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2004 Top 20 Prospects: Pacific Coast League
Complete Index of League Top 20s

By Jim Callis
October 8, 2004


Chat Wrap: Jim Callis took your PCL questions

FIVE YEARS AGO
1. *Rick Ankiel, lhp, Memphis (Cardinals)
2. *Ruben Mateo, of, Oklahoma (Rangers)
3. *Aramis Ramirez, 3b, Nashville (Pirates)
4. *Chad Hermansen, of, Nashville (Pirates)
5. *Ben Davis, c, Las Vegas (Padres)
6. *Ben Petrick, c, Colorado Springs (Rockies)
7. *Tim Hudson, rhp, Vancouver (Athletics)
8. *Mark Mulder, lhp, Vancouver (Athletics)
9. *Ramon Ortiz, rhp, Edmonton (Angels)
10. *Daryle Ward, 1b, New Orleans (Astros)

* Played in the majors

It was far from a good year for talent in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Just don't tell that to fans of the Salt Lake Stingers or the pitchers who had to face them.

After the Angels demoted Casey Kotchman from the majors on June 14 and promoted Dallas McPherson from Double-A eight days later, Salt Lake could boast not only the two best prospects in the PCL, but two of the best in the entire minors. Neither wasted any time savaging Triple-A pitching, as Kotchman had three multihit games in his first four starts, and McPherson homered 10 times in his first 20 contests.

Neither let up, as Kotchman batted .372-5-38 in 49 games and McPherson hit .313-20-57 in 67. Kotchman's batting average and McPherson's .680 slugging percentage would have led the PCL if they had enough plate appearances. PCL observers were fairly split on which one will be a better big leaguer, with Kotchman getting a slight nod.

"I'd take Kotchman," one scout said. "I think he's a more consistent hitter and he'll give you more quality at-bats. He has the chance to develop power close to McPherson's. Day in and day out, he's going to be a more productive player."

As exciting as Kotchman and McPherson were, league-wide pitching was just as disappointing. The best arm in the PCL belonged to Las Vegas' Edwin Jackson, but he never seemed fully healthy and posted a 5.86 ERA. Colorado's Jeff Francis, Memphis' Dan Haren and Omaha's Zack Greinke all could stake a claim to being the league's top pitching prospect, but none of them qualified for this list.

1. CASEY KOTCHMAN, 1b, Salt Lake Stingers (Angels)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 210 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Angels '01 (1)

AB:199
R:32
H:74
2B:22
3B:0
HR:5
RBI:38
BB:14
SO:25
SB:0
CS:0
AVG:.372
OBP:.423
SLG:.558
Kotchman is such a gifted young hitter that he went 48 plate appearances in the majors before striking out for the first time. He batted .372 in 2004 to raise his minor league career average to .343. His classic lefthanded swing has delivered line drives to all fields since he signed in 2001.

His over-the-fence power will come. One scout thinks the low finish in Kotchman's stroke will limit him to 25 homers annually, but two others believe he easily could hit 30 and as many as 40. He controls the strike zone so well that it's just a matter of getting stronger and translating his batting-practice pop to games.

Also slick with the glove, Kotchman has been named his league's best defensive first baseman in each of his three full seasons. The only blemish on his rsum is a consistent history of injuries. He missed all but one game in July with wrist and shoulder strains, and there's some concern that he may be brittle.

2. DALLAS McPHERSON, 3b, Salt Lake Stingers (Angels)
Age: 24 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 230 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Angels '01 (2)

AB:259
R:54
H:81
2B:19
3B:8
HR:20
RBI:57
BB:23
SO:95
SB:6
CS:3
AVG:.313
OBP:.370
SLG:.680
McPherson spent most of the year batting cleanup behind Kotchman, an arrangement that could continue in the majors in the near future. More electrifying and less consistent at the plate than Kotchman, McPherson had 40 homers and 126 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A, drilling several tape-measure shots.

"His numbers are ludicrous," Tucson manager Chip Hale said. "Our pitchers are scared to death of him. They know if they make a mistake, he'll hit it out of the park."

Earlier in his career, McPherson had a more fluid swing and let his power come naturally. Now he looks like Jason Giambi, collapsing his back leg and trying to lift pitches out of the park. He sits on fastballs, and PCL observers had differing opinions of his ability to hit quality breaking balls.

While he knows the strike zone, McPherson's approach resulted in a 95-23 strikeout-walk ratio in 67 games. His whiffs didn't draw as many red flags as his defense. He has enough arm strength but looks stiff at third base, and the consensus is that he'll eventually move to an outfield corner.

