Best of the System: The Top 5 Third Basemen

Barden is a defensive gem

The minor leagues are full of insecurity and instability and for the Diamondbacks third base is the prime example. As FutureBacks.com counts down the Best of the System we give offer only four third baseman, at least three of which either have, or likely will, be auditioned at other positions before they get a shot at the big leagues. If you want to include all of the players who have seen time at third base in the past few seasons this list could easily reach six or seven legit prospects.

But players like Dan Uggla, Corey Myers and Matt Morgan have all followed the Chad Tracy model, which is, play third for now, but we might like you somewhere else tomorrow, while the potential still exists for Sergio Santos to move from short to third, where he saw some reps in Spring Training.

 

#4)  The Diamondbacks continued their fantastic scouting of Mexico when they found Augie Murillo and signed him as a non-drafted free agent in 2003.  At 22, Murillo will repeat at Lo-A South Bend this season, but the Diamondbacks are quietly looking for big things from the youngster this season.  In 2003 Murillo got his first taste of pro ball in the Rookie Level Pioneer League with the Missoula Osprey and posted a batting average over .300 and despite hitting only five homers he posted a slugging percentage of .450.  At 6'3" and just 195 pounds the Diamondbacks feel that Murillo can add more weight and strength without changing a very smooth, compact swing that much, which should lead to more of his doubles (he had 22 at Missoula in '03) becoming home runs.

 

That optimism may have been slowed a little bit after 2004.  In his first full year in pro ball Murillo showed serious signs of fatigue during the second half, and his average slipped to .263 by the end of the season.  Still, Murillo showed a more complete set of tools, improving his range at third, swiping 10 bases, and drawing 23 walks even as his average, homers and RBI slipped.  The Diamondbacks will closely monitor Murillo, and set him up with an aggressive offseason weight training program after the 2005 season, but this season will be an important one for Murillo, who will turn 23 at the beginning of May and thus must make strides soon if he wants to get to the big leagues.

 

#3)  How do you get excited about a guy who's played only one half a season at the Rookie Level?  Take a look at Ricardo Sosa and it's easy to figure out.  6'1" and 200 pounds with more room to grow, way above average speed, an advanced batter's eye, and the best part he won't turn 21 until the end of May.  Signed out of Cuba in February of 2004 Sosa is extremely raw in some facets of the game, but his natural instincts give the Diamondbacks hope that he can move quickly through the system.  Like Murillo the homers were few and far between (just four in 178 at bats at Missoula) but the slugging percentage was solid (.447) and with an offseason of weight training, another year of experience with pro pitching, and some minor tweaks in a swing that stays in the strike zone a long time the Diamondbacks are confident that Sosa might start moving through the system quickly. 

 

Sosa's best attribute might be his speed, but his power isn't far behind.  That gap power should translate to home run power as he matures and becomes more comfortable with the pitching, but the speed is already there.  With very little skill he managed to grab six stolen bases last year and added two triples to a speed resume that has the Diamondbacks drooling.  One scout compared Sosa to right handed hitting Corey Patterson, implying that he could hit virtually anywhere in a lineup once he figures out how to harness all his tools.

 

#2)  Brian Barden is head and shoulders above every other candidate on this list defensively.  In fact he's so good defensively that the Diamondbacks have started giving Barden a shot at second base at Triple-A Tucson.  Why?  Because the conventional wisdom states that a third baseman absolutely must be a power hitter, and of all the tools Barden possesses, a masher's bat is not one of them.  Barden may have been listening to those whispers entering last season, as he posted his best power numbers since his stint in the hitter friendly California league three years ago, but it came at a price, as he also put up his highest strikeout totals.

 

Still, he's a defensive gem, and the Diamondbacks love that, which might account for the (part time) move to second base.  At second base the numbers Barden put up in 2003 at Double-A El Paso (.287 with three homers, 57 RBI, and 10 stolen bases) would be solid; at third they are a little sketchy.  Tucson Manager Chip Hale says Barden is one of his favorite players for all the reasons a guys is a coaches favorite, he runs everything out, is out at the park early, works with other players without even being asked, and will do anything to help his team win.  Unfortunately for Barden the system is loaded with super subs (Matt Kata, Alex Cintron, fellow Tucson teammate Andy Green and Uggla come to mind immediately) and thus Barden might be better off finding a spot and winning it. 

 

With Green, Myers, and Keone DeRenne in Tucson with Barden the competition at third base should be fierce, and that's not even including Sergio Santos, who will start the season as the shortstop, but rumors still persist he might move to third.  Barden's future rests solely on his bat, because none of those players can hold a candle to Barden defensively.  If he shows he can cut down on the strikeouts and hit for just a little more power, he could be a legit option at the big league level if Troy Glaus suffered an injury.

 

#1)  Jaime D'Antona was part of the famed ‘Three Amigos,' and even though Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson might profile as better overall players, virtually everyone is agreement that for pure power, D'Antona is your guy.  Taken in the 2nd round of the 2003 draft out of Wake Forest, D'Antona stepped into pro ball and made the ‘adjustment' from aluminum to wood look far easier than it should be.  At Short Season A ball in Yakima D'Antona put up solid full season numbers in just half a year.  Fifteen home runs and 57 RBI in just 271 at bats is fantastic, but that was Short Season ball right? 

 

Fast forward to 2004 where D'Antona skipped the Lo-A (Midwest League) South Bend Silverhawks and jumped straight to Hi-A Lancaster.  Problems, no thank you.  He had 273 at bats in the first half and once again was phenomenal, hitting .315 with 13 homers and 57 RBI, good enough to earn a promotion with his ‘Amigos' buddies to Double-A El Paso.  Once at Double-A the numbers dipped, but much of that is being blamed on a shoulder injury that limited D'Antona to just 71 at bats in the second half. 

 

So what's the downside for D'Antona?  Defense and contact are the early favorites.  Rumors have already started that D'Antona will be moving from third base to first base, but he'll start the season at Double-A Tennessee firmly planted at the hot corner.  While some believe that the signing of Troy Glaus has blocked D'Antona, it might actually be to his benefit, because before the signing D'Antona was on the fast track and now he'll have the time to sharpen his defense and his pitch selection, which appears to be the other chink in D'Antona's armor.  In 615 total minor league at bats D'Antona has struck out 112 times, and several sizeable holes have been uncovered in his swing.  While the Diamondbacks are not terribly concerned with those strikeout numbers (after all, 112 Ks with 28 homers isn't bad) they would like to see some of those holes closed, and 2005 will offer the opportunity to show that when healthy he can both hit for power and make contact consistently at the Double-A level.

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