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

By Chris Kline
October 7, 2004


Chat Wrap: Chris Kline took your International League questions

FIVE YEARS AGO
1. *Vernon Wells, of, Syracuse (Blue Jays)
2. *Dernell Stenson, 1b, Pawtucket (Red Sox)
3. *Russ Branyan, 3b, Buffalo (Indians)
4. *Octavio Dotel, rhp, Norfolk (Mets)
5. *Bruce Chen, lhp, Richmond (Braves)
6. *Randy Wolf, lhp, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Phillies)
7. *Terrence Long, of, Norfolk (Mets)
8. *D'Angelo Jimenez, ss, Columbus (Yankees)
9. *Jerry Hairston, 2b, Rochester (Orioles)
10. *Ed Yarnall, lhp, Columbus (Yankees)

* Played in the majors

Hitters have dominated our Triple-A International League Top 10 Prospects list in recent years, and 2004 was no exception. The top six spots on this edition went to position players, and that total would have been seven had Norfolk third baseman David Wright accumulated enough plate appearances to qualify.

Several of the IL's marquee players made their presence known in the majors as well. After joining the Devil Rays, B.J. Upton became the first teenager to homer in the big leagues since Adrian Beltre and Aramis Ramirez in 1998. The Twins inexplicably didn't call up Justin Morneau for good until mid-July, but once they did he quickly established himself as their biggest power threat.

Besides Wright, several other notable players didn't qualify for this list. Brandon Phillips and league MVP Jhonny Peralta, Buffalo's exciting double-play tandem, got too many big league at-bats in 2003. Richmond righthander Jose Capellan split the season between three minor league teams and didn't spend enough time in the IL.

1. B.J. UPTON, ss, Durham Bulls (Devil Rays)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 170 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Devil Rays '02 (1)

AB:264
R:65
H:82
2B:17
3B:1
HR:12
RBI:36
BB:42
SO:72
SB:17
CS:5
AVG:.311
OBP:.411
SLG:.519
The Devil Rays nearly promoted Upton from Double-A to the majors in mid-May, but decided at the last second that he needed some Triple-A seasoning at age 19. He arrived at Durham as the best prospect in the minors, and he burst upon the IL scene by hitting five homers in his first full week.

Upton is unbelievably advanced at the plate for his age. His discipline and wiry strength give him 30-30 potential, and it will be a shock if he's not a productive hitter in the majors. His bat speed rates a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and his speed and arm strength grade out even better.

Upton wowed observers much more with his bat than his glove, however. He committed 25 errors in 66 games at shortstop, with his footwork and hands undermining his range and arm. The Devil Rays gave him a look at third base in September, and also tried him for a game in left field.

"I think in some ways they should have let him finish the year playing short in Triple-A instead of changing him around up there, but he'll have an impact wherever he plays," a National League scout said. "He hits with power to all fields. Everyone compares him to Derek Jeter, but he's got more raw power than Jeter ever had at the same age."

2. JUSTIN MORNEAU, 1b, Rochester Red Wings (Twins)
Age: 23 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 220 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Twins '99 (3)

AB:288
R:51
H:88
2B:23
3B:0
HR:22
RBI:63
BB:32
SO:47
SB:1
CS:1
AVG:.306
OBP:.377
SLG:.615
With natural loft and a Fred McGriffesque finish and natural loft, Morneau generates easy power from the left side. He struggled against offspeed stuff in his major league debut in 2003, but he made the necessary adjustments this year.

He also improved defensively, though he'll never make anyone forget his predecessor in Minnesota, Gold Glover Doug Mientkiewicz. Morneau's footwork is his biggest drawback at first base.

"He's very easy to all fields with good knowledge and discipline of the zone," Buffalo manager Marty Brown said. "People say some bad things about his defense, but he moved pretty good over there. A lot better than he did last year."

3. GRADY SIZEMORE, of, Buffalo Bisons (Indians)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 200 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Expos '00 (3)

AB:418
R:73
H:120
2B:23
3B:8
HR:8
RBI:51
BB:42
SO:72
SB:15
CS:10
AVG:.287
OBP:.360
SLG:.438
Sizemore started slowly after a stomach virus left him 15 pounds lighter than usual heading into the season, but he soon showed his full package of skills. It has been some time since the Indians have had a player with this many tools come out of its system.

