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2004 Draft Report Cards: AL Central

By Jim Callis
November 1, 2004


CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Best Pro Debut: LHP Ray Liotta (2) was the top pitching prospect and the ERA leader (2.54) in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. The White Sox had no reservations about sending 3B Josh Fields (1) directly to high Class A, and he justified their confidence by batting .285-7-39 in 66 games.

Best Athlete: A star quarterback at Oklahoma State, Fields set a school record for passing touchdowns (55) and a Cotton Bowl mark for passing yardage (307). LHP Wes Whisler (2) is an intriguing two-way talent. He was the Cape Cod League's top prospect in 2002—as a hitter. Chicago drafted him for his 92-93 mph fastball and his hard slider, but they also let him DH some during his pro debut.

Best Pure Hitter: The White Sox liken Fields to 2003 first-rounder Brian Anderson, describing both as tools guys who know how to play.

Best Raw Power: No Chicago draftee could put on a batting-practice show like Whisler, though his future appears to be on the mound. OF Brandon Allen (1), who had NCAA Division I-A potential as a linebacker, is very raw but can blast balls a long way.

Fastest Runner: OF Evan Tartaglia blazes from the left side of the plate to first base in 3.95 seconds.

Best Defensive Player: The White Sox thought C Donny Lucy (2) was the best defensive backstop in the draft.

Best Fastball: RHP Nick Lemon (8) doesn't always know where his heater is headed, but he hit 98 mph during the spring and 96 after signing. Chicago hopes his control (31 walks in 24 pro innings) will improve after he makes some mechanical adjustments. LHP Tyler Lumsden (1) pitches anywhere from 91-96 mph, while LHP Gio Gonzalez (1) has uncanny command of his fastball (87-90 to 94) for an 18-year-old.

Best Breaking Ball: Gonzalez has an electric curveball that's unhittable when he throws it for strikes. Liotta's out pitch is also his curve.

Most Intriguing Background: OF Kenny Williams Jr.'s (36) father is general manager of the White Sox. OF Daron Roberts' (12) dad Dave was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1972 draft and currently is a regional crosschecker for the Devil Rays. Both RHP Frank Viola Jr. (29) and C Pete Vuckovich Jr. (48) are the sons of former Cy Young Award winners.

Closest To The Majors: With Joe Crede faltering in the majors, the White Sox won't hesitate to promote Fields when he's ready. He could make his first big league appearance by the end of 2005. Gonzalez is so advanced that he'll make it much sooner than most high schoolers.

Best Late-Round Pick: Line drive-hitting INF Adam Ricks (10) hit .305 with a .411 on-base percentage in the Pioneer League, then shifted to catcher in instructional league.Ricks, who last played behind the plate in junior college, made good progress.

The One Who Got Away: Chicago signed its first 20 draft choices and lost the rights to just two. As expected, the athletic Williams opted to attend Arizona.

Assessment: The White Sox thought the strength of the draft was lefthanded pitching, and after getting a quality position player with their top pick they wanted to load up on southpaws. Mission accomplished. They began with Fields, then grabbed Lumsden, Gonzalez, Whisler and Liotta before the third round.


CLEVELAND INDIANS

Best Pro Debut: After beginning the summer in the Cape Cod League, LHP Tony Sipp (45) went to the short-season New York-Penn League and fanned 74 in 43 innings while going 3-1, 3.16. OF Mike Butia (5) and INF/OF Chris Gimenez (19) were both NY-P all-stars. Butia hit .315-5-44, while Gimenez batted .300-10-38 with league highs in doubles (23), extra-base hits (36) and slugging percentage (.527).

Best Athlete: OF Alfred Ard (30) doubled as a wide receiver at Southern and led the Southwestern Athletic Conference with 11 touchdown receptions in 2003. RHP Cody Bunkelman also played wide receiver at Itasca (Minn.) CC.

Best Pure Hitter: Butia should hit for average and power.

