2004 Top 20 Prospects: Gulf Coast League
Complete Index of League Top 20s
By Allan Simpson
September 20, 2004
Allan Simpson took your
questions on the two complex leagues
|FIVE YEARS AGO
1. Chip Ambres, of, Marlins
2. *Ramon Santiago, ss, Tigers
3. *Jose Morban, ss, Rangers
4. *Alexis Gomez, of, Royals
5. *Fernando Rodney, rhp, Tigers
6. Luis Torres, rhp, Pirates
7. *Enrique Cruz, ss, Mets
8. *Wily Mo Pena, of, Yankees
9. *Hank Blalock, 3b, Rangers
10. Pat Manning, ss, Braves
* Played in the majors
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.
||LUIS SOTO, ss, Red Sox
Age: 18 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 180 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Red Sox FA '04 (Dominican Republic)
Blessed with excellent work habits and a mature approach, Soto made huge strides after signing, particularly with the glove. He displayed excellent arm strength and the ability to make plays from the hole.
"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.
||GABY HERNANDEZ, rhp, Mets
Age: 18 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 210 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Mets '04 (3)
Hernandez led the GCL with a 1.09 ERA while allowing just 40 baserunners in 50 innings. But he gave up seven earned runs--one more than he permitted in nine regular-season starts--in his most important start, lasting just 2 1/3 innings in a 9-2 pasting by the Red Sox in the GCL playoffs. He rebounded to pitch three scoreless innings after a promotion to the short-season New York-Penn League.
"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.
||GREG GOLSON, of, Phillies
Age: 19 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 180 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Phillies '04 (1)
Baseball America rated Golson as the best athlete and best five-tool talent among high school players in the June draft. But Philadelphia's first-round pick impressed managers just as much with his approach to the game.
"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.
||KYLE WALDROP, rhp, Twins
Age: 18 Ht: 6-5 Wt: 195 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Twins '04 (1)
With four extra picks in this year's draft, the Twins tapped into one of the draft's strengths: high school arms. They took six pitchers in the first three rounds, including four from the prep ranks, the top three of whom—Waldrop, Jay Rainville and Anthony Swarzak—made the GCL top 20.
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.
||NEIL WALKER, c, Pirates
Age: 19 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 205 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Pirates '04 (1)
The 11th overall pick in this year's draft, Walker shared catching duties with Steve Lerud, a third-rounder from 2003, in order to stay fresh in the stifling Florida heat. Both players can swing the bat, but the more athletic, switch-hitting Walker has the more complete package.
"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.
||CHRISTIAN GARCIA, rhp, Yankees
Age: 19 Ht: 6-5 Wt: 204 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Yankees '04 (3)
A promising catching prospect until his senior year of high school, Garcia was moved to the mound by Lazor Collazo, the former Miami pitching coach who became head coach at Miami's Gulliver Prep this spring. Collazo saw Garcia's 6-foot-5 frame was better suited to pitching than catching, and Garcia took to his new role immediately.
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."
||MARCOS VECHIONACCI, 3b, Yankees
Age: 18 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 170 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Yankees FA '02 (Venezuela)
Though Vechionacci didn't turn 18 until August, he already has an advanced approach at the plate. He hit .300-2-30 in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League last year and followed up this year by earning promotions to the short-season New York-Penn and high Class A Florida State leagues.
"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.
||JAY RAINVILLE, rhp, Twins
Age: 18 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 240 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Twins '04 (1)
Rainville hails from the same Rhode Island high school that produced Rocco Baldelli. Polished for a New England high school product, the stocky 6-foot-3 Rainville fashioned a 38-3 strikeout-walk ratio in his pro debut. Of more significance, he flashed two above-average pitches: a 91-94 mph fastball and a power curve.
"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."
||CHRISTIAN LARA, ss, Red Sox
Age: 19 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 150 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Red Sox FA '02 (Dominican Republic)
Soto wasn't the only Red Sox shortstop who attracted attention. Lara hit .433 in 15 games, splitting time between his natural position and third base, before getting promoted to the New York-Penn League. Against older competition in the NY-P, he batted .277 with more walks (24) then strikeouts (23).
