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The Scouting Department: Top Second Baseman

by Josh Boyd
August 20, 2003

The Scouting Department will break down the top minor league prospects at a different position during the second half of the season. The rankings are based on projected major league ceiling, combined with information acquired from scouts and other front office executives.
Previous Editions: First Basemen
Catchers

1. Josh Barfield, Padres
Age: 20  Level: High-A  2002 Ranking: 5
Barfield ranked behind fellow Padres second base prospect Jake Gautreau at the end of last season, but Barfield wasn't far off. Barfield made major progress this year in Lake Elsinore, while Gautreau has regressed. Younger than Hairston by nearly three years and Chase Utley (who would have ranked No. 2 if he weren't in Philadelphia) by four years to the day, Barfield has developed more power this season, as evidenced by his 39 doubles and 12 home runs. He has tremendous bat speed and can drive the ball to right-center field with authority. Barfield needs to tighten his strike zone judgment. He's not a pure second baseman either, leading some scouts to project him as a left fielder. He didn't inherit his father's outstanding arm strength.

2. Scott Hairston, Diamondbacks
Age: 23  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: 1
It would have been difficult for Hairston to improve on his monster 2002 campaign. He set the bar too high by hitting .345 with 73 extra-base hits between low Class A South Bend and high Class A Lancaster. Any chance he had of chasing those numbers was quickly erased when a lower back injury sidelined him during June. He shows the best bat speed and power of any second baseman in the minors and should develop into an offensive force if he can stay at the position. Like the others atop this list, Hairston isn't considered a strong defender. He could end up at third base or left field. "That list is a sign of how atrocious the state of the minor leagues is," an American League executive said. "There isn't a guy on that list I'd call a legitimate major league starting prospect aside from Hairston, who might not stay at the position."

3. Jayson Nix, Rockies
Age: 21  Level: High-A  2002 Ranking: 13
A younger brother of Rangers rookie outfielder Laynce Nix, Jayson Nix is having a breakthrough season in the California League. Their approaches are similar at the plate; and Jayson has crushed 43 doubles and 15 home runs, both career bests. He is a heady player with good instincts and has made strides defensively.

4. Robinson Cano, Yankees
Age: 20  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: 10
Cano emerged last spring and has hit the fast track running again this season. A hard-hitting live-drive machine, Cano jumped to Trenton after batting .276-5-50 at Class A Tampa, though he posted just a .690 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. That was down from last year's .766 mark for low Class A Greensboro. His bat speed is outstanding. Cano, a 2003 Futures Gamer, has primarily played second base, but has experience at third and shortstop, and could profile as a potential long-term answer at third base. He'll need to add some more pop to his arsenal, though, and the Yankees might help by slowing down his ascent. Not everyone believes Cano's the real deal though. "Cano's just another example of a Yankee prospect who has been hyped by the organization--with the complicity of the local press--to increase his trade value," the AL exec said.

5. Jason Bourgeois, Rangers
Age: 21  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: 17
Bourgeois is a sparkplug type player often compared to Ray Durham and Eric Young. He is a plus runner with solid plate discipline, though he has been more anxious since a midseason promotion to Double-A. His defense is considered fringy, but with his work ethic, he projects to be at least average.

6. Alberto Callaspo, Angels
Age: 20  Level: Low-A  2002 Ranking: NR
Callaspo demonstrates excellent bat control and the ability to hit for a high average. Defensively, he has the best tools on this list. While he has shown the strength to drive the ball into the gaps (34 doubles), he has fanned just 25 times in 472 at-bats.

7. Victor Diaz, Mets
Age: 21  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: NR
Diaz just hits. He was included in the three-prospect trade that sent Jeromy Burnitz from the Mets to the Dodgers. Diaz carried a .320 average into the season after winning batting titles in each of his first two seasons. He was hitting .291-10-54 for Jacksonville at the time of the deal and has hit .349 in 126 at-bats for Binghamton since. Diaz is a sneaky athlete, with enough speed to be a factor on the bases. He's a liability defensively, but could improve with work and better physical conditioning.

8. Chris Burke, Astros
Age: 23  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: 5
Burke has been much improved in his second trip through the Texas League. At the plate, he does an effective job getting on base and hitting for average. His speed is also a plus, but he lacks any thump with the bat. The former college shortstop has room for improvement defensively, though he'd be an upgrade from Jeff Kent, who is signed through 2004.

9. Delwyn Young, Dodgers
Age: 21  Level: Low-A  2002 Ranking: NR
Another who might not stay at second base, Young has committed 31 errors. But defense won't be the focal point of his game in the future. He flat out rakes, and hits with power from both sides of the plate. Because of his defensive limitations at second and his plus arm strength, Young is a candidate to move to third base or even behind the plate.

10. Joe Thurston, Dodgers
Age: 23  Level: Triple-A  2002 Ranking: 7
Thurston's stock has dropped as much as any second baseman in the minors. Coming off a .334-12-55, 196-hit performance in Triple-A Las Vegas, Thurston was expected to claim the Dodgers second base job this spring after incumbent Mark Grudzielanek was dealt to the Cubs. Thurston looked overmatched at the plate and in the field, and has regressed at the plate in repeating Triple-A. Some scouts questioned how his unorthodox hitting approach would play in the majors, but others projected him as a frontline second baseman. His makeup is second to none, and for that reason Thurston shouldn't be counted out.

