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2005 Futures Games: United States Team Capsules

text by Chris Kline
June 22, 2005

JOSH WILLINGHAM C, Albuquerque (Marlins)
Age: 26. Drafted: 17th round, 2000, North Alabama.

Willingham has been a catcher for just three seasons, though he's made enough strides at the position to earn a callup to the big leagues from Double-A Carolina last year. After leading the minors in on-base percentage last season, Willingham established himself as one of the best hitters in the system behind outfielder Jeremy Hermida. He has a short swing, power to all fields and a willingness to work counts effectively. This season, he's increased his power numbers significantly in the Pacific Coast League, quickly closing in on his career-high of 25 homers. He has solid-average arm strength and has improved each year in his game-calling skills. With Paul Lo Duca inked to a three-year deal, he might be best in a utility role.

RYAN GARKO C, Buffalo (Indians)
Age: 24. Drafted: Third round, 2003, Stanford.

Garko jumped three levels last season, helping Buffalo bring home a championship in the Triple-A International League. There is little doubt that his bat will play at any level, but scouts question his ability to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues. The Indians weren't sold on his defense either, but have opted to get him significant playing time behind the plate with the Bisons this season. At the right side of the plate, Garko simply rakes, hitting to all fields and showing above-average power. He's short to the ball with an efficient swing that allows him to adjust to any type of pitch or location. His makeup and leadership skills are among the best in the organization.

CONOR JACKSON 1B, Tucson (Diamondbacks)
Age: 23. Drafted: First round (19th overall), 2003, California.

Two words describe Jackson best: power and patience. He followed the path of teammate Carlos Quentin, jumping from high Class A Lancaster to Double-A last season; and the two are back together again this year at Tucson. Jackson is one of the best pure hitters in the minors. He has above-average bat speed and makes consistent sharp contact to all fields. One of his best tools is his plate discipline--he rarely swings at bad pitches and rarely misses good ones. He's ranked in the top three in the minors in on-base percentage all season. Primarily a third baseman in college, he moved from the outfield to first base this season.

DARIC BARTON 1B, Stockton (Athletics)
Age: 19. Drafted: First round (28th overall), 2003 (Cardinals),
Marina HS; Huntington Beach, Calif.

Barton was considered one of the best high school hitters in the 2003 draft, but concerns about his defense dropped him into the lower half of the first round. He proved to be one of the better offensive prospects in baseball in his first full season, leading the low Class A Midwest League in on-base percentage while finishing fourth in slugging. Barton got off to a slow start this year at high Class A Stockton but started to heat up by midseason. Many consider Barton to be the real impact player the Athletics received in the Mark Mulder deal. He has a fast bat, uses all fields and already shows plus game power. He has an advanced understanding of the strike zone, making him a perfect fit in the A's system.

MARCUS SANDERS 2B/SS, Augusta (Giants)
Age: 19. Drafted: 17th round, 2003, South Florida Community College.

The Giants have high hopes for Sanders, who has great athletic ability and offensive upside as a teenager in the low Class A South Atlantic League. In his pro debut last season, Sanders was the catalyst and best prospect on the Giants' Rookie-level affiliate that won the Arizona League title. He led the AZL in runs and steals and is the fastest runner in the organization, with 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale. While he was leading the minors in stolen bases for much of the spring, he's more than just a speedster. He has enough bat speed and strength in his wiry frame to make him a dangerous line-drive hitter with enough power to drive pitches into the gaps.

JOSH BARFIELD 2B, Portland (Padres)
Age: 22. Drafted: Fourth round, 2001, Klein HS; Spring, Texas.

Barfield played hurt most of last year, injuring his hamstring in spring training and it never fully healed. His offensive numbers took a hit as a result--his average dipped below .300 for the first time in his four-year career. Barfield has a quick swing and uses the whole field, with no discernible weakness when it comes to pitch location. He struggled out of the gate this season but was red-hot in June, raising his average nearly 40 points. Though he will never have the home run totals of his father, Jesse, his power continues to develop. Once thought to be destined for right field, Barfield has put considerable effort into his second base defense. He should be able to stay there and provide average glovework with a plus arm.

ANDY LAROCHE 3B, Jacksonville (Dodgers)
Age: 21. Drafted: 39th round, 2003, Grayson County (Texas) CC.

