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2004 Top 20 Prospects: Appalachian LeagueComplete Index of League Top 20s
By Will Kimmey
Chat Transcript: Will Kimmey took your Appy League questions
"Definitely, we saw some kids that should have been playing in short-season A somewhere," Bluefield manager Gary Kendall said.
Managers agreed the older composition raised the level of play and made the standout performances of the younger players all the more impressive. No one caused more gasps than Greeneville outfielder Mitch Einertson. A fifth-round pick in June, Einertson tied Joy Gritts' 1960 league record with 24 home runs.
"Coming out of high school and hitting over 20 home runs is almost impossible to do," Burlington manager Rouglas Odor said. "Manny Ramirez, when he was here, he hit 19 home runs and had 63 RBIs."
Einerston also led the league in RBIs (67) and slugging percentage (.692) while batting .308. He went homerless in his last five regular-season games and failed to pass Gritts, but Einerston hit two longballs during Greeneville's championship series win against Danville and then cranked another in his first game after a promotion to the short-season New York-Penn League.
"What's amazing to me is everybody knows who he is and what he does now and are trying to pitch him different," Greeneville manager Tim Bogar said. "But he's making the adjustments."
Einertson gets good jumps on balls, but might not have the speed to play center field at the major league level. His average to plus arm strength will allow him to play in right field if necessary. The Astros also might try him at second base during instructional league.
Hernandez needs to work on his transfer and release, but his arm is strong enough to control the running game despite those inefficiencies. He ranked second among Appy regulars by erasing 33 percent of basestealers.
Hernandez' abilities at the plate make his ability to play behind it even more appealing. He began the year batting eighth in Bristol's lineup and finished in the No. 3 hole—and also second in the league batting race at .326. He crushes pitches thrown in the strike zone and sometimes will chase after bad offerings, but often makes adjustments in his next at-bat.
"He has a very good swing from both sides," Kendall said. "He's very aggressive, but he has very good barrel accuracy."
The 6-foot-5 righthander threw three pitches for strikes: an 89-91 mph fastball, a tight breaking ball with bite and a solid changeup. Waldrop's secondary pitches lag behind his fastball for now, but all should be at least average.
"He's going to be somebody to look out for," Bogar said. "He really knows how to pitch. A lot of 18-year-olds are just throwing it up there hoping they don't hit it. He has a plan."
Waldrop also demonstrated the poise and work ethic of an older player, right down to precise record-keeping and good penmanship when charting teammates' pitches.
Brignac goes after pitches early in the count and can be pull-oriented, but he shortens his swing with two strikes and hit well against both lefthanders and righthanders. He makes good use of his hands and owns a fluid stroke.
"He got eight hits in three games against us and basically beat us singlehandedly with five hits in one night," Bristol manager Jerry Hairston said. "He's a wiry-type guy with a line-drive swing, but he can take you deep if he gets the right pitch."
Brignac displays good actions defensively. His arm rates above average, though it played average as he tired near the end of the year. The presence of B.J. Upton at shortstop in Tampa Bay and the likelihood that Brignac will outgrow the position mean that he'll probably move to third base in the future.
Gonzalez' feel for pitching was as important to his success as his repertoire. He sometimes fell victim to trying to be too fine early in the count, but often was able to work out of bad counts because of his two plus pitches.
"He's ahead of his years pitching-wise," Bogar said. "He's got a good idea of what he's doing out there. He can locate well and has the kind of stuff to back it up."
Plouffe also showed the aptitude and attitude to respond to instruction. He still needs to work on his first-step quickness and positioning.
Offensively, Plouffe authored a 17-game hitting streak and demonstrated a fluid swing. He uses the whole field and is patient at the plate, though his swing gets long at times.
"He's a special guy," Elizabethton manager Ray Smith said. "During the 16 years I've been in this league, I've seen only a handful of top shortstop prospects, and he's one of them."
His .396 on-base percentage notwithstanding, his plate discipline still needs work after he struck out 71 times in 249 at-bats. Rodriguez rated as the top athlete in the Appy League, and his arm strength and speed helped make him one of its best defensive outfielders.
"He showed all five tools against us," Kendall said. "He kind of reminded me of Ruben Rivera, when he was on the way up."
Yarbrough's future position is less certain. Several Appy managers are former catchers, and not all were sold that he'll continue in their footsteps. He shows solid to above-average arm strength, but he must work on his release and transfer. His receiving and blocking also could use improvement, though those that believe in him feel that will come with more experience.
