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2004 Top 20 Prospects: California League
Complete Index of League Top 20s

By Kevin Goldstein
September 29, 2004


Chat Wrap: Kevin Goldstein took your California League questions

FIVE YEARS AGO
1. *Chin-Feng Chen, of, San Bernardino (Dodgers)
2. *Abraham Nunez, of, High Desert (Diamondbacks)
3. *Jack Cust, of, High Desert (Diamondbacks)
4. *Barry Zito, lhp, Visalia (Athletics)
5. *Wascar Serrano, rhp, Rancho Cucamonga (Padres)
6. *Jesus Colome, rhp, Modesto (Athletics)
7. *Miguel Olivo, c, Modesto (Athletics)
8. Jake Esteves, rhp, San Jose (Giants)
9. *Scot Shields, rhp, Lake Elsinore (Angels)
10. *Eric Byrnes, of, Modesto (Athletics)

* Played in the majors

It was a tale of two halves in the high Class A California League, as four of the top five prospects were showcasing their talent in Double-A by the end of June.

The first half was dominated by young righthanders Felix Hernandez and Matt Cain, who also pitched well in Double-A as teenagers.

Those two are both so special, a scout said. They are so young and they obviously have amazing arms, but they both really know how to pitch, which is phenomenal.

A third righty, Visalias Ubaldo Jimenez, was just as spectacular in April, but a stress fracture in his shoulder blade shut him down for most of the remainder of the season. He made one more appearance on Aug. 1, lasting just two pitchesneither over 62 mph.

Jimenez, who didn't have enough innings to qualify for this list, threw consistently in the high 90s. He projects as a closer because of his violent delivery and inconsistent offspeed offerings.

Offensively, Lancaster's "Three Amigos"outfielders Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson, third baseman Jamie DAntonawreaked havoc in the first half. Arizonas first three picks in the 2003 draft combined to hit .323-39-162 in 70 games before being promoted en masse to Double-A.

1. FELIX HERNANDEZ, rhp, Inland Empire 66ers (Mariners)
Age: 18 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 170 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Mariners FA '02 (Venezuela)

W:9
L:3
ERA:2.74
G:16
SV:0
IP:92.0
H:85
HR:5
BB:26
SO:114
AVG:.245
The youngest player in the league on Opening Day, Hernandez celebrated his 18th birthday one day before making his first start of the season. Hitters celebrated when he left for Double-A in late June, because they never were able to solve him.

Both Hernandez' fastball and curveball were rated the best in the league by the managers. Hernandez throws in the high 90s with little effort and locates his fastball welland the consensus was that his knee-buckling curveball is even better. One scout called it the best breaking pitch he saw all year.

Observers also praised Hernandez' changeup, which was nonexistent early in the season but showed signs of becoming a plus pitch. And though the Mariners wouldn't let him throw his slider, those who have seen it say it might be the best offering in his repertoire.

"He's the best I've seen in the last three or four years, and he's right up there with the great stuff guys I've ever seen," one scout said. "Plus he has a feel for pitching with command, like all of the great ones have."

2. MATT CAIN, rhp, San Jose Giants
Age: 20 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Giants '02 (1)

W:7
L:1
ERA:1.86
G:13
SV:0
IP:72.2
H:58
HR:5
BB:17
SO:89
AVG:.216
Cain limited Cal League opponents to two or fewer earned runs in each of his last 12 starts before graduating to Double-A as a teenager. Showing no ill effects from an elbow stress fracture that cut short his 2003 campaign, he dominated with a 93-97 mph fastball and a power curve, both seen as plus pitches.

He uses both sides of the plate and commands his pitches well," Visalia manager Stu Cole said. "He's just going to shoot through the minor leagues."

While some managers thought Cain was every bit as good as Hernandez, his changeup relegated him to No. 2 on this list. Though it has improved, it's still a work in progress. His athleticism and bulldog approach also drew praise.

3. ERICK AYBAR, ss, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Angels)
Age: 20 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 179 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Angels FA '02 (Dominican Republic)

AB:573
R:102
H:189
2B:25
3B:11
HR:14
RBI:65
BB:26
SO:66
SB:51
CS:36
AVG:.330
OBP:.370
SLG:.485
Aybar wowed managers and scouts at the plate and in the field, drawing multiple comparisons to Rafael Furcal. A switch-hitting leadoff man, he led the league in hits (189) and stolen bases (51). He also has more projectable power than most 5-foot-11, 160-pounders, delivering 14 homers and 50 extra-base hits.

