2004 Top 20 Prospects: Northwest League
Complete Index of League Top 20s
By Will Kimmey
September 24, 2004
Will Kimmey took your Northwest League questions
|FIVE YEARS AGO
1. *Kyle Snyder, rhp, Spokane (Royals)
2. Ryan Christianson, c, Everett (Mariners)
3. *Kurt Ainsworth, rhp, Salem-Keizer (Giants)
4. *Mike MacDougal, rhp, Spokane (Royals)
5. *Chris Snelling, of, Everett (Mariners)
6. Brian Sanches, rhp, Spokane (Royals)
7. *Gerald Laird, c, Southern Oregon (Athletics)
8. *Willie Bloomquist, 2b, Everett (Mariners)
9. Ruben Castillo, ss, Everett (Mariners)
10. *Craig House, rhp, Portland (Rockies)
* Played in the majors
The short-season Northwest League played more like the NFL than NWL because parity was prevalent. Five of the eight teams registered between 40 and 42 wins, and the divisional races came down to the final weekend before Boise and Vancouver won with 42 wins each.
"I've never seen two divisions in a league be so close to each other the entire season," Tri-City manager Ron Gideon said. "It's been tight all year; nobody ran off with it."
The same was true among prospects, as few players seemed to rise above their teammates. The 2004 draft did little to help matters because few premium picks spent much time in the league.
"There's a lot of parity in the league among the players," Yakima manager Bill Plummer said. "There were a lot of guys last year that stuck out (such as Felix Hernandez, Conor Jackson, Brian Dopirak, Nate Schierholtz and John Danks). This year there aren't as many pitching prospects, or hitters."
Many top 2004 selections didn't make the list because they received quick promotions (Spokane righthander Thomas Diamond and Yakima righthander Garrett Mock), came up too late to make a major impact (Everett shortstop Matt Tuiasosopo and Spokane righthander Eric Hurley) or didn't play enough to qualify (Eugene shortstop Matt Bush and Tri-City outfielder Seth Smith).
||JAVIER HERRERA, of, Vancouver Canadians (Athletics)
Age: 19 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 220 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Athletics FA '01 (Venezuela)
Managers voted Herrera as league MVP and called him the circuit's most exciting player because he showcased five tools, all of which rate at least average. Herrera ranked third in batting and second in steals, showing off his smooth stroke and good speed. His power stroke should deliver 20-30 home runs annually in the majors. He chased breaking balls at times, and still must correct his strikeout-walk ratio, but also showed the ability to make in-game adjustments and not get fooled on the same pitch twice.
Herrera takes great routes to balls in the outfield and possesses a strong right-field arm, though he has the wheels to play center as well. He looks smooth in everything he does, and just needs to remember to keep his focus for nine innings over the course of the season; Herrera was guilty of drifting at times. Still managers were in awe of the precocious 19-year-old's upside.
"For a young kid, how he handled himself, you thought he ought to be in advanced A-ball," Gideon said.
||RYAN HARVEY, of, Boise Hawks (Cubs)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-5 Wt: 220 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Cubs '03 (1)
Harvey put on a power display all year, then cranked three bombs in the first two games of the playoffs against Vancouver. "He's got plus power," Vancouver manager Dennis Rogers said. "He hit two home runs off us that first night that went about 900 feet combined."
Harvey can drive pitches up or down in the zone out of the park, and feasts against fastballs with average velocity or worse. Plus fastballs and good breaking balls gave him trouble because his swing tends to get long and his pitch selection isn't advanced, leading him to swing through a lot of balls.
Harvey played two-thirds of his games in right field, where his arm strength fits fine, and the others at DH. He's an average outfielder who sometimes took tentative routes to balls and probably will settle in as a major league left fielder with a spot on the home run leader board.
"If he makes adjustments with the offspeed pitches, and I think he will, he's going to have quite a major league future," Gideon said.
||CARLOS GONZALEZ, of, Yakima Bears (Diamondbacks)
Age: 18 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 178 B-T: L_L Drafted/Signed: Diamondbacks FA '02 (Venezuela)
Gonzalez hit .275 in 14 April games at Class A South Bend before breaking his hand and getting sent back to repeat the Northwest League. He hit for a similar average but ranked sixth in the league in hits while showing plus power potential as an 18-year-old.
Gonzalez also used his superior arm strength to record a league-best 14 outfield assists. His skill set is similar to Herrera's, right down to the need to develop better plate discipline. Gonzalez did show the ability to adjust to breaking balls, going from a .212 July average to a torrid .353 in August.
