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2003 Baseball For The Ages
Our annual survey lines up the best, from emerging youth players to big league stars
October 12, 2003
Mark Prior, meet Justin Upton. And Ryan Klem.
You may not have heard of them yet, but like you, they’re in select company. One of the most intriguing aspects of Baseball America’s annual Baseball For the Ages selections is that it brings together players from every age, every level and every region. Our 14 winners may come from diverse backgrounds, but they share one thing in common: They’re the best baseball players in the country—if not the world—at their ages.
The criteria for choosing our winners depends on the player’s age. Older players are judged on talent and what they have achieved on the field, while the winners from 12 to 18 are based more on potential and performance at national and international competitions. In each case, the universal youth baseball cutoff date of Aug. 1 is used to establish a player’s age.
12 Ryan Klem rhp/of, Chandler, Ariz.
Chandler National Little League fell a win short of representing the U.S. in the championship game this year’s Little League World Series—without Klem on the roster. Despite being a Chandler resident, Klem wasn’t eligible because of Little League’s stringent eligibility rules; he lives just outside the team’s 20,000-population boundary. There’s little doubt the 5-foot-10, 130-pounder would have made a difference. As a member of the Chandler Express, a travel team that often included Cory Bernard and Justin Rosales (the two best players on the Chandler Little League squad), Klem put up eye-popping numbers. While leading the Express to victory in one of Cooperstown Dreamspark’s weekly tournaments, he hit .840 and slammed 14 home runs in 12 games. He beat Missouri’s Mac-N-Seitz, then the nation’s No. 1-ranked 12-year-old team, in the championship game 2-0 on a one-hitter, striking out 10. He scored both his team’s runs, one on a homer.
When the Express was unable to return to Cooperstown to play in the National Tournament of Champions in late August, Klem was recruited to play for California’s Say Hey Kids and hit 11 more homers and had 17 strikeouts while throwing a no-hitter against the North Alabama Vipers. “He simply had overpowering stuff,” Say Hey manager Ben Juarez said. “That was probably the best pitching performance by a 12-year-old I’ve ever seen.” Opposing managers echo the sentiment. Klem, who has been clocked at 84 mph and has a darting slider, also pitched the Express to a third-place finish at the Triple Crown 13-year-old World Series.
Klem played in 120 games over 12 months, mostly against players a year or two older, and mostly off a 54-foot mound (Little League mounds are 46 feet). He won 35 games, posted a 0.60 ERA and struck out 360 in 145 innings. As a hitter, he had a .606 average and 71 home runs. “He’s a phenom, a freak of nature,” said Express coach Larry High, who also scouts for the Cardinals.
Klem hit leadoff for the Express because he was the fastest player on the team, and he’s an outstanding center fielder. In addition to beating the nation’s No. 1 12-year-old team this year, he also beat the Tucson Wildcats, the No. 1 12-year-old team last year as an 11-year-old, with a no-hitter and 17 strikeouts. A seventh-grader at Chandler’s Pueblo Middle School, Klem is targeted to attend Mountain Pointe High in Phoenix in two years. He is playing this fall for the Arizona Landsharks, one of the nation’s top 14-year-old teams. Given his talent and all he has accomplished—he doesn’t turn 13 until April—it’s probably a good thing Klem wasn’t allowed to unleash his powerful fastball for Chandler in the Little League World Series. At 46 feet, an 84 mph fastball is the equivalent of a 109 mph pitch. Now that’s dominating.
3B Jamie Mallard’s home run feats have already been featured in ESPN Magazine more than once. Since age 7, he’s launched 271 home runs in 472 youth league games. In 2003 alone, he hit more than 40 while hitting .622 for the Tampa Crush, the AAU national 12-year-old champions, and another 20 in Bronco League competition—most over 300-foot fences. He’s only the second 12-year-old on record to launch a ball out of a major league stadium. He hit two 400-foot shots this summer at Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field, duplicating a feat first accomplished at Tiger Stadium by Prince Fielder, when his dad Cecil played first base in Detroit. The 5-foot-8, 185-pound Mallard led the Crush to a weekly championship at Cooperstown Dreamspark, homering in his final three at-bats as the Crush beat the South Florida Raptors 10-1 in the championship game. He homered 10 times on the week. From last September through this year’s AAU national championship in Minnesota, the Crush compiled a 90-4 record. Mallard didn’t play in the AAU tournament, but RHP/3B Ray Delphey picked up the slack. He won the championship game, led the tournament with 23 strikeouts in 12 innings and was ranked as the tournament’s No. 1 player. He also was the winning pitcher in the Crush’s championship game victory at Cooperstown, striking out 14 in six innings.
Mac-N-Seitz, one of several prominent travel teams that represents an academy just outside of Kansas City operated by former Royals Mike Macfarlane and Kevin Seitzer (see Page 19), finished the season 74-3 and was ranked No. 1 nationally by USA Sports Rankings. SS/RHP Blaine Dalton and OF/RHP Garrison McLagan were the team’s best players. Dalton hit .520-25-74 with 109 stolen bases. He also went 16-0, 1.25 with 11 saves. McLagan went 17-1 with eight saves. Both players were key pickups by the South Carolina Spirit, which won Cooperstown Dreamspark National Tournament of Champions. Dalton went 5-0 on the week, including a no-hitter, and had nine homers, including three on the final day. McLagan went 2-0, started the championship game and had 11 homers on the week.
Three years ago, RHP/1B Sean O’Sullivan was selected the nation’s top 12-year-old. He played for the San Diego Stars, the same organization his younger brother Ryan has played with since he was 9. The Stars won six 12-year-old tournaments this year, including the USSSA World Series, and four 13-year-old tournaments. O’Sullivan was the top player on the team, hitting .511 with 39 home runs, while going 16-4, 1.10 with four saves.