A free swinger who's difficult to strike out, Aybar will hit .300 but he'll never draw many walks. He was caught stealing a whopping 36 times, but he's expected to improve once he learns how to read pitchers and pick his spots better.

Aybars plus range and arm strength, along with his good instincts and smooth actions, make him a natural shortstop. Hes the perfect combination of fundamentals and flashiness, Rancho Cucamonga manager Bobby Meacham said.

4. CARLOS QUENTIN, of, Lancaster JetHawks (Diamondbacks)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 220 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Diamondbacks '03 (1)

AB:242
R:64
H:75
2B:14
3B:1
HR:15
RBI:51
BB:25
SO:33
SB:5
CS:1
AVG:.310
OBP:.428
SLG:.562
After taking Quentin 29th overall in the 2003 draft, the Diamondbacks knew that his pro debut would be delayed until this year because of impending Tommy John surgery. He made up for lost time by earning a promotion to Double-A in late June.

Quentin is a complete hitter, showing the ability to hit for average and power as well as strong plate discipline. While he set a minor league record by getting hit by 43 pitches in 2004, one scout saw a weakness in his ability to get plunked.

Hes already right on top of the plate, the scout said. When he swings, his whole body lunges over the plate. I fear he could struggle once pitchers start busting him inside.

Quentin has average speed and good instincts in right field. He's regaining the plus arm strength he had before his elbow was reconstructed.

5. CONOR JACKSON, of, Lancaster JetHawks (Diamondbacks)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 205 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Diamondbacks '03 (1)

AB:258
R:64
H:89
2B:19
3B:2
HR:11
RBI:54
BB:45
SO:36
SB:4
CS:3
AVG:.345
OBP:.438
SLG:.562
Drafted 10 slots ahead of Quentin last year, Jackson teamed with him in Lancaster and again in Double-A. They figure to patrol Arizona's outfield corners together for several years, likely starting sometime next season.

Jackson reached base in all but six games he played for Lancaster, thanks to what was considered the Cal League's best strike-zone recognition. He has a quick bat, a willingness to use the entire field and developing power. He should hit for average and produce 20-30 homers annually.

He doesnt swing at bad pitches, Inland Empire manager Daren Brown said, "and he doesnt miss good ones."

Seen by many as the offensive mirror image of Quentin, Jackson doesn't offer as much with the glove. His below-average speed and arm strength had some observers predicting an eventual move to first base, where he'd still have enough bat.

6. ELIJAH DUKES, of, Bakersfield Blaze (Devil Rays)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 220 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Devil Rays '02 (3)

AB:211
R:44
H:70
2B:16
3B:2
HR:8
RBI:34
BB:26
SO:50
SB:16
CS:7
AVG:.332
OBP:.416
SLG:.540
Dukes spent the first two months of the season in the low Class A South Atlantic League. He put up solid numbers before taking a month off to attend team-mandated anger-management courses after a run-in with an umpireanother in a string of behavior problems that have been an issue since high school. Sent to Bakersfield in July, Dukes' unquestionable tools began to translate into production, as he hit .369 in the final month.

Dukes was one of the nation's top linebacker prospects when he came out of Tampa's Hillsborough High, which also has produced Carl Everett, Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield. Based on pure physical talent, Dukes had the highest ceiling of any player in the league and among the highest in the minors. He's a classic five-tool athlete with power, speed, arm strength and instincts.

Dukes conduct will continue to be a concern, but the Devil Rays say they saw a marked difference in his attitude with Bakersfield. Managers praised the football mentality he brought to the game. He showed the desire to be what he can be, Visalia manager Stu Cole said.

7. FRED LEWIS, of, San Jose Giants
Age: 23 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Giants '02 (2)

AB:439
R:88
H:132
2B:20
3B:11
HR:8
RBI:57
BB:84
SO:109
SB:33
CS:14
AVG:.301
OBP:.424
SLG:.451
Lewis is more raw than most college products because he concentrated more on football as an amateur and played in the weak Southwestern Athletic Conference. He started to add polish in 2004, impressing observers with his overall game. Hes a tremendous athlete," a scout said, "but now hes also a baseball player.

