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2005 Top 20 Prospects: Arizona LeagueComplete Index of League Top 20s
By Allan Simpson
Chat Wrap: Allan Simpson took your questoins on the AZL/GCL
The Giants won their second straight Arizona League title this year with one of the older rosters in the nine-team Rookie league. But youth was still served as the team’s three youngest players—righthanders Waldis Joaquin and Shairon Martis, and shortstop Sharlon Schoop—stood out as prospects. All played the 2005 season at age 18.
Joaquin, along with Athletics righthander Craig Italiano, was one of two pitchers in the league whose fastballs reached 98 mph. Italiano, Oakland’s second-round pick in June, ranks third on this list, while Joaquin ranked seventh. Cubs lefthander Mark Pawelek, the lone first-rounder from this year’s draft to appear in the league, earned the No. 1 spot.
Overall, pitching was dominant in the AZL this year, as five of the league’s seven best prospects toiled on the mound. A year ago, hitters claimed 10 of the first 11 spots.
“His record was not indicative of the way he pitched or his prospect status,” Cubs manager Steve McFarland said. “His fastball was 92-94 miles an hour, touched 95 and was overpowering at times. Command of the pitch was just not there every night.”
Pawelek became just the second Utah high school player drafted in the first round and set a state record for strikeouts, but the Cubs limited his arsenal to three pitches. They forced him to scrap his slider and his splitter so he could develop better command of his fastball, curveball and changeup, which remained spotty.
All three were above-average pitches at times, and he confounded hitters with his stuff and deception when he had everything working. Pawelek still needs to work on mechanical issues, as he frequently got off balance or rushed his delivery.
Adenhart projected as one of the top picks in the 2004 draft before he hurt his elbow last May and needed Tommy John surgery. The Angels gambled that he'd return to form, taking him in the 14th round and giving him a $710,000 bonus.
His comeback after a 13-month absence started slowly, as he was on a strict pitch count, but he made huge strides in the Arizona League and regained most of his arm strength. He threw 90-94 mph fastballs with little effort.
Adenhart showed an excellent feel for pitching with flashes of his old form. Managers noted how easily the ball comes out of his hand, and he complemented his fastball with a sharp curveball, a backdoor slider and an excellent changeup. Inconsistent command and occasional poor pitch selection were his only issues.
He has a short arm stroke and two excellent pitches, notably a fastball that was consistently clocked at 97-98 mph. The pitch often is too straight, however, and he needs to develop more consistent command of it, which should come when he stops trying to overthrow it—a typical fault of young pitchers. He also has a hard curveball that was effective when he threw it for strikes.
“He tries to throw his fastball too hard,” A’s manager Ruben Escalera said, “but it’s 98 miles an hour and he’s able to work it in and out when he has control of it.”
A short, compact middle infielder, Bianchi is what he is: a blue-collar player with limited projection. He’s an advanced hitter—already one of the best in the Royals system—with an excellent approach and the potential for 15-20 homers annually. He made an easy transition to wood bats and makes consistent contact to all fields with a short, line-drive swing.
Bianchi is steady at shortstop with good feet and hands. He has average arm strength and makes up for it with a quick release and by getting good reads on balls. His arm may eventually push him to second base, though the Royals have no immediate plans to move him.
His bat is his best tool. Though he didn't homer in his pro debut, he consistently smoked balls to the gaps, especially left-center, and finished among the league leaders in doubles and triples. Whittleman is advanced at the plate for his age, though he was too passive at times.
“He could become the best hitter in this league by far,” Rangers manager Pedro Lopez said. “He hasn’t shown the power yet, but he can drive balls to all fields and he has an excellent two-strike approach.”
He profiles as a third baseman but is just adequate defensively. While his hands and actions around the bag are acceptable, he has below-average speed and his range is limited. He has the arm strength for the position but maybe not the accuracy.
Lansford has a professional approach to the game, befitting a player with his bloodlines. His father Carney, a former American League batting champion, played 15 years in the big leagues, and uncles Joe and Phil were first-round picks in the 1970s. All were infielders.
Primarily a position player himself in high school, Lansford was the most effective of the 10 2005 draft picks on the A’s pitching staff. His fastball peaked at 94 mph, and he had a good spin on his breaking ball and an average changeup. He worked aggressively and with purpose.
“He’s so mature he looks like a college guy,” Escalera said. “He could go to A-ball in 2006 and be in the big leagues by the time he’s 20.”
“He’s just learning to pitch,” Giants manager Bert Hunter said. “But he’s got a very live arm and the ball jumps out of his hand.”
In addition to his fastball, which was a steady 95 mph most of the year, Joaquin threw his slider at 88-89, giving him two above-average pitches. He still has a lot to learn about pitching, however, particularly in terms of developing a changeup.
Cain was the league’s MVP after leading the league in runs, hits, doubles, extra-base hits and slugging percentage while finishing second in the batting race. It was a remarkable season for a player who played little baseball in high school and was an obscure 2004 draft-and-follow of the Brewers.