He’s 11 and not eligible for this list, but C Patrick Leyland more than held his own against 12-year-olds while playing for Pennsylvania’s Beaver Valley Red, which went 83-4 and ranked No. 2 nationally. Patrick is the son of ex-Pirates manager Jim Leyland, who helps coach the team. 3B/RHP T.J. Kuban, who hit .630 with 41 homers, and 6-foot-2 RHP/1B Zak Sinclair, who went 18-1 while hitting .575 with 36 homers, were the team’s top 12-year-olds. Beaver Valley won 10 of 11 tournaments it played in this year.
A teammate of Klem’s on the Chandler Express, versatile Cory Bernard was also the star player on the Chandler National Little League team that went 16-1 before being upset by Boynton Beach, Fla. The 5-foot-2, 110-pound Bernard shut out Southern California, 2-0, in the West regional final to propel his team to Williamsport, then tied a Little League World Series record with three home runs in a game against Iowa. Boynton Beach RHP Michael Broad pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 to beat Georgia in the Southeast final and eliminated Chandler in the Little League World Series on a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts, but he was on the losing end of a 10-0 decision to Japan in the championship game.
13 Robert Stock c/rhp, Agoura, Calif.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Stock narrowly missed winning his age group as a 12-year-old, going 12-for-12 with six home runs on the final day of Cooperstown Dreamspark’s National Tournament of Champions and pitching a two-hitter with 13 strikeouts in the championship game. He also stopped international power Taiwan in two starts while leading his hometown Agoura team to the Bronco League World Series title.
With bigger fields, 13 is a more difficult age to dominate, but there was no denying Stock this year. He played for three different teams—the 13-year-old West Coast Rebels, the 14-year-old California Eagles and his local 17-and-under American Legion team. With a fastball that touched 89 mph, Stock led the Rebels to a second straight Triple Crown World Series title. He struck out 22 in his allowable eight innings of work and stroked a mammoth home run that two-hopped a 460-foot fence. With Stock in the lineup the last two years, the Rebels posted a 120-3 record.
“He was by far the best player in every tournament he played,” Rebels coach David Whetstone said. Playing a year up, he led the Eagles in home runs. In his best performance for that club in a USSSA qualifier, he homered while shutting out the San Diego Cobras, one of the nation’s top 14-year-old teams. He also led his Legion team deep into state tournament play, getting 14 hits in 15 at-bats in one stretch. A freshman at Agoura High, he already is the hardest thrower on the team and projects as the team’s starting catcher.
Kyle Davies, now a promising righthander in the Braves system, was the nation’s top 13- and 14-year-old when he played in the renowned East Cobb program of Marietta, Ga. Now comes his brother Jake, a 6-foot, 220-pound first baseman/lefthander who is breaking all of Kyle’s East Cobb home run records. Jake hit a program-record 54 in 2002 as a 12-year-old and 25 this year, while leading the Astros to a second-place finish at the AAU 13-year-old national tournament. In a 96-game season, Davies hit .494 with 125 RBIs. He also won 25 games, striking out 131 in 104 innings.
LHP/1B Eric Hosmer went 33-0 for the South Florida Diamond Kings. The team finished fifth at the USSSA national tournament, but the 5-foot-9, 182-pound Hosmer threw a one hitter against Mac-N-Seitz, the nation’s No. 1 13-year-old team at the time. At the state USSSA tournament, Hosmer led his team to five straight wins by hitting .620 with eight doubles and 11 RBIs.
SS Taylor Kaprive, an eighth-grader at King’s Academy in West Palm Beach, Fla., was the only 13-year-old on the U.S. team that placed fifth at the Pan American 14-year-old championship this summer in Mexico. C/RHP David Wright is a potential five-tool talent. He plays for ex-big leaguer Cecil Espy, one of the nation’s top youth league coaches, in summer ball for the Arlington Wizards and at Fort Worth’s Country Day High. Wright already has a mid-80s fastball and slammed 14 home runs during the summer.
3B/RHP Abe Ruiz spent his summer playing for the Monterey, Calif.-based Aldrete Baseball Academy Blast, which is run by ex-big leaguer Mike Aldrete (now the Mariners’ first-base coach) and brother Rich. Ruiz went .568-5-49 at the plate and 12-2 on the mound as his team went 67-7 overall, won eight tournaments and finished second in two others. Ruiz won three games at the Super Series 13-year-old national tournament and was one of the few pitchers to beat California’s No Fear Astros, winner of the USSSA tournament and the nation’s No. 1 13-year-old team.
14 John Tolisano 3b, Sanibel, Fla.
Two premier youth teams, Florida Elite and the East Cobb (Ga.) Aztecs, joined forces this summer, putting three of the nation’s best 14-year-olds—Tolisano, Michael Main and Patrick Johnson—on the same team. Separately, the two teams won the AAU 14 national title, Triple Crown spring nationals and USSSA 14 titles; together they won the inaugural World Wood Bat Association Freshman championship in Marietta, Ga. The 6-foot, 180-pound Tolisano, a ninth-grader at Estero High, earned the nod over his teammates because of his superior hitting ability. A switch-hitter, he swings the bat well from both sides of the plate with considerable power.
“He’s as accomplished a 14-year-old hitter as I’ve ever seen,” Aztecs coach Earl Newalu said. In 103 games, Tolisano hit .679 with 13 home runs. He hit at least .600 in every tournament he played in this summer, including a lofty .842 average and the tournament’s only home run as he led the Elite to the AAU national title. The versatile Tolisano plays mostly third base but also pitches and can run his fastball into the mid-80s. Scouts say he will end up behind the plate down the road.