11. Mike Fontenot, Orioles
Age: 23  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: 18
Fontenot has made some impressive strides since last season. He's attributed much of his turnaround this year to the contact lenses he's been wearing since early this season. One of the biggest adjustments he's been forced to make as a pro is to get away from the aluminum bat, lift-the-ball approach he employed at Louisiana State. He's been more efficient this year, getting on base and cutting down his strikeouts, and needs to continue to improve in those areas. "He seems to be fine with taking a line-drive single instead of swinging for the fence," one American League scout said.

12. Ruben Gotay, Royals
Age: 20  Level: High-A  2002 Ranking: NR
Gotay came out stroking this year. He hit .352 in April, but followed that up with a disappointing .200 effort in May. He continued the trend with a solid June, followed by a poor July. All this month-to-month fluctuation saw his average bottom out at .246, though he's heating up again in August. One scout offered a simple opinion on Gotay's inconsistent performance: "He's tired. He's getting himself out. He's just lost it." As he matures, Gotay should produce more of the good months than the bad, making him an offensive second baseman. He has an aggressive approach at the plate and is capable of hitting the ball hard into the gaps. "Defensively, he's just average," the scout said. "He's just a 35 or 40 runner, and 40 might be generous."

13. Jake Gautreau, Padres
Age: 23  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: 2
Gautreau hasn't come close to his potential since signing as a first-rounder out of Tulane in 2001. In college he earned the nickname "Jake the Rake" by hitting .388 as a third baseman to lead Conference USA as a junior. A move to second base hasn't produced the desired results: a lefthanded version of Jeff Kent. Much of his struggles can be attributed to ongoing bouts with colitis, which causes him to lose weight and saps his power and ability to drive the ball. The Padres will have to decide what do with Gautreau soon, though, as Barfield will be ready for a shot at Double-A next year. Gautreau's increasing number of strikeouts won't help his case.

14. Freddie Bynum, Athletics
Age: 23  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: 7
Bynum has tools, but he hasn't smoothed out his rough edges from season to season. If he were to adapt the A's plate discipline philosophy, his stock would soar. But he continues to strike out excessively. He isn't likely to get a chance in Oakland, but another club will be willing to take a chance on his tools. He should repeat Double-A and then spend a full year at Triple-A.

15. Micah Schilling, Indians
Age: 20  Level: Low-A  2002 Ranking: NR
There are several players on the others to watch list who will reach the big leagues in a limited capacity, but a few of them--including Schilling, Joaquin Arias, Shaun Boyd and Luis Montanez--have the upside to have an impact if everything clicks. Like many of the bats near the top of this list, Schilling will have to hit his way into a big league job. At 20 years old, he'll have at least three years to develop. After a slow start in his first full season league, Schilling has been impressive in the second half. He has a live bat, though his numbers don't indicate it this season with only 20 extra-base hits. The Indians can afford to start Schilling in Lake County again next year, as high Class A second base prospect Eider Torres isn't likely to be ready for Double-A by next April.


Others to watch:

Joaquin Arias, Yankees
Bernie Castro, Padres
Ismael Castro, Mariners
Danny Garcia, Mets
Esteban German, A's
Kevin Hooper, Marlins
Mark Kiger, A's
Alejandro Machado, Brewers
Aaron Miles, White Sox
Luis Montanez, Cubs
Adam Morrissey, A's
Johnny Raburn, Brewers
Dominic Rich, Blue Jays
Eider Torres, Indians
Ruddy Yan, White Sox

Graduated to the majors:

Willie Bloomquist, Mariners
Alex Cintron, Diamondbacks
Bobby Hill, Cubs
Pablo Ozuna, Rockies
Antonio Perez, Devil Rays
Brandon Phillips, Indians
Chase Utley, Phillies

Sleepers:

Francis Gomez, A's
Aaron Herr, Braves
Jesus Merchan, Twins
Jorge Sequea, Blue Jays

Last year's sleeper update:

Ramon Nivar: Then listed as Ramon Martinez, his career has taken off with a move to center field and a jump to the big leagues.
Greg Thissen: Offseason wrist injury sapped his doubles power and his season has never really got on track.


Analyzing last year's top 10 second baseman list
(posted in October 2002)

1. Scott Hairston, Diamondbacks

Only a back injury earlier this season slowed his progress; still sits at the top

2. Joe Thurston, Dodgers

Disappointing; was exposed in spring training when the Dodgers handed him the job

3. Jake Gautreau, Padres

Not living up to his potential as an offensive weapon at second base

4. Chris Burke, Astros

A little better the second time through the Texas League, but not looking like an impact-type player

5. Josh Barfield, Padres

Making tremendous strides at the plate, developing power and showing run-producing ability

6. Antonio Perez, Mariners

Was acquired by Devil Rays from the Mariners last offseason along with Lou Piniella; Perez is the only from this list to establish himself in the majors so far

7. Freddy Sanchez, Red Sox

Sent to the Pirates as part of Red Sox deadline dealing; has played more shortstop, projects as an average second baseman, but keeps excelling at every stop

8. Shaun Boyd, Cardinals

Finally succumbed to outfield switch and reached Double-A before turning 21, looks like a long development process though

9. Freddie Bynum, Athletics

More of a scouts' favorite because of his tools, but they haven't really translated into consistent performance

10. Robinson Cano, Yankees

Lack of power is surprising after early surge, but he's a line-drive machine with a lot development still to come

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