2011 D-Backs Preview: Fiery Manager Leads Rebuilding Effort

2011 D-Backs Preview: Fiery Manager Leads Rebuilding Effort

This article is part of our MLB Team Previews series.

The D-Backs had a 2010 to forget, finishing dead last in the NL West and winning just 65 games thanks to a 25-56 record on the road. Fortunately, the struggles didn't take long to set in, which allowed the organization to begin overhauling key members of management with the in-season removal of general manager Josh Byrnes and his hand-picked manager A.J. Hinch despite several years remaining on their respective contracts. Needing to shed payroll, interim general manager Jerry Dipoto traded Dan Haren to Anaheim last July, reversing a trend that had sent many of the team's top prospects – including Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Quentin, Brett Anderson and others – elsewhere to acquire established talent.

DiPoto was retained in a scouting role, but former Padres general manager Kevin Towers was hired to handle the same job in Arizona. Towers continued the renovation project, trading Mark Reynolds to Baltimore for two relievers as part of a large-scale effort to rebuild one of the league's worst bullpens in recent memory. The result has evolved into a much younger, cost-effective roster, and a new clubhouse culture that Gibson began to establish prior to shedding the 'interim' tag. The D-Backs are projected by many to finish in one of the bottom two spots of the NL West, but it wouldn't be all that surprising to see them exceed expectations if their offense becomes more consistent this season.

Offseason Moves

Let 1B Adam LaRoche, RHP Brandon Webb and RHP Rodrigo Lopez depart via

The D-Backs had a 2010 to forget, finishing dead last in the NL West and winning just 65 games thanks to a 25-56 record on the road. Fortunately, the struggles didn't take long to set in, which allowed the organization to begin overhauling key members of management with the in-season removal of general manager Josh Byrnes and his hand-picked manager A.J. Hinch despite several years remaining on their respective contracts. Needing to shed payroll, interim general manager Jerry Dipoto traded Dan Haren to Anaheim last July, reversing a trend that had sent many of the team's top prospects – including Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Quentin, Brett Anderson and others – elsewhere to acquire established talent.

DiPoto was retained in a scouting role, but former Padres general manager Kevin Towers was hired to handle the same job in Arizona. Towers continued the renovation project, trading Mark Reynolds to Baltimore for two relievers as part of a large-scale effort to rebuild one of the league's worst bullpens in recent memory. The result has evolved into a much younger, cost-effective roster, and a new clubhouse culture that Gibson began to establish prior to shedding the 'interim' tag. The D-Backs are projected by many to finish in one of the bottom two spots of the NL West, but it wouldn't be all that surprising to see them exceed expectations if their offense becomes more consistent this season.

Offseason Moves

Let 1B Adam LaRoche, RHP Brandon Webb and RHP Rodrigo Lopez depart via free agency.

LaRoche eventually signed with Washington, while cost was almost certainly the driving factor behind his departure as the D-Backs don't have a proven everyday option in tow to take over at first base this season. Webb hasn't pitched in a game since Opening Day 2009 after undergoing shoulder surgery. He signed a one-year deal with the Rangers during the winter in a bid to resurrect his career there. Lopez reached the 200-innings mark for the D-Backs last season, but the quality of those innings wasn't enough for the team to bring him back for depth in 2011. At the time of this writing, he remains unsigned.

Signed INF Geoff Blum to a two-year deal.

Versatility remains Blum's greatest asset, though we're a little bit surprised that the D-Backs found it necessary to give him a two-year deal, especially when he'll turn 38 in April. Nevertheless, Blum will try to recoup some of the power he lost last season with the Astros, when he went deep just twice in 202 at-bats following a 10-homer campaign in 381 at-bats during the 2009 season. He could see playing time at third base when Melvin Mora needs a day off.

Acquired 1B Juan Miranda from the Yankees for RHP Scottie Allen.

Miranda had a couple of stints with the Yankees last season but saw few opportunities, hitting .219 in just 71 plate appearances. An offseason trade to Arizona should pave the way for much more playing time, as the Diamondbacks have him penciled in as their starting first baseman. He probably won't be a great contact hitter in the desert, but he can get on base (.374 OBP at Triple-A) and has some power (.481 SLG). Further, D-Backs general manager Kevin Towers may have seen something he liked while working as a special assistant to the Yankees last season, so there's reason to believe he'll be given plenty of chances to succeed with his new club. If Russell Branyan makes the D-Backs' Opening Day roster, it will cut into Miranda's opportunities.

