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2005 Top 20 Prospects: Northwest LeagueComplete Index of League Top 20s
By Will Kimmey
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Vancouver won the Western Division by a game over Salem-Keizer in a battle of veteran teams with plenty of college seniors and players repeating the league. Spokane won the Eastern Division by a game over Tri-City, but that race played like this year's National League West with every team finishing below .500.
The prospects playing in those races weren't nearly as exciting. First-round picks Jeff Clement (Mariners) and Travis Buck (Athletics) combined for just 13 games at in the NWL, while other elite players either stayed in Rookie leagues or made the quick jump to full-season ball. Spokane's John Mayberry Jr. was the only first-rounder to spend the majority of his season in the NWL, but he struggled for much of the summer while adjusting to a new position and wood bats.
"The talent, position player-wise or prospect-wise, is below where it usually is," Tri-City manager Ron Gideon said. "It was a very weird year. You look at our division, where an under .500 team won it. The other division has better records, but older teams are leading it. Maybe it's late bloomers. Hopefully, thatís what it is."
Though Lindsay doesn't own the same command Hernandez demonstrated two years ago, his fastball nearly matches Hernandez' in velocity by peaking at 97 mph and sitting in the low 90s. His knuckle-curve also is a plus power pitch with a sharp break, though his ability to locate it fluctuates from start to start. Lindsay doesn't throw his changeup more than five times per game--he has no reason to offer a break to hitters who can't handle his heater--but it should emerge as at least an average pitch.
Repeating his delivery better has helped Lindsay improve his control markedly since he walked 19 batters in 21 Rookie ball innings in 2004. Command looms as his next challenge, as he'll have to keep his fastball down and curveball in the strike zone.
"He was by far the most dominant pitcher in the league," Boise manager Trey Forkerway said. "He has an above-average fastball, and usually against us he doesn't have to use anything but the fastball. It was so live and our guys werenít really ready for it."
Veal showed quick improvement with his secondary pitches and has the makings of an above-average curveball. In his final start of the season, he struck out 10 batters in five scoreless innings, allowing a hit and two walks.
"He's definitely the best lefthander in this league," Gideon said. "He commanded his fastball to both sides of the plate, kept it down, and in later innings he found his curveball, a sharp little curveball."
His swing has some holes, but Teagarden displays a great knowledge of the strike zone and hits well when he gets ahead in the count. He showed power to all fields, but rarely packed a punch when behind in the count. He continued to stand out behind the plate with his arm (he threw out 38 percent of basestealers), receiving and blocking skills and game-calling ability.
"He's going to be a dandy," Spokane manager Greg Riddoch said. "He's as good a catch-and-throw guy as I've seen. He's got a good arm and good soft hands behind the plate."
Hundley rated right with Teagarden as a catching prospect. A plus arm and quick transfer helped Hundley throw out 37 percent of basestealers before earning a promotion to the low Class A Midwest League. His power potential intrigued, especially because of how easily his hands work in his swing, though the length in his stroke means he'll hit for more power than average.
"People talk about Teagarden, but I like Hundley better," said Salem-Keizer manager Steve Decker, a former big league catcher. "Teagarden is more polished, but Hundley's got more athleticism, speed, bat speed and arm strength. If he gets with catching instructor he could be better than Teagarden, but he's not a polished defender right now."
As a hitter, the results were even more glowing. Though Sandoval is a free swinger, he doesnít miss much because of his quick hands, excellent two-strike approach and a swing and front-side drive that keep his bat in the hitting zone for a long time. Sandoval ranked second in the league in hits and RBIs, placing third in batting. He'll need to learn to take borderline pitches in hitter's counts, and understanding his hot and cold zones should allow him to turn more of his doubles into home runs.
"He has life in his body, power from both sides of the plate, a good idea about the strike zone and makes adjustments quick," Vancouver manager Juan Navarrete said. "We threw him some offspeed, but you can't get him out on the same stuff two or three at-bats in a row."
A year after placing Asdrubal Cabrera and Osvaldo Navarro on this list, Everett offered another excellent middle infielder in Valbuena. While not as slick defensively as his predecessors, Valbuena has more offensive potential and reminds Everett manager Pedro Grifol of Ray Durham. He led the NWL in homers (though 11 of them came at cozy Everett Memorial Stadium) and RBIs while ranking fourth in steals.
Valbuena's quick bat and line-drive swing should produce average power for his position. He's average to a tick above defensively. He makes routine plays consistently, covers ground and turns the double play well.
