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2003 League Top 20s: Texas 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 Will Lingo
October 1, 2003

2003 League Top 20s
Sept. 18Gulf Coast League
Sept. 19Arizona League
Sept. 20Appalachian League
Sept. 21Pioneer League
Sept. 22New York-Penn League
Sept. 23Northwest League
Sept. 24South Atlantic League
Sept. 25Midwest League
Sept. 26California League
Sept. 27Carolina League
Sept. 28Florida State League
Sept. 29Eastern League
Sept. 30Southern League
Oct. 1Texas League
Oct. 2International League
Oct. 3Pacific Coast League

As with just about everything in the Double-A Texas League this season, the San Antonio Missions dominated the Top 20 Prospects list.

San Antonio easily won both half-season titles in the Western Division, earning a bye to the finals and beating Frisco for its second straight TL title. Third baseman Justin Leone was the league's player of the year, lefthander Travis Blackley was the pitcher of the year and Dave Brundage was the manager of the year. Brundage also won BA's Minor League Manager of the Year award.

The Missions also placed five players on the Top 20 in shortstop Jose Lopez, Blackley, rigthander Clint Nageotte, outfielder Chris Snelling and righty Rett Johnson. Four others--Leone, righty Cha Seung Baek, lefty Bobby Madritsch and middle infielder Luis Uguetogot serious consideration.

Beyond the loaded Missions, though, most managers thought the TL's talent had dropped off from last year, when players such as Mark Teixeira, Francisco Rodriguez and Rich Harden were in the Top 10.

"I did not see as many big-time prospects as last year," said Frisco manager Tim Ireland, who signed the league's top prospect, Taiwanese righthander Chin-Hui Tsao, as the Rockies' Pacific Rim coordinator in 1999.

Ireland managed in Taiwan in 1998 and established contacts there that helped him sign Tsao, whom he first saw at a tournament in Japan in the spring of 1999.

"It didn't take an expert scout to see he was good," Ireland said. "Of the young players signed out of the Far East in recent years, I thought he was the best of them all, and I think he's proving that out."


1. Chin-Hui Tsao, rhp, Tulsa Drillers (Rockies)

Tsao answered any lingering questions about his recovery from 2001 Tommy John surgery with authority. He earned a trip to the Futures Game followed by a big league callup in July, but still qualified as the league ERA champion at season's end. His Colorado debut made him the first Taiwanese pitcher to reach the major leagues.

Tsao toyed with hitters at times, usually pitching at 90-91 mph but dialing his fastball up to 96-97 when he needed it. His slider can be unhittable and his changeup is a solid pitch. He also throws the occasional curveball.

His command is strong, he does the little things (like fielding his position) well and he's confident on and off the field. He's also a good athlete who can hit balls out during batting practice. Tsao is still learning to pitch and needs to work out of the strike zone more when he's ahead in the count.

"He's one of those guys who can just dominate you with stuff," Wichita manager Keith Bodie said. "He throws a lot of swing-and-miss pitches."

Team W-L ERA G IP H R ER BB SO
Tulsa 11-4 2.46 18 113.1 88 34 31 26 125

2. Zack Greinke, rhp, Wichita Wranglers (Royals)

Greinke established himself as one of the best pitching prospects in the minors this year. He wasn't quite as dominant in the TL as he was in the high Class A Carolina League, but managers still were impressed with all he can do as a 19-year-old.

Beyond any of his stuff, Greinke earned kudos for his command, poise and feel for pitching. He's mature beyond his years, he can throw any of his pitches just about anywhere he wants, and he changes speeds masterfully. His stuff isn't short by any means--his fastball touches 93 mph and he's young enough that he could add velocity--though one manager said, "I'm not sure it's the kind of stuff where he can say, 'Here it is, hit it.' "

Fortunately, Greinke rarely does that.

"A 19-year-old shouldn't have that kind of command," Brundage said. "A 19-year-old shouldn't be able to throw wherever you want, whenever you want. A lot of times it looked like he was playing a game within a game, just playing games with himself."

