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

By Jim Callis
September 27, 2004


Chat Wrap: Jim Callis took your Midwest League questions

FIVE YEARS AGO
1. *Corey Patterson, of, Lansing (Cubs)
2. *Travis Dawkins, ss, Rockford (Reds)
3. *Sean Burroughs, 3b, Fort Wayne (Padres)
4. *Michael Restovich, of, Quad City (Twins)
5. *Eric Munson, c/1b, West Michigan (Tigers)
6. *Nick Neugebauer, rhp, Beloit (Brewers)
7. Aaron McNeal, 1b, Michigan (Astros)
8. *David Kelton, 3b, Lansing (Cubs)
9. *Juan Rincon, rhp, Quad City (Twins)
10. *Hee Seop Choi, 1b, Lansing (Cubs)

* Played in the majors

Promising young hitters usually are as common as cornfields in the low Class A Midwest League.

The Class of 2000 featured Albert Pujols, Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns, and the next year's crop included Justin Morneau, Grady Sizemore and Wily Mo Pena. Neither of those groups could match the astonishing depth in 2002, when the MWL was the home of Joe Mauer, Casey Kotchman, Dallas McPherson, Scott Hairston, Brad Nelson and Jason Stokes, among others.

The well dried up in 2003, however. Prince Fielder slugged his way to MVP and No. 1 prospect honors, but the next-best position player was Felix Pie, whose bat has yet to catch up to his impressive athleticism.

After that one-year drought, batting prospects were plentiful throughout the MWL in 2004. A first baseman once again pulled off the MVP/top prospect double, but Brian Dopirak didn't stand alone like Fielder did. Hitters age 20 and younger claimed five of the first seven spots on this list, and Quad Cities third baseman Matt Moses likely would have been right with them if back problems hadn't ruined his season.

There were so many bats that 2003 first-round picks such as third baseman Brian Snyder (Kane County), outfielder Chris Lubanski and third baseman Mitch Maier (both Burlington) couldn't crack the Top 20. The MWL also had its share of live young arms, but the pitchers generally weren't as polished as their hitting counterparts.

1. BRIAN DOPIRAK, 1b, Lansing Lugnuts (Cubs)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 230 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Cubs '02 (2)

AB:541
R:94
H:166
2B:38
3B:0
HR:39
RBI:120
BB:48
SO:123
SB:4
CS:3
AVG:.307
OBP:.363
SLG:.593
Dopirak fell three homers short of Jeff Jones' 22-year-old MWL record of 42, but he should have a much brighter future. Jones never went deep in a brief 16-game big league career, while Dopirak projects to hit 35-40 homers annually in the majors. He has very quick hands and when he gets his arms extended, no park can contain him.

"When the ball comes off his bat, it's like hitting a golf ball with an aluminum bat," Kane County manager Dave Joppie said. "He has power to all fields. He's not just a pull guy. He's a tremendous looking hitter."

Dopirak still is learning to work counts but he has a quiet, sound approach at the plate and has shown the ability to make adjustments. While he has limited range at first base, he works very hard on his defense and should become at least adequate.

2. DARIC BARTON, c, Peoria Chiefs (Cardinals)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 205 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Cardinals '03 (1)

AB:313
R:63
H:98
2B:23
3B:0
HR:13
RBI:77
BB:69
SO:44
SB:4
CS:4
AVG:.313
OBP:.445
SLG:.511
Though he was 18 for most of the season, Barton had the best plate discipline in the MWL. He walked 69 times and fanned just 44, leading the league in on-base percentage (.445). Far from passive, he excelled at getting ahead in the count and then taking advantage of pitchers.

Barton showed no weakness at the plate. He has a short stroke, uses the whole field and shows 25-30 homer potential. He has no trouble with offspeed stuff and hits lefties and righthanders equally well. A National League scout said Barton and Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart were the two purest hitters he saw all season.

"I love his approach," an American League scout said. "It's what you try to teach kids."

Barton's defense is problematic. Few observers think he has a chance to catch regularly in the big leagues because his arm is below average and his receiving and blocking skills are just passable. He's not athletic or quick enough to play third base, and at 6 feet he'd be short for a first baseman.

