League Top 20 Prospects

New York-Penn League Top 20 Prospects

New York-Penn League filled with talented backstops

1. *John VanBenschoten, rhp, Williamsport (Pirates)
2. *Sean Henn, lhp, Staten Island (Yankees)
3. Jason Arnold, rhp, Staten Island (Yankees)
4. Juan Francia, 2b, Oneonta (Tigers)
5. *Denny Bautista, rhp, Utica (Marlins)
6. *John-Ford Griffin, of, Staten Island (Yankees)
7. *Zach Miner, rhp, Jamestown (Braves)
8. *Dustin McGowan, rhp, Auburn (Blue Jays)
9. *Tyrell Godwin, of, Auburn (Blue Jays)
10. Domingo Cuello, 2b, Williamsport (Pirates)
*Has played in major leagues
Pitchers and catchers stood out the most in the short-season New York-Penn League, where the position talent was on par with most years and the pitching seemed a bit stronger than normal, albeit with a paucity of quality lefthanders.

The best player in the league probably was Hudson Valley third baseman Evan Longoria, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 draft. He dazzled in his pro debut with 21 homers overall, including four in eight NY-P games before moving on.

"I only saw him for three games, but he just jumped out at me," said a scout who popped in for some rare NY-P coverage. "He really opened my eyes with his power. He just really handled a wood bat very well."

Longoria may not even have been the best third-base prospect. Aberdeen's Billy Rowell, the ninth overall pick, showed similar hitting ability from the left side as a 17-year-old. As with Longoria, Rowell's 11-game cameo was too short to qualify him for this list, but he left an impression nonetheless.

"He opened my eyes right away," Vermont manager Jose Alguacil said. "He hit the ball with real authority."

The league's most intriguing prospect may have been Longoria's Renegades teammate, outfielder Josh Hamilton. The No. 1 overall pick in 1999, Hamilton played low Class A ball with his Hudson Valley manager, Matt Quatraro. Hamilton hit a soft .260 before needing arthroscopic knee surgery, another obstacle on his long road to recovery from back and shoulder injuries and drug addiction.

"All the tools are still there," Quatraro said. "He's more mature, more patient at the plate now. He's better equipped now to deal with it all. It's just a shame he got hurt."

1.Jeremy Hellickson, rhp, Hudson Valley (Devil Rays)
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 185 Age: 19 Drafted: Devil Rays '05 (4)
Hellickson was kept on a tight leash in his second pro season, opening 2006 in extended spring training before arriving in Hudson Valley in June. He unleashed his fury on NY-P hitters with a pair of plus pitches and should be a three-pitch starter in the future.

Hellickson maintains the 91-93 mph velocity on his lively fastball throughout a game, and he does so effortlessly. Hellickson changes hitters' eye plane with a downer curveball that has 1-to-7 break. Under the guidance of pitching coach Dick Bosman, his changeup improved significantly and now grades out as average.

At 6 feet tall, Hellickson sometimes gets under his pitches and leaves them up in the strike zone. But he didn't make too many mistakes, leading the league in strikeouts while posting a 96-16 K-BB ratio in 78 innings. His delivery is smooth but a bit deliberate, so he'll have to work on handling the running game.
2.Pedro Beato, rhp, Aberdeen (Orioles)
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 210 Age: 19 Drafted: Orioles '06 (1s)
A 17th-round pick out of a New York City high school in 2005, Beato emerged as Florida's top prospect this spring at St. Petersburg (Fla.) Junior College. When the Mets failed to sign him as a draft-and-follow, the Orioles pounced on him as a supplemental first-round pick and signed him for $1 million.

While he elevated his fastball at times and gave up six homers in 57 innings, Beato showed a plus fastball that sat at 92-94 mph range and regularly reached 96. He does it easy with a quick arm, and his athletic abililty leads scouts to project above-average command once he finds a consistent arm slot. He also showed the ability to throw his curveball and his slider for strikes, though his changeup was a bit firm at times.

"He's still learning to pitch," Aberdeen manager Andy Etchebarren said. "He still has to learn to be more efficient, but he has a very, very good arm."
3.Matt McBride, c, Mahoning Valley (Indians)
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 215 Age: 21 Drafted: Indians '06 (2)
McBride didn't receive a lot of hype, but he may have been the best all-around college catcher available in the 2006 draft. A supplemental second-round, he's a rarity--an athletic backstop with offensive potential.

McBride showed patience at the plate, the ability to make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat and game to game, as well as raw power that should translate into 10-15 homers annually. While a sore shoulder limited him to DH duty for half the season, he has sound catch-and-throw skills and his arm strength was back to at least average by season's end.

