The 31st Team, 2006 Edition
Edited by Jim Callis
March 3, 2006
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Of The 2005 Prospect Handbook
This year's edition of the Prospect Handbook contained a record 902 scouting reports--we crammed 2005 first-round picks Justin Upton and Mike Pelfrey into the appendix after they signed late--but there still were plenty more where those came from.
Every year, a few reports end up on the cutting-room floor. Players get bumped out of the book for a variety of reasons, such as trades or injuries. Then there's a case like the Marlins, who spent the offseason trading veterans for prospects, leading us to revise their top 30 list several times.
Below are 42 players, listed alphabetically, who were in the Handbook at one point but didn't make the final cut. We like to call them "The 31st Team." Remember, these are not the next-best players left out of the Handbook. They're a somewhat random collection of talent with a wide variance in quality.
Some of these players will go on to make a bigger name for themselves. Fourteen members of the 2003 and 2004 editions of The 31st Team have gone on to play in the majors, including Jody Gerut, Nate Robinson, Fernando Rodney and Ryan Shealy. Six players from 2005's 31st Team graduated to the 2006 Prospect Handbook: Drew Anderson, Dallas Braden, Nate Bumstead, Adam Donachie, Carlos Hines and Brian Stokes.
Who will emerge from this year's group of 42? Read on and decide for yourself:
Chris Aguila, of, Marlins
Born: Feb. 23, 1979. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS--Reno, Nev., 1997 (3rd round). Signed by: Wally Walker.
Aguila tied the national high school single-season home run record with 29 in 1997 and won the Double-A Southern League batting championship in 2003, but his career has been more about perseverance than highlights. He's still waiting for his first real opportunity in the majors, which may finally come after Florida decided to trade Juan Pierre during the offseason. He offers some of the best bat speed in the Marlins organization, outstanding makeup and the ability to play all three outfield spots. Aguila entered pro ball with an extreme inside-out swing, but he has abandoned that and shown more power as his career has progressed. He has learned to turn on pitches and can handle even the best fastballs, but he still tends to struggle with quality breaking pitches. He runs well and shows good instincts and jumps in the outfield. He's probably best suited for right field, but that spot is earmarked for Jeremy Hermida.
Manny Ayala, rhp, Padres
Born: Nov. 6, 1984. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 218. Signed: NDFA/Mesa (Golden League), 2005. Signed by: Mal Fichman.
The Padres have built a solid track record of scouring the waiver wires, tryout camps and indy leagues for talent, and Ayala is their latest find. After spending one year at East Los Angeles Community College, Ayala was preparing to transfer to Cumberland (Tenn.) before that plan fell through, leaving him undrafted and without a place to pitch. He signed with Mesa of the first-year independent Golden League and won rookie-of-the-year honors. He led the league with 12 wins as a 20-year-old, often facing lineups of seasoned minor league veterans. The Padres got him into a tryout camp and signed him on the spot. He was the star of their instructional league. Ayala is a big-bodied righthander who commands an 87-91 mph fastball and plus changeup. He needs to find a consistent out pitch, as his fastball is a little too true and his slider is no more than a show-me pitch right now. His first taste of Organized Ball will come at low Class A Fort Wayne in 2006.
Allen Baxter, rhp, Marlins
Born: July 6, 1983. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HS--Sandston, Va., 2001 (3rd round). Signed by: Ty Brown.
After an encouraging pro debut in 2001, Baxter ranked fifth on Baseball America's Marlins prospect list. He has gone just 1-14 since, but on potential alone he remains a prospect. In 2005, his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Baxter showed a 92-94 mph fastball that topped out at 98 mph. He has great natural movement on both his two- and four-seam fastballs. He has a hard-breaking curve he can throw for strikes and a developing changeup that he isn't afraid to use. A groin pull robbed him of mound time for a stretch, but he continues to tantalize on certain nights. His biggest weakness remains a tendency to throw harder when he gets in trouble. Some Marlins officials believe he profiles best as a short reliever, and he made several appearances out of the bullpen at high Class A Jupiter. But others will fight to let him keep developing as a starter, where his prototypical pitcher's frame has drawn comparisons to that of a young Curt Schilling or Kerry Wood. Baxter probably will return to high Class A in to start the season.
Chad Blackwell, rhp, Pirates
Born: Jan. 7, 1983. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 145. Drafted: South Carolina, 2004 (6th round). Signed by: Spencer Graham (Royals).
