Florida State League Top 20 Prospects
By Josh Boyd
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."
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
"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
"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
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)
"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 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
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 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
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
"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
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
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
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)
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 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)
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
"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
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, 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
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
1. *Adrian Beltre, 3b, Vero Beach (Dodgers)
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