Appalachian League Top 20 Prospects
Sluggers impress scouts in Appy League
|1. *Joe Mauer, c, Elizabethton (Twins)|
|2. Dan Denham, rhp, Burlington (Indians)|
|3. Jason Bourgeois, 2b, Pulaski (Rangers)|
|4. J.D. Martin, rhp, Burlington (Indians)|
|5. Bryan Digby, rhp, Danville (Braves)|
|6. Kris Honel, rhp, Bristol (White Sox)|
|7. Sandy Tejada, rhp, Elizabethton (Twins)|
|8. Rashad Eldridge, of, Burlington (Indians)|
|9. *David Wright, 3b, Kingsport (Mets)|
|10. *Jonny Gomes, of, Princeton (Devil Rays)|
|*Has played in major
While Danville and Elizabethton again dominated the Rookie-level Appalachian League and met in a rematch of last year's championship series, a pair of lefthanded-hitting high school sluggers taken in the top half of the 2006 draft made the strongest impression. Pulaski outfielder Travis Snider, taken 14th overall by the Blue Jays, and Bluefield third baseman Bill Rowell, who went ninth to the Orioles, already are above-average hitters and both project to hit for more power as they mature.
No pitcher could match the raw arm strength of righthander Brandon Erbe, the top pitcher on this list a year ago. But the Orioles and White Sox each sent their top-drafted lefthander to the league in third-round picks Zach Britton and Justin Edwards. In all, clubs sent six players drafted in the top three rounds to the Appalachian League, with Bluefield second baseman Ryan Adams (Orioles, second round) and Danville shortstop Chase Fontaine (Braves, second) rounding out that group.
Righthanders Tommy Hanson (Danville) and Blake King (Johnson City), two of most promising draft-and-follow signs this spring, fared well in their pro debuts in the league. Potential five-tool center fielders Daryl Jones (Johnson City) and Desmond Jennings (Princeton) showed glimpses of what they can become. Both were pursued by Division I football programs out of high school.
Jones was one of several players who stood out in their second tour of the Appy League. Like Jones, Bluefield outfielder Kieron Pope received a late-season promotion, while Johnson City righthander Tyler Herron and Greeneville lefthander Sergio Severino can look forward to full-season ball next year.
The talent extended beyond the top 20. Elizabethton closer Danny Hernandez had one of the best arms in the league, reaching 96 mph with his fastball, and greatly improved his command this season. Danville outfielder Concepcion Rodriguez might have been the Braves' steadiest hitter and his defensive potential also bears watching.
Greeneville lefthander Polin Trinidad exhibited good fastball location and an effective changeup. Princeton had three promising 18-year-old righties, including two sons of former major leaguers: Chris Andujar, son of Joaquin; Alex Cobb, a fourth-round pick in June; and Tyree Hayes, son of Charlie.
|1.||Travis Snider, of, Pulaski (Blue Jays)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 5-11 Wt: 245 Age: 18
Drafted: Blue Jays '06
|Considered by some clubs the top bat available in the 2006 draft and the best hitter to come out of Washington since Grady Sizemore, Snider led Jackson High (Mill Creek, Wash.) to an undefeated season and a No. 2 national ranking. He won Appy MVP honors in his pro debut after leading the league in slugging percentage (.567). He might have added the home run crown if he hadn’t missed the final week of the season with a sore left wrist.|
Snider’s swing generates above-average bat speed and tremendous raw power. He stays back well on breaking balls and hangs in well against lefthanders.
“First of all, you look at his immense physical presence and you think, ‘He must be able to bang.’ He does bang,” Princeton manager Jamie Nelson said. “He’s a legit hitter with pretty good discipline. He’s got power to hit the other way, and he goes up the middle on offspeed pitches.”
Managers also were impressed with his mobility, as Snider ran out groundballs hard and laid out on plays in the outfield, though his range is just adequate. His arm rates as average and he’s a below-average runner. His makeup is as good as it gets.
|2.||Bill Rowell, 3b, Bluefield (Orioles)|
|B-T: L-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 205 Age: 17
Drafted: Orioles '06
|The best all-around high school position player in the draft, as well as the first one selected, Rowell was almost Snider’s equal in terms of raw power but needed a month to adjust to pro pitching. He continued to hit after a late callup to short-season Aberdeen.|
While in high school, Rowell raised his hands and spread his stance to achieve more balance at the plate. Those changes helped him hit the ball with more authority to the gaps, and drew comparisons between the load in his swing to that of George Brett’s.
Rowell employs a loose, fluid stroke without a lot of moving parts and wasn’t fazed by quality breaking balls. At 6-foot-5, he sits low at the plate so as to shrink his strike zone. He played shortstop in high school before the Orioles shifted him to third base. He has a plus arm and average range, but he made 16 errors in 36 games and could move to an outfield corner or first base if he continues to struggle. His work ethic won’t be an issue.
