International League Top 20 Prospects
By Matt Michael and Lacy Lusk
The rest of the baseball world found out what the IL already knew in mid-July, when Dunn smashed a 409-foot home run in the Futures Game, then clubbed two more home runs that totaled 870 feet in the Triple-A All-Star Game.
"And hes only 21 years old," Rochester manager Andy Etchebarren said. "If he doesnt get hurt, hes going to be fantastic."
Dunn had to be fantastic to get the No. 1 ranking in the IL this season. Managers gave him the nod over league MVP Toby Hall, who won the batting title.
Louisville RiverBats (Reds)
Ranked as Cincinnatis No. 2 prospect behind fellow Double-A outfielder Austin Kearns at the start of the season, Dunn powered his way out of the Southern League and then out of the International League. One of his homers in the Triple-A all-star game left Indianapolis Victory Field, only to picked up and hauled off by a lucky motorist driving behind the right-field wall.
"Dunns a guy who has real good discipline at the plate," Durham manager Bill Evers said. "He obviously has well-above-average power. Defensively, he still has a little work to do, but hes good for a big guy."
Dunn has speed that also can be described as good for a big guy. He stole more than 20 bases in each of his previous two minor league seasons, then picked his spots at running again this year--when he wasnt jogging around the bases. He has an average but generally accurate arm.
2 TOBY HALL, c
Hall hits to all fields and does so with power. He had nearly as many homers (19) as strikeouts (22). Behind the plate, he cleaned up his footwork and erased 45 percent of basestealers. The only tool he lacks is speed.
"He has a chance to be an offensive catcher for years to come," Richmond manager Carlos Tosca said. "I think he receives and throws fine. The book on him before this year may have been all O and no D, but he certainly has defensive ability."
Syracuse SkyChiefs (Blue Jays)
For the first three years of his pro career, Lopez figured his talent would carry him to the major leagues. So he failed to study the game, made errors in the field because he didnt concentrate, and at times he loafed to first base after hitting routine grounders.
But last fall, a light went on. Lopez wife was pregnant with the couples first child, and Lopez realized he had to take his life and his job more seriously. Not coincidentally, he moved up as soon as he grew up. He climbed from Double-A Tennessee to Triple-A Syracuse in late April, then became the Blue Jays regular third baseman in early August.
The Jays arent ruling out keeping Lopez at third, but hes a natural middle infielder with power. Though he has played mostly shortstop as a pro, Toronto would like to move him to second base eventually. He strikes out a lot and still is prone to silly errors, but he has an electricity in his game that makes him a potential superstar.
"Hes got bat speed," Etchebarren said. "He just needs to get more consistent hitting the ball. When he does that, hell be an outstanding hitter because you cant teach bat speed."
4 NICK JOHNSON, 1b
"I think he answered the questions about his health this year by him playing every day," Evers said. "Next year will be a big year for him. I think when hes stronger next year, youll see better power numbers. His defense is already good."
Tosca called Johnson "the closest thing youll see to a Mark Grace." Johnson weighs a good 25 pounds more than Grace, however, so he could develop considerably more power.
5 BRANDON DUCKWORTH, rhp
Gregson said the Duckworth of 2000 was a fly-ball pitcher who was preoccupied with strikeouts and had a curveball that too closely resembled his slider. This years version focused on keeping the ball down, getting outs with one pitch instead of three, and developing a 12-to-6 curveball that gave him four major league-quality pitches (fastball, curveball, slider and changeup).
Despite getting promoted to Philadelphia in early August, Duckworth won the ILs most valuable pitcher award and nearly won the pitching triple crown by leading the league in wins and ERA while finishing third in strikeouts. He joined fellow rookies Dave Coggin and Nelson Figueroa in the Phillies rotation and turned in eight quality starts in his first nine outings, going 2-1, 2.93.
"Early in the year, he was absolutely not ready," Gregson said. "But he was blossoming as a pitcher when he was called up. The other two having success gave him the confidence that he could do the same thing."