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.
||GREG BURNS, of, Marlins
Age: 17 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 175 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Marlins '04 (3)
Burns is typical of the young, raw athletes who appeal to the Marlins. His game is built around speed, though he was plagued by a nagging hamstring pull and hit just .243 while getting caught in half of his 14 steal attempts.
"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.
||JOSE CAMPUSANO, ss, Marlins
Age: 20 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 165 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Marlins FA '03 (Dominican Republic)
No player in the GCL East showed better raw tools than Campusano, who was clocked in 3.4 seconds from the left side of the plate to first base on a bunt and has a cannon arm. The tools haven't translated in his numbers yet, and he succeeded on just 11 of 21 stolen-base attempts.
"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.
||JUAN PORTES, 3b/ss, Twins
Age: 18 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 170 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Twins '04 (15)
Portes dropped out of a Massachusetts high school midway through his senior year, opting to play in a wood-bat league in Iowa. That move cost him in the draft, but it helped him make a smooth transition to pro ball. Portes topped the GCL in slugging (.530), tied for the lead in homers (eight) and finished second in batting (.327).
"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.
||JAMIE HOFFMANN, 3b, Dodgers
Age: 20 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 205 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Dodgers FA '03
An eighth-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2003 NHL draft, Hoffmann appeared destined for a career in hockey when he signed with the Dodgers as a nondrafted free agent in August 2003. Like former all-star catcher Terry Steinbach, Hoffmann starred in both baseball and hockey at New Ulm (Minn.) High.
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.
||CARLOS CARRASCO, rhp, Phillies
Age: 17 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 178 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Phillies FA '04 (Venezuela)
At 17, Carrasco barely has scratched the surface of his potential. He put on 20 pounds this year and held his own in his professional debut, no-hitting the Tigers in one of his eight starts.
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.
||ANTHONY SWARZAK, rhp, Twins
Age: 19 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 195 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Twins '04 (2)
Lost in the shuffle on a Twins staff that featured two first-rounders, Swarzak showed impressive stuff himself. His fastball was clocked in the low 90s as he posted a 42-6 strikeout-walk ratio in 48 innings. Swarzak has more work to do than either Waldrop or Rainville, but he has an easy delivery and flashes a decent breaking ball.
"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."
||Jesus Flores, c, Mets
Age: 19 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 180 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Mets FA '02 (Venezuela)
Flores already is regarded as the best defensive catcher in the Mets system. He led GCL regulars by throwing out 44 percent of basestealers and surprised with his bat, earning all-star honors. He had batted just .244 in two seasons in the Rookie-level Venezuelan and Dominican summer leagues.
"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."
||Johan Silva, of, Braves
Age: 19 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 170 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Braves FA '01 (Venezuela)
After spending the previous two years in the Dominican Summer League, Silva made big strides in his first season in the United States, particularly at the plate. He made progress at the plate and on the basepaths.
"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.
||CARLOS GOMEZ, of, Mets
Age: 18 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 190 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Mets FA '02 (Dominican Republic)
Gomez didn't tear up the GCL after being demoted from the Appy League, but his five-tool ability caught the eye of every Eastern Division manager.
"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.
||WILLY MOTA, of, Red Sox
Age: 18 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 160 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Red Sox FA '02 (Dominican Republic)
Mota hit .237 with a .292 slugging percentage in the Dominican Summer League a year ago before improving his ability to hit and hit for power in 2004. He was still inconsistent at the plate and struggled to figure out the strike zone and recognize breaking pitches.
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."
||SCOTT MITCHINSON, rhp, Phillies
Age: 19 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 195 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Phillies FA '03 (Austrailia)
Mitchinson tied for the league lead with seven wins, while his 1.75 ERA ranked second. The 19-year-old Australian's most eye-popping number was his 60-1 strikeout-walk ratio.
"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.