New York-Penn League Top 20 Prospects
By Josh Boyd
Instead of the Dodgers inhabiting Ebbets Field, the Cyclones played in KeySpan Park. Instead of a battery of Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Roy Campanella, it was prospects Ross Peeples and Brett Kay.
But Brooklyn still had a cross-borough rivalry with the Yankees--the Staten Island Yankees, that is. The Mets and Yankees loaded their short-season New York-Penn League affiliates with prospects at the expense of their Class A South Atlantic League clubs. Brooklyn posted the league's best overall record at 52-24 and was declared co-champions, while Staten Island featured seven players drafted in the first seven rounds in June, including first-rounders John-Ford Griffin and Jon Skaggs, but didn't reach the finals as injuries ravaged the defending champs.
Williamsport righthander/DH John VanBenschoten, New Jersey righthander Justin Pope and Jamestown second baseman Richard Lewis joined the Yankees first-round duo to give the NY-P five first-rounders from the class of 2001. However, managers weren't overly impressed with the depth of the overall prospect talent.
Williamsport Crosscutters (Pirates)
After leading NCAA Division I with 31 home runs, VanBenschoten was highly sought after as one of the premium offensive talents on the draft board. The Pirates didn't surprise anyone by selecting him with the eighth overall pick, but a lot of heads turned when they announced their intention to try him as a righthanded pitcher. Whether it was on the mound every five days or with a bat in his hands in between starts, VanBenschoten's power potential was unmistakable.
"Whatever he does he's going to succeed," Williamsport manager Tony Beasley said.
Despite logging just 49 innings as a Kent State junior, VanBenschoten displayed a natural feel for pitching. Hes developing four pitches, including a 94-mph fastball, an average slider, a changeup and a curveball.
"I loved him as a pitcher," Utica manager Kevin Boles said. "He has a great frame and a loose, strong arm."
2 SEAN HENN, lhp
Just 42 innings into his pro career, however, Henn was shut down with elbow problems that subsequently led to Tommy John surgery. Even in his abbreviated debut, he was able to showcase dominant potential. Hes expected to make a full recovery.
"He has a good idea of what he is doing," Mahoning Valley manager Dave Turgeon said. "He throws an effortless 94. He can spin the ball very well, too. He has a bright future."
When he returns Henn will have to focus on ironing out his mechanics and controlling his delivery.
"He's just a raw kid," Batavia manager Frank Klebe said. "He just lets it fly. When he learns command of it, he's going to be tough to hit."
3 JASON ARNOLD, rhp
After three years of relieving at Central Florida, Arnold moved to the rotation as a senior and vaulted from a 16th-round pick in 2000 to 62nd overall in 2001. He made easy work of the NY-P before getting shut down with elbow tendinitis. He nearly threw a perfect game against Vermont, settling for a 15-strikeout no-hitter, with one walk.
Arnold has an 89-93 mph fastball that is capable of touching 95-97. He added depth to his changeup to make it an out pitch, and he also improved his slider.
4 JUAN FRANCIA, 2b
The diminutive Venezuelan was compared to Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo for his speed and slash-and-run style of play. He was caught stealing 14 times in 31 tries, though Turgeon graded Francias speed as 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale.
"You can't run any faster than that," Turgeon said. "This guy has jets on his feet. Hes a very potent offensive weapon."
Francia connected for just seven extra-base hits and will need to get stronger. But managers appreciated the fact that he tailored his game to his skills. He stood out defensively as well.
"He is a fun player to watch," Klebe said. "He played like he owned that side of the diamond."
5 DENNY BAUTISTA, rhp
Bautista began this season in extended spring training, then made a pair of emergency starts in Class A Kane County before being assigned to Utica. The wiry righthander needed just seven starts to impress NY-P managers with his lively 91-93 mph fastball and breaking ball, earning a return to trip to Kane County for the playoff stretch.
"He has the perfect frame," Boles said. "He could put on 40 pounds. It's only a matter of time with him. He has all the tools, but he's more polished than people think."
6 JOHN-FORD GRIFFIN, of
"He has a good idea of the strike zone," Staten Island manager Dave Jorn said. "He is going to hit for more power. He needs to learn how to make adjustments, but he has tremendous hand-eye coordination."
Griffin ripped 17 doubles and five home runs, and his swing path and strength suggest he will develop more as he adapts to pro ball.
"He has some power but he doesnt know how to use it yet," Brooklyn manager Edgar Alfonzo said. "He goes to the opposite field a lot."
One manager wasn't as enthralled, saying that Griffin has too many holes in his swing and cant hit lefthanders.
7 ZACH MINER, rhp
Miner, who finished fifth in the league in ERA while holding opponents to a .226 average this summer, earns high praise for his intelligence and poise. He's aggressive in the strike zone with his hard, sinking fastball, which he throws at 90-91 mph.
