Arizona Fall League Top 10 Prospects
PHOENIX—Perennial Arizona Fall League observers noted a decline in the quality of prospects this year, although that drop wasn’t reflected in the number of interesting hurlers populating the pitching staffs […]
Rockies Prospects 2-10
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Clemson, 2002 (1st round). Signed by: Mike Rikard.
Background: Greene was not drafted out of high school and was a 14th-round pick of the Cubs after his junior year, but scouts finally believed in him last year. He won the BA College Player of the Year and Golden Spikes awards, carrying Clemson to the College World Series. Drafted 13th overall, he signed for $1.5 million and had no trouble adapting to pro ball.
Strengths: All of Greenes tools are average or better, and he adds excellent instincts. His bat speed, hand-eye coordination, pitch recognition and ability to adjust make him the best pure hitter in the system. He also has surprising power for his size. Scouts question whether hes a pure shortstop, but his hands, range, arm, first-step quickness and body control are all assets.
Weaknesses: Greenes range and arm are slightly above-average but not extraordinary for a shortstop. The Padres believe his total package will allow him to stay at short. His only drawback at the plate is that he makes contact so easily that he doesnt draw many walks.
The Future: Ticketed for Double-A, Greene could be the first 2002 draftee to reach the majors, perhaps as early as this summer.
3. Mark Phillips, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HSHanover, Pa., 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Rene Mons.
Background: Oliver Perez passed him as the top lefthander in San Diegos pecking order last year, but he cant match Phillips pure stuff. In fact, few southpaws can. Raw when he signed as the ninth overall pick in 2000, he started to put it all together last August, posting a 2.53 ERA and a 37-9 strikeout walk ratio in his final 32 innings.
Strengths: When he maintains his arm slot, Phillips shows two plus-plus pitches at times. His fastball touches 97 mph sits in the low 90s, and farm director Tye Waller describes his curveball as "dropping out of the sky." After arriving out of shape for his first spring training, Phillips now understands the commitment needed to be a professional. He has a clean, effortless arm action.
Weaknesses: It all comes down to mechanics for Phillips. When he repeats his delivery consistently, his stuff is sharp and finds the strike zone. When he doesnt, his pitches arent as crisp and he falls behind in the count. His changeup is effective at times but still developing.
The Future: Phillips will join most of the players on this list at Double-A Mobile in 2003. The Padres hope hes ready to follow Perez express route to San Diego.
4. Tagg Bozied, 1b
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Drafted: San Francisco, 2001 (3rd round). Signed by: Bill Gayton.
Background: Bozied led NCAA Division I with a .936 slugging percentage as a sophomore in 1999 before tailing off in his final two college seasons. He turned down the Twins as a 2000 second-rounder, returned to college and went to the independent Northern League after his senior season before signing with the Padres for $725,000. He led the system in homers and RBIs in his debut, then set an Arizona Fall League record with 12 longballs.
Strengths: Bozieds power is nearly as good as Xavier Nadys, though hes not as polished a hitter and has more effort to his swing. He has a strong arm and moves well for his size, so its possible he could play the outfield.
Weaknesses: After tearing up Class A, Bozied didnt do as much damage in Double-A. He has holes in his long swing, particularly against breaking balls on the outer half. Scouts in the AFL said he punished mistakes more than he hit quality pitches. He labors at first base.
The Future: Assuming Nady becomes San Diegos left fielder, Bozied wont have a clear path to big league playing time. For now, hell try to refine his game in Double-A.
5. Jake Gautreau, 2b
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Tulane, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Mark Wasinger.
Background: The Padres thought Gautreau might tear up the California League as Nady had in his first full season. Instead he found his strength sapped by ulcerative colitis, which was diagnosed in early July. Gautreau, who had been hitting .292, batted .263-1-4 in his final 20 games and .225 in the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: A national raquetball champion at ages 8 and 10, Gautreau says that sport helped hone his swing and agility. After moving him from third base to second in instructional league in 2001, San Diego projected him as a lefthanded-hitting Jeff Kent. Now that he has his colitis under control, Gautreau may tap into his raw power.
Weaknesses: While Gautreau has been better than expected at second base, hes still making the transition. He needs to charge grounders more aggressively, and he has an unorthodox release on his throws. He should become at least adequate. Considering his pretty line-drive stroke, he strikes out more than he should.
The Future: Gautreau will move up to Double-A in 2003. Though hes the organizations top second-base prospect, he faces stiff competition with Bernie Castro ahead and Josh Barfield coming up from behind.
6. Ben Howard, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HSJackson, Tenn., 1997 (2nd round). Signed by: Mark Wasinger.
Background: After improving more than any player in the system in 2001, Howard endured a trying year in 2002. He was the sole survivor of the Feb. 15 car crash that killed outfielder Mike Darr and former Phillies minor leaguer Duane Johnson. Howard made his big league debut 10 weeks later but was sent back to Triple-A, where he strained his elbow and tried to pitch through it with little success.
Strengths: Howard is a pure power pitcher. When hes right, he throws in the mid-90s and as high as 99. He complements his heat with a hard slider, and his changeup can be a plus pitch at times.
Weaknesses: Howard put too much pressure on himself when he got to the majors and tried to overthrow. He lost his release point and his command deserted him, though not like when he led his minor league in walks in his first four pro seasons.
The Future: The best thing for Howard would be to begin 2003 with less stress in Triple-A. His ceiling remains as high as any pitcher in the organization.