“He’s a sponge. He’s willing to learn,” Bluefield manager Gary Allanson said. “If there’s a baseball game on TV, he’s watching it. Baseball is his life.”
|3.||Kieron Pope, of, Bluefield (Orioles)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 195 Age: 19
Drafted: Orioles '05
|Of all the players to repeat the league, no one mastered it as emphatically as Pope, whose plus power earned him an August promotion to short-season Aberdeen. He did a much better job of translating his athleticism into production the second time around, though he has yet to find the plate discipline to make him an elite hitting prospect.|
A hard worker who improved in every facet of his game this season, Pope has excellent hand and bat speed and uses the entire field. He makes the kind of hard contact that just sounds different off the bat, and one manager likened it to listening to major league batting practice.
“He’s got severe power to all fields.” Allanson said. “I’ve seen him get fooled and hit a home run to right field. Nobody in this league swings the bat like Pope.”
Though he’s a slightly above-average runner, Pope has just adequate range. His below-average arm and instincts limit him to left field.
|4.||Tommy Hanson, rhp, Danville (Braves)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-6 Wt: 210 Age: 20
Drafted: Braves D/F '05 (22)|
|One of the top draft-and-follow prospects from 2005, Hanson signed for $325,000 after leading California juco pitchers in strikeouts this spring. Hanson dominated amateur competition with above-average fastball command, and he did the same in his pro debut, as evidenced by his 56-9 K-BB ratio.|
Despite standing 6-foot-6, Hanson doesn’t have exceptional velocity. Instead he throws a lively fastball at 90-91 mph and uses his size to locate it down in the strike zone. Vulnerable when he can’t get his secondary pitches over, he spent a lot of time working with Danville pitching coach Doug Herny on tightening up his curveball and changeup. Hanson applies instruction well and showed improvement throughout the summer.
"He drives the ball to the plate and by the time he strides downhill, it feels like he’s on top of the hitter," Danville manager Paul Runge said. "He’s an intimidating force on the mound."
|5.||Jamie Richmond, rhp, Danville (Braves)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 185 Age: 19
Drafted: Braves D/F '04 (31)|
|Richmond is yet another Canadian find for the Braves, following in the footsteps of sluggers Scott Thorman and Jamie Romak. He grabbed Appy pitcher-of-the-year honors after leading the league in ERA (1.21), finishing second in wins (seven) and posting an even gaudier K-BB ratio than teammate Hanson (52-4).|
Richmond’s fastball command is strong and rapidly improving. He locates his 90-91 heater on both sides of the plate and gets good run, which makes it tough for batters to center the ball. Richmond’s curveball and changeup are average, though he wasn’t afraid to go to his breaking ball when behind in the count. A quality athlete, he excels at fielding his position, holding runners and getting the ball to the plate quickly.
“He pitches near-perfect baseball,” Runge said. “He gets a lot of groundball and flyball outs, but not a lot of strikeouts yet. He has present plus command of all three of his pitches, which leads to lots of quick innings.”
|6.||Daryl Jones, of, Johnson City (Cardinals)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 5-11 Wt: 180 Age: 19
Drafted: Cardinals '05 (3)|
|Jones excelled as a wide receiver in high school, but turned down NCAA Division I football offers and committed to play baseball at Rice. The Cardinals did their homework and signed him away from the Owls as a third-round pick in 2005, and he immediately became the top athlete in their system. Given his youth and his passion for the game, Jones has time to make good on Kenny Lofton comparisons. |
Jones profiles as a center fielder because of his well above-average speed, though he’s still working on taking proper routes to the ball and his arm is a tick below average. He was timed as fast as 3.9 seconds down the first-base line and will be a basestealing threat as he matures.
Jones made the most progress this season at the plate. He still was a little pull-happy, but it’s not a long-term concern because his swing mechanics are sound and he’s starting to learn that power comes from the legs and lower half. He could stand to take more pitches.
|7.||Desmond Jennings, of, Princeton (Devil Rays)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 180 Age: 19
Drafted: Devil Rays '06
|Jennings turned down the Indians as an 18th-round pick out of high school in 2005. Recruited by Alabama to play football, he wound up at Itawamba (Miss.) CC and earned juco all-America honors as a wide receiver. The Devil Rays signed him for $150,000, the highest bonus given to a 10th-round pick this year. He showed four tools in his pro debut led the Appy League in stolen bases (32 in 39 tries) and runs (48).|
An exceptional athlete, Jennings showed strong center-field instincts, plus-plus speed and quick acceleration. He runs the bases well but can get more aggressive taking leads. He worked deep counts and showed good strength and bat speed, which translated into line-drive power. His arm is average.
