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By Jim Callis

Feb. 24, 2005

We have a Maels Rodriguez sighting! A Cuban defector who hit 100 mph against Team USA at the 2000 Olympics, he failed to crack 90 mph in a disappointing workout in El Salvador in January 2004. None of the 15 teams in attendance made an effort to sign him, and he wasn't heard from again for the rest of the year.

Rodriguez has resurfaced, working out for the Orioles last Friday in Fort Lauderdale. There's no word on how well he threw, but the Washington Post reports that Baltimore has some interest in signing him. Rodriguez blames his lackluster El Salvador performance on a ribcage problem.

    At this time last year, Chad Billingsley, Matt Cain and Adam Miller were all good prospects who made the second half of BA's Top 100 Prospects list. After emerging as big-time prospects, they'll probably find themselves near the top of this year's list. Which prospects on the end of the 2005 list can make a similar leap forward for next year?

    Mike Baldelli
    Wallingford, Conn.

Actually, Cain at No. 91 was the only one of the three to crack our 2004 list, but there are a few other guys who have risen prominently, such as Lastings Milledge (No. 86 a year ago) and reigning Minor League Player of the Year Jeff Francis (No. 93). It's a good question, and we'll start unveiling our 15th annual Top 100 on Monday, so let's gaze into the future.

Just working with the bottom third of the list, there are several candidates for breakouts. Athletics outfielder Javier Herrera (No. 68) is loaded with tools, but has yet to play in a full-season league. If he tears up Class A like he did the short-season Northwest League, he'll rocket up the list. The same scenario applies to athletic Pirates catcher Neil Walker (No. 81), the 11th overall pick in the 2004 draft. Dodgers third baseman Andy LaRoche (No. 74) also could take a giant step forward.

There are several pitchers who will rate much higher if they can return to full health: Phillies lefty Cole Hamels (No. 71), Rockies righty Ubaldo Jimenez (No. 82), Cubs righty Angel Guzman (No. 88) and Dodgers lefty Greg Miller (No. 100). Among pitchers who haven't had arm problems, watch for Braves lefty Jake Stevens (No. 92) and Orioles righty Hayden Penn (No. 94).

    If the Devil Rays would have signed Wichita State righthander Mike Pelfrey (their 15th-round pick in 2002) and North Carolina lefthander Andrew Miller (their third-rounder in 2003), where would they rank on the Tampa Bay Top 10 Prospects list?

    Steve Liddell
    Orlando

Both Pelfrey and Miller are candidates to go No. 1 overall in the 2004 and 2005 drafts, respectively, so signing both would have been a coup for the Rays, who haven't had much success developing pitchers. To be fair, both Pelfrey and Miller were considered highly unsignable coming out of high school, and Tampa Bay gambled unsuccessfully rather than botching the negotiations.

If the Rays had landed both of them, I'd rank Pelfrey fourth and Miller fifth behind the current top three of Delmon Young, Scott Kazmir and Jeff Niemann.

But let's not stop there. Tampa Bay also drafted Thomas Diamond, the No. 10 overall pick by the Rangers last June, in the 38th round in 2001. (Quick aside: Louisiana-based area scout Benny Latino not only identified Diamond, but he also signed Joey Gathright in the 32nd round and Chad Gaudin in the 34th round that year.) If the Rays had Diamond as well, he'd fit right in front of Pelfrey.

    What does the Marlins' signing of Carlos Delgado mean for Jason Stokes' future? I would assume he now becomes trade bait, as I understand that he lacks the ability to play another defensive position.

    Joe Clemons
    Lufkin, Texas

Joe is right on both counts. With Delgado agreeing to a four-year, $52 million contract, that locks up first base for a while in Florida.

When the Marlins took Adrian Gonzalez and Jason Stokes with their first two picks in 2000, they envisioned Gonzalez as their future first baseman and Stokes as their future left fielder. But Stokes has played just five games in the outfield since signing, all in his first pro season in 2001, when he had back and hamstring problems. He's a below-average runner with just an adequate arm, and he'd be a poor left fielder. With Miguel Cabrera already in the majors and Jeremy Hermida rising through the minors, the Marlins don't really need another corner outfielder anyway.

Stokes' prospect status has leveled off some since his breakout 2002 season, and you won't find him on this year's Top 100 Prospects list. But while he hasn't learned to control the strike zone and might not hit for much of an average, he still has huge power and could be attractive to other teams. If the Marlins make a major trade this season, don't be surprised if they include Stokes.

Feb. 16, 2005

Pitchers and catchers already have begun to report, and spring-training games are just two weeks away. It doesn't get much better than that at this time of year.

    Where would Tadahito Iguchi have been slotted had he been included on the White Sox Top 10 Prospects list?

