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Florida State League Top 20 Prospects

By Josh Boyd
September 25, 2002

Much like last year with Josh Beckett and Hank Blalock, the Florida State League again hosted two of baseball's best prospects for the first half of the season. Both Mark Teixeira and Jose Reyes earned promotions and continued to progress toward potential 2003 big league debuts by starring in Double-A.

The quality didn't stop at the top, either. Prospects such as Dunedin second baseman Dominic Rich and lefthander Matt Ford, Fort Myers outfielder Josh Rabe, Daytona righthander Todd Wellemeyer, St. Lucie third baseman Enrique Cruz, Brevard County outfielder Brandon Watson and Jupiter outfielder Will Smith couldn't squeeze onto this list despite receiving plenty of support.

Vero Beach had four players who made the top 20 and several other standouts who didn't, including outfielder Jason Repko, third baseman Willy Aybar and righthanders Lino Urdaneta and Ben Diggins (since traded to the Brewers). Fireballers like Hong-Chih Kuo, Agustin Montero, Orlando Rodriguez and Alfredo Gonzalez didn't pitch enough to qualify, but impressed managers who saw them. The Dodgers' 2002 first-round pick, first baseman James Loney, began the year in high school and finished it in the FSL before breaking his wrist.

"I thought the Dodgers had the most prospects of any team in the league," Daytona manager Dave Trembley said. "James Loney is going to be a man."

Floyd
Mark Teixeira
Photo: Rick Battle
1. Mark Teixeira, 3b, Charlotte Rangers
Teixeira's pro career began inauspiciously in spring training, when he injured his forearm. Despite worries that he might need Tommy John surgery, which would have delayed his debut until 2003, he came back in June and quickly became one of the most feared bats in the minors.

Like Blalock, who was the top position prospect in the league a year ago, Teixeira is on the fast track to Arlington. After tuning up in Charlotte, he finished the season by hitting .316-10-28 in 48 games for Tulsa.

Some managers and scouts say it's only a matter of time before Teixeira's below-average arm strength and Blalock's presence will force a move across the diamond to first base. But Teixeira's bat will play regardless of where he ends up defensively.

"He's a tremendously strong hitter," Charlotte manager Darryl Kennedy said. "He's so strong he can mishit a ball and still hit it out of the park."

2. Jose Reyes, ss, St. Lucie Mets
Armed with the best set of pure tools among minor league infielders, Reyes can beat opponents in many different ways.

"He's got above-average everything," Dunedin manager Marty Pevey said. "He'll take Rey Ordonez' place next year. This kid can run circles around Ordonez."

Reyes ran circles around the FSL basepaths before moving to Binghamton at the end of August. A top-of-the-scale runner, he finished fifth in the minors with 104 runs and sixth with 58 steals.

Built along the lines of Alfonso Soriano, Reyes has wiry athleticism and surprising strength. He ripped a minor league-best 19 triples. He also has the makings of a plus major league defender, including a strong arm and tremendous range.

3. Francisco Rosario, rhp, Dunedin Blue Jays
Rosario emerged as an intriguing pitching prospect at low Class A Charleston in the first half, then solidified his status as one of the best arms in the minors after his promotion to Dunedin. He made significant strides in all phases of his game.

"He keeps getting better," an American League scout said. "The stuff is the same, but he's learning how to pitch a little better. He is improving his English and learning situations in the game."

Rosario throws 92-97 mph gas, a developing slider and a pair of devastating changeups. Pevey liked his ability and moxie to throw a 3-0 changeup for a strike, while Dunedin pitching coach Hector Barrios described Rosario as a power pitcher with the feel of a finesse pitcher.

4. Taylor Buchholz, rhp, Clearwater Phillies
Managers rated Buchholz' curveball the best breaking pitch in the league. Scouts compare the 12-to-6 hammer to that of fellow Phillies righthanders Brett Myers and Gavin Floyd, grading it a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale.

Like Myers and Floyd, Buchholz is developing into the total package on the mound. His fastball hits 88-93 mph on the gun, and his changeup is effective. He has a sound delivery and is establishing himself as a workhorse.

