This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.
The D-backs made good on harvesting some of their top talent in 2011, with prospects like Paul Goldschmidt, Collin Cowgill and Jarrod Parker all reaching the Majors. Parker made his big league debut on the season's penultimate day.
Triple-A Reno won a Pacific Coast League division title before falling in the first round of the playoffs. First-round pick Trevor Bauer shined in the postseason as Double-A Mobile captured its first Southern League crown since 2004. Short-season Missoula also made the playoffs, but both Class A South Bend and Class A Advanced Visalia struggled in the second half, finishing at or near the bottom of their divisions. Short-season Yakima also came up short.
"It's been great. Our scouts have done a great job getting some of these players here, just to know all the hard work that our staff and, most importantly, our players have put in, that it paid off," said Mike Bell, the D-backs director of player development.
"The whole organization is thrilled to see a winner there in Mobile, to see Reno go so far, and we had a couple other teams fighting 'til the end. It's all you can ask for. We believe winning and the playoffs creates a great development opportunity, and that's what we use it for."
Diamondbacks Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Konrad Schmidt, Reno (92 games): Schmidt also got the nod last year after jumping from Mobile to Arizona. He spent all of 2011 with Reno, where he batted .280 with nine homers, 45 RBIs and 24 doubles while earning PCL All-Star honors. Arizona has a few options behind the plate, especially in the lower levels, with youngsters like Roidany Aguila, who had 12 homers and 35 RBIs in 53 games with Missoula.
Bell was more impressed with Aguila behind the plate.
"He's made huge strides each year," Bell said. "He started calling games better and, obviously, his power numbers in Missoula are as good as any catcher. ... I thought he was very valuable to that team -- he's come a long way with that year."
First base -- Paul Goldschmidt, Mobile (103 games), Arizona (48 games): We're going with the big man here, although the D-backs are loaded at this position. But how can you argue with Goldschmidt, who hit .306 with 30 homers and 94 RBIs at Double-A? He finished second in the system in homers, despite not playing a game in the Minors after July. If Goldschmidt sticks in the Majors, it's been a fun ride. He clubbed 83 longballs over parts of three seasons and was a Southern League All-Star, league MVP and a Futures Game selection in 2011 alone.
"It'd be hard for me not to go with him -- his numbers were unbelievable, just an unbelievable year," Bell said. "He's helping the Major League team win games now, but I wouldn't say I'm surprised that he's there. ... His defense has really improved; he's always been pretty good at first, but I think he's got a chance to be an above-average first baseman."
Worth mentioning here is the Visalia duo of Bobby Borchering and Matt Davidson, who made this team at other positions, along with Yazy Arbelo, who finished with an organization-best 31 homers and 95 RBIs for South Bend. Yakima's Jimmy Comerota hit .322 in 59 games and Missoula's Jon Griffin batted .295 with 18 homers and 59 RBIs in 71 contests.
"We saw the power last year in Yakima," Bell said of Arbelo. "Again, in that league, 31 homers is a big number. He needs to continue to work on his approach at the plate. If he can do that, he can really emerge as a guy that can do some things at the upper levels."
Second base -- Eric Groff, Missoula (66 games): The D-backs have some nice options here, including Reno's Tony Abreu and Visalia's David Nick, but it's hard to argue with Groff, who posted similar, if not better, numbers in half as many games.
"It was a good year for him. He backed up a good year from last year, too," Bell said of Groff, a 2010 44th-round pick who hit .316 with 14 homers, 48 RBIs, 23 doubles and 10 steals for the Osprey. Those 14 longballs were the most by any Arizona second baseman, and he did it in only 66 games, compared to Nick, who hit 13 in 132 contests. Nick led the system with 169 hits, however.
Third base -- Matt Davidson, Visalia (135 games): Like Borchering, Davidson was a first-round pick in 2009 and pounded the ball in the Cal League, finishing with 20 homers and an organization-best 106 RBIs. He ranked third in the system with 148 hits and went on a homer binge from May 29-June 2, when he hit three longballs and plated 13 runs in five games.
"For being 20, he's a very mature hitter. He knows how to work an at-bat, he knows when to be aggressive, to take a pitch when the game dictates," Bell said. "[He has] power to all fields and he went up to Double-A and helped them win a championship with a big homer in that series."
Shortstop -- Cody Ransom, Reno (101 games), Arizona (12 games): The veteran infielder posted his best numbers in years at Triple-A Reno before playing 12 games in the Majors. In the PCL, Ransom hit .317 with 27 homers and 92 RBIs. He ranked third in the system in average and homers and tied Bobby Borchering for fourth in RBIs. His .629 slugging percentage led all D-backs' Minor Leaguers (even Goldschmidt). The PCL All-Star is 35, so he's in a different boat than other candidates like Missoula's Steve Cardullo, who hit .288 with 10 homers and 38 RBIs in 61 games.