The 6-foot-1, 155-pound Michael Main and the 5-foot-9, 150-pound Patrick Johnson rank right alongside Tolisano. Main earned MVP honors and closed out the championship game as the Central Florida Sundevils won AAU national titles when he was 9, 10 and 11. He also led the Elite to the 14-year-old AAU title this year. Now a freshman at Deland High in Deltona, Fla., Main runs his fastball into the 89-91 mph range. He’s an accomplished outfielder and drove in the tying run in the final inning of the championship game of the WWBA Freshman tournament, then scored the winning run. He was the tournament MVP. Johnson may have been the best 14-year-old pitcher. He threw consistently 89-90 mph, topping out at 92. Though he lives in Hickory, N.C., and is a ninth-grader at St. Stephens High, Johnson spent the summer in Marietta, Ga., playing for the Aztecs. He drew every tough matchup and went 15-1 overall, including 5-1 against 15-year-old teams and 2-0 against 16-year-olds. Among his victims were the USSSA 16-year-old champion Maryland Orioles, whom Johnson blanked 4-0. Johnson, an infielder when he doesn’t pitch, also hit better than .500.
The Seattle Stars went 89-14 and won three major national tournaments: the Triple Crown spring nationals in Arizona in March, the Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series in Ohio in July and the Sandy Koufax World Series in Illinois in August. C/RHP Kawika Emsley-Pai was MVP at the Triple Crown and CABA tournaments. On the season, he hit .479 with 117 runs and 77 RBIs, while going 14-2, 1.69. RHP Cam Nobles, a teammate of Emsley-Pai’s with the Stars and at Jackson High in Mill Creek, Wash., was MVP of the Sandy Koufax World Series, where he went 2-0, 0.00 with 23 strikeouts in 12 innings. On the summer, the 6-foot, 160-pound Nobles went 12-3, 0.95 with 126 strikeouts in 88 innings. Six-foot-2, 185-pound OF Joey Paciorek, whose father Jim and uncles Tom and John played in the big leagues, split his season between the Stars and his local Babe Ruth League team in Blaine, Wash. In 53 games for the Stars, he hit .439-15-76.
RHP Kelvin Garner, the No. 1-ranked player in the draft Class of 2006, is “the next Lee Smith,” according to his summer league coach, Omar Washington of the Dallas Panthers. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Garner, who has size 17 feet, was clocked at 88-90 mph at the World Wood Bat Association Freshman championship in Marietta, but Washington says he’s been up to 93-94 mph this fall. Garner is a sophomore at North Garland High in Garland, Texas.
SS/RHP Ryan Still won this age group the last two years. Now a freshman at Westside High in Houston, Still spent another summer season with the Houston Raiders and went .512-4-75 with 107 runs as a hitter and 9-3, 1.15 with 15 saves as a pitcher.
15 Justin Upton ss, Chesapeake, Va.
Upton isn’t eligible for the draft until 2005, but he already is the No. 1 player on the Major League Scouting Bureau’s follow list and figures to stay there for the next year and a half. Many scouts say he’s a better all-around prospect at the same stage than his older brother B.J., the second overall pick in the 2002 draft. That’s saying a lot since B.J. ascended to Double-A in his first full minor league season and could be starting at shortstop for the Devil Rays before his 20th birthday. “Justin is a very powerful and athletic young man,” says Wiley Lee, Upton’s coach at Great Bridge High in Chesapeake. “Last year was his first full year at shortstop and he made tremendous progress. He has great feel and his hands are soft. He puts in the hours of practice and has the dedication to make him great.”
As a high school sophomore, Upton led Great Bridge to the Virginia 3-A title, hitting .458-7-39 with 11 stolen bases. He split his summer between tournaments and showcase events. He earned a spot on Team USA’s national youth squad off his performance in June at USA Baseball’s Junior Olympics, but he decided not to make the trip to Taiwan in the aftermath of the SARS epidemic. Instead, he attended the East Coast Professional Baseball Showcase and Area Code Games, where he solidified his draft stock. Twice this summer, he was clocked in a lightning-quick 6.2 seconds in the 60-yard dash. His velocity across the infield has also been measured at 91 mph.
3B Brandon May made his mark in 2003 as a key member of the 16-year-old East Cobb (Ga.) Astros. The Astros went unbeaten in winning their seventh AAU Junior Olympics title in the last eight years and second straight CABA World Series crown. May earned all-tournament honors in both tournaments, and led the CABA series with 18 hits and 12 doubles. He finished his summer with MVP honors at the Super Seven Series in Marietta, Ga., a seven-team event that attracted the nation’s elite 16-year-old travel teams. May hit almost .500 in the series, including a 4-for-5 effort in the championship game. The Astros went 81-11, losing only one game to a 16-year-old team and ending the year on a 36-game winning streak. A third baseman for the Astros, May plays shortstop for his high school team, Lassiter High of Marietta.
OF/RHP Sean O’Sullivan has been one of the best players in his age group since he was 10. As a high school sophomore at Valhalla High in El Cajon, Calif., he went 9-1, 1.08 with three saves on the mound and hit .444-5-42 to earn sectional player of the year honors. He spent most of his summer as a member of Team USA’s youth squad and played a key role as the team earned a gold medal at the World Youth Championship in Taiwan. O’Sullivan hit .379-2-9 and won his only pitching decision. O’Sullivan’s younger brother Ryan is one of the nation’s top 12-year-olds.
