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2003 League Top 20s: New York-Penn League
Baseball America's League Top 20 lists are generated from consultations with scouts and league managers. To qualify for consideration, a player must have spent at least one-third of the season in a league. Position players must have one plate appearance for every league game. Pitchers must pitch 1/3 inning for every league game, and relievers have to have made at least 20 appearances in full-season leagues and 10 in short-season ones.
by Michael Levesque
The New York-Penn League enjoyed its share of premium talent this year, with 10 first-round picks making their pro debuts in the league and four of them ranking among the 10 best prospects.
Aberdeen lefthander Adam Loewen, the fourth overall pick in 2002, would have been atop the list if he had pitched enough innings to qualify. Staten Island third baseman Eric Duncan, the 27th overall pick this June, would have cracked the top five had he accumulated enough plate appearances.
The Blue Jays stocked Auburn with a plethora of college talent, and the team went 56-18 to run away with the league's best record despite the promotions of first-round shortstop Aaron Hill and righthander Jamie Vermilyea. Hill ranked second in the top 20 on a list that included four of his teammates: righty Josh Banks, lefty Kurt Isenberg, shortstop Juan Paralta and first baseman Vito Chiaravalloti. Four other Doubledays -- Vermilyea, third baseman Ryan Roberts and righties Shaun Marcum and Bubbie Buzachero -- also received strong consideration.
Williamsport, which upset Auburn in the first round of the playoffs and swept Brooklyn for the championship, also was well represented. Four Crosscutters made it, led by speedy outfielder Nyjer Morgan. Lefties Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm and shortstop Javier Guzman completed the Williamsport contingent.
1. Nick Markakis, of, Aberdeen IronBirds (Orioles)
Markakis, who is of Greek descent, missed more than two weeks of the NY-P season when he represented Greece at the European Championships in July. He batted cleanup and hit .323-0-7 with four stolen bases in eight games as Greece finished second. There is a strong likelihood he will play for Greece in next year's Athens Olympics.
Markakis was the top two-way player heading into this year's draft, but most teams projected the two-time Baseball America Junior College Player of the Year would be a first-round pick as a pitcher because he's a lefthander with a 92-94 mph fastball and plus breaking ball. The Orioles' decision to make him a full-time outfielder is looking good, though.
Starting from a slightly open stance with his hands high, Markakis has a smooth lefthanded stroke. He gets good leverage at the plate and projects to hit with above-average power as he fills out his lanky, athletic frame. He rounds out his five-tool ability with above-average speed.
"He's an exciting kid with huge upside," Hudson Valley manager Dave Howard said. "He throws well, he's a good defender for his age and he handled himself well at the plate. Against us he had trouble with really good fastballs, but that's understandable considering his age."
2. Aaron Hill, ss, Auburn Doubledays (Blue Jays)
Hill made the transition to wood bats with ease, pounding NY-P pitchers for a month before getting promoted to the high Class A Florida State League. Using a straightaway stance, quiet approach and short stroke, Hill stays back on offspeed pitches and drives the ball to all fields. He projects to have average power.
While there's little question he'll hit, managers and scouts wondered whether his limited range would allow him to stay at shortstop. Most managers thought he had enough bat to play third base, and he's athletic enough to handle second.
"I really liked his approach at the plate and I think he is definitely going to be a good hitter," a National League scout said. "But I'm not sure he's a shortstop. He's a really good prospect with the bat and I think he will be a really solid player in the big leagues, but it will probably be at third base."
3. Tony Giarratano, ss, Oneonta Tigers
Among the pure college shortstops in the 2003 draft, Giarratano might have had the best all-around tools. He has solid defensive actions with soft hands, plus arm strength and good range.
Setting up with a wide, upright stance, the switch-hitting Giarratano has a line-drive stroke from both sides of the plate but does a better job of staying inside the ball lefthanded. He's lean and athletic with room for added strength. He'll never be a home run hitter, so he'll have to draw more walks.
"We couldn't get him out," Lowell manager Jon Deeble said. "He's an above-average runner with some pop from both sides, showed good defensive skills and looks like he really knows how to play. I liked him a lot."
4. Kody Kirkland, 3b, Oneonta Tigers
The Pirates sent Kirkland to the Tigers to complete an offseason trade for first baseman Randall Simon. Simon didn't last a year in Pittsburgh, while Kirkland will push 2002 first-rounder Scott Moore to be Detroit's third baseman of the future.
At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Kirkland is a tremendous athlete with projectable power. He shows the ability to drive pitches to the right-center-field gap. He has good actions and solid arm strength at third base. He also has plus speed for a third baseman.
"He profiles very well as a third baseman," Jamestown manager Benny Castillo said. "He shows a lot of potential. He's the real deal."
5. Josh Banks, rhp, Auburn Doubledays (Blue Jays)
Banks projected as a first-rounder in the spring but lasted until the second round after he was inconsistent and missed starts with blister problems leading up to the draft. He was at peak form after signing, staying healthy and turning in only one bad outing.
