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By J.J. Cooper
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
2. David Wright, 3b
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190.
Background: Considered one of the best pure hitters in the 2001 draft, Wright quickly showed that he also has an advanced knowledge of the strike zone to go with his power potential. Wright led the Florida State League with 56 extra-base hits in 2003, ranking third in slugging percentage and fourth in on-base percentage.
Strengths: At his best, Wright is a scout's dream. He flashes the potential to be a .300 hitter with 25-30 homers and 80-plus walks. He makes all the plays at third base. He's one of the best in the minors at charging bunts and choppers, and he also shows a major league arm with good accuracy. Wright has average speed and runs the bases well. He responds to instruction well.
Weaknesses: In each of his two full pro seasons, Wright has been a very streaky hitter. In 2003, he hit .200 through May and June. He works so hard before games that he wore himself out, and the Mets think he'll be more consistent now that they've gotten him to pace himself.
The Future: Wright has steadily moved one level at a time, which should continue in 2004 as he heads to Double-A. He could push for the Mets' third-base job at the end of 2005.
3. Matt Peterson, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 217.
Background: After spending the last month of the season in Double-A, the Mets sent Peterson back down for the Florida State League postseason. He thrived in the playoff atmosphere, going 2-0, 0.64 in two starts, including a seven-inning one-hitter in his last outing of 2003.
Strengths: Peterson has a solid 90-92 mph fastball that he throws to both sides of the plate, but his out pitch is a 12-to-6 curveball that will be a plus pitch with a little more consistency. His changeup also has shown flashes of becoming a solid offering. Peterson has an advanced feel for pitching and did a better job with his preparation in 2003.
Weaknesses: Peterson's command isn't bad, but it needs to get better before he's ready for the majors. He junked his curve at one point for a slurve and now throws a slider as a secondary breaking pitch, but it's a ways from being usable.
The Future: Peterson has a chance to be a No. 2 starter if he puts everything together. He got a taste of Double-A in 2003 and probably will return there to start 2004. A midseason promotion to Triple-A Norfolk is a likely possibility.
4. Lastings Milledge, of
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 185.
Background: One of the most well-known and well-scouted players in the 2003 draft, Milledge starred for Team USA at the 2001 World Youth Championship and the 2002 World Junior Championship. He dropped to the No. 12 pick for a variety of reasons: an inconsistent history with wood bats, some signability questions, and allegations of improper sexual conduct. Milledge never was charged, and after the Mets conducted their own investigation they signed him for $2.075 million.
Strengths: Milledge's five-tool potential reminds the Mets of former outfield prospect Brian Cole, who was killed in a car accident in 2001. The best athlete in the 2003 high school crop, Milledge wows scouts with his bat speed, foot speed and arm strength. His quickness was on display in his brief pro debut, as he stole five bases in seven games.
Weaknesses: Offensively and defensively, Milledge has to get used to wood bats. He struggled at times reading balls off the bat in instructional league, though he should become an above-average center fielder. He needs to learn to lay off breaking pitches and work counts better.
The Future: After signing late, Milledge has to make up for lost time. He could start 2004 at low Class A Capital City if he has a strong spring training.
5. Justin Huber, c
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190.
Background: While he's somewhat raw because he's from Australia, Huber has played baseball and been a fixture on Australian national teams for years. He signed with the Mets right before earning all-tournament honors at the 2000 World Junior Championship. Since arriving in the United States, the only thing that has slowed him down has been a strained pectoral muscle that cost him the first four weeks of the 2003 season.
Strengths: Huber is an offensive catcher. He has the ability to hit for average with 20 homers annually, and the Mets rave about his raw power. He also has shown the ability to get on-base with a career .382 OBP. He has solid catch-and-throw potential, and he handles pitchers well.
Weaknesses: Huber is still raw defensively. At times he looks mechanical with poor footwork. When his mechanics are out of whack, his average-at-best arm becomes a liability. He threw out just 24 percent of base stealers in 2003.
The Future: With Jason Phillips' and Mike Jacobs' strong showings, there's no need to rush Huber. He'll likely return to Double-A to start 2004.
6. Bob Keppel, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5 Wt.: 185.
Background: As a junior point guard, Keppel led DeSmet High to its first-ever Missouri state title and he almost ended up playing basketball at Notre Dame. He threw the first regular-season no-hitter in Binghamton franchise history in August.
Strengths: Despite lacking a true plus pitch, Keppel held his own as a 21-year-old in Double-A. One scout who saw him several times compared him favorably with more highly regarded John VanBenschoten of the Pirates, largely because of Keppel's uncanny ability to make the right pitch at the right time to the right spot. His 90-91 mph fastball touches 94 mph, though he has found it's more effective and has better movement when he throws it free and easy. His changeup is a major league pitch.