Acquired LHP Zach Duke from the Pirates for shortstop Pedro Ciriaco.

Duke offers the D-Backs a left-handed option to eat innings this season, but we'd be surprised if the move to hitter-friendly Chase Field does anything to help his ERA. If he rebounds to 2008-2009 levels, Duke could chew up 200-plus innings with an ERA in the 4.50 range, but he's very hittable and will need to improve his control to avoid the big innings and limit the damage of the long ball.

Signed 3B Melvin Mora to a one-year deal.

Mora's 2010 counting stats were pretty similar to those of his 2009 season, despite the fact that he had almost 130 fewer at-bats as a utility infielder. A .324 BABIP, his highest since 2004, helped him to a .285 batting average and .358 on-base percentage. After the Mark Reynolds trade, the Diamondbacks signed Mora to a one-year deal. At 39 years old, the team won't rely on Mora to be an everyday starter and neither should fantasy owners.

Traded 3B Mark Reynolds for RHP David Hernandez and RHP Kam Mickolio.

Reynolds failed to break his own single-season strikeout record (223), but he eclipsed the 200-whiff mark for the third consecutive season while hacking his way to a .198 average thanks to a 58 percent contact rate and surprisingly low .262 BABIP. Fortunately, there is at least some silver lining in that he was playing hurt throughout the season as a lingering quad injury, hand and wrist ailments, as well a concussion limited him at various points last season. We have to think that the leg injury in particular limited his prowess on the basepaths, especially since five of his seven steals came before the All-Star break. Traded to Baltimore during the offseason, Reynolds should continue to collect everyday at-bats in a good hitter's park, making him a 40-homer threat and likely one that will come at a discount on draft day given the batting average risk he presents.

Signed free agent RHP J.J. Putz to a two-year, $10 million deal.

Putz made it through last season relatively injury-free, which is something he couldn't do during his time with the Mets. He even served a brief stint as the White Sox's closer, picking up three saves. Putz ratcheted his strikeout rate back above 10.0 per nine innings, and he only walked 15 in 54 frames. The Diamondbacks signed him to be their closer, and his 2010 season shows no evidence that he should falter in 2011. Keep in mind that he was one of the league's elite closers during his time with the Mariners, and that skill set is still here if he's able to remain healthy.

Signed C Henry Blanco to a one-year deal.

Ultimately, Blanco's fantasy value won't be winning any leagues this season, but his presence should help younger players -- including starting catcher Miguel Montero -- and likely some of the team's young pitchers as the rebuilding effort continues in Arizona.

Signed OF/1B Xavier Nady to a one-year deal.

Last year was a lost one for Nady who played part time and struggled coming back from his second Tommy John surgery. Still just 32 and playing left field in hitter-friendly Chase Field, Nady could resume being the zero plate discipline, 20-plus homer player he's always been, so long as he gets the at-bats. At press time, that looks fairly likely, as the front office doesn't appear to be sold on making prospect Brandon Allen an everyday left fielder. It remains to be seen if his arm can hold up from the rigors of making throws from the outfield over the course of a full season.

Re-signed RHP Aaron Heilman.

Pitching for his third club in as many seasons, Heilman's strikeout rate tumbled again (8.1 K/9IP to 6.9), but his control is actually improving (4.2 BB/9IP to 3.3). Since becoming a full-time reliever with the Mets in 2006, Heilman has been one of the most durable bullpen arms in baseball having made 373 appearances over the last five years. The D-Backs brought him back with the promise that he will be considered for the back of the rotation, but he'll almost certainly return to his typical relief duty.

Signed OF/IF Willie Bloomquist to a one-year deal.

Already with Geoff Blum in tow, the D-Backs needed another light-hitting versatile veteran to round out their bench.

Traded RHP Kevin Eichhorn and LHP Ryan Robowski to Detroit for RHP Armando Galarraga.