"He has good control, but his breaking ball needs to get better," Jamestown manager Jim Saul said. "He has a good changeup and spots his fastball. He really challenges hitters."
8 DUSTIN McGOWAN, rhp
"He made great improvements," Auburn manager Paul Elliott said. "He has a feel for his changeup, a power curveball and a 94-96 mph fastball."
While he was overpowering at times, McGowan was inconsistent and never lasted more than five innings. He also topped the league with 49 walks.
"It's going to take a while but he has the ability," Saul said. "His breaking ball needs to get better."
9 TYRELL GODWIN, of
He didn't show any signs of rust and reached base by hit or walk in 25 of his last 27 games. His physical tools are impressive across the board, particularly his speed.
"He swings the bat good," Beasley said. "He can go get 'em in the outfield. We hit a lot of balls we thought were going to drop that he ran under."
10 DOMINGO CUELLO, 2b
"He could be an impact player because he can cause problems for the defense," Saul said. "He's small but he's got a little punch."
"He can play, he's got range and a plus arm for a second baseman," Klebe said. "When he turns the DP, the ball hardly touches his glove."
11 JUSTIN POPE, rhp
Pope pitched at 89-90 mph and would jump up to 92-93 on occasion, but his slider is his best pitch. Hes also working on a curveball. And hes always around the plate, as shown by his 66-14 strikeout-walk ratio.
"But the best thing about him is he is real levelheaded," Rupp said. "He works hard and kept us in the game every time out."
12 RYAN RABURN, 3b
He kept hitting this summer, posting an on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.114 and leading the league in triples. Raburn will need to improve his defense after making 21 errors in 40 games at third base, but his bat wasnt questioned.
"He's going to hit," Elliot said. "He has a good body, a plus arm and he can hit any fastball out of any park."
13 CHRIS FLINN, rhp
Flinn is a cerebral, mature pitcher with polished mechanics. One scout compared his delivery to David Cone. He spots his 89-91 mph fastball, and his knuckle-curve is an above-average pitch that features late life and depth. His stuff might be best suited for the bullpen.
14 ANGEL PAGAN, of
He has an exciting combination of raw tools including well above-average speed and defensive skills. Scouts project power from the switch-hitter, though he has yet to homer in 367 pro at-bats.
"He has great wheels," Rupp said. "He looks like a guy you'd love to have at the top of the order. He slaps the ball around and forces the first and third baseman to play in because he can bunt. He'll steal second and third before you know it."
15 JASON STOKES, of
"He has above-average power," Boles said. "But he also has a chance to be a pretty good hitter. He has a good idea at the plate, he just hasn't had enough at-bats yet."
A first baseman in high school, Stokes has been learning to play the outfield because of the presence of 2000s top overall draft pick, Adrian Gonzalez, in the Marlins organization. It has been a difficult adjustment for a player charitably described as thick, though hes making progress.
16 LUZ PORTOBANCO, rhp
Portobanco showed major improvement with his 90-94 mph sinking fastball, a very good changeup and curveball. Most important, he throws a lot of strikes. Despite good size and plus velocity, Portobanco registered just 52 strikeouts in 71 innings.
"He's not a big time strikeout guy," Rupp said. "He uses a real good changeup and good curveball, but he was pitching backwards."
17 TONY PENA JR., ss
"He has a little ways to go with the bat but he hits the ball to all fields," Rupp said. "He has a little pop."
Pena needs to be more selective, but Saul said he wasn't easy for pitchers to put away. Like his father, a former all-star and Gold Glove catcher, Pena excels defensively. He possesses a strong throwing arm and excellent range to both sides.
"He can flat out pick it at short," Braves scouting director Roy Clark said. "He's a defensive whiz."
18 CHARLTON JIMERSON, of
"He swings and misses a lot," Alfonzo said. "He'll make the adjustments, though. I think he'll hit for power and average and steal bases. He has an above-average arm and range."
Jimerson, who overcame a tough family background and endured 3-plus seasons as a reserve at Miami, has intangibles that cant be measured. He plays with a lot of emotion and intensity.
"He's a great-looking athlete," Boles said. "He plays without fear."
19 AARON RIFKIN, 1b
Though he was more experienced than the average NY-P prospect, managers believe Rifkin's ability to use the whole field will help him climb the ladder. He has a pretty lefthanded stroke.
"He can pull the ball with power, which would be good in Yankee Stadium," Saul said. "He also showed the ability to go the other way. He has good plate coverage."
20 JUAN CAMACHO, 3b
Managers were split on Camacho's bat, but his defensive skills at the hot corner were unsurpassed. He committed six errors in 70 games while showing soft hands and a strong, accurate arm.
"There is a lot of movement at the plate," Rupp said. "Until he finds a way to settle down, he's going to be a guess hitter, a mistake hitter. He can be pitched to because he is focused on one pitch."
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