Picked up along with Jonah Bayliss from Kansas City in a December trade for Mark Redman, Blackwell led NCAA Division I with 20 saves for South Carolina in 2004 after transferring from Pensacola (Fla.) Junior College. He signed for $160,000 as a sixth-round pick that June and has continued to breeze through the lower minors. Though Blackwell has a slight frame, he's more resilient than he looks, capable of multiple-inning outings and pitching on consecutive days. He has a herky-jerky arm action and a low three-quarters delivery that make him deceptive. His fastball clocks in around 90 mph, and he expertly commands it and his slider to both sides of the plate. He also can fool hitters by pitching up in the zone without a dominant fastball. His changeup is an effective weapon against lefthanders. Blackwell projects as a set-up man. He's polished, so he could move quickly after beginning this year at high Class A Lynchburg.
Kyle Bloom, lhp, Pirates
Born: Feb. 21, 1983. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Illinois State, 2004 (5th round). Signed by: Duane Gustavson.
Bloom went 8-4, 2.17 in his first 24 professional starts, split evenly between short-season Williamsport in 2004 and low Class A Hickory last season. Bloom was selected to pitch in the South Atlantic League all-star game last year, but was promoted to high Class A Lynchburg, where everything fell apart for him. He went 0-4, 8.04 in six August starts. Bloom isn't a hard thrower and gets by on location rather than velocity. His fastball reaches 90 mph but usually is in the 86-88 range and doesn't have great movement. He throws a hard curveball and his changeup is above-average. Bloom needs pinpoint control to succeed, as evidenced by his struggles at Lynchburg, where he walked 6.1 batters per nine innings. He has a hard time consistently getting on top of his pitches, causes them to lose bite, particularly with his curve. Bloom is ticketed to begin 2006 back in high Class A.
Adam Bostick, lhp, Marlins
Born: March 17, 1983. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 220. Drafted: HS--Greensburg, Pa., 2001 (6th round). Signed by: Steve Mondile.
Since missing the entire 2002 season following surgery to transpose a nerve in his elbow, Bostick has steadily established himself as a prospect. Signed for $150,000 out of a Pittsburgh high school, he passed on a scholarship to play quarterback for NCAA Division II Slippery Rock (Pa.). He has a smooth delivery that seems to add to the late hop on his fastball, allowing him to miss bats. He pitches at 88-90 mph and tops out at 93 mph, sort of like another lefty with above-average deception, Dontrelle Willis. Bostick needs to trust his offspeed stuff more and not get so fastball-happy, especially when he's in trouble. He has shown a plus curveball at times but his changeup needs work. Repeating his delivery is another area that requires improvement. Bostick figures to return to Double-A Carolina to begin this season. His best big league role may be as a reliever, and it's possible he could get a look from the rebuilding Marlins at some point in 2006.
Greg Burns, of, Marlins
Born: Nov. 7, 1986. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HS--West Covina, Calif., 2004 (3rd round). Signed by: Robby Corsaro.
Burns is one of the fastest players in baseball, with comparisons ranging from a young Kenny Lofton to Devon White. An 80 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, Burns is regularly timed at 3.9 seconds to first from the left side. He needs to learn how to use his speed as a weapon. With limited baseball experience, he's still learning how to get better jumps and leads on the bases. He has been caught in 18 of his 42 pro steal attempts. One of the youngest players in the short-season New York-Penn League in 2005, he showed an ability to get on base. He has strong hands and more pop than his .307 slugging percentage would indicate, but he won't show it until he adds loft to his swing. He's a willing and improving bunter, but his grasp of situations could use work. He's a plus defender in center field because of his range and closing speed, which allow him to outrun poor routes. He has an average arm in terms of strength and accuracy despite an unusual arm action. Burns needs to become more aggressive, but his ceiling is one of the highest in the Marlins system. He'll get his first taste of full-season ball at low Class A Greensboro this year.
Jose Campusano, ss, Marlins
Born: Dec. 19, 1983. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 160. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2003. Signed by: Jesus Campos.