“He came out of nowhere and showed more improvement in all areas than any player in the league,” Brewers manager Mike Guerrero said. “He’s got a chance to be a five-tool player.”
Cain got the bat knocked out of his hands in extended spring training and at the start of the AZL season, but developed into a tough out under the tutelage of hitting coach Joel Youngblood. He should hit with power when he fills out his tall, wiry body, learns to hit breaking balls and develops plate discipline.
An average defender with an average arm, Cain played mostly right field this season but moved to center when the more refined Michael Brantley was promoted late in the season. Cain has above-average speed, particularly going from first to third.
Dickerson's bat is his best tool. He has good bat speed with a line-drive swing, but he needs to be more selective because he chases too many breaking balls out of the strike zone. A dead pull hitter, Dickerson has limited raw power but more than Lubanski at a similar stage. He led the league with nine triples.
Dickerson doesn't have Lubanski's speed but got better reads and took better routes to balls in center field than Lubanski did in his maiden season. He also wasn't afraid to play shallow and go back on balls.
He won just two games because he made only one start that went as long as five innings. His average of 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings was the best in the AZL for pitchers working at least 30 innings. He worked hitters aggressively with a mid-90s fastball and an above-average curve, and continues to develop a changeup.
Schoop, whose brother Jonathan was the No. 2 pitcher on the Curacao team that won the 2004 Little League World Series, is so advanced defensively that only Omar Vizquel is regarded as a better pure shortstop in the Giants system.
He has the whole package for the position, with smooth actions, soft hands and quick feet. He has outstanding instincts, plays with confidence and led AZL shortstops with a .971 fielding percentage. He plays with flair and is an exciting player to watch.
Schoop still has a ways to go with the bat, though he has a good handle on strike-zone discipline. He should get stronger and add power as he fills out his wiry frame.
Though Pina has been catching for less than a year, his defensive skills—notably his arm—already have been compared to a young Ivan Rodriguez, who developed in the Rangers system.
A former shortstop, Pina combines fast feet and a quick release to generate outstanding arm strength and accuracy. His pop times to second were consistently in the 1.8-1.9-second range. His receiving and blocking skills also improved over the course of the season.
Pina’s bat is behind the rest of his game, and it will take another year or two to decide what kind of impact he might make as a hitter. But his defense alone could take him to the majors.
Like his brother Brandon, Phillips was a second-round pick as a shortstop out of high school in suburban Atlanta. At 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, P.J. is taller and lankier than his brother. He has a lot of the same tools but projects more power because he has a good feel for hitting and the ball jumps off his bat.
Phillips' swing is a little long and his bat speed slowed late in the year. His plate discipline also is suspect and he'll have to adapt his approach.
Phillips can play almost any position defensively but likely will remain at shortstop. He has smooth actions and good range to go with an average arm. He's an above-average runner.
Despite his size, Blanks is surprisingly athletic. He runs the bases well, has good hands and is agile around the first-base bag. The National Junior College Athletic Association named him its 2005 defensive player of the year. He committed only one error during the summer and topped AZL first basemen with a .997 fielding percentage.
He stays inside the ball well and has juice in his bat. He can put a charge in the ball to all fields, has a nice blend of power and speed and has good on-base skills.
Alvarado takes good routes and covers a lot of ground in right field, but needs to get better jumps on balls. He has a solid arm with good strength and carry on his throws.
Mendoza has a tall, projectable body and flashed three above-average pitches at times, including a fastball that peaked at 94 mph. He also throws a curveball and changeup. He excelled at working both sides of the plate.
Cubs In a league filled with quality shortstops, Baez may have been the best defender of the bunch. He was advanced in all aspects of shortstop play, with hands, range and arm strength that graded out at 65 on the standard 20-80 scouting scale. He also has outstanding instincts.
But Baez ranks as no better than the fourth shortstop on the list because his bat is a liability. He can’t hit now, though he could develop power once he fills out his thin 6-foot-3 frame.
Fisher has an easy, deliberate delivery that enabled him to get good deception and late movement on a sinking, fringe-average fastball, which he kept down in the zone consistently. He should add velocity with maturity and minor tinkering with his mechanics. His 12-to-6 curveball and changeup already are solid secondary pitches.
Frieri got most of his 59 strikeouts in 46 innings on an 85-87 mph slider. He also has a plus fastball, a resilient arm and plenty of competive fire. While he has command issues, he was so dominant in his first stint in the United States that he earned a late-season promotion to the high Class A California League.
Espinoza drew a lot of comparisons to fellow Venezuelan Johan Santana at a similar age. Espinoza was the workhorse of the Angels staff and led the league in strikeouts.
He has a good feel for pitching and, like Santana, has the makings of a plus changeup. He's adept at working hitters in and out and throws from the same arm angle with every pitch. His fastball was clocked from 87-91 mph and has room for projection.
All Photos: Bill Mitchell