Upside versus a sure thing. That is perhaps the biggest point of debate when it comes to scouting, drafting, and evaluating prospects. Who do you value more highly, the longshot with the high ceiling, or a player destined to become an average major leaguer?
We'll continue that debate as we profile the fifty best prospects in the organization this winter, but these half dozen players represent the extreme high-risk/high reward end of the spectrum so much that it would be inappropriate to include them among the Top 50 prospects... yet.
A couple of these guys have injury problems that prevent them from landing on our Top 50. One is a position player with a cannon arm attempting to make the transition to pitcher. Another is a pitcher with some of the best stuff in the organization, but who cannot find the strike zone with a flashlight and a map. Two others simply haven't played in the United States yet in their young careers.
Behold, six of the biggest projects, rehabbers, and longshots in the Diamondbacks farm system.
RHP Daniel Stange
Back in July, Stange probably would have ranked among the top thirty prospects in the organization. The 22-year old had just finished dominating the hitter-friendly California League as closer for the Visalia Oaks, and subsequently got promoted to Double-A.
"I thought it was an honor just to be there in my first [full] year," the seventh round pick from 2006 told us.
Unfortunately, the quick advancement through the system was an example of one step forward, two steps back. Stange went down with ligament damage to his right elbow, and underwent Tommy John Surgery on October 10th. The hard thrower has a delivery that many scouts describe as violent, and we asked Stange if that was the cause of the ligament damage.
"I don't know exactly why the arm injury happened the way it happened," Stange confessed. "The delivery's still a little violent, but it's gotten better, so I wouldn't really attribute it to the delivery."
"I haven't done anything really to change the delivery except for a few mechanical things here and there."
Stange will begin playing catch in early February, but isn't likely to pitch competitively until late summer, and probably won't be himself again until 2009. When healthy, Stange boasts an excellent three-pitch repertoire: a luxury for most relievers. He is far enough ahead of the game now to be able to sustain this injury and still be considered an exciting prospect when he returns.
RHP Dallas Buck
Dallas Buck isn't as fortunate. Most analysts assumed that Buck would undergo Tommy John Surgery immediately after being drafted in the third round in 2006, as he pitched through elbow pain in the College World Series with Oregon State. Instead, Buck elected to correct his ligament damage through strengthening exercises, and for a while, it appeared to work. Buck was a groundball specialist through 16 High-A starts, holding opponents to just a .231 batting average.
But after five consecutive starts of seven or more innings pitched, Buck left after four innings in his June 27th start. It was finally time for him to get TJS, but it cost him nearly a year of development time. He is a few months ahead of Stange's timetable, but by the time he hits his 24th birthday, Buck will likely still have fewer than 30 professional starts under his belt.
If Buck can regain the lost velocity on his sinking fastball, Buck could be a very exciting pitcher to watch in 2009.
LHP Leyson Septimo
Leyson Septimo is one of the skinniest players you'll ever see on a professional baseball diamond. It's no surprise, then, that he couldn't hit for power as a corner outfielder. What did surprise many was his incredible throwing arm. Diamondbacks management watched three years worth of disappointing offense coupled with beautiful outfield assists, and decided that the outfield wasn't the optimal place for this diminutive Dominican.
The conversion process to pitcher has begun. Septimo's size will likely relegate him to bullpen duty, but he could be a devastating force out of that bullpen. It could take a while - Carlos Marmol took about four years to develop after converting from catcher to pitcher - but Septimo might eventually become the Diamondbacks' most exciting relief pitcher. For now, he is merely an exciting possibility.
Jason Neighborgall probably has the best stuff in the entire organization, but for the moment, that doesn't matter. For the reason why, take a look at his numbers. But be warned - they are not for the feint of heart.
For those of you not brave enough to peek, the problem is command, or rather, complete lack of it. If you go to the park to watch him, there's about a 75% chance that he'll only play catch and do drills before the game, a 24% chance that he'll walk more batters than he retires, and a 1% chance that he will look like the best pitcher you have ever seen.
Oh, if he could only throw strikes. Unfortunately, fixing his command problem is no easy task. First of all, this is not the same as correcting someone who has lost their command; Neighborgall has never shown an ability to throw strikes consistently. Secondly, his command problems lie both in mental and physical barriers.
"He's trying to build some confidence, that's the main thing, because he's got the strength," said Wellington Cepeda, Neighborgall's pitching coach in South Bend. "He's got three big league pitches; he's just got to command them. He's still got some issues mechanically, but the bottom line, if he doesn't trust his stuff and trust what we're working on, then it's going to be tough for him to make that adjustment."
We asked Cepeda about the specific mechanical problems.
"He's really, really late in separating his hands from the glove, and really causing him to be erratic at different release points. We try to get him in the same release point. When he throws a good pitch, we want him to repeat that release point, and right now, he's not able to do that. Eventually, he will."
Cepeda's confidence is heartening. Jason Neighborgall really would be the best story in baseball if he ever did command his triple-digit fastball, ridiculous curveball, and above-average changeup. But the safe money, unfortunately, is on a few more painful-to-watch seasons before both he and the Diamondbacks lose all hope.
RF Alfredo Marte
C Rossmel Perez
A.J. Hinch identified these two players as the two prospects to watch for from the Dominican Summer League this year. Honestly, though, most people could just look at the stat lines from The DSL Diamondbacks and come to that same conclusion. These two players both stood out offensively. Marte led the team in hits, doubles, triples, RBI, batting average, and slugging average. Perez displayed uncanny plate discipline, walking 28 times to just 19 strikeouts. This led to a .469 OBP, an absurd 89 points higher than the next best mark on the team. Both Marte and Perez have strong arms on defense, though need to improve on their fundamentals some.
There are several reasons why we do not rank Dominican players until they have played in the States. Aside from dealing with the culture shock that comes with leaving for another country with another native language as a teenager, the top prospects in the DSL accumulate their stats against much weaker overall competition than even the lowest pro levels here in America. Until they prove that they can play here, Dominican Summer League players remain big question marks.
That said, if any DSL player appears ready to make the transition, it's Perez. His selectivity at the plate is just something you don't see from someone of his age and background.
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