"I think he's still growing into his body," Kendall said. "He's got a good delivery, a fastball in the upper 80s to low 90s, and his breaking ball has good rotation."
Smit showed glimpses of an impressive future by locating his knuckle-curve and spotting his sinker while throwing seven shutout innings against Johnson City in his final start before joining the Dutch Olympic team.
Patton throws his fastball around 90 mph and works it to both sides of the plate. He aggressively goes after hitters and is especially tough on lefties because of his low three-quarters arm slot.
Patton's curveball was considered one of the best in the draft. He throws two versions of it, and Appy managers thought he'd be better off scrapping the slower, loopier version to concentrate on refining his harder breaking ball. He didn't throw his changeup much in game action, but it was solid in bullpen sessions.
"We're anxious to see what he's going to be when he's right," Smith said. "He topped out at 93-94 and pitched at 90-91, and that was with a tired shoulder."
Fox attacks hitters with excellent command of his fastball and a power slider. Despite the fatigue, his control never wavered and he still managed to record 32 strikeouts in 27 innings despite being knocked around a bit. He's working to hone his changeup, which he rarely used in college but can be an average pitch.
Gutierrez uses a big-breaking curveball as a strikeout pitch, though mechanical inconsistency made him primarily a fastball pitcher early in the season. He also features a solid changeup but needs to use it more, and he must be careful not to let his body get too soft.
"He's as poised as anyone I've ever seen at this level," Bogar said. "It doesn't matter if he's giving it up or pitching well."
"We have a 30-day rule in the organization," Bogar said. "We don't touch guys during that time so we can see what kind of player they are. But he came to us and said, 'I can't do anything right. Can you help me?' "
The Greeneville staff suggested a few adjustments--chiefly how he held his hands in his batting stance so he could catch up to fastballs better--and Parraz jumped to .295 over the final 25 games. "We saw him early and late," Smith said, "and he looked like a completely different guy."
Parraz shows average power and the ability to hit for a decent average once he starts controlling the strike zone better. He's an excellent athlete who runs well and shows great instincts and a high-energy approach. He gets great jumps in the outfield, where he can play all three positions, and has a plus arm that should become more accurate when he refines his mechanics.
Pope possesses the agility, range and arm strength for third base, along with the body type. "He's built like a brick wall," Smith said. Pope plays an adequate third base and should become more fluid with his hands and feet as he gains experience.
Mata also employs a hard, late-breaking slider that he's not afraid to throw in 3-1 and 3-2 counts. A former starter, he'll even show a changeup but really doesn't need to. He gave up seven earned runs in 1 2/3 innings in his lone start of the summer, compared to six in 25 games (1.82 ERA) in relief.
Holt's offensive game has translated nicely from college. He controls the bat well, uses a short line-drive stroke and hits balls from gap to gap. His plus speed plays a grade higher because of his baserunning skills and instincts.
"He's a tough out," Odor said. "He makes a lot of contact and finds a way to get on. He has the ability to steal 30 to 40 bases in a full season."
"You can see a lot of potential in him," Hairston said. "He's big, strong and has some pop. He's got good range for a big guy and shows a good arm for a shortstop."
Castillo reminded some managers of fellow Panamanian Carlos Lee for his strength and power potential at the plate. Like Lee, controlling the strike zone will be the key to Castillo's progression. He's a little shaky against breaking balls, but shows the ability to at least foul them off until he gets a pitch he can handle better.
The biggest question for Valdes comes at the plate. He's a slap hitter who must make more consistent contact and improve his bunting to fit at the top of an order. He also needs to add strength and improve his plate discipline.
"He can go get 'em as good as anyone I've ever seen," Nelson said. "He killed us in the outfield. Defense and baserunning-wise, he could play in the big leagues right now. There's no telling what he could do if he's hitting, but he's got a long road to hoe there."
Delgado could become a tougher out if he shortened his swing a bit to cut down his strikeouts and make better use of his speed by putting more balls in play. The switch-hitter also might consider batting exclusively lefthanded, as he hit .312 from that side compared to .194 righthanded.
Delgado makes all the plays at second base and turns the double play well. His arm is fine at second base but precludes a switch to shortstop.
"When Mr. Doubleday invented the rules, he gave you three strikes," Smith said, "and Deacon uses all of his."
Burns exudes energy and is a smart player, but those attributes aren't enough to overcome his below-average defensive skills. He played both outfield corners and spent a lot of time at DH. His defensive limitations, raw tools and relatively advanced age (21) limit his ceiling, but his bat could carry him to the majors.