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Rookie-Level Pioneer League

Top 20 Prospects

By John Royster

The talent was plenty deep in the Rookie-level Pioneer League this year, making competition for the Top Prospects list stiffer than usual. Several recent high draft picks didn’t make the cut.

Medicine Hat outfielder Miguel Negron, a Blue Jays first-rounder this year, just eked in at No. 20. Ogden lefthander Dane Artman, a third-round pick, missed out.

Missoula third baseman Corey Myers, the fourth overall pick in 1999, didn’t come close. Neither did Butte first baseman Sergio Contreras, who flirted with .400. Idaho Falls first baseman J.P. Woodward had 20 homers and 92 RBI in 68 games, but you won’t find his name below.

"There were a lot of good players in this league this year, especially position players," Great Falls manager Juan Bustabad said. "Every team had two or three."

1. DAVID KRYNZEL, of, Ogden Raptors (Brewers)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School               Drafted            Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
L-L  6-1  180  18  HS--Henderson, Nev.  Brewers '00 (1)   .359  131  25  47   8  3  1  29   8

Leadoff hitters are generally made, not born, but you'd never know it by watching Krynzel. The 11th overall pick of this year's draft came to pro ball with the eye, speed and bat for the job.

Krynzel also fields and throws well. He lacks only power to be a five-tool player, and some managers thought even that might arrive in time. If it doesn't, he should be fine in his current role as No. 1 hitter and center fielder. His season was shortened by a thumb injury.

"It helped him to get hurt," Missoula manager Chip Hale said. "He didn't have a chance to tail off like the other guys. You're really impressed with him when you look at the sheet and see his age. He acts like a college guy."

2. CRISTIAN GUERRERO, of, Ogden Raptors (Brewers)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-4  198  19  Dominican Republic  Brewers FA '97  .341  255  56  87  14  4 12  54  24

Guerrero began this season in the Class A Midwest League and returned there for the playoffs but in between spent a second season in the Pioneer League. He was the No. 5 prospect in the league in 1999 and moved up to No. 2 this year.

The story remains much the same as a year ago. Guerrero is a huge kid (listed at 6-foot-4, possibly as tall as 6-foot-7) with a lot of potential for power and a strong throwing arm. He also has every one of the holes in his swing that might be expected from a 19-year-old with that big a body. Things worked out pretty well for his similarly built cousin, Expos outfielder Vladimir Guerrero.

"If he ever figures out how to hit a curveball, this kid has all the tools," Butte manager Joe Urso said.

3. RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, rhp, Great Falls Dodgers (Dodgers)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed           W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-3  165  21  Dominican Republic  Dodgers FA '96  10  3  1.88  15   0  96  66  23 129

Rodriguez finally made his U.S. debut at age 21 after three years in the Dominican Summer League, so he was old for the Pioneer League. But he also was the best pitcher in the league, leading in wins and ERA while striking out 129 in 96 innings. Righthanders had a tough time with his slider, and he also has a 93-mph fastball.

"I was just impressed with his arm strength and his competitiveness on the mound," Idaho Falls manager Don Werner said. "He seems to know how to pitch."

4. JASON BELCHER, c, Helena Brewers (Brewers)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School                  Drafted           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
L-R  6-1  195  18  HS--Walnut Ridge, Ark.  Brewers '00 (5)  .333  162  30  54  18  2  4  36   3

Catching was the deepest position in a deep league. There are four backstops in the Top 10, an unheard-of number. Belcher is at the top of the group, just barely.

He differs from the others in that right now he's all hit and no field. He needs work in all areas defensively.

"If he can catch, he's going to be a big leaguer," Hale said. "If they change his position, he's going to have to hit like he did in this league."

5. JARED ABRUZZO, c, Butte Copper Kings (Angels)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School               Drafted          Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
B-R  6-3  225  18  HS--La Mesa, Calif.  Angels '00 (2)  .255  208  46  53  11  0  8  45   1

Compared to Belcher, Abruzzo represents the next gradient down in offense and the next one up in defense, a sliding scale that holds true throughout the list of catchers.

His bat was rated just a tick below Belcher's, though Abruzzo has the advantage of being a switch-hitter. His defense is a bit better, though far from polished. Werner, himself a former big league catcher, offered some hope.

"I think he's going to be OK behind the plate," Werner said. "He receives pretty good, has good hands."

6. JEREMY JOHNSON, of, Medicine Hat Blue Jays (Blue Jays)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School             Drafted              Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
L-L  6-1  185  22  SE Missouri State  Blue Jays '00 (26)  .376  245  66  92  24  3  9  58   5

Johnson is the only four-year college player on the list, vaulting into the Top 10 after being the Blue Jays' 26th-round draft pick out of Southeast Missouri State. He also was named the league MVP after batting .376-9-58 with 24 doubles, a big total for a half-season league.