7. Josh Barfield, 2b
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HSSpring, Texas, 2001 (4th round). Signed by: Jimmy Dreyer.
Background: Hes the son of former American League home run champion Jesse Barfield, so perhaps it should be no surprise how quickly Josh has adapted to pro ball. In his first full season, he led the low Class A Midwest League in hits and shared organization player of the year honors with Jon Knott.
Strengths: Unlike his father, who was more of a dead-pull hitter, Barfield already uses the entire field. He makes consistently hard contact and started making adjustments against breaking balls in 2002. He should develop average to plus power as he gets stronger and more experienced. A good athlete, he has soft hands and average speed.
Weaknesses: Theres some concern that Barfield might outgrow second base, though he should have enough bat to play elsewhere. He needs to address his footwork and double-play pivot. Offensively, his swing can get loopy at times and he needs a tighter strike zone.
The Future: Barfield is ready for high Class A. Hes three years younger but just one level behind Jake Gautreau, and their future battle for San Diegos second-base job should be fun to watch.
8. Mike Nicolas, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 207. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000. Signed by: Bill Clark.
Background: Nicolas age was revised upward 26 months during the crackdown on visas before the 2002 season. Unlike most players who suddenly aged, he saw his prospect status improve afterward. Thats because he destroyed California League hitters and topped all upper-minors relievers by averaging 14.1 strikeouts per nine innings. He tied for the minor league lead in appearances.
Strengths: When Nicolas throws strikes, hes nearly unhittable. He threw 92-96 mph every time out last year and peaked at 100. His slider is a plus pitch at times and if he ever becomes consistent with it, hed almost be unfair. Lefthanders have hit .161 with two homers in 174 at-bats against him the last two seasons.
Weaknesses: Nicolas threw only fastballs at the start of the year, and the Padres had to make him work on his slider and rudimentary changeup. He overthrows, which detracts from his command, and is slow to the plate, making him vulnerable to basestealers.
The Future: Given the opportunity to close in the final two weeks last year, Nicolas went 7-for-7 converting saves and fanned 24 in 11 innings. He projects as San Diegos closer of the future.
9. Rusty Tucker, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Maine, 2001 (21st round). Signed by: Rene Mons.
Background: Tucker was the America East Conference pitcher of the year in 2001 but had fringe-average stuff. He touched the low 90s in his pro debut but was wild, leading the Pioneer League in walks, and lacked confidence. All of sudden, he threw 94-97 mph in 2002, as managers rated him the best reliever in the Midwest League.
Strengths: The Padres arent sure how Tucker started throwing in the mid-90s and touching 99, but theyre not complaining. They tried to slow down his delivery so he could throw more strikes, but didnt expect this. His slider also improved, reaching 79-81 mph with nice bite. He has a fearless closers mentality.
Weaknesses: There isnt much deception to Tuckers fastball. He uses a drop-and-drive delivery, so his heater comes in on a flat plane and without much movement. He still needs to refine his command.
The Future: Just as they did in the second half last year, Tucker and Mike Nicolas will form a nasty lefty-righty, late-inning combination in 2003, this time in Double-A. Tucker got most of the saves at high Class A Lake Elsinore but may have to share more this year.
10. Cory Stewart, lhp
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HSBoerne, Texas, 1998 (27th round). Signed by: Johnny Almaraz (Reds).
Background: After Stewart missed all of 2000 with a shoulder injury, Cincinnati released him and he spent 2001 in the independent Texas-Louisiana League. The Padres picked him up in October that year and he started opening eyes by topping out at 94 mph last spring training. He began the season in the Fort Wayne bullpen but pitched his way into the rotation by mid-April.
Strengths: With a loose, easy delivery, Stewart throws 88-94 mph with so much movement that hitters rarely get a good swing against his fastball. His curveball is a solid second pitch, and his strong suit is his command. Hes athletic, so repeating his delivery comes naturally.
Weaknesses: Stewart needs to improve his secondary pitches. He loses his curve at times, and his changeup is little more than a show pitch at this point. Though hes a classic free-spirited lefthander, his work habits are improving.
The Future: Stewart is slated for the Double-A rotation this year. With Oliver Perez and Mark Phillips ahead of him, he may have to settle for relieving once he reaches San Diego.
Best of the Rest
The Padres believe they may have a righthanded version of Oliver Perez in fellow Mexican Javier Martinez. He already has three effective pitches in a 90-95 mph fastball, improved curveball and solid changeup. Pitching in the low Class A Midwest League at age 19, he went 6-4, 3.38 with a 69-19 strikeout-walk ratio in 69 innings.
Outfielder Jason Bay won the 2001 MWL batting title, and his reward was getting traded from the Expos to the Mets to the Padres in 2002. He continued to hit wherever he went while showing a nice combination of tools and instincts.
Righthander Justin Germano isnt overpowering, but he has three potential average-or-better pitches and the best command in the system. He led the system with 14 victories while pitching as a teenager in the MWL.
Three players who have just appeared on the prospect radar could make breakthroughs in 2003: righthanders Wilmer Villatoro and Cesar Rojas, and shortstop Alexander Garcia. Villatoro, the lone El Salvadoran to appear in the U.S. minors in 2002, is raw and skinny but already touches 94 mph as a teenager. Rojas, signed out of Venezuela last summer, has even more velocity, reaching 96. Garcia, formerly known as Luis Bereguete and Luis Garcia, is 21, not 19. But he also has the strongest infield arm in the system, not to mention plus speed and wiry strength.
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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.