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.
For this, the first week of this five-part extravaganza, we review the corner infielders. Third base has traditionally been a position of strength for the Diamondbacks, featuring names like Matt Williams and a healthy Chad Tracy from years past, and even today with the presence of probably the team's most-loved player, Mark Reynolds. However, with Reynolds' remarkable production comes the possibility that, despite his status of fan-favorite, he will be a free-agent in 2014. If we don't give him that extension and he signs elsewhere for what would be an assuredly absurd amount of money, we would have a gaping hole in our lineup at third base. So the front office decided to use the very first pick of our draft, and two subsequent picks, to take high-upside high-school bats who play third base, including Bobby Borchering, who was considered the best high-school bat in the draft. If just one of these kids pans out, we could be in a position to be able to fill in that gap that Reynolds could leave, just as he becomes a free agent. Or, if in a couple years it doesn't appear as if any of the kids will be able to fill in for Reynolds, we can try to negotiate an extension until someone steps up to fill the gap.
First-base, however, has historically been a different story for the D-Backs. We got a World Series, a couple of great high-moxie years, and an color analyst/future manager out of Mark Grace, but otherwise have been forced to suffer through the (epic) frustrations of the epically-disappointing Travis Lee, the epically-roided-up [allegedly: SB Nation lawyers] Erubiel Durazo (look at his career stats and decline following the trade to Oakland; it's a safe assumption), the epically-moody Shea Hillenbrand, the epically-expensive Richie Sexson, the epically-old Shawn Green, the epically-older Tony Clark, the epically-injured Chad Tracy, and the epically-horrible Josh Whitesell. And with Conor Jackson now appearing to be a better fit for the outfield (it's still odd to think about this considering he had to go to Bob Melvin and ask to be put there since the team needed an outfielder), we're left with a raw and unproven Brandon Allen to man first-base for the foreseeable future. However, if Allen flops, we're left scrambling for expensive free-agent stop-gap solutions. Our upper-level minor-league first-baseman options are the aforementioned Whitesell, who spent most of last year, and likely will spend this year, banished in AAA (or off the roster altogether), Sean Coughlin, who put together a good season in Mobile last year, but is as old as Allen, and Bryan Byrne, who is both worse and older than Coughlin. So, to counteract this, the organization took some polished college bats who, although limited to first base, have the offensive power to stick at the position and climb quickly through the minors.
IHSB: The regular season numbers are worrisome, as a .290 OBP isn’t going to cut it from anybody who wants to be a top prospect and is playing in rookie-ball, regardless of your tools or age. But the ISO of .184 that he’s got the power that drew scouts to love him and he really turned it on in the postseason, putting up some great numbers (.321 average, 2 HR, 10 RBI in 6 games) that offer some much-needed optimism. With those playoff numbers, it’s hard to imagine Borchering starting next year anywhere but Mid-A South Bend (as one would hope that a prospect of Borchering's status would rise faster than his fellow Rookie-level teammates going to Low-A Yakima). As expected from the position he was drafted, he’s a guy who is instantly a top-ten prospect, but unfortunately it’s not as if he instantly proved he was a man amongst boys as the organization had hoped for given the competition. The low number of ABs doesn't make it devastating to his prospect ranking, but he didn't shoot himself up anybody's rankings either. Grade: B- (Short-term: C+, Long-term: B)
IHSB: There's really not much to say about Davidson. He's young (just turned 19, will be 19 for all of 2010 season) and just put together an absolutely craptastic season in Low-A (in a solid number of at-bats, mind you). Yes, he was a high school kid significantly below the average league age at Yakima, but at the same time, he was a 1/2 sandwich-round pick. These are guys that are supposed to be steadily climbing through the system, taking about a year for each A-ball stop, and a year or two each for AA and AAA, not guys about to repeat Low-A ball. The fact that Davidson already has gotten caught up in the system is absolutely concerning, and if he wants to be a top prospect, he needs to spend the first month of next season treating Low-A like it's the World Series and he's Chase Utley. This is especially true since it looks like his defense at third is unsalvagable based on the errors this year, so his bat will absolutely need to carry him through the system since he's going to be stuck at first. With Paul Goldschmidt and Ryan Wheeler ahead of him by miles, Davidson definitely has to be worried. Grade: D+ (Short-term: D-, Long-term: C+)
IHSB: I Love Ryan Wheeler. With just one short season of statistic evidence, Wheeler is the early front-runner for the best pick of the Diamondbacks' 2009 draft. That doesn't mean that he is the best prospect Arizona has from the draft, but he is the highest-ranked for where he was picked, as what appears to be a fifth-round steal for the Snakes. Wheeler has a massive power bat, keeping his ISO over .200 across two levels (which helps to ease BABIP concerns - despite a possible BA drop, he'll have that raw power to keep him on field), the second of which was advanced for his age (albeit for a very short stint), and is just 21 and headed to Visalia to start next season, and only because he did not have enough games at South Bend to justify a two-level jump. However, if he proves his dominance at Visalia quickly, fully expect the Diamondbacks to have a quick trigger in introducing the Southern League to Ryan Wheeler. 