6 TIM SPOONEYBARGER, rhp
He shows good command and movement with his two-seam and four-seam fastballs, with the latter pitch arriving in the low 90s. His velocity should pick up when he throws out of the windup, something hes planning on working on in Puerto Rico this winter after working out of the stretch all season.
But his out pitch is a slurve that ranked as one of the best breaking balls in the league by anyones reckoning.
"I call it a power curveball," Tosca said. "We rated it as a 70 on the 20-to-80 scale. It has good, late, hard bite and he complements it with a fastball thats above average. If his breaking ball is in the strike zone, its not so hard and so big where he fools the umpire, but its unhittable."
7 ALEX ESCOBAR, of
"Ive picked him No. 1 three of the last four years," said Buffalo manager Eric Wedge, who has climbed through the minors also step by step with Escobar. "Hes a five-tool guy who has the ability to be an all-star for years to come."
In a league where center fielders like Milton Bradley and Vernon Wells routinely made highlight-reel catches, managers rated Escobar the best defensive outfielder. If he can get a better grasp of the strike zone, the Mets center-field problems will vanish immediately.
"Hes going to hit for average sooner or later," Pawtucket manager Gary Jones said. "And when he does, hes going to be an impact player."
8 ERICK ALMONTE, ss
"I think hes got an upside, maybe 20 homers in the big leagues," Evers said. "Defensively, if he grows out of shortstop he has enough power to play third. He has instincts on how to play and a pretty good arm. Id say his arm is above average, plus he has good first-step quickness."
Almonte has the ability to dazzle scouts one night and disappoint the next. He led IL shortstops with 27 errors and struck out too much, yet he also draws walks and is so athletic. Its conceivable that Soriano eventually could move to the outfield, with Almonte taking over at second base.
9 JUAN RIVERA, of
"Wow. He has some kind of juice in his swing," Tosca said. "He hits to all fields. You see him recognize the breaking ball. He doesnt necessarily hit it, but hell be a great hitter."
Rivera has a plus arm and decent speed, but his routes to fly balls could use improvement. Soon after Paul ONeill retires, Rivera should be ready to take over in right field at Yankee Stadium.
10 CESAR IZTURIS, ss/2b
Still one of the youngest players in the league, he was also its most improved. He made more contact and was steadier in every aspect of the game, though he still could use more patience at the plate.
"Compare last year to this year," said Omar Malave, his manager. "Hes been solid the whole year. And next year there will be a spot open for him up there."
Izturis is a defensive whiz who can play shortstop or second base, and now he has dispelled worries about whether he would hit enough to play in the majors. Hell never put up A-Rod numbers at shortstop, but his performance will make Toronto consider trading veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
11 JOE CREDE, 3b
"He has a good arm and I like his makeup," Indianapolis manager Wendell Kim said. "Hes a hard-nosed guy with extra-base power. I think he has a good glove, but young players can alternate between getting too aggressive and waiting too long. Hell just have to play some more and hell have it down."
Crede doesnt have much speed and his power is just developing, but he has the skills to play solid defense and he has hit for average in the minors.
"I think Crede has a chance to have some power," Tosca said. "He already plays good defense. For me, hes more of a player who should be at the bottom of a top 10 because his ceilings not quite as high.
"Theres a little panic in his swing than some of these other guys. I think hell be a guy who really, really has to guard the inner half. And when he does that, the outer half could be trouble."
12 VERNON WELLS, of
Still, the Blue Jays refused to trade Wells, preferring to shop Shannon Stewart and Jose Cruz Jr. instead to make room in their outfield for the defensively gifted Wells. The Blue Jays will likely deal one of those veterans in the offseason. Then well find out if Wells is the star the Blue Jays believe hell be, with five tools and 30-30 potential, or closer to the .267 hitter he was in two-plus years at Syracuse. His plate discipline and basestealing skills regressed in 2001.
"In my opinion, Vernon will be better up here than he ever was in the minor leagues," Toronto manager Buck Martinez said. "He just thrives on the atmosphere of the major leagues."
