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2005 Top 20 Prospects: Pioneer LeagueComplete Index of League Top 20s
By Alan Matthews
Chat Wrap: Alan Matthews took your Pioneer League questions
In past years, the Rookie-level Pioneer League was home to scores of top draft picks making their professional debuts. The 2005 crop, however, was more experienced and less promising, especially on the mound.
"Last year's pitching compared to this year's was night and day," Great Falls manager John Orton said. "There were some guys with some arm strength this year, but there weren't guys with good breaking balls and throwing to both sides of the plate, except about five guys."
Orem and Helena, who played for the league championship, dominated the list of the league’s best 20 best prospects with nine selections between them. It could be a case of the rich getting richer, as the parent clubs of the two teams, the Angels and Brewers, were ranked as the most talent-filled organizations by Baseball America the last two years.
The Brewers sent each of the first five picks from their 2005 draft class to Helena, and that group and a strong supporting cast of position players formed a club that won both halves in the Southern Division. Third baseman Ryan Braun, Milwaukee's first-rounder, played as advertised but was promoted so quickly that he didn't have enough plate appearances to qualify for this list.
Billings got a boost in August with the addition of the Reds' top two choices, first-round outfielder Jay Bruce and second-round lefty Travis Wood. Bruce impressed enough in 17 games to rank atop our Pioneer League Top 20, while Wood would have followed close behind him had he not fallen two-thirds of an inning shy of qualifying.
He homered in his first game with Billings and again in the playoffs, standing out as an 18-year-old in a league loaded with four-year college players. Bruce has good bat speed, a picture-perfect swing that should yield above-average power and a patient approach. He uses all fields and makes consistent hard contact.
An average runner, Bruce has good instincts in the outfield as well as on the bases. He mans center field adequately, but projects to eventually move to right field, where his power potential and plus arm profile well. He has excellent makeup and aptitude.
Fermaint's best tool is his plus speed and he is a very good defensive center fielder. He has good instincts and outstanding range. After two years in the Rookie-level Arizona League, he was held back in extended spring training because of a sore shoulder, but he showed an average, accurate arm nonetheless.
He can reach base in a number of different ways. He can keep the ball on the ground and utilize his speed and he bunts well. But Fermaint has some pop that he didn't show while compiling a .393 slugging percentage during his first two seasons. He nearly doubled that in the PL and has average power, especially to the pull side. He needs to improve his plate discipline and is susceptible to stuff pitches on the outer half because he's pull-conscious.
"Fermaint might be an 80 runner but with bat potential in center field," Orem manager Tom Kotchman said. "There are not many guys with that speed and some power."
The Angels' stockpile of shortstop prospects is astonishing, and Statia is the latest in a long line to make a stop in the PL, following Erick Aybar, Brandon Wood and Sean Rodriguez. A native of Curacao, Statia raised his profile when he moved to south Florida. He speaks four languages, indicative of his outstanding makeup and thirst for instruction.
Statia has pure shortstop actions with supple hands, an average arm and an innate ability to read balls of the bat. He led all PL shortstops with a .959 fielding percentage.
Statia has a good approach at the plate and makes consistent contact from both sides, spraying line drives to all fields. He doesn't project to hit for much power and must refine his strike-zone judgment. He's a slightly above-average runner.
"The way the ball comes off his bat was a different sound than other guys in the league," Orton said. "He has good plate coverage and he'd foul pitches off in, then get something out over the plate and drive it."
Salome's aggressive approach might have caught up to him, but he has outstanding eye-hand coordination and an electric bat. He gets the barrel through the zone with authority and drives balls to all fields with power. He's athletic and is an above-average runner.
Whether he remains behind the plate predicates his value as a prospect. His high-energy style is welcome in a young player but he tries to do everything too quickly defensively, leading to 11 errors, the most among PL catchers. He has good hands, a plus arm and regularly registers pop times from 1.85-1.95 seconds, a positive sign for his future as a catcher.
In a system bereft of bona fide catching prospects, the White Sox aggressively assigned the 19-year-old Hernandez to low Class A out of spring training. He hit .222, which wasn't a surprise given his lack of experience, but he compounded his problems by letting his offensive struggles affect his defense. When he joined Great Falls in June, he improved his mental approach and became one of the league's best hitters and arguably its best defensive catcher.
Hernandez is a hungry hitter with good raw power. He's aggressive and lets his hands fly through the zone, making sharp contact from both sides of the plate. He makes better contact and has more pop from the left side. He's a predominantly pull hitter and needs to improve his plate discipline, though he has good pitch recognition. Like most catchers, he's a below-average runner.