1B/RHP Donald Gunn has been one of the dominant players in his age group since leading his West Palm Beach, Fla., team to the Cal Ripken World Series title in 2000 as a 12-year-old. Now 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, Gunn was MVP at this summer’s USSSA 15-year-old World Series. He hit better than .500 at Team USA’s Junior Olympics in Jupiter, Fla., and was the leading hitter at East Cobb’s season-ending Super Seven Series. As a sophomore at Grandview High in West Palm Beach, Gunn led area high schools in RBIs and was the No. 2 overall hitter.
The Seattle Stars won the CABA World Series in both the 14- and 15-year-old age groups. Just as the 14-year-old team was led by two players from Jackson High in Mill Creek, Wash., the 15-year-old team’s two best players were also from that school. 1B Travis Snyder hit .425 with four homers as a freshman at Jackson High and followed that up by hitting .482-16-70 with the Stars—primarily against 16-year-old teams. Snyder led the CABA tournament with five homers and 19 RBIs. His teammate, 2B Curt Nelson, also hit .400-plus as a high school freshman and then hit .446-5-50 on the summer for the Stars. He was MVP of the CABA series, based on a .579-4-16 effort.
16 Nick Adenhart rhp, Hagerstown, Md.
Though he’s one of the youngest members of the 2004 prep class, Adenhart pitches like he’s much older. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a knee-buckling curve, Adenhart went 7-1, 1.00 as a junior at Hagerstown’s Williamsport High, and then pitched at the top of the rotation this summer for the 21-and-under Maryland Orioles. He sprinkled in dominant performances at showcase events as well.
“The only guy I’ve seen that has a better breaking ball was (Wake Forest righthander) Kyle Sleeth,” said University of Maryland junior Jason Maxey, who caught Adenhart this summer. Pitching against players with one and sometimes two years of college experience, Adenhart led the Orioles to the All-American Amateur Baseball Association World Series title in Johnstown, Pa. He also took time out to pitch for one of the younger teams in the Orioles all-ages program at the National Amateur Baseball Federation 17 World Series, winning his only start as his team finished third.
Adenhart spent much of the summer ranked as the nation’s No. 1 high school prospect, based on strong showings in summer showcase events, notably the East Coast Professional Baseball Showcase in Wilmington, N.C. Adenhart has committed to North Carolina but should be a high first-round pick in the 2004 draft.
RHP Erik Davis is six weeks younger than Adenhart and didn’t turn 17 until early October. After compiling a 1.31 ERA and striking out 127 in 75 innings as a junior at Mountain View (Calif.) High, Davis had a hectic summer. It began with the Junior Sunbelt Classic in Oklahoma, where he represented California. He then was the top prospect at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Lincoln, Neb. From there it was on to the Tournament of Stars in Joplin, Mo., where some coaches said he was the best pitching prospect. The highlight came in July when he pitched the U.S. to a silver medal at the Pan Am Cup in Curacao, going 2-0, 0.00 with 18 strikeouts. He was named the event’s top righthander. He also attended the AAU 16-and-under Junior Olympics in Detroit and went 1-0 as the West Coast Titans finished seventh in the 44-team event. He still found time to pitch in two more showcase events, as well as the AFLAC All-American Baseball Classic in Fort Myers, Fla., striking out two of the three batters he faced. At 6-foot-3, Davis features a 94 mph fastball with nasty sink and run. He has a plus changeup and a good curveball. Davis has committed to Stanford.
RHP Jeremy Hellickson was the ace of the U.S. youth national team that won the gold medal at the World Youth Championship in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. He compiled a 2-0, 0.00 record with 17 strikeouts, while allowing a walk and eight hits in 14 innings. He was the winning pitcher in a 2-1 semifinal win over Cuba, going all nine innings without a walk and 12 strikeouts. His fastball sat at 88-89 mph and touched 91. Hellickson, one of the top pitching prospects in the prep class of 2005, went 6-0, 0.63 with four saves as a sophomore at Hoover High in Des Moines. “He has an unbelievable attitude and never seems to get rattled,” said Scott Belger, his high school coach. Hellickson also played with shortstop Justin Upton at Team USA’s Junior Olympics in Jupiter, Fla., and spun a perfect game with 14 strikeouts in one of his starts.
The youth national team featured a handful of top prospects for the 2005 draft, including SS/RHP Justin Bristow and OF Jared Bogany. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Bristow was MVP of the World Youth Championship after hitting .516-3-11 in 31 at-bats. He’s also a premium quarterback prospect at Richmond’s Mills Godwin High, where he played on the same baseball team as Twins first-round pick Matt Moses. Bristow pitches in the low 90s and went 4-1, 2.27 as a sophomore, dropping a notch from his 9-0 freshman season because of a nagging shoulder injury. “In a couple years, if things continue to develop, we may be looking at another first-round pick,” Mills Godwin coach John Marano said. Bogany, who attends George Bush High in Houston, has been timed at 6.7 seconds in the 60-yard dash and used his speed to lead the World Youth Championship with a .619 average and .652 on-base percentage.
The East Cobb (Ga.) Astros continued their mastery of the nation’s top 16-year-old competition by winning the AAU Junior Olympics for the seventh time in eight years and Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series for the second year in a row. LHP Miers Quigley (Roswell, Ga., High) was the team ace and made every tough start. OF Keiron Pope (East Coweta High, Sharpsburg, Ga.) earned MVP honors at the Junior Olympics, and scouts rave about his athletic 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame. OF Kyle Carter (Lee Scott Academy, Auburn, Ala.) was the MVP at the CABA series, hitting .400 with a tournament-high 11 RBIs.
3B/RHP Trevor Bell was considered the top pitcher at Team USA’s 64-team Junior Olympics in Tucson but opted not to play in the World Youth Championship. A junior at Crescenta Valley High in La Crescenta, Calif., Bell projects as a first-round pick in 2005. He has a short, powerful stroke and produced tape-measure home runs during the high school season.
