2004 Top 20 Prospects: South Atlantic League
Complete Index of League Top 20s
By John Manuel
September 28, 2004
John Manuel took your Sally League questions
|FIVE YEARS AGO
1. *Rafael Furcal, ss, Macon (Braves)
2. *Jason Standridge, rhp, Charleston S.C. (Devil Rays)
3. *Jason Jennings, rhp, Asheville (Rockies)
4. *Felipe Lopez, ss, Hagerstown (Blue Jays)
5. Brad Baisley, rhp, Piedmont (Phillies)
6. Rico Washington, c, Hickory (Pirates)
7. *J.J. Davis, of, Hickory (Pirates)
8. Jorge Nunez, 2b, Hagerstown (Blue Jays)
9. *Choo Freeman, of, Asheville (Rockies)
10. *Humberto Cota, c, Hickory (Pirates)
* Played in the majors
With a 16-team league, narrowing down a prospect list to 20 can be a challenge. With a 16-team league as stacked as the low Class A South Atlantic League was in 2004, it's nearly impossible.
Managers and scouts agreed the talent in the Sally League was as good as it had been in a long time, possibly since the 1995 crop that included Andruw Jones and Vladimir Guerrero. That year, Jones and Guerrero stood atop a pack of impact bats that also included future big leaguers such as Todd Helton and Carlos Lee.
This year's SAL looks similar, with star power at the top in Delmon Young, Ian Stewart and Lastings Milledge, as well as plenty of depth with speedy outfielders and other potential power hitters.
"The league was just outstanding," Augusta manager Chad Epperson said. "It wasn't just that you had star players like Delmon Young, Ian Stewart, Lastings Milledge, Brandon Moss, Josh Anderson. They all had help. They had good teammates. That's a big reason you had these young players with talent putting up all these numbers."
||DELMON YOUNG, of, Charleston River Dogs (Devil Rays)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 205 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Devil Rays '03 (1)
Young arrived with the hype of being the No. 1 overall pick in 2003, but he didn't live up to it in April. He drew only one walk, struck out 19 times in 84 at-bats and didn't hit for much power. Slowly at first and then with amazing consistency in the second half, Young proved why he was the top choice by making adjustments uncommon for an 18-year-old.
He doesn't have overwhelming bat speed, but he generates huge power with brute strength and a swing path that keeps the bat head in the zone a long time. His opposite-field pop helped him handle opponents who tried to pound him inside with fastballs. He led the SAL with 116 RBIs, 103 coming in the final four months.
"He was so impressive," Kannapolis manager Chris Cron said. "He ran hard to first. He swung at breaking balls that were in the strike zone, which not many kids in this league do. He wasn't trying to pull the ball. He just had a real professional approach."
Young's routes on fly balls could use some improvement, and he started to make some. His plus-plus arm is a dynamic weapon in right field.
"He changes the outcome of every game with his power and his arm," Charleston Alley Cats manager Ken Joyce said. "He's a very special player."
||IAN STEWART, 3b, Asheville Tourists (Rockies)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 205 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Rockies '03 (1)
For the first half of the season, Stewart was clearly the Sally League's best player. Only Young's considerable presence kept Stewart out of the top spot. He was similarly impressive, showing power and poise beyond his years.
Stewart hit 30 homers and 31 doubles, and he didn't owe his league-leading .594 slugging percentage to Asheville's cozy McCormick Field, posting near-identical numbers at home and on the road.
"I liked his swing, liked his arm and liked his glove," Hickory manager Dave Clark said. "That's a pretty good start. You have a lefthanded-hitting third baseman with power, that's pretty huge."
Stewart's short, powerful swing makes his bat his best tool, but he's more than adequate defensively. Managers liked his steadiness with the glove as well as his quickness and agility.
||LASTINGS MILLEDGE, of, Capital City Bombers (Mets)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 185 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Mets '03 (1)
Milledge often gets lost in the discussion of the SAL's great prospects because he played just 65 games at Capital City. He began the year in extended spring training after breaking a finger during a bunting drill and also spent about a month in the high Class A Florida State League.
