2004 Top 20 Prospects: Arizona League
Complete Index of League Top 20s
By Allan Simpson
September 20, 2004
Allan Simpson took your
questions on the two complex leagues
|FIVE YEARS AGO
1. Vince Faison, of, Padres
2. *Cha Sueng Baek, rhp, Mariners
3. Gerik Baxter, rhp, Padres
4. *Jose Valverde, rhp, Diamondbacks
5. *Angel Berroa, ss, Athletics
6. Germain Chirinos, of, Athletics
7. *Jacob Peavy, rhp, Padres
8. Ryan Kibler, rhp, Rockies
9. Michael Wenner, of, Athletics
10. Joel Noboa, 3b, Diamondbacks
* Played in the majors
This year's crackdown on temporary visas to foreign players affected every league at the entry level of professional baseball, none to a greater degree than the Rookie-level Arizona League.
A league normally top-heavy in teenage talent from other nations, the AZL was allowed to relax its rules governing age and experience. With pitching staffs composed of players ranging from 20-24, the Giants and Athletics dominated the league. The Giants won the first half of the league's split-season schedule and the A's the second half, with the Giants beating them 3-2 in a one-game championship final.
With our prospect list, the emphasis was on youth, so few Giants and A's made the grade. Giants second baseman Marcus Sanders, the highest-ranked player from those clubs, came in at No. 10. Only one of the league's top 16 prospects was even 20.
||MATT TUIASOSOPO, ss, Mariners
Age: 18 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Mariners '04 (3)
Tuiasosopo's father Manu and brother Marques both played in the NFL, and he had the potential to do the same. A top quarterback recruit who might have started at Washington as a freshman this fall, Tuiasosopo instead signed with his hometown team for a $2.29 million bonus, a record for a player drafted in the third round.
He made a statement in his first professional at-bat, homering off the Giants, and lit up the league before being promoted to the short-season Northwest League. "He overmatched this league," A's manager Ruben Escalera said. "He's got the whole package, all five tools."
Not only is Tuiasosopo talented, but he's also a poised, driven player with sound instincts. He already has a mature, powerful swing with solid plate discipline and the Mariners weren't afraid to challenge him with a promotion after just 20 games. Even his older teammates were impressed with his ability.
Like many young shortstops Tuiasosopo is error prone, and he committed eight in 15 games. He tends to get under the ball on throws too often, like a quarterback would, and the ball often takes off on him. It's a fixable problem and the Mariners have no immediate plans to move him elsewhere.
"He could play third base, shortstop, second base or the outfield, but you don't want to give up on him yet as a shortstop," Brewers manager Mike Guerrero said. "But he needs a lot of work on defense. His mechanics and footwork aren't very good at this point."
||HERNAN IRIBARREN, 2b, Brewers
Age: 20 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 160 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Brewers FA '02 (Venezuela)
The lefthanded-hitting Iribarren finished 88 points ahead of his nearest competitor in the batting race. His .439 average was the second-highest in league history, topped only by the Padres' Tim McWilliam, who hit .451 in 1988, the league's inaugural season. Iribarren also led the league in hits (83), on-base percentage (.490) and slugging (.630) while earning MVP honors.
He went on to hit .373 with 12 extra-base hits in 15 games after a promotion to the low Class A Midwest League. A year ago, he finished third in the Dominican Summer League batting race at .344. A smart hitter, he uses the whole field with many of his extra-base hits going to the opposite field. He makes consistent hard contact.
He's also a skilled defender with sure, quick hands. He runs the bases aggressively.
"He was the most polished player in the league, by far, and should have been in a higher league from the start," Mariners manager Scott Steinmann said. "He's a solid little second baseman and really understands every part of the game."
||MARK ROGERS, rhp, Brewers
Age: 18 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 205 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Brewers '04 (1)
The fifth overall pick in this year's draft, Rogers didn't have a win in his pro debut. But his stuff was the talk of the league, and he was unhittable when he was on his game.
"He didn't have a great season, but we're satisfied with his progress," Guerrero said. "You need to go slowly with him. He doesn't know what he's capable of yet. But he's a smart, coachable kid who applies what you teach him."
Rogers threw his fastball in the low to mid-90s, with a high of 96-97 mph. He complemented it with a dynamite 12-to-6 curveball and displayed a feel for a changeup. He struggled with command as he fought to maintain a consistent delivery. He also wilted in the oppressive Arizona heat after becoming the first high school first-rounder from Maine.
||MIGUEL VEGA, 1b/3b, Royals
Age: 19 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 205 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Royals '04 (3)
Kansas City's fourth-round draft pick in 2003, Vega struggled in his debut but enjoyed an all-star season this year while leading the AZL with 10 home runs.
"He made a big improvement from 2003 in all areas," Rangers manager Pedro Lopez said. "He couldn't hit the ball out of the infield last year and was an easy out. This year he was a tough out and hit the ball out of the park consistently. He couldn't catch the ball last year, either. This year he did."
