Eric Smith – Second Round – No. 60 overall
By Dan Strittmatter
The D-backs are well-known for their propensity to select college arms over high school arms in the upper rounds of the draft. Looking over the last five years of drafts, the only high school arms selected by the D-backs in the top three rounds are Jarrod Parker (1st round, 2007), Brett Anderson (2nd round, 2006) and Kevin Eichhorn (3rd round, 2008).
But Arizona adhered to this rule even more-so in 2009 than usual, taking no high school arms in the first 10 rounds. This included their second-round selection, and their second-straight pitcher selected, Eric Smith from the University of Rhode Island. Smith is precisely the type of pitcher the D-backs are known for developing — a ground ball inducer with a good sinker and solid control.
Smith was originally assigned to Rookie-level Missoula to get his first taste of professional baseball and he had mixed results. He was superb at inducing ground balls, with a 2.6/1 GO/AO ratio and just one home run allowed in seven starts and two relief appearances spanning 25.2 innings, while also striking out 21. However, his typically-good control had some slip-ups, as he also walked 16 batters, leading to a 4.21 ERA and 3.91 FIP.
Nonetheless, the organization demonstrated its confidence in Smith and sent him to Single-A South Bend near the end of the season to gain some experience at Low-A while helping the Silver Hawks in their playoff push. Smith’s overall numbers looked much better for South Bend, as he maintained a 2.76 ERA in three starts (16 1/3 innings), and while his control was much better, as he walked just six, his other rates turned for the worse. He allowed two homers, had just a 1.47/1 GO/AO ratio, and only struck out 10, culminating in a 4.55 FIP.
So, to start 2010, the organization kept Smith at South Bend to try to improve his peripherals. Smith has done that and a lot more. His GO/AO ratio has rebounded to a marvelous 2.50/1, he has given up just two home runs, and he has a 39:15 K:BB ratio in 51.2 innings. All of this had added up to a superb 2.79 ERA and 3.03 FIP for Smith at South Bend.
This includes a stretch of 22 innings that began in the fifth inning of his first start, through his next three starts, and two innings into his fifth start where Smith did not allow a single earned run. During this stretch, Smith struck out 17 batters, had a 2.21/1 GO/AO ratio, and did not walk a single batter. He carried an FIP of 1.65 and a WHIP of 0.55, and his season ERA had dropped to 0.69.
One thing worth noting, though, is that the organization is carefully monitoring Smith’s innings, as is typical with young pitchers. Nonetheless, with Smith’s college resume and polished sinker, it’s not too hard to imagine that Smith could be a meteorically-fast riser through the Arizona system.
Marc Krauss – Second Round – No 64 overall
Photography: Ken Weisenberger
By Dan Strittmatter
With their second pick of the second round of the 2009 Draft, the D-backs chose outfielder Marc Krauss from Ohio University.
There were some concerns about Krauss, a sub-par defender who made a career of hitting unknown pitching in the Mid-American Conference with aluminum bats. In other words, scouts saw that Krauss would need to make his way to the majors with his bat, and that he would have to adapt quickly to more advanced pitching and still maintain his power with wood. Essentially, it’s those types of questions that differentiate a first-round pick from a second-rounder.
But Krauss was also a polished college hitter who many thought could be a quick riser if his bat translated well to professional ball. And that indeed has proven to be the case with Krauss, whose power translated immediately to professional ball after being assigned to full-season South Bend right after signing.
There, Krauss compiled an .855 OPS in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, where the average OPS for 2009 was .702. Krauss had a .304/.377/.478 line with 12 doubles, a triple, and two homers in 115 at-bats, with a solid 21:14 K:BB ratio, and was the best hitter for the Silver Hawks down the stretch and into their playoff run.
To begin 2010, Krauss was assigned to Single-A Advanced Visalia, in the hitter-friendly California League. Krauss started the season on fire, maintaining an OPS over 1.000 well into the season, but has slumped of late, with his OPS falling down to .815. Still, it’s a respectable overall number, considering the fact that Krauss is right about league-average in terms of age, where he was a month ago, and that the current average OPS is .749.
Because of the slump, Krauss has fallen behind teammates Paul Goldschmidt and Kyle Greene for the team’s OPS lead. However, Krauss’ 45:23 K:BB ratio is still solid, and he has 18 extra-base hits on the season amongst 54 hits overall, so he certainly is still producing for the Rawhide.
If he can regain his powerful stroke at the plate, he could continue his quick ascension through the system, possibly filling a hole in left field on the Major League club in a few years.
Chris Owings – First Round – No. 45 Overall
By Dan Strittmatter
The D-backs continued two of their early trends with their fourth pick of the 2009 draft. First, the team kept their focus on pursuing bats, with Owings, a shortstop, following two third basemen in Bobby Borchering and Matt Davidson, and center fielder A.J. Pollock.
