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Rookie-Level Arizona League

Top 20 Prospects

By Allan Simpson

Shortstop Luis Montanez had the distinction of being the highest draft pick ever to play in the 13-year-old Arizona League, outside of a four-game cameo by No. 1 pick Darin Erstad in 1995. Chosen third overall, Montanez was the league’s only first-round pick from the 2000 draft. So it was a relatively easy task for managers to identify the top big league prospect at the bottom level of the development ladder.

Montanez earned the No. 1 nod from all five managers in the league's Northern Division, and two of three in the Southern Division. For added measure, he was selected the league's most valuable player.

"He stuck out like a sore thumb," Athletics manager John Kuehl said. "He was a more mature player than anyone I've seen in this league in the last two or three years."

1. LUIS MONTANEZ, ss, Cubs


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School     Drafted         Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-1  180  18  HS--Miami  Cubs '00 (1)   .344  192  50  66  16  7  2  37  11

Though he slumped at the plate in the final three weeks, Montanez hit .344 and generally displayed all the tools expected of a future big league shortstop.

"For 18, he really has it figured out," Mariners manager Omer Munoz said. "He's got leadership qualities and presence, and reminds me of Alex Rodriguez at the plate in his approach."

Montanez hit just two home runs, but finished second with 15 doubles and third with seven triples. It's expected he'll add true home run punch with maturity.

"He can flat-out hit," Kuehl said. "The ball jumps off his bat. He makes solid contact and uses the whole field well. I expect he'll hit .300 at every level he plays."

Though Montanez made 24 errors in 47 games at shortstop, he has smooth actions and the ability to come in or stay back on ground balls as needed. His speed and range aren't quite major league average, which raises questions about whether he eventually may move to third base.

2. MIGUEL VILLILO, 3b, Mariners


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed            Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
B-R  6-1  180  18  Dominican Republic  Mariners FA '99  .347  167  30  58  14  3  3  37   2

A switch-hitting third baseman, Villilo impressed managers most with his bat.

"He has an excellent knowledge of the strike zone from both sides of the plate," Munoz said. "He's got a chance to hit for power, maybe 20-25 home runs one day. He hit only three home runs here in Arizona, but that was mostly a factor of the big ballparks. He works hard, especially on his defense, and makes most of his mistakes on routine plays."

3. FRANCIS GOMEZ, ss, Athletics


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed             Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-1  175  18  Dominican Republic  Athletics FA '99  .355  62   17  22   3  1  3  28   8

Gomez, the half-brother of Marlins closer Antonio Alfonseca, got only 62 at-bats because of a nagging hamstring injury. In that limited action, he hit a productive .355 with 28 RBIs. In his first game back after a month on the disabled list, he had a 420-foot, pinch-hit grand slam to win a game.

"He has exceptional hand speed on both offense and defense," Kuehl said. "He has the quickest hands I've seen on an infielder and catches bad hops so easily. His arm is only average now but should be above average."

"I like his range," Giants manager Lemmie Miller said. "He moves well to both sides."

4. JOSE VASQUEZ, 1b-of, Rockies


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School              Drafted            Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
L-L  6-3  220  17  HS--Sarasota, Fla.  Rockies '00 (16)  .311  177  37  55  12  5  5  38  10

Vasquez is a major project because he’s just learning the game, but Rockies manager P.J. Carey and Diamondbacks skipper Joe Almaraz said without hesitation that he was the top prospect in the Southern Division.

"He's young and crude," Carey said, "but he can run and he's got tremendous power. He hit some balls out of sight down here."

Vasquez struck out 77 times in 173 at-bats and also was vulnerable defensively, as evidenced by a total of 11 errors in 17 games at first and 12 in the outfield.

"He doesn't get good breaks in the outfield or take good routes or angles to balls," Almaraz said, "but that will come in time. He's got a lot of upside."

5. J.J. JOHNSON, 3b, Cubs


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School            Drafted        Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-3  210  18  HS--Appling, Ga.  Cubs '00 (6)  .316  177  27  56   9  4  3  43   3

Johnson, not Montanez, earned White Sox manager Jerry Hairston's vote as the top prospect in the Northern Division, even if he only got a two-game look as part of interdivision play. Johnson teamed with Montanez to give the Cubs a solid left side to their infield. He finished third in the league RBI race.

"He's got some pop in his bat and is a great mistake hitter," Kuehl said. "He has a real loose, athletic body and a lot of Willie McGee-like mannerisms."

Johnson also played some first base, but most managers see his future at third. He has the hands and arm strength for the position, but needs to improve his footwork.

6. OMAR FALCON, c, Padres


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School     Drafted          Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-0  185  17  HS--Miami  Padres '00 (3)  .275  120  23  33   9  2  4  25   1

Falcon easily stood out as the league's best catching prospect.

