By Opening Day 2011, many had projected the Arizona Diamondbacks would follow their 2010 NL West last place finish with another season in the cellar.
By the All-Star break, the Diamondbacks were just three games behind the NL West leading San Francisco Giants at 49-43, pitcher Ian Kennedy was in the midst of a Cy Young campaign and center fielder Justin Upton was en route to a fourth-place MVP finish.
Still, the Diamondbacks were reeling from the loss of shortstop Stephen Drew to injury, the struggles of second baseman Kelly Johnson and the inconsistent play at first base by the likes of Xavier Nady, Juan Miranda, Russell Branyan, Lyle Overbay and Brandon Allen.
Then on August 1, the Diamondbacks tapped a Double-A prospect by the name of Paul Goldschmidt and went on a tear, winning the NL West just as the Giants were suffering demolition problems of their own.
In the end, the rookie Goldschmidt contributed eight home runs and 26 RBI to go along with an OPS of .808 and 28 runs scored in his 48-game 2011 MLB season.
In going from worst to first, Arizona relied on the unknown yet highly touted and honored Goldschmidt, who had been named to virtually every minor league All-Star team imaginable in 2010 and 2011.
With the Diamondbacks looking to repeat in 2012, the question emerges:
Who will be Arizona's 2012 incarnation of late 2011 rookie sensation Paul Goldschmidt?
The D'backs have several impressive prospects waiting in the wings, just waiting for the opportunity to prove themselves in the show.
2011 Minor League Stats: .246 AVG, 11 HR, 50 RBI
Speaking of injury-plagued Stephen Drew, the Diamondbacks have a great minor league shortstop prospect in Chris Owings.
Selected by Arizona in 2009, Owings has taken the slow-but-steady rise to High-A Visalia, having received an All-Star nod in 2010 when he was still playing A-Ball.
At Visalia this past season, Owings might have just hit .246 with 130 strikeouts in 521 at bats, but he has worked arduously to improve his game.
From 2009 to 2011, he began to hit with more power, improved his running game and most importantly, continued to advance through Arizona's minor league system.
Though he is perhaps the least likely prospect to reach the MLB level in 2012, his durability over the past few years in Minor League Baseball will prove to be an asset in the majors when the season is longer and the games are faster.
2011 Minor League Stats: 7.56 ERA, 1-1, 26 K
Former UCLA Bruins ace Trevor Bauer was drafted by Diamondbacks franchise in the first round of the 2011 draft.
With a 13-2 record, 1.25 ERA and 203 strikeouts in his last 16 collegiate starts, Bauer received many college baseball honors: the Golden Spikes Award, the Pac-10's choice for 2011 Pitcher of the Year and Collegiate Baseball's 2011 National Player of the Year Award.
Ranking second on the Pac-10 (Pac-12)'s list of most strikeouts to former Washington Huskies hurler Tim Lincecum, Bauer showed much promise out of NCAA ball.
When he began his professional career at the start of the 2011 season, he joined the Diamondbacks' High-A affiliate Visalia before ultimately being promoted to Double-A Mobile.
At Visalia, Bauer recorded a 3.00 ERA and 17 strikeouts in just nine innings pitched, holding the opposition to a .200 batting average.
Bauer's Double-A numbers and 7.56 ERA are awfully deceiving, thanks to just one terrible outing. On Aug. 30, he surrendered 10 runs over just 1.2 IP to the Chattanooga Lookouts.
Without that one poor performance, Bauer's 2011 Double-A ERA would have been just 2.40 and his record would have included one win, no losses.
As an added bonus if Bauer does make his MLB debut, he might meet up with some of those Lookouts players that climbed all over him back in Aug. He would possibly see them quite a bit—the Lookouts are the Los Angeles Dodgers' Double-A affiliate.
2011 Minor League Stats: .307 AVG, 8 HR, 73 RBI, 36 SB
Double-A Mobile's Allen Lorenz "A.J." Pollock might not be the youngest Diamondbacks prospect, but he is one of the most impressive.
Though he would have a tough time competing with Justin Upton for the center field job, the Diamondbacks might employ him as a pinch hitter, defensive relief or as an alternate left or right fielder.
Though he was initially selected by Arizona in 2009, it wasn't until 2010 that he first showed professional promise, enjoying an All-Star caliber performance in 2011, appearing on both the Southern League's Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star teams.
With an OPS above .800 and 36 stolen bases in 43 attempts, Pollock is a consistent offensive threat. On average, he scored a run once every 1.3 games in 2011, compiling 244 total bases in 550 at-bats.
With 44 walks, Pollock also demonstrates his patience and ability to adapt to new pitchers, a skill rare in the minor leagues and absolutely vital in the majors.
If Pollock joins the MLB club, he might just be the surprise Paul Goldschmidt was in 2011. He is the type of excitement Arizona needs to keep their lofty expectations afloat.
2011 Minor League Stats: .318 AVG, 10 HR, 67 RBI
Prospect Adam Eaton split his 2011 season between High-A Visalia and Double-A Mobile, compiling a .318 average overall with 10 HR and 67 RBI.
Most impressive, his .897 OPS dropped off only slightly to .885 when he played in the Arizona Fall League with the Salt River Rafters.
A lefty, Eaton is a versatile and powerful outfielder, stealing 34 bases between Visalia and Mobile and being patient enough to draw 72 walks.
He has been selected to three All-Star teams in his minor league career and was notably named to the AFL All-Prospect Team last month.
As a big leaguer, Eaton could easily see playing time as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement later in ballgames.
His OPS is unparalleled and his speed makes covering even the largest outfields a breeze, a skill he will need if he hopes to play at Chase Field.
2011 Minor League Stats: 2.50 ERA, 4-1, 73 K
Double-A Mobile BayBears pitcher Tyler Skaggs might be one of the Diamondbacks' most highly touted prospects and the one most likely to surface in 2012.
Skaggs followed his teammate Trevor Bauer through Visalia before settling in Mobile, recording his 73 Double-A strikeouts in just 57.2 innings of work.
Unlike most pitchers who struggle to adjust in the transition from High-A to Double-A ball, Skaggs was just the opposite, turning his 5-5 record and 3.22 ERA at Visalia into a 4-1, 2.50 ERA performance at Mobile.
Though the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim initially selected Skaggs in 2010, he was traded to the D'backs along with Joe Saunders, Patrick Corbin and Rafael Rodriguez in exchange for pitcher Dan Haren.
In his short time with the Diamondbacks organization, Skaggs has been named to three All-Star teams, was the Double-A-Southern League's Pitcher of the Week in Aug. and was selected to the MiLB Futures Game in July.
If Paul Goldschmidt is just what the doctor ordered at first base, Skaggs is the prescription for the mound.