We’re on the homestretch of the NRI recaps, taking a look at the extensive collection of notable NRIs in Arizona’s camp.
1B Russell Branyan–Branyan is the leading candidate to be Arizona’s starting first baseman, even though he’s just an NRI. He’ll have to fend off challenges from the younger Brandon Allen and Juan Miranda, but this is a guy who’s hit 56 homers in the past two seasons. He’s never hit for average and never will, but is a cheap source of power. Playing first base every day likely won’t help him stay healthy, though, and he doesn’t handle lefties well, which will be problematic. Unfortunately, both Allen and Miranda hit lefty as well. He’s a nice player, but it was weird to see Branyan land here–he’d make more sense for a contending AL team whose 1Bs hit righthanded.
1B Paul Goldschmidt–Goldschmidt could make the Allen/Miranda/Branyan first base mess moot by September. The top slugging prospect, like Branyan, has strikeout problems and a large platoon split, but he’s done nothing but hit in pro ball, with a whopping .321/.392/.617 line with 53 homers in 212 pro games. He’ll start 2011 in Double-A, and it’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to a neutral environment for the first time.
LHP Mike Hampton–Yep, Hampton’s apparently still kicking around. He made ten scoreless appearances for Arizona last year, which sounds impressive until you realize those ten appearances covered all of 4 1/3 innings. His velocity continues to decline–no surprise, given his age (38) and ridiculously long injury history–so there’s little to recommend him. Hampton can still put the ball in the zone and get some grounders, but there are plenty of Triple-A guys who can do that too.
OF Marc Krauss–Like Goldschmidt, Krauss is a bat-only prospect who needs to prove he can hit outside of the cozy confines of the Cal League. He hit .302/.371/.509 there last year, and if it holds up in the upper minors this year, he could become an interesting corner outfield prospect.
LHP Wade Miley–Miley is a groundballing lefty who few talk about. He posted just a 50/37 K/BB in 80 1/3 High-A innings last year, which doesn’t impress anyone, but he only allowed one homer in that span–a shocking accomplishment in the aforementioned Cal League. He allowed five homers in 72 2/3 Double-A frames, but the K/BB improved to 63/28 there. He could start 2011 in Triple-A; while Miley’s three-pitch mix screams “fifth starter,” his groundball ability could allow him to be a solid #4 or even a #3.
RHP/1B Micah Owings–It’ll be fascinating to see how Owings is deployed in camp. Lost in all the talk of him hitting is the fact that he actually struck out over a batter per inning with Cincinnati last year, although his control was abysmal. Owings doesn’t have much stuff as a pitcher, with a fastball around 88 and two okay offspeed pitches. As a hitter, he’s got a career .293/.323/.538 line, although one wonders about the Francoeurian 62/8 career K/BB–could it be that pitchers gave him more to hit when he was pitching, not wanting to get cute? If the approach to Owings will change when he’s playing first base, he’ll need to adapt–that position’s got an awfully high offensive bar. But hey, I did say Arizona needs a 1B who can hit lefties…
OF Wily Mo Pena–Pena’s prodigious power has never really been put to good use because of his propensity to strike out and his inability to walk. A career .253/.303/.447 hitter, he isn’t completely useless, though, and he hit .324/.390/.556 for San Diego’s AAA affiliate last year after a stint in independent ball. He’s never been a good defensive outfielder, but Pena’s only 29, so he could still have a career if he got in shape and tightened up his strike zone a bit. Heck, he’s a career .277/.340/.457 hitter vs. lefties…why not give him a shot at the platoon first base job?
RHP Jarrod Parker–Two interesting storylines to follow with Parker: first, his recovery from Tommy John surgery that cost him all of 2010, and how close he looks to be ready for the big leagues–he did end 2009 in Double-A, after all. A four-pitch righty with good stuff across the board, Parker is still only 22, so he isn’t behind his peers even with the lost season.
INF Cody Ransom–Ransom can play shortstop and has a long record of hitting well in Triple-A (.467+ SLG in five of the past six years), so you’d think he’d be more in-demand than he is. At 35, he’s probably not going to get many more chances, but Ransom is still a nice bat-oriented utility guy. I’ll never understand why he’s only received 346 MLB plate appearances, but maybe that’s just me.
RHP Brian Sweeney–Sweeney relies on a changeup that he throws nearly as much as his fastball. It’s one hell of a changeup, and he throws strikes with it, but he has few other weapons. The changeup puts away Triple-A hitters solidly (32 K in 28 2/3 AAA IP last year), but he can’t miss MLB bats (14 K in 37 IP last year, 4.15 K/9 career). He’s an interesting pitcher, but Chase Field isn’t the right place for a flyball guy who doesn’t miss bats–bear in mind he’s spent his whole career pitching for San Diego and Seattle.
1B/3B Andy Tracy–Tracy, like Ransom, never was given much of a chance by the Phillies despite consistently slugging in Triple-A. The one time he was left alone in the bigs was in 2000 with the Expos, when he hit .260/.339/.484 in 83 games, and he could’ve had a nice career if he got a longer look. As it stands, Tracy’s now 37, and guys that age generally don’t spring up after a decade of bouncing around, no matter their merit (see McClain, Scott). Tracy almost never plays third base anymore, but he does still hit, with a .275/.373/.492 line last year. Moving to the PCL could let him put up even bigger numbers, and I guess that if there’s any organization that he could get a look in, it’s this one–after all, what happens if Branyan gets hurt, Miranda gets DFA’d, and Owings doesn’t hit? You’re down to Allen and Tracy.
OF David Winfree–A former third base prospect with the Twins, Winfree is now a right fielder. He struggled with the Yankees’ AAA affiliate last year, but caught fire after moving to the Seattle organization, hitting .315/.349/.534 in 57 games. After some rocky initial outfield work in 2009, he settled in much better in 2010 and projects to be a decent defender in right. Still, he has to walk with more consistency to put himself in the picture as a potential platoon outfielder. At 25, he’s got to have a big year.
LHP Clay Zavada–Everybody’s favorite mustachioed man is trying to come back from Tommy John surgery that cost him most of 2010. A changeup specialist and the owner of the silliest pitching line in organized baseball in 2008, Zavada was a very solid reliever for Arizona in 2010, throwing the patented change, along with a cutter and curve, to make up for a subpar fastball. Like a lot of high-strikeout bullpen lefties, he’s going to issue some walks, and Zavada is a ridiculously flyball-heavy pitcher as well, but he’s still of use, assuming he’s over the injury and back in order (in his brief attempt at pitching in Triple-A in early 2010, he walked ten batters in three innings). Good luck to him–he’s a great story and a joy to watch.