Top D-backs Prospects: Older Position Players

Top D-backs Prospects: Older Position Players

There are many reasons why prospects might be old for the league in which they play. Some elect to finish college before going pro, some suffer injuries and need to play catch-up, and others are stuck behind another prospect who plays the same position. These Arizona Diamondbacks prospects were too old to rank based on their age and statistics, but are talented enough to play in the majors.

OPS+ = On Base Plus Slugging adjusted for league (average player =100) 

C Ryan Babineau - 76 OPS+ in 39 PA at Low-A South Bend

Ryan Babineau was widely considered the best defensive catcher in the D-backs' organization shortly after he was selected in the 17th-round of the 2008 draft.  The South Bend Silver Hawks were counting on Babineau as both a team leader and someone to help guide a very young pitching staff.  Ten games into his season, Babineau's right hip labrum was almost completely torn about a year after he first sustained a hip injury at UCLA.  He required surgery that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

The hip injury clearly affected his ability to generate power at the plate.  After slamming 11 homers over his first two collegiate seasons, Babineau did not hit a single one in his junior year.  He also just hit .247 that season and is a .212 hitter in 179 professional at-bats.

"I think I'm going to hit," Babineau told FutureBacks.  "I don't know when it will be, but hopefully sooner rather than later.  I have confidence in my abilities."

1B Bryan Byrne - 107 OPS+ in 341 PA at AA Mobile; 60 OPS+ in 120 PA at AAA Reno

Bryan Byrne, coming of a terrific 2008 season with Mobile, found himself repeating that level.  That wasn't a poor reflection on what the team thought of Byrne, but rather an embarrassment of riches with Triple-A Rookie of the Year Joshua Whitesell stuck repeating Triple-A himself and preventing Byrne's advancement.

"It wasn't frustrating," Byrne maintained after advancing to Triple-A in early May.  "Double-A is a good spot to be.  I understood the situation with Josh, and that there was a good chance of me going back to Mobile."

The situation did not work out well for anyone involved.  Whitesell disappointed during several auditions at the big league level and was not offered arbitration this winter.  Byrne, after having gone 17 consecutive months hitting .260 or better, did not break that mark in May, June, or July of this year, and he hit just .133 in his 35-game stint with Reno.  He rebounded by batting .304 with a .402 on-base percentage in August, but that was back with Mobile. 

Despite all of his previous success, Byrne is now a soon-to-be-26-year-old who hasn't been able to succeed in Triple-A, isn't on the 40-man roster, and has several first base prospects surrounding him who are coming off great seasons.  Byrne has the offensive and defensive skills to play in the majors, but due to the poor timing of the worst stretch of his pro career, Byrne may never get that opportunity.

1B Clayton Conner - 111 OPS+ in 194 PA at Short-Season Yakima; 82 OPS+ in 97 PA at Low-A South Bend

After an injury-plagued 2008 season, Clayton Conner remained in extended spring training to begin 2009.  Making matters worse, when Conner finally got his summer assignment, it was back at Yakima, a level he had dominated way back in 2007.

"You can be disappointed, but there's not much you can do about it," mused Conner.  "You've just got to do your thing.  The only thing that people notice is how you play.  You can be a nice person or whatever, but baseball is a cut-throat business, and it's just about how you perform."

Unfortunately, since that standout 2007 season, Conner's performance hasn't been overwhelming.  He hit well at Yakima last year, but nowhere near as well as he had two years earlier.  Part of the issue is that minor league pitching coaches now know that Conner is susceptible to outside pitches.  Conner did join South Bend in August for their playoff run and contributed a few key hits down the stretch, but he batted .220/.268/.308 overall in 24 games.     

Even though Conner has had very little success in the Midwest League, it would be best for him to begin 2010 at Hi-A Visalia.  It is a hitter's league that should give Conner confidence, whereas playing a fourth season with South Bend would likely discourage him. 

OF Chris Rahl - 104 OPS+ in 477 PA in AA Mobile

Last season began in stark contrast to 2008 for Rahl.  Whereas two seasons ago he was hitless through 10 games, he had a .560 on-base percentage and .647 slugging through the first 10 games of 2009.  Rahl hit well throughout the first half of the season to go with his stellar defensive play, landing him a spot on the Southern League All-Star team.  A promotion to Reno appeared imminent, perhaps even a call to the big leagues.

Those advancements never occurred.  Whether he was discouraged by the lack of recognition from the Diamondbacks or whether he simply got into bad habits at the plate, Rahl slumped to .258/.305/.362 over the second half.  While certainly an improvement over his miserable 2008 campaign, those numbers were disappointing for someone finishing his third season in the Southern League. 

Now 26-years old, Rahl will finally begin 2010 in Triple-A.  He will enjoy playing in a hitter's park, as he has taken advantage of cozy ballparks in the past.  The D-backs are only carrying five outfielders on their 40-man roster, so a strong showing from Rahl and an injury to one of those five puts the former 5th-round pick in a great position to finally make the big leagues.  If Rahl is inconsistent with the bat once again, however, he will become a minor league free agent at season's end.     

Util Rusty Ryal - 115 OPS+ in 446 PA at AAA Reno; 136 OPS+ in 68 PA with Arizona

You can make an argument that Rusty Ryal deserves to be ranked among the organization's top 25 prospects because he has succeeded in Triple-A, surprised in the big leagues, and could begin the season on the 25-man roster.  You could also argue that because Ryal turns 27 in March and has virtually no chance of being more than a utility player on Arizona's deep bench that he isn't a prospect at all.

Ryal has an incredible work ethic and has learned to play the outfield in winter ball.  His ability to play multiple positions at a high level is a huge asset to a National League roster.

"My versatility is a positive factor," Ryal told media at the Missoula Osprey's annual Hot Stove Banquet in January.  "I'm going to have to prove it to them, though. You can put me at second, third or in the outfield. There isn't any place you put me that I can't perform on a high level - except pitcher and catcher."

Ryal's commodity is only lessened by the presence of Ryan Roberts, who is even more versatile than Ryal is and established that he could hit big league pitching over a longer period than Ryal has so far.

SS Yunesky Sanchez - 94 OPS+ in 213 PA at AA  Mobile

Yunesky Sanchez took a step backwards this year repeating Double-A.  There is a good reason for that, however.  Sanchez went on the disabled list three times with various leg issues and when he was playing, he was doing so with considerable pain.  The switch-hitting shortstop enjoyed several hot stretches over the year, indicating that when healthy, Sanchez can hit.

One issue with Sanchez is his swing from the right side of the plate.  He hit just .196 this season as a right-hander as opposed to .291 from the left side.  Sanchez turns 26 in May, so it is probably time for him to give up switch hitting and concentrate on batting left-handed full time.

His bat won't be what gets him to the big leagues, however.  Sanchez remains one of the best all-around defensive shortstops in the organization when healthy.

"His hands are very good - great transfer," said infield coordinator Tony Perezchica, adding that Sanchez also shows an "above average arm with good accuracy."

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