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2004 Top 20 Prospects: Eastern LeagueComplete Index of League Top 20s
By Alan Matthews
Chat Wrap: Alan Matthews took your Eastern League questions
While the Double-A Eastern League didn’t boast a bevy of players with all-star potential, as it did last year when Joe Mauer, Alexis Rios and Grady Sizemore led the list, it did feature remarkable depth. More than 60 players were legitimate candidates for the top 20 list, and another handful of promising prospects just missed qualifying.
Binghamton’s Scott Kazmir was traded to the Devil Rays before qualifying, and the Giants didn’t send righthander Merkin Valdez to Norwich in time for him to make the cut. John Maine made just five starts before the Orioles promoted him to Triple-A, while Daniel Cabrera also made five starts before eventually winding up in Baltimore’s rotation.
Crafty New Hampshire lefty Gustavo Chacin led the league in wins and pitched with flair, but missed the cut because he projects as a fourth or fifth starter. Righthanders Kyle Sleeth (No. 3 overall pick in 2003) and Bryan Bullington (No. 1 overall in 2002) also missed the cut because scouts and managers were uninspired after watching them work.
Wright is a complete player, with power, a fluid and sound stroke, superb hands, an above-average arm and even some speed to go along with championship-caliber makeup.
“I loved him from day one,” Altoona manager Tony Beasley said. “I just didn’t see any deficiencies. He did everything well: hit the ball for power, for average and could use all fields. Defensively he was rangy and played the bunt well, and on top of that he could steal bases.
“He is a tough guy to get out and a lot of fun to watch.”
Kubel generates good bat speed with a fluid, level swing from the left side of the plate. He has strong wrists and forearms and projects to hit 20-25 home runs in the majors, with developing power to all fields. He has a tendency to get pull-happy, but has good strike-zone discipline and uses the opposite field, especially deep in counts.
Kubel’s arm is above-average and plays in right field. He does not have good speed, but has good instincts in the outfield and is learning to get better jumps on balls. He is intelligent on the basepaths, and makes up for his lack of speed with heady baserunning and good instincts.
Cain opened his second full season with a 7-1, 1.86 performance in the Class A California League before leaping to the EL. His fastball and breaking ball rate as major league average pitches now, and his changeup could be a plus pitch as well. He pitches in the mid-90s with a fastball that he controls well. He generates a good downward plane and maintains his high arm slot well for a teenager.
He’s still learning the nuances of pitching, and older hitters began solving his patterns late in the year when he was tagged for 14 earned runs in his final four outings. But Cain’s stuff and aptitude make him one of the minors’ best pitching prospects.
“With his stuff and maturity level, and the way he went about his business—you look at that package and you think front-of-the-rotation starter,” an American League area scout said.
Hinckley has a thick, durable frame and uses it well, generating good torque from his lower half and pitching downhill. His fastball, which he gained command of this year, sits between 88-91 mph and he runs it up and down, in and out. He maintains his velocity deep into outings. His 76-78 mph breaking ball has tight rotation with plus bite and depth. He has good makeup and handled the transition to Double-A with aplomb.
Floyd is athletic and repeats his delivery well, pitches to both sides of the plate, holds runners and features one of the filthiest curveballs in the game.
His stuff draws comparisons to the late Darryl Kile’s. Floyd’s breaking ball is a hard downer that he controls well and throws in any count. It rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His fastball is also a plus pitch. He touches 94 mph and pitches between 90-92 mph with deft command.
Duke’s feel for pitching allows him to set up hitters as well as any pitcher in the minors. He’s efficient and pitches to contact, and he also improved his stamina this year, pitching into the sixth inning in six of his nine EL outings.
“He’s not a thumber,” Beasley said. “He’s got good life on the fastball. He’s so smooth and under control, you look at him and you think, ‘What does this kid have to work on?’ He’s just so polished.”
He showed he is capable of manning center field. He is not a burner, but rates as a 60 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, and his speed plays well in the outfield. He gets good jumps and reads balls off the bat well. His arm is average.
He worked with hitting coach Pete Incaviglia to change his hand position at the plate, which made his swing more consistent as well as more powerful.
His performance following the procedure suggests he is healthy, as he touched 97 mph and allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven starts following the surgery, then joined Triple-A Rochester. As always, he pitched with tenacity and has a good mound presence.
Durbin also made strides with his changeup this year, as he looks for a reliable second offspeed offering to complement his 87-88 mph slurvy breaking ball.
Howard has power to all fields, though he prefers the ball away and loves to hit to center and left-center field. He continues to struggle with offspeed offerings, especially behind in the count. He has worked to improve his plate discipline but still piles up strikeouts.
He moves well for a big man, is not a baseclogger and has good instincts on the bases and in the field. He has playable hands at first base.
“When you have power like him, you don’t have to pull it,” New Hampshire manager Mike Basso said. “It’s not like any park can hold him.”
Gutierrez has a plus arm and covers a lot of ground in the outfield with his above-average speed and quick reflexes. He is raw at the plate and needs to curtail his strikeout totals, but he has good raw power and a lightning-quick stroke. He feasts on pitches in the middle- to inner-half of the plate, but too often chases breaking balls away.
“He has enough bat speed and power to be an impact player,” an AL area scout said.