    Bill Hamilton
    Jacksonville

    Does BA have a scouting report on new White Sox second baseman Tadahito Iguchi? If you re-did the White Sox Top 10, where would he rank?

    Bill Stinneford
    Fort Worth

    Now that the White Sox have signed Tadahito Iguchi, where does he rank on their prospect list?

    Jeff Sedik
    Chicago

We kept up with as many of the offseason transactions as we could in the 2005 Prospect Handbook, and should be current through the Sammy Sosa trade. After the White Sox signed Iguchi, we put him at No. 5 on their prospect list, between third baseman Josh Fields and righthander Sean Tracey.

You want a scouting report? I'll give you a direct taste from the Handbook, where Phil Rogers wrote up the White Sox:

While serving as the cornerstone of manager Sadaharu Oh's Fukuoka powerhouse in Japan, Iguchi eyed the challenge of playing in America, coming close to deals as a posted free agent before saying sayanora as a true free agent this winter. He signed a two-year, $4.95 million deal that includes a $2.3 million salary for 2005 and a $3.25 million club option for 2007. A four-time all-star in eight Pacific League seasons, Iguchi won three Gold Gloves and two stolen-base titles. He consistently has hit for power and took a huge jump as a hitter in the last two seasons. Few second basemen are as athletic or as complete a player as Iguchi. He uses his power to drive in runs and his speed to score them. He always killed lefthanders in Japan and became dangerous against righties as well. Iguchi is an unusually surehanded fielder with average range. He totaled 22 errors in three seasons after moving from shortstop to second base. Iguchi's only liability is his arm, which hasn't been the same since a shoulder injury in 2002. That forced his move from shortstop and leaves him below average turning the double play. Countryman Shingo Takatsu took over as their closer last season, and the White Sox think Iguchi could make a greater impact. He could be a rare 20-20 second baseman and a Rookie of the Year contender. Unlike Hideki Matsui and Kaz Matsui, he played in a pitcher's park in Japan and moves to a hitter's paradise. Willie Harris could take some at-bats away against tough righthanders, but Iguchi should claim the bulk of Chicago's playing time at second base.

    How have the Cubs' trades of Sammy Sosa and Kyle Farnsworth affected their farm system?

    T.J. Houren
    Chicago

The Cubs' primary motivation in both deals was addition by subtraction, as they wanted both guys out of the clubhouse and didn't want to go to arbitration with Farnsworth. As a result, they received more quantity than quality.

We were able to include the Sosa trade in the Handbook. I put second baseman Mike Fontenot (originally No. 7 on the Orioles Top 10) at No. 21. That's well behind another second baseman, Double-A Southern League MVP Richard Lewis (No. 12), and I wouldn't be surprised if another, 2004 draft pick Eric Patterson (No. 23), passes Fontenot as well. Fontenot has some speed and surprising power for his size, but his approach at the plate leaves a lot to be desired and his defense is limited. Righthander Dave Crouthers (originally No. 10 on the Baltimore list) didn't make the Top 30. He throws hard but he lacks command and has a shaky makeup, and I'd take other pitchers who couldn't crack the list, such as lefthander Jon Connolly and righthander Bear Bay, over him.

The Farnsworth trade happened after the Handbook went to press, so the players the Cubs received are all listed as Tigers: righthander Roberto Novoa (No. 12), outfielder Bo Flowers (No. 16) and third baseman Scott Moore (No. 20). I would have found a spot for Novoa somewhere behind Fontenot, as he has had some success with his low-90s fastball and hard slurve. Flowers (athletic but raw) and Moore (power potential but has shown little clue at the plate) wouldn't have made the cut. Keep in mind, of course, that the Cubs have one of the game's deepest systems.

    As an alumnus, its been nice to see a few Oral Roberts players get some props, but I wonder how Dennis Bigley was left off the Early Draft Preview's Top 100 College Players list after the attention he received in the College Preview, where BA ranked him as one of the nation's best two-way players. Why wasn't he on the draft list?

    Jim Witmer
    Coatesville, Pa.

Being an outstanding college player and an outstanding prospect don't always go hand in hand. Bigley was the player and pitcher of the year in the Mid-Continent Conference last spring, when he went 13-1, 2.91 with 100 strikeouts in 118 innings and batted .301-7-29 in 43 games as a first baseman/DH. In the Golden Eagles' season-opening three-game sweep of Missouri Southern last weekend, he pitched five shutout innings for a win and went 1-for-10.

Pro clubs like him more as a pitcher, but Bigley's stuff dropped while he was posting those strong numbers last year. He worked mostly in the high 80s with his fastball and his slider lost come crispness. Despite being 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he's more of a finesse righthander than a power pitcher. Bigley wasn't drafted last June and doesn't project to go in the top five to seven rounds in 2005, which is why he didn't make our Top 100 list.

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