He made an impact during his time with the Bombers, though, hitting with authority for the first time with a wood bat and helping lead Capital City to the league championship series. He struggled in the playoffs because of the only flaw in his game: his overaggressiveness at the plate. While Young and Stewart project as slightly better hitters, Milledge was the league's best five-tool player. He showed above-average tools across the board.
"The ball just jumps off his bat," Greensboro manager Steve Phillips said. "He had the best bat speed in the league. He's a double threat because of his power and his ability to lead off and make things happen on the bases."
||ADAM MILLER, rhp, Lake County Captains (Indians)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 175 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Rangers '03 (1S)
In a year dominated by high-ceiling position players, Miller made his mark with power pitching. The hardest thrower among Sally League starters, Miller regularly registered 96-97 mph on the radar gun, sitting in the 94-95 range with excellent life down in the strike zone. His hard slider and heavy heater made him especially tough on lefthanders, who batted just .221 with no home runs in 104 at-bats against him.
"He was the elite arm in this league," Lakewood manager P.J. Forbes said. "We hammered him in one game when he didn't locate his stuff, but the next time we saw him he was dirty. His fastball and slider were more than plus."
||YUSMEIRO PETIT, rhp, Capital City Bombers (Mets)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 180 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Mets FA '01 (Venezuela)
One of the surprise stories in the minors this season, Petit finished second in the minors with 200 strikeouts in just 139 innings and completely shackled Sally League hitters, who batted just .159 against him. Righthanders were useless against him (.138) as he showed uncanny command of his fastball, slider and improving changeup.
His 89-92 mph fastball seemed to explode on hitters with late life, and he used it aggressively. Petit's delivery, featuring a lower arm slot and good extension, gives him plenty of deception. Hitters rarely got good swings against him.
"I thought he was the best pitcher in the league," Epperson said. "He was 91-92 late in the game, it had late movement and he threw it downhill. His slider was outstanding and he had phenomenal command. For me, it wasn't even close. The numbers don't lie with him."
||CHUCK TIFFANY, lhp, Columbus Catfish (Dodgers)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 195 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Dodgers '03 (2)
Tiffany has a pedigree as a top pitcher. He was BA's top-rated 14-year-old back in 1999, and he played with Young, Stewart, Milledge and No. 7 prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the U.S. junior national team in 2002. In a crowded field of Sally League lefties, Tiffany stood out because of his ability to dominate.
While his stocky body gives some scouts pause, his stuff doesn't. Tiffany shut down hitters with a nasty curveball, plus changeup and a live 86-90 mph fastball that peaked at 92. At his best, he authored three starts of five or more hitless innings, including seven perfect frames on May 20 at Greensboro. He reached double figures in his final four outings, whiffing a total of 46 hitters in 21 innings.
"He's got a loose arm, though at times his elbow gets low and he leaves stuff up, which is why he gives up some homers," said an American League scout, noting his 11 homers in 100 innings. "He showed a feel for changing speeds, though. His curve has some tilt and occasionally good rotation and depth, and his change had real good arm-side run and fade."
||JARROD SALTALAMACCHIA, c, Rome Braves
Age: 19 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 195 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Braves '03 (1)
If he reaches the big leagues, Saltalamacchia will have the longest surname in major league history. Most SAL managers think it's just a matter of time, though Saltalamacchia didn't put up dominant numbers like other players on this list. An early wrist injury and a hamstring pull that ended his season two weeks early contributed to his average showing.
Physical and strong, Saltalamacchia shows power from both sides of the plate and the tools to handle the demands of catching. He has a loose, natural swing from the left side with loft power potential and needs to work on his righthanded stroke. Savannah manager Bob Henley liked his work behind the plate.
