California League Top 20 Prospects
By Patrick Laverty
The Storms team ERA hovered below 3.00 for most of the season until Dennis Tankersley, Jake Peavy and Ben Howard all were promoted to Double-A Mobile. Even then, Eric Cyr carried the team to a final mark of 3.03.
San Bernardinos rotation took three of the five pitching spots on the Cal Leagues postseason all-star team. Matt Thornton was named pitcher of the year and was second in the league in victories. Craig Anderson took the ERA title and Rafael Sorianos raw stuff astonished managers league-wide.
When it came to hitting, the same two teams had the best prospects in Storm first baseman Xavier Nady and a trio from the Stampede: outfielders Chris Snelling and Jamal Strong, plus catcher Ryan Christianson.
Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres)
Probably the most telling fact about Tankersleys dominance in his short-lived Cal League stint was the fact that Lancaster manager Scott Coolbaugh nominated him for this list. The JetHawks never faced him.
"We felt lucky just to get a run off him," San Bernardino manager Darren Brown said. He should have. Tankersley never allowed more than one run in any start and only three earned runs in 52 innings before his promotion to Double-A Mobile and eventually Triple-A Portland, where he was shut down in August with a tired arm.
His overpowering fastball, which comes in both the two- and four-seam varieties, was too much for Cal League hitters. Tankersleys ability to throw breaking pitches for strikes should give him an opportunity to win a spot in San Diegos starting rotation come spring training.
2 XAVIER NADY, 1b
Wherever it is, the Padres will have to find some way to use his bat. "The ball comes off his bat like a golf ball," Brown said.
Nady tied for the league lead in home runs in his first full pro season. He doesnt shy away from the spotlight either. He singled in his major league debut in September 2000, then belted a long home run in the California/Carolina League all-star game in June.
3 RAFAEL SORIANO, rhp
Packing an already lively fastball in the 95-mph range, Soriano improved his slider this season. Throw in an above-average changeup, and the future is promising.
"Hes going to be an outstanding top-of-the-rotation guy," Modesto manager Greg Sparks said. "He just dominates."
Soriano still is learning the nuances of pitching, and the Mariners depth in pitching will give him plenty of time to develop. His season ended three weeks early in Double-A because of a shoulder impingement, but he was back by instructional league.
4 CHRIS SNELLING, of
Often compared to Lenny Dykstra, Snelling proved he was tough as "Nails" when he played nearly two months with a stress fracture in his foot before it was diagnosed two weeks before the season ended. Despite the injury, Snelling captured the Cal League batting crown and piled up 12 outfield assists.
Injuries might halt Snellings progress. Because he plays so hard, bumps and bruises tend to accumulate over the course of the season. He played just 72 games last year, when he broke his hand when he ran into an outfield wall. His aggressiveness also sparked a bench-clearing brawl with High Desert this year.
5 JAKE PEAVY, rhp
Peavy shined in both the Cal League and the Double-A Southern League before returning to the Storm for the playoffs. He has three solid pitches (low-90s fastball, slider, changeup) that he used to rack up a 188-45 strikeout walk ratio in 133 combined innings in 2001. He was even better in Double-A, where he rejoined his wife and newborn baby in his hometown of Mobile, then fanned 11 in each of his final three starts.
6 JAMAL STRONG, of
Strong offers more than just pure speed. He has easily topped .300 in each of his first two professional seasons and he has more than enough on-base ability to bat leadoff. While he hasnt hit for power yet, he has the potential to do so. "He has good discipline at the plate and a nice, short swing," Sparks said.
Strong covers a ridiculous amount of ground in the outfield, though his lack of arm strength may be his biggest weakness. He reminded Rancho Cucamonga manager Tim Wallach of a young Marquis Grissom.
7 RYAN CHRISTIANSON, c
Elbow tendinitis limited his success behind the plate in 2000, but he was fully healthy this year and threw out 38 percent of basestealers, the third-best figure in the league. He was easily the top offensive prospect among Cal League catchers. His power still is developing, and many of his league-leading 42 doubles could turn into home runs as he gains experience.
8 BEN HOWARD, rhp
For the first time in his pro career, Howard didnt allow more than a walk per inning pitched. In 2000, he walked 111 in 107 Cal League innings while compiling a 6.37 ERA. This season, he cut his ERA by more than half and his walks by more than two-thirds, and continued his success in Double-A.