Hernandez has a plus arm and threw out 45 percent of basestealers in the PL. His receiving and game-calling skills should improve with time. He's a bit high-strung and must learn not to press.
The Angels selected Marek as a 40th-round draft-and-follow shortly after he was named most outstanding pitcher at the 2004 Junior College World Series. He boosted his stock by pitching in the mid-90s last fall and wound up signing for $800,000 prior to the 2005 draft, the largest bonus given a 2004 draft-and-follow.
Marek has a sturdy build and good mechanics, enabling him to deliver his pitches on a good downward plane. His fastball tapered off to 89-90 mph late in the season, but he topped out at 96 and pitched at 92 much of the summer. His breaking ball is a sharp, two-plane curveball that comes in at 78-82 mph. He was asked to craft a changeup, which he used a handful of times each start and has potential to be an average pitch.
Marek tended to miss with his pitches up in the strike zone and will have to improve his command. At 22 and with two potentially plus pitches, he could move quickly. San Jacinto JC used him exclusively in relief, and he may profile best as a setup man.
Fowler played with Chris Nelson, the PL's No. 1 prospect a year ago, on a prominent Georgia summer league team. He might have joined Nelson in 2004's first round if not for a strong commitment to the University of Miami. Fowler went in the 14th round and signed late in the summer for $925,000.
Fowler is slightly awkward now because his lean frame has yet to fill out, but he's immensely promising and projectable. A natural righthanded hitter, he began switch-hitting this season. He has plus raw power, though he swings and misses frequently.
He's an above-average runner with a feel for reading balls off the bat in center field. His arm is accurate and slightly above average as well. Fowler complements his entire package with off-the-charts makeup.
"I think it's going to happen, even though it's not reflected in the stats," Casper manager P.J. Carey said. "He's a five-tool player, one of the premier prospects in the league."
One national crosschecker said Roe had "the best damn curveball I've seen from a high school pitcher in at least 10 years." The Rockies were happy to snap him up with the 32nd overall pick in June.
Roe has electric stuff but needs to refine his delivery, as he struggles to throw strikes consistently. Though he has a loose arm and solid athleticism, he often rushes his delivery and loses balance over the rubber. He touched 97 mph as an amateur and pitched in the low 90s this summer.
"I really like him," Kotchman said. "He's got a Mike Witt body, good downward plane and a plus breaking ball. He has erratic command of it, but it's a plus power curveball."
Following his two mediocre seasons as a shortstop in the Rookie-level Arizona League, the Angels elected to move Arredondo to the mound. He's undersized at 6 feet and 170 pounds, but he has a quick arm and has been a fast study. He struck out 13 while allowing just two hits and a walk in eight innings in Orem's first-round playoff series clincher against Ogden.
Arredondo runs his fastball up to 97 mph and pitched most of the season near 93. His arm works well and his control improved as the season went on. His secondary stuff has a ways to go, though his slider and changeup have potential to be above-average offerings. He's very athletic and fields his position with aplomb.
A reedy righthander, Inman added velocity and command after signing as a third-round pick in June. He didn't allow an earned run in six August starts and surrendered one run or less in 11 of 13 regular-season outings.
With the help of Helena pitching coach Mark Littell, Inman expanded his delivery from a coiled, compact motion to a fuller windup, which improved his balance and helped him find a more direct and downhill path to the plate. His fastball touched 95 mph and he sat near 93.
Inman must sharpen his slurvy, 75-80 mph breaking ball that currently has an 11-5 break. He showed a feel for his changeup, which the Brewers want to replace his splitter. He's an intense competitor and, thanks in part to taking yoga the past two years, is flexible and athletic.
After the Diamondbacks drafted Justin Upton with the No. 1 overall pick this year, they spent eight of their next nine choices on college pitchers. Arizona sent many of those arms to Missoula, and Smith was easily the most impressive. He led the league in wins, innings and strikeouts and was named PL pitcher of the year.
Smith has an advanced feel for pitching. He sets up hitters with an average fastball and slightly above-average curveball, working both offerings to all quadrants of the strike zone. Having pitched in the Southeastern Conference for Louisiana State, he was advanced for the league. He profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter or a reliable lefthanded reliever.
Mosebach turned down the Nationals as a draft-and-follow and the University of Tennessee before signing with the Angels for $152,000. He was kept on tight pitch counts in his pro debut, but he flashed noteworthy stuff. His fastball varied from 88-95 mph with late life, while his low-80s slider had good depth and tilt at times.
