See for yourself:
2002 – 7 pitchers selected out of the first 15 picks
Studs: Dustin Nippert (15)
Doyle and Rosen each pitch in Hi-A ball, which isn't where you envision top picks to reside four years after the draft. The difference is that Doyle is 25 and pitching poorly, while Rosen is still just 21 and pitching well.
It says something about Sergio Santos that despite all of Toronto's middle infield trouble this year they still don't want to take a chance on him. Two years ago, he was the top player in the Diamondbacks' system. Now he looks like a career minor leaguer, mostly due to shoulder trouble. He did prove useful when Josh Byrnes traded him with Troy Glaus to get Orlando Hudson and Miguel Batista.
Similarly, Lance Cormier somehow coaxed Johnny Estrada out of Atlanta (along with Oscar Villarreal), despite having a career ERA over six. With the year Estrada's having, Chris Snyder may be relegated to backup duties for the foreseeable future. He's still a useful player, but you do expect a bit more out of a 2nd round pick.
Nippert is the guy who can save this draft. His AA numbers last year (8-3 2.38) were incredible for someone coming off of Tommy John surgery. He might not be ready to succeed at the majors yet, but for a 15th rounder to have this much upside after so many setbacks is incredible.
2003 – 5 pitchers selected out of the first 15 picks
Duds: Jeff Cook (5)
Not Sure Yet: Jaime D'Antona (2), Chris Kinsey (4)
Heck, if Conor Jackson were the only guy we got in the entire draft, we'd have still come out better than we did in '02. Jackson is Mark Grace with a little more pop in his bat and a little less gold in his glove. Sure, you'd heard similar things about Travis Lee, Erubiel Durazo, and Lyle Overbay, but this one really is legit, folks.
D'Antona has shown tremendous power and an ability to take walks, but has had problems with strikeouts and errors. After completely failing as a starter, Chris Kinsey may have found his niche as a setup man. Both of these guys profile as Up in the Air.
Carlos Quentin looks major league ready now, but is stuck behind Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green, plus fighting alongside Scott Hairston for any job that does open up. Chico got promoted to AA in May. He's been fantastic, but overshadowed there by pitchers selected in later drafts…
2004 – 6 pitchers selected out of the first 15 picks
Duds: None so far
In Drew, Ohlendorf, and Carter, the Diamondbacks have three guys likely to get September callups, and possibly become major contributors as early as next year. That's quite a good turnover, particularly as Carter was selected in the 17th round. He's got the toughest road ahead of him, however, since he's blocked by Conor Jackson.
Zeringue had an incredible first pro season at Lancaster, but hasn't been able to hit during the year-and-a-half that he's been at AA. His K/BB ratio has never been good. Nicolas is a similar story; he dominated the Midwest League last year, but has been so-so at Lancaster.
The organizational leader in home runs right now is Mark Reynolds with 15. We'll have to see how he performs above A-ball.
2005 – 11 pitchers selected out of the first 15 picks
Duds: none so far
Not Sure Yet: Everyone else
Upton has had a lot of hype to live up to. He may not be hitting .400 like some people expected, but he is leading the Silverhawks in OPS while handling the transition to center field nicely.
The real success of this draft does not lie in Upton, however, as any team with the #1 pick and enough money would have drafted this kid. Getting three guys like Owings, Rahl, and Smith showed real draft wisdom. Even if another team had been crafty enough to draft Owings before Arizona did, they might have made him a position player. As it is, he may be the next pitcher in line to get a stab at Arizona's big league rotation.
Rahl hasn't kept his early pace of dominance, but that would have been near impossible, since he hit .355 in April. Plate patience will make or break him.
All Greg Smith has done this year is post an 8-0 record, including two shutouts and a near no hitter, to go along with his 1.77 ERA. His professional K/BB ratio is now 166/46 in 164 innings. I think he'll be alright.
2006 – 11 pitchers selected out of the first 15 picks
Not Sure Yet: Everyone!
The early signs are good. The organization's pitching fetish is even stronger than in 2004, with the first four picks and 11 of the first 13 all pitchers. You can never have too much pitching, since every other team in baseball would look to acquire more if the Diamondbacks suddenly had a major surplus. Such trades would allow the club to acquire players for weak spots in the organization, such as catcher, and avoid logjams like they currently have at first base and corner outfields.
It may be somewhat illusory to say that these drafts have gotten progressively better, as some of the prospects that seem can't-miss right now could suffer Sergio Santos-esque meltdowns. But there are just so many more players with great upside in these more recent drafts, and you know that not all of them will miss. And if guys like Micah Owings are any indication of an improved drafting philosophy within the organization, then we could be seeing some of this year's selections contributing in the majors by the end of next year.
Read more from Keith Glab at www.baseballevolution.com