"Oh man. He has an above-average fastball and one thing he does really well is change speeds on his fastball," Pevey said. "One time he's 92-93, then 88 with movement. He was overmatching guys here."

5. Miguel Cabrera, 3b, Jupiter Hammerheads (Marlins)
Cabrera would be just a year out of high school if he were American. After signing as a 16-year-old, he already has 2 1/2 years of pro experience under his belt. He's only beginning to scratch the surface of his ability.

"When he hits it, it has that sound," Trembley said of the unique "thwack" Cabrera's bat makes upon contact. "Some scouts I talked to compared him to a young Tony Perez."

Cabrera has a good understanding of the strike zone, though there's still room for improvement. He uses quick, strong wrists to drive the ball to all parts of the park. He led the league in doubles, and scouts project him to hit for above-average power as he continues to bulk up.

In his first season at third base, the former shortstop showed good actions and mobility with an above-average arm. He was able to make tough plays on the run.

6. Laynce Nix, of, Charlotte Rangers
Nix transformed himself from an athletic prospect with a quarterback background into the league's MVP and one of the Rangers' most promising prospects. It didn't happen overnight–just over the offseason.

Nix bulked up and showed much-improved discipline at the plate. While he once was likened to Rusty Greer for his hard-nosed play, Nix now earns comparisons to Brian Giles for his ripped physique.

"He has made himself into a player," one scout said "He plays hard and gets great jumps in the outfield. He had decent bat speed last year and he increased it this year. And the ball doesn't carry well to right field in Charlotte either."

Nix showed outstanding first-step quickness and a natural ability to run down balls in the outfield. He has taken to center field, working hard to improve his routes on fly balls.

7. Alexis Rios, of, Dunedin Blue Jays
There was a time when the Blue Jays took heat for drafting Rios because of budgetary concerns. His $845,000 bonus was the only first-round deal under $1 million in 1999, but now it's starting to look like the Blue Jays were right on the money with their projection of the Puerto Rican.

Rios hit three home runs this year, matching his previous career total. But scouts and managers expect plenty of power to come based on his developing frame and leverage in his swing. He didn't go deep after breaking his hand trying to upset a double play in May, but he played through pain after missing just three weeks and made hard, consistent contact into the gaps.

Rios has the plus speed to handle center field, as well as above-average arm strength. He might outgrow the position and hit for enough power to play in right.

8. Joel Hanrahan, rhp, Vero Beach Dodgers
Hanrahan was one of the Dodgers' most sought-after prospects at the trade deadline, but they hung onto him. He tossed a pair of no-hitters for Vero Beach and earned a late-season promotion to Double-A Jacksonville. He got knocked around in three regular season appearances, then turned in a 0.67 ERA in two Southern League playoff starts.

Hanrahan displays good command of a three-pitch repertoire that features an 89-94 mph fastball, a tight slider and a changeup. He shows good mound presence and awareness, with the confidence to throw any pitch in any count. He's advanced for a 20-year-old, especially considering he hails from Iowa, a cold-weather state that doesn't have a spring baseball season.

9. Ben Kozlowski, lhp, Charlotte Rangers
After designating lefthander Andy Pratt for assignment in May, the Rangers somehow were able to deal him to the Braves for Kozlowski. While Pratt is a decent prospect in his own right, Texas should be under investigation for Grand Theft Pitcher. Kozlowski led the Rangers system with a 1.99 ERA and finished the year in the majors.

He was aggressive with his 89-91 mph fastball, topping out at 94 with movement. His curveball is a plus pitch, and he has worked hard to develop a usable changeup. An athletic 6-foot-6, Kozlowski consistently repeats his delivery and his arm works well.

10. Reggie Abercrombie, of, Vero Beach Dodgers
Nobody in baseball made a bigger in-season turnaround than Abercrombie, who stumbled through the first month of the season with a .096 average and 41 strikeouts in 96 at-bats. After a trip to the optometrist, Abercrombie started wearing contact lenses and subsequently started a hitting tear that carried him to Double-A.

"He was swinging at bad pitches." Vero Beach manager Juan Bustabad said. "He started using his speed more and hitting the ball on the ground."