He uses the entire field and has fine plate discipline, projecting as a .300 hitter in the big leagues. Though he didn't show as much power as he did last year in Double-A, he has strength and projects as at least a 20-20 player in the majors. His arm is his sole below-average tool, but he has good instincts and is a very capable center fielder.

You want makeup? Brown calls Sizemore a manager's dream, while scouts describe him as being the equivalent of another manager on the field.

"He's the kind of guy who drives his own car," Indianapolis manager Cecil Cooper said. "He has such a strong desire to succeed. And that desire is going to push him to find out just how good he can be and maintain that at the highest level."

4. JASON KUBEL, of, Rochester Red Wings (Twins)
Age: 22 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 190 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Twins '00 (12)

AB:350
R:71
H:120
2B:28
3B:0
HR:16
RBI:71
BB:34
SO:40
SB:16
CS:3
AVG:.343
OBP:.398
SLG:.560
As if the Twins hadn't already developed more than their share of big league outfielders, Kubel took a major step forward in 2004. He always had hit for average, but produced a disappointing five homers and 29 extra-base hits in high Class A last year. He upped those numbers to 22 and 68 this season while batting .352 between Double-A and Triple-A.

Kubel, the IL batting champ at .343, utilizes a quick stroke with good leverage and opposite-field pop. He has started to show more than gap power while continuing to do a masterful job of controlling the strike zone. He had nearly as many walks (53) as strikeouts (59) in the minors this year, extending a career-long trend.

His lack of speed hinders him on the bases and in the outfield. He has the arm strength to play right field, though his limited range could push him to left.

"I like his approach at the plate," an American League scout said. "He doesn't try to do too much in any situation. He doesn't strike out a lot for a power guy, and will take the walk or the pitch the other way when it's there."

5. JEREMY REED, of, Charlotte Knights (White Sox)
Age: 23 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 180 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: White Sox '02 (2)

AB:274
R:44
H:76
2B:14
3B:1
HR:8
RBI:37
BB:36
SO:34
SB:12
CS:7
AVG:.275
OBP:.357
SLG:.420
After leading the minors in batting (.373) and on-base percentage (.453) in 2003, Reed moved up to the IL before being sent to Seattle as the key player in the Freddy Garcia trade in late June. Reed's numbers weren't as gaudy in 2004, yet he had another productive season.

He's a lefthanded line-drive hitter who consistently has drawn more walks than strikeouts. He'd make a terrific leadoff man, as he gets on base and has the speed and aggression to be a basestealing threat.

There are two questions with Reed. The first is whether he covers enough ground to be more than an adequate center. The second is whether he'll hit for enough power if he moves to a corner.

6. ALEXIS RIOS, of, Syracuse SkyChiefs (Blue Jays)
Age: 23 Ht: 6-5 Wt: 180 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Blue Jays '99 (1)

AB:185
R:14
H:48
2B:10
3B:1
HR:3
RBI:23
BB:9
SO:30
SB:2
CS:1
AVG:.259
OBP:.292
SLG:.373
Rios still is lanky and has yet to show more than gap power, but he still draws comparisons to a young Juan Gonzalez. The 6-foot-5, 195-pounder has a smooth, easy swing and doesn't get tied up on inside fastballs like most players his size. He makes consistent hard contact to all fields.

Rios was just so-so in the IL before the Blue Jays promoted him in late May, and while he held his own he still has work to do on his plate discipline. He runs well and is a plus defender in center field, but Vernon Wells' presence in Toronto means Rios will play in right. His arm is up to the task.

"That power is going to come," an NL scout said. "The easy comparison for me is to Vernon Wells, but Rios isn't as good defensively. I think this year he's just feeling his way up there and could really have a breakout year next season."