3. ERIC DUNCAN, 3b, Battle Creek Yankees
Age: 19 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 195 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Yankees '03 (1)

AB:288
R:52
H:75
2B:23
3B:2
HR:12
RBI:57
BB:38
SO:84
SB:7
CS:1
AVG:.260
OBP:.351
SLG:.479
The Yankees have a recent history of squandering first-round picks, misfiring repeatedly since taking Eric Milton in 1996. They may have reversed that trend by spending the 27th overall pick in 2003 on Duncan, who quickly has emerged as the system's top prospect.

He's not quite in Dopirak's class, but Duncan has impact power. When he lets his strength come naturally he also shows admirable plate discipline, but he sometimes gets homer-happy and becomes prone to strikeouts. The Yankees challenged him with a promotion to high Class A when he tailed off in June, and he responded by showing more patience without diminishing his pop.

Duncan has solid average speed and some athleticism, but he has yet to prove he can handle third base. His arm is a little short for the position. He did get steadier at the hot corner after making 11 errors in 20 April games.

4. JOHN DANKS, lhp, Clinton Lumber Kings (Rangers)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Rangers '03 (1)

W:3
L:2
ERA:2.17
G:14
SV:0
IP:49.2
H:38
HR:4
BB:14
SO:64
AVG:.202
The Rangers desperately need rotation help, and Danks may deliver sooner than expected after going ninth overall in the 2003 draft. He pitched well beyond his 19 years in the MWL, a stay that lasted just two months before he was deemed ready for high Class A.

Managers and scouts loved his stuff, command and poise. His biting curveball is a strikeout pitch, and he sets it up with a lively 89-92 mph fastball and a developing changeup. His lean, athletic build allows him to repeat his delivery and locate his pitches wherever he desires.

"I love that guy," Cedar Rapids manager Bobby Magallanes said. "He has a chance to be a No. 1 or 2 starter in the big leagues. He throws three pitches for strikes, and they're all plus pitches."

5. BRANDON WOOD, ss, Cedar Rapids Kernels (Angels)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 185 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Angels '03 (1)

AB:478
R:65
H:120
2B:30
3B:5
HR:11
RBI:64
BB:46
SO:117
SB:21
CS:5
AVG:.251
OBP:.322
SLG:.404
>Shortstop was the deepest position in the MWL. Wood stood out the most among a group that also included Clinton's Ian Kinsler, Wisconsin's Adam Jones, West Michigan's Tony Giarratano, Peoria's Brandon Ryan and Battle Creek's Hector Made. The third 2003 first-rounder in the top five, Wood fits the offensive mold of the modern shortstop. Though he packs just 185 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame, his quick hands and wrists and the loft in his swing give him the power to hit at least 15-20 homers per year. He shows good instincts at the plate and on the bases.

Wood's speed is a tick below average, but don't discount his ability to play shortstop. He's agile enough and covers enough ground, especially to his right. He positions himself well, has a plus arm and might have had the best footwork among MWL shortstops.

6. JAIRO GARCIA, rhp, Kane County Cougars (Athletics)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 164 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Athletics FA '00 (Dominican Republic)

W:1
L:1
ERA:0.30
G:25
SV:16
IP:30.0
H:16
HR:0
BB:6
SO:49
AVG:.154
Garcia can pop 96s and 97s on the radar gun, but his most impressive number is 43. That's how many days it took him to reach the majors after he left the MWL in late June. Making his rush more remarkable, he had just 42 innings of full-season experience before 2004.

The Athletics couldn't keep Garcia healthy as a starter, so they made him a full-time reliever this year. He took to his new role immediately, averaging 94 mph with his fastball and keeping hitters off-balance with his slider and splitter.

Once he improves the control and consistency of his secondary pitches, which can be devastating when they're on, Oakland could have another Octavio Dotel on its hands. Garcia aggressively attacks hitters and has a closer's mentality.

7. JOEY VOTTO, 1b, Dayton Dragons (Reds)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 200 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Reds '02 (2)

AB:391
R:60
H:118
2B:26
3B:2
HR:14
RBI:73
BB:79
SO:110
SB:9
CS:2
AVG:.302
OBP:.419
SLG:.486
Votto wasn't ready for the MWL as a 19-year-old last year, batting .231 with one homer and 64 strikeouts in 195 at-bats. He returned with a vengeance in 2004 and continued to punish pitchers after an August promotion to high Class A.

Like the players on the top of this list, Votto is a gifted hitter with both power and polish. He has nice loft in his lefthanded stroke and a knack for drawing walks. He's not fazed by lefties and shows a willingness to use the whole field.