OF Andrew McCutcheon won the state 100-meter dash title as a freshman at Fort Meade (Fla.) High. After missing his sophomore baseball season because he blew out his knee playing football, McCutcheon returned to form by hitting .600 at Team USA’s Junior Olympics in Jupiter, Fla., and blasting three homers at the Super Seven Series in Marietta, Ga., at summer’s end.
17 Felix Hernandez rhp, Mariners
Hernandez rolled through the college-dominated, short-season Northwest League with a 7-2, 2.29 record and 73 strikeouts in 53 innings for Everett. He was named the league’s top prospect. Signed out of Venezuela in 2002, Hernandez led the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts for most of the summer, before allowing four earned runs over five innings in his final start prior to a promotion to low Class A Wisconsin, where he went 0-0, 1.93 with 18 K’s in 14 innings.
“He more or less dominated every time he took the mound,” Tri-City manager Ron Gideon said. Hernandez throws his overpowering fastball at 94-95 mph. It topped out at 97, and could easily reach 100 as he matures and adds strength. He also has a plus curveball and solid changeup. He has a good presence on the mound and a knack for pitching, not to mention the ideal frame at 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds. “He’s not raw at all,” Spokane manager Darryl Kennedy said. “The only rawness is that he is 17 years old. He’s one of the better young prospects on the mound in this league in a while.”
The MVP of the inaugural AFLAC Classic, SS/RHP Chris Nelson is the latest star to emerge out of the East Cobb program. The 6-foot, 175-pounder is a premium athlete and hit .468-5-34 with 18 steals in as many attempts as a junior at Redan High in Decatur, Ga. He also went 12-3 as a pitcher. During the summer, he helped the Astros to their third Connie Mack World Series title in five years. He hit .410-3-41 and went 5-0, 0.89 on the mound with 48 strikeouts in 31 innings. His fastball touched 92. Defensively, Nelson shows a plus arm, soft hands and major league shortstop actions. Those skills along with his quick short stroke and raw power potential would make him a first-round pick, but he had Tommy John surgery in late September and is expected to miss the 2004 high school season.
SS/RHP Matt Bush of San Diego’s Mission Bay High has some of the quickest feet and best shortstop actions of any rising senior. His plus arm can deliver 94 mph fastballs on the mound (he also has a plus curveball) as well as accurate throws from deep in the hole at short. The 6-foot, 170-pound Bush shows a quick stroke, and projects to hit for average with some power. He homered in the AFLAC Classic off Nick Adenhart. The only junior named to Baseball America’s 2003 High School All-America team, he hit .458-8-34 with 21 steals while going 8-2, 1.44 with 86 strikeouts in 68 innings on the mound. He was the top prospect at this year’s Area Code Games.
It might seem odd that the first pick in the 2003 draft doesn’t garner the top spot on this list, especially when OF Delmon Young has been a mainstay in his age group in the past. But he didn’t match the other players in this group, in large measure because he didn’t play. Two minor injuries limited him to 57 at-bats—he still hit .544-7-28—at Camarillo (Calif.) High, and he signed a major league contract worth at least $5.8 million too late to make his debut in the Devil Rays organization. Still, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Young still has the most upside of any player his age. He is an advanced hitter with top-of-the-scale power. Some scouts say he could hit 25 home runs in the majors right now, with the expectation of hitting 40-45 a year when he settles in.
Despite his age, Rockies RHP Ching-Lung Lo held his own in the Northwest League. Lo compiled a 2.87 ERA, 10th-best in the league, and allowed just 66 hits in 73 innings. He showed the potential for three above-average pitches: a lively 88-92 fastball, a solid changeup and a slider. Already 6-foot-6 and 190 pounds, Lo should continue to grow stronger (and possibly taller), and could push his fastball into the mid-90s.
18 Greg Miller lhp, Dodgers
Miller’s fastball reached the mid-80s two years ago as a junior in high school, but few pitchers have improved as much since. The 31st overall pick in the 2002 draft. Miller’s fastball now reaches the mid-90s, and he gets good downhill movement on the pitch from his 6-foot-5, 190-pound frame. He blew through the high Class A Florida State League despite having just 38 innings of prior experience. In 116 innings, he went 11-4, 2.49 and struck out 11.
Miller’s repertoire continues to grow. His curveball is an above-average pitch, he has a solid change and has developed a new cut fastball. “It’s pretty rare to do what Greg is doing,” Dodgers scouting director Logan White said after Miller’s promotion to Double-A, where he went 1-1, 1.01 and struck out 40 while walking seven in 27 innings. “He’s come farther (since being drafted) than any kid I’ve ever seen.”
SS B.J. Upton won this age group last year, and hit .297-8-62 with 73 walks and 105 strikeouts in his first professional season, split between low Class A and Double-A in the Devil Rays system. While he committed 56 errors, scouts and managers who saw him say he’ll be a solid defender at shortstop. “He was the best player I saw all year,” said Double-A Carolina manager Tracy Woodson, who managed Marlins Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis this season. “He looked like a number one pick. You can’t tell that he was one year out of high school. He has an unbelievable approach at the plate.”
Baseball America’s 2003 High School Player of the Year, RHP Jeff Allison had one of the most dominant seasons by a prep pitcher in recent memory, and not just because Massachusetts high schools used wood bats. Allison went 9-0 and didn’t allow an earned run. He struck out 142 in 64 innings, while walking just nine and giving up 13 hits. To top it off, he had an epic sectional semifinal, when he gave up an unearned run to trail 1-0. He later singled and stole home for the go-ahead run, then returned to the mound from right field to get the save in a game he started. Allison was drafted in the first round by the Marlins and signed for a $1.85 million bonus.
