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2004 Top 20 Prospects: Gulf Coast LeagueComplete Index of League Top 20s
By Allan Simpson
Chat Transcript: Allan Simpson took your
questions on the two complex leagues
For the second time in three years, the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League's top prospect is a 6-foot-1, 170-pound, 18-year-old Red Sox shortstop from the Dominican Republic.
Hanley Ramirez was the rage of the league in 2002, when he hit .341-6-26 and flashed five-tool ability. Now 20, Ramirez started the 2004 season at high class A Sarasota and finished it at Double-A Portland, hitting .310 at both stops.
The latest Red Sox phenom is Luis Soto, signed to a $500,000 bonus last November. He hit just .261 and committed 14 errors in 30 games, but he's no less a prospect than Ramirez in the eyes of GCL managers.
"He's the best in the league," said Reds manager Freddie Benavides, a former big league shortstop. "He can do it all, both ways. His tools are comparable to Ramirez, but he may be a better prospect because he has a much better attitude."
Had they compiled enough innings to qualify for the prospect list, first-round picks Homer Bailey (Reds) and Philip Hughes (Yankees) might have wrested the No. 1 spot from Soto. Bailey, whose fastball touched 97 mph, was on a strict pitch count after pitching nearly 100 innings in the spring and threw just 12 innings. Hughes, who topped out at 95, was limited to three innings because of a tender arm.
"He knew nothing of how to play shortstop in extended spring training," Red Sox manager Ralph Treuel said. "But he made terrific progress to where he's now a legitimate shortstop with natural shortstop actions. He does everything defensively."
With Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia (a second-round pick in this year's draft) ahead of him on the organization depth chart, Soto may face a switch to third base down the road. He should be able to provide enough offense at either position after demonstrating an ability to turn on the GCL's best fastballs with ease from both sides of the plate. He hit all five of his home runs in a two-week stretch.
"He's got great poise and rises to the occasion when pressure is on the line," Mets manager Brett Butler said before Hernandez' playoff outing. "He's got command of three pitches, including a moving 92 mph fastball that he can move in and out, up and down."
Hernandez was the league's most complete pitcher. His fastball sat in the low 90s and topped out at 95 mph, while his hard, sharp curveball routinely found the strike zone.
"He's got great makeup," Phillies manager Roly DeArmas said. "He's very focused with a great work ethic and has a clear idea what he wants to do with his career."
Golson's best present tool is speed. He has been clocked from home to first in 3.8 seconds and can chase down balls in center field like few players can. As a hitter, he's a leadoff type now. He handles the bat well and is a good bunter. He also has gap power and should add legitimate over-the-fence pop as he fills out his 6-foot, 185-pound frame.
Waldrop, who went 22-0 in his final two high school seasons, was as advanced as any prep pitcher in the draft. With three pitches he threw for strikes almost at will, he walked four in 38 innings before being promoted to the more challenging Rookie-level Appalachian League, where he walked three in 25 innings.
"He's very advanced for 18," Twins manager Riccardo Ingram said. "He can pound the strike zone with three pitches. His fastball is 88-89, but with a tall, slender body, you know there's more velocity in there."
Managers praised Waldrop's feel for pitching, as well as sound mechanics. His changeup and mound presence were advanced for a teenager. His spike curveball is a plus pitch at times.
"You wonder if he might be too athletic to stay behind the plate," said Pirates manager Woody Huyke, a former Triple-A catcher. "He could play practically anywhere on the field. He can run and he'll be a good hitter. He's got power from both sides."
Though his catching skills are raw, Walker has average arm strength and moves well behind the plate, enabling him to block balls efficiently. His speed is above-average for the position. He should become the third member of his family to reach the majors, following in the footsteps of his father Tom and his uncle, Chip Lang.
He flashed a 94-95 mph fastball with movement. He also showcased a hammer curveball, which managers graded a 50 on the 20-80 scouting scale, meaning it already is a major league average breaking ball.
"He made a lot of progress as a pitcher," said Braves manager Ralph Henriquez, who saw Garcia play in high school. "He's got a big league arm and is very aggressive. He really attacks hitters. He just needs experience."
"He made a lot of improvement from 2003," said Yankees hitting coach Torre Tyson, who has tutored Vechionacci the last two years. "He was more of a free swinger with no balance last year, but was more selective and stayed back better on breaking balls this year. He's got a very mature swing and should have decent power as he fills out his wiry frame."
Vechionacci is also a solid defender with a plus arm. He has good body control and range in both directions at third base, and he comes in well on balls. Scouts say he's an adept enough infielder that he could play shortstop if his 6-foot-2 frame doesn’t fill out too much. He has average speed.