LaRoche comes from a baseball family—he’s the son of former big league lefthander Dave and younger brother of Braves first baseman Adam. While he struggled in his first season at high Class A Vero Beach, hitting just .233 in 219 at-bats, LaRoche flourished in the Florida State League this season. He simply crushed the ball and ended his run on a power tear with 21 home runs before being called up to Double-A Jacksonville. He has good strength, a quick bat and excellent load for his swing, which helps him generate backspin and loft. He's also a better defender than Dodgers top prospect Joel Guzman, who moved back from third base to shortstop upon LaRoche's arrival in Jacksonville.

SCOTT MOORE 3B, Daytona (Cubs)
Age: 21. Drafted: First round (eighth overall; Tigers), 2002, Cypress HS; Long Beach, Calif.

Moore drew comparisons to Eric Chavez and Chipper Jones while emerging as the top prospect in Southern California in 2002 and has done little to back those claims up until now. The Tigers soured on him after two poor seasons when he was hampered by wrist and back problems, eventually including him in a package deal for righthander Kyle Farnsworth in February. It's been quite the turnaround for Moore since moving from high Class A Lakeland to Daytona. His average is up nearly 100 points from last season, and he's already surpassed his career high in home runs. His plate discipline also has improved. Defensively, Moore was drafted as a shortstop, but he's outgrown the position and moved to third base. He has soft hands and more than enough arm strength for the position.

BRANDON WOOD SS, Rancho Cucamonga (Angels)
Age: 20. Drafted: First round (23rd overall), 2003, Horizon HS; Scottsdale, Ariz.

Known as a skinny, defensive-minded shortstop before his senior year in high school, Wood blossomed into a power hitter and signed for $1.3 million. And while he hit 11 homers last season at low Class A Cedar Rapids, Wood turned it up several notches in the California League this season. Through 70 games, he belted 23 homers at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga and was hitting for average as well. The knocks on him are he gets too pull-conscious and he needs to hone his plate discipline. He hasn't dispelled those concerns completely, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Wood has average range and arm strength, and he may outgrow shortstop and move to third base down the road.

B.J. UPTON SS, Durham (Devil Rays)
Age: 20. Drafted: First round (second overall), 2002,
Greenbrier Christian Academy; Chesapeake, Va.

Upton's future in the big leagues is still considered bright, though the outlook has become clouded in the last year. This is his second straight appearance in the Futures Game. He finished last season in Tampa Bay, hitting .258-4-12 in 159 at-bats. Some have criticized the Devil Rays for their handling of Upton, who lost development time while the club toyed with moving him off shortstop after his callup. Now back in Triple-A again, Upton is playing short everyday, and the results have been sketchy at best so far. In 72 games this season, he committed 27 errors, most of any minor leaguer. A career .305 hitter in the minors, Upton's bat will play anywhere. It just comes down to how committed and patient the Rays are at keeping him in the middle of the diamond.

JEFF FRANCOEUR OF, Mississippi (Braves)
Age: 21. Drafted: First round (23rd overall), 2002, Parkview HS; Lilburn, Ga.

A two-sport standout in high school, Francoeur was a high school All-America defensive back who turned down an offer to play football and baseball at Clemson and signed for a club record $2.2 million bonus. Since then, he's twice been named the top prospect in his respective league--first the Rookie-level Appalachian League 2002 and again last year in the Carolina League. Francoeur is one of the purest five-tool players in baseball. While scouts rave for his ability to put the barrel squarely on the ball, he needs to polish his offensive approach. He makes consistent hard contact with plus power to all fields, but needs to tighten up his strike zone management.

JEREMY HERMIDA OF, Carolina (Marlins)
Age: 21. Drafted: First round (11th overall), 2002, Wheeler HS; Marietta, Ga.

Finding holes in Hermida's game is becoming harder to do. The 2002 first-round pick was called the best high school hitter since 1996 first-rounder Eric Chavez when he came out of Atlanta's Wheeler High, and he has lived up to that billing, batting .311/.450/.545 in 222 at-bats this year for the Mudcats. One of the minors' true elite hitters, Hermida's lone weakness is his defense. While he has a true right field arm, he needs to improve its accuracy. Hermida's bat that will carry him. He showed more power potential last year at high Class A Jupiter, which carried over into the Arizona Fall League and hasn't missed a beat this season. He runs well, also, and has a good shot at topping his career mark in steals this year.

LASTINGS MILLEDGE OF, St. Lucie (Mets)
Age: 20. Drafted: First round (12th overall), 2003, Lakewood Ranch HS; Palmetto, Fla.

