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Gulf Coast League Top 20 Prospects

By Allan Simpson

Top 20
With 14 teams, three divisions, no interlocking play and predominantly entry-level, teenaged talent, the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League is the toughest circuit in which to gauge the worth of future big leaguers.

It was more difficult than normal this year as the league featured two first-round choices--neither of whom distinguished themselves--and managers provided a wide difference of opinion on the top prospects in two of the three divisions.

Managers in the four-team Northern Division, however, were in agreement on the best talent in their grouping. The top three prospects in the GCL this year come from the North, which produced the league-champion Yankees.

Petty
Chad Petty
1 CHAD PETTY, lhp
Tigers

Petty made a cameo appearance in the league a year ago after being Detroit's second-round pick in 2000. He led the league with a 1.11 ERA in his return.

"He really learned how to pitch this year," Yankees manager Derek Shelton said. "He worked both sides of the plate and knew exactly what pitch to throw in each situation. He was very polished for the Gulf Coast League."

"He's got great command for a young pitcher," Phillies manager Roly DeArmas added. "He knew what to do even when he didn't have his best stuff."

Petty shows the makings of three solid pitches. His fastball normally ranges from 87-89 mph, touches 90-91 and has excellent sinking action. His changeup also moves extremely well, while his curveball acts more like a hard slider.

The Ohio native may not have returned to the GCL had the Tigers not chosen to bring him back slowly from an injury in extended spring training. It proved to be an excellent learning experience.

"He was head and shoulders the best pitcher in this division," Tigers manager Howard Bushong said.

2 ANDERSON HERNANDEZ, ss
Tigers

Hernandez lacks size and hitting prowess, but managers universally praised his speed, arm strength and infield actions. He also earned high marks for his exciting style of play. The switch-hitting Hernandez signed with the Tigers in April out of the Dominican Republic and led the league in triples and stolen bases.

"He's a small kid," Royals manager Lino Garcia said, "but he's fluid and athletic, has a great arm and range and usually puts the ball in play."

"He's a big league shortstop already," DeArmas said. "He makes all the plays."

3 BRONSON SARDINHA, ss
Yankees

A supplemental first-round pick of the Yankees in June, Sardinha was the highest-drafted Hawaiian high school player ever. He's the third member of his family to be drafted in the last two years, joining brothers Dane and Duke, who both played at Pepperdine.

Without hesitation, managers said the lefthanded-hitting Sardinha was the best hitting prospect in the league. He has an outstanding swing and the ball jumps off his bat.

The Yankees will keep Sardinha at shortstop for the time being, but it's expected he'll move to third base or even the outfield because he lacks the fluid actions and lateral movement desired for the position. The organization also is deep in shortstops.

"His bat will play anywhere," Shelton said.

4 MANNY DELCARMEN, rhp
Red Sox

Boston's second-round pick in the 2000 draft signed too late to play last year, so Delcarmen made his pro debut in the GCL this season. He impressed managers with his stuff, live arm, ability to mix his pitches and mound demeanor.

"He's poised, he's confident and he's got a very high ceiling," Rangers manager Carlos Subero said.

Delcarmen's fastball normally was clocked from 92-93 mph and reached 95 mph on occasion. He complemented it with an above-average curveball.

5 CARLOS DURAN, of
Braves

Duran has a chance to be a five-tool talent, but the only superior tools he brought to the park on a consistent basis in 2001 were speed and defensive skills. He gets great jumps in center field and has excellent range. Braves manager Rick Albert said Duran won five games with his glove alone.

A leadoff hitter, Duran puts the ball in play effectively but has work to do despite batting .304. His plate discipline could stand some improvement, as could his strength.

"He needs to drive the ball better," Expos manager Dave Dangler said. "If the ball's away, he's just a slap hitter."

6 JOSH THIGPEN, rhp
Red Sox

The Red Sox surged to the Western Division title on the strength of a pitching staff that featured Boston's top two picks in the 2000 draft (Phil Dumatrait and Delcarmen) and Thigpen, a 16th-rounder.

The big righthander pitched aggressively with a fastball that was clocked as high as 96 mph. He's also a talented athlete who was all-state in baseball, basketball and football as an Alabama high schooler.

"He's got great velocity, arm action and makeup," Reds manager Edgar Caceres said. "And he's going to get bigger."

7 VICTOR DIAZ, 2b
Dodgers

A 37th-round pick of the Dodgers in 2000, the stocky Diaz signed as a draft-and-follow in May out of Grayson County (Texas) Community College. He won the GCL batting title while leading the league in hits, doubles, total bases (104) and slugging percentage (.533).

"He reminds you a lot of Carlos Baerga," Dangler said. "He's a fundamentally sound hitter, but he needs to find a position."

Dodgers manager Juan Bustabad defended his player's ability at second base, though he said Diaz needs to make the routine plays better.

8 EZEQUIEL ASTACIO, rhp
Phillies

Astacio came to the United States after three seasons in the Dominican Summer League. He impressed managers with his long arm action, ability to throw three pitches for strikes and outstanding mound presence.

Astacio has above-average velocity (90-92 mph) and movement on his fastball, and his changeup showed improvement. He's also projectable at 6-foot-3 and 194 pounds.

9 GONZALO LOPEZ, rhp
Braves

A 17-year-old Nicaraguan, Lopez showed an uncanny ability to throw strikes, walking 10 while striking out 69 in 59 innings. His stuff is solid but not spectacular.

"He's got three sound pitches, including a 92-94 mph fastball," Albert said. "Everything he throws is easy."

"He's not overpowering," Bustabad said, "but he throws lots of strikes and he goes right at you."