"He's going to be a major league player, no doubt," Boise manager Tom Beyers said. "You look at his body and his swing, he's going to hit for power. And it's unbelievable watching him throw."
||CRAIG WHITAKER, rhp, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (Giants)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 188 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Giants '03 (1)
Whitaker works in the 90-95 mph range now and stands to add velocity as he bulks up his 6-foot-4 frame. He also throws a big-breaking curveball that also can be a plus pitch.
"He's got good stuff," Salem-Keizer manager Joe Strain said, "but he's still learning how to pitch and developing his pitches."
Nothing exemplified that more than Whitaker's league-leading walks total, which accompanied his No. 2 rank in strikeouts. Command is still an issue, as is consistency with the breaking ball. He began to use his average changeup effectively as the season went on.
"He threw some fastballs against us that really exploded and if he can throw his plus secondary pitches for strikes--look out," Rogers said. "He's the typical rough-around-the-edges young pitcher, and the Giants are always good at developing that type of arm."
||MATT TUIASOSOPO, ss, Everett AquaSox (Mariners)
Age: 18 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Mariners '04 (3)
The Mariners gave their third-round pick first-round money, and Tuiasosopo hit like he deserved it in the Rookie-level Arizona League (.412-4-12 in 20 games). He faced more of a challenge after a promotion to Everett, as older pitchers preyed on his aggressiveness. Still, managers could see hints of his offensive skills.
"What a body this kid's got," Spokane manager Darryl Kennedy said. "He's a little raw, but has power and handled himself pretty good. He didn't seem overmatched."
A tight pennant race and experienced AquaSox infield limited him to do DH. He played just five games at shortstop but worked on his defense with Everett coach Darrin Garner every day.
"He has an impact bat, but he's still a young kid with a great approach," Everett manager Pedro Grifol said. "We wanted him to get some at-bats here and mature while being challenged with the ups and downs. I'm looking for big things out of him next year."
||JUAN MORILLO, rhp, Tri-City Dust Devils (Rockies)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 160 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Rockies FA '01 (Dominican Republic)
Morillo has been pitching for just three years but already lights up three digits on radar guns. His inexperience was evident in a rushed, rare-back-and-fire delivery the Tri-City staff had to overhaul, but the results are encouraging. His fastball got into the upper-90s in every outing but remains a bit too straight.
Morillo scrapped his curveball for a hard slider that zooms in at 86 mph. He's also developed a feel for a changeup, but that pitch registers 85 mph and needs to be tweaked for more separation from his power pitches. Control is an issue; Morillo ranked second in the league in walks in addition to finishing fourth in strikeouts and ERA.
"He's effectively wild," Gideon said. "You don't know where it's going and then he'll bring one right down the middle and you can't touch it."
||RICHIE ROBNETT, of, Vancouver Canadians (Athletics)
Age: 21 Ht: 5-10 Wt: 195 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Athletics '04 (1)
Robnett gave Vancouver two athletic outfielders. He's not as fluid as Herrera but displays a hard-working, grind-it-out approach to the game. "Since he arrived here to where he is now, he's improved 30 percent," Rogers said. Robnett has worked his way into being a solid outfielder and will probably end up moving from center field to a corner as he progresses.
Though he could show more discipline at the plate, Robnett has a solid swing that should produce gap power and the ball jumps off his bat when he squares it up--which is something for him to work on.
"He missed some fastballs in some hittable counts," one manager said. "His bat is a question for me. He was late on good fastballs."
||ASDRUBAL CABRERA, ss, Everett AquaSox (Mariners)
Age: 18 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 170 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Mariners FA '02 (Venezuela)
Cabrera rates as the league's best defensive infielder because of his sure hands, quick feet and impressive range. His arm rates average, but it's plenty accurate. He made all the routine plays and some spectacular ones. He drew a comparison to another Cabrera, Orlando of the Red Sox.
"He's pretty polished for an 18-year-old," Kennedy said. "He didn't make many mistakes and knew how to play the position."
Cabrera has decent strength for his age and size, which manifested itself in steady gap-to-gap power numbers. His game, however, will be handling the bat atop a lineup. He makes solid contact, has good at-bats and should hit for average. Cabrera's speed rates as average, but he won't be a basestealing threat.
||MATT MACRI, 3b, Tri-City Dust Devils (Rockies)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 200 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Rockies '04 (5)
Macri ranked second in the league in slugging by using his strong wrists to shoot balls into the gaps. His season ended prematurely because of plantar fasciitis. He's more a doubles hitter than a true home run threat but can drive the ball whether he pulls it or goes the other way. He normally stays on pitches well and demonstrates an understanding of the strike zone (fifth in the league in on-base percentage), but will chase pitches when he's struggling.
