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2005 Top 20 Prospects: Midwest League
Complete Index of League Top 20s

By Jim Callis
September 26, 2005


Chat Wrap: Jim Callis took your Midwest League questions

FIVE YEARS AGO
1. *Josh Beckett, rhp, Kane County (Marlins)
2. *Juan Cruz, rhp, Lansing (Cubs)
3. *Chris Snelling, of, Wisconsin (Mariners)
4. *Austin Kearns, of, Dayton (Reds)
5. *Albert Pujols, 3b, Peoria (Cardinals)
6. *Ramon Santiago, ss, West Michigan (Tigers)
7. *Jacob Peavy, rhp, Fort Wayne (Padres)
8. *Adam Dunn, of, Dayton (Reds)
9. Gerik Baxter, rhp, Fort Wayne (Padres)
10. Mike Nannini, rhp, Michigan (Astros))

*Has played in major leagues
The low Class A Midwest League has been good for at least one star hitting prospect each year this decade, with an alumni list that includes Albert Pujols and Adam Dunn (2000), Miguel Cabrera (2001), Joe Mauer (2002), Prince Fielder (2003) and Brandon Wood (2004).

The latest addition is South Bend outfielder Carlos Gonzales, who led the Silver Hawks to the league championship while catching the eye of everyone who saw him. He won the league MVP award and managers rated him the MWL's best batting prospect, defensive outfielder and outfield arm as well its most exciting player.

"I've seen all the guys who came through the league the last five years," a National League scout said, "and I'm not sure Gonzales isn't better than all of them except Joe Mauer. He's better than Daric Barton and Casey Kotchman. He's better than Justin Morneau, Jason Stokes and Adrian Gonzalez.

"That bat is so special. He's an easy, easy great bat."

While Gonzales earned can't-miss status, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft played to mixed reviews and couldn't crack the top 20 list. Fort Wayne shortstop Matt Bush raised more doubts about his bat by hitting .221 and showing below-average speed. He had the strongest infield arm in the league and is a potential Gold Glover, though he led MWL shortstops with 38 errors.

"If you look at him as the No. 1 pick, your expectations are going to be too high," veteran Clinton manager Carlos Subero said. "If you look at him as just coming out of high school, you'll say that this kid can play some baseball."

1. CARLOS GONZALES, of, South Bend Silver Hawks (Diamondbacks)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 180 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Diamondbacks FA '02 (Venezuela)

The Diamondbacks had enough faith in Gonzales to send him to South Bend to start the 2004 season at age 18, but he broke his right wrist in the second week. He spent last summer instead in the short-season Northwest League, where he ranked as the No. 3 prospect behind outfielders Javier Herrera and Ryan Harveywhom he outclassed in the MWL this year.

Gonzales has an effortless swing and balls soar off his bat. He keeps the bat in the strike zone for a long time and has proven he can hit all types of pitching to all fields. Managers raved about his ability to make two-strike adjustments as a teenager.

His only below-average tool is his speed, but he uses it well on the bases and in right field. He shows good jumps and routes on fly balls. Though runners quickly learned not to challenge his cannon arm, he ranked fourth in the league with 13 outfield assists.

"This guy looks like Carlos Beltran when Beltran is going good," an American League scout said. "He doesn't run as well but he's a better hitter. And he's got that great arm. He has the highest ceiling in the league."

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
515
91
158
28
6
18
98
48
86
7
3
.307
.371
.489

2. HOMER BAILEY, rhp, Dayton Dragons (Reds)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Reds '04 (1)

Bailey and Burlington's Luis Cota had the most electric arms in the league, but there was no comparison between them as pitchers. While Cota relies mainly on sheer arm strength, Bailey shows more aptitude and consistency. He has a legitimate chance to become a No. 1 starter in the majors.

He has a lean but strong frame and an arm stroke that almost looks too easy to be delivering one 92-94 mph fastball after another to the bottom of the strike zone. When he stays on top of his curveball, it's a dynamic 12-to-6 breaking ball. Like most teenagers, he's still refining his changeup and his command.

The Reds haven't been able to keep their top pitching prospects healthy, so they've turned to a tandem-starter system in the lower minors. They exercised extreme care with Bailey, who worked just 104 innings and was allowed to go as many as five innings in just six outingsearning victories in each.