Banks has a good arm action and throws strikes with three pitches. His 92-94 mph fastball explodes out of his hand with good life. His 83-84 mph splitter is a plus pitch, while his slider is a solid average. Even his changeup has its moments.
"He came in here and pitched very well," Auburn manager Dennis Holmberg said. "He competes well and has three or four very solid major league pitches."
6. David Murphy, of, Lowell Spinners (Red Sox)
Murphy was taken 17th overall by the Red Sox as they looked for polished college players who could move quickly to restock the upper levels of their farm system. Murphy delivered, batting .346 with excellent strike-zone judgment to earn a promotion to high Class A.
"He had a nice approach at the plate," Staten Island manager Andy Stankiewicz said. "He was a more of a gap-to-gap guy when I saw him, but once he gets a better feel for the wood he should start hitting some balls out of the park."
Murphy has an athletic body and showed a stylish lefthanded swing with slight arc and projectable power. He does a good job of staying back and drives pitches to the gaps. He has solid-average speed and arm strength, plus good reactions in the outfield.
7. Kurt Isenberg, lhp, Auburn Doubledays (Blue Jays)
Isenberg was a two-way player at James Madison and had a rough junior season on the mound, going 8-8, 5.95. The statistics-conscious Blue Jays nevertheless took him in the fourth round, and he responded by leading the NY-P in ERA.
Isenberg fills up the zone with a 90-91 mph fastball and an average changeup. His curveball was considered below-average before the draft but has improved. His athleticism allows him to maintain a solid, balanced delivery and his arm works well, giving him command of all his pitches.
"He has a good feel for the plate and three solid pitches," Holmberg said. "He's the type of pitcher that moves quickly in an organization."
8. Nyjer Morgan, of, Williamsport Crosscutters (Pirates)
There wasn't a manager who didn't like the raw but talented Morgan, who led the league in hits and finished second in batting and steals. He displayed prototype leadoff skills with 70 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale, superb bunting ability and an eye for drawing walks. He uses a line-drive approach at the plate.
He was a standout in center field and even has a solid arm. He was old for the league at 23 because he spent four years in Canada playing hockey before focusing on baseball, but his upside is obvious.
"His bunting ability is beyond anybody that I've ever played with or seen," Williamsport manager Andy Stewart said. "He has great bat control with his bunting and that's something that you just can't teach. It's hard to defend and he's just taken it and ran with it."
Said Stankiewicz: "Speed is always an asset and he has plenty of that. But what sets him apart is that he seems to know what he wants to do at the plate as far as not trying to do too much or overswing."
9. Clint Everts, rhp, Vermont Expos
The fifth overall pick in the 2002 draft, Everts signed late last year and was inconsistent in his pro debut. But he made huge strides as the summer wore on and pitched well after a promotion to low Class A Savannah.
"Everyone talks about that nasty curve of his," Deeble said. "But he also showed the makings of an above-average fastball and change. There's a lot of upside with this guy."
Everts, who was also a prospect as a shortstop in high school, has an athletic frame and smooth arm action. His hard 80-82 mph curveball breaks so much that he had trouble throwing it for strikes, and most managers said that would be the key to his success. He consistently ran his fastball into the 90-91 mph range with late life.
10. Tom Gorzelanny, lhp, Williamsport Crosscutters (Pirates)
Gorzelanny did little in two years at Kansas before flunking out, then blossomed at Triton (Ill.) Junior College last spring. A second-round choice in June, he impressed managers and scouts more than first-rounder and teammate Paul Maholm did.
Gorzelanny has a 91-94 mph fastball that sinks and has nasty cutting action against righthanders. He has a fluid three-quarters arm action with fair extension and good arm speed. He occasionally rushes in his delivery and throws uphill, but he has a plus 79-83 mph slider with good bite when he stays on top of the pitch. He complements those offerings with an 80-82 changeup.
11. Brad Snyder, of, Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Indians)
Snyder was in a serious auto accident in 2001, breaking his left ankle, right hand and right toe. He recovered and became a first-round pick in June. He's a fine athlete with four solid average tools.
He uses a wide, slightly open stance at the plate and has a fluid stroke. Snyder has strong hands through the hitting zone, and the leverage he generates creates loft power potential. He'll have to make more contact after fanning 82 times in 63 games.
Defensively, Snyder has adequate range but a below-average arm may limit him to left field.
12. Chris Ray, rhp, Aberdeen IronBirds (Orioles)
Ray became the highest draftee in William & Mary history when the Orioles took him in the third round. He struggled moving from the bullpen to the rotation during the spring, but rebounded in his pro debut and displayed one of the best arms in the league.
Ray has a 93-95 mph fastball with plus life and backed it up with a 77-79 mph slider that had late bite. Many scouts said his best pitch was his splitter, which he threw at 79-80 mph with tumbling and sinking action. He has a loose, live arm, but sometimes runs into trouble when he rushes his lower half in his delivery.