Abercrombie also began driving the ball out of the park. His live body drew comparisons to Mike Cameron, Reggie Sanders and even Michael Jordan. He played both center and right field, closing the gaps and showing a plus arm.

"In right field, he puts more pressure on the third-base coach than anybody," Pevey said. "He gets to balls so quick, you can't score. He cuts the distance as quick as anybody in the league."

11. Angel Guzman, rhp, Daytona Cubs
Managers considered Guzman a few notches below Rosario and Buchholz but still projected him as a potential frontline starter. After leading the short-season Northwest League with nine victories last year, he pitched well in both the low Class A Midwest League and the FSL this year. His combined 2.19 ERA topped all Cubs farmhands.

Though he throws 91-96 mph, FSL hitters batted .268 against him. He'll need to improve his command in the strike zone and work inside more effectively, adjustments Guzman should be able to make. And he did keep the ball in the park, allowing just two homers in 369 at-bats.

Guzman made improvement with his curveball following his promotion. However, some observers believe his arm slot might be more conducive to throwing a slider.

12. Andrew Brown, rhp, Vero Beach Dodgers
When the Dodgers shipped Gary Sheffield to the Braves in January for Brian Jordan, Odalis Perez and a pitching prospect, Andrew Brown's name wasn't the most obvious choice from Atlanta's deep mound corps. Los Angeles' scouts deserve credit for uncovering a potential gem in Brown, though.

Brown, who missed all of 2000 thanks to Tommy John surgery, was back up to the mid-90s last fall in instructional league before the trade. He continued to flash 95 mph heat this season and sat at 88-93. He also throws a power curveball, a slider and changeup, delivering everything on a nice downhill plane.

"He reminds me of Jack McDowell," Trembley said. "He has a real good feel for pitching. He's not going to be in the minors for long."

13. Preston Larrison, rhp, Lakeland Tigers
Four of Detroit's first six picks from the 2001 draft sustained serious injuries by the first month of the season. Third baseman Ryan Raburn (fifth round) broke his collarbone in an offseason accident, righthander Kenny Baugh (first) never got going before needing shoulder surgery and second baseman Michael Woods injured his knee in his first FSL game.

Larrison (second) made just two starts for Lakeland before a hernia sidelined him for a month. He went out for two weeks in June with an elbow strain, but finished with a 6-2, 0.56 record in his last eight starts to provide a silver lining for the Tigers.

Managers liked Larrison's aggressive demeanor. He came right at hitters with a 91-94 mph fastball with boring and sinking life. His curveball showed plus potential as a 78 mph downward biter.

14. Rob Henkel, lhp, Jupiter Hammerheads (Marlins)
Henkel's knuckle-curve was one of the toughest pitches to hit in the league. He could throw it for strikes or make hitters chase it in the dirt. On the heels of an injury-filled 2001 debut, he proved to be a durable strikeout artist.

His fastball sat between 86-92 mph with life. He added a darting two-seamer once he reached Double-A following the all-star break.

"His mechanics are like Andy Pettitte's," Pevey said. "His curveball has good rotation and bite. He spots his fastball well to both sides, runs it away from righthanders. The change is a show-me pitch, but the curveball is a strikeout pitch."

15. Kelly Shoppach, c, Sarasota Red Sox
Shoppach and Dunedin's Guillermo Quiroz were the top two catching prospects in the league. Fort Myers' Rob Bowen also received support despite some early struggles at the plate.

Shoppach didn't look like a player who came to the league without pro experience. He has outstanding catch-and-throw mechanics with quick feet, a rapid release and an above-average arm. He threw out 33 percent of basestealers this year.

At the plate, Shoppach showed good power to the gaps and solid plate discipline. His leadership skills are another plus.

"I like his makeup," Kennedy said. "He's a tough kid. If there's a play at the plate, you know you're going to have to run him over because he's not going to back down. He blocks the ball and the plate extremely well. He's still figuring it out a little on hitting."

16. Beau Kemp, rhp, Fort Myers Miracle (Twins)
As a 31st-round draft pick out of junior college, Kemp is expected to prove himself every step of the way. In three pro seasons, he has done nothing but overpower his opponents with a plus-plus fastball.