"Last years a totally different story," Lake Elsinore manager Craig Colbert said. "He has an overpowering fastball and a good slider."
9 BILL HALL, ss
He hit 15 homers in 89 Cal League games, though hitter-friendly Mavericks Stadium may have inflated his numbers. Hall batted .337-10-34 at home and .265-5-17 on the road, then slumped to .256-3-14 overall in the Southern League. He needs to develop more strength to hold up over an entire season.
Hes most impressive defensively, where he shows good range with a strong arm. Hall made 30 errors in 89 games, but most attribute those to his youth.
10 CHRIS BOOTCHECK, rhp
Bootcheck moved up after a dominating July in which he went 4-0, 1.63 with 39 strikeouts in as many innings. He had struggled early, possibly putting too much pressure on himself, and landed on the disabled list in late April with shoulder stiffness.
Managerial reviews were a bit mixed, though his stuff is obviously there. Bootcheck owns a low-90s fastball, a nasty cutter, a curveball and a changeup. "He figured out how to use his fastball better later in the season," Colbert said.
11 MATT THORNTON, lhp
He was quite old for the league at 24, which is obviously a drawback, but the fact that he had thrown just 134 professional innings entering this season must be taken into account. Thornton always has had size and a quality fastball going for him, and this season he improved his command and the consistency of his secondary pitches, a slider and changeup. He was a reliever in college and could return to that role, though the pressing issue right now is getting him innings.
12 TONY TORCATO, dh/of
A pure line-drive hitter, Torcato is expected to develop power with experience. He has been a poor mans Sean Burroughs thus far, which isnt a bad thing. Originally a third baseman, he served as a DH for most of his time in the Cal League this year and has become a full-time left fielder.
13 RAINER OLMEDO, ss
Olmedo has been compared to Omar Vizquel, but he made Sparks think of the other half of Clevelands double-play combination.
"He reminds me a lot of Roberto Alomar, who I played with in 85," Sparks said. "He has the same build and the same approach, plus hes just learning how to switch-hit."
Olmedo actually fared much better hitting lefthanded for the first time (.259) than he did from his natural right side (.159). Hes a stolen-base threat, but thats his only offensive asset at this point. He doesnt hit for average or power, and his plate discipline is nonexistent.
14 FREDDIE BYNUM, ss/2b
What he does have is speed, though he needs to develop his on-base ability to use it more often, and the raw tools to play either second baseman or shortstop. He got going offensively in the middle of the season, hitting a combined .318 with 15 steals.
"Theres a lot there," Colbert said. "Hes still trying to figure it all out."
15 DAVID KRYNZEL, of
Those who saw him shortly after his late May callup were left unimpressed. But those who had to play against him when he hit .378 over the final month saw why he was a first-round pick in 2000. His speed makes him an outstanding center fielder and basestealer, though he needs to get better reads on pitchers.
16 BEN JOHNSON, of
"Hes a 20-year-old with power that is just starting to come out of his bat," Colbert said. "He strikes out a lot, but thats to be expected for a 20-year-old kid in this league."
17 DANE SARDINHA, c
But scouts have questioned Sardinhas offense since he struggled with wood bats in the amateur Cape Cod League, and he didnt resolve any of those doubts this year. His lack of success at the plate wasnt aided by Mudvilles Billy Herbert Field, a pitchers park in a hitters league, but he also didnt help himself with his atrocious plate discipline. He does have some power to the gaps.
18 ERIC CYR, lhp
He returned to the Storm at the beginning of June, replacing Tankersley in the rotation. He throws 91-92 mph and though Colbert said that Cyrs curveball isnt in the same class as the breaking pitches of Tankersley, Peavy and Howard, the Canadian had little difficulty with Cal League hitters. Cyr averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings and limited opponents to a .184 average.
19 MIKE OKEEFE, of
He hit for average and gap power, held his own against lefties and stole 20 bases in 21 attempts. A college first baseman, he needs to work on his left-field play.
20 CRAIG ANDERSON, lhp
Andersons best pitch is his changeup, and he has impeccable control. Despite his lack of overpowering stuff, hitters dont get good swings off him. Righthanders batted just .207 against Anderson this year.
"The bottom line is keeping people off balance," Coolbaugh said. "Hes the type of guy who has to be on the top of his game all the time, and I wouldnt put it past him."
Patrick Laverty covers the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes for the Los Angeles Times.
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