7. BEN HENDRICKSON, rhp, Indianapolis Indians (Brewers)
Age: 23 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 190 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Brewers '99 (10)

W:11
L:3
ERA:2.02
G:21
SV:0
IP:125.0
H:114
HR:6
BB:26
SO:93
AVG:.246
Hendrickson was virtually unstoppable in his first Triple-A season, claiming IL pitcher-of-the-year honors and the ERA title (2.02). His out pitch is a true 12-6 curveball that he can put wherever he wants.

"He gets a lot of guys reaching," Durham manager Bill Evers said. "He's not an overpowering guy at all, but he'll get you to roll the ball over to the infield with that curveball, that's for sure."

The rest of Hendrickson's stuff is solid if fairly average. He also uses an 88-94 mph fastball, a cutter and a changeup. He mixes his pitches well and has good poise, though he needs to be more aggressive in the majors after getting hammered in his first taste.

8. DAN MEYER, lhp, Richmond Braves
Age: 23 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Braves '02 (1s)

W:3
L:3
ERA:2.79
G:12
SV:0
IP:61.1
H:62
HR:6
BB:25
SO:60
AVG:.264
There was some debate as to which Braves lefthander had the higher ceiling, Meyer or fellow first-round pick Macay McBride. While McBride struggled and moved to the bullpen this year in Double-A, Meyer dominated at that level and didn't miss a beat after coming to the IL.

He features a 91-93 mph fastball with a slider that has become an above-average pitch. His changeup has progressed beyond more than just a pitch for show, and he used it more in 2004 than he had in the past.

"He's a big-game pitcher," Richmond manager Pat Kelly said. "He pitches every game with that same level of intensity--as if it was the last game of the season with it all on the line."

9. GUILLERMO QUIROZ, c, Syracuse SkyChiefs (Blue Jays)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Blue Jays FA '98 (Venezuela)

AB:255
R:32
H:58
2B:19
3B:1
HR:8
RBI:32
BB:28
SO:54
SB:0
CS:0
AVG:.227
OBP:.309
SLG:.404
After a breakout 2003, Quiroz missed eight weeks with a broken bone in his left hand and never got untracked. He still ranks as one of the top catching prospects in the game, however.

Quiroz has power in his bat and his arm. While his pop times to second base were consistently under 2.0 seconds in 2004, he threw out just 22 percent of basestealers in the IL. He should be good for 20-plus homers annually in the majors, though he does strike out and probably won't hit for a high average.

"The injury sapped him of a lot of that raw power," an NL scout said. "Sometimes it takes more time coming back from a hand problem like this one, especially confidence-wise. I think you'll get a better read on what he can do this winter and into next season."

10. JASON BARTLETT, ss, Rochester Red Wings (Twins)
Age: 24 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 170 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Padres '01 (13)

AB:269
R:54
H:89
2B:15
3B:7
HR:3
RBI:29
BB:33
SO:37
SB:7
CS:3
AVG:.331
OBP:.415
SLG:.472
The Twins stole Bartlett from the Padres in a July 2002 trade for Brian Buchanan. Two impressive seasons later, Bartlett is on the verge of taking over for pending free agent Cristian Guzman in Minnesota.

Bartlett has quick hands, good plate coverage and even better control of the strike zone. That allows him to hit for average and gap power. Defensively, he has the arm strength to make throws from deep in the hole and shows range to both sides.

"I liked the way he moved out there," Cooper said. "He has great instincts and a good first step. He made all the routine plays."

11. JOEY GATHRIGHT, of, Durham Bulls (Devil Rays)
Age: 23 Ht: 5-10 Wt: 170 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Devil Rays '01 (32)

AB:237
R:35
H:79
2B:9
3B:1
HR:0
RBI:9
BB:19
SO:45
SB:33
CS:13
AVG:.333
OBP:.390
SLG:.380
Touted as the fastest man in the minors, Gathright regularly wreaked havoc on the basepaths—though looking at his statistics wouldn't reflect that. He stole 33 bases but was caught 13 times, indicating that he relies on his pure speed

"He just doesn't seem to read pitchers very well at this point," an NL scout said. "I like him for what he can do to get on base, but he needs to focus more on what the pitcher's doing, what the situation is and use those aspects to his advantage. Right now he's just go, go, go."

Gathright's speed gives him great range in center field, though his arm is below average. He wasn't as disciplined at the plate as he was in 2003, but if he regains that patience he can be a true leadoff man.