Team W-L ERA G IP H R ER BB SO
Wichita 4-3 3.23 9 53.0 58 20 19 5 34

3. Laynce Nix, of, Frisco Roughriders (Rangers)

After taking a step-by-step progression through the Rangers organization in his first 2 1/2 seasons, Nix got on the fast track. He moved from one Dallas suburb to another in July and holding his own in the Texas outfield.

Few players can match the strength of Nix, who has serious power to all fields. All of his other tools should be at least average, assuming his body doesn't slow him down. A high school quarterback, he's a good athlete. He's a fearless defender and can play center field, though he definitely profiles as a corner outfielder in the long term.

Nix is also very confident, to the point that it put off some observers.

"He has all the talent in the world, but at times he acted like he had 10 years in the big leagues already," one manager said. "He needs to get some of Ramon Nivar's enthusiasm."

TEAMG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG
Frisco 87 335 52 95 23 0 15 63 34 68 9 .284 .344 .487

4. Ramon Nivar, of/2b, Frisco Roughriders (Rangers)

Speaking of Nivar, he got on the prospect map last year while repeating high Class A, and he took off this season after his surname changed from Martinez to Nivar. He opened in Frisco and jumped to Triple-A before making his big league debut. He won a spot in the Futures Game as well as the TL batting title.

Managers love Nivar's hustle and enthusiasm, not to mention his exciting tools. He really blossomed after moving from the middle infield to center field, where he needs polish but showed good instincts. While at least one manager wasn't sure he'll hit in the big leagues, most liked his approach and hand-eye coordination. He's a line-drive hitter who can go the other way, and he's a good bunter as well, accentuating his speed.

"He plays with reckless abandon, and you'll see him trying to throw guys out at first from center field," Brundage said. "He's got a lot to learn, but he shows you greatness."

TEAMG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG
Frisco 79 317 53 110 17 4 4 37 20 23 9 .347 .387 .464

5. Jose Lopez, ss, San Antonio Missions (Mariners)

Another 19-year-old who impressed managers, Lopez followed up his breakout in the high Class A California League with a solid season as one of the younger players in Double-A. He didn't have a great season with the bat but showed his tools and flashes of putting it all together.

"There's no doubt in his game," Ireland said. "He was born to play ball. He's real aggressive, and when he gets his pitch he doesn't miss it."

Lopez has great instincts for the game and all-around ability. He played second, third and short for the Missions, and most managers thought he could play any of those positions in the big leagues. He's aggressive at the plate but made progress in understanding how pitchers would attack him, and by the second half of the season he was laying off breaking balls.

TEAMG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG
San Antonio 132 538 82 139 35 2 13 69 27 56 18 .258 .303 .403

6. Travis Blackley, lhp, San Antonio Missions (Mariners)

In his first foray into Double-A, Blackley continued his fast progress toward Seattle and led a San Antonio pitching staff that overmatched the league. His 17 wins tied for the most in the minors this season.

At his best, Blackley has four average major league pitches: an 85-88 mph fastball, a changeup (his best pitch), a curveball and a slider. For much of the season, though, he had just the fastball and changeup working, a testament to the quality of those pitches.

To succeed at higher levels and combat lefthanders, he'll have to improve his breaking pitches. Lefties hit .301 against him this season, compared to .181 for righties. He also is a bit immature and still needs to grow up.

"He's dominant with all of his pitches working," Brundage said. "Him with four pitches is something to be reckoned with."

Team W-L ERA G IP H R ER BB SO
San Antonio 17-3 2.61 27 162.1 125 55 47 62 144

7. Bobby Jenks, rhp, Arkansas Travelers (Angels)

Jenks' adventures and misadventures are well known by now. The more important thing that happened this summer, though, was that he consistently dominated minor league hitters for the first time.

He had shown flashes in the Arizona Fall League before but never pitched as reliably as he did this season. His 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings and .191 opponent average at Arkansas would have ranked among the minor league leaders if he had pitched enough to qualify. He missed almost two months with a stress reaction in his elbow but showed no sign of problems when he returned.