A classic leadoff man, Lewis understands his role, as evidenced by his .424 on-base percentage, good for second in the league. He may be too selective at times. Wiry strong, he improved his slugging percentage from .336 in low Class A to .451 in the Cal League and projects to hit 15-20 homers annually.

A plus-plus runner, Lewis accelerates quickly but still is learning the nuances of baserunning. He has exceptional range and gets very good jumps in center field. His arm is average.

8. MANNY PARRA, lhp, High Desert Mavericks (Brewers)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 200 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Brewers D/F '01 (26)

W:5
L:2
ERA:3.48
G:13
SV:0
IP:67.1
H:76
HR:3
BB:19
SO:64
AVG:.284
Limited to just 67 innings because of shoulder inflammation, Parra nonetheless made a strong impression. No lefty in the league had better pure stuff. Signed as a draft-and-follow in 2002 to a $1.55 million bonus, he already shows three plus pitches at times.

Parra has a 91-94 mph fastball that he can sink or cut, as well as a sharp-breaking curveball and deceptive change. He throws strikes with all three pitches and is able to keep his pitch counts down. While his shoulder problems were troublesome, no structural damage was found and he pitched very well in Double-A after five weeks off.

Hes very polished, well beyond his years," a scout said. "Its rare to find a lefty with both his stuff and command."

9. JON ZERINGUE, of, Lancaster JetHawks (Diamondbacks)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 205 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Diamondbacks '04 (2)

AB:230
R:36
H:77
2B:14
3B:3
HR:10
RBI:41
BB:14
SO:53
SB:9
CS:5
AVG:.335
OBP:.374
SLG:.552
The Diamondbacks' second-round pick in June, Zeringue was challenged out of the box with an assignment to the Cal League. He passed the test easily, as his average never dipped below .327 and he smacked seven homers in his final 14 regular-season games. He didn't cool off in the playoffs, batting .447 with 12 RBIs in nine games despite being limited to DH duties because of a broken finger.

You know how everyone is talking about Jackson and Quentin this year? Meacham asked. Well, thats how theyre going to be talking about Zeringue next year.

Zeringue has classic right-field tools. He generates excellent bat speed and hits for power to all fields, though he needs to be more selective and must make adjustments against breaking pitches. He has a solid arm and surprising speed for his size.

10. JEFF SALAZAR, of, Visalia Oaks (Rockies)
Age: 23 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 180 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Rockies '02 (8)

AB:314
R:79
H:109
2B:18
3B:9
HR:13
RBI:44
BB:38
SO:33
SB:17
CS:2
AVG:.347
OBP:.419
SLG:.586
Though Salazar nearly went 30-30 in his first full pro season last year, he still had his share of skeptics entering 2004 because of his age. He was old for the Cal League at 23, but he won over managers and scouts with his all-out style of play and his mastery of fundamentals.

Salazar uses a contact-focused approach to lace line drives all over the park. He has solid gap power and works counts well. He also owns plus speed and fine instincts, which makes him a proficient bunter and baserunner.

Defensively, he has good range and takes good routes on fly balls in center field, though his arm is a tick below average. He tailed off markedly when he was promoted to Double-A, so he'll have to prove himself again in 2005.

11. JOHN DANKS, lhp, Stockton Ports (Rangers)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Rangers '03 (1)

W:1
L:4
ERA:5.24
G:13
SV:0
IP:55.0
H:62
HR:5
BB:26
SO:48
AVG:.290
The ninth overall pick in the 2003 draft, Danks earned a midseason promotion to Stockton after blowing through the low Class A Midwest League. He wasn't as sharp afterward because he got tired in his first full pro season, but his raw talent was clear to those that saw him pitch. When you consider the fact that hes facing batters 3-5 years older than he is, one scout said, hes really doing pretty well.

Danks features a low-90s fastball and a biting breaking ball that another scout called "as good a curve as youll find in a young lefty. His changeup is still in development but projects as a plus pitch.

Danks command can be spotty at times, and he needs to work on adding deception to his offspeed pitches. At times, he seemed to get riled by questionable umpiring calls or poor defensive support.