Votto can be a free swinger at times. He's also never going to be more than a below-average defender because he lacks instincts, agility and soft hands. But his production makes those acceptable tradeoffs.

8. IAN KINSLER, ss, Clinton Lumber Kings (Rangers)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 175 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Rangers '03 (17)

AB:227
R:52
H:91
2B:30
3B:1
HR:11
RBI:53
BB:26
SO:37
SB:16
CS:6
AVG:.401
OBP:.465
SLG:.687
To say that Kinsler was the MWL's biggest surprise is an understatement. The Rangers drafted him in the 17th round last year, and his modest pro debut didn't change the perception that he was nothing more than a steady organization player. He quickly stamped himself as a prospect in 2004, however, batting .401 before hitting .300 in Double-A after a mid-June promotion. Kinsler combined for a minor league-best 51 doubles and 20 homers at his two stops. He astonished scouts who had watched him in college at Missouri a year ago.

"His bat speed was much better this year," an AL scout said. "He turned on everything. You couldn't get a fastball by him on the inner half. He wasn't the same guy."

Kinsler can get too pull-conscious, but the consensus is that his bat is for real. He's a sound defender who makes all the routine plays. He has soft hands, and his arm and speed are average.

9. SEAN MARSHALL, lhp, Lansing Lugnuts (Cubs)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-5 Wt: 185 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Cubs '03 (6)

W:2
L:0
ERA:1.11
G:7
SV:0
IP:48.2
H:29
HR:1
BB:4
SO:51
AVG:.171
Marshall blew through the MWL in just seven starts, opening the season by hitting 95 mph during six shutout innings at chilly Battle Creek and heading to Double-A after a two-hit shutout of Burlington in mid-May. Battle Creek manager Bill Mosiello said Marshall was the best starting pitcher he saw all year.

Marshall usually pitches at 88-92 mph with nifty sink that yielded a stellar 63-26 groundball-flyball ratio in the MWL. His curveball and changeup are average to plus pitches, and he also fiddles with a slider. He excels at changing speeds and locating his pitches.

Marshall's season ended in mid-June, when he partially ruptured a tendon in the middle finger on his throwing hand. He's expected to return for the Arizona Fall League.

10. ADAM HARBEN, rhp, Swing of the Quad Cities (Twins)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-5 Wt: 205 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Twins '02 (15)

W:9
L:7
ERA:3.09
G:26
SV:0
IP:142.2
H:114
HR:5
BB:68
SO:171
AVG:.218
A work in progress, Harben showed the most upside on an impressive Quad Cities staff that also featured lefthanders Glen Perkins, Justin Jones and Errol Simonitsch and righty Scott Tyler. Hitters had trouble doing anything with Harben's heavy fastball because he used his 6-foot-5 frame to leverage down in the zone.

His fastball velocity has increased each year since he signed in 2002; it now sits at 91-93 mph and peaks at 97. Harben has improved his consistency as well, and his effortless delivery has helped him better his command.

Harben's second pitch, a slider, isn't totally reliable yet. He needs to refine his changeup and throw more strikes, but could be a good middle-of-the-rotation starter once he puts everything together.

11. WLADIMIR BALENTIEN, of, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Mariners)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 209 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Mariners FA '00 (Curacao)

AB:260
R:39
H:72
2B:12
3B:3
HR:15
RBI:46
BB:12
SO:77
SB:10
CS:2
AVG:.277
OBP:.315
SLG:.519
If chicks dig the longball, Balentien will never be lonely. He led the Rookie-level Venezuelan League with 10 homers in 2002 and set a Rookie-level Arizona League record with 16 last year. Balentien hit 15 in a half-season in the MWL, then four more in 16 games (counting the California League playoffs) in high Class A.

"He has tremendous power to all fields," Wisconsin manager Steve Roadcap said. "When he tries to pull everything, he's not good. When he learns he can hit the ball out to all fields, the sky's the limit for him."

Balentien also homered in The Netherlands' Olympic opener against Greece, then went 0-for-11 with six strikeouts the rest of the way in Athens. For all his power, MWL observers wondered if he might similarly struggle above Class A. He takes a huge cut and tries to jerk every pitch out of the park, and he'll have to be much more disciplined against better pitching. Roadcap batted him eighth in the Wisconsin lineup to protect him, and Balentien hasn't proven he can hit breaking balls.