Macri plays third base with adequate range (he's better going to his glove side), good hands and a strong, accurate arm.
"He's got shortstop-type actions at third base," Kennedy said of Macri, who played that position some in college. The Rockies are looking to move him to second base in instructional league, and his bat could make him a standout offensive player at that position.
||CHRIS CARTER, of, Yakima Bears (Diamondbacks)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 200 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Diamondbacks '04 (17)
Carter led the league in slugging by using his tremendous raw power to drive nearly any pitch out of the park. He's an attacking hitter whose selectivity allowed for frequent contact and more walks than strikeouts. He had a 32-game on-base streak (and the league's No. 2 on-base mark) and earned a late-season jump to low Class A South Bend.
"He hits everything," Yakima manager Bill Plummer said. "He hits sliders for home runs, offspeed pitches, lefthanders, balls to the opposite field."
Carter was nearly as offensive in the field as he was at the plate, however, and DH looks like his future position. He struggled reading and taking routes to fly balls.
"He's a guy you need a defensive replacement for late in the game because he's a liability in the outfield and first base didn't work either," one manager said. "He's not absolutely falling down out there, but he's not winning you a Gold Glove either."
||JIM MILLER, rhp, Tri-City Dust Devils (Rockies)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Rockies '04 (8)
Miller more than doubled the saves total of every other pitcher in the league, and was so dominant that he ranked seventh in the league in strikeouts by averaging 1.76 an inning, or almost 16 per nine.
Miller does it with a fastball that sits in the 92-94 mph range and can venture higher when he gets into the flow of the game. He can work it effectively to both sides of the plate, though it tends to arrive fairly straight. His slider offers no such movement problems with its late two-plane break. Miller also features a solid changeup, though he rarely used it.
"He's very tough to beat," Kennedy said. "He's got an above-average fastball, and then can bury you with that slider late."
||KURT SUZUKI, c, Vancouver Canadians (Athletics)
Age: 21 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 200 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Athletics '04 (2)
Helping Cal State Fullerton win the College World Series left Suzuki a bit worn out once he arrived in Vancouver. Still, his feel for the game and leadership abilities reminded managers of Paul Lo Duca with better defensive skills. Fatigue forced Suzuki's average arm strength to play down, though he still managed 1.9-second pop times. He calls a solid game and blocks pitches well, but still needs to refine his receiving skills.
Suzuki demonstrated a patient approach with the bat, and should emerge as a quality hitter with gap-to-gap power once he makes an adjustment with his swing. "He needs to use the whole field," Rogers said. "In college and here, he pulled the ball so much. He'll become a plus hitter if he can do that."
||ERIC HURLEY, rhp, Spokane Indians (Rangers)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 195 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Rangers '04 (1)
Like Tuiasosopo, Hurley wasn't able to repeat his Arizona League success following a promotion. His ERA wasn't pretty, and he never worked more than four innings so he didn't record a win. He assumed the added burden of following John Danks, a first-round pick out of high school who shined in a late taste of the NWL last summer. Still, some managers saw skills that give Hurley a big upside if he improves the quality of his strikes and becomes more polished.
Hurley reached 93-94 mph from a three-quarters arm slot that produced good movement. He complemented it with a solid feel for a changeup and a slider that could become at least average.
"We didn't sniff him," said Grifol, also an area scout for the Mariners. "I liked him as an amateur, and I like him as a pro."
||SHAWN NOTTINGHAM, Lhp, Everett AquaSox (Mariners)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 190 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Mariners '03 (13)
Nottingham led the league in wins, strikeouts and innings by pitching with command and poise beyond his 19 years. The Mariners thought enough of his attributes that Nottingham made three relief appearances at Triple-A Tacoma just before the short-season leagues began.
His fastball clocks in between 85-89 mph, but Nottingham can throw that and his curveball for strikes whenever he chooses. His changeup proved his best pitch, and led managers to compare him to two current Mariners lefthanders, Jamie Moyer and Travis Blackley.
