D-backs backed up with run producers

Eaton, Elmore, Wheeler showcase offensive depth in system

By Andrew Pentis / Special to MLB.com | October 1, 2012 6:14 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each organization to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball.

This season was one of feast and famine for D-backs' Minor League affiliates. Triple-A Reno (Pacific Coast League), Double-A Mobile (Southern League) and Rookie-level Missoula (Pioneer League) won their respective league championships, while Class A Advanced Visalia, Class A South Bend and the Arizona League D-backs finished with sub-.500 records and missed the playoffs altogether.

Only short-season Yakima offered a medium -- the Bears won a Northwest League first-half division title but finished 36-40 overall -- and the club has since moved to Hillsboro, Ore., where last month ground was broken on a new stadium to be located less than 20 miles west of downtown Portland.

D-backs Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Michael Perez, Missoula (58 games): Perez, a 2011 fifth-round Draft pick playing his first full season, batted .293 with 10 home runs and 60 RBIs -- all highs for catchers in the system -- in 58 games for the Rookie-level Osprey. Now the organization's No. 11 prospect, he was particurly productive in August, collecting five homers and 25 RBIs in 24 games in the season's penultimate month.

"He didn't do more than we thought he was capable of -- he did it more quickly than we thought he would," D-backs player development director Mike Bell said of the 20-year-old Puerto Rico native. "He grew up, took control of that team and, defensively, was outstanding behind home plate."

First base -- Jonathan Griffin, Visalia (128 games), Mobile (five games): A 2011 21st-round pick out of the University of Central Florida, Griffin turned some heads with his 18-home run freshman campaign at Missoula.

"We saw it last year, but you're never sure what you got with an older guy at Rookie-level," Bell said. "At Visalia this year, he did the same thing."

More specifically, Griffin led D-backs' affiliates with 28 homers and 102 RBIs while making consistent contact (.304 batting average).

The coaches at Mobile also told Bell that given Griffin's dimensions -- he's 6-foot-7 and weighs 250 pounds -- they were expecting him to be slow around the bag. As much as he continued to impress with the bat, Griffin made even more improvements with his glove, playing error-free defense during his season-ending stint at Double-A.

Second base -- Michael Freeman, Visalia (135 games): Freeman is an emerging prospect in Bell's words, and he emerges here from a strong group of middle-infield candidates that includes Reno's Taylor Harbin. Freeman overcame a knee injury in 2011 and, finally healthy in '12, split time between second base and shortstop. His bat plays well at either spot: He hit .309 with 59 RBIs and 91 runs scored for the Rawhide. Oh, and he stole 30 bases in 34 ptries.

Like Griffin before him, Harbin also helped the BayBears to their second consecutive Southern League title last month.

"We love the postseason for that reason, with the intensity of the games," Bell said. "If he's going to go [to Mobile] next year, it's a great way to introduce him to the new level."

Third base -- Ryan Wheeler, Reno (93 games), Arizona (45 games): Wheeler comes out on top at the hot corner, with apologies to Missoula's Jake Lamb and Mobile's Matt Davidson, thanks to his contributions to the offensive juggernaut that was Reno this season. Wheeler, as Bell put it succinctly, could do no wrong there. The 24-year-old righty hitter posted a .351/.388/.572 line to go with 15 longballs and 90 RBIs in 93 games before his callup.

The D-backs like Wheeler's arm at third base but want him to continue to expand his range while learning the nuances of left field.

Shortstop -- Chris Owings, Visalia (59 games), Mobile (69 games): Owings, the D-backs' fifth-ranked prospect, batted .290 with 17 homers while racking up 52 RBIs in 128 games overall. Arizona started Owings back at Visalia, where he hit .324, to challenge him to separate his at-bats from his successes and failures in the field, Bell said. He whiffed 132 times and committed 23 errors on the infield, but there is a lot to like about his season and future.

"You still see some high strikeout numbers from Chris, which don't scare me at all," Bell said. "He is an aggressive hitter and he's starting to trust his electric hands. He's well on his way."


Adam Eaton, Mobile (11 games), Reno (119 games), Arizona (19 games): An all-out, all-the-time kind of ballplayer, Eaton had one of the better seasons of of any Minor Leaguer from any organization. A 2010 19th-round pick, the 5-foot-8 Eaton led the Pacific Coast League with 186 hits, 119 runs scored, 46 doubles, 263 total bases, 38 steals, a .381 batting average and .456 on-base percentage. That explains how he swept the circuit's Rookie of the Year and MVP honors.