Mosebach is just beginning to craft a changeup. He tends to fly open on the front side of his delivery, causing his stuff to flatten out and command to suffer.
"He looks like he is throwing easy, but his ball has good carry through the glove and can shatter some bats," Kotchman said. "He's 6-4 with a young Derek Lowe body. His arm is loose and works as good as anybody's."
Though the PL was down in talent this year, it offered a number of shortstops who could develop into everyday big leaguers. In addition to Statia and Idaho Falls' Chris McConnell, Ogden had two in Rivera and Ivan DeJesus Jr. Rivera, who signed for $400,000 out of the Dominican Republic, is a tick ahead of DeJesus, a second-rounder in June.
Rivera has good actions in the field with steady hands and enough arm strength to make plays from deep in the hole. He still lacks pop and never found much of a groove at the plate, but he has good eye-hand coordination and is a plus runner. He missed more than three weeks with a strained muscle in his leg in August.
Trumbo could have been a first-round pick as a pitcher in 2004 had he been considered signable. The Angels took an 18th-round gamble on him and landed him for a $1.425 million bonus, then decided he'd become a full-time corner infielder. His pro debut this year was lackluster.
His arm strength and raw power are plus tools, and when his timing is on, he can mash towering home runs. He deploys a pull approach but was using the middle of the field more as the season wore on. He hits with a dead lower half and his swing lacks fluidity.
The Angels thought about playing Trumbo at third base, but he lacked the agility and range for the position. His hands are adequate at best and his speed rates as a 30 on the 20-80 scouting scale.
The third of three shortstops the Royals drafted in the top 10 rounds in 2004, McConnell has exceeded expectations. A ninth-rounder, he outplayed Josh Johnson, Kansas City's third-round pick in the same draft, in every phase of the game this summer.
McConnell's strong suit is his defense. He has plus range, good instincts, soft hands and an adequate arm. He's nimble around the bag turning the double play.
He has been somewhat of a surprise at the plate, with good bat speed, a patient approach and a proclivity to stay on top of the ball. A dead-pull hitter McConnell showed enough pop that he spent time batting third for the Chukars, though he profiles as a No. 2 or No. 8 hitter. He draws comparisons to 15-year big leaguer Greg Gagne.
Roberts was one of a handful of intriguing center fielders roaming PL outfields this season. Like Helena's Fermaint and Darren Ford, Roberts has plus speed. He deploys a slap approach, mixes in some gap power and has good plate discipline.
His defense showed signs of improvement, though he relies on his speed to makeup for mistakes reading balls off the bat and has an average arm at best. How he develops his game around his speed will determine his future.
Mosebach and Gamel were two of the better players available in a disappointing Florida junior college crop this year. Undrafted in 2004, Gamel was a junior college all-American and signed for below slot money ($226,000) as an early fourth-round pick.
He has a quick swing from the left side and stays inside the ball well. He stays balanced and has power to all fields. His defense was poor this summer, as he made 14 errors in 41 games, but most of his miscues stemmed from poor footwork, a correctable flaw. He has an above-average arm.
Wimberly led NCAA Division I with a .462 batting average during the spring. He showed he wasn't just feasting on inferior Southwestern Athletic Conference competition by winning the PL hitting crown as well. Besides his bat, he also offers top-of-the-line speed.
Wimberly showed considerable improvement in all phases of the game during his pro debut. When he remains balanced at the plate, he has some gap power and centers balls well. A switch-hitter he shows better plate discipline and a shorter stroke from the right side. He's unrefined defensively and needs to tighten his play around the bag, but has the versatility to play any infield spot. He has good hands and an average if erratic arm.
"He's a minor league Chone Figgins," Kotchman said. "His best position might be at second base but he played shortstop, filled in at third and you can put him in center field, too. He has his own category, an everyday utility player."
Allen was an NCAA Division I-A linebacker prospect in high school and is beginning to grow into his potential as a power-hitting first baseman in the mold of Ryan Howard as he dedicates himself to baseball. His brute strength is evident when he connects and he could develop into a premium power threat.
Unlike most lefthanded hitters, Allen struggles with low pitches, but he can get on top of high fastballs. He tends to stand too upright at the plate, and drives balls to all fields when he incorporates his lower half. He saw a steady diet of offspeed pitches before he made adjustments later in the year.
Allen made strides defensively and should become an average defender at first base. His work ethic will help in that regard.
He didn't hit much after getting called to Ogden when Rivera got hurt, but DeJesus has good bat control and a level swing that produces line drives. He'll fare better once he improves his pitch recognition and plate discipline. He's too flashy and his arm is average at best, but he has good hands, quickness and range.