13 AARON ROWAND, of
Rowand hit .292 with flashes of power and speed in his first 58 games with the White Sox. He has a strong arm and could be the center fielder Chicago is looking for, though he spent much of his minor league career in right field.
"He has some pop in his bat, and defensively he looks like he can play all three outfield positions," Evers said. "To me, hes more of an alley-type power hitter. But he has good instincts in right and seems to know how to play the game."
14 DREW HENSON, 3b
Yet he did show off many of the tools that made the Yankees covet him so much. He has a huge arm, looks the part of a third baseman and has the ability to hit for monstrous power. He hit seven of his 11 homers in the seasons final four weeks.
"The first time we played them, he was pulling the ball way too much," Kim said. "But I could see a big difference a month later when we played them again. He has pretty good first-step quickness, right off the bat," Kim said. "His hands are OK. His backhand is really good, he can move to his left and he has a good arm."
"I dont think its very fair to judge him on this season," Tosca said. "He made some plays to his right where he showed a tremendous arm."
15 MARCUS GILES, 2b
"If he doesnt start in the long-term, hed make a great utility guy," Kim said. "He even played shortstop against us and when I did see him, he did an adequate job. So he can play both positions, but hes mostly an offensive player."
The Braves wont be asking him to play short in the big leagues. He doesnt have great speed or range, but he has the Giles family strength and work effort.
"Hes got that strong, stocky body," Evers said. "I think hes got to be an offensive guy if he plays second base. But hes a hard-nosed player."
16 ERIC VALENT, of
If Valent is going to play regularly in the majorsand it may be tough to budge Pat Burrell or Bobby Abreu from one of Philadelphias outfield cornersit will be because he has a knack for driving in runs. He has 327 RBIs in 425 minor league games, the equivalent of 125 in a 162-game season.
Valent had just four hits in his first 41 major league at-bats, but IL managers believe hell make the necessary adjustments to hit major league pitching.
"Even though he didnt hit the first time around, hes a young kid and keep an eye on him," Malave said. "When he gets his feet on the ground, hell stay there a long time."
17 DAVE COGGIN, rhp
"Hes got a lot of composure," Wedge said. "He doesnt get caught up in the situation."
Scranton pitching coach Gregson said at the start of 2001, Coggin had better command of his slider than his fastball. Once he started to harness his low-90s fastball, it wasnt long before he was promoted to Philadelphia. Coggin also throws a curveball and changeup.
"Hes a fierce competitor, a really mentally tough kid," Gregson said. "It speaks to his character that he could do what he did right in the middle of a pennant race."
18 BRIAN ROBERTS, ss
Roberts opened the year at Double-A Bowie, moved to Rochester and then made his major league debut when Bordick was injured. Though error-prone at every stop, Roberts provided some speed for the Orioles out of the No. 2 slot. Hell need to draw more walks to justify batting high in the order.
Some managers said Roberts lack of arm strength may force a move to second base, but Jerry Hairston already gives Baltimore a young, promising option there. With Bordick under contract for another season, Roberts could return to Rochester for part of 2002.
"Hes a baseball player is what he is," Etchebarren said. "He needs to get 500 at-bats here next year and then he can play in the big leagues when Bordick is gone. That would be ideal if that happened."
19 ORLANDO HUDSON, 2b
Hudson took to a move to second base, hitting a combined .306 between Double-A and Triple-A and looking strong defensively. He may have a higher offensive ceiling than Izturis or Lopez, though hell have to contend with both to get regular playing time in Toronto.
"He's right up there with Lopez and Izturis," Ottawa manager Stan Hough said. "Where do they keep getting these guys?"
20 BRAD WILKERSON, of
Rusty when he returned, Wilkerson still showed his usual fine bat, gap power and batting eye. He has the tools of a right fielder, but the presence of Vladimir Guerrero means Wilkerson will have to play left field in Montreal. He struggled in his initial big league exposure but should win an everyday job next spring.
Copyright 1998-2001 Baseball America. All rights reserved.|
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.