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2004 Top 20 Prospects: Southern LeagueComplete Index of League Top 20s
By Will Lingo
Chat Wrap: Will Lingo took your Southern League questions
The best prospect in the Double-A Southern League was so good he moved up before he could qualify for the prospect list.
Devil Rays phenom B.J. Upton opened the season with Montgomery but earned a promotion to Triple-A in May, on his way to making the big leagues by August. He hit .327 in 104 at-bats, about the same number that he got at the end of last season in the league.
There were plenty of hitters to take his place on the list, however. They were spread across the infield, with no outfielders making the Top 10. The league also was notably thin on pitching prospects, though a National League scout said it was as much because of a baseball-wide arms shortage as a down year for the league.
"Look in the big leagues and you'll see plenty of pitchers who aren't ready to be there," he said. "Anyone good enough to show something in this league is going to get called up."
"There's nothing not to like about Andy Marte," Birmingham manager Razor Shines said. "He's an outstanding defender with the chance to be an impact player offensively on the major league level."
Marte will be an above-average hitter with power that could be well above average, and he already can drive the ball to the opposite field. He has a bit of an uppercut in his swing and will have to level it out. He shows good pitch recognition, though he still strikes out too much.
Though Marte's body has gotten a little thicker in the last year, he should be at least adequate defensively and has an above-average arm.
"I'll be shocked if he can't stay at third," an American League scout said. "He moves well enough and his hands are good enough. He'll have to watch his body, but he just needs to maintain it. His body won't move him off third."
The reports are true, but no one expects him to stay at short even though he's an adequate player there now and moves well for his size. Some observers said he could play third base, while others say his actions are too long for the infield and would like to see him in right field. He has the arm for either of those positions.
Wherever he plays, Guzman's bat will make him a star. He's learning the strike zone, but scouts in particular say his bat will be special, with scary power. He can already drive the ball out to the opposite field and will have power to all fields. One scout compared him to Juan Gonzalez.
"This guy has loads of talent," Mobile manager Gary Jones said. "He's going to be a big-time hitter. The whole package is definitely there to be a run producer."
Weeks had the quickest hands in the league and produces great bat speed. Balls jump off his bat, and he lashes line drives to all fields, though scouts disagreed about his power potential. The most optimistic say it will be slightly better than average. He has the speed to steal 45-50 bases per year, but he must improve his approach because he was caught (12) more than he was successful (11) this season.
Most people thought it was simply the jump to Double-A and getting adjusted to the everyday grind of pro ball that held Weeks back, and a National League scout who also followed Weeks as an amateur said he backed off the plate this year more than he did in the past
Defense is also a work in progress for Weeks, but no one thinks he'll need to move off second and he has the tools to be at least a solid-average defender. He has a good arm and plus range, and he's willing to turn the tough double play. He has nice hands and quick feet but occasionally got in a hurry, leading to errors.
"He was tremendous for me," the AL scout said. "He got to everything, and his exchange is as good as anyone I've seen."
That didn't change this year, as Fielder struggled at times in making the jump from low Class A to Double-A. Some managers would like to see him repeat the league, and predict dominant numbers if he returns.
Fielder's power is startling and should be well above-average. Scouts say he'll be at least an average overall hitter, and some think he'll be better than that because of his approach, pitch recognition and discipline. He doesn't swing at a lot of bad pitches.
His defense is another story, as his soft hands and good reactions are counteracted by his lack of speed and range. He also needs better focus. Fielder's 6-foot, 260-pound frame always will be an issue, but his father Cecil was an impact player with an even worse physique.
Capellan's calling card is his fastball, which reaches triple digits and has above-average movement. He maintains his usual 91-97 mph velocity deep into games with a free and easy, three-quarters delivery. He throws a spike curve with good bite and rotation, and it could be an out pitch when he's more consistent with it.
Some who saw Capellan pitch in 2003 were impressed with how much his feel for pitching improved and expect him to succeed as a starter. Others envision him as a closer if he doesn't refine his changeup and his command.
He drew some comparisons to Miguel Cabrera, though his ceiling isn't as high. Encarnacion has a good approach and tremendous bat speed, and he hits the ball hard so he should add power as he matures. He has flashy defensive tools as well, including a cannon arm.
One scout said Encarnacion doesn't always play hard, but his manager said he's just misunderstood.
"When it's go time, he goes full speed," Jayhawk Owens said. "When it's sitting in the dugout, he's quiet, he keeps to himself. But when you get between the white lines there's a fire in him. You can see it in his eyes. A lot of people talk about him being a quiet kid, but when it's time to play he's not like that."
Reyes' fastball is back to its peak college level, as he worked consistently at 90-95 mph with running life. His slider was 81-83 with tight spin and is a potential knockout pitch, and his changeup is good though he's just learning to throw it. Scouts loved the way Reyes worked off his fastball and he showed good command as well.
"He had it all," Jones said. "My hitters would come back to the clubhouse after the game talking about this guy. I already knew he was tough because I saw the swings we were taking."
Reyes missed about six weeks early in the season with shoulder inflammation, but he made every start for the Smokies. His durability remains a question, though, and scouts question his arm action.
Davies took off last year once he adjusted his delivery and improved his fastball significantly. He threw at 88-93 mph this year, and his command makes his fastball a plus pitch. He throws a 12-to-5 curveball with rotation and bite, and his changeup is solid average.