3. EDWIN JACKSON, rhp, Las Vegas 51s (Dodgers)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Dodgers '01 (6)

W:6
L:4
ERA:5.86
G:19
SV:0
IP:90.2
H:90
HR:4
BB:55
SO:70
AVG:.265
After a breakthrough 2003 that included beating Randy Johnson in his major league debut on his 20th birthday, Jackson was primed for a run at Rookie of the Year. But he quickly pitched his way out of the Dodgers rotation in spring training and later missed a month with a strained forearm.

Jackson's pure stuff is still unquestioned. When he was 100 percent, he pitched at 93-97 mph with his fastball and showed a nasty slider. He developed so rapidly a year ago that he's still learning how to pitch. He gets into trouble when his fastball and slider flatten out and he leaves them up in the zone.

Jackson doesn't throw his changeup enough, and his command slipped a notch this year. At times he tries to be too fine with his pitches rather than just overpowering hitters with them. He may not have enough feel for pitching to become a true No. 1 starter, but he should be at least a No. 2 or a possible closer.

4. NICK SWISHER, of, Sacramento RiverCats (Athletics)
Age: 23 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 190 B-T: B-L Drafted/Signed: Athletics '02 (1)

AB:443
R:109
H:119
2B:28
3B:2
HR:29
RBI:92
BB:103
SO:109
SB:3
CS:3
AVG:.269
OBP:.406
SLG:.537
Swisher couldn't be a more perfect fit for the Athletics, who emphasize power and plate discipline. He had the best plate discipline in the PCL, leading the minors with 103 walks, including a remarkable 43 in June. Called up in September to fill in for the injured Jermaine Dye, he reached base in seven of his first nine plate appearances.

After hitting just 21 homers in his first 1 1/2 pro seasons, Swisher hit 29 in Triple-A. Eighteen of those homers came in the second half, when he became more aggressive at working counts to find a pitch to drive rather than just taking a walk.

That power surge is a key to his future, because his future is on an outfield corner. Swisher played center field well enough in Sacramento, but his speed and range aren't up to major league standards. He'd be a Gold Glove candidate if Oakland moved him to first base. He's very competitive, along the lines of a Paul O'Neill, and did a better job channeling his intensity this year.

5. JOSE LOPEZ, inf, Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Mariners FA '00 (Venezuela)

AB:275
R:40
H:81
2B:19
3B:0
HR:13
RBI:39
BB:16
SO:30
SB:5
CS:2
AVG:.295
OBP:.342
SLG:.505
Managers rated Lopez the PCL's most exciting player, and he has uncommon offensive potential for a shortstop. He already has solid-average power at age 20, and pitchers quickly learned not to challenge him with fastballs on the inner half. "He can pull a bullet," one scout said.

Lopez consistently gets the fat part of the bat on the ball, making consistent hard contact but to the detriment of drawing walks. He'll need to be more selective and do better against breaking balls after major league pitchers exploited those weaknesses. He has average speed and runs the bases well.

He saw action at shortstop as well as second and third base in Tacoma because the Mariners wanted him to be ready for the first infield job that became available. Lopez has thicker legs and less quickness than a typical shortstop, but he may be able to stay at the position because of his instincts and strong arm.

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

AB:223
R:40
H:71
2B:10
3B:5
HR:5
RBI:36
BB:23
SO:22
SB:14
CS:2
AVG:.305
OBP:.366
SLG:.455
The biggest prize for the Mariners in late June's Freddy Garcia trade with the White Sox, Reed drew Mark Kotsay comparisons from all corners of the PCL. They're extremely similar hitters who hit for average, make consistent line-drive contact and draw their share of walks. They both squeeze every ounce of ability out of their tools.

Both have 15-homer power, and that might be a problem for Reed. He's a little quicker than Kotsay but can't match his defensive instincts, so Reed may not be able to man center field in Seattle. He plays shallow and is a borderline average center fielder, but average probably isn't good enough for spacious Safeco Field.

If Reed has to move, his power will be substandard for a left fielder. He's still gifted enough at the plate, on the bases and in the field to help a club at that position, but he profiles better if he can stay in center.

7. CHRIS BURKE, 2b, New Orleans Zephyrs (Astros)
Age: 24 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 180 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Astros '01 (1)

AB:483
R:93
H:152
2B:33
3B:6
HR:16
RBI:52
BB:55
SO:76
SB:37
CS:14
AVG:.315
OBP:.396
SLG:.507
After the Astros took Burke 10th overall in the 2001 draft, they immediately tried to dispel the notion that he would be the next Craig Biggio. While it's far too early to say Burke will become a deserving Hall of Fame candidate, his resemblance to a young Biggio is uncanny.

