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2011 Minor League Preview pt. 1 - Reno & Mobile (w/blue bulldog)

Today's off-day is no totally without Arizona-affiliated baseball, as today also happens to mark the beginning of the 2011 Minor League Baseball season. All four of the D-backs' full-season affiliates begin play today, beginning what could be a big year for the farm system. With that in mind, blue bulldog and I have created a two-part (maybe three-part...) series in which we'll analyze the talent headed to each affiliate down on the farm. Many of the young players from the 2009 draft haul are continuing to plow their way through the lower levels of the minors, and we're seeing a few particularly quick-rising players from that crop earn regular playing time above A-ball (the first player from '09 to gain some sort of everyday playing time at Mobile was actually Ryan Wheeler last year).

As a matter of fact, AZSnakePit favorite first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is hitting third for the BayBears tonight, in a game that is already well underway. This is a big year for Goldschmidt, who needs to prove to scouts and evaluators that his all-or-nothing results can continue to translate successfully beyond the A-ball ranks. For those wondering, his first plate appearance for the BayBears... resulted in a solo home run. Nice start, Paul. As for the rest of the rosters, we'll take a look at the talent at Triple-A and Double-A, a pair of clubs that look to be dramatically better than they were in 2010, after the break.

This post will first list out each team's roster by position, then identifying the probable roles for each pitcher and position player in the team's pitching staff and everyday lineup. Then we'll delve a little deeper, making picks for the following categories at each affiliate: Best Pitching Prospect, Best Hitting Prospect, Most Aggressive Assignment, Most Conservative Assignment, Breakout Candidate Pitcher, and Breakout Candidate Bat. First up is Triple-A Reno, closely followed by Double-A Mobile.


Triple-A Reno:

Pitchers (12 + 1 DL):
- RHP Josh Collmenter
- RHP Josh Ellis
- LHP Zach Kroenke
- LHP Tom Layne
- RHP Kevin Mulvey
- LHP Jordan Norberto
- RHP Micah Owings
- RHP Rafael Rodriguez
- RHP Daniel Stange
- RHP Matt Torra
- RHP Jason Urquidez
- RHP Esmerling Vasquez
- LHP Clay Zavada (DL)

Starting Rotation: Josh Collmenter, Kevin Mulvey, Micah Owings, Matt Torra, and Zach Kroenke.
Closer: Esmerling Vasquez.
Set-up: Jordan Norberto, Rafael Rodriguez.
Middle Relief: Josh Ellis, and Jason Urquidez.
LOOGY: Tom Layne.

Catchers (2 + 1 DL):
- Konrad Schmidt (Usual Starter)
- John Hester
- Robby Hammock (DL)

Position Players (10 + 2 DL):
- INF Tony Abreu
- 1B/OF Brandon Allen
- 3B Sean Burroughs
- OF Collin Cowgill
- OF Cole Gillespie
- OF Wily Mo Pena
- INF Cody Ransom
- 1B Andy Tracy
- INF Josh Wilson
- OF David Winfree
- OF Chris Rahl (DL)
- INF Ed Rogers (DL)


Possible Defensive Alignment: Schmidt (C), Allen (1B), Abreu (2B), Wilson (SS), Ransom (3B), Pena (LF), Gillespie (CF), Cowgill (RF).

Possible Lineup: Abreu, Cowgill, Gillespie, Allen, Schmidt, Pena, Ransom, Wilson, Pitcher.

Bench: Burroughs, Tracy, Winfree, Hester.

Roster Breakdown & Predictions:

Best Pitching Prospect:

- IHSB: Josh Collmenter. It's a slim crowd overall, but the choice is obvious. That in itself is a pretty strong indictment of the quality of (and low quantity of) the prospects at Triple-A, since Collmenter's long-term projection is as a middle-reliever.

- BB: Josh Collmenter. This crowd is in desperate need for an injection of Jarrod Parker and his awesomeness. As it is, I wouldn't say Collmenter has a runaway lead, but he is slightly ahead of Matt Torra in my mind. He at least has the chance to fit somewhere in the back of the bullpen. A lot less confident that the other starting pitchers at Triple-A will ever have a future in the majors.