"He's very young, but he handles a game well," Carey said. "He's got a good arm and body."

Falcon's own manager, Howard Bushong, praised him for the improvement he showed: "He still needs work on his receiving skills and making better contact, but he threw a lot better and blocked better in the last couple of weeks. He's got a strong, accurate arm. He's also got good power, especially to the opposite field."

7. CHRIS AMADOR, 2b, White Sox


B-T    Ht   Wt Age  School     Drafted                   Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  5-10  160  17  HS--Camuy, P.R.  White Sox '00 (8)  .302  212  48  64  10  3  0  31  40

Amador tied an AZL record with 40 stolen bases. He's an aggressive runner who shows no fear on the bases. He also excelled defensively while making the transition from high school shortstop to pro second baseman.

"He has outstanding speed," Almaraz said. "He bunts well and can be a nightmare to defend."

Defensively, Amador has good hands and range. He turns the double play exceptionally well.

8. BELTRAN PEREZ, rhp, Diamondbacks


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed          W  L  ERA    G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-1  148  18  Dominican Republic  D'backs FA '99  5  1  5.81  11   0  48  61  25  47

Despite 25 walks in 48 innings and a 5.81 ERA, the wiry Perez was rated the Southern Division's best pitching prospect by both Almaraz and Carey. Perez has command of three pitches, and was used by the parent Diamondbacks against the Indians in the Hall of Fame game.

"He has only an average fastball," Carey said, "but he has a real easy arm action and it could be a well-above-average pitch down the road as he fills out."

9. CLINT NAGEOTTE, rhp, Mariners


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School     Drafted                 W  L  ERA    G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-3  200  19  HS--Parma, Ohio  Mariners '99 (5)  4  1  2.16  12   1  50  29  28  59

Nageotte was drafted in the fifth round by the Mariners last year but signed too late to play in 1999. He also missed most of extended spring training for personal reasons, so the Arizona League was his first real test. He had little trouble adjusting, finishing third in ERA and fourth in strikeouts.

"He dominated with a big, hard curveball," Kuehl said. "It's a phenomenal pitch, the best in the league."

Munoz said Nageotte’s fastball also is a plus pitch. His changeup needs refining, but he wasn't afraid to throw any of his pitches at any point in the count.

10. BO IVY, of, White Sox


B-T    Ht   Wt Age  School          Drafted             Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  5-10  175  18  Shannon, Miss.  White Sox '00 (6)  .341  129  35  44   4  2  0  13  34

Ivy, a sixth-round pick in June, was rated as one of the fastest high school players in the draft. He stole 34 bases for the White Sox, second in the league to Amador. Between them they created fear on the basepaths at the top of the order.

"He can really run," Carey said, "and he has one of those bodies where he should only get stronger."

Ivy is extremely raw in all phases of the game, because he didn't play much baseball in high school in Mississippi. But he hit .341 despite being hampered by jammed wrists, and he used his speed well in center field.

11. DERRICK VAN DUSEN, lhp, Mariners


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School                 Drafted            W  L  ERA    G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
L-L  6-2  170  19  Riverside (Calif.) CC  Mariners '00 (5)   6  0  2.63  10   0  41  38   6  58

Van Dusen pitched Riverside Community College to its first California state title in May and continued his domination in the AZL. That led to a midseason promotion to short-season Everett, where he fanned 24 more batters in 15 innings.

"He overmatched hitters in this league," Munoz said. "He's not very big, but he’s mechanically sound and has got great stuff. He's got an 89-90 mph fastball with good movement and a major league slider."

"He's got a great tempo," Bushong said. "He's not afraid to challenge hitters or use both sides of the plate to throw strikes. He's got excellent command of all his pitches."

12. NOBUAKI YOSHIDA, lhp, Padres


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country     Signed          W  L  ERA    G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
L-L  6-2  190  18  Japan       Padres FA '00   0  2  2.32   7   0  31  23   7  32

Yoshida became the second high school player from Japan to sign with a major league club when he inked with the Padres in January. Though he wasn’t picked in Japan's high school draft last fall, he excelled in his first stint in the United States.

"He has excellent location on his fastball," Bushong said. "He normally pitches at 89-90 and topped out at 92-94 mph. He's got four pitches but needs to work on his screwball and the command of his curve."

Yoshida didn't win in seven Arizona starts but earned a promotion to the Rookie-level Pioneer League, where he won the pivotal third game of Idaho Falls' playoff series against Ogden by pitching six scoreless innings.

"He should have been in a higher league from the start," said Kuehl, who thought Yoshida had better stuff and command than Mariners lefthander Cha Baek, who was rated the No. 2 prospect in the AZL in 1999. Baek, a Korean, signed for $1.3 million.