"Kids that have a good changeup, especially lefthanders, they do real well at these levels but have to prove it at Triple-A," Plummer said. "He knows how to pitch and competes."
||A.J. SHAPPI, rhp, Yakima Bears (Diamondbacks)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 195 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Diamondbacks '04 (9)
Shappi's ERA ranked second in the league to Spokane righthander Clint Brannon, who set a league record with a 0.59 mark. While both pitchers succeed with command and an upper-80s fastball, Shappi offers more upside because his hard slider rates as a plus pitch with a downward tilt.
Shappi can put his sinking fastball anywhere in the strike zone, and he's especially adept at working both sides of the plate. His above-average command makes up for 86-89 mph velocity. Shappi also shows great arm action on his changeup, allowing it to grade out at average or above.
"He really knows how to pitch," Beyers said. "When he gets in a tough situation, he has a lot of options because he can throw three pitches for strikes."
||LANDON POWELL, c, Vancouver Canadians (Athletics)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 235 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Athletics '04 (1)
The Athletics drafted Powell for his bat, but he was tired following a long college season and didn't put up great numbers while splitting his time behind the plate and at DH. Powell shows power from both sides of the plate and the discipline to have good at-bats and walk more than he strikes out.
Powell won't ever be much more than an average defender, which is fine if he shows the power expected. He's a hard worker who already shows solid arm strength and a good release. He must improve his receiving skills, especially handling low pitches and blocking balls.
"He's not Pudge Rodriguez back there, but he's respectable," Rogers said. "He has a quick release and needs to clean up some other things as he makes catching just as high a priority as hitting."
||ROSS OHLENDORF, rhp, Yakima Bears (Diamondbacks)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 235 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Diamondbacks '04 (4)
Ohlendorf's prospect status is more similar to that of a player drafted out of high school, not Princeton: He has a strong, sturdy pitcher's frame, a low-90s fastball and a hard curveball that rates as a plus pitch at times. He needs to refine a sometimes violent delivery and improve his changeup and overall command. Even if he doesn't develop the change, Ohlendorf could still emerge as a power relief arm.
"He has good sink and movement on his fastball, and uses his curveball well," Plummer said. "He improved each time out. He's still a little rough around the edges and isn't polished mechanically."
Ohlendorf's final three starts were a microcosm of his strengths and weaknesses. He threw seven shutout innings one night, walked six batters in four innings the next start and then finished his season with 11 strikeouts and just one walk over six innings.
ORLANDO MERCADO JR., c, Yakima Bears (Diamondbacks)
Age: 19 Ht: 5-10 Wt: 195 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Diamondbacks '04 (6)
Mercado shows the tools to develop into a consistent, above-average catch-and-throw guy much like his father, who spent parts of eight seasons in the majors. "He's got it in his genes," Gideon said. "He knows how to catch and play the game because of his dad."
Mercado's arm is average now, but plays better because of a quick release and could improve once he cleans up his mechanics and hones his release point. His receiving and game-calling should also improve with experience.
Unlike his father, Mercado has the ability to make contact at the plate, collecting more walks than strikeouts. He makes adjustments and swings with gap-to-gap power for now but could add power as he matures. He could mature as a player as well, as at least one manager thought he slacked off late in the year as Yakima drifted into last place.
||MIKE NICKEAS, c, Spokane Indians (Rangers)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 205 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Rangers '04 (5)
Nothing about Nickeas' overall game jumped out at managers, but they also had a hard time finding faults and he was regarded as at least average in nearly every category. He calls a decent game, possesses solid arm strength, displays good hands and blocks balls adequately.
Nickeas swings aggressively in the strike zone and shows power when he jumps into a pitch he wants. He can drive a ball the opposite way, but also strikes out more than some might like. He tied for third in the league in RBIs. Managers think he'll hit 10 to 20 home runs a year.
"Defensively, he's solid," Strain said. "He hit enough. I don't think he's an offensive catcher, but he's got plenty of bat to get to the big leagues."
||TOMAS SANTIAGO, rhp, Tri-City Dust Devils (Rockies)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 210 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Rockies '02 (39)
Santiago struggled for two years as a reliever but found success after moving into the rotation at Tri-City. He uses his low-90s sinker with plus movement more often and more effectively as a starter. It elicits plenty of ground balls and sets up his secondary pitches well. His hard slider and circle changeup both generate swings-and-misses, and the change drops enough for hitters to believe it's a split-finger.
"I like his stuff," Strain said. "It's hard, he has command of it and he did everything he wanted with his pitches."
Santiago proved both reliable and durable in the rotation, ranking sixth in the league in strikeouts and seventh in ERA and innings pitched. His feel for pitching also improved as the longer outings allowed for more repetitions and a better flow.