He's 22, but Johnson’s own manager, Paul Elliott, thinks his hitting was more than just a product of an older player at a lower level. He hits for power with a level swing and drew 55 walks, a combination which bodes well for the future. He's fine defensively, though he might not run well enough for center field as he moves up the ladder.

7. VICTOR HALL, of, Missoula Osprey (Diamondbacks)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School                 Drafted            Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
L-L  6-0  170  20  HS--Sepulveda, Calif.  D'Backs '98 (12)  .307  241  70  74   7  9  3  26  47

Hall drew 77 walks, a huge total for a half-season league, and led the league with 47 stolen bases. His leadoff skills are similar to Krynzel's, though he had much less playing experience coming out of high school in 1998 and has been brought along much more slowly.

"His instincts on the bases aren't what they will be," Hale said, "but they're much improved from instructional league last fall." The speed and the eye, obviously, are there.

8. MARK PHILLIPS, lhp, Idaho Falls Padres (Padres)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School           Drafted          W  L   ERA   G SV  IP   H  BB  SO
L-L  6-3  190  18  HS--Hanover, Pa  Padres '00 (1)   1  1  5.35  10  0  37  35  24  37

Urso ranked Phillips No. 1. He certainly was considered a top prospect in June, when the Padres made him the ninth overall pick in the draft.

Phillips throws consistently at 93 mph and tops out at 95, plus he has good breaking stuff. His control is fairly good, though it could use some improvement. He needs work with the little things such as fielding and holding runners.

9. NICK TRZESNIAK, c, Idaho Falls Padres (Padres)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School                 Drafted           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-0  215  19  HS--Tinley Park, Ill.  Padres '99 (1)   .341  132  32  45   6  2  7  30   4

Phillips' batterymate offers the best balance of offense and defense among the catchers. Trzesniak was a supplemental first-round pick in 1999.

His offensive toolbox includes power that began to emerge this year. He hit seven home runs after hitting none last year in the Rookie-level Arizona League. The number is even more impressive considering he split time behind the plate with Andres Pagan, the No. 18 prospect, though Werner managed to carve out a lot of at-bats for both.

10. JOSE DIAZ, c, Great Falls Dodgers (Dodgers)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-0  170  20  Dominican Republic  Dodgers FA '96  .219  210  29  46   9  1  7  31   2

It seemed as if every manager raved about a different part of Diaz' defense. Some loved his blocking skills, others his arm, others his receiving. All of them liked his overall defensive game.

The problem is Diaz hit .219. He's just 20 and showed some power, but he missed all of 1999 with an injury and will have to improve rapidly on offense. "He can shut down a running game, though," Helena manager Dan Norman said.

11. REGGIE ABERCROMBIE, of, Great Falls Dodgers (Dodgers)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School             Drafted            Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-3  210  20  HS--Columbus, Ga.  Dodgers '99 (23)  .273  220  40  60   7  1  2  29  32

Abercrombie, a little-known draft-and-follow whom the Dodgers selected in 1999’s 23rd round and signed this spring, has the greatest five-tool potential of anyone in the league.

His best tool for now is his speed. He was second in the league to Hall with 32 stolen bases and was caught just eight times. The speed carries over to his defense in center field, and he also throws well. Abercrombie is a little weaker as a hitter and had just two home runs, but at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds he has projectable power.

12. JOSE VALVERDE, rhp, Missoula Osprey (Diamondbacks)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed          W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-4  220  21  Dominican Republic  D'backs FA '97  1  0  0.00  12   4  12   3   4  24

Valverde is the stealth candidate. He was sent down from Class A South Bend to rehab an injury and spent the last month of the season in the Pioneer League. The managers who saw him tended to gulp a lot and look wide-eyed. And get mad over his Carlos Perez-like antics on the mound.

In his 12 appearances, Valverde recorded 35 outs, 24 by strikeout. He allowed exactly zero runs and three hits. He throws 95 mph fairly consistently, and Hale said he hit 98 once. Valverde consistently throws his slider for strikes, and the Osprey staff cajoled him to throw his split-finger pitch more often.

"We only saw him once, and there was no chance," Urso said.

13. JERRY GIL, ss, Missoula Osprey (Diamondbacks)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-3  183  18  Dominican Republic  D'backs FA '99  .255  227  24  51  10  2  0  20   7

The abundance of catchers forced the shortstops off the list. Gil is the only one who made the Top 20. He was signed last November by Arizona superscout Junior Noboa at age 17 and came straight to the States, skipping the Dominican Summer League entirely.

Hale rated Gil's arm as his best tool, which says a lot because his range is considered outstanding, especially for someone 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds. He didn't hit well but has offensive potential. The Diamondbacks plan to convert him to switch-hitting in instructional league this fall.

