Of all the top prospects in the Diamondbacks organization, it appears none has proven to be as major league ready or as serviceable as shortstop Stephen Drew, whose three months with the team turned heads and confirmed suspicions that he's the real deal.
"He was outstanding," manager Bob Melvin said.
Drew, 23, took over at short after the All-Star break when veteran Craig Counsell went on the disabled list with a rib injury. He played 59 games and had 209 at-bats, finishing the year batting .316 with 25 extra-base hits -- 13 doubles, seven triples and five home runs.
Defensively, he was even sharper, teaming with second baseman Orlando Hudson to form one of the top double-play units in the National League. Hudson led all second basemen in total chances, and although his error total went up from six in 2005, when he won his first Gold Glove with Toronto, to 13 this year, he is a leading candidate to win one this year in the NL.
"Working with him, it's a plus for me in so many ways," Drew said. "He understands so much. He makes everybody better."
Drew, the Diamondbacks' first-round pick in 2004 and the younger brother of Dodgers outfielder J.D. Drew, benefited immensely by logging 52 starts at short. It gave him a big jump on the 2007 season and knocked all of the jitters and first-time concerns out of the way.
"The more experience you have, the more relaxed you get," he said. "It's just knowing you can play at this level. You never know until you do. I didn't have a doubt, but people in their minds have doubts about you.
"Now it's more about coming back next year, getting ready and hopefully having a great season and going to the postseason."
Drew is a player Melvin may target as a potential leadoff hitter, although several candidates may get a try come spring training. Hudson is one of them. So is outfielder Eric Byrnes, the first player in team history to hit at least 25 home runs and steal at least 25 bases in a season.
Wherever he hits in the lineup, Drew figures to be comfortable. He's already settled in nicely at shortstop.
"It helps being with the same guys, and once you've been together for a year, two years, three years, it's just like you basically grew up with them, playing like when you were young," Drew said. "You understand each other, you know what each other's strengths and weaknesses are."
--RHPs Mike Koplove and Jeff Bajenaru cleared waivers. Koplove became an unrestricted free agent; Bajenaru a minor league free agent. The Diamondbacks were expected to re-sign Bajenaru to a minor league deal to keep him in the system.
--If Dusty Baker doesn't land one of the remaining vacant managerial positions, there was some speculation the former Giants and Cubs manager could end up in Arizona for at least one season, possibly as either a hitting coach or bench coach for manager Bob Melvin. Baker is good friends with Diamondbacks general partner Jeff Moorad and has a longstanding friendship with Melvin.
--C Johnny Estrada on the resignation of hitting coach Mike Aldrete, who decided to step down after the 2006 season to spend more time with his family: "You can work all you want on hitting, but our hitting was there. 'Aldo' did a great job with this team, and I don't think he got enough credit. To me, he was the best coach on this staff, and I really don't think they know what they're losing."
--GM Josh Byrnes has made it clear that the Diamondbacks will probably shy away from the free agent market and try to upgrade the pitching staff primarily through trades. He is looking for another starter to complement the two pitchers at the top of the rotation, RHPs Brandon Webb and Livan Hernandnez.
"You control the process a little more," Byrnes said of targeting a pitcher via trade. "You just deal with that one other team, rather than open up a bidding process. You also control the length a little bit by not acquiring a pitcher who you might be starting out with a four- or five-year commitment and the rest of the risks that go along with that."
--RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Japanese star who won Most Valuable Player in the World Baseball Classic, is a longshot to join the Diamondbacks, but the team plans to make a sealed bid to try to garner his negotiating rights nonetheless. GM Josh Byrnes acknowledged, however, that other clubs likely would blow Arizona's offer "out of the water."
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Walk-off home runs in 2006 by the Diamondbacks (Johnny Estrada on July 14 against the Brewers and Orlando Hudson on Aug. 25 against the Dodgers.) There have been just 25 such homers in franchise history.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'll see. I give (Jose) Valverde credit for the bounce-back. He pitched well during the second half last year and the first third and last third of this year. (Jorge) Julio pitched well during the middle third. And (Tony) Pena has shown some real potential. We'll see. For now, we're comfortable with what we've got. It's sort of like a lot of parts of our team: It's solid. Can it get better? Sure." -- General manager Josh Byrnes, asked if the team may pursue a new closer for 2007.
Drew Locked; Koplove/Bajenaru Clear Waivers