Where some might see the 23-year-old as more of a fourth outfielder in the Majors, Bell has no doubt about Eaton's ability.

"I think he can star in the big leagues," he said of the organization's No. 6 prospect.

A.J. Pollock, Reno (106 games), Arizona (25 games): Not all that far behind Eaton, Pollock is the type of player who exudes polish. The 2009 first-round pick established a career high in batting (.318) while approaching the eye-popping numbers he posted in 2011.

"For a young kid in his second full year" after missing 2010 due to a broken elbow, "what he did really well was manage the ups and downs of his season," Bell said of Arizona's No. 7 prospect.

In fact, Pollock batted .295 or higher in four of the season's six months. He also was a rock on defense.

Alfredo Marte, Mobile (113 games): Some players bloom late. That's the case with Marte, a 23-year-old in his seventh pro season. The right-handed-hitting center fielder batted a career-best .294 with 20 homers, more than doubling his previous high.

"He finally came into his own," Bell said. "We have always seen and believed in his ability to do it. Finally, wow, it just clicked. And he did it in a challenging league."

So it stands to ask: How did Marte go from forgotten man to Futures Game selection?

"There were no wholesale changes to his swing," Bell said. "Sometimes the plan that started six years ago just started to take effect. That was all it was. [Our coaches] stayed patient."

Utility man -- Jake Elmore, Reno (108 games): Lump Elmore in with Marte when it comes to unexpected results. The 25-year-old infielder was a career .273 hitter before batting .344 with 40 extra-base hits and 73 RBIs and an impressive 74-to-54 walk-to-strikeout ratio that pushed his on-base percentage to .442.

"To see anybody put up those offensive numbers, it is a surprise," Bell said. "At the same time, Jake has tremendous confidence."

Defensively, Elmore played 39 games at second base and 60 at shortstop and is adept at both spots. He also lined up at third base, left field and right field for good measure.

"He's a guy that's always going to be moving around," Bell said.

Translation: If Elmore sticks in the Majors, it will be as -- you guessed it -- a utility man.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Trevor Bauer, Mobile (eight games), Reno (14 games), Arizona (four games): Bauer may be disappointed that he didn't finish the season in the Major League rotation, but that's about the only thing he didn't accomplish. He won 12 of 14 decisions in the Minors, compiling a 2.42 ERA in 22 starts. Bauer also had 157 strikeouts over 130 1/3 innings, thanks to his famously deep repertoire.

And it's easy to forget this was the 21-year-old's first full season since Arizona drafted him third overall in 2011.

"The numbers were great; the innings weren't always as easy as we would like. We want to see more low-stress innings," Bell said of the system's top-ranked prospect, noting Bauer's 61 walks. "But every time out, he gave his team a chance to win. He did a good job managing his first [full] year, which can be pretty taxing."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Tyler Skaggs, Mobile (13 games), Reno (nine games), Arizona (six games): Skaggs, the D-backs' No. 2 prospect who spent time with Bauer in both the Southern and Pacific Coast leagues, was just about as successful on the mound. He won nine of his 15 decisions, accumulating a 2.87 ERA across the two levels. He also made six so-so big league starts (two more than Bauer, whom he replaced in the All-Star Futures Game) before he was shut down for the season late last month.

"He's got the ability to be a top-end starter in the big leagues," Bell said. "He's got plenty of fastball, a good curveball and a plus changeup, at a young age. I am excited to watch him for the next 10 years."

Relief pitcher -- Eury De La Rosa, Mobile (53 games): A free-agent signee out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, De La Rosa posted a 2.84 ERA, his third consecutive season of pitching in at least 25 games while recording a sub-3.00 mark. With a fastball that sits between 89-91 mph, a tight-breaking slider, a loopier curve and an improving changeup, De La Rosa also had a 68-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 63 1/3 frames. Everyday Eury might be his moniker of the future.

"He might be the toughest kid in the organization. He wants to pitch every night," Bell said. "He can come in and get lefties out, but he can do more than that. He's so versatile."

Andrew Pentis is a contributor to MLB.com and writes the Prospective Blog. Follow him on Twitter at AndrewMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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