The move to the National League should help his strikeout rate, but will it be enough to offset the downgrade in home parks? Nevertheless, Galarraga becomes the frontrunner for the No. 5 starter job in Arizona while Barry Enright is likely headed to Triple-A Reno to begin the 2011 campaign. By no means, however, would we consider his hold on a rotation spot to be a strong one.

Signed 1B Russell Branyan to a minor league contract.

Branyan figures to take over a part-time role in Arizona, where he will see action primarily at first base and as a pinch-hitter. Given the position he plays, his arrival will have the biggest impact on Brandon Allen, as it has become clear that the former White Sox prospect isn't necessarily a part of the D-Backs' plans. Branyan quietly hit 25 home runs last season in just 376 at-bats, so he should remain a cheap source of power in hitter-friendly Chase Field.

Claimed RHP Bryan Sweeney off waivers from Seattle, re-signed LHP Mike Hampton, signed RHP/1B Micah Owings.

Of the three, Hampton has the best chance to make the Opening Day roster as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen. Owings could handle a swing role for manager Kirk Gibson, working as a mop-up man in relief and providing pop off the bench as a pinch-hitter.

Projected Lineup/Rotation:

Lineup (vs. RH/LH)

1. SS Stephen Drew/CF Chris Young
2. 2B Kelly Johnson
3. RF Justin Upton
4. C Miguel Montero
5. 1B Juan Miranda/SS Stephen Drew
6. CF Chris Young/1B Juan Miranda
7. LF Xavier Nady
8. 3B Melvin Mora

There are several moving parts in the D-Backs' lineup as spring training begins, so it's very difficult to project where a number of the team's key players will bat in the order. Drew, Young and Johnson are all candidates for the leadoff spot, although the split suggested above looks like the optimal arrangement. If Russell Branyan plays his way onto the roster, Miranda could be a part-time player rather than a sleeper for at-bats in the middle third of the order. Overall, this group is expected to be more aggressive on the basepaths under Gibson, so tablesetters should be given the green light often. Keep a very close eye on how this order shakes out during the spring and the early weeks of the regular season, as Gibson has indicated that he prefers to have a regular order established.


1. Dan Hudson (R)
2. Ian Kennedy (R)
3. Joe Saunders (L)
4. Zach Duke (L)
5. Armando Galarraga (R)/Barry Enright (R)/Aaron Heilman (R)/Jarrod Parker* (R)

The first three spots are set, and it's hard to envision a scenario where Duke doesn't at least get a chance to hold down the No. 4 spot as the second left-hander. Hudson is the favorite to make the Opening Day start, but that far from guaranteed at this point as Gibson could look to one of the more veteran options (Saunders or Duke) and alternate his southpaws in the order for matchup purposes. In the battle for the No. 5 spot, the winner could wind up getting bumped from the rotation once top prospect Jarrod Parker proves that he's 100 percent healthy following Tommy John surgery. In a division that boasts three very good pitching staffs, the D-Backs have a weakness right now thanks to the two hittable left-handers.

CL:J.J. Putz

Following a season where Chad Qualls self destructed as the team's closer, Putz could bring some much-needed stability to the ninth inning after signing a two-year deal to join the D-Backs during the winter. He was an elite option for the Mariners just a couple of seasons ago and his 2010 numbers with the White Sox suggest that he's capable of being a top-10 closer again for his new club. If he falters, Juan Gutierrez and David Hernandez are the most likely candidates to be considered as replacements.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:

1. Can Justin Upton take the next step?

Upton's health undoubtedly played a role in his regression last season, as he fell from 26 to 17 homers despite playing in just five fewer games than he did in 2009. The front office was willing to listen to trade offers for the young right fielder during the offseason, but nothing materialized. In addition to the lost power, Upton's contact rate dipped to 69 percent even though his walk rate improved to 11 percent. He opted for rehab during the offseason rather than surgery, and he's reportedly 100 percent healthy now that spring training is getting underway. Don't lose sight of the fact that Upton will still be just 23 when Opening Day rolls around in April, so there's still a great deal of growth potential even after he's racked up 1,517 career big league at-bats. Improved health alone should enable him to return to 20-20 status, but the draft-day price tag will almost certainly reflect 30-30 expectations.

