Players of the Year: South Bend

When Justin Upton was made the #1 overall pick in the 2005 First Year Player Draft he was supposed to be the Player of the Year this year. Not surprisingly, some disagree, and Keith Glab thought another outfielder deserved the honor. Meanwhile South Bend featured a pair of undrafted free agent pitchers who surprised everyone to claim the honors this season.

Greg Thomson

Thommy went into spring training believing that he was going to be the everyday center fielder in South Bend.  Then a certain prospect named Justin Upton converted from shortstop to center field, usurping Thomson's role on the team and in the organization.

But Greg Thomson took it all in stride. He wound up splitting time at all three outfield positions, playing outstanding defense wherever he went.  What's more, his offensive numbers wound up looking very comparable to Upton's, with the first rounder showing a little more power and the 15th rounder able to make more consistent contact.  Thomson spent time in every lineup slot, and was able to succeed in whatever role he was given.  He was even a terrific baserunner, stealing bases at an 82% clip.

While he did not have the best overall numbers on the team (those belong to cleanup man Bryan Byrne), Greg Thomson was an asset in every facet of the game.  He embodied a tremendous attitude and work ethic, and is the kind of player who is real easy to root for.

Keith Glab

Justin Upton

Look at the hype and this is the obvious choice, look at the stats and its not so clear, but Upton is my pick for one simple reason.  He has shown the promise that we all expected, with the flaws that one expects out of an 18 year old kid getting his first taste of pro ball.  In order to meet the expectations that were high when he was drafted, and only got higher after an incredible Spring Training, Upton would have had to hit .380 with 20 homers in the first half, then moved up to Lancaster and duplicated the stats, and then he would have had to have been added to the Triple-A Sidewinders roster for the playoffs and hit .400 with every game winning hit.

That did not happen.

Instead Upton went through some serious struggles.  He came out of the gate hot, hitting .324 in April, but as teams saw him for a second and third time, his average dropped all the way to .240 in July.  He finished with a respectable, if not earth shattering, .263 average.  Still, every time Upton came to the plate he got the best his opponents had to offer.  He played the entire season with a target on his back, and he handled it pretty well. 

Besides, Upton was in arguably the toughest position of any player in the D'Backs system.  While virtually every other D'Backs high round draft pick started in one of the short season leagues, Upton started at Lo-A.  He is playing a new position (center field) and learning on the job.  He was using wood bats consistently for the first time and figuring out exactly what he could do with them. 

All this and he finished second on the team in home runs (12), RBI (66), and stolen bases (15), third in slugging percentage (.413), and tied for the top spot on the club in doubles (28).  His expectations were higher than anyone in the system, and he delivered on the promise of a five tool youngster.  Was it statistically the best season in the system?  No.  Was it very good first year for a very young player?  Absolutely.

James Renwick

Forrest Cory

As high as Upton's expectations were, Cory's were the exact opposite.  An undrafted free agent lefty the Diamondbacks plucked from baseball factory William & Mary college, Cory was a surprise to everybody except Diamondbacks scouts, who saw a very versatile gamer with a lot of movement and a rubber arm.  He pitched in 37 games this year for the Silverhawks, carrying a ridiculous 1.99 ERA and matching that with an equally impressive .199 average against.  The D'Backs kept setting him up to fail, moving him back and forth between middle relief and closer, and finally at the end of the year starting him once.  He excelled everywhere, not allowing a hit in the ninth inning all season, holding opponents in the low .200s in the 7th and 8th and in his one start going five strong and allowing just one unearned run. 

Next year of course will be the test, but at 22 years old (he'll turn 23 in October) Cory figures to be a guy who could rocket through the system in the left handed relief role.  Some see him converting to a starting role full time but his breaking ball heavy repertoire leads the staff at FutureBacks.com to believe he's a guy, much like Doug Slaten, who can come in and dominate for an inning, and then come back the next day and dominate again.  It's a role that could keep Cory in the bigs for a long time, and another season or two like this year's could get him there sooner than anyone (outside of William & Mary) would have predicted.

JR

Ryan Doherty

Doherty wasn't supposed to get this good this quickly.  The seven-foot-plus reliever posted a 5.06 April ERA, and was topping out at 87-88 MPH with his fastball.  South Bend pitching coach Wellington Cepeda had commented that Doherty was short-arming a lot of his pitches, and throwing across his body. It's not easy to develop consistent mechanics for someone who looks like a tangle of arms and legs as he goes into his windup.

But it looks as though Doherty has done just that.  After the fist month of the year, Ryan increased his velocity and went on to post a 2.08 ERA the rest of the way.  He only notched five saves as the Silver Hawks employed a closer-by-committee approach for most of the season.  But he averaged about 11 strikeouts per nine innings, and right handed batters hit under .200 against him. 

When you look at how long the 6'8" Dustin Nippert is taking to develop, you have to like the early signs we are seeing from Doherty, who is five inches taller and three years younger.       

KG

Read more from Keith Glab at www.baseballevolution.com

 


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