10 ALAN MOYE, of
Reds

Cincinnati didn't sign its first-round pick, lefthander Jeremy Sowers, in the 2001 draft but may have stolen a player in the third round in Moye, a potential five-tool talent. He might have gone higher in the draft, but both of his parents are educators and many teams thought Moye was headed to Baylor.

"He's got power and he can go get the ball in center field," Orioles manager Jesus Alfaro said. "He hasn't learned to pull balls consistently yet, but his bat is his most advanced tool. He made solid contact three out of every four times against us."

"The only question mark he has might be his arm," Caceres said. "He throws from a three-quarters angle. He needs to learn to throw from over the top. But he's a kid who catches on quick. He makes adjustments well."

11 CARLOS RODRIGUEZ, ss
Phillies

Philadelphia signed Rodriguez at 16 last fall for $600,000, outbidding several clubs. He showed a lot of maturity in his first exposure to professional baseball, as well as above-average speed, range and arm strength. He was clocked in less than four seconds from home to first on a drag bunt from the left side.

"He has all the actions to be an outstanding shortstop," DeArmas said. "He's got more power than Anderson Hernandez and drives the ball better. He just needs to get stronger."

12 MATT COOPER, 1b
Red Sox

Cooper, Boston's third-round pick a year ago, was one of the league's most improved hitters. He belted a league-leading seven homers after hitting only one in 2000.

"He knows how to hit," Alfaro said. "He stays back on curveballs well and you can't throw a fastball by him. He's got very quick wrists. He can pull anything. He had the best power in the league, by far."

Two managers, however, wondered whether Cooper's pop was legitimate. One questioned whether he had enough power for his position, while another wondered if he'd be as effective against better pitching.

13 KOLE STRAYHORN, rhp
Dodgers

What Strayhorn lacks in size, he makes up for in ability. He throws everything hard, including his offspeed stuff as well as a fastball that tops out at 93-94 mph.

Albert thought he was the best pitcher in the Eastern Division. "He's got a great arm, great breaking ball and great makeup," Albert said. "And he's very aggressive."

Dangler liked Strayhorn's arm but was worried about his maximum-effort delivery and fear he'll get hurt down the road.

14 BRYAN BASS, ss
Orioles

Bass was at the center of controversy in the spring when he was declared ineligible for national No. 1 Seminole (Fla.) High because of a transfer irregularity. He missed most of the high school season, causing him to slip to the supplemental first round.

He drew a lot of support from Alfaro and Caceres, two former big league middle infielders. Both like Bass' shortstop actions, particularly his quick hands, first-step quickness and strong, accurate arm. They also think he'll hit.

"I like the way he makes quick adjustments at the plate," Alfaro said. "He should have power to all fields."

Bass spent just 21 games in the GCL before being promoted to the Appalachian League, where he hit .324.

15 JUAN GONZALEZ, 3b
Tigers

Gonzalez hit .226 and .240 in two seasons in the Venezuelan Summer League and had a breakout season in the GCL, hitting .332 to finish second behind Diaz.

He earned all-star honors at third base, though he played every infield position as well as the outfield. Gonzalez' greatest strength, managers say, is his versatility. He has a solid feel for the game and does the little things well, enabling him to adapt to a number of positions.

"He'd be the best defensive player on his team at any position," Bushong said. "He excels wherever he plays. He's got the range to be a middle infielder and the arm strength to play on the left side."

16 JOSE DOMINGUEZ, rhp
Rangers

Dominguez went 1-6, 4.52 in the Dominican Summer League a year ago and made huge strides in the GCL this summer. Subero, his manager, thought he was the most talented of all the young power pitchers in the Western Division.

He has a good, clean delivery and was clocked consistently at 93-94 mph. He touched 96 and offset his fastball with excellent deception on his changeup. At least one manager, though, felt Dominguez was too power-oriented.

17 ALLEN BAXTER, rhp
Marlins

Baxter didn't have much of a following among scouts before this spring, when he blossomed into a third-round pick. He had one enthusiastic supporter in his own manager, Jon Deeble, who rated Baxter the best prospect in the Eastern Division.

"I really like the way the ball comes out of his hand," Deeble said. "He's big and strong, has a good feel for a breaking ball and changeup, and his fastball tops out at 94."

18 JOSH BURRUS, ss
Braves

The Braves had both of the first-round picks who played in the GCL this year, but neither Burrus nor lefthander Macay McBride made a tremendous impression on managers. Burrus, one of the best hitting prospects in this year's high school class, batted only .193.

"He struggled but he was never overmatched at the plate," Albert said. "He's got great bat speed and can hit a fastball. I have no doubt he'll hit down the line."

There was more concern was Burrus' longterm future at shortstop. Every Eastern Division manager projected Burrus as a future third baseman or left fielder, though none had any doubt his bat will play at those positions.

"He doesn't have outstanding infield actions," Dangler said. "He fields it OK, but he doesn't have the smooth catch-and-release mechanics you look for. His arm strength is adequate."

19 ALEX SANTA, of
Yankees

Santa excels at the little man's game. He has outstanding speed and range in center field, and adapted well to his role as a leadoff hitter.

"He had to be the most improved player in the league," Shelton said. "I saw him in extended spring training and never thought he'd have the year he had."

Santa still has a way to go with the bat after striking out 52 times in 179 at-bats. He's mostly a slash-and-run artist, but bunts well and has a little pop.

20 ELVIN ANDUJAR, of
Reds

Like his outfield teammate Moye, Andujar is a potential five-tool talent. He was one of the league's top run producers and basestealers.

"He had the best bat speed of any player in the league and was one of the most improved players, from extended spring training to the end of the Gulf Coast season," Subero said. "He showed a lot of improvement in all phases of his game."

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