12. STEVEN SHELL, rhp, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Angels)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-5 Wt: 190 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Angels '01 (3)

W:12
L:7
ERA:3.59
G:28
SV:0
IP:165.1
H:151
HR:19
BB:40
SO:190
AVG:.242
Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis and Dallas McPherson deservedly get much of the attention focused on the Angels' banner 2001 draft class, but Anaheim also found a promising starting pitcher to go with all of that offensive firepower. A third-rounder, Shell returned for his second season with the Quakes but at 21 was still younger than most players in the league. His progress was obvious, as he led the Cal League with 190 strikeouts in 165 innings.

Shell uses a low-90s fastball that can occasionally touch 94 mph, plus a more refined spike curve that seems to always end up in the strike zone. He shows remarkable command of both pitches. Everything is a strike," San Jose manager Lenn Sakata said, "and nothing is in the middle of the plate."

Shell needs to gain more confidence in his offspeed pitches, as he relies too heavily on his fastball in pressure situations. He doesn't have enough velocity to just blow the ball by hitters at higher levels.

13. JEFF BAKER, 3b, Visalia Oaks (Rockies)
Age: 23 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Rockies '02 (4)

AB:267
R:60
H:88
2B:23
3B:1
HR:11
RBI:64
BB:47
SO:70
SB:1
CS:0
AVG:.330
OBP:.439
SLG:.547
Baker received a $2 million major league contract as a fourth-round pick in 2002, but ongoing wrist injuries limited him to just 70 games in his pro debut last year. He finally began to live up to expectations with Visalia before more wrist problems shut him down following a promotion to Double-A.

When healthy, Baker is a prototypical power-hitting third baseman with plus power and on-base ability. He has a tendency to chase breaking pitches, leading to too many strikeouts. While he's a below-average runner, he's a good athlete and doesn't clog the bases.

Defensively, Baker has soft hands and a solid arm along with average range. The fast rise of fellow third baseman Ian Stewart, Colorados 2003 first-round pick, may force Baker to change positions in the near future.

14. NATE SCHIERHOLTZ, 3b/of, San Jose Giants
Age: 20 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 215 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Giants '03 (2)

AB:258
R:39
H:76
2B:18
3B:9
HR:3
RBI:31
BB:15
SO:41
SB:3
CS:1
AVG:.295
OBP:.338
SLG:.461
The Giants surprised many observers when they selected Schierholtz in the second round of the 2003 draft, but it looked like a prudent choice after he hit .298-15-54 in 59 South Atlantic League games this year. While he failed to reproduce those power numbers with San Jose, he still projects as a middle-of-the-order run producer.

Schierholtz has a quick bat that generates big-time power. Like many young players, he needs to work on being more selective and identifying pitches he can turn on. A minor league batboy as a youngster, he's a baseball rat with excellent makeup and a continuous desire to improve.

At third base, Schierholtz is both stiff and mechanical. Moved to right field for the final three weeks he showed surprising instincts and his arm, his only plus defensive tool, played well. Sakata attributed Schierholtz offensive rise--he hit .324 following the switch--to him no longer taking his defensive problems to the plate.

15. JOAQUIN ARIAS, ss, Stockton Ports (Rangers)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 160 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Yankees FA '01 (Dominican Republic)

AB:500
R:77
H:150
2B:20
3B:8
HR:4
RBI:62
BB:31
SO:53
SB:30
CS:14
AVG:.300
OBP:.344
SLG:.396
The other player obtained by the Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez/Alfonso Soriano trade, Arias has the potential to make that deal look less lopsided in the long run. Despite being one of the youngest players in the league at 19, Arias still batted .300, topped Stockton with 150 hits and finished among the league leaders in triples (eight) and steals (30).

Physically reminiscent of Soriano, Arias makes excellent contact and shows projectable power as well as strength to the opposite field. Hes a plus runner with tremendous range and a powerful arm.

Despite his obvious physical ability, Arias is still raw in nearly every facet of the game. Offensively, hes far too aggressive and he has yet to bring his raw power to in-game situations. Defensively, he's prone to careless errors, often flipping the ball to first base on routine plays.

You watch him in batting and fielding practice and you drool, one scout said. But once the game starts, he disappoints.

16. JAMIE D'ANTONA, 3b, Lancaster JetHawks (Diamondbacks)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Diamondbacks '03 (2)

AB:273
R:45
H:86
2B:18
3B:1
HR:13
RBI:57
BB:16
SO:36
SB:2
CS:3
AVG:.315
OBP:.353
SLG:.531
The third of the "Three Amigos" on this list, DAntona was in the running for the Cal League triple crown before the trio was promoted to Double-A, where shoulder problems limited him to just 19 more games.