For the first time in his career, Burke didn't dabble with playing shortstop in 2004. He mentally accepted that he was a second baseman, relaxed and took off with the bat. He's a top-of-the-order catalyst with surprising pop and basestealing ability.

The best defensive second baseman in the PCL, Burke has good range to both sides and his arm fits better at that position. He needs to polish his ability to turn the double play.

8. JOE BLANTON, rhp, Sacramento RiverCats (Athletics)
Age: 23 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 225 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Athletics '02 (1)

W:11
L:8
ERA:4.19
G:28
SV:0
IP:176.1
H:199
HR:13
BB:34
SO:143
AVG:.284
Scouts say that Blanton's makeup might be better than his stuff, and they mean that as a compliment. He's a bulldog who throws strikes and eats innings, and they see his ceiling as a No. 3 starter, possibly a No. 2.

"If I had to win a game right now, and I could take any pitcher in the PCL, I'd take him," one scout said. "He has a great feel for pitching, and his stuff is just solid."

Blanton came to the PCL with the reputation of having a plus fastball and nasty breaking stuff. He pitched mostly at 88-91 mph, with the life on his heater more notable than its velocity. Observers preferred his curveball to his slider but weren't overwhelmed by either.

9. JUAN DOMINGUEZ, rhp, Oklahoma RedHawks (Rangers)
Age: 24 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 195 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Rangers FA '99 (Dominican Republic)

W:5
L:1
ERA:3.13
G:9
SV:0
IP:54.2
H:41
HR:3
BB:19
SO:41
AVG:.205
A healthy Dominguez might have made a difference in the Rangers' drive for the playoffs. He breezed through the PCL with two plus pitches, but he strained his back in the majors in mid-June and barely pitched afterward. He returned to pitch six strong innings against Oakland in mid-September, then went back on the disabled list with a right knee injury.

Dominguez uses the same arm action on his 91-96 mph fastball and his circle changeup, leaving hitters guessing. He slings the ball somewhat, which has made it hard to refine his slider into a dependable third pitch. He induces a lot of groundballs and showed more poise in the majors this year than he did in 2003.

10. YADIER MOLINA, c, Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals)
Age: 22 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 225 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Cardinals '00 (4)

AB:126
R:19
H:39
2B:6
3B:0
HR:1
RBI:14
BB:16
SO:13
SB:0
CS:0
AVG:.310
OBP:.390
SLG:.381
The third Molina brother to catch in the majorsBengie and Jose are on the AngelsYadier spent most of the year backing up Mike Matheny in St. Louis. A similar defender with more offensive potential than Matheny, Molina should soon displace him as the starter.

Molina led PCL regulars by throwing out 38 percent of basestealers and was easily the top defensive catcher in the league. His receiving skills are also a plus, though he sometimes has lapses in concentration. He's still developing as a hitter but made strides this year with his plate discipline and bat control.

11. CLINT NAGEOTTE, rhp, Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners)
Age: 23 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 200 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Mariners '99 (5)

W:6
L:6
ERA:4.46
G:14
SV:0
IP:80.2
H:78
HR:9
BB:35
SO:63
AVG:.256
Nageotte would rank in the middle of the Top 10 if he were a surefire big league starter. The Mariners still envision him becoming part of their rotation, but outside observers think he has a greater chance of making an impact as a power reliever.

His stuff and mentality would seem to fit better in the bullpen. Nageotte has a low-90s fastball that can touch 97 mph, and that takes a backseat to his slider, one of the best at any level of the game. He's aggressive and lives for strikeouts, as opposed to setting up hitters and trying to keep his pitch counts down.

Nageotte had little use for a changeup in the lower minors and has yet to embrace the importance of having a third pitch if he's to remain a starter. Because his fastball command is spotty, he tends to rely on his slider too much, which hurts his durability. He missed the end of the 2003 season with elbow tendinitis and was finished this August with a lower-back strain.

12. RYAN CHURCH, of, Edmonton Trappers (Expos)
Age: 25 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 190 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Indians '00 (14)

AB:347
R:74
H:119
2B:29
3B:8
HR:17
RBI:78
BB:51
SO:62
SB:0
CS:1
AVG:.343
OBP:.428
SLG:.620
Most of former GM Omar Minaya's trades didn't work out for the Expos, but he can be proud of the January deal that sent Scott Stewart to Cleveland for Church and shortstop Maicer Izturis. Both Church and Iztruis responded with career years and could be regulars for the Washington D.C.-bound franchise in 2005.