"He's got a good presence back there," said Henley, a former big league catcher. "He can catch and throw, has a strong body and showed a real strong arm."
||BRANDON McCARTHY, rhp, Kannapolis Intimidators (White Sox)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-7 Wt: 180 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: White Sox '02 (17)
The only pitcher to strike out more batters in the minors than Petit this season was McCarthy, who fanned 202 in 172 innings and actually pitched better after leaving Kannapolis. At 6-foot-7 and 180 pounds, McCarthy has some filling out to do physically and should gain velocity on his solid 90-93 mph fastball. It's already an effective pitch because he stays tall in his delivery, throws it downhill and puts it where he wants it.
"He was one of the elite guys for me because he could command the fastball, his curveball and his changeup," Joyce said. "His change was his third pitch, but it was effective because he knew how to use it. He knew how to use all his stuff, which was impressive."
||ANDY LaROCHE, 3b, Columbus Catfish (Dodgers)
Age: 21 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 185 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Dodgers '03 (39)
LaRoche had plenty to accomplish in 2004. He had to live up to his $1 million bonus as a 39th-round pick in 2003, move from shortstop to third base and show he could play a full pro season. He exceeded expectations, showing a blend of power, patience and defensive prowess before a midseason promotion to the Florida State League.
The son of former all-star Dave LaRoche and brother of Braves rookie Adam LaRoche, Andy has above-average bat speed and excellent hand strength, letting him wait on breaking balls before punishing them. He has enough power for the hot corner, and his soft hands, athleticism and average arm help him profile for the position defensively.
"He didn't look like he was new to the position," Charleston RiverDogs manager Steve Livesey said. "He made every play and showed the kind of reaction times you need at third base. I thought he stood out defensively."
||CLINT EVERTS, rhp, Savannah Sand Gnats (Expos)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 170 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Expos '02 (1)
Everts pitched well enough to rank higher on this list, even though his fastball graded out as below average for most of the season. The velocity on his heater dipped to a consistent 84-88 mph, and the reason was discovered after the season. He was diagnosed with ligament damage in his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery that likely will sideline him for the 2005 season.
Everts thrived despite his diminished fastball because he has excellent feel for his secondary pitches. Both his curveball and changeup graded as plus offerings, though his curve lacked the power it had shown in the past. Just 20, he has enough time to make a full recovery and become an elite prospect if his surgery and rehabilitation are successful.
||MICHAEL BOURN, of, Lakewood BlueClaws (Phillies)
Age: 21 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 180 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Phillies '03 (4)
Bourn competed with Lexington's Josh Anderson for the title of SAL's best leadoff man, and after Anderson was promoted, Bourn had the throne all to himself. He earned it, developing into more than just a slash-and-dash player. He did slash and dash his way to the SAL lead in on-base percentage (.430) and stolen bases (58 in 64 tries).
"When he got here, he was third polish-wise among our outfielders," said Forbes, citing Jake Blalock and since-traded Javon Moran. "Now far and away he has taken over as the most polished. He made immense strides. To me, he's the ideal leadoff man."
Bourn is an 80 runner on the 20-80 scale, getting from the left side of the plate to first base in 3.85 seconds. He has solid average arm strength but still has to improve his reads and routes in center field. Bourn's pop proved surprising, as he slugged .466 and led the league with 14 triples.
"He's the fastest player in the league," Phillips said. "I liked him better than Anderson because he has better bat speed and more juice in his bat."
||JACOB STEVENS, lhp, Rome Braves
Age: 19 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 210 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Braves '03 (3)
Stevens and fellow lefty Chuck James formed a potent 1-2 punch in Rome's rotation, putting up nearly identical numbers. Managers and scouts agreed Stevens was the better prospect because he throws harder and has a better breaking ball than James, whose fastball sits in the mid-80s at times.
Epperson credited the Braves with helping Stevens make tremendous progress with his curveball. Managers liked its power and tilt, and it needs only more consistency to be a plus major league curve. Stevens also has a solid-average fastball in the 89-90 mph range with good life, and one area scout rated his command and changeup as above average. The total package helped him rank fifth in the league in strikeouts.
