Name: Emilio Bonifacio
This was one of the toughest fights in our top 50, because reliable, informed people completely disagreed with our scouts and ourselves. Three different FutureBacks.com writers saw Bonifacio play in more than three games this season. None of us were blown away.
"You watch him run, and it's just amazing, the guy can fly, but in the box a lot of times he just doesn't seem to have a clue," David Merchant said after a five game home stand in South Bend.
As tools go Bonifacio has three really important ones. Speed, soft hands, and youth. The most impressive, and the one that got us the most arguments when we talked to people about ranking him #46, was youth. He won't legally down his first Budweiser until after spring camp opens which gives him a lot of time to learn to put the bat on the ball. Don't get us wrong, we love the kid, and he's the highest ranking full time second baseman on the list, but he's now had four years to learn how to make contact and draw walks, and he really hasn't done either. Do we sound defensive, listen to Tucson Sidewinders manager Chip Hale and you'll understand why.
"Number forty-six is way too low for Emilio. Great feet and hands as a second baseman, and he also has true leadoff skills as a switch hitter. He reminds me of a young Luis Castillo."
Still, at #46 he's on the list, and at 20, he's on the list. Even if the tools do pan out he's at least two years away from cracking the bigs, and we have plenty of time to move him up, potentially way up, the FutureBacks Fifty.
Batting and Power: Amazingly this is one guy who doesn't strikeout because he's trying to hit home runs, and it's a good thing, because in four minor league seasons (1306 at bats) he's hit a grand total of three. A little guy who has added almost 20 pounds of muscle since joining the organization at the rip old age of 17, he understands his role at the top of the lineup is to get on base, not round them, but still the strikeouts are there.
He's only been switch hitting for the last two years, but that excuse doesn't really wash when you consider his 'natural' side, righty, was where he struggled most this past season, hitting just .229. His first year in the organization he drew 51 walks in 276 plate appearances, and coaches forgave the 55 Ks that came with it. But once out of the Dominican Summer League the strikeout numbers kept rising while the walk numbers kept dropping. This past season in South Bend he took a step forward on both accounts, but still whiffed 90 times in 522 at bats, while drawing 56 free passes. Yes, those are improvements, but that was after repeating a year in the Lo-A Midwest League, and to be that true leadoff hitter Hale talks about, he'll have to watch more bad ones and make contact with more good ones.
Baserunning and Speed: At FutureBacks we've made it no secret that we've got a soft spot for the speedsters, but placing both Marland Williams and Bonifacio in the 40s should squash any talk of us being unfairly biased toward base stealers. Bonifacio ranks with Williams and Jarred Ball as the three fastest guys in the system, and he's shown a better than average knack for reading moves and getting good jumps, but he was caught 17 times in 72 attempts, a number that is amplified by the lack of quality catchers in the Midwest League this year.
He's also aggressive to a fault on the bases, often trying to take the extra base after the extra base.
"You could see it sometimes when he was struggling," a scout told us, "that he'd sort of try to make up for a slump by just flying around the bases when he did get a hit, and there were times when he'd get thrown out by three or four steps at second and you'd just wonder why he didn't just stay at first and steal the base on the next pitch."
Still, he remains in elite company in the D'Backs organization in that not only does he have the prototypical leadoff hitter's speed, but he also keeps the ball on the ground instead of trying to turn on pitches.
Defense: Maybe the most advanced part of his game is his glove, and it's something the Diamondbacks love. There were more than a few whispers that if the Diamondbacks had really wanted to put middle infielders behind Brandon Webb that would catch the ball, they probably should have gone with Bonifacio and his South Bend partner in crime Alberto Gonzalez.
In interviews this season with Koley Kolberg, A. J. Shappi, Kellen Raab, and Ross Ohlendorf, all three praised their infield, and spoke glowing about Bonifacio in particular, talking of how he saved runs going up the middle and saved pitches by making every play. He has range, and an arm that would be average at shortstop, and is far above at second.
Projection: If he cleans up his swing and learns to bunt more and more effectively this kid could become an everyday second baseman, and like the Hale comparison, even put together a couple of All-Star worthy seasons a la Castillo. Those are both big ifs, but he's toolsy enough that one would be hard pressed to argue if the only reason the Diamondbacks gave Brett Butler the job in Lancaster was to work with him. They didn't, Butler is being groomed for a Major League managerial position, but his presence at Hi-A next season should give the D'Backs a much better look at what Bonifacio's future holds.
ETA: If Butler downloaded everything he ever knew Matrix style into Bonifacio's head he'd still be two years away. More realistically he'll start at Hi-A this year, and probably in '07, but move up to Double-A mid season. If he's cleaned up his strike zone recognition and cut down on the Ks he could find himself getting a September call up that year. Our best bet though is that the Diamondbacks remember that he's still incredibly young and take their time. Figure a Arizona Fall League appearance at the end of '07 and a Major League debut in '08.
Agree? Disagree? Tell us what you think by emailing Managing Editor James Renwick at firstname.lastname@example.org if your question, comment, or concern is chosen for our weekly 'Fire D'Back' segment, beginning Saturday, December 3rd, you'll win a one month subscription to FutureBacks.com
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