Some managers thought Church was the best-looking young hitter in the PCL this year. After previously trying to jerk every pitch he saw out of the park, he finally became more selective and began to use the entire field in 2004. Scouts liked him, too, though they weren't as sure that he had quite enough power to bat in the middle of a big league lineup.

Church has average speed and solid arm strength. One scout said he had a better chance to play center field in the majors than Swisher or Reed, but his defensive skills are more suited for right.

13. DAN JOHNSON, 1b, Sacramento RiverCats (Athletics)
Age: 25 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 220 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Athletics '01 (7)

AB:535
R:95
H:160
2B:29
3B:5
HR:29
RBI:111
BB:89
SO:93
SB:0
CS:1
AVG:.299
OBP:.403
SLG:.535
Johnson's 225 RBIs over the last two seasons are more than any minor leaguer, and he captured the PCL MVP award after driving in 111 this year. He also was the top hitter in the playoffs, batting .468 as the RiverCats won their second straight title.

He's similar to Oakland DH Erubiel Durazo and may take his job in 2005. Both are big guys who hit for average, get on base and post respectable but not outstanding home run totals. Johnson can hit quality fastballs and batted .302 against lefthanders in 2004, though just one of his 29 homers came against them.

Unlike Durazo and to his advantage, Johnson isn't clumsy and can play a position. He's not the smoothest of first basemen, but he has worked very hard to get himself into better shape and become an adequate fielder.

14. FREDDY GUZMAN, of, Portland Beavers (Padres)
Age: 23 Ht: 5-10 Wt: 165 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Padres FA '00 (Dominican Republic)

AB:264
R:48
H:77
2B:12
3B:4
HR:1
RBI:19
BB:30
SO:46
SB:48
CS:5
AVG:.292
OBP:.365
SLG:.379
Guzman is so tailor-made for the spacious gaps at Petco Park that San Diego handed him its center-field job in mid-August. The Padres weren't sure he was ready to hit in the majors, but they were in the midst of a pennant race and wanted his defense in the lineup. "Everything from left center to right center," Portland manager Craig Colbert said, "if it goes up in the air he'll get a glove on it."

Guzman wasn't ready to hit but has the tools to be a leadoff hitter along the lines of Juan Pierre. He understands the importance of walks but needs to cut down his swing and worry about handling offspeed pitches rather than trying to crush fastballs. He also can use the bunt to get on base.

He possesses tremendous speed and knows how to use it, leading the minors with 90 steals in 2003 and the PCL with 48 in just 66 games this year. Guzman covers plenty of ground in center field, though he can be a little reckless and has a weak arm.

15. CLINT BARMES, ss, Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Rockies)
Age: 25 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 175 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Rockies '00 (10)

AB:533
R:104
H:175
2B:42
3B:2
HR:16
RBI:51
BB:28
SO:61
SB:20
CS:8
AVG:.328
OBP:.376
SLG:.505
A year ago, scouts and managers viewed Barmes as a utilityman at best. In 2004, he boosted his average 52 points to .328 and more than doubled his homer production from seven to 16, becoming the best prospect on a Sky Sox club that also included third baseman Garrett Atkins and catcher J.D. Closser. Barmes doesn't have an outstanding tool, but he's solid across the board and gets the most out of what he has.

"He's made incredible progress," Iowa manager Mike Quade said. "I'll be the first to admit I fringed him last year, and now he's a solid-average prospect at shortstop."

Barmes drew comparisons to Mark Loretta and Twins prospect Jason Bartlett. He should be able to hit for a decent average in the majors while reaching double figures in homers and steals. He doesn't walk much, though he makes very good contact.

While he isn't an acrobat at shortstop, Barmes has excellent hands and makes the routine plays. He looks like he can stay there, a key for him to play every day in the big leagues. He might not have enough bat to be a regular at another position.

16. LUIS TERRERO, of, Tucson Sidewinders (Diamondbacks)
Age: 24 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 205 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Diamondbacks FA '97 (Dominican Republic)

AB:215
R:36
H:68
2B:9
3B:6
HR:9
RBI:35
BB:15
SO:47
SB:15
CS:3
AVG:.316
OBP:.372
SLG:.540
If Terrero had Barmes' makeup, he'd zoom up this list. While his physical skills are obvious, scouts and managers openly question whether he has the poise and maturity to handle adversity and make the adjustments needed to succeed at the next level.

After being ejected from a May 25 game for fighting with Albuquerque catcher Matt Treanor, Terrero got into an altercation with a fan and allegedly hit a woman with a baseball. The PCL suspended him five games for the fight and indefinitely for the incident with the fan, and mandated that he attend anger-management classes. Terrero missed five weeks and got into trouble four games later, getting pulled from a game and benched for another because he kissed home plate after hitting a home run.