"He's a totally different pitcher from high school," said Epperson, who lives near Stevens in the Fort Myers, Fla., area and saw him as a prepster. "He's learned the curveball, and his body has gone in the right direction. I thought he had a soft body, but now he's in good shape and has good stamina. He's got the fastball and changeup, but that curveball is so good, that's the pitch you've got to watch for if you're the hitter."
||TOM GORZELANNY, lhp, Hickory Crawdads (Pirates)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 200 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Pirates '03 (2)
Gorzelanny spent three years in college--two at Kansas (one as a redshirt) and one at Triton (Ill.) Junior College--so he was a bit older than many of his SAL peers. He also threw harder than most of them. In a one-inning stint at the all-star game, Gorzelanny touched 96, and Hickory manager Dave Clark said he consistently kept his live fastball in the low 90s while also showing the ability to spot the pitch for strikes.
Gorzelanny also throws a power slurve that needs to be tightened up to a slider, and a changeup with split-finger action. Managers liked his toughness and competitiveness as well as his command.
"He topped out at 94 for me, but it was lively," an AL area scout said. "The breaking ball was a power slurve that is a future plus pitch with refinement. He showed solid feel and command for the change and had a very solid mound presence."
||JOSH ANDERSON, of, Lexington Legends (Astros)
Age: 22 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 195 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Astros '03 (4)
Anderson struggled a bit after moving up to high Class A, but he was hard to stop in the SAL and finished the year in the Double-A Texas League. He's still viewed as raw by many managers despite his three years of college background, and he has less power and raw speed than Bourn. However, he's a polished basestealer who led the minors with 78 swipes and was caught just 13 times.
Anderson's stock as a tablesetter would be higher if he had better command of the strike zone, which he didn't demonstrate after his promotion. His best tools are his bat and his plus-plus speed, and one manager described him as an effortless basestealer. He's a good center fielder, though he can get reckless at times.
"He knows how to play offense," Joyce said. "He's got a short, compact swing that makes contact, he has savvy and speed and an idea of how to read pitchers. He'll get better as he learns the strike zone more."
||CHRIS YOUNG, of, Kannapolis Intimidators (White Sox)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 170 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: White Sox '01 (16)
Young ranks behind Anderson because he's even more raw, but he probably has a higher ceiling. The question is whether his propensity for swinging and missing will keep him from reaching it. His 146 strikeouts ranked third in the league behind two other unrefined, multitooled outfielders: Greensboro's Jai Miller and Rome's Steve Doetsch.
Young still is growing into his 6-foot-2 frame, and his power is becoming his best tool. When he does make contact, it's loud, as he ranked third in the league with 60 extra-base hits. Cron compared Young to former White Sox farmhand Mike Cameron for his power-speed combination and his struggles to make contact.
"He's got plus tools across the board except for arm strength, though his arm has gotten a bit better," Cron said. "He's not afraid to go deep in counts, and that leads to a lot of strikeouts too. But he plays a great center field, he's a plus runner and he has plus power. That's three major league tools, and if he's an average hitter, you've got yourself a pretty good big league center fielder."
||NATE SCHIERHOLTZ, 3b, Hagerstown Suns (Giants)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 215 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Giants '03 (3)
Schierholtz' days as a third baseman may be numbered. He moved to the outfield late in the season after a promotion to high Class A, and SAL managers were unimpressed with his tools and work at the hot corner, though none of them entirely wrote him off there.
If Schierholtz gets to the majors, it will be because of his bat. He has good bat speed, extension in his swing and excellent raw power. Another scout with an AL club projects him to hit 30-plus homers in the big leagues. His raw power will translate more to games as he learns the strike zone and gains more experience against quality pitching.