"He's very intelligent behind the plate and I think he can show more leadership, be more assertive with pitchers," Mahoning Valley manager Rouglas Odor said. "When he does that, he'll be a complete catcher. He's an extremely hard worker--he almost works too hard--but he came to the park every day looking for a way to get better."
4.Max Sapp, c, Tri-City (Astros)
B-T: L-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 220 Age: 18 Drafted: Astros '06 (1)
Sapp was one of the league's youngest players at 18 and the highest-drafted player from 2006 (23rd overall) to qualify for this list. His youth was evident offensively, but so was the advanced approach that prompted the Astros to push him to the NY-P, rather than their Rookie-level Appalachian League affiliate. While his above-average raw power was muted by more experienced pitchers, he wasn't overwhelmed either.

Tri-City finished as the league runner-up in the postseason, and managers regularly cited their defense up the middle as a key to their success. Sapp led the NY-P by throwing out 17 of 25 basestealers (68 percent). His above-average arm strength played well, but concerns about his footwork and fringy receiving skills were borne out by his 11 passed balls, second-most in the league.
5.Kris Johnson, lhp, Lowell (Red Sox)
B-T: L-L Ht: 6-4 Wt: 170 Age: 21 Drafted: Red Sox '06 (1s)
Johnson returned quickly from Tommy John surgery in April 2006 and might have been a mid-first-round pick in 2007 had he returned to Wichita State. After making him a supplemental first-rounder this June the Red Sox handled him gingerly, limiting him to no more than three innings per start. He has above-average stuff from the left side, and the fact that he rarely went through a lineup a second time helped him post dominant numbers.

Managers were impressed with Johnson's rhythmic delivery, which provides natural deception and makes his 91-mph fastball play up a grade. "It's one of those fastballs that just gets on hitters," Lowell manager Bruce Crabbe said.

Johnson also uses a hard curveball and changeup, though he pitched off his fastball most of the time while continuing to rebuild his arm strength. As a three-pitch lefty whose above-average stuff is hard to pick up, his ceiling is considerable.
6.Justin Masterson, rhp, Lowell (Red Sox)
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-6 Wt: 220 Age: 21 Drafted: Red Sox '06 (2)
The Red Sox, like many other clubs, warmed up to Masterson when he dominated the Cape Cod League as a closer in 2005. While his long-term destination remains a question, he handled NY-P hitters easily in a middle-relief role designed to carefully manage his workload.

That he had little trouble getting outs using his 89-92 mph sinker and little else testifies to the quality of the pitch. Masterson uses his 6-foot-6 frame to throw downhill. His two-seamer has late life down in the zone, and he honed his command of the pitch as the summer wore on.

"He probably will start for us (next year) to work on his secondary pitches, and how they develop will determine his role," Crabbe said. "But what I liked about him most was his demeanor. He was a pro as soon as he got here, and he really provided a lot of leadership for us. He was impressive on and off the field."
7.Jordan Parraz, of, Tri-City (Astros)
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 220 Age: 21 Drafted: Astros '04 (3)
Three years after signing, Parraz has yet to stick in full-season ball. In his second year at Tri-City, he continued to display impressive tools while starting to play somewhat more under control. He was one of the league's premier athletes and runs well for his size, swiping 23 bases in 26 attempts to rank second in the league.

Parraz has the range and above-average arm strength for right field. The biggest question about his future remains his bat. He made progress, using a more consistent swing to lead the NY-P in batting (.336), on-base (.421) and slugging percentage (.494).

"He's super raw," one manager said. "He plays with reckless abandon--he hits and runs the same way. But it works for him."
8.Adam Ottavino, rhp, State College (Cardinals)
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 215 Age: 20 Drafted: Cardinals '06 (1)
A Brooklyn native, Ottavino got a kick out of making his fourth pro start at his hometown's KeySpan Park, and he extended his streak without giving up an earned run to 19 2/3 innings with a victory against the Cyclones. He got hit hard in his last two starts but had enough left in the tank for an effective stint in low Class A at season's end.

Ottavino mainly worked off his fastball in pro ball, working to command a low-90s two-seam fastball rather than the mid-90s four-seamer he favored in college. His breaking balls remain inconsistent, and he's more successful using his slider rather than his get-it-over, slurvy curveball. At times, his slider is an above-average strikeout pitch.

Along with his two-seamer, Ottavino also relied on his changeup more than he did in college. It will have to improve to give him something to combat lefthanders, who hit .313 against him and tagged him for all four homers he surrendered between his two stops.
9.Scott Sizemore, ss/2b, Oneonta (Tigers)
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 185 Age: 21 Drafted: Tigers '06 (5)
One of the league's most consistent hitters, Sizemore went hitless in consecutive games just twice all season. His swing seems to works better with wood than with metal, as he hit better in 2005 in the Cape Cod League (.303) and this summer with Oneonta (.327) than he did in the spring for Virginia Commonwealth (.300). He has a quick, short stroke that produces solid gap power, as well as a good eye at the plate.

