Orioles Prospects 2-10
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HSEnglewood, Colo., 1997 (1st round). Signed by: John Green/Logan White.
Background: One of the most celebrated athletes in the 1997 draft, McDonald passed up a Texas football scholarship to sign with the Orioles for $1.9 million. It looked as if he made the wrong career choice until 2002, when the proverbial light bulb seemed to go off. His brother Donzell played for the Royals in 2002.
Strengths: McDonald has as much athleticism as you could hope for. He translated that into performance when he started to understand hitting and the strike zone, showing patience, getting leverage in his swing and using all fields. In addition, better performance gave him confidence.
Weaknesses: McDonald can run and steal bases, but its not clear he has enough speed to play center field in the big leagues. His power, while improved, also might be short for a corner outfielder. Hell need to improve in one area or the other to be an everyday player.
The Future: The Orioles showed patience with McDonald, if only because of the money invested in him, and it finally paid off. Hes likely to return to Triple-A to start 2003, and if he shows further improvement he could be in the big leagues to stay sometime during the season.
3. Daniel Cabrera, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 208. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1999. Signed by: Salvador Ramirez.
Background: After two years in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, Cabrera came to the United States in 2001 and didnt show much in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, leading his team in walks with 39. He turned that around in 2002 with a jump in velocity and results.
Strengths: Cabrera has a nearly unlimited ceiling, as his fastball has touched 97 mph and sits in the mid-90s. He has a hard breaking ball and a decent changeup that he simply hasnt needed yet. He is a big kid who has grown into his body. With Cabreras body and mechanics coming together, scouts have mentioned names like Randy Johnson and J.R. Richard in comparisons.
Weaknesses: Command is still an issue for Cabrera, though it improved last season. He tries to overpower every hitter and will have to learn how to attack them more subtly and keep his pitch counts lower. He also needs to tighten up his breaking ball, which he calls a curve and the organization calls a slider.
The Future: In some ways Cabrera profiles as a potential closer, but the Orioles want him to start until he proves he cant. Hell make his first foray into full-season ball at low Class A Delmarva in 2003.
4. Luis Jimenez, 1b/of
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 205. Signed: Venezuela, 2001. Signed by: Arturo Sanchez (Athletics).
Background: Jimenez spent three seasons in the Athletics organization before he was released in 2001, reportedly because of a confrontation with a coach. The Orioles have been happy with him on the field and off, and he won the Rookie-level Appalachian League batting title in 2002.
Strengths: Jimenez is a natural hitter, with a level swing and bat speed that should produce power to all fields. The ball jumps off his bat, and he showed the ability to make adjustments as the season went on. He runs better than average for a player his size and shows good baserunning instincts.
Weaknesses: Any questions about Jimenez past have been resolved to the Orioles satisfaction. Hell have to keep his body in good shape and avoid gaining weight. He has to avoid trying to pull everything, which causes his swing to get long. Over the long haul hell focus on first base, where he has good footwork, and less on the outfield.
The Future: Much like Rodrigo Lopez provided a pleasant surprise in the big leagues, Jimenez fell into the Orioles laps and now is one of their best batting prospects. He could start out at either of Baltimores Class A affiliates to begin 2003.
5. Rommie Lewis, lhp
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 203. Drafted: HSNewport, Wash., 2001 (4th round). Signed by: John Gillette.
Background: Lewis was an easy choice as the low Class A South Atlantic Leagues all-star closer in his first full season. The bigger question was why he was in the bullpen at all when he owns one of the organizations top arms.
Strengths: The Orioles put Lewis in the bullpen after he was drafted in 2001 to ease his acclimation to pro ball. He performed well in the role and they made him the closer at Delmarva, where he overpowered hitters with a 93 mph fastball that has improved since he signed. He has great command for his experience level and already can locate the ball where he wants in the strike zone.
Weaknesses: Lewis has a decent curveball and changeup, but he didnt get to use them enough working in relief so they still need improvement. With his frame and stuff, some in the organization feel strongly that he should be a starter.
The Future: Its not clear at this point where Lewis will pitch in 2003 or in what role. Hell be at one of the Orioles Class A affiliates, and whether he moves to the rotation could be determined by the offseason changes that take place in the front office.
6. Mike Fontenot, 2b
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-8. Wt.: 178. Drafted: Louisiana State, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Mike Tullier.
Background: Fontenot signed for $1.3 million as a draft-eligible sophomore in 2001 and didnt take the field until 2002. He was picked for the midseason California League-Carolina League all-star game but did not play because of a broken finger on his throwing hand. He was one of the few players in the Arizona Fall League who hasnt played above Class A.
Strengths: The Orioles see Fontenot as an offensive sparkplug at second base, capable of hitting for average with occasional pop. He has a strong, compact body and should be fine defensively, though he committed 25 errors last season.
Weaknesses: Even given that he was adjusting from aluminum bats and gorilla ball at Louisiana State to the pro game, Fontenot still was miscast as a leadoff hitter. He didnt have much of an idea at the plate and needs to get a better awareness of the strike zone and projects more as a No. 2 hitter. He rushed throws and didnt set his feet well, problems that can be corrected.
The Future: Considering it was his first pro season, Fontenot showed promise and was much better by the end of the season. Hell take the next step to Double-A in 2003.