He runs well for his size (6-foot-3, 209 pounds) and played some center field, but he most likely will wind up in left. Balentien's arm and his jumps are below average.

12. HOWIE KENDRICK, 2b, Cedar Rapids Kernels (Angels)
Age: 21 Ht: 5-10 Wt: 180 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Angels '02 (10)

AB:313
R:66
H:115
2B:24
3B:6
HR:10
RBI:49
BB:12
SO:41
SB:15
CS:6
AVG:.367
OBP:.398
SLG:.578
Kendrick missed two months with a groin injury, but that couldn't stop him from winning the MWL batting title at .367. A notoriously slow starter, he batted .241 in April and .410 afterward.

Kendrick's career .357 average as a pro results from excellent hand-eye coordination and a balanced, controlled swing. He lets his natural bat speed do most of the work, and can drive the ball for gap power. He makes contact so easily that it impedes his ability to draw walks.

Though his speed is fringe average, his instincts make opponents respect him as a basestealer. Raw defensively when he signed out of junior college in 2002, Kendrick has improved his arm strength, footwork and range. He also has gotten better at turning the double play and is now a reliable defender.

13. ADAM JONES, ss, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Mariners)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 180 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Mariners '03 (1S)

AB:510
R:76
H:136
2B:23
3B:7
HR:11
RBI:72
BB:33
SO:124
SB:8
CS:4
AVG:.267
OBP:.314
SLG:.404
Jones owned the best infield arm in the MWL this season, no surprise considering he hit 96 mph as a high school senior and had several clubs after him as a pitcher. He wants to play shortstop, however, and has the tools to become a good one.

Despite his cannon arm, Jones' offensive potential outshines his defense. One scout compared him to a young Reggie Sanders, who entered pro ball as a shortstop, and the ball jumps off Jones' bat. He has a sound swing and made progress using the whole field, but still is learning to work counts.

Though he's not quick out of the batter's box, Jones runs well underway and has enough range at shortstop. Already 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, he could outgrow the position, and despite his athleticism he's not especially smooth. To stay at shortstop, he'll have to improve his footwork and do a better job of making routine plays.

14. GLEN PERKINS, lhp, Swing of the Quad Cities (Twins)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 190 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Twins '04 (1)

W:2
L:1
ERA:1.30
G:9
SV:0
IP:48.1
H:33
HR:2
BB:12
SO:49
AVG:.192
Of the three 2004 first-round college pitchers who saw time in the MWL, Perkins was the only one to qualify for the list. Thomas Diamond (Rangers) has an explosive arm and would have cracked the Top 10 if he had enough innings, while Chris Lambert (Cardinals) wasn't as impressive.

Perkins can't match Diamond's mid-90s fastball, but he is a lefthander with three average-to-plus pitches. He throws an 88-92 mph fastball, a curveball and a changeup. Area scouts who saw him this spring said Perkins has better stuff than Denny Neagle, another University of Minnesota southpaw, had at the same point of his career.

Perkins also has an excellent feel for pitching. He throws strikes, changes speeds and works both sides of the plate with ease.

15. MELKY CABRERA, of, Battle Creek Yankees
Age: 20 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 170 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Yankees FA '01 (Dominican Republic)

AB:171
R:35
H:57
2B:16
3B:3
HR:0
RBI:16
BB:15
SO:23
SB:7
CS:2
AVG:.333
OBP:.383
SLG:.462
Though he was one of the league's youngest regulars at age 19, the MWL didn't present much of a challenge to Cabrera. He earned a promotion to the high Class A Florida State League before the end of May, and he started to show over-the-fence power once he moved up.

Cabrera's hand-eye coordination ranked with Kendrick's, and he also trusts his hands and doesn't try to do too much at the plate. He should hit 18-20 homers annually as he matures physically. He needs to draw more walks, though he's handicapped by his ability to make contact.

Cabrera's speed, arm and outfield range are all average. He played center field this year but may fit better defensively in left once he reaches the majors.

16. KEVIN JEPSEN, rhp, Cedar Rapids Kernels (Angels)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 210 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Angels '02 (2)

W:8
L:10
ERA:3.43
G:27
SV:0
IP:144.1
H:122
HR:6
BB:77
SO:136
AVG:.228
Jepsen lasted just 10 starts in the MWL a year ago before a tender elbow ended his season. After having surgery to remove bone chips, he returned in 2004 and displayed the league's best fastball.