Best Raw Power: Butia over Gimenez and OF P.J. Hiser (29). Butia (18 at James Madison) and Hiser (21 at Pittsburgh) set school home run records during the spring.

Fastest Runner: Ard has been timed at 6.38 seconds in the 60-yard dash.

Best Defensive Player: SS Brian Finegan (15), despite his 22 errors in 68 NY-P games. His hands and arm are solid.

Best Fastball: Bunkelman, who threw in the mid-80s as a high school senior, hit 97 mph during a predraft workout for the Indians. He's raw but his arm works well. LHP Chuck Lofgren (4) touched 96 this summer after entering the year more highly regarded as an outfielder. He did some hitting in Rookie ball and instructional league. LHP Jeremy Sowers works at 85-91 mph, but few pitchers command their fastballs better.

Best Breaking Ball: LHP Scott Lewis (3) was on track to becoming a first-round pick before he succumbed to Tommy John surgery in 2003. He's nearly all the way back, showing a plus curveball and getting his fastball back up to 88-92 mph after signing.

Most Intriguing Background: Sowers, the 20th overall pick by the Reds in 2001, is the 12th two-time first-round pick in draft history. OF Jason Denham's (13) brother Dan and RHP Carlton Smith's (21) brother Corey are former Cleveland first-round picks still in the system. RHP Jordan Chambless (12) is a quarterback at Texas A&M. The Indians drafted a third wideout—Minnesota-Duluth RHP Tim Battaglia (50), who had a tryout with the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. Smith, Chambless and Battaglia are unsigned, though Cleveland still hopes to land Battaglia and his 91-92 mph fastball.

Closest To The Majors: Sowers is a lefty with four pitches he can put wherever he wants, so he'll be one of the first 2004 draftees to get to the big leagues. RHP Justin Hoyman (2) also has plenty of polish.

Best Late-Round Pick: Sipp has a low-90s fastball and a better slider than the Indians realized. He signed for $130,000, which is sixth- or seventh-round money. The Indians also are pleased with Gimenez and projectable LHP Michael Storey (23).

The One Who Got Away: Cleveland was very disappointed to lose out on Chambless and RHP Jeff Sues (14), both of whom have quality arms. The Indians thought they had bonus parameters worked out with both, but Chambless decided to attend college and Sues went back to Vanderbilt.

Assessment: Cleveland took eight pitchers with its first nine picks. The Indians picked up a pair of advanced arms in Sowers and Hoyman, then took some gambles on the upside of Lewis, Lofgren, Bunkelman and 6-foot-8 RHP Mark Jecmen (7).


DETROIT TIGERS

Best Pro Debut: RHP Nate Bumstead (32) went 3-1, 2.03 at short-season Oneonta, including a 75-15 K-BB ratio in 58 innings. He throws in the high 80s, relying on command, deception and moxie to succeed. RHP Dallas Trahern (34) had a 0.59 ERA in 31 innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

Best Athlete: OF Jeff Frazier (3) knows how to translate his physical tools into production. He hit .304 in 20 games at Oneonta before his pro debut ended when an errant pitch broke a bone in his left forearm. OF Brandon Timm (9) is another good athlete, a two-way player who threw 90-91 mph in high school.

Best Pure Hitter: Frazier shows the ability to both turn on pitches and drive them the other way.

Best Raw Power: Frazier, who holds the Rutgers career home run record with 34.

Fastest Runner: OF Leonardo Grullon (31) never made it past fall practice at South Florida, but the Tigers saw enough of him to take a chance on his above-average speed.

Best Defensive Player: Though he's 6-foot-5 and made 18 errors at Oneonta, SS Brent Dlugach (6) is more fluid than those numbers would indicate.

Best Fastball: RHP Collin Mahoney (4) spent two years as a backup catcher at Clemson before his strong arm earned him some mound time in 2004. Though he's still figuring things out, he hit 100 mph several times during the spring. Detroit is working on getting him more consistency and less effort with his mechanics. RHP Justin Verlander (1) touches 99 with his lively fastball, velocity topped in the college ranks only by Mahoney. RHPs Josh Kauten (11) and Matt O'Brien (15) both can reach 95, though O'Brien missed the summer with shoulder problems the Tigers knew about before the draft.

