Mark Reynolds, Justin Upton, Jeff Salazar, and Yusmeiro Petit headlined the young prospects who unexpectedly impacted the 2007 NL West Champion Arizona Diamondbacks. Who might the impact rookies be this year? I am considering only those players who did not play for the Diamondbacks prior to September last year. So while Jalien Peguero might be major league ready, his usage last summer disqualifies him from consideration here.
If you're looking for one impact Diamondback prospect, this is he. Scherzer will almost certainly find himself in a Diamondbacks uniform by the All-Star break, possibly as the closer.
"He's one of those high-profile college guys that's on the fast track to the big leagues," manager Bob Melvin noted after seeing Scherzer pitch in the Arizona Fall League. There, Scherzer would allow just six hits over 12.2 innings in his first professional bullpen duty. Oh, and he fanned 18 batters there as well.
The front office still hasn't publicly committed Scherzer to a relief role this year, but scouts agree that he profiles better there, and can certainly become major league-ready sooner in that role.
Bonifacio was used primarily in late-inning defense and pinch running roles last September. Oddly enough, the team went 2-9 in games in which Bonifacio appeared. Unless his bat catches up to his glove and his legs, Bonifacio won't be worth a roster spot this year before the rosters expand again in September.
While Bonifacio might develop to that point, don't bet on it. He's still striking out way too often for someone who has a chance to reach first base every time he hits a ground ball. Bonifacio turns 23 in April, so there's no reason to rush him to the bigs before he's ready. Don Kelly, who was a top prospect in the Tigers organization prior to some injury trouble, might step in for a middle infield injury before Bonifacio does.
A poor showing with both Triple-A Round Rock and the parent Houston Astros would leave many to believe that Juan Gutierrez still has a ways to go in his development. Diamondbacks director of player personnel Jerry Dipoto believes that Gutierrez could help the major league squad very soon.
"The question in spring training is, will it be now in 2008 or will it be as part of a foundation for 2009?" Dipoto mused. "He is that close, absolutely."
Gutierrez' secondary pitches will determine the answer to that question. Those pitches can all look good at times, but the breaking stuff flattens out on occasion, and he can't command any of them consistently. While his fastball approaches 95 on the radar gun, it lacks the movement for him to survive on that pitch alone.
Like Gutierrez, Buckner struggled in a brief major league stint last year. Unlike the ex-Astro, Buckner had some success at Triple-A, going 9-7 with a 3.78 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of over 3:1. The 24-year old is nearly done developing, as he is putting the finishing touches on a so-so changeup and working on overall command some.
Buckner could easily see some spot starts this year based on the health of Randy Johnson and company. He induces his fair share of ground balls, which is always a key to success in the dry desert air.
Rosales was physically major league-ready last June with the Padres' Triple-A affiliate. Emotionally, not so much, as he punched a wall and broke his hand early that month after a poor outing. He appears to be back on track, shutting down the Mexican Winter League with a 2.33 ERA and .167 batting average against.
What separates Rosales from a wealth of other bullpen options is his ability to handle left-handed batters better than right handed ones due to his devastating changeup. With Doug Slaten's health in question, the Diamondbacks could conceivably begin the season with no southpaws in their bullpen and need to rely on someone like Rosales to get tough lefties out.
Castillo hit below .200 in the Arizona Fall League, but his strong overall numbers with the BayBears make him the most advanced catching prospect the Diamondbacks have to offer. Jaime D'Antona and Robby Hammock can always help at backstop in a pinch, but if the Diamondbacks needed a long-term solution at catcher, Castillo would provide the answer. His bat probably needs one more year of seasoning to be truly major league quality, but his defense already meets that standard.
Brito has a keen eye for the strike zone that should translate well into his handling major league pitching. All that stands in his path to the majors is Conor Jackson and Brito's inexperience in the outfield. Expect Brito to see a lot of time in right field at Tucson so that he's ready to replace Justin Upton should the 20-year old phenom not be quite major league-ready himself. If the Diamondbacks offense struggles as a unit, the team could call upon Brito to provide an offensive spark, finding him at bats wherever he can get them.
Prediction: Out of these eight players, Scherzer, Rosales, Brito, Romero, and Buckner will make the biggest impact on the 2008 Diamondbacks, in that hierarchy. Romero will get more playing time than Brito, but the big guy's stick will make more of an impact than decent outfield play from Romero will. Castillo and Bonifacio should both get September callups to provide rest and extra defense in what should be a tight race for the postseason.
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