The Mets were able to grab Milledge with the 12th pick overall in 2003 after he had mixed success with wood bats and makeup concerns, but he's been a model citizen since landing in the system. And on the field, he's been raking. Dripping with tools, Milledge already has above-average power and projects to be a legitimate No. 3 hitter in the big leagues. He's also an above-average runner and his speed, range and arm strength make him easily the best defensive outfielder in the Mets system. While he missed some time on the disabled list with a minor hand injury, he heated up in June, upping his average 100 points since returning to the lineup.

CHRIS YOUNG OF, Birmingham (White Sox)
Age: 21. Drafted: 16th round, 2001, Bellaire (Texas) HS

A star at national high school power Bellaire, Young lasted until the 16th round in 2001 because he was rail thin. And while he hasn't bulked up, he's strong and has nearly as much raw power as anyone in the White Sox system. He proved that last year by hitting 24 homers at low Class A Kannapolis, and he's proving it again this season by skipping a level and going straight to Double-A Birmingham. Young is a power/speed combination in the Mike Cameron mold, and some White Sox officials already consider him a major league-caliber center fielder. He'll have to cut down on his strikeouts, however. He whiffed 146 times in 136 games last year.

DELMON YOUNG OF, Montgomery (Devil Rays)
Age: 19. Drafted: First round (first overall), 2003, Camarillo (Calif.) HS

Just like Upton, this is Young's return trip to the Futures Game and no one comes more highly touted than the teenage outfielder. He may not have reached the majors during his first pro season after predicting he would shortly after signing a big league deal with a $5.8 million guarantee, but he isn't far away. An intimidating presence from the right side of the plate who elicits Albert Belle comparisons, Young has a powerful, consistent stroke. He has a cannon arm in right field, which is as strong as it is accurate. While he isn't a burner, Young has outstanding instincts on the bases. He stole 21 bags last year in the South Atlantic League and has already topped that mark this season.

TRAVIS BOWYER RHP, Rochester (Twins)
Age: 23. Drafted: 20th round, 1999, Liberty HS; Bedford Va.

Three years into his career, Bowyer wasn't considered much of a prospect. But a rigorous offseason conditioning program implemented after the 2001 season at Rookie-level Elizabethton created a 225-pound frame, and his velocity spiked to 98 mph as a result. His heavy fastball has great late life, and he uses his changeup to keep hitters off-balance. A starter for much of his career, Bowyer was moved to the bullpen in 2002 and has flourished, posting his best numbers yet this season at Triple-A Rochester. His secondary numbers have also improved with the jump to Rochester, with more than a strikeout per inning.

THOMAS DIAMOND RHP, Frisco (Rangers)
Age: 22. Drafted: First round (10th overall), 2004, New Orleans

Diamond rose from a little-known 38th-round pick out of high school whose only significant scholarship offer came from New Orleans to a top 10 pick in 2004. He can command his 90-94 mph fastball well and has an above-average changeup, a rare combination for such a young pitcher. His breaking ball is clearly behind his other offerings, but he's had nothing but success in the California League this season. Diamond's dominance was on full display earlier this season, when he tossed a one-hitter against high Class A High Desert and faced the minimum 27 batters. He then got a promotion to Double-A.

ZACH DUKE LHP, Indianapolis (Pirates)
Age: 22. Drafted: 20th round, 2001, Midway HS; Clifton, Texas

Duke might not have overpowering stuff, eye-popping numbers or velocity, but all he does is win. Coming into this season, the 22-year-old lefthander was 31-14, 2.21 in three seasons in the minors. He's done nothing to tarnish that reputation this season, reeling off 11 wins in his first 15 starts at Indianapolis this year. Duke pitches in the 89-91 range with his lively fastball and has exceptional command to both sides of the plate. Lefthanded hitters find his big, sweeping curveball virtually unhittable. Duke's biggest asset is his poise and composure on the mound. Quiet by nature, he's never easily rattled and has a precise plan in place on every pitch.

ZACH JACKSON LHP, New Hampshire (Blue Jays)
Age: 22. Drafted: First round (32nd overall), 2004, Texas A&M

The Blue Jays were thrilled to land Jackson on the board at No. 32 in 2004, signing him for $1.0175 million. Jackson is one of the most polished pitchers in the system, with fluid mechanics and east arm action that allow him to command three effective pitches. He hides his tailing 89-93 mph fastball well and complements it with a circle changeup and slider with late depth. He locates his fastball well and isn't afraid to test hitters over the inner half of the plate. While he doesn't have a true strikeout pitch, he's had a lot of success this season, going 8-1, 2.88 in 59 innings at high Class A Dunedin before being promoted to Double-A.