"He went to the big leagues, too, and won us a game," Bell said. "He's a great player for us at Reno, I can't argue with that. He played outstanding at short, moved around to third a little. He's a good all-around player."
Designated hitter -- Bobby Borchering, Visalia (135 games): The D-backs are moving Borchering to the outfield in the instructional league. That's not to take anything away from his game, though -- he hit .267 with 24 homers and 92 RBIs. Arizona's top pick in 2009 played 66 games at first base and 56 at third, ranking fourth among D-backs' Minor Leaguers in homers and RBIs.
"We just like what Davidson brings at third base and we think Borchering has plenty of bat to play the outfield," Bell said. "It'll help his path to the big leagues."
Cole Gillespie, Reno (137 games), Arizona (five games): Gillespie is a no-brainer. Not only did he post big numbers and reach the Majors again, he won a Minor League Gold Glove in right field.
"I was glad to see him get that award. He robbed several home runs in right field and he covers a lot of ground," said Bell. "It was good to seem him go up [to Arizona] and hit a grand slam."
The 27-year-old batted .300 with 12 homers, 79 RBIs and was 24-of-29 in stolen base attempts. He ranked fifth in the system with 145 hits and a .405 on-base percentage.
A.J. Pollock, Mobile (133 games): Pollack progressed nicely after the D-backs promoted him from South Bend, hitting .307 with eight homers, 73 RBIs and a organization-best 36 steals (only 11 players in the Majors had more). He shared the system lead with 169 hits and had 41 doubles and 44 walks. The Notre Dame product projects nicely as a leadoff or No. 2 hitter.
"He's an above-average center fielder, all the tools, speed, the arm," Bell said. "He knows how to steal bases, drive guys in, move runners. For him, what he did in Double-A is very impressive."
Collin Cowgill, Reno (98 games), Arizona (36 games): Cowgill combined average, production and speed to reach the Majors this summer. He ranked third in the Minors with a .354 average, easily leading the system, adding 13 homers, 70 RBIs and 30 steals in 98 games through July 24. He was a two-time PCL Player of the Week, earned All-Star honors and was named PCL Rookie of the Year after finishing the season in Arizona.
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Jarrod Parker, Mobile (26 games), Arizona (1 game): The D-backs' top pitching prospect entering 2011 was rewarded with a start on the next-to-last day of the Major League season. Coming off Tommy John surgery, the 22-year-old ranked second in the system with 11 wins, owned a 3.79 ERA and struck out 112 over 130 2/3 innings at Double-A. After throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings in his first big league start, he'll try to skip Reno and stick with Arizona out of Spring Training.
"He was still trying to find his command and feel after rehabbing a whole year, but about the midway point he started commanding his fastball, his breaking ball, his change, and he discovered a sinker," Bell said. "It started to make him more efficient and he's learned how to pitch. He's ready to go. It's impressive all the work he's put in. To see it pay off in the big leagues, it was rewarding."
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Tyler Skaggs, Mobile (10 games), Visalia (17 games): One of a handful of southpaws making their way through the system, Skaggs stands out for his sparkling ERA and strikeout total. The 20-year-old ranked fourth in the Minors with 198 strikeouts and topped the system with a 1.18 WHIP and .218 batting average against; only short-season starter Taylor Siemens had a lower ERA in the Arizona system than Skaggs' 2.96 mark.
"His fastball is outstanding, he commands it, a lot of late life with his fastball, and his breaking ball is a big-time big league pitch right now," Bell said. "An unbelievable curve and his change is good, too. He's learning to believe in it."
Skaggs, acquired in the trade that sent Dan Haren to Anaheim, won a career-high nine games and was a Cal League All-Star and a Futures Game selection before getting named Southern League Pitcher of the Week.
"At 19, to do what he did in Double-A, we're lucky to have him," Bell added.
Relief pitcher -- Mike DeMark, Reno (two games), Mobile (32 games): DeMark was nasty, saving 15 games for the BayBears before earning a promotion to Triple-A. He struck out 48 batters over 36 innings, picked up three wins and held opponents to a .213 average. The right-hander walked only nine batters and allowed two homers all year.
The D-backs already have re-signed DeMark for 2012.
"He was a pleasant surprise. Bill Bryk (a scout and special assistant to the GM) found him in the independent league and he showed up in Mobile and started pitching well right away," Bell said. "He took over the closer's role and you could count on him every night. A righty that comes right at guys and pitches to contact and he had a great year for us."