Jenks throws an overpowering fastball, and a curveball and changeup that can be above average. While some managers saw violence in his delivery and think he's at risk for more injuries as a starter, others disagreed and said the ball came out of his hand easy. Everyone agreed that he was unhittable.

"We didn't do anything against this guy," Tulsa manager Marv Foley said. "He touched 100 and pitched at 95-96. If Jenks is healthy, he'll be a No. 1 guy in the major leagues."

Team W-L ERA G IP H R ER BB SO
Arkansas 7-2 2.17 16 83.0 56 23 20 51 103

8. Clint Nageotte, rhp, San Antonio Missions (Mariners)

After leading the minors in strikeouts last year, Nageotte didn't miss as many bats in Double-A. He still averaged more than a strikeout per inning, however, and ranked 10th in the minors.

Nageotte's best pitch is a slider that many scouts regard as an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He throws it so much, though, that managers worry about his approach and his health. He was shut down at the end of the season with elbow tendinitis that cost him a chance to close for the U.S. Olympic qualifying team.

"He'll pitch in the big leagues if he doesn't blow his arm out," one manager said. "This guy's Mr. Slider. He throws way too many breaking balls."

Nageotte's fastball ranges from 92-95 mph and his changeup is still developing. He needs to improve his understanding of the game and his approach, in particular his work habits and his game preparation.

Team W-L ERA G IP H R ER BB SO
San Antonio 11-7 3.10 27 154.0 127 60 53 67 157

9. Jimmy Gobble, lhp, Wichita Wranglers (Royals)

Gobble's first shot at the Texas League in 2002 wasn't productive, as he battled groin and shoulder injuries and threw just 69 innings. His second time around was much different, and he showed enough to get thrown into the midst of a playoff race when the Royals became desperate for pitching in August.

While most managers didn't consider him major league-ready now, they expect Gobble to be a solid No. 3 or 4 starter with a little more seasoning. He pitches at 89 mph and touches 92, backing his fastball with a good curveball and a developing changeup. He throws on a good downhill plane but is still inconsistent with his location.

"Going to the big leagues has really helped him a lot," Wichita manager Keith Bodie said. "He's learning that he just needs to throw strikes, keep the ball down and change speeds, and not try to do too much."

Team W-L ERA G IP H R ER BB SO
Wichita 12-8 3.19 22 132.2 128 57 47 40 100

10. Chris Snelling, of, San Antonio Missions (Mariners)

Snelling hasn't been around forever. It just seems that way. After establishing himself as a premium prospect in 2001, Snelling tore the ACL in his left knee last year and got just 116 at-bats. He played well in San Antonio this year and earned a promotion to Triple-A, but again his season was cut short because of tendinitis and then a torn meniscus in the same knee.

Snelling is still just 21 and combines good tools with great baseball instincts and incredible drive. Baseball comes easy to him, and he's a pure hitter with quick hands and good pop. His average speed with above-average instincts allow him to play anywhere in the outfield, but he's probably best off on a corner.

He probably came back too soon from last year's knee injury, but that's just a product of his drive to succeed.

"He has one gear, and that's fourth gear," Brundage said. "He's a great kid to have on your team. Chris Snelling has one objective, and that's to win the ballgame."

TEAMG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG
San Antonio 47 186 24 62 12 2 3 25 8 30 1 .333 .371 .468

11. Scott Hairston, 2b, El Paso Diablos (Diamondbacks)

Hairston didn't make a strong impression on TL managers this season, but that was more because of his health than to his performance on the field. The Diamondbacks' top prospect coming into the season, he was batting .309 and had hit in 19 of 20 games when he went down at the end of May with a back injury. He had surgery on a bulging disk and didn't return until July 10, when a Cohen Stadium-record crowd of 11,147 fans turned out. Of course, they also may have been interested in the starter that night: Randy Johnson.

"Anytime a player has an injury for the first time of that magnitude, it's tough," El Paso manager Scott Coolbaugh said. "He's done a good job here at the end of the year."

