Hawaii Winter Baseball Top 15 Prospects





See also: Matt Meyers Chat about the Top 15 Prospects


Hawaii Winter Baseball returned to the baseball landscape for the first time since 1997 and by almost all accounts has been a success. Though some complained about limited pregame access to the field for workouts, as well as difficulty finding enough at-bats to go around on crowded rosters, the league was praised as being a positive alternative to instructional league for promising prospects in Class A.

The talent level in HWB was better than expected, as the Yankees, Rockies and Braves sent several top prospects to the island state. Also, many U.S. position players gained the experience of hitting against older, polished pitchers from Japan. Japanese clubs sent 30 players in all to Hawaii, adding an interesting twist to the league. But only players affiliated with major league clubs were considered for our list.

1. Joba Chamberlain, rhp, West Oahu (Yankees)

Like the Arizona Fall League, teams were hesitant to send top pitching prospects to HWB, but because Chamberlain signed late, the Yankees wanted him to get more innings. The 2006 supplemental first-rounder from Nebraska didn't disappoint. He pitched at 93-95 mph with his fastball while touching 97. While he's shown a plus slider in the past, his breaking ball lacked definition in HWB and was somewhere between a slider and a curve, thrown in the low-to-mid 70s. Chamberlain already has a solid-average changeup at 81-82 mph with some fade. He can pound the zone with his fastball and boasted an astounding 42-3 strikeout-walk ratio. He was the only pitcher in the league to show true top-of-the-rotation potential.

2. John Mayberry Jr., of, West Oahu (Rangers)

No hitting prospect put up bigger numbers then Mayberry, who built on his strong second half at low Class A Clinton in HWB. When he gets his arms extended, his power is a sight to be seen, and he shows the potential to be a 30-home run hitter annually. His swing is typically too long and he can be exploited inside. If he does not shorten his stroke, polished pitchers will stifle his power. The 2005 first-rounder from Stanford has aptitude and has shown improvement in this area. Though a right fielder now due to above-average arm strength, Mayberry could be better suited for the opposite corner. His 6-foot-6 frame makes his footwork somewhat awkward and all his actions are long defensively.

3. Dexter Fowler, of, Waikiki (Rockies)

The 6-foot-5 center fielder started off smoking in HWB with 12 hits in his first 23 at-bats. He slowed down but still showed an attractive five-tool package. A switch-hitter, Fowler hit much better from the left side (.385 to .143). His swing is still too long from both sides and most of his game is still raw. He has big league actions in center and should only get better there as he gains experience.

4. Jeff Marquez, rhp, West Oahu (Yankees)

Though his ERA hovered around 7.00 for much of the HWB season, Marquez showed an impressive arsenal. He has a 92-94 mph two-seam fastball with late life that induces a ton of ground balls. His changeup is above-average, but his breaking ball is fringy and needs to be tightened, and his command within the zone needs refinement. He seemed to have difficulty avoiding the big inning, but his ability to pitch off of his fastball stands out, and his knack for getting ground balls portends well for his future.

5. Eric Young Jr., 2b, Waikiki (Rockies)

The son of big leaguer Eric Young, Eric Jr. signed as a 30th-round draft and follow in 2004 and has gradually built himself into a prospect. Speed and baserunning are the hallmarks of his game and his 87 swipes in 2006 led the minors. The switch-hitter batted better from the left side in HWB even though he is a natural righthanded hitter. He has more power potential from the right side, but his lefty approach plays into his speed game. Young is a fierce competitor who impressed coaches with his professionalism in Hawaii, considering the distractions offered by the beach and nightlife. His defense at second base is adequate and he has the tools to become above-average there.

6. Rick Vanden Hurk, rhp, Waikiki (Marlins)

The 6-foot-5 Dutchman missed the first half of 2006 recovering from elbow surgery, but was flashing dominant stuff in HWB. At his best, he had his fastball up to 96-97 mph and he throws on a steep downhill plane. Vanden Hurk complements it with a rolling 12-to-6 curveball that is particularly tough playing off his fastball velocity. His changeup is still a work in progress and his delivery can be awkward because of his size. His velocity tapered off as the HWB season progressed, but his 50 strikeouts in his first 31 innings testified to the swing-and-miss stuff he possesses.

7. Mike Carp, 1b, North Shore (Mets)

Carp was named the Mets' organizational player of the year after hitting 17 homers in the high Class A Florida State League and built upon that success in Hawaii. Though he did not hit with the kind of power that he showed during the regular season, Carp showed an excellent approach at the plate with a willingness to go the other way. He has a knack for getting his pitch and putting an aggressive swing on it. His defense at first is solid, albeit unspectacular, but should be no worse than average.

8. Ian Kennedy, rhp, West Oahu (Yankees)

Like Chamberlain, the Yankees wanted to get Kennedy some innings this winter after he signed late. Even though he was taken ahead of Chamberlain and got a bigger bonus, he stuff was clearly lagging behind. He has good command of an 88-92 mph fastball that he complements with a curveball that has good depth and a changeup with late-downward action. Just 6-feet-tall, Kennedy pitches on a flat plane and his stuff is not overwhelming. He has good feel for pitching and a simple repeatable delivery that should allow him to be a solid back-of-the-rotation starter.

9. Blake DeWitt, 2b, North Shore (Dodgers)

A first-round pick in 2004 out of a Missouri high school, DeWitt had a nice year in the FSL but struggled after a promotion to Double-A. Though his performance in the HWB was also poor, scouts still see promise. A lefthanded hitter, DeWitt stays on a good swing plane for a long time and consistently drives balls up the middle and to right-center. One coach compared him to Todd Walker because his defense is lacking, and like Walker, DeWitt has played both second and third base in the minors. With his tools and work ethic, he should prove to be an adequate second baseman, even though it does not come naturally to him.

10. Marco Estrada, rhp, Waikiki (Nationals)

A separated shoulder just before spring training cost Estrada the first two months of the regular season, and he didn't hit his stride until he got to Hawaii, where he ranked second in the league in ERA. A sixth-rounder in 2005 out of Long Beach State, Estrada throws three pitches for strikes. His best offering is an above-average curveball that gave hitters fits in Hawaii. He also has good feel for a changeup. His fastball velocity is underwhelming and he typically sat at 88-90 mph. He needs to cut down on his walks. Estrada's stuff and profile are similar to Kennedy's but he lacks the notable pedigree.

THE NEXT FIVE

11. Will Venable, of, West Oahu (Padres)

Showed a mature approach and fluid swing path but is most likely a left fielder, and his power does not translate well for a corner job.

12. Lorenzo Cain, of, North Shore (Brewers)

Confidence took a hit as he struggled with pitch recognition, but still showed a good package of tools.

13. Jeff Clement, c, Waikiki (Mariners)

Struggled in games on offense and defense, but impressive BPs still showed why he was the third overall pick in 2005.

14. Johnny Whittleman, 3b, West Oahu (Rangers)

Numbers were poor, but bat speed is impressive. Profiles perfectly at third, but needs to fix a hitch in his lower half.

15. Zach Hammes, rhp, North Shore (Dodgers)

This 2002 second-rounder took three years to get out of Class A, but his fastball touched the upper 90s from a 6-foot-6 frame.