschmidt capped off his series with a pair of two-hit games, also getting hit by a pitch and stealing a base in Game 4. Final post-season line: 7-16, 2 HR, 5:2 K:BB, HBP, SB, 5 RBI, 4 R, .438/.526/.816, 1.339 OPS. More of that will do just fine, Paul.
I think, in the end, we have to remember not the hyped-up mid-season expectations for Paul, but the early-season expectations - i.e. hopefully hitting well enough in Double-A to keep him on the prospect map as a possible everyday player. Goldschmidt wasn't supposed to be a big-leaguer in 2011. He was maybe going to be a big-leaguer as a platoon or bench type on Opening Day 2012, more likely a candidate to be a mid-season or September call-up. Instead, the D-backs have put their absolute trust in Goldschmidt as the everyday first baseman for the 2012 D-backs, and may open the season with the highly injury-prone Geoff Blum as his backup. In other words: they plan on Goldschmidt playing 150 games for the D-backs in 2012. I'm holding back on the A grade because, at the very least, Goldschmidt was getting some prospect attention prior to his stellar season, whereas the likes of Josh Collmenter and Joe Paterson were all but unknowns heading into 2011. But that grade will probably be one of just four above a B+ for me this year, so it certainly was a remarkable campaign.
But don't just take it from me. Here's what the rest of the 'Pit thinks:
Four words for you. "Game Three grand slam." *drops microphone, walks off-stage* (Also, Tim Lincecum.)
Not quite as high as Collmenter, partly because of his late arrival, partly because Goldie was a top-10 prospect coming in to the season, and there were expectations he could contribute to the team this year. Ok, they were more like hopes, especially after we realized Juan Miranda wasn't the answer, and the alternative at 1B was...Xavier Nady. Paul was pretty much an unstoppable force in Double-A, and personally, I was awaiting his arrival after he cranked a ninth-inning game-tying homer in the first ever game at Salt River Fields.
While the K's were slightly concerning, there was always the hope of one of him launching one his patented Goldzilla missiles. [I'm nominating that as his official nickname, incidentally] The kid certainly had a flair for the dramatic, as Kishi mentioned, and that just added to the fun. Fun fact: NL 1B last year had an OPS of .801. Arizona hasn't had a qualifier there give us an OPS of even .790 since Conor Jackson in 2006. Hopefully Goldschmidt can break that streak in 2012.
With the brief exception of Conor Jackson, first base has been a gaping hole for the Diamondbacks since the retirement of Mark Grace. This year looked like more of the same, with Juan Miranda, Russell Branyan, and Xavier Nady expected to piece together something tolerable at first. But instead, we were witness to one of most meteoric rises in Diamondback history. From the "Your Daily Goldschmidt" sections at the beginning of the season to the grand slam in Game Three of the NLDS, Goldschmidt provided a tantalizing glimpse into the Diamondbacks' future. Will he be the one to finally stop the revolving door at first? It's still too early to tell, but he has the best shot of anyone since CoJack.