Weaknesses: Keppel's slider is solid at times but is still inconsistent. His
curveball isn't as advanced as his other three pitches. He throws strikes, but the Mets want to see better command. After missing a month in 2003 with a strained forearm, he was supposed to get some work in the Arizona Fall League but had to be shut down with shoulder stiffness.
The Future: The Mets believe Keppel will be fine by spring training. He's ticketed for Triple-A and could make his major league debut later in 2004.
7. Jeremy Griffiths, rhp
Age: 26. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 240.
Background: One of a number of quality pitchers to come out of the Mid-American Conference in recent years, Griffiths was the league's 1999 pitcher of the year. He improved his command in mid-2002 and accelerated his development, culminating with his promotion to the majors a year later.
Strengths: The 6-foot-6 Griffiths has gotten his delivery under control, which allows him to command four solid pitches. He works with a 90-91 mph fastball that touches 94, an 81-84 mph slider, a changeup and a curveball. The Mets liked that he became more aggressive in the minors and started busting hitters inside.
Weaknesses: Griffiths wasn't ready for the majors in 2003 and it showed. He was too tentative and hitters took advantage of him. He needs to regain his feel for his curveball, which he couldn't throw consistently for strikes.
The Future: Some Mets officials believe that Griffiths is more capable of handling the big leagues right now than 2001 first-rounder Aaron Heilman. Griffiths still would be best served by another half-season in Triple-A, but he'll be a candidate for New York's rotation in spring training.
8. Victor Diaz, 2b
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 220.
Background: Diaz won two batting titles in his first two pro seasons before the Dodgers packaged him with righthanders Joselo Diaz and Kole Strayhorn in the Jeromy Burnitz trade in July. Born in the Dominican Republic, Diaz played high school baseball in Chicago before becoming an all-American as a draft-and-follow at Grayson County CC.
Strengths: Scouts and managers have compared Diaz to Carlos Baerga, another stocky second baseman with a good bat. Line drives fly off of Diaz' bat despite his unorthodox hitting approach. He's very strong and has good opposite-field power.
Weaknesses: Diaz doesn't control his weight well, which has hurt his range and speed (though he's a decent runner once he gets going.) The Dodgers tried him at first, second and third base without finding a good fit for him. If he stays in shape, he might have enough range to go with his good hands at second base. He needs to show more patience at the plate.
The Future: Diaz' future rests in large part in what condition he shows up in for spring training. If he's 20-25 pounds lighter, he'll go to Triple-A and could help the Mets before long. If he arrives overweight again, they may start losing patience with him.
9. Craig Brazell, 1b
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210.
Background: The son of Ted Brazell, a former Tigers minor league catcher and manager, Craig caught in high school but moved to first base after signing. He has tied for the system's home run lead in each of the last two seasons and drove in 101 runs in 2002.
Strengths: Brazell can put on a show in batting practice and does a good job of converting his power into game production. Despite a very aggressive approach, he has shown he also can hit for average. He has soft hands at first base.
Weaknesses: Brazell takes big swings looking for fastballs early in the count, which allows pitchers to get ahead of him. He rarely walks and strikes out in bunches. His speed and defensive range are below average.
The Future: Brazell's path to the majors appears blocked by Mike Piazza's move to first base. Brazell tried the outfield during instructional league in an attempt to increase his versatility, but first base still appears to be his best position. He's destined to start 2004 in Triple-A.
10. Aaron Baldiris, 3b
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 170.
Background: Baldiris has topped .300 in all but one of his six minor league stops. The only thing that has slowed his ascent was a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the entire 2001 season.
Strengths: Baldiris wears No. 4, just like his boyhood hero Edgardo Alfonzo, and they have similar games. Both hit for average with line-drive power and slick gloves. Baldiris sprays line drives all over the field, showing a very advanced approach and the ability to stay inside the ball. If pitchers try to bust him inside, he can turn on pitches and flash some power. He exudes patience and makes good contact. At third base, he has outstanding range to his left, good hands and an average arm.
Weaknesses: Big league teams want more power at third base than Baldiris has shown to this point. If he doesn't add more pop as he fills out, he might move to second base. David Wright might also make that switch a necessity for Baldiris, who has the athleticism to handle it.
The Future: Baldiris' August demotion was a clear attempt to stack Brooklyn for the short-season New York-Penn League playoffs and no reflection on his play. He'll advance to high Class A in 2004, following one step behind Wright.