Position Player of the Year - OF Jeff Salazar
The Tucson Sidewinders boasted four standout offensive players in 2007. First baseman Chris Carter led the team in home runs, SLG, and OPS before getting traded to the Washington Nationals for Emiliano Fruto. Jaime D'Antona led in RBI and 2B, but committed 25 errors at third base. Outfielder Alex Romero led in hits and runs scored, but compiled a relatively low .775 OPS. Finally, Jeff Salazar led the Sidewinders regulars in triples, stolen bases, and OBP.
Objectively speaking, Chris Carter had the best season with the stick, while Jaime D'Antona had the most valuable season at the plate, given the defensive position that he plays. Despite their big bats, neither got the call to Phoenix due to major questions about their defensive abilities, so much so that Carter got shipped off for a journeyman minor league pitcher and D'Antona got leapfrogged by Mark Reynolds, who also had an iffy defensive reputation going into the spring.
When the Arizona Diamondbacks needed a boost, they turned to another journeyman minor leaguer in Jeff Salazar. The Diamondbacks claimed Salazar off waivers in March, and in addition to swinging the bat well in Tucson, Salazar proved that he could run the bases and play solid, sometimes spectacular defense, committing just two errors in Triple-A.
"He does everything very well," farm director A.J. Hinch told us after Salazar was first promoted to the majors at the All-Star break. "He puts up good at bats almost every time. Well-rounded baseball player, good baserunner, good defender, he's got some power, can hit some doubles. He just does everything well, nothing that necessarily stands out above the other, but is an all-around good baseball player."
Diamondbacks fans would soon disagree with that assessment, as Salazar became renown for leaping and diving catches on defense. When the playoffs rolled around, Salazar would supplant rookie phenom Justin Upton whenever Bob Melvin wanted his best defensive unit in the game.
The fact that Salazar spent two regular season months with the big league club and still led the Tucson Sidewinders in several offensive categories makes him our pick for Position Player of the Year.
Pitcher of the Year - RHP Jailen Peguero
Sidewinders pitching was a little topsy-turvy in 2007. Dana Eveland, a favorite to battle for the fifth starter's role in Arizona, instead battled injuries all year. Enrique Gonzalez, for all his major league experience, couldn't find any consistency in Tucson. Evan MacLane, the changeup artist acquired in the Shawn Green trade last year, simply got blown apart.
Instead, the most successful pitchers for Tucson were sleepers. Yusmeiro Petit, although always considered a good prospect, had been traded by two organizations before joining the Diamondbacks. He outperformed the other Sidewinders starters and made some clutch starts for the major league team. Bill Murphy, 26-years old and with his third organization, excelled as both a starter and reliever for Tucson, and finally made his major league debut in September.
For the FutureBacks.com Pitcher of the Year, we went with Jailen Peguero, another 26-year old, and one who had been released by the Astros' organization last year. This hard-throwing right hander did everything right at Triple-A, going 6-2 with a 1.89 ERA, 4 saves, and 10 holds. He averaged more than one strikeout per inning and compiled an impressive WHIP of 1.10.
Unfortunately, unlike Jeff Salazar, Peguero would not find success at the major league level. He walked 13 batters over 14.2 innings during three stints with the Diamondbacks. It's unclear whether he was overthrowing, jittery, or simply lacking confidence in his stuff. For whatever reason, he could not make a positive contribution to the parent club.
But despite spending so much time with the big league team and getting pounded, Peguero would bounce right back in Tucson to post devastating numbers. If he gets another chance with the Diamondbacks in 2008, expect him to bounce back again with a solid season out of the pen.