Kemp regularly pumped 95 mph gas by hitters and mixed in a hard slider. He permitted earned runs to cross the plate in just four games, putting together streaks of 18 and 25 games without allowing one. He also was stingy with homers, not yielding one all year.

"He has a really quick arm," Barrios said. "He's deceptive, gets up on hitters. He's very aggressive and confident. The slider is pretty nasty too."

17. Kevin Youkilis, 3b, Sarasota Red Sox
You'd have a hard time tracking down a scout who graded Youkilis' tools as above-average. At the same time, it would be tough to find a manager who wouldn't want to write his name on a lineup card.

"He has a bad body, but it's not fat," one manager said. "He's just a big, thick block. He's adequate at third. He lacks first-step quickness, but he makes all the plays."

Youkilis' best assets are his uncanny patience at the plate and his ability to put the ball in play. After drawing 73 walks against 31 strikeouts in his 2001 debut, Youkilis finished fifth in the minors with a .436 on-base percentage between Sarasota and Double-A Trenton. He will have to make some adjustments, however.

"He's a dead-pull hitter," Trembley said. "He doesn't miss a ball inside. He kills the third baseman and the coach because he lets bats fly so often because he cheats so much."

18. Ruddy Lugo, rhp, Vero Beach Dodgers
The younger brother of Astros shortstop Julio Lugo, Ruddy drew a lot of interest as a two-way player before the Brewers drafted him in the third round in 1999. He has made his living exclusively on the mound as a pro and joined the Dodgers in the Marquis Grissom-Devon White trade last year.

Managers had no doubts that Lugo has found his niche.

"He was the best pitcher in the league," Pevey said. "This kid was 93-95 like Rosario, but with a little better breaking ball. He's built like Raul Mondesi, very athletic on the mound."

Lugo also throws a cutter off of his fastball, and demonstrates very good command of a curveball and changeup. Shuffled between starting and relieving throughout his career, he thrived in both situations for Vero Beach.

19. Jason Arnold, rhp, Tampa Yankees
Arnold was a reliever in his first three years of college, but his career has taken off since he moved to the rotation as a Central Florida senior. He dominated the short-season New York-Penn League last summer before being shut down with a tender elbow.

Arnold, who touched the mid-90s as a closer, has sacrificed velocity for command and stamina as a pro. He operates with a deceptive, herky-jerky delivery and an 88-91 mph fastball. He makes life tougher for hitters by mixing in a palmball with splitter action. His slider gives him an effective third pitch.

"When he gets ahead in the count, he expands the zone," Trembley said. "He just gets it and goes."

Arnold was traded to the Athletics in July as part of a three-way deal that sent Jeff Weaver from the Tigers to the Yankees.

20. Nook Logan, of, Lakeland Tigers
Logan was drafted as a righthanded-hitting middle infielder. Looking to take advantage of his speed and athleticism, the Tigers sent him to center field and taught him to switch-hit.

He has taken to batting lefthanded, though he needs to cut down on his strikeouts if he wants to become a top-of-the-order threat. Logan can wreak havoc on the bases and in center field, prompting comparisons to another speed demon.

"His body is like Kenny Lofton's" Tampa manager Mitch Seoane said. "He's the same type of player."

One manager said Logan lays back on ground balls too long, trying to entice runners to take an extra base. He'll need to be more aggressive as he moves up the ladder. He's still a force in center, playing shallow yet not allowing anything to drop behind him.

Top 10 prospects five years ago
* has reached majors

1. *Adrian Beltre, 3b, Vero Beach (Dodgers)
2. *Ruben Mateo, of, Charlotte (Rangers)
3. *Eric Milton, lhp, Tampa (Yankees)
4. *David Ortiz, 1b, Fort Myers (Twins)
5. *Corey Lee, lhp, Charlotte (Rangers)
6. *Jacque Jones, of, Fort Myers (Twins)
7. Cesar King, c, Charlotte (Rangers)
8. *Lance Berkman, of, Kissimmee (Astros)
9. *Michael Barrett, c, West Palm Beach (Expos)
10. *Courtney Duncan, rhp, Daytona (Cubs)

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