Diamond Tools: Fastest Runners

"You can't teach speed." One of the oldest baseball platitudes describes how while most baseball skills can be learned, you are either fast or you're not. Here, we rank the Arizona Diamondbacks' fastest prospects. Some of these players still need to learn how to harness their speed into an effective tool, but each of them could evade Wile E. Coyote with their raw wheels.

Raw speed can be refined to aid in many facets of the game of baseball.  Most notably, fast players can steal lots of bases, take extra bases on outs and singles, and distract the pitcher from his primary duties.  Speed can also play an important role in defense, particularly for outfielders' range. 

Being fast can also greatly improve a player's batting average.  Bunting for a base hit successfully helps the batting average both directly by providing hits and indirectly by drawing the third baseman too close to field a sharp grounder to the left side.  Fast players will also outrun more infield bouncers than slow players will, and they often get fastballs grooved to them because pitchers do not want to issue them a free pass to first base.

While most prospects' skills improve with age, speed can begin to decline in a player's early-20s.  That's just another reason that speed is important; if you're going to lose some of what you have, you should start out with a lot of it.


Ollie Linton leads off

Again, we are not rating the best base runners or base stealers here, just the fastest overall players.  There is some overlap, obviously, so 2008 steals per attempt and triples per non-homer extra base hit are included next to each prospect's name.

1. Antonio Sepulveda (10 SB, 5 CS, 66.7 SB%; 3 2B, 3 3B, 50.0 3B%)

Antonio Sepulveda is supposedly just 17 years old.  The veracity of that age affects his projection as a hitter, but not the usefulness of his raw speed.  Sepulveda can really fly, and turned a couple of doubles into triples in the Dominican Summer League.  He has been merely average at stealing bases, although he did swipe three without being caught last August 14th.  Also, he made huge strides in all facets of the game during the fall Instructional League, earning him the title of Most Improved Position Player for Instructs.  The tiny Sepulveda doesn't figure to ever hit for power, so his speed will be integral to his rise to the big leagues.  

Farm director A.J. Hinch and field coordinator Jack Howell agree that Sepulveda is the fastest player in the organization.


Ciriaco slides into third

2. Pedro Ciriaco (40 SB, 9 CS, 81.6 SB%; 26 2B, 5 3B, 16.1 SB%)

In 2007, Pedro Ciriaco stole just 20 bases at a 65% clip.  In 2008, he doubled his stolen base total while reducing his total number of times caught.  He's always been fast, but he's just now beginning to utilize that speed to its fullest.  A fantastic all-around athlete, Ciriaco routinely legs out triples and makes aggressive decisions on the base paths.  The main concern with Ciriaco at this point is that he does not draw enough walks to make the most of that speed.  As much of an improvement that 2008 was over 2007 for Ciriaco, his walk rate actually decreased.     

"When he makes contact, he's always been one of the guys with the best times from home to first.  When you see him hit a triple, you can really see the speed." -- Infield coordinator Tony Perezchica

3. Ollie Linton (14 SB, 7 CS, 66.7 SB%; 3 2B, 2 3B, 40.0 3B%)

Linton stole 40 bases in 60 games at the University of California-Irvine last year.  In 2007, he legged out twice as many triples as doubles.  Those stats illustrate Linton's speed admirably, but until you see him zip around centerfield, you don't know the whole story.  This little dude is fast.  Although he got nabbed attempting to steal a few too many times in his professional debut, Linton just needs to work out the nuances of getting good jumps to become an elite stolen base threat.  His time in South Bend projects to 90 walks over a 162-game season.  If he can keep up a rate like that, Linton will make a fine leadoff man.

"I pretty much have the green light.  I've just got to do it at the right time and be smart about it." --Linton

4. Evan Frey (37 SB, 11 CS, 77.1 SB%; 21 2B, 11 3B, 35.5 3B%)


Frey
It's hard to rank Frey so low on a list like this.  While he's most definitely fast, much of Frey's effectiveness running comes from savvy and know-how rather than merely outrunning the ball.  Oddly enough, he did not steal that many bases at the University of Missouri: just 20 in three years.  He accelerates quickly, though his top speed isn't incredible.  Frey takes great routes to the ball in centerfield and gets great jumps on the base paths, making him one of the most effective runners in the organization, even though he's not the very fastest. 

"He's only a 60 runner [on the 20-80 scale], as opposed to a true speed demon."  --Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

5. Derrick Walker (7 SB, 3 CS, 70.0 SB%; 11 2B, 4 3B, 26.7 3B%)


Walker
Truth be told, Walker could probably outrun Frey in a straight footrace.  He was clocked at 6.5 seconds in the 60-yard dash at Wabash Valley College.  But for the relatively short bursts of speed needed on a baseball field, Frey's excellent acceleration may put him ahead of Walker.  Besides that, Walker has hit a wall in terms of base stealing efficiency since 2006, when he stole 31 bases in 33 attempts between WVC and Missoula.  For some reason, the Diamondbacks are most comfortable with Walker in right field, even though he certainly has the speed to patrol center.  They may worry about the wear that playing center might cause on his big, muscular body. 

"Derrick's a true speedster."  --Wabash Valley coach Rob Fournier


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