Position Player--Brandon Burgess
South Bend is still riding high in the playoff race, and next year looks like it might be just as bright, because this year Yakima was stocked with hitters. Ramon Downing was hot all month, hitting .336 and jacking four homers in the month, but Brandon Burgess gets the nod, because Brandon Burgess did it all. His .318 was second only to Downing (Chris Rahl actually hit .360 but it came in only 25 at bats), he hit three homers, led the team with 34 hits, nine doubles, 18 runs scored, a .523 slugging percentage and a .402 on base percentage, and finished second in RBI with 17. While his outfield defense still needs to improve, Burgess silenced some critics who referred to him as a 'DH waiting to happen' by playing solid, if unspectacular, defense in both left and right field, and showcasing an arm that has gained both strength and accuracy.
In a system stocked with outfielders, his talents will have to continue to improve, but they already have. In nearly half the games Burgess, who repeated at Yakima this season, hit more than .100 higher, and his slugging and on base percentages jumped even more. He had more extra base hits, and cut his strikeouts by more than half. He did it by not worrying as much about power, and driving, rather than jerking, the ball. A sixth round pick in 2004, Burgess is just 22, and should move up to South Bend next season, where his patience will be tested (he walked just 14 times in 117 at bats), but the biggest test might simply be playing a full season. Burgess' entire season was essentially a month long this year, and staying healthy for a full year will go a long way to convincing the Diamondbacks that Burgess is a prospect to watch.
There are good performances, there are great stretches, and then there's the month Yakima relief pitcher Kyler Newby had in August. Newby was perhaps the most impressive relief pitcher in the Diamondbacks entire system last month. Both durable and dependable, Newby got the call often in August, making 10 appearances in the month, and a quick look at his stats shows why. A middle reliever, Newby didn't win or lose a game in the month, though he did pick up one save during his 20.1 innings pitched, by far the most of any reliever in Yakima. He carried a sparkling 1.77 ERA, good enough for second best on the team last month. His .159 ERA was also good enough for second on the squad, but what really set Newby apart was his penchant for missing bats.
Without a 'power' fastball, Newby hit his spots and changed speeds, racking up 37 strikeouts, or nearly two per inning pitched. While some pitchers at this level have trouble with control, Newby walked only seven in the month, which bodes well going into '06. Newby has been invited to the instructional leagues in Tucson that begin next week, and at just 20 years old this product of Mesa Community College has the opportunity to move up quickly, despite the Diamondbacks penchant for moving young pitchers slowly.
"He's as polished a 20 year old as you'll find," said one scout, "the only difference between Newby and someone like (Seattle Mariners top pitching prospect) Felix Hernandez is a fastball in the upper 90s, and Newby might actually be a better 'pitcher' because he's never been able to just blow the ball by guys."
High praise, and there will likely be more to come. Whether Newby continues on as a reliever or moves back into the starting rotation, where he spent his college career, will likely depend on need. The Diamondbacks have a lot of high draft picks in the lower levels who are slated to be starters, and Newby's success out of the pen gives the Diamondbacks the option to simply groom him as a set up man or closer in the future.