"Valbuena is more of an offensive player," Yakima manager Jay Gainer said. "Their park lends to hitting, but that doesn't take anything away from him. He's a solid hitter."
Griffin led all NCAA Division I pitchers with 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings at Niagara during the spring and nearly maintained that pace in the NWL. His success comes from the fact that his delivery shows no changes whether he's firing either of his two plus pitches, a 91-92 mph fastball or a hard curveball that breaks late and straight down.
He's a rhythm pitcher who prefers to worst fast, pumping strikes in the zone. He slows down noticeably when his command isn't on.
"His curveball looks so much like a fastball that they donít see it out of his hand, and he has a little deception in his windup," Decker said. "When he's got the right tempo and mechanics, the tempo is very fast: boom, boom, boom, strike, strike, strike. When he's on, you just watch him. It doesnít matter if it's a righthanded hitter or lefthanded hitter, he just blows them away."
He does have several adjustments to make, however. His long arms and long swing left him vulnerable against breaking balls. He hit .239 against righthanders and had to cheat for power, looking for fastballs whenever he got ahead in the count.
Mayberry's 4.3 speed to first base and above-average, accurate arm mean he could play an acceptable right field at some point, though he's still very raw and learning to get good jumps and reads. He reminded Decker of a young Derrek Lee.
"He's learning balance and rhythm in his swing," Riddoch said. "He just didn't have a rhythm in there from start to go, but he's improved during the season. He has great power but has not shown that this summer. In B.P., he'll lose 50 balls every day. But that's B.P."
"He's not a burner, but boy he's quick out of the box and fast down the line," Decker said. "He hits a groundball to second base and you look up and it's bang-bang at first. It's not a 75 runner first to home where you go, 'Wow!' but boy he's so quick that it's surprising."
Copeland's speed and instincts also play well in center field, though he spent more time in left for Salem-Keizer in deference to Michael Mooney. He tracks down fly balls easily and has a solid arm.
At Tennessee this spring, Headley finished second in NCAA Division I in walks (63) and fourth in on-base percentage (.530). He showed the same selectivity at Eugene, taking his walks and swatting hittable pitches for doubles with a similarly fluid stroke from both sides of the plate.
There are questions about whether Headley has enough power potential to start at third base in the majors. At times he lost his approach and tried to hit too many balls over or off the walls, leaving exploitable holes in his swing. He was as good defensively as any NWL third baseman, and onlookers appreciated his blue-collar approach.
Shull turned down the Diamondbacks as an eighth-round pick in 2004 and bettered his stock by four rounds as a college senior. He separated himself from a strong and seasoned Vancouver staff with his above-average slider.
Aside from that pitch, Shull's pure stuff rates as average. He also uses a sinking fastball that sits around 90 mph and a changeup. His biggest strength is his ability to throw any of his pitches at any time to any part of the strike zone, and that feel keeps hitters off balance.
"In my opinion, he should be in high A ball," Everett manager Pedro Grifol said. "He was in the low 90s with real good mound presence and pitchability."
Mooney is 22 and has spent three years as a pro without getting to full-season ball. He did all he could to win a promotion by posting loud numbers and flashing five above-average tools, most notably power and speed. He led the league in runs, hits and triples.
The biggest knock against Mooney is his lack of consistency in executing the physical parts of the game and dealing with the mental aspects.
"He's the best athlete on our team," Decker said. "He has power, has bat speed and is a very good defensive outfielder with a quick release and a good arm. But emotionally the game tears him up. When he's doing bad, he's very hard on himself. That could be his downfall."
An 11th-round draft-and-follow from Canada who signed in May for $240,000, Saunders was the one of the league's youngest players at 18. He showed his youth at times, taking a bad hack or making a defensive mistake, but his size and skills project a strong future.
Saunders' swing is short and sweet with plus power potential, making Yakima manager Jay Gainer recall Shawn Green. His average improved during the season, from .221 before August to .317 after. His arm strength and speed are solid for a right fielder.
"He's playing with guys 22 and 23 years old right now," Grifol said. "Imagine that kid four years from now up to par with the others age-wise. He's got above-average offensive potential and is at least average defensively. He's a gap guy now, but once in a while he'll get a hold of one and hit it a long ways."
Murphy went from a 14th-round pick in June to league MVP. He doesn't have a standout tool but he's average across the board.
