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

By Chris Kline
September 30, 2004


Chat Wrap: Chris Kline took your Carolina League questions

FIVE YEARS AGO
1. *Kip Wells, rhp, Winston-Salem (White Sox)
2. *Dee Brown, of, Wilmington (Royals)
3. *Rafael Furcal, ss, Myrtle Beach (Braves)
4. *Matt Riley, lhp, Frederick (Orioles)
5. *Jeff Austin, rhp, Wilmington (Royals)
6. *Jon Garland, rhp, Winston-Salem (White Sox)
7. *Tim Drew, rhp, Kinston (Indians)
8. *Luis Matos, of, Frederick (Orioles)
9. *Aaron Rowand, of, Winston-Salem (White Sox)
10. Josh Kalinowski, lhp, Salem (Rockies)

* Played in the majors

The Class A Carolina League is traditionally built on strong pitching prospects, but this year pitchers ERAs hovered around 4.00 for the most part and the hitters took center stage.

Led by Myrtle Beach right fielder Jeff Francoeur, the Kinston tandem of Michael Aubrey and Ryan Garko, and perhaps the two best hitters on one club in the leagueWinston-Salems Brian Anderson and Ryan SweeneyCL hitters raked their way through pitching staffs this season.

"There were a lot of legit bats in the league this year," one American league scout said. "Probably more than you usually see. And with a whole lot more power than normal. The two guys who stand out the most to me are the Winston-Salem guys. To go from the Pioneer League to there was a hell of a jump, but you had one guy stay there for half a season (Anderson) and the other (Sweeney) holding his own at just 19."

Thats not to say you couldnt find good pitching in the league, but as usual, most of the top arms moved on after midseason. Half of the top 10 was made up of pitchers, led by Lynchburg lefthander Zach Duke, but three of the five were promoted after the all-star break: Duke, Myrtle Beach righthander Kyle Davies and Potomac righthander Richie Gardner.

1. JEFF FRANCOEUR, of, Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Braves)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 200 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Braves '02 (1)

AB:334
R:56
H:98
2B:26
3B:0
HR:15
RBI:52
BB:22
SO:70
SB:10
CS:6
AVG:.293
OBP:.346
SLG:.506
Francoeur moved from center field to right this season, at the same time dealing with the pitching-friendly confines of Coastal Federal Field. But he handled it with aplomb, fielding his new position well and learning to use the whole field by taking outside pitches the other way.

"If I had to pick a five-tool guy in the league, hed be it," said the AL scout. "He has it all . . . and his makeup is off the charts."

The Braves found out just how good his makeup was after Francoeur broke his cheekbone when he fouled a ball off his face while squaring around to bunt on May 15. He was expected to miss the rest of the season, and most ticketed him to be ready for the Arizona Fall League. But Francoeur came back to the Pelicans lineup in late July and earned a promotion to Double-A Greenville before the season ended.

"What I liked most about him was his tremendous aptitude and competitiveness," Kinston manager Torey Lovullo. "Hes an exciting and emotional team leader. You add that into all the other tools he hasespecially his bat speed; he can put wood on a bulletand you have a guy that could be an all-star caliber player in the big leagues for 10 years."

2. MICHAEL AUBREY, 1b, Kinston Indians
Age: 22 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 195 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Indians '03 (1)

AB:218
R:34
H:74
2B:14
3B:1
HR:10
RBI:60
BB:27
SO:26
SB:3
CS:1
AVG:.339
OBP:.438
SLG:.550
Rated one of the best pure hitters in the 2003 draft, Aubrey dominated the CL, hitting for average and power over the first half of the season before earning a promotion. His plate discipline was also exceptional, as he struck out 26 times and walked 27. Defensively, Aubrey has been touted as a future Gold Glove candidate, though some around the league didnt see it.

"His footwork is average at best right now," one manager said. "Hes more of a John Olerud type of guy to me."