G
GS
W
L
SV
ERA
IP
H
R
ER
HR
BB
SO
AVG
28
21
8
4
0
4.43
103.2
89
64
51
5
62
125
.232

3. ERIC HURLEY, rhp, Clinton LumberKings (Rangers)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 195 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Rangers '04 (1)

A National League scout who covers multiple leagues said Hurley was the equal of any pitching prospect he saw in 2005. He's still making a transition from high school thrower to professional pitcher, but he had enough polish to lead the MWL in strikeouts.

Hurley's lone above-average pitch at this point is his fastball. He can blow it by hitters at 94-95 mph up in the zone or locate it in the low 90s with late boring action at their knees. He's making progress with a hard slider that could become a plus pitch in time, while his changeup lags further behind.

Hurley repeats an efficient delivery, maintaining his balance and staying on line to the plate. His control is already good and should improve with experience. He works hard and studies hitters, looking for any possible edge.

G
GS
W
L
SV
ERA
IP
H
R
ER
HR
BB
SO
AVG
28
28
12
6
0
3.77
155.1
135
72
65
11
59
152
.234

4. JAVIER HERRERA, of, Kane County Cougars (Athletics)
Age: 20 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 191 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Athletics FA '01 (Venezuela)

After winning Northwest League MVP honors last summer, Herrera got off to a slow start in 2005. He was suspended for the first 15 days of the season for failing an MLB offseason test for performance-enhancing substances, then needed another two weeks to get his average above the Mendoza Line. Once he finally got going, it became evident why he's regarded as the best tools player in the Oakland system.

"His best tool is everything," Cedar Rapids manager Bobby Magallanes said. "He can run, he has a phenomenal arm, he has power and he can hit."

For all his physical ability, Herrera is still raw and sometimes out of control. He can get too aggressive at the plate and with his throws. He sometimes takes shaky routes in center field, especially on balls hit in front on him, and relies on his speed to make up for his mistakes.

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
360
70
99
18
2
13
62
47
110
26
5
.275
.374
.444

5. CLIFF PENNINGTON, ss, Kane County Cougars (Athletics)
Age: 21 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 180 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Athletics '05 (1)

Describing Pennington as a gamer doesn't do him justice. "He's a gamer with tools," the second NL scout said. "He's as good a shortstop as I've seen for a while."

Pennington isn't flashy but he gets the job done. He handles the bat well and makes adjustments from both sides of the plate, and he can bunt just as easily as he can sting balls into the gaps. He has the speed, jumps and instincts to steal bases.

Scouts said he could play shortstop in the big leagues right now. His arm rates a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale and plays better than that because of his quick release. He has range to both sides and soft hands, and he always seems to put himself in position to get good hops.

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
290
49
80
15
0
3
29
39
47
25
6
.276
.364
.359

6. TRAVIS BUCK, of, Kane County Cougars (Athletics)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190 B-T: L-L Drafted/Signed: Athletics '05 (1)

Six 2005 first-rounders played in the MWL this summer, and Oakland's duo of Pennington and Buck stood out the most. Beloit righthander Matt Garza also made the top 10, and Wisconsin catcher Jeff Clement would have ranked near the top had he qualified. Fort Wayne lefty Cesar Ramos and Quad City righty Mark McCormick would have missed out even if they had logged enough innings.

A baseball rat like Pennington, Buck is a pure line-drive hitter who controls the strike zone. He has some strength and a quick bat, so he just needs to add loft to his swing to develop more home run power after going deep just once in 32 MWL games. His speed and arm are just average, so his bat will have to carry him and he may wind up in left field.

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
123
17
42
13
0
1
22
19
19
3
1
.341
.427
.472

7. RYAN HARVEY, of, Peoria Chiefs (Cubs)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-5 Wt: 220 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Cubs '03 (1)

Only Gonzales had a higher ceiling in the MWL than Harvey, and no one had more power. He topped the league in homers and was one RBI short of leading in that category as well. He can add strength to his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame, and he has above-average speed and a plus-plus arm.

So why doesn't Harvey rank higher? Because he has several flaws in his offensive game, prompting scouts to wonder if he'll hit as he moves up the ladder. Harvey is a free swinger with a long, strong stroke. He doesn't catch up to quality fastballs and he chases way too many breaking balls out of the strike zone. He doesn't stay on balls on the outer half of the plate, nor does he have a two-strike approach. He'll be a star if he can make all of those adjustments, but that may be too much to ask.