2. Who is really on first?

The Branyan signing at the beginning of spring training made a murky situation even worse, as the already crowded position added a proven option to a cast of question marks that included Juan Miranda, Brandon Allen and Xavier Nady. General manager Kevin Towers hasn't been shy in his praise of Miranda and noting that he offers 70 power on the traditional 20-to-80 scouting scale. Getting him an opportunity to collect 400-plus at-bats seemed like a priority, but is Branyan merely an insurance policy. His .699 OPS against left-handers over the last three seasons ensures at least a part-time role at first base, In a perfect world, Nady would be a backup corner outfielder, Allen would play left field regularly after getting time there at Triple-A, and Branyan would work in tandem with Miranda at first. Ultimately, if all four players are healthy, Allen is the most likely to get squeezed out of at-bats, even though he's exhibited good plate discipline and power in the upper levels of the minors.

3. Will the rotation hold up?

As it stands now, the D-Backs' top two starters (Hudson and Kennedy) are very young and both logged career-highs in innings last season. They will be under heavy pressure to keep opposing lineups quiet as the offense will be tasked with supporting three very hittable starters in the back of the rotation. Enright could become a viable No. 4 or No. 5 starter down the road, but he was fortunate to get through his 2010 debut with serviceable numbers after a dismal September. Parker is an elite prospect and may still become the No. 1 starter he was expected to be prior to surgery, but there are still questions as to whether AFL standout Josh Collmenter can get big league hitters out with his unorthodox delivery.

Strengths: An aggressive manager looking to light a fire under his young, talented squad. A lineup that should be able to dent the bleachers regularly and hurt opposing teams with its speed.

Weaknesses: Rotation depth, including two very hittable lefties occupying two of the five spots entering the season. Many of the team's prospects are still another full season away from being ready to contribute.

Rising: In one of the best cost-cutting moves of the trade deadline, the D-Backs acquired Dan Hudson from the White Sox for Edwin Jackson. He didn't disappoint with the move to the National League, going 7-1 with a 70:16 K:BB over 79.2 innings after August 1 and looking the part of a legitimate No. 2 or No. 3 starter for the team's rebuilding rotation. After logging 188.2 innings between Triple-A and the majors last season, there is no workload restriction to be concerned about here. Hudson has three quality offerings, and is able to generate plenty of whiffs with both his fastball and changeup thanks to his arm slot and the resulting deception in his delivery. Although he may not have the ceiling of a future ace, Hudson is polished and should carry a reasonable price tag on draft day.

Falling: We always like to think that moving to the National League will significantly increase a starting pitcher's strikeout rate. In Joe Saunders' case, the improvement wasn't overwhelming as he only pushed his mark from 4.8 K/9IP over 120.2 innings with the Angels to 5.4 after he was sent to the D-Backs as part of the Dan Haren trade. His greatest value to Arizona is tied to durability (95 starts since 2008) and that he's a left-handed starter in a rotation that is otherwise entirely right-handed. Given the uncertainty of the D-Backs' bullpen and his propensity to pitch to contact in a hitter-friendly park, Saunders is volatile commodity best left to those in NL-only and very deep mixed formats.

Sleeper: Miguel Montero is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2010 season that was slowed by a torn meniscus he suffered in April. In his recovery from that injury, Montero regained the 10 pounds that he had worked off during the winter, and he believes that having the extra weight negatively impacted his performance upon return. Although his numbers at the plate regressed a bit with a drop in his contact rate (down to 76 percent from 82 in 2009), Montero was much better defensively behind the plate and made a point to improve his arm. It remains to be seen how much of his offensive slide can be attributed to the injury, but at age 27 he's entering his power peak and a 20-homer campaign may still be in the cards.

Supersleeper:Jarrod Parker is expected to be 100 percent healthy for spring training following Tommy John surgery in October 2009. During fall workouts, reports indicated he was reaching 97 mph during his throwing sessions, a very encouraging sign for the 22-year-old right-hander. If he had remained healthy, Parker likely would have been in the D-Backs' Opening Day rotation this season, but he may need to spend a couple of months at Double-A Mobile or Triple-A Reno ironing out the wrinkles from his one-year layoff before reclaiming his status as one of the brightest pitching prospects in baseball. Given the weakness in the final three spots of the rotation, a midseason callup seems likely.


