Erubiel Durazo

Durazo had never played an inning of pro ball in the US before 1999, but by season’s end he had parlayed a two-month tear through National League pitching into a starting job on a playoff team. The native of Hermosillo, Mexico was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks in December 1998 following a stellar season for the Mexican League’s Monterrey Sultans, with whom the Diamondbacks had a working agreement. The left-handed slugger shot through Arizona’s farm system the next year, batting a combined .404 with 24 home runs and 83 RBIs in 94 games for Double-A El Paso and Triple-A Tucson.

The Diamondbacks called him up to the big leagues in July 1999 to replace injured outfielder David Dellucci on the roster. Arizona anticipated using Durazo as a pinch-hitter and potential backup outfielder, but his bat had other ideas. He smacked three hits in his first start on July 28th in San Diego, and crushed a 446-foot shot off future teammate Curt Schilling on August 7th for his first major-league home run. As the Diamondbacks streaked towards the NL West title, Durazo supplanted Greg Colbrunn and highly-touted Travis Lee to earn the majority of playing time at first base. For the season he batted .329 with 11 homers in just 52 games, adding a solo home run off the New York Mets’ Masato Yoshii in Game One of the Division Series.

After his meteoric rise in 1999, Durazo’s luck soured in 2000. An injury to his right wrist required two separate operations and three trips to the disabled list, limiting him to just 67 games. Concerned that Durazo might not be fully recovered from the injury, the Diamondbacks signed veteran Mark Grace in December 2000 to handle first base. With Grace blocking his path to a starting spot, Durazo teamed up with Dellucci and Colbrunn to form the major league’s most potent pinch-hitting corps. By late September, however, a batting slump relegated Grace to the bench and given Durazo another shot at claiming the first base job.