21-years-old at High-A is below league average, and 21-years-old at AA is way ahead of the curve. The only thing that I could see getting in Wheeler's way is a struggle to adjust to off-speed pitches, but his K/BB ratio last year (10 more walks than strikeouts - another reason to not worry too much about BABIP regression's effects) leads me to believe he has a great eye at the plate. So, although from day one scouts have agreed that Wheeler's bat would have to carry him through the minors, it definitely appears as though that will not be a problem. It is definitely good enough to handle him being planted at first base, and while his defense has been rumored to be suspect, he did only have five errors last season. However, it is also very possible that the reason for this is the classic Stone Pillar Technique (if a first-baseman has horrendous lateral range, i.e. that of a Stone Pillar, he cannot be in position to make an error on a ball hit far enough to either side of him because he is not in range to have a chance to make, and consequently screw up, a play) that can allow for first-basemen to appear much more proficient defensively than they are. Regardless, Wheeler certainly has time to develop if need be, and already is, in my opinion, one of the top-10 prospects the organization has. Grade: A+ (Short-term: A+, Long-term: A+)
IHSB: The team signed Matt Helm to a pretty hefty bonus right before the deadline for signing draft picks, and frankly, from Helm's perspective, I just don't get it. The team picked both Bobby Borchering and Matt Davidson ahead of Helm, who play the two positions that Helm can play. The team has Mark Reynolds already entrenched at one of those positions in the majors. The kid slid to the seventh round because of injury concerns, and could have gone to college and worked his way into the upper rounds and gotten himself even more money. All of this aside, we ended up with a very young, high-ceiling corner infielder (especially for the seventh-round) who we'll really get to get a good look at next season, probably in Low-A Ball. It's not that Helm doesn't have a good future ahead of him, it's that it just probably isn't going to be in Arizona due to his path to the majors being blocked by a number of guys ranked higher than him. Grade: B (Short-term: N/A, Long-term: B)
Round 8, Pick 246 - Paul Goldschmidt
Zephon: Goldschmidt had by miles the best season of any of the players drafted in 2009. Goldschmidt lead the Pioneer league in slugging percentage, OPS, ISO, and home runs. He was second in hits, walks, doubles, total bases, and on base percentage. He was also third in RBIs, and fifth in batting average. So as you can see, Paul Goldschmidt had a fantastic debut season. His ISO percentage is something that has to be mentioned, since it's an astronomically high .304 (just for comparison, Mark Reynolds' ISO this year was .283). The only area I see a problem is his k:BB ratio, which isn't bad, but could be better. If he can repeat this level of performance in Visalia, and work on his K:BB ratio, he'll be at or near the top of the Diamondbacks top prospect list. Unfortunately, he has some competition for the first base job with Brandon Allen possibly locking up the position at the major league level, and Ryan Wheeler putting up excellent numbers in his debut season in the minors. Grade: A (Short-term: A+, Long-term: A-)
IHSB: Much as I'd love to also fly the "Paul Goldschmidt for Savior" banners across my dorm room, one major factor that really needs to be mentioned is his age. 21-years-old isn't necessarily old for Rookie-ball, but it's important for a guy at that age and that level to put up good numbers, like Goldschmidt did, to have prospect value. He obviously proved that he was just put at the wrong level, and frankly I don't understand how the team didn't promote him at some point during to year to see if he could equal these numbers at another level and set himself up for a confident start at Hi-A next season, where he really honestly belongs, rather than him likely starting next year at Mid-A (mostly because Ryan Wheeler will be at Hi-A - perhaps if Wheeler and Goldschmidt both produce, Wheeler will get sent up to AA, allowing for Goldschmidt to inherit the Hi-A 1B job). The numbers are out-of-this-world ridiculous. 18 homeruns in your first professional season is unheard of. Small number of errors, although his D is supposedly suspect (Stone Pillar Technique? See Ryan Wheeler analysis for a definition). But I really need to see this type of production at a level where his age is ahead of the curve rather than behind the curve in order to label the guy a top prospect in the system. Also, there are concerns about precisely how open our first-base position is, with Brandon Allen in his early-twenties, and Ryan Wheeler ahead of Goldschmidt in the system. Absolutely, certainly, positively not a bad pick, but just not an A-pick, IMO. Wheeler, for instance, is younger and better than Goldschmidt. Grade: B+ (Short-term: A-, Long-term B)
With the 2009 season in the books, the Snakes added a ton of depth at the infield corners, leaving the convenient problem of now having to find at-bats for all of them next seasons. With his post-season power surge, the organization will probably move Borchering (who is younger than IHSB, Zephon, and emilylovesthedbacks - a crazy thought for all of us) ahead of Matt Helm and into the everyday third-baseman job at South Bend. Matt Davidson did nothing at Yakima last year to suggest that he belongs at any higher level, so he'll get the Yakima first-baseman everyday job. Wheeler will be the everyday first-baseman for Visalia to start next season after his power surge in both Yakima and South Bend. Helm only had 55 ABs at Yakima last year, and while he didn't necessarily struggle, he didn't demonstrate that he needs to be put ahead of Borchering, and so Helm will probably be the everyday third-baseman for Yakima again this season. Goldschmidt's numbers (and age) will warrant him a two-level jump and a jump ahead of Davidson in the system, and so he'll start at South Bend with their everyday first-baseman job.
Next week we'll be looking at the middle infielders in the draft -- Chris Owings, Brent Greer, David Nick, David Narodowski, and the possible anti-Christ (pick 666 himself). Stay tuned for part two! Before we close, I, Zephon, would just like to make note of the resources we used to create this series of articles: Minorleaguebaseball.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. To everyone else, thanks for reading, and we'll see you next wednesday! (I couldn't wait any longer to post this one, so it's going up early)