After playing mostly second base in college and spending time at third base on the Cape, he worked mostly at shortstop in the NY-P. While he didn't stand out with his footwork or range, he was adequate defensively, making 15 errors and leading the league with 42 double plays. The consensus was that he'll ultimately return to second base.
10.Joe Smith, rhp, Brooklyn (Mets)
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 205 Age: 22 Drafted: Mets '06 (3)
Longoria and Smith advanced further than any NY-P players this summer, finishing the season in Double-A. Smith figures to continue to move quickly due to his low sidearm angle, durable arm and command of above-average stuff. After posting a 1.53 ERA in three years at Wright State, he kept performing against much more significant competition as pro. The only earned run he gave up in the league came in his first outing.

Smith's fastball has average velocity, though it can get harder, but the key to the pitch is its sinking, fading action, which makes it effective against lefthanders and produces groundouts. He also has a late-breaking slider that has real bite, causing righthanders hitters to bail out on it.

"I liked that when the ball was put in his hands with the game on the line," Brooklyn manager George Greer said. "He had that cold look on his face, like nothing was going to keep him from doing his job."
11.Tim Norton, rhp, Staten Island (Yankees)
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 230 Age: 23 Drafted: Yankees
'06 (6)
Norton and George Kontos formed a 1-2 punch at the front of the Staten Island rotation and led the Yankees to the league championship. There was split opinion as to which pitcher is the better prospect. Norton is two years older, but he had better fastball velocity (sitting at 92-93 mph as a starter and touching 95) while also showing a solid-average splitter that was a true strikeout pitch at times.

Norton's fastball-split combination helps him profile well as a reliever, and he could add more velocity and move quickly in that role. His big frame and long levers produce plenty of power but also make his delivery difficult to maintain. His slider was inconsistent, though he showed the ability to spin a breaking ball.
12.Mark Hamilton, 1b, State College (Cardinals)
B-T: L-L Ht: 6-3 Wt: 220 Age: 22 Drafted: Cardinals '06 (2)
Hamilton didn't even spend a half-season in the league, yet he still won a share of the home run title. Power long has been his calling card. He hit 20 in the spring for Tulane, even while the Green Wave played at Triple-A Zephyr Field rather than cozy Turchin Stadium, and he had 13 with wood bats in two summers in the Cape Cod League.

Hamilton uses his strong frame to simply overpower anything on the inner half. He also trusts himself as a hitter enough to go deep into counts, willing to work a walk while waiting for a pitch he can drive. His swing has holes, though, and he's considered just an average hitter.

Hamilton's athletic ability limits projections for him. He's a below-average runner and defender, and his lack of agility around the bag had some managers pegging him as a future DH.
13.Justin Maxwell, of, Vermont (Nationals)
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 225 Age: 22 Drafted: Nationals '05 (4)
Maxwell had a breakout summer in the Cape Cod League back in 2003, but he missed most of the next two seasons at Maryland because of a broken right arm and broken hamate bone in his left hand. This was his first full season, and he struggled early in low Class A while battling a knee problem and a stress fracture in his toe.

He finally got healthy at Vermont, though, and while it seems like he's been around forever, he played the season at 22. He's still a bit raw but showed some plus tools, particularly with his speed and defense. He improved his routes and angles, showed enough range for center field and is an effective defender at any outfield spot.

Highly cerebral, Maxwell was a better player after he started being more aggressive in all phases--he stole home twice--and the Nationals accept his strikeouts if they come with more pop. He'll need to get stronger, both to get the most out of his average raw power and for him to stay in the lineup.

"He had some of the best tools in the league, but what kind of player he'll be at higher levels is tough to say," one manager said. "He's big, he can throw all right and he can really run. I question the instincts."
14.Jason Berken, rhp, Aberdeen (Orioles)
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 195 Age: 22 Drafted: Orioles '06 (6)
Berken had Tommy John surgery in 2005, but returned healthy this season to help Clemson reach the College World Series. His velocity isn't all the way back to the 94-mph heat he showed prior to his elbow reconstruction, but he has shown enough stuff and feel to profile as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. He also proved his durability by throwing 127 innings overall between Clemson and Aberdeen.

With the Ironbirds, Berken pitched at 88-92 mph with average life on his fastball, but he was consistent at keeping it down in the strike zone. He also threw his curveball, slider and changeup for strikes, and his changeup was his most effective secondary pitch. He had a 46-5 K-BB ratio and limited lefthanders to a .155 average.

"He didn't throw as hard as Beato," Etchebarren said, "but he was very consistent. I mean, five walks--that tells you he knows how to pitch."
15.George Kontos, rhp, Staten Island (Yankees)
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 215 Age: 21 Drafted: Yankees '06 (5)
Kontos and lefthander Dan Brauer both pitched at Northwestern, were drafted in back-to-back rounds and both had excellent pro debuts in the NY-P. While Brauer consistently has performed better and is a southpaw, Kontos is two years younger and has more raw arm strength.