3. BRIAN ANDERSON, of, Winston-Salem Warthogs (White Sox)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 205 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: White Sox '03 (1)

AB:254
R:43
H:81
2B:22
3B:4
HR:8
RBI:46
BB:29
SO:44
SB:10
CS:1
AVG:.319
OBP:.394
SLG:.531
Another five-tool player who jumped to Double-A at midseason, Anderson was one of the most exciting players in the league. He started off slow, still recovering from minor wrist surgery, but by the time May rolled around, Anderson kicked it into overdrive. A polished hitter who works himself into deep counts, Anderson also proved to be a plus defender in center field for the Warthogs.

"To me, if you want to compare them, Anderson and Francoeur are similar, but Anderson is more disciplined around the zone," an AL scout said. "Francoeur is more of a free-swinging guy and Anderson is going to make more consistent contact. He doesnt have quite the arm Francoeur does, but his speed makes up for it where he plays."

4. ZACH DUKE, lhp, Lynchburg Hillcats (Pirates)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 200 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Pirates '01 (20)

W:10
L:5
ERA:1.39
G:17
SV:0
IP:97.0
H:73
HR:3
BB:20
SO:106
AVG:.209
Duke improved his stock perhaps more than any other pitcher in the league this year. His velocity jumped from 86-88 mph to the 91-93 range and his hard, late-breaking curveball was rated as the best in the league. Duke also made strides with his changeup this season, and it became an out pitch for him by mid-year.

A quiet, confident and intense competitor, Duke earned comparisons to a smaller version of Andy Pettitte. "I think the most impressive thing to me is the consistency," Lynchburg pitching coach Scott Lovekamp said. "He made 17 starts with two earned runs or less. It was a quality start every time out and was something Id never seen before, particularly from a 21-year-old. He has great command as a result of body awareness."

5. KYLE DAVIES, rhp, Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Braves)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Braves '01 (4)

W:9
L:2
ERA:2.63
G:14
SV:0
IP:75.1
H:55
HR:3
BB:32
SO:95
AVG:.208
Davies progressed as much as any pitcher in the Braves system last season after he made adjustments to his delivery. His velocity spiked from 86-88 mph to 92-93, and his progression only continued this season. Davies was topping out at 95-96 with the Pelicans, and his changeup is still the best in the system, with excellent depth and fade.

"Hes got great stuff, is very athletic and fields his position well," Wilmington manager Billy Gardner Jr. said. "Hes just another in a long line of good righthanded pitchers in that system. But the thing that sets him apart is that changeup."

6. BRANDON McCARTHY, rhp, Winston-Salem Warthogs (White Sox)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-7 Wt: 210 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: White Sox '02 (17)

W:6
L:0
ERA:2.08
G:8
SV:0
IP:52.0
H:31
HR:3
BB:3
SO:60
AVG:.171
Described as a blue-collar version of former White Sox righthander Jack McDowell, McCarthy doesnt back down from anyone. Physically, he also resembles McDowell, with a 6-foot-7, 200-pound frame. His stature allows him to throw on a downward plane, and he repeats his delivery well.

"Hes got exceptional command for a tall guy," Lovekamp said. "He creates such good angles and works down in the zone. Coming from as high as it does, the ball tends to get on you quickly and looks really small as it sinks down at you."

7. RYAN SWEENEY, of, Winston-Salem Warthogs (White Sox)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 200 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: White Sox '03 (2)

AB:515
R:71
H:146
2B:22
3B:3
HR:7
RBI:66
BB:40
SO:65
SB:8
CS:6
AVG:.283
OBP:.342
SLG:.379
Sweeney, like Anderson, jumped from the Rookie-level Pioneer League to high Class A to start the season. Anderson moved up to Double-A during the season, but unlike Anderson, Sweeney is still a teenager. And as a 19-year-old among older, more experienced players, Sweeney held his own.

Considered a second-round steal out of an Iowa high school last year, Sweeneys season was not without its struggles. Still, some scouts who saw both players said they preferred Sweeney.

"He hasnt shown great bat speedmore slider bat speed to me, but that should change with more at-bats," one AL scout said. "It could be a comfort thing. You get offspeeded to death in this leagueespecially guys like him. But if you know he cant get around on the fastball, it makes it easier to set him up."

