The Diamondbacks’ Five Greatest Hitters
Paul Goldschmidt (2011-present)
It’s been a steady and near-meteoric rise thus far for the big first baseman from Delaware by way of Texas, wrecking havoc in a short, sharp climb up the minor league ladder before his ascension in Arizona saw him emerge from promising prospect to perennial MVP candidate in just three-plus years in the majors.
“Goldy” has become a quick favorite among fans and teammates with an easy-going attitude—USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote that he had the “ego of a grounds-crew worker”—and has let his bat do most of the talking. So far, it’s been quite loud; he passed the rookie test in 2011 with eight homers and a .250 average in 48 games, and showed strong hints of things to come in that postseason when, in a losing NLDS effort to Milwaukee, he hit .438 and went deep twice. After a satisfying first full year under his belt in 2012, Goldschmidt exploded in 2013—hitting .302, pacing the National League with 36 home runs and 125 RBIs, and scooping up a Gold Glove award for his work at first base. His 2014 season was no less impressive, only to have it cut short on August 1 when he had his hand broken on a pitch that came in on him.
It has all certainly added up to a nice return on investment for the Diamondbacks, who gave Goldschmidt a five-year, $32 million contract (with a 2019 team option at $14 million) at the start of 2014.
Luis Gonzalez, (1999-2006)
Easily the most popular player in the Diamondbacks’ early years, Gonzalez was embraced as one of Arizona’s own despite having played his first nine major league seasons elsewhere. A career .268 hitter before arriving in Arizona, Gonzalez returned the love. In his first year with the D-Backs, he hit a career-high .336 with a league-leading 206 hits; his 26 homers and 111 RBIs also set career highs that would be eclipsed in 2000, then overwhelmed in 2001 when he punched out a whopping 57 homers with 142 RBIs. (The sudden statistical surge made Gonzalez a target of steroids conspiracy theorists, but he has steadfastly denied such use—he’s even publicly hoped that the list of steroid users secretly collected in 2003 would be revealed to clear his name.) “Gonzo” will be best remembered in that 2001 season not for his numbers, but for his walk-off, dying base hit off Mariano Rivera into short center field that sent home the World Series-winning run in Game Seven over the New York Yankees.
Gonzalez’s numbers went into decline after that magical year, but was still a threat through to his final days as a Diamondback in 2006, at the age of 39. In his seven-year tenure with the D-Backs, he clubbed out 40 or more doubles four times, and is 15th on the all-time list with 596.
Justin Upton (2007-2012)
Selected as the first pick of the 2005 draft three years after brother B.J. (now Melvin Jr.) also got notched first by Tampa Bay, Upton initially was considered the lesser of the two talents—but flowered into the Diamondbacks’ most dangerous hitter and potential MVP threat, finishing fourth in the 2011 NL tally.
Upton first made his mark in the 2007 postseason at the age of 20, making the most of part-time duty with a double and triple among five hits and a .357 average. Two years later, he developed into a star with a .300 average, 26 homers and 20 steals; he maintained that stature from that point on, more aggressively crowding the plate as assumed by getting hit a league-leading 19 times in 2011—a fact likely influenced by the presence of his hitting coach, Don Baylor.
Long-term stardom for Upton in Arizona was denied when he was traded to Atlanta after the 2012 season; it was suggested that he lacked the “gamer” element that manager Kirk Gibson demanded from his players. More likely, Upton was deemed expendable for his erratic numbers (an unfair argument considering his youthful age) and his flawed defense in the outfield, where he led the league three times in errors while with the Diamondbacks.
Steve Finley (1999-2004)
The adept center fielder emerged on the major league scene as a singles-and-steals specialist but suddenly developed a potent power stroke in San Diego just prior to his relocation in Arizona—and continued to pump away with over 30 homers in each of his first two seasons with the Diamondbacks. It was inevitable that Finley’s late-bloom booming would lead to suspicion during the steroids era, but he has never been legitimately tied to any such performance enhancement usage. Finley was a continual offensive force for Arizona during his five-plus years with the team—always hitting around the .280 mark—and his sharp defense with the Diamondbacks earned him three Gold Glove awards.
Jay Bell (1998-2002)
Bell was one of the last refugees of the talented Pittsburgh squads of the early 1990s that were blown apart by low payroll restrictions, making his way to Arizona via Kansas City as one of owner Jerry Colangelo’s generous free agent signings. Typically averaging 15-20 homers a year, Bell had an out-of-nowhere (to say nothing of out-of-body) career year in 1999, easily setting personal bests with 38 homers and 112 RBIs; he acknowledged that excessive winter workouts led to the sudden jump in sluggery, although teammate Matt Williams, likely joking, suggested it was tied to a special supplement: Ranch dressing.
Arizona Diamondbacks Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Diamondbacks, decade by decade.
The Diamondbacks' Five Greatest Pitchers: A list of the five greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Diamondbacks' Five Greatest Games: A list of five memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Diamondbacks' history.
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