13. Matt Murton, of, Lowell Spinners (Red Sox)
Murton and Murphy helped Wareham win consecutive Cape Cod League championships in 2001-02 before becoming Red Sox first-rounders in June. Murton, a supplemental choice at No. 32, rebounded after a disappointing junior season at Georgia Tech.
Murton has a strong body and enough power that he'll hit homers by accident. He has an aggressive approach with a short stroke and plenty of bat speed generated by strength. He moves well enough but has a below-average arm and profiles as a left fielder.
"He's a good-looking kid," Howard said. "He looks like a typical Red Sox outfielder. I like the way he handles himself, and he looks like he's going to hit with some power at the plate."
14. Paul Maholm, lhp, Williamsport Crosscutters (Pirates)
Maholm went eighth overall to the Pirates because he's a polished lefthander who should rocket through the minors. He doesn't have an overpowering pitch, but he has good command and feel of four average offerings.
Maholm throws with a balanced delivery and easy arm action, generating an 88-91 mph fastball with late life and sink. He could add velocity because he stands straight up in his delivery and doesn't use his legs enough. Some scouts said his 68-74 mph curveball is his best pitch. It has late break and tight rotation. He also throws a slider and changeup.
"His change is outstanding, and has really good movement and sink," Stewart said. "He throws it to lefthanders as well as righthanders, which is something you don't see very often."
15. Aneudi Cuevas, ss, Hudson Valley Renegades (Devil Rays)
The Devil Rays took Cuevas from the Astros in the 2002 minor league Rule 5 draft. A career .233 hitter in four years in the Houston system, Cuevas batted .260 and upped his extra-base hit total from five in the NY-P a year ago to 27 this summer.
Even with the surprising power, Cuevas is a defensive player first. He has a strong arm, good actions and plenty of range.
"Best defensive player in the league that I saw," one scout said. "He's athletic, has some pop in his bat, hits the ball to both gaps very well with some juice. This guy's got some potential."
16. Juan Peralta, ss/2b, Auburn Doubledays (Blue Jays)
He didn't move there full-time until Hill was promoted, but a few managers said Peralta was a better shortstop. He's more fluid at the position and has plus arm strength, sure hands and quick feet.
He also has a projectable, athletic body, above-average speed and good baserunning skills. A switch-hitter, he uses a line-drive swing and will be more of a threat as he grows stronger. He already has an eye for drawing walks, a skill the Blue Jays emphasize.
"He's a developing middle-infield prospect who has shown the ability to control the strike zone," an American League scout said. "He's a ways away but I really like his potential."
17. Claudio Arias, 3b, Lowell Spinners (Red Sox)
Arias was known as Luis Herrera and believed to be 18 when he played in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 2002. In the offseason, the Red Sox learned his true identity and birthdate, which made him two years older. They still view him as a prospect because he has top-of-the-scale raw power.
Arias hit .350 before he injured a shoulder sliding headfirst. He may have come back too quickly because he batted just .162 after a two-week hiatus. His plate discipline is raw and he needs work defensively, though he showed good actions and a plus arm.
"He's a big, strong kid with good power, and he looked like he was a good defender," Castillo said. "He didn't handle breaking pitches very well but with receptions this guy could click. If you throw him a fastball, whoa man, does he ever get after it."
18. Vincent Blue, of, Oneonta Tigers
When they were teammates at Lamar High in Houston, Blue was considered a better prospect than righthander Jeff Niemann, who could be the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft. While Niemann has starred at Rice, Blue struggled for two seasons in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League before making progress this year.
Blessed with athleticism, above-average speed and good defensive skills, Blue was the league's best center fielder. He has some pop in his lefty bat, but some managers said his swing was erratic and a bit long at times.
"Boy, he has some serious talent," Howard said. "He's a big strong lefthanded hitter who runs well, and he played really well defensively. He's a very good defensive center fielder with a lot of raw talent."
19. Vito Chiaravalloti, 1b, Auburn Doubledays (Blue Jays)
Chiaravalloti slumped as a senior outfielder at Richmond, but found his stroke after turning pro. He won the NY-P triple crown and led the league in on-base percentage (.469) and slugging (.605).
He shows quickness in his hands, and a direct swing to the ball that translates into solid power. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder also does a good job of controlling the strike zone, though he needs to improve on inside pitches. The consensus was that he's subpar defensively at first base and more suited for DH.
20. Javier Guzman, ss, Williamsport Crosscutters (Pirates)
An outstanding athlete at a premium position, Guzman ranked 11th on the GCL prospect list in 2002.
He's still raw at the plate, but he's a switch-hitter who generates more pop from the left side. He has average speed and is adept at bunting. He just needs to get stronger and more disciplined. Guzman makes everything look easy at shortstop, as his arm, hands and range are all plus tools.