DAntona has more power than either Quentin or Jackson, generating long-distance shots from gap to gap thanks to above-average bat speed. He lacks their patience, however, and his long swing leaves him susceptible to good fastballs.

DAntona makes the routine plays well and shows a plus arm at third base, but his poor footwork and below-average range have some predicting an eventual move to first base. He is a below-average runner.

17. JASON HAMMEL, rhp, Bakersfield Blaze (Devil Rays)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-6 Wt: 200 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Devil Rays '02 (10)

W:6
L:2
ERA:1.89
G:11
SV:0
IP:71.1
H:52
HR:4
BB:20
SO:65
AVG:.207
It took a while for Hammel to blossom. He couldn't make his high school's varsity until his senior year, and needed most of two full seasons to get out of low Class A after turning pro in 2002. Finally promoted to Bakersfield in mid-July, he was one of the league's best pitchers in the second half, allowing only one earned run over 36 innings in his final five starts.

Long, lean, loose and projectable, Hammel pumps 92-94 mph fastballs on a strong downward plane. He also has a tight breaking ball that he throws in the low 80s. His rapidly improving changeup already features good deception.

Hammel's pitches are difficult to pick up, because they all come from the same delivery. He can have trouble maintaining a consistent release point at times, leading to control problems, but that wasn't an issue in the Cal League.

18. JOHN HUDGINS, rhp, Stockton Ports (Rangers)
Age: 23 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 195 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Rangers '03 (3)

W:3
L:1
ERA:2.35
G:15
SV:2
IP:65.0
H:49
HR:4
BB:18
SO:73
AVG:.201
After Hudgins threw 350 pitches in a 10-day span at the 2003 College World Series, he pitched just two pro innings that summer before being shut down with a sore shoulder. Stanford coaches were criticized for their use of Hudgins, but it turned out he had a circulatory condition and he bounced back fine this year. He finished the season in Triple-A and will push to join Texas' rotation in 2005.

His fastball sits in the high 80s, but Hudgins makes up for a lack of overpowering stuff by throwing strikes and outsmarting hitters. He has two above-average secondary pitches, a tight curveball and a changeup that he can add and subtract velocity from. He has excellent command of all three pitches.

Hudgins' work ethic and intellectual approach drew obvious comparisons to Greg Maddux. The consensus, however, was that he'd settle into the majors as a long reliever or setup man.

19. OMAR QUINTANILLA, ss, Modesto A's
Age: 22 Ht: 5-9 Wt: 190 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Athletics '03 (1S)

AB:451
R:75
H:142
2B:32
3B:5
HR:11
RBI:72
BB:37
SO:54
SB:1
CS:3
AVG:.315
OBP:.370
SLG:.481
Quintanilla hit just .235 in April before finding his line-drive stroke. He hit .355 after May, earning an August promotion to Double-A, where he batted .353 to push his two-year career average to .330.

Quintanilla will hit for average with gap power, though at times he can get pull-conscious. While he makes good contact, he lacks the plate discipline the Athletics preach, and he's an average-at-best runner.

Short and stocky, Quintanilla is fundamentally sound defensively but lacks the athleticism and arm strength to stay at shortstop. Nearly everyone who saw him in the Cal League projected that he would move to second base, and he drew comparisons to Glenn Hubbard, Randy Velarde and Todd Walker, all serviceable big league second basemen.

20. ENRIQUE GONZALEZ, rhp, Lancaster JetHawks (Diamondbacks)
Age: 22 Ht: 5-10 Wt: 195 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Diamondbacks FA '98 (Venezuela)

W:13
L:6
ERA:3.22
G:42
SV:0
IP:142.1
H:128
HR:13
BB:44
SO:110
AVG:.242
Gonzalez spent the first two months in the Lancaster bullpen, where he posted an uninspiring 5.45 ERA. Shifted to the rotation in June, he went 10-2, 2.46 as a starter and finished tied for the league lead in wins with 13.

Despite lacking the build of a classic power pitcher, the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Gonzalez works consistently at 92-96 mph and maintains his velocity deep into games. His slider has developed into a plus pitch at times, but still can get slurvy at others. Both pitches finish low in the strike zone, generating lots of grounders.

Gonzalez' changeup is still in the developmental stages, but he showed confidence in it as a starter.

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