Kontos has has a low-90s fastball, a mid-80s slider and a clean arm. He competed much more consistently this summer than when he went 3-10 in the spring for Northwestern. He won seven straight decisions and both of his playoff starts, including an 11-strikeout effort in the championship-clinching victory for Staten Island.
16.Chris Vinyard, 1b, Aberdeen (Orioles)
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 230 Age: 20 Drafted: Orioles D/F '05 (38)
Signed as a 38th-round draft-and-follow for $90,000, Vinyard paid instant dividends, leading the league in doubles (26), homers (eight) and extra-base hits (36) while finishing second in RBIs (47). He also won the home run derby at the NY-P's all-star festivities in early August, and showed a short swing and the ability to use the whole field to go with his above-average raw power.

Vinyard isn't overly athletic, and his below-average speed precludes him from giving the outfield a try. His value is all tied up in his bat and he tired late, but managers believe he'll hit.
17.Mitch Hilligoss, 3b/ss, Staten Island (Yankees)
B-T: L-L Ht: 6-1 Wt: 195 Age: 21 Drafted: Yankees '06 (7)
Hilligoss' track record says he'll hit. He batted .404 and .386 in his final two seasons at Purdue, .309 with wood bats in the Central Illinois Collegiate League in 2005, and .292 in his pro debut to finish 10th in the NY-P batting race. One scout who saw Hilligoss as an amateur compared his swing, offensive potential and overall game to Frank Catalanotto.

As with Catalanotto, Hilligoss' forté is getting the barrel of the bat to the ball consistently, driving balls to the gaps and driving pitchers crazy with an advanced two-strike approach. He also hangs in well against lefthanders and hit .397 against them this summer.

The Catalanotto comparisons extend to Hilligoss' defense as well. Though he profiles best as an infielder, he doesn't have the hands or range to stick in the middle of the diamond. He's a better fit at third base, but he doesn't project to hit for the power wanted there or on an outfield corner.

Hilligoss will have to hit for a high average to be a factor--and he has done that at every level so far.
18.Chris Salamida, lhp, Tri-City (Astros)
B-T: L-L Ht: 6-0 Wt: 180 Age: 22 Drafted: Astros '06 (13)
The proverbial crafy lefty, Salamida's success was too much for league observers to ignore. After dropping his first start despite not giving up any earned runs, he won his final 10 decisions in the regular season before losing to Kontos in the league championship game. Salamida led the NY-P in wins (10) and ERA (1.06).

A two-way player at Division II SUNY Oneonta, Salamida has average size, average stuff and well above-average control, as well as a knack for pitching and moxie. His fastball sat in the upper 80s and touched 90, and he threw his changeup (his best secondary pitch) and slider for strikes with maddening regularity. He's the kind of pitcher who will have to prove himself at every level, but so far, so good.

"Most guys in the league were one-pitch guys," Greer said. "This was a four-pitch guy who could throw breaking balls for strikes in fastball counts, then freeze a hitter with an 0-2 fastball. He was impressive."
19.Wilmer Pino, 2b, Staten Island (Yankees)
B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 165 Age: 20 Drafted: Yankees FA '03
Pino was the best young Latin middle infielder in the league, though Aberdeen's Pedro Florimon received notice for his outstanding shortstop defense. Pino has more offensive upside and polish than Florimon, and his athletic ability stood out in a league dominated by college players.

Pino ranked third in the league batting race, relying on a quick bat, contact-oriented approach and excellent hand-eye coordination. He fits best as a No. 2 hitter, though he needs to improve his bunting as well as his willingness to draw walks. He's an above-average runner and was caught just twice in 20 attempts.

Pino's arm strength limits him to second base, but he has enough to be efficient at turning the double play.
20.Neil Wagner, rhp, Mahoning Valley (Indians)
B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 195 Age: 22 Drafted: Indians '05 (21)
While he's a college pitcher, Wagner isn't the average college product. A former North Dakota State player, he saw his draft stock fall in 2005 due to a left kneecap injury that altered his mechanics and sapped his velocity. Healthy again, he and Aberdeen's Luis Lebron were the NY-P's dominant relievers.

Wagner had the league's best fastball, sitting at 95-97 mph in just about every outing. He was content to blow fastballs by hitters, and his above-average control of the pitch means he can throw it for strikes to all four quadrants of the strike zone.

However, Wagner lacks a second pitch. He has tried both a curveball and a slider, showing little feel for spinning a breaking ball. He had more success late in the summer when he started throwing a splitter, but he lacked confidence in the pitch. It looked better in the bullpen than in games.