3B Ian Stewart was the Rockies’ first-round pick in June after a stellar career at La Quinta High in Westminster, Calif. Stewart stepped into the Rookie-level Pioneer League and batted .317-10-43 with a .558 slugging percentage on his way to being named the league’s top prospect. “He drives the ball the other way to left-center field, and he can hit the ball over the right-field lights,” said Provo manager Tom Kotchman. Yankees 3B Eric Duncan is a similar talent, with above-average offensive potential. Stewart has a bit more raw power, but Duncan may be a slightly better hitter overall. Also a first-round pick in June, Duncan was the top prospect in the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League, where he hit .278-2-8.
19 Zack Greinke rhp, Royals
Greinke, a first-round pick in 2002, pitches with the savvy and poise of a major league veteran. His fastball can touch 94 mph, but he prefers to work between 88-91 mph, adding or taking a little off to keep hitters off balance. He also can alter the speed on a nasty curveball and has a slider and changeup that project as major league pitches. But it’s his command and ability to throw the pitch that a batter isn’t expecting that has the Royals eagerly awaiting his arrival.
“He’s as close to what you’d call a sure thing as I’ve seen,” Class A Kinston manager Torey Lovullo said. “Sometimes you look at him and it’s hard to believe he’s only 19. It doesn’t make sense.” Greinke went 11-1, 1.14 at Wilmington of the Carolina League and earned a promotion to Double-A Wichita, where he went 4-3, 3.23.
RHP Edwin Jackson spent the entire summer as one of the youngest players in Double-A, where he struck out 157 in 148 innings. Called up to the Dodgers for a spot start in September, he earned a place in the rotation, going 2-1, 2.45 in four starts while featuring a 97-99 mph fastball.
Mets LHP Scott Kazmir won this age group last season after a standout season as a high school senior. He did little to disappoint in his first full pro season, as he struck out 145 in 109 innings while jumping to high Class A.
Brewers 1B Prince Fielder showed an advanced hitting approach in his first full pro season, but it’s his power that could make him a future all-star. He hit 27 home runs at low Class A Beloit, while hitting .313 with 112 RBIs.
RHP Huston Street’s sophomore season at the University of Texas was impressive enough, as he went 8-1, 1.33 with 15 saves, but he turned it up a notch for Team USA during the summer. Street didn’t allow a run all summer, including a heroic 82/3 innings of relief to beat Mexico in the semifinals at the Pan American Games.
20 Miguel Cabrera 3b/of, Marlins
Cabrera was poised to break out in 2003, after ripping 43 doubles as a 19-year-old at high Class A Jupiter in 2002, but nobody could have predicted the impact of his explosion. He came out raking in April, hitting .402 for Double-A Carolina, and his hot bat prompted the Marlins to move him to left field to expedite his arrival to the majors. Not only did he make a smooth transition to the outfield, but he also hit a game-winning home run in his major league debut.
When Mike Lowell went down in August, Cabrera went back to third base and hit .308 in September. Then he turned in a four-hit performance against the Giants in the Marlins’ Game Four victory in the National League Division Series. Ranked as the best prospect in the Southern League, where he hit .365-10-59, Cabrera combined to hit 50 doubles and a career-high 22 home runs with 111 RBIs between the minors and majors.
Twins top prospect Joe Mauer has lived among the league leaders in hitting during his three professional seasons, and his .339 average between two levels this season was tops among minor league catchers. His offensive and defensive package made him Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. “There’s not very many players like him,” Twins scouting director Mike Radcliff said. “I hesitate to throw out some of the prominent players in the major leagues, but he has that type of presence and ability to affect a game. He can impact the team beyond hitting or throwing a guy out at second base . . . He’s not just going to enter the major leagues and take a few years to settle in. He will have an impact from day one.”
2B Rickie Weeks flirted with .500 all spring for Southern, and finished his season with an NCAA Division I record .473 career mark. The Brewers took him second overall pick in June and couldn’t have been more pleased with his pro debut: .349-1-16 with a .494 on-base percentage in 63 at-bats for low Class A Beloit. It earned him a promotion to Milwaukee for the final two weeks of the season. “For us, when you think about this organization and where we’re heading and what’s coming, it’s a good fit,” Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik said. “He’s 20 years old. He’s going to get better. Like all young kids, he just needs some fine-tuning of his game.”
Sophomore RHP Jeff Niemann tied an NCAA record with a 17-0 record for College World Series champion Rice during the spring. Niemann extended his success to the Cape Cod League, where he tossed 19 scoreless innings and was tabbed as the circuit’s top prospect. At 6-foot-9, Niemann throws 91-95 mph with a power breaking ball. He’s the early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft.
21 Dontrelle Willis lhp, Marlins
Willis completed a meteoric rise from face in the crowd with the Cubs organization to key member of the Marlins rotation in a little more than a year. He was the key player in the spring 2002 deal that sent Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca to the Cubs, and after a half-season at Double-A this year he found himself in Florida. He won 14 games and was a major reason the Marlins made the playoffs and, interestingly enough, advanced to face the Cubs in the National League Championship Series.
No one was sure OF Rocco Baldelli, last year’s winner in his age group, was ready for the big leagues after making such fast progress in the Devil Rays organization last year. But he more than held his own, batting .289-11-78 and playing sterling defense in Tampa Bay to claim a spot in the Rays outfield for years to come.
Athletics RHP Rich Harden opened his season with 13 perfect innings in the Double-A Texas League and finished it in the Athletics rotation. He faded late and ended up going 5-4, 4.46 in Oakland.