Second, the team aggressively went for higher-upside high school choices; the only one of those four players to come out of college was Pollock, from Notre Dame.
Owings was taken No. 41 overall out of Gilbert High School in Leesville, S.C., and the D-backs had to be aggressive in signing him to convince him to turn pro rather than play in college. Owings projects to hit for a good average with a little pop, and has some speed on the bases as well.
After being signed, Owings pretty accurately fit that scouting report at Rookie-level Missoula in his first experience in pro ball.
For the Osprey’s playoff run late in the summer of 2009, Owings hit .306 with a .426 slugging percentage and three stolen bases (he was not caught stealing) in 24 games. Just three walks in 108 at-bats limited his OBP to .324, and further, Owings was victim to strikeouts quite often, getting rung up 25 times. It also appears that the team intends to give him every chance to succeed at shortstop, much like they’re giving similar chances for Davidson and Borchering to play third base (though many have projected those two as first basemen).
So far in 2010 for Low-A South Bend, Owings has put together a very similar line, with a .288/.308/.414 BA/OBP/SLG line for .722 OPS. Owings’ season hasn’t been flawless, as he still is battling a pretty unsightly K:BB ratio of 39:5. That’s not an uncommon trend for high school draftees in their first full season, though, and if put in proper perspective looks very impressive.
His OPS is substantially higher than the league-average in 2010 for the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, which is just .688. Further, the average age of pitchers in the MWL (as weighted by Baseball-Reference.com) is 21.7 years. Owings, meanwhile, won’t turn 19 until Aug. 12.
For a player to succeed in his age-18 season in a full-season affiliate, the D-backs have to be quite happy with what they’ve seen from Owings.
Bobby Borchering – First Round – No. 16 overall
Photo courtesy South Bend Silver Hawks
By Dan Strittmatter
A year ago, Bobby Borchering was a new graduate of Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Meyers, Fla. It’s a safe bet, though, to say that Borchering was alone among his classmates in being compared to Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, 1999 NL MVP and six-time All-Star.
Borchering’s power-laden swing from both sides of the plate drew the awe of scouts, many of whom considered Borchering to be the best high school bat on the board in the 2009 draft.
The D-backs took notice, and selected him with their first pick, 16th overall. He showed off his immense power right away for the Rookie-level Missoula Osprey, with eight doubles, a triple and two home runs amongst his 21 hits. But he had some struggles getting on base, hitting .241 and drawing five walks in 93 plate appearances in the regular-season.
However, Borchering had a great postseason for the Osprey, hitting .321 with two home runs and 10 RBI in six postseason games.
The organization assigned Borchering to Single-A South Bend to begin 2010 on a roster filled with other top draft picks from the 2009 draft.
With his first full-season of professional baseball also came some heavy expectations of the 19-year-old first-round pick.
“I try not to worry about that,” Borchering said. “You’ve just got to take it one day at a time and go out there and play your game.”
He got off to a rough start, though, going 1-for-17 in his first five games.
“The biggest adjustment to make is getting used to the environment, especially in South Bend,” Silver Hawks Manager Mark Haley said. “It’s cold, it’s a new environment, you’re going to see some major college kids coming right out of the chute — college guys and older than that, guys with four years in pro ball already.
“He’s not used to that cold weather and making adjustments and seeing that stuff every night, but he’s able to do that. He’s just going to get better and better.”
Since those first five games, Borchering has done just that, posting above-league-average offensive numbers, hitting .267 with eleven doubles and five home runs for a .734 OPS (the 2010 MWL average OPS is .688). This is all the more impressive when you take into consideration that Borchering’s age in a league where the average age of pitchers is more than 21, and that Borchering is in the midst of the longest season of baseball in his career.
“I think the big thing is taking care of your body and making sure you watch what you eat,” Borchering said on how he has dealt with adjusting to the grind of the full-season schedule. “Making sure you cool down after games and go back to normal and get ready to suit up the next day.”
These numbers he has posted since his early-season slump are reminiscent of Justin Upton’s first full season of professional baseball in 2006 for South Bend, also under Haley, when Upton was 18 years old.
Haley said you can indeed draw some comparison between 2006 Upton and 2010 Borchering.
“There are a lot of similarities,” Haley said, “and anytime you get a guy who’s had a lot of success coming up and then is being challenged, how they handle it emotionally is a huge transition.
“That’s why I was very confident that Justin Upton was going to be what he is, and I feel very confident that Bobby Borchering will be (successful).”
For the next week, we’ll be bringing you constant coverage of the D-backs’ 2010 draft, starting with a look at the 2009 draft class.
The D-backs had seven picks in the first two rounds last year, and eight picks out of the top 100.
We’ll give you a look at each of the eight players chosen up in the first three rounds last year, and a glimpse at who some of the sleepers might be in that class.
Next week, we’ll be coming at you live from the D-backs’ draft room, to get a good look at the process that goes into the selections for this year.