Who Is the Best Diamondbacks OF Prospect?

Our Top 50 Diamondbacks Prospect list ranked outfielders Carlos Gonzalez, Aaron Cunningham, and Cyle Hankerd as the #1, #6, and #11, respectively. Does that mean that Hankerd now rates as the best outfielder in the system?

When we rank prospects here at FutureBacks.com, we do consider organizational depth.  A fantastic prospect won't ever get a chance to make his mark if he's stuck behind young studs.  This became quite apparent when we ranked Chris Carter (of Stanford) at #9 last year, in part because we had heard whispers that either Conor Jackson or Chad Tracy would be traded to make room for him.

Well, Tracy and Jackson are still here but Carter is not.  Batting .324 with 60 extra base hits in the PCL did Carter little good, as he is now stuck behind David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis in Boston.  He will become a free agent after the 2009 season, but at that time, he will be 27 years old with little big league experience under his belt.  He may never get a fair chance to display his obvious hitting talent at he major league level. 

This teaches us two things:  1. Do not rank prospects in a vacuum.  2. Defensive versatility is key.

Hankerd could become
an offensive force

When we ranked Cyle Hankerd at #11 and Gerardo Parra at #16 in early December, we weren't implying that they weren't top-notch prospects.  We simply worried that they wouldn't get the opportunity to succeed in the organization most stocked with young outfield talent in all of baseball.

That no longer describes the Arizona Diamondbacks.  With Carlos Gonzalez and Aaron Cunningham gone to Oakland, there are suddenly opportunities in the Diamondbacks outfield.  At the very least, Eric Byrnes will depart after the 2010 season.  At most, Chris Young never learns to hit a curveball, Justin Upton needs more time to develop, and Byrnes plummets back to Earth sooner than anticipated.

Hankerd and Parra can both provide a boost if any of these doomsday scenarios occur.  If disaster befalls the organization prior to 2010, however, there could be trouble.  Hankerd won't be ready before then, even with the advanced instruction he received at USC.  Parra is almost a year behind Hankerd.  An open outfield spot in 2008 or 2009 would go to Alex Romero, whom scouts adore, but who has been a mostly empty-average hitter in his six-year minor league career.

Chris Rahl could also factor in such a scenario, but he's coming off a down year.  The other option is Javier Brito, whose best position is first base.  Brito led the Southern League in both batting average and on-base percentage last year.  His bat may force his way into the big leagues one way or another, but unlike Romero and Rahl, Brito is not an option in centerfield.

Long term, however, Hankerd and Parra are the guys to watch.  Hankerd has done nothing but hit since being drafted in the the third round of the 2006 draft.  Literally.  He's driven in 115 runs in 667 at bats, but has often proven clumsy in the field and on the base paths.  He's good enough to play left field, but would wield a below-average arm in right.  In contrast, Parra has the best outfield range in the organization, and a good enough gun for right field.

The reason Hankerd ranked ahead of Parra before the Haren trade is simple: if one of these two was going to have hit enough to force his way into a crowded outfield it would have been Hankerd.  But with Gonzalez and Cunningham gone - both of whom could play any outfield position - that ability to play all three outfield spots at a high level becomes a premium. 

Remember when we said that versatility was key?  Parra has it, both in the field and on offense.  He can drive in runs or set the table.  If he develops more power and plate patience, Parra will blossom into a formidable player indeed. 

New Outfield Rankings:

1. Gerardo Parra 2. Cyle Hankerd  3. Tyrell Worthington 4. Alexander Romero 5. Chris Rahl

* If we considered Javier Brito, primarily a first baseman, as an outfielder, he would rank between Hankerd and Worthington.  


Send questions or comments for Keith Glab to future_backs@yahoo.com

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