Arizona League Top 20 Prospects
By Allan Simpson
Matt Creighton and Jemel Spearman formed an all-star double-play combination as the Cubs walked off with the Rookie-level Arizona League title this summer. Creighton led the league in average (.361), home runs (eight), on-base percentage (.502) and slugging (.598), while Spearman played a steady shortstop and led the league in stolen bases, swiping 29 in 30 attempts.
But the two players earned little support from managers in Baseball America's annual survey of the league's top prospects. In a league where youth rules, Creighton, 23, and Spearman, 21, were viewed as a couple of graybeards.
Managers preferred the long-range worth of two other Cubs prospects, outfielder Felix Pie and lefthander Justin Jones, both 17. Pie, the league's top position player, hit .321 and legged out 13 triples. Jones, the best pitcher, led the league in ERA.
1. Felix Pie, of, Cubs
"He was by far the best prospect," Mariners manager Darrin Garner said. "He's got a great idea at the plate and an excellent approach to the game for a 17-year-old. He just needs to mature."
"He needs to learn plate discipline and walk more often," said Cubs manager Carmelo Martinez, though Pies 21 walks in 248 plate appearances werent bad at all, considering his age. "He's only 17, so it will come."
Pie's best tool is his speed, which was most evident as he chased down balls in center field. He got good jumps and covered a lot of ground. He doesn't run the bases all that well yet, but managers say better technique should come with experience.
A small but powerfully built lefthanded hitter, Pie specialized in driving balls to the alleys and dashing around the bases. He had more than twice as many triples as his closest competitor.
"He doesn't have much power now, but it should come down the road," A's skipper Ruben Escalera said.
2. Micah Schnurstein, 3b, White Sox
"When he gets a little stronger," White Sox manager Jerry Hairston said, "a lot of the balls he drives to the right-center gap now will go over the fence."
Schnurstein's only negatives are that he doesnt draw many walks or run well. But he does have soft hands and is a very capable third baseman.
3. Justin Jones, lhp, Cubs
Managers say Jones only has scratched the surface of his ability.
"He's got a great demeanor, a 90-92 mph fastball and can throw his curve at any point in the count," Martinez said. "Down the road, I can see him in the mid-90s. He's got a lot going for him."
4. Jesse English, lhp, Giants
"His fastball tops out at 91-92," Giants manager Bert Hunter said, "but it's a great pitch because he complements it so well with his changeup."
Englishs changeup makes his fastball look like a mid-90s heater. He also throws a solid curveball, giving him an effective three-pitch mix. Hunter said the only drawback with English is that occasionally he needs someone to light a fire under him to get him going.
5. Carlos Sosa, of, Giants
But he also added some power and 54 points to his average, blossoming in his second season in Arizona. Sosa could hit 20-30 homers annually and also shows good speed on the bases.
"He really improved over last year," Escalera said. "He has good raw power now, with center-field skills and a right-field arm."
6. Daniel Haigwood, lhp, White Sox
"He really knows what he's doing," Angels manager Brian Harper said. "He doesn't throw that hard, but he's got three solid pitches and he moves them in and out well."
Haigwood learned to throw a two-seam fastball this year. He picked it up so well that it was the only kind of fastball he threw in a late-season start, when he averaged 88-89 mph.
"He should add another 2-3 mph when he adds strength," Hairston said. "He already has a major league curveball and mixes his change in well. He's got the poise and makeup to go far in this game."
7. Matt Brown, 3b, Angels
"He really matured as a hitter this year," Harper said. "He handled the breaking stuff much better, but he'll still need to develop power for the hot corner."
Brown, a second baseman in his first stint in the AZL, hit only two homers in 97 at-bats, thought that was partially because he played his home games at Mesas spacious Gene Autry Park. He should be good for 15-20 homers a year down the road. He also shone defensively, committing only one error in 23 games at the hot corner.
8. Travis Ishikawa, 1b, Giants
Ishikawa added the exclamation point by homering in his first AZL at-bat--his only home run in 19 games before getting promoted to the short-season Northwest League, where he hit .307 in 22 games. He drives the ball to the gaps now and should develop over-the-fence power in time.
"He reminds me a lot of John Olerud," Hunter said. "He's got the same approach and takes the same swing. And he's also got an excellent glove."
9. Billy Petrick, rhp, Cubs
Petrick's fastball was clocked anywhere from 89-92 mph and should pick up speed as he refines his mechanics. What makes the pitch so effective now is its heavy life.
"He has a very easy delivery, but he's strong and the ball explodes in the strike zone," Harper said.
10. Ryan Rodriguez, lhp, White Sox
Rodriguez displayed command of three pitches, including a major league-caliber curveball.
"He's got a big frame and can rock and fire," Hairston said. "He pitches with a lot of confidence."
11. Josh Womack, of, Mariners
"He's got a quick, short swing, runs the bases well, plays solid defense and has an average arm," said Hunter, who had similar tools to Womack and likewise came out of southern California as a second-round pick (Astros, June 1985).
12. Matt Cain, rhp, Giants
One exception was his own skipper, Hunter.
"He was the fastest pitcher in the league," Hunter said. "He's so effortless and yet the ball flies out of his hand. He needs to use his body more, but it's possible he could throw 99 or 100 one day."
Cain's control problems were attributed to his curveball. The Giants eventually took the pitch away from him and replaced it with a slider, which is easier to control.
13. Chris Young, of, White Sox
The key for Young will be learning the strike zone so he stops chasing pitches and gets better ones to hit.
"He can hit it a mile," Hairston said, "but he's a dead pull hitter now and the trick will be getting him to use the whole field."
14. Michael Garciaparra, ss, Mariners
"He looks like Nomar and has similar mannerisms," Hairston said. "It's evident his brother has taught him to play."
Garciaparra has a decent arm and solid range at shortstop, though like many youngsters at the position he needs to be more consistent. He has a good approach at the plate but must get stronger. Hes a work in progress who gets marks for his work ethic and intelligence.
15. Matt Creighton, 2b, Cubs
Though hes old by Rookie-league standards, no one rules out Creightons chances of playing in the big leagues. Managers liked his stroke and power, though he needs to find a position. Creighton played first base for the Cubs before switching to second when second-rounder Brian Dopirak joined the team in August.
"He's got a great swing and puts the ball in play," Hunter said. "He does not get cheated at the plate."
16. Rafael Rodriguez, rhp, Angels
Neither, however is Rodriguez fastball. He throws in the low to mid-90s and also uses a slider and changeup. He didnt fare nearly as well after a promotion to the Rookie-level Pioneer League (1-1, 5.96), where he was one of the few 17-year-olds on the mound.
17. Brandon McCarthy, rhp, White Sox
McCarthy hasnt grown into his frame or his fastball yet, but he does spot his heater well. His slider, which has good downward action, is his strikeout pitch.
18. Jairo Garcia, rhp, Athletics
Garcia touched 92 mph with his fastball and threw a good breaking ball. Hes still developing his changeup. Though Garcias AZL statistics were slightly more impressive in 2001, he stood out more for managers this summer.
19. Steve Moss, of, Brewers
Moss is a fine athlete. He showed good speed, range and arm strength in center field and had a knack for getting on base.
20. Alfredo Francisco, 3b, Cubs
Managers like his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame and raw talent that makes him projectable. He needs a lot of work on his plate discipline and his defense, though hes athletic and packs plenty of raw power.
Top 5 Arizona League prospects five years ago
1. Todd Noel, rhp, Cubs
Copyright 1998-2001 Baseball America. All rights reserved.|
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.