Not many players skip two levels to reach the high Class A Florida State League at age 21, but the Marlins felt Campusano could handle the challenge last year. He did for the most part, flashing 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale and a glove that might only be exceeded in the Marlins system by fellow shortstop Robert Andino. A switch-hitter who has drawn comparisons to a young Tony Fernandez, Campusano showed better maturity and judgmentas the year wore on, especially in the field. Most of his errors came to his backhand side, but he learned to eat the ball and avoid wild throws from the hole. He has been timed at 3.35 seconds to first on a bunt from the left side. He has learned to drive the ball at times from the left side, but mostly hit at the bottom of the order for Jupiter. Though he's thin, he has wiry strength and could develop gap power as he progresses. He'll need to, as well as to refine his approach at the plate. A hard worker who loves to play, Campusano stayed with his Rookie-level Gulf Coast League team in 2004 rather than return home for his father's funeral. Cristian Guzman, Neifi Perez and Miguel Tejada are among his mentors back home in the Dominican. Campusano probably will repeat high Class A this year.
Dan Cevette, lhp, Indians
Born: Oct. 19, 1983. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS--Elkland, Pa., 2002 (3rd round). Signed by: Bob Mayer.
Pennsylvania's high school player of the year in 2002, Cevette was an outstanding two-way player at Elkland (Pa.) High. The Indians lured the big lefthander away from George Mason, signing him for $400,000 as a third-round pick. Injuries have prevented him from getting on track. He broke his left thumb when he took a one-hopper off his hand in April. He returned in June and finished strong, but the Indians discovered after the season that he hard torn his labrum and required surgery. Cevette, who also missed time with a torn biceps in 2003, never has pitched more than 87 innings in a pro season. When he's healthy, there's a lot to like. He has a burly, athletic body, a clean delivery and a loose arm that bounces back quickly. He works down and away with his 91-93 mph fastball, and features a sinker, an improved slider and changeup. Cleveland ease Cevette back onto the mound this year, though he hopes to return in May.
Jesse Chavez, rhp, Rangers
Born: Aug. 21, 1983. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 153. Drafted: Riverside (Calif.) CC, D/F 2002 (42nd round). Signed by: Steve Flores.
Signed as a draft-and-follow before the 2003 draft, Chavez had a couple of mediocre seasons splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen in the low minors before finding his niche as a power reliever for high Class A Bakersfield in 2005. Chavez has a slight build similar to Julian Tavarez or Shigetoshi Hasegawa, though his father's bigger build suggests he still could fill out. Regardless, his arm is quick and his 92-94 mph fastball was clocked as high as 96 after his midseason promotion to Double-A Frisco. He threw just 88-91 as a starter in his first two seasons, and his power arm is clearly suited for short stints out of the pen. Chavez does a good job keeping his fastball down in the zone and complements it with a fringe-average yet hard-breaking slider. He must do a better job commanding all his pitches, particularly his slider. He plays around with a changeup and curveball, though his future is likely as a fastball/slider pitcher. His durability is a legitimate concern, so adding strength should be a priority. He got knocked around again in Double-A, so he'll start 2006 back in Frisco. Given Texas' need for pitching, a September callup to the majors isn't out of the question.
Maximino de la Cruz, rhp, Phillies
Born: May 29, 1985. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 163. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001. Signed by: Wil Tejada.
De la Cruz proved his durability by leading the low Class A South Atlantic League in complete games and ranking third in innings last year. His other numbers weren't eye-popping, but the Phillies were pleased with the maturity he showed by holding his own and not missing a start while pitching at age 20 in full-season ball. His low-90s fastball features late life and gets up to 93-94 mph on occasion, while his secondary pitches remain works in progress. His changeup rates ahead of his curveball for now, and both could evolve into at least average offerings. De la Cruz should add consistency and velocity as he continues to fill out his long, lanky frame, one that draws comparisons to those of Pascual Perez and former Phillies prospect Ezequiel Astacio. His biggest improvement in 2005 came with his mental approach. He learned that he needed a game plan and not just his raw stuff to get hitters out. He challenged hitters more, which led to his high opponent average and low strikeout totals, but he gained confidence from those encounters. He'll progress to high Class A Clearwater in 2006.
Jack Egbert, rhp, White Sox
Born: May 12, 1983. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Rutgers, 2004 (13th round). Signed by: John Tumminia/Chuck Fox.
For a 13th-round pick, Egbert made a quite an impression in his first full season in 2005. He led all minor league pitchers with three shutouts and helped low Class A Kannapolis win the South Atlantic League championship. Egbert allowed one run in two playoff starts, including a combined shutout in the clincher against Hagerstown. From a tools standpoint, he established himself as the owner of the best changeup in the White Sox system. His fastball is a pedestrian 86-91 mph, but it works because he's willing to challenge hitters inside and can keep them off balance with his changeup. He has improved his two-seamer since signing and gets a lot of groundballs when he's on. At higher levels, Egbert will need a better breaking ball. His slider is fringy at this point. The White Sox also would like to see him approach conditioning more seriously than he did during his first offseason. He's destined for high Class A Winston-Salem this season.