Best Hitting Prospect:

- IHSB: Collin Cowgill. Well, since Brandon Allen is no longer technically a prospect, the competition is between Cowgill and Konrad Schmidt. Schmidt is more likely to see big-league time in 2011, but Cowgill will be more valuable long-term as a fourth outfielder-type.

- BB: Konrad Schmidt. For me, this comes down to me to a couple of things. 1) I'm more confident that Schmidt can make it as a backup catcher in the majors, than I am that Cowgill can make it as a fourth outfielder. 2) I've sort of ranked this based on relative importance, and since we have no catcher depth, I view Schmidt as a better prospect.

Most Aggressive Assignment:

- IHSB: Tom Layne. I'm a little surprised that Sean Burroughs is here, but he's really not a prospect... retiring and re-joining pro ball doesn't reinstate prospect status. So Layne is the choice, as I would have pegged him as someone to repeat Double-A after posting some questionable peripherals a year ago, though the shift to relief was the right decision.

Most Conservative Assignment:

- IHSB: Well, it's hard to call any assignment to Triple-A conservative... I guess Brandon Allen?

Breakout Candidate Pitcher:

- IHSB: Jordan Norberto. He still has gobs of potential based off of the pure dominant level of his stuff, and he posted good PCL numbers a year ago. With what looks to be a solid chunk of consistent time at Triple-A to hone his control, Norberto could dominate a hard league for a pitcher to dominate.

- BB: Matt Torra. This isn't based off any reason or rational, but more just blind hope. Torra isn't supposed to be as bad as he is right now. And even with the injury, and current stuff (or lack thereof), Torra should still be able to be a solid back-end rotation starter. Which he hasn't demonstrated at all so far. Here's to wishing Matt Torra can go nuts this year in Triple-A.

Breakout Candidate Bat:

- IHSB: Konrad Schmidt. Brandon Allen really doesn't count at this point, so I'm taking Schmidt over Cowgill, who I think is more of a he-is-what-he-is type prospect. Schmidt has never been a huge home run hitter, but being in that thin, high-elevation environment could turn some of his doubles into home runs. Considering how good of numbers he had last year in a pitcher-friendly environment, Schmidt looks to be a PCL All-Star (a sign that he'll be destined to be a big-league mainstay for years to come, just like former-Ace John Hest-... oh, wait).

- BB: Konrad Schmidt. Not much to add here. He put up very good numbers considering he was in the Southern League last year, and showed a lot more power than he has previously. Could that be a one-year mirage? Possibly. But it won't hurt to hope Schmidt can continue his recent success.

Double-A Mobile:

Pitchers (12):
- RHP Charles Brewer
- RHP Ryan Cook
- LHP Patrick Corbin
- RHP Bryan Henry
- LHP Wade Miley
- RHP Kyler Newby
- RHP Jarrod Parker
- RHP Wes Roemer
- LHP Leyson Septimo
- RHP Bryan Shaw
- RHP Billy Spottiswood
- RHP Bryan Woodall


Starting Rotation: Jarrod Parker, Wade Miley, Charles Brewer, Patrick Corbin, Wes Roemer.

Closer: Kyler Newby.

Set-up: Ryan Cook, Bryan Shaw, Bryan Woodall.

Middle/Long Relief: Bryan Henry, Billy Spottiswood.

LOOGY: Leyson Septimo.

Catchers (2):
- Ed Easley
- Josh Ford

Position Players (10):
- INF Jake Elmore
- OF Evan Frey
- 1B Paul Goldschmidt
- INF Mark Hallberg
- INF Taylor Harbin
- INF Daniel Kaczrowski
- OF Marc Krauss
- OF Ollie Linton
- CF A.J. Pollock
- 3B Ryan Wheeler


Possible Defensive Alignment: Platoon (C), Goldschmidt (1B), Elmore (2B), Hallberg (SS), Wheeler (3B), Krauss (LF), Pollock (CF), Linton/Frey (RF).

Possible Lineup: Pollock, Hallberg, Krauss, Goldschmidt, Wheeler, Elmore, C-Platoon, Linton/Frey, Pitcher.

Bench: Harbin, Kaczrowski, Frey/Linton, C-Platoon.