14. WILLY AYBAR, 3b, Great Falls Dodgers (Dodgers)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
B-R  6-0  175  17  Dominican Republic  Dodgers FA '00  .263  266  39  70  15  1  4  49   5

Aybar is also 17, already switch-hits and held his own at the plate. Norman lauded his aggressiveness with the bat, and it was good, controlled aggressiveness. Aybar struck out a respectable 45 times in 266 at-bats.

"It's scary to think what he might do down the road," Bustabad said.

15. ROBERTO MINIEL, rhp, Ogden Raptors (Brewers)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed          W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-4  160  20  Dominican Republic  Brewers FA '96  9  3  2.70  16   0  83  84  22  80

Like his teammate Guerrero, Miniel repeated the Pioneer League. In Miniel's case, it was his third visit. But it wasn't as if he took his lumps in the other years. He was respectable as a reliever in 1998 and as a starter in 1999.

The Brewers are being cautious because Miniel remains rail-thin at 6-foot-4 and 175 pounds. At 20, he's still as much projection as performance. His stuff is average now but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

"He throws pretty good now, but I think he's going to add a lot of velocity too," Werner said.

16. JUSTIN GORDON, lhp, Ogden Raptors (Brewers)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School                Drafted           W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
L-L  6-5  216  21  Massasoit (Mass.) CC  Brewers '99 (32)  5  5  4.26  16   0  76  69  42  53

Gordon also repeated the league, moving over from the Brewers' other affiliate in Helena, and improved his performance markedly.

Batters never teed off on him in 1999, but he walked 29 in 31 innings. He improved that to 42 in 76 innings this year, though his strikeout numbers fell off as well. Like Miniel, he's a big body who should add velocity as he gets older. He throws 89-91 mph now.

17. LUIS TERRERO, of, Missoula Osprey (Diamondbacks)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-2  183  20  Dominican Republic  D'backs FA '97  .261  276  48  72  10  0  8  44  23

Terrero stole the show playing for the parent Diamondbacks at the Hall of Fame game in July. He went 2-for-4 and made two spectacular catches in center field.

What the Indians' pitchers didn't know, though, was that they probably could have gotten him out by throwing pitches outside the strike zone. Terrero is undisciplined as a hitter, which accounts for both his return trip to the Pioneer League this year, and his fall from the league's No. 8 prospect last season.

Terrero played right field for the Osprey because the Diamondbacks wanted to see Hall in center. Terrero is a fine defender at either position, with the arm for right and the speed for center.

18. ANDRES PAGAN, c, Idaho Falls Padres (Padres)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country          Signed            Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-3  170  19  HS--Yauco, P.R.  Padres '99 (18)  .312  154  25  48   8  0  4  24   3

Pagan approaches Diaz' level defensively and has more upside on offense. He was a high school-age high hurdles champion in Puerto Rico and is a catcher because he's good at it, not because he couldn't play another position.

"His defense will get him to the big leagues," Werner said. "If he hits--and he's made great improvement this year--I think he's got a chance to start at the major league level."

Opposing managers had similar thoughts.

"He improved a ton handling the bat," Urso said. "Once we saw that, we decided he was for real."

19. RUDDY LUGO, rhp, Ogden Raptors (Brewers)


B-T    Ht   Wt Age  School              Drafted          W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  5-11  175  20  HS--Brooklyn, N.Y.  Brewers '99 (3)  5  5  3.44  16   0  92  82  52  88

Lugo was a Brooklyn high school sensation in 1999, but his 5-foot-11, 175-pound size limited him to the third round of the draft. It's still a mark against him when scouts and managers rate prospects, but at least he turned his performance around this year.

He was hit hard in his pro debut with the Raptors last year, going 1-2, 7.88 and allowing 35 hits in 24 innings. This season he went 5-5, 3.44 in almost four times the innings. Lugo has an above-average fastball and made significant progress with his breaking pitch.

There's nothing wrong with his stuff, though 5-foot-9 might be a more realistic height.

20. MIGUEL NEGRON, of, Medicine Hat Blue Jays (Blue Jays)


B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School            Drafted             Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
L-L  6-2  165  18  HS--Caguas, P.R.  Blue Jays '00 (1)  .232  190  26  44   5  0  0  13   5

Negron showed enough tools to make the Top 20 and enough deficiency to get relegated to No. 20 as a newly minted first-round draft pick.

He runs well and fields well, and Norman was amazed by his arm strength, coming from such a skinny, small body. But therein lies the rub.

Negron needs to get stronger and a good deal more patient to have much of an impact as a hitter. He was slowed by injury early in the season, and managers considered him a good bet to repeat the league next year.

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