Nick Evans, 1b, Mets
Born: Jan. 30, 1986. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HS--Phoenix, 2004 (5th round). Signed by: Dave Birecki.
A third baseman in his pro debut in 2004, Evans played exclusively at first base last season. He has a quick bat and impressive raw power to all fields, though most of his homers come on line drives because he doesn't have natural loft in his swing. His biggest shortcoming is a tendency to overswing and pull everything, problems magnified by his attempts to try to please the large crowds at short-season Brooklyn last year. The Mets say they moved him to first base because he had a sore arm, but most scouts had projected him to move across the diamond anyway. His speed, range and arm at third base were all fringy at best. Fellow first baseman and 2004 draftee Mike Carp is one step ahead of him in the lower levels of the Mets system. Evans is better defensively and has comparable raw power, but Carp bats lefthanded and is a more polished hitter. Evans will head to low Class A Hagerstown in 2006.
J.J. Furmaniak, ss/3b, Pirates
Born: July 31, 1979. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Lewis (Ill.), 2000 (22nd round). Signed by: Bob Cummings. (Padres).
Acquired from the Padres last July in a trade for David Ross, Furmaniak made his major league debut with the Pirates in September and collected his first hit with a double off Chris Carpenter. Furmaniak's father John plays the accordion for polka legend Marion Lush. J.J. has a good bat for a middle infielder, with the ability to hit for both average and power. He strikes out too much and his lack of plate discipline will likely keep him from being a big league regular. He's an average runner who can take the extra base if the defense doesn't pay attention. Furmaniak has soft hands, adequate range and the versatility to play second base, third base and shortstop. Though he has a good arm, he tends to rush his throws at times, leading to errors. Furmaniak will vie for a bench job with the Pirates this spring, and they're likely to try him in the outfield during spring training in order to increase his versatility. If he doesn't make the club, he'll likely start at one of the infield positions for Triple-A Indianapolis.
Derek Griffith, lhp, Phillies
Born: Oct. 28, 1982. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Birmingham-Southern, 2003 (17th round). Signed by: Mike Stauffer.
Drafting Griffith was a long-range gamble that might start to pay off for the Phillies. He went 7-3, 3.09 with a 70-20 strikeout-walk ratio in 67 innings as a junior at Birmingham-Southern in 2003, but he had Tommy John surgery a month before the college season ended. After the Phillies signed him as a 17th-rounder, Griffith made his way back to the mound in 2004 and held up for 26 starts in 2005. The results were encouraging. He pitches at 89 mph and pops above 90 mph intermittently. Griffith's breaking ball is more a slurve than a true curveball or slider, but that's not necessarily a bad thing in his case because the pitch features a sharp break. His changeup is a third solid offering. Griffith's ceiling is as a fourth or fifth starter. He'll begin 2006 at high Class A Clearwater, but he could jump quickly to Double-A Reading if he finds early success.
Brett Hayes, c, Marlins
Born: Feb. 13, 1984. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Nevada, 2005 (2nd round supplemental).
Hayes loves to play and has the bloodlines to prove it. His father Tim was a fourth-round pick of the Royals in the January 1975 draft, and one of his great-grandfathers once played for the Indians. Hayes has great versatility and athletic ability, playing seven positions for Team USA in 2004. Some compare him to a young Mike Lieberthal or Craig Biggio in terms of stature and body type. Signed for $450,000 as supplemental second-round pick last June, Hayes struggled early on as he recovered from a broken left thumb. As he got healthy, his performance improved. Smart and savvy, he handled all aspects of game-calling at short-season Jamestown. More often that not, Hayes' instincts were on the mark. His catch-and-throw skills are evident, as he regularly gets the ball down to second base in 1.9 seconds when challenged. At season's end, he headed to the Arizona Fall League even though he wasn't eligible to play. He caught bullpens and spent mornings working with Marlins hitting coordinator John Mallee. Hayes improved his rhythm and stance at the plate, and he did a better job of using his lower half. In a Marlins system without much in the way of catching prospects, Hayes is already the best. He'll probably begin 2006 at low Class A Greensboro but could finish the season at high Class A Jupiter.
