He was an afterthought in the Richie Sexson deal. Quite literally the player to be named later, but more recently Noochie Varner has been the player to be named often. In May Varner hit in 22 of the 28 games he played in, hitting at a .357 clip for the month. He played an errorless left field in May, stole 10 bases without getting caught even once and scored 18 runs.
Varner will likely never be a regular starter at the Major League level, but in an organization ripe with outfield prospects, he is hitting for a higher average than fellow Smokie Jon Zeringue highly rated South Bend prospect Carlos Gonzales, and has shown he's ready to be challenged.
Everyone knew Dan Uggla was versatile, everyone knew he had talent, but after striking out 55 times in less than 300 at bats with Double-A El Paso last season, it appeared that Uggla might have reached his talent cap. This season he's still versatile, and still has talent, only now he's showing it. Uggla hit .333 in May, playing all four infield spots and complimented that with five home runs and 26 RBI, second on the team.
The strikeouts are too high, but even that area of concern is showing improvement. Pitch recognition is key and though Uggla Kd 24 times in May, he also drew 16 walks, showing that he's recognizing pitches much more effectively, even if he doesn't necessarily know what to do with them once he recognizes them. Uggla's got better than average speed, tons of glove, and pop in the bat, three things that have his stock skyrocketing.
Jesus Cota might have been on his last chance, but the way he's been hitting in Double-A this season it seems as if we'll never find out. After hitting 16 home runs in each of his first two seasons, Cota's power seemed to disappear. Injuries certainly played a part, but the Diamondbacks were just about ready to give up on the young first baseman unless he showed dramatic improvement in his power numbers. He has, despite being relegated to pinch hit duty for the last week of May, Cota has already hit 11 homers in Tennessee this season and driven in 43 runs, putting him among the Southern League leaders in both categories.
And things are getting better in almost every category. Cota is hitting just a shade under .300, the best marks he's put up since his first year in Missoula, and his strikeouts are way down. While Conor Jackson is still the sure bet to take over first base if and when the Diamondbacks decide to make a change, Cota gives them at worst a tasty little bit of trade bait, and a more than capable backup if Jackson moves back to the outfield or something goes wrong.
Enrique Gonzalez is 22 years old, and he's already in his seventh season of pro baseball. The Diamondbacks have taken their time with the right handed starter, and it appears to be paying massive dividends. Last season's 13-6 record and 3.22 ERA in the hitter friendly Hi-A California League was a sign that he'd turned the corner, this season's stats show he's hit the backstretch with the pedal down.
Gonzales is 5-1 with a 3.02 ERA in Double-A Tennessee this year. He's averaging almost 6.5 innings per start, and has recorded two complete game shutouts already, on back to back starts the 6th and 12th of May. His fastball is electric, and his curve and changeup have been devastating this season. While he's still young, he's also a veteran in pro ball now, and the experience shows.
"He's a smart pitcher, knows what he wants to do and how to do it," Smokies catcher Phil Avlas says, "he's just very well prepared, I don't really have to say much to him."
At the beginning of this season Casey Daigle would never have even had a chance to make this list. The right hander was coming off the high, and then low, of pitching in the Majors for a good portion of the 2004 season, and then being assigned to Double-A to start this year. The Diamondbacks had decided to make a change by moving Daigle to the bullpen, and the idea is starting to look like genius.
A quick glace at Daigle's stats might not show it. He's carrying a respectable but uninspiring 3.54 ERA on the season, but a closer look reveals a brilliant season unfolding. Daigle was asked to make two emergency starts when Tony Pena went on the DL with a sore elbow, and the results were, if anything, proof that the Diamondbacks had made the right decision. In just 7.1 innings as a starter Daigle has given up nine earned runs. Coming out of the pen, which Daigle has done now 17 times for a total of 20.2 innings, he's carrying a spectacular 0.87 ERA. The Diamondbacks saw something in Daigle they felt translated to the bullpen, and they guessed right.