"He's a pest," Brown said. "He'll slap at it and the ball will go six feet and before you know it, he's past first base. He still has a lot to learn about stealing bases, but when he does he'll be the kind of guy who can change the game just with his presence."

12. JESSE CRAIN, rhp, Rochester Red Wings (Twins)
Age: 23 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Twins '02 (2)

W:3
L:2
ERA:2.49
G:41
SV:19
IP:50.2
H:38
HR:5
BB:17
SO:64
AVG:.208
Like Morneau, Crain languished in Triple-A for longer than seemed necessary. He proved himself in the second half of 2003 at Rochester, then returned and was more dominant this season.

Crain shut down IL hitters with two plus pitches, a 92-94 mph fastball that tops out at 97 and a wicked 85-87 mph slider. It's his late-breaking slider that's his strikeout pitch. He became more consistent at locating his fastball down in the zone this year, setting hitters up for the slider.

"What was already a really good out pitch for him became even better than what I saw last year," Cooper said. "That's the best slider in this league."

13. JORGE CANTU, inf, Durham Bulls (Devil Rays)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 195 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Devil Rays FA '98 (Mexico)

AB:368
R:57
H:111
2B:33
3B:1
HR:22
RBI:80
BB:16
SO:64
SB:3
CS:0
AVG:.302
OBP:.335
SLG:.576
Talk about a power surge. Cantu came into 2004 with 18 homers and a .358 slugging percentage in five pro seasons. After adding 20 pounds of muscle mass in the offseason, he had a career year, hitting 22 homers in 95 games with Durham and leading the IL with a .576 slugging percentage. A line-drive hitter with a penchant for executing the hit-and-run, Cantu became more aggressive at driving the ball.

"The added weight has only given him more power," Evers said. "And he worked real hard in spring training to get better at recognizing pitches. When he was here, he was just locked in. And you saw all those balls that used to fall into the gap flying over the fence."

Cantu came up through the minors at shortstop, but saw more time at second base in deference to Upton. He also has seen time at third base, but profiles best at second and played regularly there for Tampa Bay in September.

14. ROBINSON CANO, 2b, Columbus Clippers (Yankees)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 180 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Yankees FA '01 (Dominican Republic)

AB:216
R:22
H:56
2B:9
3B:2
HR:6
RBI:30
BB:18
SO:27
SB:0
CS:1
AVG:.259
OBP:.316
SLG:.403
The Yankees don't often give opportunities to their own prospects, but Cano is one of their system's best hitters and Miguel Cairo isn't exactly an all-star. Cano surpassed catcher Dioner Navarro as New York's top position prospect in the upper minors and could make an impact in the majors as early as next season.

Cano has outstanding hand-eye coordination and a level, easy swing. The ball jumps off his bat. His power and patience are developing, and he should produce more offense than the typical second baseman.

Whether Cano stays at second base is another question, however. He has below-average range and doesn't show the agility to turn double plays well. If he has to move to third base, he has enough arm strength.

15. JOHN MAINE, rhp, Ottawa Lynx (Orioles)
Age: 23 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 180 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Orioles '02 (6)

W:5
L:7
ERA:3.91
G:22
SV:0
IP:119.2
H:123
HR:12
BB:52
SO:105
AVG:.266
Maine cruised through the minors with a 2.11 ERA before getting to Ottawa, where he found out just how disciplined Triple-A hitters are. He lost five of his first nine starts before he improved his command and got going again.

His best pitch is a lively 90-92 mph fastball that he can work up, down and to both sides of the plate. He improved his curveball and changeup, giving him a solid three-pitch mix.

"He has that great curveball that sometimes is a slow, late-breaker and sometimes it sweeps in on you," Brown said. "He didn't use the curveball much against us, but it was already in our heads enough that we were all messed up in our approach."

16. RUSS ADAMS, ss, Syracuse SkyChiefs (Blue Jays)
Age: 24 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 180 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Blue Jays '02 (1)

AB:483
R:58
H:139
2B:37
3B:3
HR:5
RBI:54
BB:45
SO:62
SB:6
CS:2
AVG:.288
OBP:.351
SLG:.408
Adams reached the majors little more than two years after going 14th overall in the 2002 draft, taking over at shortstop for Toronto in September. Though he's more of a contact hitter, he homered in his first big league start.