8. BRIAN McCANN, c, Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Braves)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Braves '02 (2)

AB:385
R:45
H:107
2B:35
3B:0
HR:16
RBI:66
BB:31
SO:54
SB:2
CS:2
AVG:.278
OBP:.337
SLG:.394
The son of former Marshall baseball coach Howard McCann and younger brother of Marlins third-base prospect Brad McCann, Brian continued to build on the momentum he set in his first full season last year at low Class A Rome and had one of the best all-around seasons in the minors among catchers. Drafted because of his bat and plenty of raw power, McCann is far from one-dimensional, and made a strong case for passing Brayan Pena as the best defensive catcher in the system.

"Being 19 or 20 in this league, sometimes its hard to go in there and take charge of a staff," Lovullo said. "But hes executed the Braves game plan very well. Hes an Eddie Taubensee type of guy to me, with that sweet, lefthanded swing."

9. RICHIE GARDNER, rhp, Potomac Cannons (Reds)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 185 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Reds '03 (6)

W:8
L:3
ERA:2.50
G:18
SV:0
IP:86.1
H:77
HR:3
BB:13
SO:80
AVG:.231
Gardner sustained a serious injury when he was hit in the side of the head in his sophomore season of junior college, but he has slowly overcome that and emerged as one of the best pitching prospects in the Reds system in his first season as a pro.

With the best command in the league, Gardner dials up his fastball between 90-93 mph, touching 94, and the pitch features great sink and a late break, tailing away from righthanders. His changeup, one of the best in the Reds organization, features splitter-like tumble, and became a legit third option this season.

"He might have been the best guy I saw all year in terms of locating and changing speeds," an AL scout said. "Hes the epitome of a command guy for me. His changeup had really good action, sinking and fading away with movement."

10. FERNANDO NIEVE, rhp, Salem Avalance (Astros)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 195 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Astros FA '99 (Venezuela)

W:10
L:6
ERA:2.96
G:24
SV:0
IP:149.0
H:136
HR:9
BB:40
SO:117
AVG:.250
While he doesnt have the highest readings on radar guns with a fastball in the 91-95 mph range, Nieves heater is the best in the system because it combines velocity with heavy sink and boring action that rides in on righthanders. Still, there are questions about Nieves strikeout numbers for someone whos supposed to be a power pitcher.

"Hes a power pitcher with good stuff, but his fastball has the tendency to flatten out, making him very hittable," an AL scout said. "He just needs to be able to repeat his pitches more consistently."

11. TOM GORZELANNY, rhp, Lynchburg Hillcats (Pirates)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 200 B-T: B-L Drafted/Signed: Pirates '03 (2)

W:3
L:5
ERA:4.85
G:10
SV:0
IP:55.2
H:54
HR:6
BB:19
SO:61
AVG:.254
Gorzelanny started off the season dealing at low Class A Hickory, going 7-1, 2.38 in 87 innings. He earned a promotion to Lynchburg, and he had mixed results--losing four of his first five decisions. But he finished strong, striking out 35 in his final five starts.

The 22-year-old lefthander features a fastball in the 91-94 mph range, and has a good variety of complementary pitches with a splitter, changeup, curveball and slider. He got hit hard on occasion in the CL, mainly because of elevation on his pitches--most notably the breaking stuff.

"He's one of the top pitchers in this league," Gardner Jr. said. "He's got a good repertoire of pitches and throws all of them for strikes. He's got a good frame and throws an easy 94. If he can sharpen up his secondary stuff, he's going to be a force."

12. JOSH FIELDS, 3b, Winston-Salem Warthogs (White Sox)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: White Sox '04 (1)

AB:256
R:36
H:73
2B:12
3B:4
HR:7
RBI:39
BB:18
SO:74
SB:0
CS:0
AVG:.285
OBP:.333
SLG:.445
The eighteenth overall pick in this year's draft out of Oklahoma State jumped right into high Class A--which shows you what the White Sox think of their first-round pick. Fields starred as a quarterback in college, setting school records for touchdown passes (55) and a Cotton Bowl mark for passing yards (307), yet he chose baseball over the gridiron.

At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Fields doesn't have the prototype NFL quarterback size and wasn't a big-time football prospect. But in his first taste of professional baseball, he showed that he should hit for power and average as well. Fields is raw at the corner right now, but managers and scouts said he should be a solid defender down the road.