K.C. Herren, of, Rangers
Born: Aug. 21, 1985. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HS--Auburn, Wash., 2004 (2nd round). Signed by: Gary McGraw.
A surprise second-round pick in 2004, Herren got a $675,000 bonus to give up a baseball scholarship from Washington, where he also could have tried out for the football team as a running back/defensive back. He rewarded the Rangers with an all-star debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League and seemed to be carrying that success over to the short-season Northwest League in 2005, when he hit .371 in June before tailing off. Herren has a mature, athletic build with solid all-around tools, but he lacks projection. He has quick hands and a good, short lefthanded swing with some strength to it. He has average raw power to all fields, though he has yet to really make use of it. He can drive balls into the gaps, however. Herren is a good runner with an average arm, better suited for a corner outfield spot than for center. He's rather immature and has some growing up to do, in addition to refining his baseball skills. Herren figures to spend 2006 at low Class A Clinton. He has enough athletic ability to be an everyday big league left fielder, but he's a long way off.
Lincoln Holdzkom, rhp, Marlins
Born: March 23, 1982. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 240. Drafted: Arizona Western JC, 2001 (7th round). Signed by: David Finley.
When he returned last July from reconstructive elbow surgery, Holdzkom pitched at 90-92 mph and topped out at 94 mph at high Class A Jupiter. This was a couple of ticks below the 97 mph he reached pre-surgery, but he showed signs of a successful recovery. He worked multiple innings, pitched back-to-back twice and the ball came out of his hand with ease. His slurvy breaking ball was inconsistent, but his fastball showed both cut and run at times, making him an uncomfortable matchup for hitters. Holdzkom is physically imposing and has a glowering mound presence. He projects as a top-quality set-up man and figures to return to high Class A for 2006. Drafted in the seventh round in 2001, Holdzkom signed for $105,000 after getting kicked off the baseball team at Arizona Western Junior College. He believes he would have gone much higher if not for clashing with his college coach. While his nipple rings and seven tattoos sometimes give people the wrong impression, Holdzkom is devoted to his craft. His brother John was a 15th-round pick of the Mariners last June but went to Salt Lake Community College, though he could still sign as a draft-and-follow.
Michael Jones, ss, Reds
Born: Nov. 19, 1986. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS--Jesup, Ga., 2005 (8th round). Signed by: Steve Kring.
Jones didn't play in showcases and his high school team didn't attract many scouts. But the Reds were intrigued by his power potential when they saw him, and they were even more impressed when he had a strong showing at a predraft workout at Great American Ball Park. Cincinnati took him in the eighth round last June and signed him for $65,000. Facing former college pitchers while using a wood bat, Jones showed good bat speed, good power and no fear, and his pop has the Reds excited. During instructional league, Jones crushed a pitch 420 feet to dead center field for a home run and showed improvement. He has a quick bat and eventually could hit for both average and power. Though he's currently a shortstop, Jones likely will grow out of the position. His actions are good but raw, and he has trouble setting his feet and getting into proper fielding position. He has an above-average arm and average speed (4.3 seconds to first base from the right side). Jones is a high-risk, high-reward pick whom the Reds will have to be patient with. He was in over his head in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year, and likely won't play full-season ball until 2007.
Sean Kazmar, 2b, Padres
Born: Aug. 5, 1984. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 170. Drafted: Southern Nevada CC, 2004 (5th round). Signed by: Anup Sinha.
The Athletics selected Kazmar as a 38th-round draft-and-follow after he played a pivotal role in Southern Nevada's Junior College World Series victory in 2003, but his solid sophomore showing priced him out of their budget for 2004. He re-entered the draft and signed with the Padres for $200,000 as a fifth-rounder instead of continuing his college career at Georgia. Kazmar shifted from shortstop to second base to accommodate Matt Bush, the No. 1 overall pick in 2004, at low Class A Fort Wayne. Kazmar came on strong late in 2005, hitting five home runs in August. One of the better sleepers in San Diego's system, he's a gamer who makes good contact and can surprise with his occasional ability to pull a ball. He's a strong defensive player who can hold his own at any position in the infield. He has a plus arm and average speed. He'll have to improve against lefthanders, as he often looked overmatched while batting .211 with one homer against them last year. The Padres have little doubt Kazmar will get to the majors, at least as a utility player. He'll move up a level to high Class A Lake Elsinore this season.
