Back in August, Micah Owings told us that this Sidewinders team was "unreal." And the ability to fill a lineup with combinations of sluggers such as Scott Hairston, Carlos Quentin, Chris Carter, Chris Young, and Brian Barden certainly made opposing pitchers wish they were in a land of make believe. But as that list of players toggled between Tucson to the major league club, the Sidewinders continued their winning ways regardless.
There was only one player whom Tucson could rely upon to set the table for all of those mostly-interchangeable sluggers, and his name is Alberto Callaspo. During the period from August 6th to August 24th that Callaspo was on the Diamondbacks, this seemingly unbeatable Sidewinders team managed just eight wins in 19 games. Clearly, Callaspo was the cog that kept the offense running. And despite that missed time, he still finished first in the PCL in hits and fourth in runs scored. He was also second in batting average, and was once again the most difficult man in all of the minors to strike out.
Stephen Drew has been a fantastic addition to the major league club, but in terms of contributions to the Sidewinders, Alberto Callaspo has him beat. And it's not really close.
A 17th round pick who didn't even start his senior year in college, Chris Carter hasn't really experienced high expectations since he was a sophomore in high school. Those times are officially over. Conor Jackson is the defacto future at first base for the D'Backs. There was no doubt about this four years ago. There was no doubt about this three years ago. There was no doubt about this last year, and even at the beginning of the season this year.
There is now.
Carter flat out crushed the Pacific Coast League. Carter hit .301 (.302 vs. lefties, .300 vs. righties), he walked more than he struck out (78/69) which gave him an incredible .395 on base percentage, and his 30 doubles, three triples, and 19 homers added up to a .483 slugging percentage. He missed 100 RBI by just three in 136 games, and despite consistently being overshadowed by the likes of Scott Hairston, Stephen Drew, Carlos Quentin and Callaspo he simply went out, everyday, and hit the ball hard.
The bottom line is that as good as Carter's year was, Jackson is still the first baseman for the D'Backs. In the past Carter has played both left field and first base, and though he played first exclusively this season, it isn't hard to see the D'Backs potentially asking Carter to move back to the outfield now that Luis Gonzalez is officially going to be gone next season. His defense has never been spectacular at either first or in the outfield, but that bat could be enough to push the envelope, and don't think it is a radical idea. One year before Jackson became the starting first baseman for the D'Backs he was, you guessed it, a left fielder.
Bacsik turns 29 this November. His career minor league numbers weren't great going into the season, and his time spent in the majors was a near disaster. With his fifth organization this year, something finally clicked, and Bacsik has become unbeatable, literally.
Certainly, luck played a factor this year. Absoultely, Bacsik benefited from the PCL's best offense. But the man went 11-0 with a 2.79 ERA this year, and nothing's going to take that away from him.
It's not as though his peripheral numbers were unimpressive; fewer hits allowed than innings pitched and nearly a 3:1 K/BB ratio can attest to that. We're just being realistic when we say that we're not convinced that this soft-tossing journeyman is suddenly an elite pitcher. That being said, the left-handed pitching contingent for the 2007 Diamondbacks is hardly set in stone, and Bacsik has certainly earned at least a look in that role.
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Bacsik wasn't the only Sidewinder to go undefeated this season, and though Bacsik collected one more win than Micah Owings, it was Owings, who started the season in Double-A, who got the ball in the Pacific Coast League Championship title clinching game, and it is Micah Owings who will, whether the Diamondbacks like it or not, challenge for a spot in the starting rotation next season.
Owings, a collegiate stud who dominated first at Georgia Tech and then Tulane, has been in the system an entire one and a half years, and already established himself as one of the best starting pitchers the D'Backs have in their system. This year Owings simply accepted challenges and exceeded expectations. After going 6-2 in 12 starts with the Double-A Smokies, Owings got bumped up in early June to Triple-A Tucson, and didn't lose again.
His 10-0 mark is not without blemishes. Opponents hit .291 on the season against him, but Owings made the pitches when he had to. Opponents hit just .167 off him with the bases juiced, just .148 with runners on and two outs, and , .132 with runners in scoring position and two outs. At times Owings struggled with his control, and by his own admission he was trying to be a little too fine when he first got to Triple-A, but even that started to turn at the end of the season. In his last three starts Owings struck out 22, walking only two, in 21 innings pitched.
What gives Owings the nod for me over Bacsik is something that rarely gets accounted for, Owings bat. A former first baseman in college, and a good enough one that many of the clubs looking at him before the draft thought his ceiling was even higher as a position player than a pitcher, Owings hit .405 for the season. He had four doubles, six RBI and seven runs scored. The ability to ensure that the #9 spot in the order is not an automatic, or even easy, out, was just enough for Owings to take the honor at Triple-A.
The Diamondbacks will look to keep Owings in Triple-A for one more year, but if Owings comes back to Spring Training as strong as he finished the season this year, Owings could force their hand. It will be one of the stories to watch in Spring Training '07, and if Owings has anything to say about it, it will be one of the biggest stories.