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
467
71
120
30
2
24
100
24
137
8
4
.257
.302
.484

8. ANTHONY SWARZAK, rhp, Beloit Snappers (Twins)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 200 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Twins '04 (2)

One scout said the typical MWL club had five worthwhile prospects. Just counting pitchers, Beloit had nine. Observers couldn't remember the last time the league had a staff that deep, with Swarzak making the biggest impression among the Snappers.

Swarzak combines good stuff and a feel for pitching with a projectable 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame. His fastball already sits at 91-92 mph and tops out at 94, and he throws his changeup with the same arm speed.

His biggest needs are to tighten his curveball and to improve his fastball by adding life and locating it lower in the strike zone. Swarzak made progress in those areas and earned a promotion to high Class A as a 19-year-old in mid-July.

G
GS
W
L
SV
ERA
IP
H
R
ER
HR
BB
SO
AVG
18
18
9
5
0
4.04
91.1
81
48
41
7
32
101
.238

9. RAFAEL RODRIGUEZ, rhp, Cedar Rapids Kernels (Angels)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 175 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Angels FA '01 (Dominican Republic)

Rodriguez ranked 14th on this list two years ago, then got sidetracked by a tender elbow that restricted him to seven starts in 2004. His violent delivery was the culprit, and when he toned it down this season he stayed healthy and pitched a career-high 146 innings.

There are similarities between him and Francisco Rodriguez, who's no relation. They have the same build and comparable stuff, though Rafael pitches with less intensity. His out pitch is his mid-80s slider, which is saying something considering he also has a 90-94 mph fastball.

If he can't refine his changeup, he'll also wind up in the bullpen. Rafael tries to challenge hitters with his fastball up in the zone too often, which led to rough outings following his promotion to high Class A.

G
GS
W
L
SV
ERA
IP
H
R
ER
HR
BB
SO
AVG
13
13
5
2
0
2.78
74.1
61
24
23
5
27
74
.220

10. MATT GARZA, rhp, Beloit Snappers (Twins)
Age: 21 Ht: 6-4 Wt: 185 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Twins '05 (1)

Though Garza threw a combined 184 innings between Fresno State and his pro debut, he maintained the arm strength that got him drafted 24th overall in June. His fastball still sat at 91-93 mph and touched 95 at the end of the summer. He has some deception to his delivery, so the pitch gets on hitters quickly, and it also has sink.

Garza's slider has a chance to give him a second plus pitch, and he also throws a curveball. He'll need to improve his changeup and use it more to remain a starter. If not, his fastball/slider combination already is good enough for him to project as a late-inning reliever.

G
GS
W
L
SV
ERA
IP
H
R
ER
HR
BB
SO
AVG
10
10
3
3
0
3.54
56.0
53
24
22
5
15
64
.251

11. JAY RAINVILLE, rhp, Beloit Snappers (Twins)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 230 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Twins '04 (2)

Rainville is the third of three Beloit pitchers on this list, and several others received strong consideration. Kevin Slowey, a second-round pick in June whose 69-8 strikeout-walk ratio is a testament to his polish, just missed grabbing one of the final spots. Little-known swingman Jose Mijares was the best lefty pitching prospect in the league. Others repeatedly mentioned included 2004 first-rounder Kyle Waldrop; Eduardo Morlan; and David Shinskie, whose 7.22 ERA belied the fact that he had the best raw stuff on the Snappers staff.

The fourth of six pitchers the Twins selected in the first three rounds of the 2004 draft, Rainville projects to throw harder than any member of that group. He spent much of his MWL stint pitching at 88-90 mph, though he threw 91-92 and touched 94 in his final start before leaving for high Class A. Even with fringe-average velocity, he was effective pounding the zone with his fastball because it's such a heavy pitch.

Rainville's curveball was his best pitch with Beloit, as he could either throw it for strikes or get hitters to chase it out of the zone. His changeup improved and he was willing to throw it behind in the count. Rainville's 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame reminds some of a young Curt Schilling, and his aggressive mentality once gave him National Hockey League potential as a defenseman.