Wes Littleton, rhp, Rangers
Born: Sept. 2, 1982. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Cal State Fullerton, 2003 (4th round). Signed by: Steve Flores.
After Littleton's eye-opening 2003 debut in the short-season Northwest League and disappointing 2004 campaign in the high Class A California League, it was hard to know what to expect from him in 2005. The Rangers moved him to the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League during the previous offseason, and he settled in there last year. His velocity had decreased significantly from its mid-90s peak when he was at Cal State Fullerton, so Texas decided to drop his arm angle from low three-quarters to an even lower sidearm slot. At first, the change caused Littleton's velocity to drop even further, down to 82-83 mph, but it gradually increased and reached as high as 95 by season's end. His fastball also has heavy sink. Littleton backs up his fastball with a sweeping slider that can be an average pitch. His biggest problem is that lefthanders continued to pound him. Though his arm slot makes it difficult for righties to pick up his pitches, lefties get a good look. He also doesn't miss nearly enough bats for a sidearmer. He should start 2006 in Triple-A Oklahoma and could figure into the Rangers' bullpen mix at some point during the year.
Baltazar Lopez, 1b, Angels
Born: Nov. 22, 1983. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Signed: Mexico, 2003. Signed by: Clay Daniel.
After international scouting supervisor Clay Daniel discovered him playing for Monterey in the Mexican League, Lopez had a breakout season in 2004, hitting .314/.368/.513 in low Class A. His encore wasn't nearly as inspiring, however. A pre-existing right shoulder injury slowed him in spring training in 2005, then he hurt his right wrist and played in just 52 games in the high Class A California League. He also was suspended after failing a test for performance-enhancing drugs. When healthy, Lopez shows a fluid lefthanded stroke, but he rarely was 100 percent last year. His strong, nimble hands allow him to generate good bat speed. Rancho Cucamonga hitting coach James Rowson tweaked Lopez' grip, as he was overlapping his hands. He now interlocks two fingers, allowing him to release the bat head easier. Pitches on the inner half give him trouble, and he needs to improve his plate discipline. He's a below-average runner and defender, though his hands are fine and with time he should become a solid gloveman. He'll probably return to high Class A this year.
Carlos Martinez, rhp, Marlins
Born: May 26, 1982. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 170. Signed: Venezuela, 2004. Signed by: Cesar Santiago.
Martinez made tremendous strides in his first crack at high Class A last year. He showed a long, loose, easy three-quarters delivery reminiscent of Julian Tavarez and the mindset to close games. He began the year in a funk but took off after extensive bullpen work with Jupiter pitching coach Reid Cornelius and minor league pitching coordinator Wayne Rosenthal. Once he got rolling, Martinez showed good arm speed and a 90-92 mph fastball with heavy sink. His four-seamer topped out at 95 mph and his slider showed great improvement as well. He was dominant for long stretches after taking over the closer role in mid-May. At times he tends to drop his arm slot, causing his stuff to flatten out. Adding strength to his thin frame is another priority. He projects more as a set-up man than a closer, but he has the confidence to do either job. Martinez figures to begin the year at Double-A Carolina, where he again will be among the youngest pitchers in his league.
Mike Megrew, lhp, Marlins
Born: Jan. 29, 1984. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS--Hope Valley, R.I., 2002 (5th round). Signed by: John Kosciak (Dodgers).
Megrew appeared on his way to blossoming into a savvy lefty with a live arm. The lone negative was elbow trouble that first cropped up during his 2002 pro debut, and he needed Tommy John surgery following the 2004 season. Some Dodgers officials thought he was rushed back too quickly last year, and his stuff wasn't close to what it was before the operation. As a result, Los Angeles thought it could get by without protecting him on its 40-man roster. But the Marlins pounced on him in the second round of the major league Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings in December. Now he'll have to stay on Florida's big league roster all season, or he has to clear waivers and be offered back to the Dodgers for half his $50,000 draft price. Megrew should regain more strength in 2006, giving hope that he'll reclaim his 87-91 mph fastball, hard slider and fading changeup. His tall, lean frame could yield more velocity if he recovers as well as most Tommy John survivors have in recent years. He showed feel for pitching and command of all three of his pitches before he got hurt. Megrew's arm works well and he repeats his delivery.
Randy Messenger, rhp, Marlins
Born: Aug. 13, 1981. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 256. Drafted: HS--Sparks, Nev., 1999 (11th round). Signed by: Wally Walker.
