The Top 50: 30-26

The Top 50 is finally here. After months of interviews, evaluations, discussion and hand wringing, we've done the Santa Claus thing, made the list, checked it twice, then reevaluated, discussed some more, and done some more hand wringing...then there were cuts, and trades, and rumored trades. We're locked and loaded now though, once it's in print, there's no going back you know. One of these five has already been in the bigs, and the other four might be ready to join him in '05. #30-#26.

#30--Phil Stockman

Name Phil Stockman
Position Pitcher
Age 24
Bats Right
Throws Right
'04 Club AA El Paso Diablos ( Texas League), AAA Tucson Sidewinders (Pacific Coast League)

At 6'6" it is no surprise that Stockman can rush the ball up at a mid to high 90's clip, but the majority of the '04 season was spent convincing Stockman he's more effective using his height to generate a quality downward angle in the low 90's.  He'll turn 25 before Opening Day and the Diamondbacks quietly think he might be one of the guys who challenges for a back end of the rotation or long relief spot with the big league club in '05.  He was added to the 40 man roster, always a good sign, and if (make that when) he gets a big league club Spring Training invite it will be his second in as many years.  The question is to start or not to start.  Stockman's frame suggests he should have the stamina, but this past season was the first where he remained effective past the 60 pitch mark.

#29--Kyle Nichols

Name Kyle Nichols
Position First Base
Age 26
Bats Right
Throws Right
'04 Club AA El Paso Diablos ( Texas League)/AAA Tucson Sidewinders (Pacific Coast League)

Nichols was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Erskine College in South Carolina in 2001.  A big bat, he broke records for RBIs, hits, and walks at Erskine, where he played for his brother, Manager Kevin.  Many have suggested that when Nichols finally makes the bigs, it will be for an American League team as a DH.  His age has put him firmly on the cusp of being too old to be a prospect, so '05 may be his last chance to claim a spot on the big league roster, but if the Diamondbacks let Shea Hillenbrand walk, and Nichols has an impressive Spring, he may get that chance in a platoon role with Chad Tracy at first base.

#28--Jarred Ball

Name Jarred Ball
Position Outfield
Age 21
Bats Both
Throws Right
'04 Club Lancaster JetHawks (Hi-A California League)

Taken in the 9th round of the 2001 draft by the Diamondbacks, Ball had a breakthrough season in 2004, finally putting together all the tools the Diamondbacks thought they were drafting back in '01.  Perhaps the most complete package of all the center field options the Diamondbacks have in their system, Ball has collected honors at virtually every stop.  Baseball America named him 'Best Athlete Taken In the 2001 Draft,' he went to Missoula, played 15 games there and then skipped Short Season A Yakima and went straight to the Midwest League where twice named Offensive Player of the Month and named a starter in the 2003 Midwest League All-Star Game.  Ball's next stop was Hi-A Lancaster where he won a Cal League Golden Glove, was twice named Outfielder of the Month, and again started the All-Star Game, cranking a triple that would drive in the winning run.'s David Merchant on Ball, "In order to move up, he is going to have to cut down on his strikeouts, and bank on Luis Terrero or Marland Williams not seizing the opportunity to take the center field spot and run away with it."

#27--Koyie Hill

Name Koyie Hill
Position Catcher
Age 25
Bats Both
Throws Right
'04 Club Dodgers Triple-A affiliate Las Vegas (Pacific Coast League/Arizona Diamondbacks (MLB)

A second baseman in high school, Hill was moved to 3rd base at Wichita State and then immediately moved behind the plate once the Dodgers drafted him in the fourth round in 2000.  He was considered the Dodgers catcher of the future until he was included in the Steve Finley trade and became Arizona's catcher of the present.  His season was ended August 16 when a collision at the plate broke his ankle.  You want a tough kid?  He finished the inning, including participating in a run down, on the broken ankle.  Up until Thursday at midnight he was expected to get competition from Chris Snyder, but ultimately win the starting catching position with the Diamondbacks going into the 2005 season.  Now that Shawn Green has elected not to waive his 'No Trade' clause, it appears Dioner Navarro is going to be sticking around for awhile, making it much more of a competition behind the dish.  While Hill's bat is full of contact, it lacks the thunder of Snyder's, and his defense lacks the polish of Navarro's.

#26--Matt Chico

Name Matt Chico
Position Pitcher
Age 21
Bats Left
Throws Left
'04 Clubs South Bend Silverhawks (Lo-A Midwest League), El Paso Diablos (Double-A Texas League)

"I see him as one of those sleeper guys," Chico's manager in El Paso last year, Scott Coolbaugh, said of the young lefty.  "He's a real quiet kid, but he's got an inner intensity.  A lot of people I think misconstrue that as him being passive.  He's one of the guys I really liked the most last year, he's just got a tremendous upside."  

Chico's rapid rise hit the brakes hard when he got to Double-A El Paso and started getting lit up like a Christmas tree, but he righted the ship and really started to look comfortable at that level by the end of the season.  If the sun, moon and stars aligned themselves correctly he could see action by mid season '05, but probably needs another full year in the minors to work out the kinks.  Either way, he will wear a D'Back uniform and pitch in their starting rotation, the question is will it be the front end of that rotation or the back end?

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