He showed a good feel for hitting by making adjustments and using the whole field, though he could stand to be more selective. He led the league with 36 extra-base hits and projects to have solid gap power. He's a smart baserunner with average speed, and he can play either corner outfield spot, though his arm fits better in left.
"What a great 14th-round draft pick," Gideon said. "Everything's under control. He handles lefthanders well, has pop, can hit the ball the other way with pop. His range is limited, but I wouldn't worry about it because of what he brings to the plate offensively."
The Mariners converted Jorge Sosa and Rafael Soriano from outfielders to pitchers in the NWL, and both reached the majors. Guaramato hopes to take the same path, and he's off to a nice start with a lively 91-94 mph fastball and the makings of a plus-plus slider. His command is still a work in progress and he's still learning the nuances of pitching.
"He had a fast arm and good movement on his fastball, and I think there still might be more in the arm," a scout said. "With that and his slider, he's a very interesting sleeper."
Simons vaulted to the second round of the 2005 draft after a standout sophomore season at Everett (Wash.) CC, quite a jump for a player who was a 38th-rounder out of high school in Idaho and went undrafted after his first year at Everett. Simons increased his stock by adding 20 pounds to his lanky frame, resulting in a fastball that rarely dipped below 90 mph and was up to 94 during the spring.
Perhaps because he was tired, Simons usually pitched in the high 80s at Tri-City. Still, he impressed observers with his quick arm, deceptive low three-quarters delivery and aggressive gameplan. He threw three pitches for strikes and moved them around the zone, though he'd benefit from learning to vary his fastball more.
His slider can be a plus pitch, but he gets under it a bit too often and leaves it flat. Simons used his changeup more as a pro than he did in school, and showed some sink with it.
Kahn's maximum-effort delivery was the reason the Mariners moved him from college starter to pro reliever, a role in which he simply can rear back and throw. His powerful fastball reached 97 mph, and he regularly threw it at 94. Kahn also has a 12-6 curveball, but it can get loopy at times.
"For me, he's a straight setup man or closer in big leagues," Grifol said. "He's got the mentality for it, the athleticism for it and wants the ball to do it. His breaking ball is big and 12-6, but he doesnít control it as much as he should right now. He's going to be very nasty once he starts throwing a slider. Thatís probably a pitch he should use instead of the curve."
A former sharpshooting champion in his native New Mexico and a right fielder at San Diego CC, Ray became a full-time pitcher after transferring to Californiaís Azusa Pacific University. He has a low-90s fastball that peaks at 95 mph, and he might develop a second plus pitch in his curveball.
He needs to speed up his curve, which breaks very slowly, and to improve his control. He shows athleticism and throws from a high three-quarters arm slot. He finished strong, recording 12 of his final 13 outs via the strikeout.
"He's got a real good arm and looks like Rich Harden's twin on the mound," Decker said. "His stuff reminds me more of Chad Harville, though. It'd be scary if the A's had another Harden."
Managers loved Sellers' knowledge of and passion for the game, which should come as no surprise because his father Jeff pitched in the majors.
"He's such an aggressive player," Forkerway said. "He gets after it every day. It's impressive for someone so young. Usually these high school guys are a deer in the headlights, but not him."
Those intangibles are a big reason why the Athletics placed Sellers in the NWL as a high school player, yet necessary for a 5-foot-10, 155-pounder. He already has started to draw David Eckstein comparisons, but he does have physical skills. His range, hands and footwork all stick out, and he has an average arm. He handles the bat very well, making consistent contact and refusing to chase bad pitches. He doesn't project to have much power.
Reed suffered from being compared to more advanced catchers such as Teagarden and Hundley, but still rated as above-average defensively and threw out 39 percent of basestealers. His hands are a plus, and he showed good instincts and quickness in blocking balls. His arm strength will grade out better if he can stop flying open too soon in his throwing motion.
Compared as a hitter to his older brother Jeremy, Mark struggled at the plate. He began the year by hitting .135 in low Class A before a demotion to extended spring training, and he never really got going at Boise. Managers spotted holes in his swing and watched him swing through hittable pitches.
However, Reed still showed good bat speed. He isn't likely to become a power hitter, but patience could yield a solid lefthanded hitter for average, a nice trait in a defensive-minded catcher.
"He's still young and in his first full season and has promise behind the plate," Forkerway said. "He's a good receiver with a good arm and his main tool is youth. He's exactly the type of player his brother is. He hits the ball in the gap, uses whole field and runs the bases extremely well."