"He reminds me a lot of Curt Schilling," Ingram said. "He's a big power guy with a heavy, sinking fastball and he keeps the ball down."
Lara was named the organization's player of the year in the Dominican Summer League in 2003, his pro debut. At that point, his defense stood out more than his offense, and he continued to impress with his glove this year. He has very good hands and body control, allowing him to make all the plays at shortstop.
Lara understands his role as a hitter. He has good on-base ability and speed and focuses on getting the most out of those tools. He needs to get stronger, and even when he does he won't be much of a power threat.
"His numbers haven't shown up yet, but he's the real deal," Marlins hitting coach Johnny Rodriguez said. "He's Juan Pierre--with power."
Burns, who played all season at 17, has a feel for hitting and showed a willingness to take walks. He'll have to makes adjustments at the plate, as he has a long, uphill swing path. He also needs to keep both feet on the ground when swinging and to hit more grounders to take advantage of his speed.
His quickness allows him to outrun his mistakes in center field, but he needs work on his jumps and routes. His arm strength is adequate and is enhanced by his quick release.
"With his speed and arm strength, he's an electrifying shortstop," Expos manager Arturo DeFreites said. "He just needs to fine-tune his game. He's too quick sometimes for his own good."
As he learned to play under control this year, he became much more efficient in the field, committing just eight errors in his last 30 games after making 20 in his first 28. He learned to come in on balls better, rather than staying back and relying on his arm to throw out runners.
Though Campusano is just 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds and has hit only one home run over the last two seasons, scouts say he has the ability to eventually hit 10-15 a year. A switch-hitter, he has more pop from the right side.
"He's got extremely quick hands," Ingram said. "You can't throw the fastball by him."
Portes started the season at shortstop, eventually moving to third. He has sufficient arm strength to play on the left side but needs to working on his accuracy. Most of his 24 errors came on throws. He could end up in the outfield if he doesn't correct the problem, but his bat should play anywhere.
Hoffmann was the Minnesota 3-A baseball player of the year in 2002 but hadn't played much baseball when he reported to spring training this year. It showed, and he didn't make a good first impression. But he showed remarkable progress and led the league in runs (40), hits (71), total bases (105), triples (seven) and RBIs (36), while finishing fourth in average (.310) and stolen bases (14).
He struggled at the plate with an unorthodox swing at times, but he showed good bat-eye coordination and his bat stayed in the hitting zone for a long time. He also won over managers with his all-out style of play.
"You can tell he was a hockey player because he was always dirty," Butler said. "He's a very aggressive defender, a throwback player. He can really hit a fastball but needs to recognize breaking balls better."
It's not clear whether Hoffmann will stay at third base, though he also improved there after making progress with his footwork. He's an average runner.
Carrasco already has a lot going for him: smooth mechanics, a 91-92 mph fastball and the ability to throw a changeup at any point in the count. As he gets stronger, he should add velocity. He's still learning how to throw a breaking ball consistently for strikes.
"He's got a free, easy motion with a lot of late sink," Ingram said. "When he keeps the ball down in the zone, he's tough to hit."
"If he can learn to hit a breaking ball, he will be a big league catcher," Butler said. "He blocks balls well, can throw out runners and can call a game."
"He was feeling his way at the start of the season but really came on," Henriquez said. "He was not only the biggest surprise on the Braves but he had the best tools on the team."
A switch-hitter, Silva still has a ways to go with the bat, particularly from the right side. He has an uppercut in his swing. He has solid center-field skills and instincts to go with an above-average arm.
"He's the total package," DeFreites said. "He reminds me of a young Raul Mondesi. He's got a great arm, power, solid outfield skills and can run. Everything. To me, he's the number one prospect in the league."
Gomez' power is the least advanced of all his tools but should improve as he learns the strike zone and fills out his 6-foot-2, 178-pound frame. More selectivity would help as well, because he drew just two walks in 74 plate appearances.
He should add power as he fills out his 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame. And there's little question about Mota's ability to play center field.
"He's an excellent defender," Treuel said. "He's got great range in center field and an outstanding arm."
"He's got command of everything," Tigers manager Kevin Bradshaw said. "He stays low in the zone and consistently works ahead in the count."
Signed by the Phillies in March 2003, Mitchinson spent last year in Major League Baseball's Australian summer program. He threw only 84 mph when he arrived for spring training this year but got a lot stronger and added 6 mph to his fastball, with the potential for a bit more. He also has a nasty hammer curve.