Roster Breakdown & Predictions:

Best Pitching Prospect:

- IHSB: Jarrod Parker. Nothing against the other arms in that rotation, since they're all impressive, but... yeah.

- BB: Wade Mil.......Crap. Jarrod Parker is STILL in Double-A?

Best Hitting Prospect:

- IHSB: A.J. Pollock. Of course, the general scouting consensus would likely go with Krauss, and Goldschmidt certainly has a case of his own, particularly given his Spring Training success. But Pollock was impressive himself in Spring Training, and his positional and defensive value is just so much greater than Goldschmidt that I think he's a safer bet to be a regular player.

- BB: Paul Goldschmidt. IHSB knows I'm not a fan of A.J. Pollock. To me, he's just a rich man's Collin Cowgill. Goldschmidt is almost a guaranteed bet to make the majors (as a lefty-killing pinch hitter off the bench) and is the better bet to make it to the majors as a starter in my opinion. The power will play. That much was shown in Spring Training, and the complete devastation he wreaked upon the Cal League last year. Which means that at worst, he's probably a Carlos Pena 1B, which I'm totally okay with.

Most Aggressive Assignment:

- IHSB: A.J. Pollock. Aggressive as this assignment is, I completely understand the reasoning behind the assignment. He's a really-polished baseball player, and someone who can hold his own that effectively against big-league pitching in Spring Training can probably hold his own in the Southern League as well.

- BB: A.J. Pollock. For the record, I don't like this assignment. There's no need to rush him. We have Chris Young until 2013 ends. And Pollock hasn't even played full-season pro ball yet. Why not send him to the Cal League, where he can build up lots of confidence? It's not like we have great depth in the outfield at Visalia. I'm not as convinced as IHSB is that he can hold his own in the Southern League right now. Hopefully it doesn't hurt his development.

Most Conservative Assignment:

- IHSB: Wes Roemer. There's a strong case for making this Kyler Newby, since I don't see what a guy with a 104:28 K:BB ratio a year ago has anything to prove by repeating Double-A for the third year. Still, Roemer had video-game numbers through eight starts in the Southern League before his promotion to Reno a year ago, and his HR-rate was inevitably going to simmer down at Triple-A. If the team didn't think he was worthy a Reno rotation spot, then perhaps that's an indicator that he's ready to be converted to the bullpen?

- BB: Ollie Linton. I've always felt Linton was underrated by our organization. Maybe there's something about his swing or approach that scouts aren't confident will be able to translate to the majors. But I've always felt Linton has a decent shot at being able to start in the outfield, and bat leadoff, and wish he'd at least have a chance to show what he's got at Triple-A.

Breakout Candidate Pitcher:

- IHSB: Ryan Cook. Certainly not the most well-known name on a loaded Mobile staff, but I think that the sinkerballer could absolutely take off now that he's being moved full-time to the bullpen. Cook might begin the season as the team's seventh-inning guy behind Newby and Bryan Shaw, but if the big-league bullpen sees a few injuries this year, I'd much rather see us turning to Cook than whoever finds himself earning the title of "third best reliever at Reno."

- BB: Charles Brewer. Probably my favorite sleeper candidate pitcher in our system. As Sickels said, "if he were in a different organization, more people would have heard of him." He can apparently command all of his pitches (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup), and his fastball sits low-90s, which means he can survive as a starter. Brewer is going to dominate this year in a pitcher's league, even more than last year, and he's going to shoot up prospect charts. Book it.

Breakout Candidate Bat:

- IHSB: Ryan Wheeler. Slim pickings, as most of the bats that show much promise are already highly-touted prospects in the system. I'll go with the pseudo-breakout candidate in Wheeler, as he already had a spectacular 2009 campaign was considered one of the team's top prospects before the 2010 season. However, a lackluster year between Visalia and Mobile means that he now has to fight to regain that status, but he's young enough to still do so.

- BB: Ryan Wheeler. If his 2010 season was weak because he was getting used to a new position at 3B, then he has chance to be a top prospect again, now that he's had a year of reps. On the other hand, if it was because of more fundamental problems, then that's just really unfortunate, considering just how amazing that 2009 really was. I'm willing to be optimistic for now.