Jepsen usually pitched at 94-96 mph and peaked at 97-99, and the heavy life on his fastball makes it difficult for hitters to lift. He also shows a power slider that can be nearly as unhittable when it's on, as well as some feel for a changeup.

His command isn't as good as his stuff, however. Jepsen needs to do a better job of throwing each of his pitches for strikes after leading the league with 77 walks in 144 innings. His delivery is a bit long in the back and he doesnt take a direct path to the plate, though his arm action and balance are fine.

17. AMBIORIX BURGOS, rhp, Burlington Bees (Royals)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 230 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Royals FA '00 (Dominican Republic)

W:7
L:11
ERA:4.38
G:27
SV:0
IP:133.2
H:109
HR:13
BB:75
SO:172
AVG:.221
Extremely similar to Jepsen, Burgos finished right behind him in terms of having the top fastball (91-98 mph) as well as in walks (75 in 134 innings). While Jepsen was fairly consistent before tiring late in the season, Burgos rode a roller coaster. He lost his first six decisions, then allowed one earned run or less in nine of his next 10 starts.

Most MWL observers projected Burgos as a future setup man or closer because he doesn't spin a breaking ball well. His slider is iffy and his changeup is average at best, but this year he did add a splitter that has potential. Along with his command and secondary pitches, he also must improve his focus and maturity.

18. BILLY PETRICK, rhp, Lansing Lugnuts (Cubs)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-6 Wt: 240 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Cubs '02 (3)

W:13
L:7
ERA:3.50
G:26
SV:0
IP:146.2
H:149
HR:3
BB:43
SO:113
AVG:.267
Lansing led the league with a 3.39 ERA thanks to its usual deep collection of pitching prospects. Petrick was the best of a group of righthanders that also included Carlos Marmol and Bear Bay.

No MWL pitcher was tougher to take deep than Petrick, who surrendered just three homers in 147 innings. Not only does he have heavy sink on his 90-93 mph fastball, but he also tends to miss low in the zone on the rare occasions when he doesn't throw strikes.

With a workhorse 6-foot-6, 240-pound build, Petrick looks like a football playerand he was one of the nation's top long-snapper recruits coming out of high school. He has shelved a loopy curveball in favor of a slider that's getting better, though he still slows down his arm speed too much when he throws his changeup.

19. BALTAZAR LOPEZ, 1b, Cedar Rapids Kernels (Angels)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 180 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Angles FA '03 (Mexico)

AB:236
R:34
H:74
2B:14
3B:3
HR:9
RBI:35
BB:19
SO:65
SB:6
CS:1
AVG:.314
OBP:.368
SLG:.513
Two years ago, Cedar Rapids had a sweet-lefthanded-swinging, slick-fielding first baseman in Casey Kotchman. This season the Kernels had another in Lopez, who has a much lower profile but was likened to Rafael Palmeiro, just as Kotchman had been.

After spending the first half of the year in extended spring training, Lopez showed off one of the MWL's prettiest strokes upon his arrival in mid-June. His bat flies through the strike zone and he manipulates the bat head well, working the ball to all fields. He's wiry but has strong wrists and should hit for at least average power, though some observers think he'll need to add some loft to his swing.

Lopez can be a little anxious at the plate, as he hasn't learned to stay back on changeups or draw many walks. He doesn't run well, but his lack of speed doesn't hamper his defense.

20. DANA EVELAND, lhp, Beloit Snappers (Brewers)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 240 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Brewers D/F '02 (16)

W:9
L:6
ERA:2.84
G:22
SV:2
IP:117.1
H:108
HR:8
BB:24
SO:119
AVG:.242
Scouts love Eveland's arm and hate his body. He pitches at 89-92 mph, topping out at 94 and maintains his velocity deep into games. But he also carries 240 pounds on his 6-foot frame, adding 20 pounds during the season despite repeated admonishments from the Brewers to watch his weight. He drew some obvious comparisons to portly lefties such as Sid Fernandez and David Wells.

Eveland could become a No. 4 starter because he's a lefthander with solid velocity and command. But he still has plenty of work to do beyond his conditioning. His changeup and slider have their moments but neither is a consistently reliable second pitch.

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