"I like him there," said an AL scout. "He's got good size and a strong, accurate arm. His footwork could be a little better, though, and his reaction time hasn't been exceptional. He needs more time there to really feel it out."

13. RYAN GARKO, 1b/c, Kinston Indians
Age: 23 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 225 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Indians '03 (3)

AB:238
R:44
H:78
2B:17
3B:1
HR:16
RBI:57
BB:26
SO:34
SB:4
CS:1
AVG:.328
OBP:.425
SLG:.609
Compared by many to 2003 league MVP Chris Shelton because he lacks a true position, all Garko did was mash at three different stops this season. And like Shelton, the first pick in the Rule 5 draft last year, both players split time between first base and catcher during their respective stints in the CL.

"Those guys are a lot alike in a lot of ways," said an NL scout. "For me, Garko is the better defender at both positions. He has shown more power also, but they both have swings without holes in them."

Before he earned a promotion to Double-A Akron (and eventually Triple-A Buffalo), Garko showed good raw power and ability to make consistent, hard contact. Defensively, hes below average as a catcher; he stabs at the ball as a receiver, and his poor footwork and slow glove-to-hand transfer negate his average arm strength.

14. BRAD ELDRED, 1b, Lynchburg Hillcats (Pirates)
Age: 24 Ht: 6-6 Wt: 240 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Pirates '02 (6)

AB:335
R:54
H:104
2B:22
3B:1
HR:21
RBI:77
BB:35
SO:97
SB:5
CS:2
AVG:.310
OBP:.397
SLG:.570
Eldred took home MVP honors in the CL this year before moving on to Double-A Altoona, where he continued to hit for huge power with 17 homers in 147 at-bats. The 24-year-old first baseman has light-tower power, and his pop is intriguing in an organization that lacks a true power hitter.

While he has tremendous power, the rest of Eldred's game isn't as solid. His lengthy swing makes him prone to strikeouts--he whiffed 97 times in 91 games for the Hillcats--and his long arms make him especially vulnerable to inside fastballs.

"Too long for me," said a CL manager. "Our game plan against him was bust him in with fastballs and then set him up away, which is pretty standard for a guy like that. But you can't make a mistake or that ball's going at least a mile."

15. ANTHONY LEREW, rhp, Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Braves)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 210 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Braves '01 (11)

W:8
L:9
ERA:3.75
G:27
SV:0
IP:144.0
H:145
HR:12
BB:46
SO:125
AVG:.271
Lerew has two plus pitches that have allowed him to dominate hitters in the lower minors, though he struggled at times in 2004. Pitching in the best pitcher's park in the league, Lerew went 3-5, 2.63 at home and 5-4, 5.10 on the road.

His velocity was up, touching 96 mph and sitting in the 90-93 range, but his secondary stuff was lacking. His changeup wasn't nearly as effective as it had been the past two years, and his slider needs further development if he is going to succeed at the higher levels.

"He was up to 96 (mph), and it was an easy 96," Lovekamp said. "It's easy power like (Jose) Capellan. His slider needs to be tighter, but it was coming along late in the year."

16. CHRIS RAY, rhp, Frederick Keys (Orioles)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 200 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Orioles '03 (3)

W:6
L:3
ERA:3.80
G:14
SV:0
IP:73.1
H:82
HR:6
BB:20
SO:74
AVG:.296
Ray's fastball is his calling card, sitting at 93-95 mph, and it was clocked as high as 97 in the South Atlantic League prior to his promotion to Frederick. Primarily a closer in college, the Orioles moved him into the rotation to more fully develop his repertoire.

Making the jump to the Carolina League in his first full pro season wasn't a difficult adjustment for Ray, who went 2-3, 3.42 in 10 games at Delmarva before being promoted.

In addition to the fastball, Ray also throws a hard slider at 85-87 mph with late bite. His splitter was average this year and he needs to gain more confidence in his changeup. His fastball also tends to be straight, making it hittable at times despite its velocity. Some scouts think a move back to the bullpen is in his future because he has some effort in his delivery as well.

"He changes speeds well and keeps you honest with the slider," a CL manager said. "But in my opinion, he didn't use his secondary stuff like he could have. He showed flashes of it, but a lot of times it was just fastball-slider."

