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Game's big stars shone on Top 10 Prospects lists

by Jim Callis
September 23, 2004

CHICAGOFor many of you and for us, this is one of the favorite annual editions of BA. It offers 160 scouting reports covering minor leaguers at seven levels (you'll find double that number at BaseballAmerica.com), more than any other issue we produce.

We put the rankings together with an eye on the future. But it's also fun and instructive to look back to the past.

Let's assemble an all-star team of the players having the best major league seasons and see what BA said about them in Top 10 Prospects recaps on their way up.

Perennial Prospects

Four of the players were top 10 mainstays. From the time they stepped foot in the United States, the talents of Ivan Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Miguel Tejada and Adrian Beltre were evident.

Rodriguez was just 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds when he arrived, and he never hit much in the minors (12 homers, .667 on-base plus slugging percentage in three years), but managers annually raved about his defense and saw at least a glimmer of offensive potential. Pudge ranked seventh in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 1989, first in the high Class A Florida State League in 1990 and in the Double-A Texas League in 1991. An anonymous FSL manager said it best: "The only way you'll steal a base on him is if his teammate drops the ball."

Guerrero took a back seat to Andruw Jones in his first two seasons, ranking right behind him at No. 4 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 1994 and at No. 2 in the Sally League in 1995, before claiming the top spot in the Double-A Eastern League in 1996. Guerrero showed all five tools and a willingness to swing at (and hit) any pitch from the start, drawing comparisons to Barry Bonds, Roberto Clemente, Andre Dawson and fellow Expo Rondell White. "There's not a thing he can't do," Reading manager Bill Robinson said in 1996, "and there is not a thing he can't do exceptionally well."

It's not easy to project players in short-season ball, but managers pegged Miguel Tejada as the Northwest League's top prospect in 1995. "He's a five-tool player," Portland's P.J. Carey said, "and you don't see those that often at this level." Tejada repeated as the No. 1 prospect in the high Class A California League in 1996 and the Double-A Southern League in 1997.

Beltre matched Tejada's three No. 1's in the three years, taking top honors in the SAL (1996), FSL (1997) and TL (1998). Promoted to the Cal League in mid-1996, he also placed ninth there. From day one, the power in Beltre's bat and arm were obvious. "He can do just about everything," San Antonio manager Lance Parrish said in 1998.

Express Route To Majors

Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols and Ben Sheets all blew through the minors, stopping just long enough to qualify for top 10 lists once.

Bonds was No. 3 in the high Class A Carolina League in 1985 after going sixth overall in the draft. "He has the quickest bat in the league," Hagerstown manager Greg Biagini said. "He can do just about what he wants to."

Pujols, one of the few players to win a full-season MVP in his pro debut, dominated the low Class A Midwest League, where he ranked No. 5. Managers loved his bat and thought he had a chance to be a good third baseman, with West Michigan's Bruce Fields saying, "He has a chance to get to the big leagues quickly, probably as much as anyone in the league with the exception of Austin Kearns."

Sheets grabbed the No. 2 spot in the SL and the No. 6 slot in the Triple-A International League in 2000 before he departed for gold-medal glory at the Olympics. He showed the same nasty stuff, command and poise he's known for today. "Ability-wise, no one could touch him," Jacksonville manager Gene Roof said. "He simply overmatched hitters."

Slow To Blossom

Mark Loretta and Eric Gagne didn't earn immediate recognition, as they didn't crack top 10s until their third pro seasons.

Loretta, overlooked despite hitting .363 in his 1993 pro debut in the Cal League, was No. 9 in the now-defunct Triple-A American Association after nearly winning the RBI title. "His consistency offensively and defensively will make him a solid major league player," New Orleans manager Chris Bando said. "I never saw him waste an at-bat."

Gagne was the TL's pitcher of the year and No. 6 prospect in 1999 as a starter. His fastball and changeup were his two best pitches, though they weren't as devastating as they are today, and managers loved his fierce mentality even more. "He seems to be an outstanding competitor," Wichita's John Mizerock said.

Nowhere To Be Found

Neither Jim Edmonds nor Johan Santana did anything to warrant inclusion on a top 10 list.

In six minor league seasons, Edmonds totaled 29 homersa number he regularly exceeds on an annual basis. Some observers wondered if he had enough drive to succeed.

Santana had a quality arm when the Twins got him from the Astros (via the Marlins) in the 1999 major league Rule 5 draft, but he had yet to pitch above low Class A or exhibit consistent success. He didn't take off until he perfected a changeup in 2002.

You can reach Jim Callis by sending e-mail to jimcallis@baseballamerica.com.

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