Here's a rundown of the players that were not mentioned above.

Brandon Allen – Things became murky for Allen last offseason when Adam LaRoche was signed as a free agent to be the everyday first baseman. Rather than keep him around as a power bat off the bench, the D-Backs sent Allen to Triple-A Reno where he suffered an early-season shoulder injury that sidelined him for a month. After returning to the lineup in June, Allen hit .280 with 22 homers in 286 at-bats for the Aces while maintaining an excellent 67:73 BB:K before his September callup to Arizona. In addition to hitting for power and showing a good eye at the plate, Allen worked on learning to play left field, which certainly bodes well for his chances of receiving regular at-bats with the acquisitions of Juan Miranda, Russell Branyan and Xavier Nady likely blocking his path at first base. Offensively, he's got nothing left to prove in the minors, and his power potential should make him a popular upside target on draft day, even if he'll need a trade to get an opportunity.

Sam Demel – The D-Backs managed to turn Conor Jackson into Demel, which in itself should make Rumpelstiltskin proud. Given the team's instability around the ninth inning, Demel was immediately on the radar as a potential closer, but he only managed to collect two saves last season after being called up in June. At 25, Demel appears to have moved beyond the control issues that plagued him at earlier minor league stops. In addition to a 92-94 mph sinking fastball, Demel has developed a cutter that also leads to plenty of groundball outs. His future chances to step into the closer role will hinge entirely on the other personnel at his manager's disposal, but keep in mind that Demel already has Juan Gutierrez to contend with for that opportunity and a free agent or two could join the fray before the start of the season as well.

Stephen Drew – For the second consecutive season, Drew improved his walk rate (10 percent) and returned to his form of being the upper-tier fantasy shortstop that he was in 2008 when he swatted 21 homers. Still in his peak at age 28, Drew may never become the elite offensive force many projected him to be as a top prospect, but he's an above-average hitter with an ability to handle shortstop better than most at his position. Considering that he hit 11 homers in 267 at-bats after the All-Star break, we wouldn't be shocked by a 20-25 homer campaign, and his seemingly undeserved "bust" label should keep the acquisition price low on draft day.

Barry Enright – After skipping Triple-A last season, Enright managed to float as a 24-year-old rookie thanks in large part to a .251 BABIP. The underlying numbers here scream regression, especially when you consider his issues with the long ball (20 allowed in 99 innings) and the inability to make hitters swing and miss (4.45 K/9IP). We can't rule Reno out of his 2011 itinerary, but the D-Backs may afford him the chance to open the season in their rotation again to see if he's able to make adjustments and continue to take the ball every fifth day. Enright's strikeout rate tumbled each month after his callup, seemingly as scouting reports circulated about his stuff, and his forgettable September (6.89 ERA, 10:7 K:BB in 32.2 innings and 13 homers allowed) should be enough to keep you away on draft day.

Juan Gutierrez – In the first half of 2010, Gutierrez did his part in contributing to the league's worst bullpen by delivering a 6.96 ERA and giving up 11 homers in 32.1 innings before the All-Star break. He turned things around in the second half, however, going 13-for-13 in save opportunities after Chad Qualls was traded to Tampa Bay. Considering that Gutierrez ended up on the DL with shoulder inflammation after his poor showing in April and May, there's reason to believe that his early struggles can be attributed to the injury. As the internal options go, Gutierrez will get the first crack at the ninth inning to open 2011, but that opportunity could be thwarted by the expected acquisition of a more proven closer. Even if he's not the closer on Opening Day, there's reason to believe that he'll get a high-leverage opportunity to solidify the Arizona bullpen again this time around.

Mike Hampton – While many believed that Hampton's career was probably over after he had surgery in September 2009 to repair a torn rotator cuff and damage to the labrum in his pitching shoulder, he managed to rehab and work his way back into the mix as a bullpen option for the D-Backs during the final month of the season. Now 38, he's likely ticketed for a similar role in the rebuilt Arizona bullpen after signing a non-guaranteed minor league deal in December.