Best Breaking Ball: Verlander’s power curveball is a strikeout pitch. Bumstead's slider is his best pitch.

Most Intriguing Background: Frazier's older brother Charles plays in the Marlins system, while his younger brother Todd went in the 37th round to the Rockies. Mahoney's brother Ryan is a backup catcher at South Carolina, Clemson's archrival. 3B/SS Cory Middleton's (10) older brother Kyle pitches in the Royals organization.

Closest To The Majors: RHP Eric Beattie (2) was the Cape Cod League pitcher of the year in 2003, when he posted the second-lowest ERA in league history (0.39). His sinker, slider and control should allow him to help Detroit in short order.

Best Late-Round Pick: Trahern is very athletic and poised, and he owns a 90-92 mph fastball and a good curve. He was headed to Oklahoma as a two-way player before the Sooners unexpectedly fired pitching coach Ray Hayward, a former Tigers scout.

The One Who Got Away: Detroit tendered Verlander, the No. 2 overall pick, a major league contract worth more than the $3.35 million bonus they gave No. 3 choice Kyle Sleeth in 2004. With negotiations going nowhere, the Tigers got frustrated and pulled the offer from the table in mid-October. Finally, Verlander’s father kick-started negotiations, and the Tigers signed Verlander soon thereafter. Verlander had arguably the best pure stuff of any pitcher in the 2004 draft. With him in the fold, RHP Chris Carpenter (7) was the highest unsigned Tigers pick, instead enrolling at Kent State.

Assessment: Getting nothing but a sandwich pick in 2005 for the second overall pick would have been a blow to a franchise in need of talent. Nabbing Verlander helped the Tigers avert a disaster.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Best Pro Debut: Despite being young for the Rookie-level Pioneer League, 3B Billy Butler (1) dominated. He hit .376-10-68, leading the league in hitting and runs (74).

Best Athlete: SSs Josh Johnson (3) and Chris McConnell (9). Johnson's speed sticks out the most among his tools, while McConnell has classic infield actions.

Best Pure Hitter: Most teams had Butler as a second-round pick, but the Royals loved his bat and signed him for $1.45 million, which was $250,000 below Major League Baseball's recommendation for the No. 14 slot. If he can stay at third base—he worked on his flexibility in instructional league—he'll be that much more valuable.

Best Raw Power: Butler's power is his best tool. He already understands how to work counts to draw walks (he had 57 in 72 games) as well as to get pitches he can punish.

Fastest Runner: The Royals drafted OF Ethien Santana (22) for his speed. He flies from the left side of home plate to first base in 4.0 seconds, and he stole 23 bases in 52 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League.

Best Defensive Player: Johnson is steadier than McConnell, who gets to a few more balls but is more erratic at this point.

Best Fastball: RHP Henry Barrera (5) can reach 96-98 mph and reminds Kansas City of RHP Luis Cota (10 in 2003), a draft-and-follow coup. Signed for $1.05 million in May, Cota has a similar build (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) and velocity. RHP Erik Cordier (2) already throws 90-94 mph and should throw harder as his 6-foot-3, 197-pound frame fills out.

Best Breaking Ball: The Royals signed several pitchers with quality curveballs, none better than RHP Billy Buckner's (2). Polished LHP Matt Campbell (1) and J.P. Howell (1) both have nice benders, and Howell can alter his arm angle and velocity with his. Cordier flashes a power curve at times.

Most Intriguing Background: Butler and Rangers RHP Eric Hurley made Wolfson High (Jacksonville, Fla.) the fifth high school to produce two first-rounders in the same draft. Johnson's father Larry Doby Johnson played in the majors. Unsigned OF Tyler Jennings' (49) dad Dan is the Marlins' vice president of player personnel.