Davies works to both sides of the plate and can get in on hitters' hands. Scouts now project him as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Still, several observers still rated Loney as the best first-base prospect in the league, ahead of Fielder. His smooth stroke and plate discipline drew raves, as did as his defense at first. His power should improve as he learns to lift the ball.
"He can really pick and will save his team a lot of runs," said an AL scout who compared him to Wally Joyner. "If he has above-average power, it will be a bonus."
It's a testament to his talent and makeup that he still led the league with 90 RBIs and set a Mobile record for games (138). Managers said he was the best situational hitter in the league and thrived in pressure situations. "Every time there were RBIs on base, he would have a great at-bat," Jones said.
Barfield will be an above-average hitter who uses the whole field and has good pop for a second baseman. He pulled off the ball against righthanders, but lefties couldn't get him out as he batted .332 against them. He does need to tighten his strike zone.
Barfield also proved to be better than advertised on defense. He's a below-average runner but better than that once he gets going, and he showed average range and arm strength. Both his footwork and exchange improved during the season, and scouts now project him to stay at second base as a solid defender.
"Brian is the real deal," Shines said. "Usually when you get to a higher level, there's a little bit of concern whether you can play there. He had none of that."
Anderson played center field in Birmingham, and observers were split over whether he can stay there. He's not a prototype center fielder, but those who liked him there said he gets to enough balls. He pitched in college and has a strong arm.
If he has to move to a corner, Anderson should have enough bat to compensate. Scouts say he's an above-average hitter who should produce at least 20 homers a year.
The most optimistic assessments of Willingham's work behind the plate project him as a backup catcher, but he hasn't stood out at the other positions he's tried. He's no more than adequate at either corner infield spot or in left field, but most managers and scouts thought the Marlins should put him in one of those spots because catching could take away from his hitting.
That didn't happen this season, though, because Willingham showed great patience and strike-zone judgment and handled breaking pitches well. Managers also loved his makeup.
One scout said Pinto was the second-best pitcher in the league behind Capellan. Managers liked his arm strength and he showed electric stuff at times, featuring a lively 92-94 mph fastball that moved everywhere. His changeup was probably his second-best pitch, and he also showed a good feel for pitching and a competitive approach.
Pinto does need to cut down on his walks, but scouts said he can be effectively wild and could dial down his fastball a bit if needed to gain better control. "He could pitch at 90 or lower with that kind of movement and be successful," one said.
Guzman can be a potential impact player and an ideal leadoff hitter if he can get on base consistently. His speed and center-field range both rate at least a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. One scout compared him to Lance Johnson defensively because his superior speed makes up for a below-average arm.
He shows good patience at the plate and has become an above-average bunter, which should allow Guzman to stay out of slumps. He also is an excellent basestealer, succeeding on 83 percent of his career steal attempts in the minors. He sometimes tries to do too much at the plate, however, and has to be reminded that his primary goal is just to get on base.
Meyer shows good stuff, with a low-90s fastball, plus slider and improving changeup. But he impresses more with his composure and command. He doesn't issue many walks and he also doesn't give hitters many solid swings. Though he pitched in relief in the majors, he projects as a solid No. 3 starter.
At 6-foot-4, Morse doesn't look like the ideal shortstop, but surprisingly most managers and scouts said they'd leave him there, at least for now.
"It comes from seeing him on an everyday basis," Shines said. "You'd move him to third base if you saw him once. But his feet looked good at shortstop and he has enough arm, and he finally believes he can play the position."
Morse's offense should be good enough if he does have to move to third. He has legitimate juice in his bat and is learning the finer points of hitting, though he still needs better patience and pitch recognition.
Bergolla played 23 games at shortstop for the Lookouts, and managers and scouts said he could play there every day in a pinch. In fact, they said his versatility could hurt him because he'll be viewed as a utilityman rather than an everyday player.
Bergolla has become an adept bunter and should be a .280-.300 hitter in the majors. While his speed would fit nicely in the No. 2 slot, he must improve his baserunning instincts. His lack of patience and power also holds him back.
After a dominant season as a reliever at Birmingham in 2002, Munoz was back this season as a starter and again overmatched SL hitters. He wasn't able to come close to the same results in Triple-A (5.68 ERA) or the majors (11.05), however.
The White Sox believe Munoz has more value as a starter because he has shown an ability to get righthanders as well as lefties out. But his outstanding curveball alone isn't enough to get out more advanced hitters. He needs to work more off his 90-mph fastball, trust his stuff and improve his command.
"The scoreless thing took a little juice out of him," Tennessee manager Mark DeJohn said. "Those are not normal innings, when you're trying to be careful with every pitch."
Thompson earned the inevitable comparisons to Greg Maddux because he's a righthander who succeeds with his command and approach more than with his stuff. He works his low-90s fastball in and out and keeps it down. He also showed a sharp slider, but his changeup needs work. Some observers wondered whether he could handle the grind of starting.
Part of the problem is that SL managers and scouts saw Nelson in the outfield, where his range is very limited. He's there because Prince Fielder is the Brewers' first baseman of the future, but that's also Nelson's best position.
At the plate, Nelson shows a nice approach and above-average power, though he had an alarming increase in strikeouts this season. He also needs to improve his approach against lefthanders. Most managers said they expect his offense to improve if he gets more comfortable on defense, however.