A natural hitter, Majewski drives the ball to all fields with a simple, pure line-drive stroke from the left side. He draws walks and stays under control. He has power potential, and should hit 20 to 25 home runs in the majors but is content to be patient at the plate, and hit pitches where they are thrown.
He profiles best as a left fielder. He has below average speed, but makes up for it by getting good jumps on balls and is savvy on the basepaths. He needs to work on going back on balls. Majewski's arm rates as solid-average and is very accurate.
"He's very committed to what he's doing, there are no false pretenses," Bowie manager Dave Trembley said. "He's an old-school type player. If it's the first or the ninth, he's going to run out of the box the same way, he does everything the right way all the time and you don't get those guys that often."
He would have challenged Harrisburg's Larry Broadway for the league's best defensive first baseman honor, earned by Broadway at midseason. He is smooth around the bag and picks the short-hop consistently. A two-way star who threw 92 mph off the mound in college, his arm is above average.
"He's Mark Grace quite possibly," an American League area scout said. "Maybe a little more pop than Grace, but more of an average hitter. (His swing) is quiet and clean and there's not a lot of effort in it. He's made a seamless transition to wood."
He got off to an atrocious start, perhaps due in part to a back injury, but came on strong and rediscovered the smooth and powerful lefthanded stroke that earned him top batting and power prospect honors in the South Atlantic League last year. He hits the top half of the ball with regularity, and will turn on the inside pitch and pull it down the line and centers pitches on the outer-half equally well. Like many players his size, he struggled at times to catch up to good, high fastballs as his swing at times gets long.
He is well above average defensively. His broad wingspan makes his range impressive and his footwork around the bag and hands are major league quality currently.
He's an intelligent player with good aptitude and the physical ability to accomplish the things he's learned in his brief professional career. He showed off his power potential at the All-Star Future's Game where he was the MVP, though his power is mostly to the gaps currently. His approach is sound at the plate and he has a knack for working his way into hitter's counts. He uses the entire field and is an excellent situational hitter.
Some doubt he has the quickness to play shortstop—especially on Astroturf—in the majors. He makes up for his average speed and range by making good reads on balls and is learning how to better position himself during opposing at-bats. His arm is above average and plays well at both infield spots on the left side.
"For a guy that has only been out of college for a year, for him to do what he has done at this level speaks very well for his future," an American League area scout said. "I think right now he's a shortstop in the big leagues. He has not shown me any reason why he couldn't play there."
His fastball tops out at 99 mph, sits between 95-97 mph and was rated as the best in the league at midseason. When he stays on top of the pitch, it has above average sink and is devastating. He gets into trouble when he doesn't repeat his delivery. He pitches from a high three-quarters arm slot but has a tendency to drop down, causing his pitches to flatten out and his control suffers. His slider has good depth and tilt and his changeup has potential to be a third plus offering.
He plays second base with smooth, natural, flowing actions and has a well-above average arm. Yet his range is average at best, as he is not fleet-footed.
He has a rapid, level swing with quick hands and peppers both gaps with line drives. His tool set seems best suited for third base, except some scouts question his power potential. His present power is almost exclusively to right field, though he is learning to add loft to his stroke. He improved his approach this year, cutting down on his strikeouts and displaying better plate discipline.
"He's got some total game about him and an air and demeanor, something different about him, his action on the fields sets him apart from the other guys," Beasley said.
"You look at his body and you say he's a third baseman, but I don't know if it always comes off his bat like he's a third baseman," an American League area scout said.
Baker isn't overpowering but commands a sinking, low-90s fastball beautifully, working it to both sides of the plate and keeps it down in the zone. His slider has nasty late break and rates as an above-average major league pitch. His changeup isn't as effective but also has potential to be a plus pitch.
"This guy is the real deal," New Hampshire pitching coach Rick Adair said. "He's got lots of life on his fastball and the command is above average. He was as good as there was in the league this year."
Armed with a fastball that touches 97 mph, Bautista has electric stuff and potential to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter. He is raw and has trouble replicating his delivery, leading to too many walks. He learned this year that advanced hitters could turn around even his fastball. He gets himself into trouble by challenging opposing batters with fastballs behind in the count.
He was often compared to Danile Cabrera, who has better control than Bautista although Bautista's hammer curveball projects as a better pitch. He made strides in his work with Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller in the development of his changeup prior to the trade, as well.
Managers love his mound demeanor and the way he competes, attacking hitters with his live stuff and he is aggressive in the strike zone.
His secondary stuff rates average. His late-breaking curveball has shown flashes of being a legitimate major league out pitch but lacks consistency. He is reluctant to use his changeup and would benefit from further developing his complete arsenal.
Snell is durable, logging at least 140 innings in each of the past three seasons.
"He has a loose arm, the ball just jumps out of his hand," Reading manager Greg Legg said. "And it didn't look like he was putting any effort into it."
He joined New Hampshire in mid May but missed six weeks with an upper arm injury unrelated to his elbow. He finished strong, though, tossing seven-inning outings without an earned runs in each of his last two regular season starts.
He needs to rediscover his feel for pitching. He was inconsistent with his mechanics and his stuff came and went. He touched 96 mph in August and pitched between 92-94 mph. His slider, curveball and changeup are all at times major league quality pitches.
He showed more toughness on the mound this season and fields his position well.