Vega had the best raw power in the league and it's his bat that will carry him as he advances. He'll need to make better contact, use the whole field and be more patient at the plate after topping the league with 74 strikeouts. Vega looked more comfortable after moving from third to first base, though his plus arm will be mostly wasted at his new position.
||MATT BUSH, ss, Padres
Age: 18 Ht: 5-10 Wt: 170 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Padres '04 (1)
Bush was the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, but his career started poorly when he got in a bar fight on the eve of the season, was charged with three misdemeanors and was suspended for several weeks by the Padres. Things didn't get a lot better when he was reinstated. He was overmatched at the plate and battled a hamstring problem. His debut drew mixed reviews from managers, who expected to see a five-tool talent and didn't.
"He didn't impress me that much, but he'll be OK," Escalera said, "His bat has a way to go. He swings too hard and he tries to lift the ball too much."
Despite his hamstring problem, Bush was at his best in the field. He showed soft hands, good range and easily the best infield arm in the league. He played with a little too much flash, which led to careless errors, and tended to wait too long on balls as he tried to show off his arm strength.
||DARYL JONES, 1b, Padres
Age: 18 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 205 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Padres '04 (4)
Jones was one of the youngest players in the 2004 draft, and didn't turn 18 until September. He still had no problem adapting to pro ball, and two managers thought he had as much upside as any hitter in the league.
"He has a very quiet approach," Lopez said, "but he'll hit and hit for both average and power."
Most of Jones' pop is to the opposite field, as he stays back on breaking balls well and takes pitches the other way. He needs work on his defense but should be a quality first baseman in time.
||K.C. HERREN, of, Rangers
Age: 19 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 197 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Rangers '04 (2)
Though he failed to homer in 185 at-bats, Herren has the makings of an athletic, big league body and projects plenty of power down the road. He has good plate discipline and makes solid contact with a line-drive swing, and he should add loft to his stroke with experience.
Herren covered ground in center field adequately. A below-average arm and average speed probably will relegate him to left field, and he'll still have enough bat for that position.
||DANIEL SANTIN, c, Mariners
Age: 19 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 205 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Mariners D/F '03 (23)
An offense-first catcher, Santin earned AZL all-star honors and was promoted to the Northwest League to finish the season.
"He can really swing the bat, but his defense needs a lot of work," Guerrero said. "He has soft hands and calls a good game, but his arm is not very strong."
Santin's bat is his only above-average tool and he could end up at first base if his defense becomes an issue. He did throw out 32 percent of basestealers, just a tick below the AZL average of 33 percent.
||ELVIN PUELLO, 3b, Cubs
Age: 19 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 175 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Cubs FA '04 (Dominican Republic)
The AZL's all-star DH, Puello made big strides with the bat in 2004 after hitting .237-4-26 in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League a year ago. He uses the whole field and should pull the ball more consistently as he matures and gets stronger.
Puello is also a solid third baseman. He has soft hands, good arm strength and instincts for the position, allowing him to make spectacular plays.
||MARCUS SANDERS, 2b, Giants
Age: 19 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 160 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Giants D/F '03 (17)
Sanders was a catalyst at the top of the lineup for the champion Giants, leading the league in runs (54) and stolen bases (28).
"He really ignited our offense," Giants manager Bert Hunter said. "And while he's not very big, he's got good pop. He hit three home runs out of big league stadiums."
Sanders has true leadoff skills. He can run, bunt and drive balls to the opposite field, and he had an impressive .415 on-base percentage. He lacks polish at second base, where he moves well but lacks soft hands.
||JOSH JOHNSON, ss/2b, Royals
Age: 18 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 170 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Royals '04 (3)
The son of ex-big leaguer Larry Doby Johnson, Johnson didn't hit much after being drafted in the third round, yet he impressed managers with his offensive potential. A switch-hitter, he drew a league-best 55 walks and put the ball in play consistently.
"He didn't hit for average, but the ball jumps off his bat," Guerrero said. "He just needs to play the little man's game a little bit better."
Johnson runs well and showed good range and arm strength at shortstop, where he teamed with second-year player Irving Falu to give the Royals the league's steadiest double-play combination. Johnson also played 12 games at second base, where he committed just one error.
||ERIK CORDIER, rhp, Royals
Age: 18 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 195 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Royals '04 (2)
Like Johnson, Cordier was an early-round (second) Royals draftee who struggled for most of the season. His command was erratic as were his pitches. His fastball ranged from 86-92 mph, and while both his curveball and changeup can grade as plus pitches at times, they were very inconsistent.