"You have to respect his speed. It has value offensively and defensively," Runge said. "When he gets on base, he has the ability to turn the game upside-down. He looked like he has some room for growth, and he might be a future combination of speed and power."
|8.||Chase Fontaine, ss, Danville (Braves)|
|B-T: L-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 185 Age: 20
Drafted: Braves '06
|Fontaine went undrafted in 2004 after he slumped as a high school senior. He turned down the Rangers as an 18th-round draft-and-follow this spring, a move that paid off when the Braves selected him in the second round.|
Fontaine is a solid all-around player whose bat stands out the most. He hits to all fields with a short, compact swing and he’ll develop more power once he adds some loft to his stroke. While he has a plus arm, he’s a below-average runner with stiff hands, so his future might be at second or third base rather than shortstop.
|9.||Jon Edwards, of, Johnson City (Cardinals)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 230 Age: 18
Drafted: Cardinals '06 (14)|
|Because he was ineligible for half his senior season in high school, Edwards dropped to the 14th round in June. He looks like a terrific value for that round after showing above-average raw power, both pulling the ball and to straightaway center. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Edwards utilized his considerable strength to swat 21 extra-base hits despite struggling with a sore wrist all summer and missing the final 10 games with a pulled hamstring.|
His swing can get long, but Edwards' pitch recognition was more advanced than that of most young hitters. He has a plus arm to match his plus power and seems a good fit for right field despite below-average range. He moves well for his size but struggled with balls hit right at him.
"He looks like a lumberjack out there," Elizabethton manager Ray Smith said. "He's a big, huge guy but he moves pretty good. And of course, he can swing the bat. He squared up the bat head on a few against us."
|10.||Zach Britton, lhp, Bluefield (Orioles)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 172 Age: 18
Drafted: Orioles '06
|Though Britton struggled for much of his pro debut, his live left arm and athletic frame made him one of the most promising young pitchers in the league. His fastball soared to 92-93 mph before his velocity tailed off late in his high school season, but he showed enough to get drafted in the third round.|
Britton pitched at 88-91 mph in his pro debut, and scouts expect him to have a consistent plus fastball once he matures physically. Because his heater was more than enough to dispense with high school hitters, Britton’s offspeed stuff is underdeveloped.
His slider can flatten out and he throws his changeup too hard at times. He lacks deception in his delivery, so a refined changeup will be a must to deal with righthanders at higher levels.
|11.||Emmanuel Garcia, ss, Kingsport (Mets)|
|B-T: L-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 180 Age: 20
Drafted: Mets FA '04|
|Born in Montreal, Garcia went undrafted in 2004 because of baseball shortage of work visas. The Mets signed him as a free agent that winter and he made his pro debut by leading the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in hits, runs and on-base percentage last year. He continued to impress in 2006, showing a complete package at shortstop.|
Garcia's above-average speed might be his best tool, as he finished third in the league with 19 stolen bases, with his bat is a close second. Managers were uniformly impressed with his actions, range and body control at shortstop, but his arm is slightly below-average for the position.
|12.||Blake King, rhp, Johnson City (Cardinals)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 195 Age: 19
Drafted: Cardinals D/F '05 (44)|
|King led national junior college pitchers in strikeouts (123 in 86 innings) and ranked seventh in ERA (1.05), prompting the Cardinals to sign him as a draft-and-follow before he could re-enter the 2006 draft. He made quick work of Appy League hitters with a deceptive maximum-effort delivery. Before coming to the plate, he turns to face the outfield and then delivers the ball over the top.|
King pitches up in the zone with a low-90s fastball, reaching 94 at times, keeping the ball in the park because hitters don’t see it well coming out of his hand. His late-breaking slider is an above-average pitch already and it generated lots of swings because it looks like a fastball until it breaks late at the plate. He ranked second in the league in strikeouts (74) but also walks (29), and opponents hit just .167 against him.
|13.||Tyler Herron, rhp, Johnson City (Cardinals)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190 Age: 20
Drafted: Cardinals '05 (1)|
|A supplemental first-round pick in 2005, Herron bombed in the Appy League that summer, going 0-3, 5.61 and surrendering 11 homers in 50 innings. His return trip began in similar fashion until he picked up his first pro win in late July, a prelude to going 4-1, 2.67 in five August starts.|
Better command of his low-90s sinker helped Herron get untracked this summer, as he was able to locate the pitch to minimize hard contact. He also began mixing in his changeup up to 20 times a game, and the Cardinals believe his curveball can become a plus pitch. Herron impressed Johnson City manager Dan Radison with his maturity, taking sloppy defensive play behind him in stride.
|14.||Brian Kirwan, rhp, Elizabethton (Twins)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 205 Age: 19
Drafted: Twins '05
|Kirwan had a chance to go in the first two rounds of the 2005 draft until he tore the anterior-cruciate ligament in his right knee as a high school quarterback. Sold on his athleticism, the Twins nabbed him in the 11th round and signed him for $500,000 just before he was set to attend classes at UCLA.|
He has a sturdy 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a fluid delivery, but Kirwan seemed to tire down the stretch, probably because of the long layoff. He pitched at 87-89 mph and occasionally reached the low 90s, and he should add velocity as he fills out. He can move his curveball around the strike zone but will need to get his changeup over more frequently against advanced hitters.