David Hernandez – Hernandez struggled out of the gate as a starter and the Orioles moved him to the bullpen, which was rumored to be a plan long in the making given Baltimore's crowd of up-and-comers in the rotation. He was effective after the move and at one point it looked like the Orioles might be trying to make him their closer. Arizona acquired Hernandez in the Mark Reynolds trade and he should start the season as part of the D-Backs' rebuilt bullpen and bridge to new ninth-inning man J.J. Putz.

Ian Kennedy – Of the D-Backs starters that were on the roster from April through October, Kennedy was the most consistent from start to finish. The Yankees were never willing to give him a legitimate chance to stick in their rotation, but he survived his first full big league campaign at age 25 and surprisingly racked up 194 innings over 32 starts after a shoulder aneurysm limited him to 23.2 innings in 2009. Kennedy missed enough bats (7.8 K/9IP) to survive serving up 26 long balls and issuing his fair share of free passes (3.3 BB/9IP). If you look closely, a .265 BABIP reveals at least some good fortune behind the sub-4.00 ERA and it's easy to see where his 4.33 FIP might be more telling of what to expect in his second season with Arizona, but there were signs of growth in the second half including a drop in home-run rate (0.76 HR/9IP) and fewer walks (3.1 BB/9IP).

Kelly Johnson – Thanks to a torrid April where he hit nine homers in his first 80 at-bats, Johnson delivered an excellent return for those who invested in him as a low-cost rebound candidate after the Braves non-tendered him last December. The home-road splits are telling - Johnson hit .311/.396/.580 at Chase Field and just .257/.343/.411 elsewhere, but at age 29, Johnson is still in his prime and there's no immediate threat in the D-Backs' pipeline to push him for at-bats at second base. Our only concern with his skill set is the 75 percent contact rate he carried last season, but he has a good enough eye to get his share of free passes. Even with a likely regression in the power department (his HR/FB mark doubled to 15.6 percent last season), Johnson should still be able to deliver something close to 20 homers and double-digit steals again this season.

Kam Mickolio – The scouts have been all over Mickolio for a couple of seasons, but he struggled at Triple-A in 2010. The Diamondbacks snatched him up in the Mark Reynolds deal and they hope to develop his power arm to make him ready for the late innings. He already has the ability to miss bats, but his big problem is his control. Both his high walk rate and his home run rate demonstrate what happens when he loses his control, but Mickolio has time to develop as a setup man before the D-Backs will even consider him as a potential closer.

Gerardo Parra – Once upon a time, Parra was considered a top prospect in the D-Backs' system. Just 23, he's already being labeled as a fourth outfielder with limited offensive upside. Defensively, he helps himself by displaying both the range and the arm needed to handle all three outfield positions, but it's his surprising shortcomings at the plate that have left keeper league owners disappointed. Struggles against left-handed pitching have led to a platoon stamp, and there seems to be little weight given to his .285/.327/.416 line against righties the past two seasons. Consider Parra as an endgame plug-in for NL-only leagues that require the use of five outfielders, as there still is some growth potential here.

Carlos Rosa – When the Arizona bullpen was self destructing last season, Rosa was acquired from the Royals as a potential piece of the solution to turn things around. While he went on to make 20 appearances for the D-Backs after he was acquired, Rosa's walk rate soared (5.4 BB/9IP) and his strikeout rate fell off the table (4.1 K/9IP), rendering him incapable of handling a high-leverage role. The skills are there for growth, including a fastball that can touch 97 mph and a plus slider. He'll get another opportunity to solidify a role in the rebuilt Arizona relief corps during spring training.

Esmerling Vasquez – Control issues aside, Vasquez appears to have fully recovered from the torn labrum he suffered in the Arizona Fall League a few years back. The D-Backs gave him the ball 57 times last season, and he struck out more than a batter per inning (9.2 K/9IP). The problem here continues to be walks, as Vasquez issued more than his fair share of free passes (6.4 BB/9IP). The arsenal of a good setup man is here, but that opportunity will have to wait until the aforementioned control trouble is addressed.