When healthy, Hairston still profiles as an offensive second baseman with pop and good wheels. He looked more comfortable at second base this year and played every game there when he wasn't DHing, in spite of talk he might eventually move to the outfield.

TEAMG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG
El Paso 88 337 53 93 21 7 10 47 30 80 6 .276 .345 .469

12. Freddie Bynum, 2b, Midland RockHounds (Athletics)

Bynum continues a steady progression through an Athletics organization where he sticks out like a sore thumb because he's a junior college draft pick who's raw but has a high ceiling. He also sticks out because he struck out more than twice as much as he walked in 2003.

Still, he does offer an intriguing package of tools. He has a line-drive swing and could add power as he matures. He's an outstanding athlete with tremendous range and a strong arm. "He may end up being one of the best players to come out of this league," Ireland said.

The question is consistency, particularly on defense.

"Hitting isn't the problem," one manager said. "It's whether he can play second base. On the right day, he's exciting. On the wrong day, he's unbearable."

TEAMG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG
Midland 132 510 84 134 18 9 5 58 56 135 22 .263 .344 .363

13. Cory Sullivan, of, Tulsa Drillers (Rockies)

Sullivan was a two-way star in college at Wake Forest, but he was a seventh-round pick because he has no overwhelming tools. He continues to put up solid numbers each season as he climbs steadily through the Rockies organization, however, and he's the kind of player managers love. He has great instincts and shows leadership and toughness, playing in all but two games for Tulsa this season.

"He might have been the best ballplayer in the league," Ireland said. "You have to look past the individual tools to see his potential. He did it all and did it every day. He brings it all every day, and you don't see that much anymore."

Sullivan led the league in hits and has good hands and a smooth swing. He accentuates his good speed by being an above-average bunter, but hurt himself by not drawing enough walks and by getting caught on 13 of his 30 basestealing attempts. He's a legitimate center fielder and had the best outfield arm in the league.

TEAMG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG
Tulsa 135 557 81 167 34 8 5 61 39 83 17 .300 .347 .417

14. Dan Johnson, 1b, Midland RockHounds (Athletics)

Though other Midland players were more hyped, including 2002 first-round picks Jeremy Brown and Nick Swisher, it was Johnson who left the biggest impression on managers. He led the TL with 27 home runs and 271 total bases, and his slugging percentage topped .500 for the second straight season.

Johnson offers above-average power and is more than an all-or-nothing slugger, walking nearly as much as he struck out. At least one manager called him the league's best pure hitter. While Johnson is regarded as a below-average defender at first base, managers said he was not a butcher and should be able to handle the position.

"He struggles some against lefthanders and he struggles against breaking stuff," Bodie said, "but when he hits it he really gets a hold of it."

TEAMG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG
Midland 139 538 90 156 26 4 27 114 68 82 7 .290 .365 .504

15. Adrian Gonzalez, 1b, Frisco Roughriders (Rangers)

Gonzalez came over to the Rangers from the Marlins in a midseason trade for Ugueth Urbina. He didn't show his full talent because he's still recovering from surgery last December to repair torn cartilage in his wrist, but his swing and defense were still enough to get him noticed.

Managers loved Gonzalez' work at first base. "He has the best pair of hands I've ever coached at first base," Ireland said.

But it's his classic lefthanded swing that will carry Gonzalez to the big leagues. He didn't show much power this season, which is attributed to the wrist, though he doesn't project as a major masher. One manager compared his inside-out swing to Jim Edmonds' when he was in the minors. Though he's a lefthanded hitter, Gonzalez' power is to left-center.

TEAMG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG
Frisco 45 173 16 49 6 2 3 17 11 27 0 .283 .326 .393

16. Greg Aquino, rhp, El Paso Diablos (Diamondbacks)

One of the first players signed by the Diamondbacks organization in 1995, Aquino spent most of his first four seasons as a shortstop. A .229 career average and a talking-to from his mother persuaded the Dominican native to go along with Arizona's suggestion to try pitching.