Kirwan hasn’t quite recovered the command he showed before his knee injury, and he’ll be less hittable once he starts locating his pitches better. He tied for the Appy lead by giving up nine homers.
|15.||Alex Burnett, rhp, Elizabethton (Twins)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 190 Age: 19
Drafted: Twins '05
|The Twins found another promising California high school pitcher one round after Kirwan in the 2005 draft. Burnett isn’t as imposing physically at 6 feet and 190 pounds, but he ranked among the league leaders in innings (71) and strikeouts (71).|
He may not be big, but Burnett works from 89-92 mph with his fastball. He also throws a sharp slider with depth, as well as an improving changeup. Though he tired in August, he showed maturity and tremendous mound presence as Elizabethton’s ace.
|16.||Justin Edwards, lhp, Bristol (White Sox)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 5-11 Wt: 170 Age: 19
Drafted: White Sox '06
|Edwards caught the attention of scouts with a strong 2005 on the summer high school showcase and tournament circuit. Though his command and velocity dipped this spring, the White Sox still invested a third-round pick in him and signed him for a below-slot $310,000.|
At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, Edwards isn’t overpowering. He relies on advanced command of a lively 86-89 mph fastball, and feel for a promising curveball and a changeup. Above all, the White Sox are encouraged by Edwards’ ability to locate his pitches and his smooth, repeatable delivery.
“For an 18-year-old, he really goes about his business like a 20- or 21-year old,” Bristol manager Nick Leyva said. “He’s really mature off the field and on. And that maturity is a great thing to have.”
|17.||Ronald Ramirez, ss/2b, Greeneville (Astros)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 149 Age: 20
Drafted: Astros FA '03|
|Ramirez made a strong U.S. debut, finishing among the Appy League leaders in average (.314), hits (72), doubles (20) and triples (five) after spending three years in the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League. |
He has surprising pop for a 6-foot, 149-pounder, though he’s more of a spray hitter now who takes the ball where it’s pitched. He should add strength as he fills out.
Ramirez spent most of the year at shortstop but also saw time at second base. He may profile better at second because while he has good range to his left, he has below-average range toward the shortstop hole. His footwork also needs improvement and he lacks the arm strength of a true shortstop. He's an average runner.
|18.||Yohermyn Chavez, of, Pulaski (Blue Jays)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 200 Age: 17
Drafted: Blue Jays FA '05|
|The fact that Chavez, at age 17 and in his first year as a pro, bypassed the VSL for Pulaski suggests how highly the Blue Jays regard him. While he held his own in the Appalachian League, he’s all projection at this point.|
Chavez has done well to adapt to a new culture and will continue to gain strength, though he is already physical at 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs. His swing has come a long way in a year, but he’s still prone to chasing pitches out of the zone and is too pull-conscious. He’ll be a corner outfielder because he doesn't have the instincts or range for center field, though he has average speed and arm strength.
|19.||Nevin Ashley, c, Princeton (Devil Rays)|
|B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210 Age: 22
Drafted: Devil Rays '06
|After finishing second in the Missouri Valley Conference batting race with a .382 average, Ashley figured to tear up the Appy League—and he did by hitting .333 and leading the league with a .440 on-base percentage. The oldest player on this list, he made quick transition to wood bats and made hard contact to all fields. He’s physically mature but still may have room for growth in the power department.|
While he is highly athletic for a catcher, Ashley still needs work behind the plate. In instructional league, the Devil Rays plan to address his mechanical flaws in terms of his setup, receiving and blocking. He does have good hands, shows a plus arm at times and threw out 52 percent of basestealers in his pro debut.
|20.||Sergio Severino, lhp, Greeneville (Astros)|
|B-T: L-L Ht: 5-11 Wt: 150 Age: 22
Drafted: Astros FA '02|
|Though Severino was repeating the league and is significantly older than the other pitchers on this list, his stuff stood out. He had arguably the best fastball in the league, a 92-93 mph heater that explodes on hitters and enabled him to lead the league with 90 strikeouts in 68 innings. Three times he struck out 10 or more batters in a start.|
At 5-foot-11 and 150 pounds, Severino doesn’t resemble a power pitcher, but he attacks hitters and his stuff certainly plays that way. His quick arm action also makes his slider tough to hit, though the pitch is a work in progress.
Severino has average command of a changeup he throws to keep hitters from sitting on his fastball. His inconsistent mechanics sometimes lead to lapses in control.