While nothing could match the hype of RHP Francisco Rodriguez’ postseason success with the Angels in 2002, he showed the same dominant stuff in his first full big league season. He had a 3.03 ERA, but more significantly held batters to a .173 average, allowed less than a baserunner an inning and struck out 95 in 86 innings.
22 Mark Prior rhp, Cubs
As Prior thoroughly dominated the Braves in his complete game two-hitter in the National League Division Series, it was hard to convince yourself he was just 23 (with a September birthday, he’s 22 for our purposes here). But if you’re a loyal Baseball America reader, you weren’t all that surprised. We’ve been touting Prior for years, and he’s been as good as advertised, winning 18 games and compiling a 2.43 ERA this season and making himself a legitimate candidate for the NL Cy Young Award in his first full big league season.
After stumbling in his first big league shot in 2002, Hank Blalock was ready for his second chance. He grabbed the third-base job in Texas and should hold on to it for years, after batting .300 with 29 home runs this season. His timely All-Star Game home run gave the American League home-field advantage in the World Series.
Similarly, those who gave up on 3B Sean Burroughs should not have been so hasty. Burroughs hit .286 with a .352 on-base percentage for the Padres this season and established himself as their man at the hot corner. Yes, the power will come.
RHP Brett Myers looks like at least a workhorse and potentially an ace after his first full season in the majors. He pitched 193 innings for the Phillies, winning 14 games and finishing with a 4.43 ERA. As might be expected, he tired down the stretch, with an ERA above 6.00 in August and September.
23 Albert Pujols of, Cardinals
Pujols has established himself simply as the best hitter this side of Barry Bonds. His .359-43-124 season carried the Cardinals, and his on-base plus slugging percentage was an unbelievable 1.106. It’s his third straight year at the top of this age group, and barring injury it’s hard to imagine anyone usurping him . . .
. . . But if anyone does, 1B Mark Teixeira wouldn’t be a bad bet. After he played in both infield and outfield corners early in the year to get at-bats, he was entrenched as the Rangers’ first baseman by season’s end and put up 26 home runs, best among big league rookies.
RHP Josh Beckett has been dealing with minor injuries that have held him back, but he rounded into form by midseason and was the Marlins’ best pitcher down the stretch. It’s no accident that he started Game One of the Division Series and League Championship Series.
Not many people noticed because the Indians were in rebuilding mode, but LHP C.C. Sabathia had his best major league season yet, going 13-9 and finishing 10th in the AL with a 3.60 ERA.
24 Vernon Wells of, Blue Jays
He doesn’t get the acclaim of some other players on our roll of winners, but Wells takes a back seat to no one. He hit .317-33-117 for the Blue Jays, his second year of at least 100 RBIs in his second full season in Toronto. Given how much he improved overall from year one to year two, it’s hard to guess what his numbers might be next year.
LHP Mark Buehrle, who won his age group the previous two years, had a bad May and tired a bit down the stretch, but he still was the White Sox’ most consistent pitcher and piled up 230 innings to go with a 14-14, 4.14 record.
The Diamondbacks got a big boost for their pitching staff from two 24-year-olds: RHP Brandon Webb is BA’s Rookie of the Year (see Page 12) after posting a 2.84 ERA, sixth-best in baseball, and RHP Jose Valverde was dominant out of the bullpen, with 71 strikeouts in 50 innings.
Nick Johnson established himself once and for all as the Yankees’ first baseman, playing sterling defense and putting up the strong offensive numbers expected of him. His .422 on-base percentage was third-best among all major league first basemen.
25 Alfonso Soriano 2b, Yankees
Soriano continued to provide a powerful spark at the top of the Yankees lineup, batting .290-38-91 and setting a major league record with 13 leadoff home runs. He again scored more than 100 runs (114) and reached the brink of a 40-40 season, with 35 steals.
Athletics LHP Mark Mulder was headed toward a possible Cy Young Award-winning season when he went down with a broken leg bone near his hip. He still finished 15-9, 3.13. LHP Barry Zito picked up the slack, throwing 232 innings with a 3.30 ERA in spite of his 14-12 record. Fellow 25-year-old Eric Chavez sparked the A’s offense, overcoming his usual slow start with his usual blistering finish to end the season hitting .282-29-101.
The Braves have their middle infield set for awhile. SS Rafael Furcal put up the best season of his young career, batting .292 with 15 home runs and even turning the 12th unassisted triple play in big league history. 2B Marcus Giles emerged and posted even better numbers, with a .316 average, .390 on-base percentage and .526 slugging percentage.
All-stars for the Ages
12 . . . AND COUNTING
An all-star team of the nation’s elite 12-year-olds:
Pos. Player Hometown
C Christian Walker Limerick, Pa.
Hit 16 HRs in week at Cooperstown; led team to Pennsylvania Little League title.
1B Jamie Mallard Tampa
Already a home run legend, he’s hit 271 in his career, two out of Tropicana Field.
2B Blaine Dalton Blue Springs, Mo.
Led Mac-N-Seitz to No. 1 ranking by hitting .520-25-74 with 109 SB; went 16-0, 1.25.
3B T.J. Kuban Wexford, Pa.
Sparked Beaver Valley (Pa.) Red to 83-4 record, No. 2 ranking; hit .630 with 41 homers.
SS Ryan O’Sullivan El Cajon, Calif.
Hit .511 with 39 homers, won 16 games playing in brother Sean’s footsteps for San Diego Stars.
OF Cory Bernard Chandler, Ariz.
Led hometown team to Cooperstown title, third place at Little League World Series.