7. Richard Stahl, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 222. Drafted: HSCovington, Ga., 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Lamar North.
Background: The organizations top prospect a year ago, Stahl was supposed to take off in 2002 and put his history of nagging injuries behind. It didnt work out that way, as he made just two starts before having surgery to remove a bone spur at the top of his left shoulder in July. The spur was stretching the tendons in his shoulder.
Strengths: Stahl was back to full health by the end of instructional league, where his fastball velocity returned to the mid-90s. His curveball also has the potential to be a plus pitch. He already has filled out his big frame significantly since signing, adding nearly 40 pounds of muscle.
Weaknesses: Taking the ball every five days would do wonders for Stahl, who has pitched 78 innings combined in the last two seasons. The good news is that his injuries appear to be caused by his growing body, not any arm problems. Whatever the case, he needs innings to start smoothing out his rough edges.
The Future: Stahl has completed all of his rehabilitation and goes into spring training ready to take over a rotation spot. High Class A Frederick is his likely starting point.
8. John Maine, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. Drafted: UNC Charlotte, 2002 (6th round). Signed by: Mark Tramuta.
Background: Maine was Conference USAs 2001 pitcher of the year, but he had a disappointing junior season and fell to the sixth round, a round that has been good to the Orioles. In addition to Maine, the organization found Bedard and Eli Whiteside as sixth-rounders in the last four years.
Strengths: The Orioles have brought in an intriguing group of college arms in the last few years, and Maine has the best raw stuff of the group. His fastball sits at 92-93 mph and can go higher, and he throws it with great sink. He also has a hard slider thats a great pitch when its on.
Weaknesses: Maine has a big, loose frame, and he runs into problems when his mechanics get out of whack. His long arm action in college worried scouts and gave him command problems, but the Orioles say they havent seen that from him as a pro. He needs to work on a changeup.
The Future: A strong competitor with the stuff to back it up, Maine will open the season in high Class A. He could move through the organization quickly if he continues to dominate.
9. Tripper Johnson, 3b
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSNewport, Wash., 2000 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: John Gillette.
Background: After a promising debut and a disappointing follow-up campaign, Johnson got back on track in his first taste of full-season ball. A high school teammate of Rommie Lewis, Johnson had a storybook prep career in baseball, basketball and football. The Seattle Times chose him as its 2000 male athlete of the year.
Strengths: Johnson is an all-around athlete who doesnt stand out in any one aspect but is solid in all areas. He showed a much better idea at the plate and made consistent, solid contact, again encouraging the Orioles that he can develop above-average power. The organization expects that many of the doubles he hit in 2002 can become home runs as he matures and compares him to Ken Caminiti.
Weaknesses: While Johnson showed enough improvement on defense to indicate hell be able to stay at third base, he still needs to get better. He also must continue to develop his strike-zone judgment.
The Future: Johnson is a quiet, steady player who goes about his business in a professional manner every day. Hes not likely to draw the hype of other prospects but is as good a bet as any to make it to the big leagues. Hell move up to high Class A in 2003.
10. Eli Whiteside, c
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 203. Drafted: Delta State (Miss.), 2001 (6th round). Signed by: Mike Tullier.
Background: The Orioles drafted Whiteside after he was an NCAA Division II all-American at Delta State and took the team to the semifinals of the D-II College World Series. He was to continue his fast pace in the Arizona Fall League this year, but a hairline fracture to his hamate bone put him on the shelf.
Strengths: The Orioles drafted Whiteside for his defense. Hes got a country-strong body thats well suited for the rigors of catching, plus good feet and good technique behind the plate. He records mitt-to-glove times of less than 2.0 seconds on throws to second base. What has made him a prospect is his bat, which has been better than expected.
Weaknesses: Whiteside is still learning how to handle pitchers, and on offense hell need to develop more power to become a premium player. He had less success throwing out basestealers in 2002 (31 percent) than in his pro debut (41 percent).
The Future: In an organization that could use a few pleasant surprises, Whiteside has been one. Hes a blue-collar worker who could be in the big leagues within a year. Hell open 2003 in Double-A.
Best of the Rest
While the Orioles continue to look for quality shortstop prospects, two former college shortstops have become intriguing possibilities on the mound.
Righthanders David Crouthers and Paul Henry were both two-way players in college who now are focusing on pitching, with promising early results. Both have big frames, athleticism, plus fastballs and potentially good breaking balls.
Crouthers was a third-round pick in 2001 out of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, where he was the teams cleanup hitter and broke the school record for both RBIs and pitching strikeouts. He has an easy arm action and already throws 92-94 mph with a decent slider and changeup. He went 8-6, 3.34 with 108 strikeouts and 58 walks in 129 innings at Class A Delmarva.
Henry was a seventh-round pick out of Ball State in 2002, where he pitched behind first-rounders Bryan Bullington and Luke Hagerty. Scouts were more divided on his future than they were on Crouthers, but the Orioles have little doubt after seeing Henry also throw 92-94 with a loose arm.
Hes a cerebral pitcher who has a good idea of what hes doing on the mound and could move quickly despite his relative inexperience. Henry went 2-1, 4.71 at Rookie-level Bluefield, with 31 strikeouts and nine walks in 21 innings.
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The Top 10 Prospects lists are based on players' projected long-term worth and on 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 Opening Day 2003.
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