Chris Young – Written off as a disappointment following a poor .212/.311/.400 line in 2009, Young bounced back in a big way thanks to an improved contact rate (from 69 to 75 percent) and a more aggressive approach on the basepaths. He's always had a good combination of power and speed, but the skill set is starting to look more refined at age 27. He's owed $24 million over the next three seasons -- a bargain if 2010 in his new baseline -- which could punch his ticket out of the desert once A.J. Pollock is ready for the big leagues as the D-Backs continue to trim payroll.

Top Prospects

Jarrod Parker – See above.

Tyler Skaggs – Skaggs was dominating the Midwest League last season even prior to turning 19 in July, carrying an impressive 9.3 K/9IP and striking out nearly four times as many batters as he walked. With a very projectable 6-foot-4 frame, Skaggs is considered the marquee prospect in the return that the D-Backs received from the Angels in the Dan Haren trade. He'll cut his teeth at High-A to open this season with an opportunity to get a look at Double-A if he continues to pitch well. Keeper league owners should be sure to invest now for the long run, though it could take until late 2012 or even early 2013 before he gets his first taste of the big leagues.

Matt Davidson – The other half of the D-Backs' young power-hitting tandem at Low-A South Bend, Davidson turned his .289/.371/.504 line into a late season callup to High-A Visalia. Much like teammate Bobby Borchering, the big questions surrounding Davidson's future are centered around concerns about his defensive ability. As a 19-year-old in a pitcher-friendly league, Davidson demonstrated ample plate discipline while trailing only Mariners farmhand Nick Franklin in the home-run department of the players their age last season. He'll return to the California League to open 2011 and a good campaign there may lead to a look with Double-A Mobile before the season is through. If Davidson continues to increase his power output as expected, recognition for his long-term offensive upside will significantly increase.

Bobby Borchering – As a 19-year-old in the Midwest League, Borchering fared well in his first full season as a professional. Skeptics will immediately point to his defensive shortcomings and suggest that a position switch from third to first base or left field is inevitable, but you're more interested in his bat anyway. For a switch-hitter drafted out of high school, Borchering showed ample plate discipline (54:128 BB:K) along with good pop in a league that is considered pitcher friendly. Barring something unforeseen, his stock will rise in 2011 as his power numbers should be even better at High-A Visalia, but don't be surprised if the lack of clarity regarding his eventual position persists.

Mark Krauss – Krauss had little difficulty mashing in the High-A California League last season, swatting 25 homers and ranking sixth in the league in that category. Defensively, he's better suited to play left field than right, but Krauss was given some time there in the Arizona Fall League and didn't exactly draw rave reviews. That said, the combination of raw power, on-base skills and ability to hit to the opposite field are enough to make him intriguing. He'll open 2011 at Double-A Mobile, where more advanced pitching and fewer hitter-friendly environments should paint a clearer picture about his his big league future. If his defense is deemed adequate, there may not be much standing in his way for the left field gig in Arizona with the organization souring on Gerardo Parra as an everyday player.

A.J. Pollock – Pollock fractured a growth plate in his right elbow during spring training and actually lost all of the 2010 season before getting back into game action during the Arizona Fall League. In a hitter-friendly environment, Pollock delivered a .313/.389/.406 line while converting all seven of his stolen base attempts. Long term, he projects as an eventual replacement for Chris Young in center field, but the skill set here is one of a gap hitter with good speed and plenty of defensive ability rather than a five-tool talent. Look for him to start 2011 at Double-A Mobile, while the D-Backs have no need to rush him out of the gates following Young's resurgence last season.

Patrick Corbin – Corbin was one of the farmhands included in the Dan Haren trade orchestrated by interim general manager Jerry Dipoto in July. While he wasn't the centerpiece, the development of Corbin and Tyler Skaggs will ultimately determine whether the D-Backs received an acceptable return for their ace. At age 21, Corbin finished the season strong at High-A Visalia and compiled a 136:37 K:BB over 144.2 innings between Low-A and his two High-A clubs. While Corbin may not have the arsenal of a future ace, he still has projectability if his velocity increases and he could advance quickly depending on how his first taste of Double-A goes.

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Derek VanRiper
Derek was a frequent writer and media host. During his tenure, he'd been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also had hosted RotoWire's shows on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210).
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