OF Frankie Moreno Seattle
Played on 76-7 Seattle Stars 13-year-old team; hit .506-11-75 with 54 SB, went 7-0 on mound.
OF Shane Turner Red Level, Ala.
Described by one prominent youth league coach as “the best 12-year-old athlete I’ve ever seen.”
UT Ryan Klem Chandler, Ariz.
Nation’s top 12-year-old earned rave reviews while dominating hitters with 84 mph fastball.
P Michael Broad Boynton Beach, Fla.
Pitched Boynton Beach to U.S. title at Little League World Series, lost to Japan in finale.
P Brock Duke Salem, Utah
Switch-hitter with a low 80s fastball, he put on a big show twice at Cooperstown.
P Ray Delphey Tampa
Pitched Tampa Crush to AAU national title, Cooperstown weekly championship.
P Garrison McLagan Columbia, Mo.
Compiled 17-1 record with eight saves, swung big bat for Mac-N-Seitz.
P Zak Sinclair McDonald, Pa.
Used 78 mph fastball to go 18-1 for Beaver Valley Red, nation’s No. 2 12-year-olds.
18 . . . AND COUNTING
Pos. Player The Skinny
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia A switch-hitter, Braves sandwich pick has power potential, leadership skills.
1B Eric Duncan Yankees first-rounder has some Chipper Jones hitting actions in his swing.
2B Roberto Valido White Sox fourth-rounder hit .307-6-31, was Appy League’s No. 3 prospect.
3B Ian Stewart Rockies first-rounder evokes Jim Thome comparisons with his power stroke.
SS B.J. Upton Advanced tools, disciplined plate approach has him on Devil Rays fast track.
OF Chris Lubanski Top prospect in Arizona League may be fastest player among his peers.
OF Lastings Milledge Mets first-rounder’s speed, arm strength, quick wrists match up with anyone’s.
OF Felix Pie Dominican talent hit .285-4-47, led Class A Lansing to Midwest League title.
DH Matt Moses Hitting actions are the equal of any ‘03 draftee; he just needs a true position.
UT Ryan Sweeney Versatile second-rounder hit .327 in pro debut; if that fails, he’s a solid lefty.
P Jeff Allison BA’s 2003 prep Player of the Year used high 90s heat to overpower hitters.
P John Danks Rangers’ first-rounder led high school team to long stretch as No. 1 team.
P Clint Everts Expos’ ‘02 first-rounder used big-time curve to advance to low Class A in ‘03.
P Justin Jones Cubs southpaw with low-90s fastball was Midwest League’s No. 3 prospect.
P Greg Miller Youngest player in Double-A developed rapidly in Double-A in L.A. system.
19 . . . AND COUNTING
Pos. Player The Skinny
C Dioner Navarro Future Yankees backstop hit .321-7-65 between high Class A and Double-A.
1B Prince Fielder Cecil Fielder’s son flirted with a triple crown at low Class A Beloit in 2003.
2B Eric Aybar He turns the double play as well as anyone; also hit .308-6-57 in low Class A.
3B Andy Marte Great glove and solid bat (.285-15-63); should be Braves starter by 2005.
SS Jose Lopez Precocious shortstop showed power (13 HR) and speed (18 SB) in Double-A.
OF Jeff Francoeur Top prep football prospect showed developing baseball skills at low A Rome.
OF Brent Clevlen Playing in pitcher’s park hurt stats, but Tigers prospect hit .290-10-37 on road.
OF Jeremy Hermida Marlins ‘02 first-rounder had solid first full year (.284) at Class A Greensboro.
DH Ryan Braun BA Freshman of Year hit .364-17-76 for CWS-bound Miami as shortstop/DH.
UT Nick Markakis BA JUCO player of year led nation in wins (12), strikeouts (160), RBIs (92).
P Fausto Carmona Sally League’s ERA (2.06) and wins leader (17) showed a plus fastball.
P Zack Greinke Dominated high Class A and held own at Double-A with amazing command.
P Edwin Jackson Has gone from third-starter for high school team in 2001 to major leaguer.
P Scott Kazmir Lefty with 97 mph heater continued to pile up strikeouts in two stops for Mets.
P Huston Street Best college closer keeps adding to his College World Series highlights film.
20 . . . AND COUNTING
Pos. Player The Skinny
C Joe Mauer BA Minor League Player of Year coupled pure hitting with gold glove defense.
1B Casey Kotchman Hampered by injuries again, Angels prospect hit .350 with 30 BB/16 K ratio.
2B Josh Barfield Paced the minors with 46 doubles, 128 RBI; earned Cal League MVP honors.
3B David Wright Mets hot prospect evokes Scott Rolen with his power potential, defense.
SS Jose Reyes Dynamic shortstop was lone bright spot in Mets ‘03 lineup before ankle injury.
OF Franklin Gutierrez Dominican combined speed (20 SB), power (24 HR) in breakout campaign.
OF Grady Sizemore Former prep QB standout emerged as the jewel of a loaded Tribe farm system.
OF Miguel Cabrera .365-10-59 in half season at Double-A before helping Marlins clinch wild card.
DH Rickie Weeks Top college player hit .479 as junior before Brewers popped him with No. 2 pick.
P Travis Blackley Aussie southpaw used devastating change, 90 mph heat to win 17 in Double-A.
P Chad Gaudin Made unlikely ascent to majors after hurling perfect game in Double-A debut.
P Jeff Niemann Followed unblemished 17-0 soph year with Cape Cod’s top prospect ranking.
P Ervin Santana Angel overmatched hitters with nasty three-pitch arsenal on way to Double-A.
P Jered Weaver All-American added BA Summer Player of Year award as Team USA’s ace.