17. SEAN TRACEY, rhp, Winston-Salem Warthogs (White Sox)
Age: 23 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 210 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: White Sox '02 (8)

W:9
L:8
ERA:2.73
G:27
SV:0
IP:148.1
H:108
HR:5
BB:69
SO:130
AVG:.212
After a difficult 2003 season in which he posted a 9.50 ERA in the South Atlantic League, Tracey established himself as one of the best arms in the CL this season, ranking second in the league in strikeouts and ERA. A power pitcher with great confidence, Tracey's location and command drew comparisons to Indians righthander Adam Miller.

Though he is four years older than Miller, the stuff certainly is comparable between the two. Tracey's fastball sits at 93-94 mph, touching 97, and he has an above-average power slider and changeup to go along with it.

Tracey's poise and demeanor make him one of the best arms in the White Sox system. A major question mark remains his mechanical delivery, however; Traceys arm action includes a "stab" in the back, which can lead to control issues.

"He always wants the ball," Winston-Salem manager Nick Leyva said. "His velocity shot up as he's honed his mechanics some, and he's had a breakout year for us."

18. RAJAI DAVIS, of, Lynchburg Hillcats (Pirates)
Age: 23 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 180 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Pirates '01 (38)

AB:509
R:91
H:160
2B:27
3B:7
HR:5
RBI:38
BB:59
SO:60
SB:57
CS:15
AVG:.314
OBP:.388
SLG:.424
The catalyst on a team that had little punch beyond slugger Brad Eldred, Davis set himself apart as the best leadoff hitter in the league this season. The Pirates have been patient with Davis, coming out of a small school in the Northeast, and that patience paid dividends, as Davis ranked first in the league in hits and stolen bases while sitting fourth in on-base percentage.

He is also a plus defender, taking good routes to balls, showing an average arm and getting good jumps with plus speed.

"He's a catalyst, a presence to be reckoned with--the kind of guy who can change your game plan," Lovullo said. "All he's shown this year is how he could be a terrific leadoff guy in the big leagues the way I'm sure the Pirates anticipate him to be."

19. HAYDEN PENN, rhp, Frederick Keys (Orioles)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Orioles '02 (5)

W:6
L:5
ERA:3.80
G:13
SV:0
IP:73.1
H:59
HR:7
BB:20
SO:61
AVG:.224
Penn started his first full season this year in low Class A Delmarva working out of the bullpen. He moved up to high Class A in early June and finished the year at Double-A Bowie, where he went 3-0, 4.87 in 20 innings.

Penn throws his fastball in the 92-93 mph range, touching 95. The pitch also features good sink and arm-side run at times. As he moved up to Frederick, his secondary offerings--a late-breaking curveball and changeup--improved to the point where he had three quality offerings.

"He's got an above-average arm and is an excellent athlete who fields his position well," Frederick pitching coach Scott McGregor said. "In the time he was here, he went from having flashes of a good curveball and changeup to where they were quality pitches. He's got a simple motion with sneaky quickness."

20. MITCH MAIER, 3b, Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 200 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Royals '03 (1)

AB:174
R:25
H:46
2B:9
3B:2
HR:3
RBI:17
BB:15
SO:29
SB:9
CS:2
AVG:.264
OBP:.326
SLG:.391
Maiers makeup and maturity prompted the Royals to speed up his timetable in his first full pro season. The former All-America catcher at Toledo reached the Carolina League and spent the whole season at third base.

Maier committed 27 errors in 119 games at his new position but also showed promise with the bat. He was a .300 hitter in the Midwest League before being promoted to Wilmington. The new position and long season wore his bat down a bit after the promotion. Most scouts see Maier as a corner outfielder down the road, although he has made strides this season in improving defensively at the hot corner.

"From instructional league until now, he's improved immensely in terms of his footwork, his angles and reading the ball off the bat," Gardner Jr. said. "I think when he gets comfortable there or even if he has to make another position change down the road, it will only help out his bat. He's got a good frequency of contact, but will only improve with more experience. He's had to make some adjustments, but he's been smart enough to be able to do that."

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