The results have gotten better every year. Aquino was dominant at times in his first experience in Double-A, and in a May start against Midland touched 99 mph twice. Not long after that, though, he went down with a sore shoulder and missed most of June and July.

He returned on a strict pitch count but still flashed great stuff. The key to success for him is developing a reliable second pitch. His slider is sharp when it's on but inconsistent.

"In one start he was throwing that slider on 3-and-2, 2-and-0," Coolbaugh said. "When he's throwing that way, he's as good as anybody in the game."

Team W-L ERA G IP H R ER BB SO
El Paso 7-3 3.46 20 106.2 115 43 31 38 91

17. Chris Burke, 2b/ss, Round Rock Express (Astros)

Burke was a bright spot on an otherwise dreadful Round Rock team that went 46-94--42 1/2 games worse than San Antonio. He needed to bounce back after a disappointing 2002 season in Round Rock, necessitated because the Astros didn't have a high Class A affiliate at the time. Burke looked more like a first-round pick this season, finishing among the league leaders in several offensive categories.

While Burke played about a third of the season at shortstop, in the long term he's regarded as a second baseman, where his arm is a better fit. He's a pesky player, bunting when need be and putting the ball in play. He walked as much as he struck out and showed good leadoff skills.

"He will be a good, fundamentally sound, solid second baseman," Brundage said. "His tools don't stand out and there's nothing he does that wows you, but he's astute and he understands and likes the game."

TEAMG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG
Round Rock 137 549 88 165 23 8 3 41 57 57 34 .301 .379 .388

18. Juan Dominguez, rhp, Frisco Roughriders (Rangers)

Like Nivar, Dominguez went from Class A last season to his big league debut this year. He made an even bigger jump, having never pitched above low Class A or thrown more than 68 innings in a season. Once he got to the big leagues in August, however, Dominguez revealed that he was 23, not 21 as previously believed, and preferred to be known as Juan rather than Jose.

Still, Dominguez' 10-0, 2.87 regular season record in his two minor league stops created a buzz. He returned to Frisco for the TL playoffs and took his only loss of the year in the finals. His fastball ranges from 88-93 mph, but his best pitch is a changeup that draws comparisons to Pedro Martinez'. He also throws a developing slider.

Dominguez shows a cocky, aggressive attitude on the mound, but it didn't rub managers the wrong way. "His arrogance shows out there, but it's one of his best assets," Brundage said.

Team W-L ERA G IP H R ER BB SO
Frisco 5-0 2.60 9 55.1 35 17 16 21 54

19. Byron Gettis, of, Wichita Wranglers (Royals)

After taking a slow path through the Royals system since he was signed as a nondrafted free agent in 1998--teams thought he was going to the University of Minnesota to play football--Gettis rewarded the organization's patience with a breakthrough in his first Double-A season. He hit 44 points better than his previous career average and showed he could be a run producer as well.

Gettis presents a well-rounded package of tools, showing the ability to hit for power and average, with average speed and enough arm to play in right field. He also brings energy and a good attitude to the ballpark. He still needs to refine his approach at the plate as he faces better pitching.

TEAMG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG
Wichita 140 510 80 154 31 4 16 103 55 110 15 .302 .377 .443

20. Rett Johnson, rhp, San Antonio Missions (Mariners)

On a Missions staff that remained stable and dominated the TL all season, Johnson was the only notable player who earned a midseason promotion to Triple-A, where he posted better numbers.

Johnson throws his fastball 91-93 mph, with an above-average slider and decent changeup. His biggest strides this season came with his command and overall approach. Mariners minor league pitching coordinator Pat Rice shortened Johnson's delivery in spring training, and it paid immediate dividends in helping him throw strikes and keep the ball down.

Managers also noticed an improved work ethic from when Johnson came to the TL in the middle of the 2002 season.

"These are the kinds of guys who can pitch as long as they want at whatever level they want," Brundage said. "He really got prepared this year and ran with it."

Team W-L ERA G IP H R ER BB SO
San Antonio 6-2 3.04 14 83.0 74 31 28 21 63

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