"He's got a great arm and a feel for three pitches," Guerrero said. "If he learns to get the ball around the plate consistently, he'll be pretty special."
||YOVANI GALLARDO, rhp, Brewers
Age: 18 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Brewers '04 (2)
Neither Rogers nor Gallardo, Milwaukee's first two picks in this year's draft, won a game in their professional debuts, but no one in the Brewers organization was disappointed. Gallardo pitched impressively in limited duty, allowing only one earned run in six starts while compiling a 23-4 strikeout-walk ratio.
"He's more polished than Rogers. He throws more strikes," Guerrero said. "But all his stuff is a little too hard. He just needs to add and subtract a little better, but that will come with experience."
Gallardo flashed three effective pitches, including a lively fastball that ranged from 89-94 mph. He also had good deception in his delivery.
||PABLO SANDOVAL, c, Giants
Age: 18 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 180 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Giants FA '03 (Venezuela)
Though he didn't turn 18 until August, Sandoval worked well with the league's oldest pitching staff. He showcased solid receiving skills, blocked balls well and had an accurate if not overly strong arm. Sandoval can throw with both hands, and Hunter, his manager, says he actually may have more arm strength as a lefty.
Sandoval plays the game with youthful enthusiasm and should become a fan favorite as he moves up the Giants chain. But at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, he'll have to watch his weight every step of the way, though he runs well for his size.
A switch-hitter, he swings the bat better from the left side. He makes solid contact but needs to become more selective at the plate.
||FREDDY PAREJO, of, Brewers
Age: 19 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 170 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Brewers FA '03 (Venezuela)
Though Parejo made strides in his first season in the United States, he's still a work in progress. He has above-average speed and power potential but barely has tapped into those tools. Though he runs well, his lack of instincts and arm strength limited him to left field.
"He looks a lot like Sammy Sosa when he started out," Guerrero said. "He's got all the tools. But he'd never seen a good curveball until this year. He needs to recognize breaking stuff and stay back on those pitches better."
||IRVING FALU, 2b, Royals
Age: 21 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 174 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Royals '03 (21)
Falu ranked No. 17 on this list a year ago, when he posted near-identical offensive numbers. The only significant upgrade was in stolen bases, where he improve from eight to 23. He also excelled on defense, where he teamed with Johnson to help the Royals turn a league-best 56 double plays.
"He's very steady. He makes all the plays," Royals manager Lloyd Simmons said. "If anything, he really improved his footwork on double plays this year."
The 6-foot, 170-pound Falu plays the little man's game especially well, a big reason why the Royals didn't hesitate to promote him all the way to Triple-A for the final week of the Pacific Coast League season. A switch-hitter, he's a tough out and puts the ball in play consistently. His biggest need is to get stronger.
||ANDY SANTANA, lhp, Cubs
Age: 21 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 160 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Cubs FA '01 (Dominican Republic)
Had he not been shut down early with shoulder pain, Santana would have topped the Arizona League in ERA. His 1.61 mark was easily better than leader Danielin Acevedo's (Oakland) 2.17, but Santana fell a third of an inning shy of the required 45 innings to qualify for the title.
He doesn't throw particularly hard, but he's capable of ratcheting his fastball up to 90-91 mph when he needs to and his two-seamer can be unhittable at times. He also confuses hitters by throwing every one of his pitches, including a curveball and changeup, from the same arm slot.
||ALEXI OGANDO, of, Athletics
Age: 20 Ht: 6-5 Wt: 193 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Athletics FA '02 (Dominican Republic)
Most Arizona League managers preferred Ogando over outfield mate Javi Herrera as a prospect last year. While Herrera moved up this year and became the No. 1 prospect in the Northwest League, Ogando returned to the AZL after getting limited playing time there.
Ogando stayed back on breaking balls better while laying off pitches out of the strike zone this year. But he still swung and missed too much, striking out 57 times in 180 at-bats, and his average dropped from .342 a year ago to .267. His best tools are his power to all fields, which is already major league average and projects to get better, and his right-field arm.
||ALEXI CASILLA, 2b/ss, Angels
Age: 20 Ht: 5-9 Wt: 160 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Angels FA '03 (Dominican Republic)
Casilla was the best prospect on a young, overmatched Angels squad that won only 12 of 55 games. His skills across the board are similar to those of Alberto Callaspo, a gifted Double-A infielder in the Anaheim system.
Casilla is a solid defender at both second base and shortstop, and an ideal leadoff hitter. He puts the ball in play consistently, and he can bunt and steal bases. He has little or no power.
||CONNOR ROBERTSON, rhp, Athletics
Age: 23 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 215 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Athletics '04 (31)
Robertson broke into pro ball with a bang, leading the Arizona League with 13 saves while posting a 0.92 ERA. He also posted a 46-8 strikeout-walk ratio in 29 innings.
But Robertson, a 31st-round pick, was very old by Rookie league standards at 22. While his age wasn't optimum, his stuff was. He showed three solid pitches, including a fastball that touched 92 mph. He's relatively new to pitching after being a two-way player at Birmingham-Southern, where he was the NAIA World Series MVP as a freshman third baseman.