Closest To The Majors: Though he's a college lefty, Howell has some similarities to high school righty Zach Greinke, who reached Kansas City two years after going sixth overall in the 2002 draft. Like Greinke, Howell can mess up hitters by adding and subtracting from all his pitches. Though he tops out at 89 mph, Howell pitches inside and gets hitters to swing and miss at his sinker, curveball and splitter.

Best Late-Round Pick: RHPs Zane Carlson (27) and Kyle Crist (34) both can touch 93 mph and have effective secondary pitches. Carlson also throws a splitter and slider, while Crist flashes a plus curveball.

The One Who Got Away: LHP Myles Ioane (24) has some polish and projection, but he opted to go to college at Hawaii. The Royals signed their first 16 picks.

Assessment: Butler looks like a cost-effective steal, and Buckner and Cordier looked like first-round picks at one point during the spring. Campbell and Howell are by far the best lefthanders in the Royals system.


MINNESOTA TWINS

Best Pro Debut: 3B/SS Juan Portes (15) hit .327, tied for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League lead with eight homers and topped the GCL with a .530 slugging percentage. LHPs Glen Perkins (1) and Jay Sawatski (8) both reached low Class A Quad Cities and posted sub-1.40 ERAs with more than a strikeout per inning. RHP Kyle Waldrop (1) went 5-2, 2.14 between two Rookie clubs and was rated as the top pitching prospect in the Appalachian League. OF/DH Deacon Burns (26), an Appy League all-star, batted .314-12-49 and led the league with 80 hits and 20 doubles.

Best Athlete: OF Ricky Prady (29) combines speed and power, though he'll be a long-term project. SS Trevor Plouffe (1) entered 2004 more highly regarded as a pitcher, but his potential as an all-around shortstop was too much for Minnesota to ignore. RHP Jay Rainville (1) was an NHL prospect as a defenseman.

Best Pure Hitter: Plouffe, with Portes right on his heels.

Best Raw Power: OF Jeremy Pickrel (10). He's a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder who's a good athlete for his size.

Fastest Runner: Prady.

Best Defensive Player: The Twins see Plouffe as a shortstop in the mold of Greg Gagne. Few infielders have quicker hands than 2B Matt Tolbert (16), who also hit .308 in the Appy League.

Best Fastball: Rainville projects to throw the hardest of the Minnesota draftees, currently working at 93-94 mph with very heavy sink. RHP Eduardo Morlan (3) has the best present velocity, hitting 95-96 during instructional league. RHP Anthony Swarzak (2) can touch 95, while RHP Matt Fox (1) can reach 94.

Best Breaking Ball: Swarzak's and Waldrop's curveballs, with Swarzak's more consistent at this point. Sawatski's slider is his out pitch.

Most Intriguing Background: Sawatski's grandfather Carl caught for 11 years in the majors and served as president of the Texas League. Four draftees have football connections. RHP Shane Boyd (12) is Kentucky's starting quarterback. The Twins thought they had him signed as a 13th-round pick out of high school in 2000, but his mom nixed the deal. Minnesota controls his rights because he's a fifth-year senior. RHP Tate Casey (19) is a tight end and OF Tony Joiner (44) is a defensive back at Florida. Burns, the only signee among the group, was a running back/kick returner at Northern State (S.D.).

Closest To The Majors: Perkins or Sawatski. Perkins has very good command of three average or better pitches, plus he's lefthanded. So is Sawatski, who pitches aggressively with his high-80s fastball and his slider.

Best Late-Round Pick: Portes slipped through the cracks of the draft after dropping out of his Massachusetts high school to play in Iowa's spring wood-bat league. He still needs to find a position, however.

The One Who Got Away: The Twins thought they could get Casey signed, but the pressure to play football was too much. Casey had a mostly disappointing spring, but he does have a strong body and a low-90s fastball.

Assessment: Minnesota had baseball's best draft, replenishing the talent in the game's most consistently productive system. Though other clubs wondered about the Twins' budget, they didn't sacrifice talent for signability and signed their 15 picks, including five first-rounders.

 
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