"He didn't have a quick first step and his range was below average, but his arm was accurate and he had pretty good instincts over there," Joyce said. "He had serious lefthanded power though. He had a really nice swing and wasn't afraid to go the other way. He was more gap-to-gap now, but his power will get better."
||SCOTT MATHIESON, rhp, Lakewood BlueClaws (Phillies)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Phillies '02 (17)
Mathieson also is raw, as Canadian pitchers drafted out of high school often are. He has yet to turn his excellent raw stuff into consistently solid performances, and he's far from a finished product. However, he made significant progress during the season and dominated for stretches.
Mathieson struck out 11 in eight three-hit innings in his final start, hitting 94 mph 16 times, including with his final last pitch. Mathieson has an excellent pitcher's frame at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, plus a relatively stress-free delivery. Lakewood pitching coach Tom Filer helped Mathieson's curveball and changeup improve from 30s to 40s on the 20-80 scouting scale, and they still can get better.
"His work ethic was the best on our team, and he's made amazing strides with his secondary pitches," Forbes said. "From where he started to where he finished is phenomenal. When he's right, he's got a good downward angle on his fastball and gets lots of swings and misses with it."
MATT ALBERS, rhp, Lexington Legends (Astros)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 205 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Astros '01 (23)
Albers was one of several players who ran into trouble at the SAL all-star game in Charleston, S.C. Rome all-stars Chuck James and Matt Esquivel were sent home after a barroom incident at the event, and Albers was suspended for a month by the Astros organization afterward, reportedly for an alcohol-related incident. However, he returned to the rotation in August and finished the season strong, striking out 51 in his last 34 innings.
Albers ranked fifth in the league in strikeouts despite the missed time. Stocky and strong, he got those whiffs primarily off his fastball. It reached 93-94 mph consistently and he held that velocity deep into outings.
"His fastball had average life, but he had pretty good command of it," Clark said. "I thought his curve at times was a good pitch, and he'd throw it in fastball counts. He was also very effective against lefthanders, even though I thought his change was below average. Down the line, it could be a good pitch for him."
||CHIN-LUNG HU, ss, Columbus Catfish (Dodgers)
Age: 20 Ht: 5-9 Wt: 150 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Dodgers FA '03 (Taiwan)
The Sally League didn't have a surefire big league shortstop, but that's only because Hu's small stature (5-foot-9, 150 pounds) would make him unusual by 21st-century standards. He was the clear consensus choice as the league's top shortstop over Greensboro's Robert Andino, Kannapolis' Roberto Valido and Hickory's Javier Guzman.
Managers agreed Hu had the best combination of true shortstop actions, arm strength and enough bat to make it to the big leagues as a shortstop. Signed out of Taiwan and in his first full season, he was above average in four tools and drew comparisons to Rafael Furcal, though he can't match Furcal's top-of-the-line arm strength.
One scout said he was tempted to grade Hu's power as average despite his size. Hu has excellent bat speed, centers the ball well and has a repeatable, easy swing.
||BRANDON MOSS, of, Augusta GreenJackets (Red Sox)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 180 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Red Sox '02 (8)
The league MVP, Moss had one of the biggest breakthrough seasons in the minors, slashing enough line drives to rank third in the minors with a .353 average. He hit .422 in high Class A after his promotion from the Sally League, where he won the batting title (.339) and ranked fourth in RBIs (101). His bat is his best tool, as Moss loads his hands well, giving him good bat control.
"He's got surprising pop in his bat for his size and hits to all fields," Forbes said. "He's a pretty solid all-around player, and he really had a breakout year for them."
Moss' arm is a tick above average and plays up because it's accurate. His intensity, physical ability and line-drive swing drew comparisons to Angels outfielder/first baseman Darin Erstad. However, like Erstad, some managers thought Moss could be overrated, and didn't see him as a top prospect in terms of tools.
"We've had a lot of discussions about him, and while I think he's a good player, I don't think there's enough power," one manager said. "He's just an ordinary guy for me."