He saw a lot of time in the leadoff spot for the Blue Jays, but Adams fits better in the No. 2 slot. He hits for average but is so proficient at putting the ball in play that he doesn't draw a lot of walks. He runs wells and is an efficient if not prolific basestealer.

Because he has a below-average arm, scouts have questioned Adams' ability to play shortstop in the big leagues even before he was drafted. He does cover more than enough ground and shows fine instincts and soft hands at short.

17. DAVE KRYNZEL, of, Indianapolis Indians (Brewers)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 190 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Brewers '00 (1)

AB:257
R:36
H:71
2B:10
3B:4
HR:6
RBI:26
BB:20
SO:65
SB:10
CS:8
AVG:.276
OBP:.332
SLG:.416
Some managers compared Krynzel to Sizemore, though Krynzel isn't as toolsy and hasn't accomplished as much at the plate. Krynzel is a step ahead of him defensively, however, with a better arm and better speed.

Speed is the key element in Krynzel's game, and he needs to do a better job of utilizing it. He started to bunt more, use the whole field and work deeper counts this year, but he still strikes out too much for a potential leadoff hitter. Major league pitchers took advantage of his lack of discipline after he was called up in September.

18. KELLY SHOPPACH, c, Pawtucket Red Sox
Age: 24 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 210 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Red Sox '01 (2)

AB:399
R:62
H:93
2B:25
3B:0
HR:22
RBI:64
BB:46
SO:138
SB:0
CS:0
AVG:.233
OBP:.320
SLG:.461
Shoppach hit a career-low .233 this season, but he still brought a lot to the table. He hit for power, as his 22 homers matched his total from his first two seasons, and more important he showed defensive skills and leadership ability.

"He does a great job at calling a game," Brown said, "and you can tell he commands an air of respect--and we're talking from pitchers who've been in the big leagues. A lot of times it's hard for a young guy to do that, but he seems to handle it just fine."

Shoppach will need to make more contact to be a consistent run producer. He once was considered a contingency plan to take over if Jason Varitek walked as a free agent after this season, but the Red Sox are unlikely to give Shoppach their starting job in 2005.

19. FRANCISCO CRUCETA, rhp, Buffalo Bisons (Indians)
Age: 23 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 180 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Dodgers FA '99 (Dominican Republic)

W:6
L:5
ERA:3.25
G:14
SV:0
IP:83.0
H:78
HR:6
BB:36
SO:62
AVG:.252
Since coming over from the Dodgers as a relative unknown in the Paul Shuey deal in July 2002, Cruceta has blossomed in the Indians system. He'll compete for a spot in Cleveland's 2005 rotation after giving up three earned runs or less in 12 of his 14 Triple-A starts.

Cruceta's natural sinker sits in the 92-94 mph range, and he generates that plus velocity with a nice, easy delivery. His slider has become an above-average pitch this season, and his changeup has shown flashes of becoming a third quality offering.

He struggles at times with the command of his fastball, particularly early in games as he tries to establish his other pitches. He sometimes leaves it up in the strike zone, where it loses movement and is more hittable.

. He also needs to trust his stuff more.

20. DAVID BUSH, rhp, Syracuse SkyChiefs (Blue Jays)
Age: 24 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Blue Jays FA '02 (2)

W:6
L:6
ERA:4.06
G:16
SV:0
IP:99.2
H:108
HR:7
BB:20
SO:88
AVG:.276
A tough competitor who pounds the strike zone, Bush was just so-so in his first Triple-A season. Yet he was effective in the majors and carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Oakland in his third big league start.

Bush throws an 88-91 mph fastball, a solid curveball, a slider and a changeup. He repeats his delivery well and throws strikes—perhaps too many strikes.

"There were times when his pitch selection wasn't good," an AL scout said. "He needs to mix it up more and trust his stuff better to limit his hit totals. His secondary stuff is only slightly above-average for me."

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