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Even prospect experts miss the mark

By Jim Callis
March 1, 2002

CHICAGO–Putting together an overall Top 100 Prospects list is far from an exact science.

A year ago, Lance Niekro made the Top 100 as a third baseman, but Hank Blalock did not. We included shortstops Alex Cintron and Ramon Santiago, and excluded Angel Berroa and Brandon Phillips. Among lefthanders, we preferred Wilfredo Rodriguez and Mike Bynum to Ty Howington and Carlos Hernandez.

Hey, mistakes happen. If we were perfect, we’d all be working in baseball and enjoying our immense wealth. All we can do is reflect the consensus of opinion at Baseball America and throughout the game.

Try as we might, we most assuredly missed a few guys this year who will make us cringe in 2003. If you want to know who, here’s our best guess. For added degree of difficulty, we didn’t consider anyone who made a league Top 20 Prospects list after the 2001 season.

Rob Bowen, c, Twins. Bowen is one of the better catching prospects around, yet he has escaped attention because he never has been the best in his system. Fellow 1999 draftee Justin Morneau moved out from behind the plate last season, but Minnesota took Joe Mauer with the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft. Bowen is a switch-hitter with power, size and defensive tools.

Eric Munson, 1b, Tigers. Detroit never thought Munson would be on this list when it drafted him third overall in 1999 and handed him a $6.75 million big league contract. Back problems sapped him of his considerable power, which is exactly what the Tigers require right now, but it started to come back in the second half of 2001. He homered 21 times in his last 72 games, convincing Detroit to waive Tony Clark and open a starting job for Munson.

Tim Hummel, 2b, White Sox. All-star Ray Durham becomes a free agent after this season, and the feeling in Chicago is he’ll be too expensive too retain. Making that decision easier is Hummel, an offensive-minded middle infielder with a .380 career on-base percentage in the minors–which may indicate he’s more suited for the top of a lineup than Durham. The White Sox still rue not signing 1999 second-rounder Bobby Hill, but they eased their pain by taking Hummel in the same round a year later.

Eric Hinske, 3b, Blue Jays. Some scouts aren’t convinced Hinske is a third baseman, but that’s where he’ll start for Toronto this season. And Toronto is where he’ll find a home after being traded for relievers twice in the last year, first by the Cubs for Scott Chiasson and then by the Athletics for Billy Koch. What’s not in dispute is that Hinske has a capable bat. There’s no reason he shouldn’t become a consistent .275 hitter with 20-25 homers annually.

Tommy Whiteman, ss, Astros. Adam Everett may take over Houston’s starting job this year, and Chris Burke is the club’s best hope for the future, but the Astros have another advanced shortstop prospect in Whiteman. His rangy build reminds scouts of a young Cal Ripken, and he showed burgeoning power by homering 19 times in his first full pro season a year ago.

Kevin Mench, of, Rangers. After nearly winning the high Class A Florida State League triple crown in 2000, Mench tailed off in 2001. After injuring a hamstring and expanding his strike zone, the righthanded slugger did much of his damage against lefthanders. He’s just one potent bat in a system loaded with them, but he can claim a spot in Texas’ lineup if he gets back on track this year.

Nate McLouth, of, Pirates. When Pittsburgh couldn’t agree to terms with fourth-round pick Patrick Boyd in 2000, it poured some of that money into McLouth, who plummeted to the 25th round after teams were certain he’d attend Michigan. Signed as a second baseman, he moved to center field in his debut last year and drew comparisons to Lenny Dykstra. In a couple of years, McLouth could be the leadoff man the Pirates desperately need, and he also has pop.

Roscoe Crosby, of, Royals. If Crosby didn’t spend the fall showing off his NFL potential as a Clemson wide receiver, he would have been a first-round pick last June and would have made the Top 100. Longtime Royals scout Art Stewart says Crosby reminds him of Ken Griffey, and Crosby’s power-speed combination is obvious. Yet he may never realize his potential, and he won’t play his first pro game until this summer.

Eric Threets, lhp, Giants. San Francisco didn’t do Threets any favors by letting him start his pro career at high Class A San Jose, where he went 0-10, 4.25 as a starter. He dominated after the Giants backed him down to low Class A Hagerstown and put him in the bullpen, where his future may lie. What really caught everyone’s attention was a fastball reportedly clocked as high as 103 mph. He’s still raw, but 103 speaks for itself.

Ben Christensen, rhp, Cubs. To this point, Christensen’s career has been tainted by the Anthony Molina beanball incident and shoulder woes. Now that he has settled out of court and nearly returned to health, he should complete his ascent to Wrigley Field by September. His sinker, slider and command should allow him to force his way into what is becoming a crowded Chicago rotation.

Jim Callis is executive editor for Baseball America. You can contact him by sending e-mail to jimcallis@baseballamerica.com .

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