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Completing the all-rookie team puzzle each fall often involves playing a few pieces that don’t quite fit with the others. That wasn’t the case this year. Baseball America readers know […]
2004 Top 20 Prospects: Arizona LeagueComplete Index of League Top 20s
By Allan Simpson
Chat Transcript: Allan Simpson took your
questions on the two complex leagues
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.
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."
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."
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
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.
"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.
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.
"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.
"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.
"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."
"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.
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.
"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."
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.