BOBBY JENKS RHP, Birmingham (White Sox)
Age: 24. Drafted: Fifth round (Angels), 2000, Inglemoor HS; Bothell, Wash.

The Angels tired of the oft-injured Jenks, who carried a lot of off-field baggage with him as well, and the White Sox claimed him off waivers last December. A starter during his entire five-year career with Anaheim, Chicago moved him to the bullpen this year. Healthier and more mature, Jenks is having success in his new role at Double-A Birmingham. With an overpowering fastball once clocked at 102 mph, Jenks appears to finally be harnessing his explosive stuff out of the pen. He had stretch this season where he converted seven straight save opportunities and did not allow a run over the span.

CHRIS LAMBERT RHP, Springfield (Cardinals)
Age: 22. Drafted: First round (19th overall), 2004, Boston College

Lambert looked like a better hockey prospect coming out of high school in New Hampshire, but he showed low-90s heat at a Perfect Game showcase the summer after he graduated and earned a scholarship to Boston College. After three strong college seasons, he’s having success in his first pro year. His fastball ranges from 90-96 mph with explosive life. He also throws a solid changeup and a slider that can freeze righthanders when it's on. He’ll have to further smooth out his mechanics. Still, he was lights out in the Florida State League this year, going 7-1, 2.63 in 55 innings before being called up to the Cardinals' new Double-A affiliate in Springfield.

TROY PATTON LHP, Lexington (Astros)
Age: 19. Drafted: Ninth round, 2004, Tomball HS; Magnolia, Texas

Pro clubs backed off Patton after his senior season in high school because they thought he was headed to Texas to pitch for the Longhorns, but the Astros netted him for $550,000--by far the highest bonus in the ninth round. His curveball rated among the best in the 2004 draft class and he sets it up with a 90-94 mph fastball to all four quadrants of the strike zone. His advanced feel for a changeup could allow him to move quickly. He was off and running this season at low Class A Lexington, averaging over a strikeout per inning and was extremely tough on lefthanders. The one knock on Patton is his inability to maintain a consistent arm slot, though that will likely improve with experience as he moves up through the system.

IAN SNELL RHP, Indianapolis (Pirates)
Age: 23. Drafted: 26th round, 2000, Caesar Rodney HS; Camden, Del.

The Pirates found a gem in Snell in the 26th round in 2000. He's been known as Ian Oquendo at varying points during his five-year pro career, but went back to his birth name prior to last season and is sticking with it. Snell has a lively fastball, especially for his 5-foot-11 frame, and it sits in the 93 mph range, touching 96. He also throws a sharp curveball with such a late break opposing hitters sometimes think it's a slider. Despite his size, Snell doesn't back down from anyone and is fearless on the mound. He didn't lose his first game in Triple-A this season until mid-June and already has a complete game no-hitter to his credit on May 15 against Norfolk.

JUSTIN VERLANDER RHP, Erie (Tigers)
Age: 22. Drafted: First round (second overall), 2004, Old Dominion

The Tigers expected big things out of Verlander, and he hasn't disappointed this season. In fact, he just keeps getting better. The 22-year-old righthander went 9-2, 1.67 with 104 strikeouts in 86 innings at high Class A Lakeland, earning a promotion to Double-A Erie. In his first outing with the Sea Wolves, Verlander struck out 11 in seven innings and his plus fastball reportedly hit 99 mph several times. He also features a knee-buckling hammer curveball with vicious downward bite and a changeup that has quickly become a legitimate third option. While scouts may be divided on his future role--some see him as a closer--Verlander has all the stuff to front a big league rotation.

JOEL ZUMAYA RHP, Erie (Tigers)
Age: 20. Drafted: 11th round, 2002, Bonita Vista HS; Chula Vista, Calif.

Zumaya wasn't an unknown in the talent-laden San Diego area, but he lasted until the 11th round out of high school because few scouts projected his velocity would spike so quickly. Working with his fastball in the 88-92 mph range as an amateur, Zumaya's heater jumped to the mid 90s and is now topping out regularly at 99 mph in Double-A. He also throws a hard slurvy breaking ball and a much improved changeup. But the knock on Zumaya has been inconsistent command, which is something he appears to be beginning to harness. There has been talk of moving Zumaya to the bullpen, but he is doing his best to dispel those notions. While he has led the Eastern League in walks much of the season, he also was leading it in strikeouts, fanning over a batter an inning.

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