13. SYKETO ANDERSON, of, Cubs


B-T    Ht   Wt Age  School              Drafted        Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
L-R  5-11  180  21  Chipola (Fla.) JC  Cubs '99 (13)  .387  150  44  58   8  4  1  21  12

The younger brother of Phillies second baseman Marlon Anderson finished second in the Arizona League with a .387 average. He excelled as a leadoff hitter.

"He's a very exciting player," Munoz said. "He can run and is a good bunter."

Anderson played both left and center field for the Cubs, but may be handicapped down the road because he lacks the arm strength for center and may not produce the power needed to play left.

14. ISAAC GARCIA, ss-2b, Athletics


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed             Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-1  175  19  Dominican Republic  Athletics FA '98  .318  223  52  71  13  5  3  28  18

Garcia was scheduled to play second base for the Athletics, but filled in admirably at shortstop for the injured Gomez while leading the league with 52 runs and 71 hits. As far as Kuehl is concerned, he outplayed the more publicized Montanez defensively.

"He got to balls behind second base better than any shortstop I saw this year," Kuehl said, "and he's got a 6 arm (on the 2-to-8 scouting scale). He definitely played himself into an opportunity to stay at shortstop. All he really lacks is breakaway speed on the bases."

15. FELIX DIAZ, rhp, Giants


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed          W  L  ERA    G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-1  165  19  Dominican Republic  Giants FA '98   3  4  4.16  11   0  63  56  16  58

A smallish Dominican righthander whose fastball touched 94 mph, Diaz drew comparisons to the Red Sox' Pedro Martinez and the Angels' Ramon Ortiz. Diaz didn’t use his curveball much, instead relying on his fastball and changeup to finish fifth in the league in strikeouts.

"The arm strength is there and he's always around the plate," Munoz said. "He just needs to fill out a bit."

16. PEDRO LIRIANO, 2b, Mariners


B-T    Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed            Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  5-11  165  18  Dominican Republic  Mariners FA '99  .400  170  46  68  15  2  1  30  18

A year after hitting .367 in the Dominican Summer League, Liriano led the Arizona League with a .400 average. He was the third player in league history to reach that plateau, and the first since the Rockies' Rene Reyes in 1998. Liriano also struck out just 11 times in 170 at-bats.

"He's a good contact hitter and the ball jumps off his bat," Kuehl said. "But his defense is shaky and his arm pretty much limits him to second base. I see him as more of an organization-type player."

17. JUSTIN GERMANO, rhp, Padres


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School                 Drafted           W  L  ERA    G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-2  190  18  HS--Claremont, Calif.  Padres '00 (13)   5  5  4.59  17   1  67  65   9  67

Though Germano walked nine and struck out 57 in 67 innings, he didn't throw hard enough to warrant being higher on this list or being selected earlier than the 13th round of this year's draft.

He does have other qualities scouts look for. His fastball normally registers just 87-88 mph and occasionally tops out at 91, "but he has a 12-to-6 curveball that makes his fastball look like its 94," Munoz said.

"He doesn't throw hard," Bushong said, "but he has a great work ethic and command of three pitches. He can throw his curve for strikes at any point in the count."

18. JOSH KROEGER, of, Diamondbacks


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School         Drafted           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
L-L  6-2  195  18  HS--San Diego  D'backs '00 (4)  .297  222  40  66   9  3  4  28   5

Kroeger made a good impression on managers with his bat, hitting for some power and average.

"For a 17-year-old, he swings the bat pretty decent," Hairston said. "He's also got a lot of poise and should be adequate in the outfield."

19. BOOMER JONES, rhp, White Sox


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School             Drafted             W  L  ERA    G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-1  215  18  HS--Seguin, Texas  White Sox '00 (4)   1  3  7/51  14   1  44  48  41  45

Jones went just 1-3, 7.51 with 41 walks in 44 innings in his professional debut. As his record indicates, he’s as raw as can be. But managers saw a lot of potential.

"He's got an outstanding arm," Almaraz said. "He's got no mechanics but can throw 92-93 mph now and doesn't labor to do it. Once he gets cleaned up, he could be something special."

"He's got extra-long arms," Hairston said. "He'll throw a lot harder once he learns how to throw it right."

20. CHARLES MERRICKS, lhp, Rockies


B-T    Ht   Wt Age  School    Drafted            W  L  ERA    G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
L-L  5-11  200  21  UCLA      Rockies '00 (17)   2  1  2.72  13   0  50  47  24  37

Merricks was used almost exclusively as a center fielder at UCLA, but progressed so far so fast in his first real stint of pitching that he started the Arizona League championship game against the Mariners.

"He's come a long way in a short period, but he's just learning how to pitch," Carey said. "He's already got a 93-mph fastball and a good curve."

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