G
GS
W
L
SV
ERA
IP
H
R
ER
HR
BB
SO
AVG
16
16
8
2
0
3.77
88.1
83
39
37
14
27
77
.243

12. TREVOR PLOUFFE, ss, Beloit Snappers (Twins)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 174 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Twins '04 (1)

The Twins drafted Plouffe ahead of all those pitchers in 2004, and he drew the best reviews among the MWL's crop of teenage shortstops that also included Bush, Southwest Michigan's Reid Brignac, Wisconsin's Matt Tuiasosopo and Asdrubal Cabrera. Plouffe's statistics, like his tools, aren't eye-catching but he has solid tools across the board and showed a lot of perseverance this year. He went 1-for-20 to open the season and was batting .168 at the end of May, but he made adjustments and was an RBI threat in the second half of the season.

Plouffe's strong wrists allow him to drive pitches to all fields, and he grasps the strike zone better than most young hitters. The consensus is that he'll bat .260-.270 with 15 homers in the majors. Hes an average runner with solid range and plus arm strength. He's more steady than flashy in the mold of Greg Gagne, or J.J. Hardy.

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
466
58
104
18
0
13
60
50
78
8
4
.223
.300
.345

13. LUIS COTA, rhp, Burlington Bees (Royals)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 193 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Royals '03 (10)

Cota had the best pure fastball in the MWL, delivering 92-95 mph heat that bored in on righthanders. Though he's just 6 feet tall, he throws with little effort.

"The thing about Cota is that he has that extra gear," a second AL scout said. "He can run it up to the mid-90s when he's in trouble. He can reach back and get a little more."

Cota preferred playing shortstop to pitching when he was in high school, and his inexperience shows. He lacks feel and his delivery easily gets out of whack, which hurts his command and secondary pitches. He has a chance to develop a plus slider, though he gets under the pitch too often, and his changeup needs a lot of work.

G
GS
W
L
SV
ERA
IP
H
R
ER
HR
BB
SO
AVG
26
26
5
8
0
4.01
148.0
143
75
66
10
63
137
.253

14. DAVID WINFREE, 3b, Beloit Snappers (Twins)
Age: 20 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 215 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Twins '03 (13)

Winfree needed two years in Rookie ball before he was ready for the MWL but had no trouble adapting once he got there. He launched a three-run homer in his final at-bat of the season, allowing him to edge Harvey 101-100 for the RBIs title, and he also led the league in hits.

While Beloit's cozy Pohlman field did boost Winfree's numbershe hit .318-11-59 at home and .270-5-42 on the roadhe has the size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), strength and swing to grow into legitimate power. Better plate discipline would help him in that regard. He uses the opposite field well, a good sign for a young hitter.

A catcher in high school and a first baseman in his 2003 pro debut, Winfree still is learning the nuances of playing the hot corner. He committed 34 errors, tops among MWL third basemen, but has enough arm and actions to stay there.

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
562
80
165
31
5
16
101
22
93
3
2
.294
.329
.452

15. SEAN GALLAGHER, rhp, Peoria Chiefs (Cubs)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-1 Wt: 210 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Cubs '04 (12)

Gallagher was the hottest MWL pitcher at the start of the season, going 5-1, 0.75 in the first two months. He leveled off and went 6-3, 4.66 in the final two months, and observers weren't quite sure what to make of him. Everyone agreed that he had better command, savvy and mound presence than most pitchers his age, though they differed on the quality of his stuff.

Gallagher had the league's best curveball. While some thought it was an above-average pitch, others saw it as loopy and slurvy and thought it stood out only because he could locate it so well. His 88-90 mph fastball and his changeup are fringe-average pitches and may not get much better because he doesn't have a very projectable frame at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds.

G
GS
W
L
SV
ERA
IP
H
R
ER
HR
BB
SO
AVG
26
26
14
5
0
2.71
146.0
107
53
44
10
55
139
.206

16. ERIC PATTERSON, 2b, Peoria Chiefs (Cubs)
Age: 22 Ht: 5-11 Wt: 170 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Cubs '04 (8)

Coming from a premier college program at Georgia Tech, Patterson was more advanced than most players in the league and it showed. He led the MWL in hitting and stole 40 bases, though a lot of managers wondered why he was in low Class A to begin with and why he wasn't promoted at midseason.

