Players of the Year: Diamondbacks System

The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Justin Upton and Esmerling Vasquez for their minor league Player and Pitcher of the Year. We couldn't argue with the Upton selection, but we found another pitcher who we feel edges out Vasquez.

Position Player of the Year - OF Justin Upton

What more can be said of Justin Upton?  Most 19-year olds toil in the lower levels, but Justin Upton dominated first Hi-A pitching, then Double-A pitching, before earning a shot at the big leagues.  His combined numbers at Visalia and Mobile included a .319 batting average, 47 extra base hits, 19 stolen bases, and 56 walks in just 103 games.

His five home runs with the Oaks all came in successive games at the end of April.  Those was part of a 13-game hitting streak in which he batted .481.  Needless to say, it wasn't long before he joined the BayBears, where he promptly bashed four homers and drove in 10 runs during his first three games there.  During the month of July, Upton would post an OPS of 1.018 while walking six more times than he struck out.

It was during this month that A.J. Hinch, the Diamondbacks Director of Player Development, told us that Upton had the best power and plate patience in the entire farm system already.  He had to stop himself short of saying that he was also the best at hitting for average.  He did leak that Upton jumping from Double-A to the big leagues was a real possibility, and Upton made his major league debut on August 2nd.

He wouldn't be asked to play center field, however; that would be too easy.  For the second time in as many years, the organization asked Upton to switch positions due to an injury to right fielder Carlos Quentin.  Upton would make five errors in his first three weeks at his new spot, then not commit an error from August 21st on.

Upton hit safely in 10 of his first 14 big league starts, but noticeably began to slump as he approached his 20th birthday.  He still commanded respect throughout the National League, however, as evidenced by the four intentional passes he received in those two months with Arizona.  The Diamondbacks weren't shy about using the youngster in the postseason, either, and he went .357/.526/.571 in 14 playoff at bats.

We can expect Upton to fare much better overall in the majors next year, as his body won't be tired from what was easily a career high in games for him.  As for what he accomplishes in his Diamondbacks career, the sky is the limit.

Pitcher of the Year - LHP Brett Anderson      

There's no doubt that Esmerling Vasquez had a fantastic season, but it isn't unusual for a 23-year old pitcher to put up great numbers in the Southern League.  The average age of a BayBears pitcher was 24, and the humidity and ballpark sizes in the Southern League have always depressed scoring.  In fact, he has a 3.61 ERA in road games as opposed to a 2.39 mark in his favorable home park.

Now for a just-turned 19-year old pitcher with no professional experience to become the best pitcher in the Midwest League for the first half of the season then hold his own at Hi-A in the second half, yup, that's something you don't see every year.  The average age of a pitcher on the Visalia Oaks was 23, meaning Anderson was keeping pace with some prospects that were four or five years his senior. 

His 3-3 4.85 stat line at Visalia doesn't wow you unless you think about it in that context.  It's also worth noting that aside from two rough starts, Anderson went 3-1 with a 2.73 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 29.2 innings.  Oh, and we can also factor in that Anderson more than doubled his career high in innings pitched this year, but was nevertheless strong enough to contribute to the Oaks' September playoff run and pitch in the Instructional League this October.

What will wow you are Anderson's numbers with the South Bend Silver Hawks.  Anderson walked just 10 batters in 81.1 innings at South Bend, which contributed to an 8-4 record, 1.06 WHIP and 2.21 ERA.  He was the Silver Hawks Pitcher of the Year despite only making 14 starts in Low-A.

You could argue that Anderson's success was anticipated because he was the 55th overall pick in the 2006 draft.  While it's true that his eventual success is an expectation, the fact that he came so far in 2007 is simply astonishing.  If Brett Anderson continues at this pace, he could shift the organizational philosophy from drafting fast-track college prospects to a more balanced split between high school and college players.

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