Terrero, who replaced Steve Finley as Arizona's center fielder following Finley's trade to the Dodgers, is a pure center fielder with a very strong arm, above-average speed and 20-homer power. But he's too aggressive at the plate, taking huge cuts and struggling against breaking balls. He had trouble making contact in the majors.

17. GARRETT ATKINS, 3b, Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Rockies)
Age: 24 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 210 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Rockies '00 (5)

AB:445
R:88
H:163
2B:43
3B:3
HR:15
RBI:94
BB:57
SO:45
SB:0
CS:0
AVG:.366
OBP:.434
SLG:.578
Though he led the minors in hitting (.366) and the PCL in doubles (43) and on-base percentage (.434), Atkins fell nine spots from his No. 8 ranking on this list a year ago. Scouts respect his ability to make line-drive contact but didn't like his power, defense or work ethic.

Atkins' numbers were boosted by the thin air at Colorado Springs, where he batted .406 with 39 of his 61 extra-base hits. He opened his stance this year, so he uses less of an inside-out swing and more of the whole field. He controls the strike zone extremely well.

Atkins never has hit more than 15 homers in a minor league season, however, because he doesn't try to drive the ball. That approach won't cut it at third base, where he has poor range and footwork, and certainly not at first base, where he really should play but is blocked by Todd Helton. Atkins saw time in left field in September for Colorado, but doesn't work hard on his defense and may be nothing more than a DHan obvious problem for a National Leaguer.

18. BOBBY MADRITSCH, lhp, Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners)
Age: 28 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Reds '98 (6)

W:5
L:2
ERA:3.75
G:12
SV:0
IP:62.1
H:61
HR:3
BB:26
SO:53
AVG:.251
After tying for the minor league lead with 17 wins in 2003, Travis Blackley was the big-name lefty in the Tacoma rotation. But Madritsch outpitched him in the PCL and made a far more positive impression in the majors, where Blackley nibbled and got hammered. Madritsch went 6-3, 3.27 in 15 outings, turning in eight quality starts in 11 tries.

Though he has a consistent low-90s fastball that peaks at 95 mph, the pitch that makes Madritsch is his plus changeup. Though he slows down his delivery when he throws it, the changeup fools hitters and keeps righthanders at bay. They hit just .186 against him in the PCL, .220 in the big leagues.

Madritsch's arm action is long in the back, which has hampered him in his attempts to develop a breaking ball. His curve is a 35 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. He compensates with his fastball-changeup combo and his moxie, which helped him persevere through a shoulder injury early in his career and a two-year detour in independent ball.

19. BRENDAN HARRIS, inf, Iowa Cubs/Edmonton Trappers (Expos)
Age: 24 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Cubs '01 (5)

AB:384
R:68
H:114
2B:27
3B:1
HR:17
RBI:59
BB:26
SO:61
SB:0
CS:2
AVG:.297
OBP:.340
SLG:.505
Like he did with Scott Stewart, former Expos GM Omar Minaya parlayed Orlando Cabrera into two prospects who should help the franchise when it's ready to contend again. Harris and hard-throwing reliever Francis Beltran (who didn't spend enough time in the PCL to qualify for this list) came from the Cubs in the four-team Nomar Garciaparra trade. If the Expos don't re-sign Tony Batista, Harris would become their starting third baseman next year.

Harris shuffled between second base, third base and shortstop this year, and he's a bit of a tweener. His line-drive, gap-power bat fits better at second, while defensively he looks the best at the hot corner. He has enough raw power to make it at third base, and his instincts and work ethic would allow him to get by at second.

20. NOAH LOWRY, lhp, Fresno Grizzlies (Giants)
Age: 24 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210 B-T: R-L Drafted/Signed: Giants '01 (1)

W:7
L:5
ERA:4.13
G:17
SV:0
IP:89.1
H:98
HR:9
BB:28
SO:73
AVG:.278
Lowry won't win any rookie-of-the-year awards, but there may not have been a more valuable first-year player in the big leagues. After two brief callups earlier in the season, the Giants pressed him into their rotation in August and he responded with a three-hit shutout of the Reds. Lowry won all six of his decisions and had seven quality starts in 11 tries, including his final four outings.

Like Madritsch, Lowry pitches off of his changeup, which has improved from below average to plus over the last year. He locates his high-80s fastball down and away, so he rarely gives up homers. Neither his curveball nor cutter is average, but he uses them as show-me pitches and throws them for strikes.

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