As with his teammate Gallagher, Patterson inspired a difference of opinions. Most managers thought he was a complete hitter with a good approach and surprising pop for his size. Most scouts, however, said his swing was a bit long and that he needed to focus more on selectivity and contact. Like his older brother Corey, who has underachieved for the Cubs, they thought Eric swung for the fences too oftena reputation that dogged him in college as well.

Patterson has decent pop and good speed, but those tools aren't in the same class as Corey's. Despite his athleticism, he still has a lot of work to do at second base. He looks a little stiff, and his angles and double-play pivot need improvement.

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
432
90
144
26
11
13
71
53
94
40
11
.333
.405
.535

17. REID BRIGNAC, ss, Southwest Michigan Devil Rays
Age: 19 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 170 B-T: L-R Drafted/Signed: Davil Rays '04 (2)

Though Brignac couldn't approach the .378 average he put up in his pro debut, he held his own as a teenager in low Class A. He had one of the best lefthanded strokes in the league, with natural loft that bodes well for his future power. He reminded Beloit manager Kevin Boles of top Yankees position prospect Eric Duncan, who played in the MWL last year.

While Brignac is a free swinger, he does use the whole field and his approach should mature with time. He's athletic with average speed and a solid arm, but scouts say he'll have to move off shortstop. Third base is likely his future destination, with the outfield and second base also possibilities.

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
512
77
135
29
2
15
61
40
131
5
5
.264
.319
.416

18. MATT TUIASOSOPO, ss, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Mariners)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Mariners '04 (3)

Outside of Harvey, Tuiasosopo had more physical presence than any position player in the league. He's a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder who was a top University of Washington quarterback recruit until he signed for a third-round record $2.29 million in 2004. Strong and athletic, he plays hard and doesn't just coast on his natural ability.

Though he's loaded with power potential, Tuiasosopo hit just six home runs. He has an inside-out swing that leaves him vulnerable on inside pitches, and he'll have to do a better job of getting his bat head out quicker. He also needs to learn to stay back on breaking balls.

Tuiasosopo lacks the actions and quickness for shortstop. Given the Mariners' depth at that position throughout their system, he'll probably move to third base in the near future.

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
409
72
113
21
3
6
45
44
96
8
5
.276
.359
.386

19. ASDRUBAL CABRERA, 2b/ss, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Mariners)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 170 B-T: B-R Drafted/Signed: Mariners FA '02 (Venezuela)

Because the Mariners sent three shortstop prospects to Wisconsin, the Timber Rattlers had to work out a timeshare between Tuiasosopo, Cabrera and Oswaldo Navarro. Managers rated Cabrera the MWL's best defensive second baseman and also gave him votes at short, where he played full-time and excelled after a promotion to high Class A.

"Defensively, he's one of the best I've seen in a long time," Boles said. "He has a chance to be a special defensive player."

While Cabrera is a switch-hitter who controlled the strike zone and hit for average, his offensive ceiling may be somewhat limited. His speed is just average, so he'll have to develop more pop to make much of an impact. He does have room to fill out in his 6-foot, 170-pound frame.

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
192
26
61
12
3
4
30
30
32
2
6
.318
.407
.474

20. WILKIN RAMIREZ, 3b, West Michigan Whitecaps (Tigers)
Age: 19 Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190 B-T: R-R Drafted/Signed: Tigers FA '03 (Dominican Republic)

Ramirez has flown under the radar the last two years, missing all of 2004 after tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder and spending more time at DH than third base while recovering with West Michigan. The only category he led the MWL in was strikeouts.

But one AL scout said he thought Ramirez had the best bat speed and as much offensive potential as almost anyone in the league. He's strong and explosive, and he also has average speed. He wasn't a strong defender at third base before his injury, and footwork problems led to 26 errors in 57 games at the hot corner this year. The outfield may be in his future.

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
SO
SB
CS
AVG
OBP
SLG
493
69
129
21
2
16
65
35
143
21
8
.262
.317
.410

Photo Credits:
Bailey, Brignac, Gallagher, Gonzalez, Harvey, Ramirez: Dan Arnold
Plouffe: Mike Janes
Herrera: Bill Mitchell
Buck, Pennington: Bill Nichols
Patterson: Sports On Film

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