Any questions about the Albuquerque Shuttle? Messenger is your man after getting recalled four times from Triple-A last season. He handled the treatment as well as could be expected, contributing at the front end of an injury-riddled Marlins bullpen. He was a part-time closer for the Isotopes as well, limiting his walks and keeping the ball in the park, which isn't easy in the Pacific Coast League. He did this mostly with a fastball that ranges from 92-95 mph. His slider isn't as dependable. His command was an issue in the majors, although seven of the 30 walks he issued in 37 innings were intentional. The best thing about Messenger is his durability and willingness to take the ball. Once considered immature, he has grown up a lot in recent years. He's a physical presence at 256 pounds, though Florida would like to see him drop down to 235-240 pounds. He's a decent athlete and a pretty good fielder for his size, which earned him basketball attention out of high school from programs such as Arizona and North Carolina State. The Marlins bullpen is even more unsettled this year, and Messenger should claim a spot if he throws strikes in spring training.
Jai Miller, of, Marlins
Born: Jan. 17, 1985. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS--Selma, Ala, 2003 (4th round). Signed by: Dave Dangler.
The first three-sport, all-state athlete in Alabama prep history, Miller could have gone to Stanford as a football wide receiver and basketball guard. Instead, he decided to sign with the Marlins for $250,000. His mother and grandmother were killed in a car crash when he was younger, but that tragedy only made him stronger. His resolve has been tested through consecutive years at low Class A Greensboro, where he has hit a combined .306. He led the South Atlantic League with 163 strikeouts in 2004 and finished second with 139 a year ago. Nevertheless, Florida stills like his athleticism and intelligence and insists he could become a Preston Wilson type of high-risk, high-reward offensive threat. Working closely with hitting instructor John Mallee, Miller increased his walk total as he spread out his stance, moved closer to the plate and eliminated a lot of the excess movement in his swing. He did a better job of keeping his hands inside the ball as a result. Miller has a strong arm but needs to improve his accuracy and routes in the outfield. His jumps and leads need work on the bases, but he has been timed at 4.1 seconds to first base from the right side. A third straight year at Greensboro is possible, but once things start to click he could move fast.
Bobby Mosebach, rhp, Angels
Born: Sept. 14, 1984. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Hillsborough (Fla.) CC, 2005 (9th round). Signed by: Tom Kotchman.
Mosebach turned down an offer from the Nationals as a draft-and-follow after they took him in 12th round in 2004, then signed with the Angels for $152,000 after going in the ninth round in 2005. Had he not turned pro, he would have attended Tennessee. Because he had a heavy workload at Hillsborough (Fla.) Community College, the Angels kept him on strict pitch counts in his pro debut and had him skip instructional league. His velocity varied from 87-95 mph with some life. Mosebach's slider was up to 87 as an amateur but sat near 82 after he signed. His slider is an average offering with depth and good tilt at times, though his front side tends to fly open, causing his stuff to flatten out and his control to suffer. When he stays on line to the plate, his command improves and he has a tendency to break lots of bats. The Angels place a priority on teaching their young pitchers a changeup, and Mosebach added one to his arsenal last summer. He profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter and eventually could find a home in the bullpen. He's in line for an assignment to low Class A Cedar Rapids in 2006.
Jayson Nix, 2b, Rockies
Born: Aug. 26, 1982. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HS--Midland, Texas, 2001 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Dar Cox.
The younger brother of Laynce Nix is proving to be a puzzle for the Rockies. Jayson has teased them with the makings of an impact middle infielder, but he has struggled mightily since reaching Double-A in 2004. After hitting .236 last year, his career average fell further to .249, and his walk rate also has plummeted as he has moved up the ladder. Nix has the strength to provide plus power at second base and understands the value of using the entire field, but his long swing undermines him. Nix has average speed and is aggressive on the bases. He has easily made the move to second base after signing as a shortstop. He has worked to become solid at his new position and turns double plays well. Nix may have too much desire to reach the majors, as he's too hard on himself and needs to relax more. Though he hasn't proven himself at Double-A, he'll probably move up a level to Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2006.
Pat Overholt, rhp, Phillies
Born: Feb. 8, 1984. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Santa Clara, 2005 (22nd round). Signed by: Joey Davis.
Overholt tied a Santa Clara record with 10 saves as a freshman in 2003, then got off to a strong start in the Alaska League that summer before feeling a pop in his elbow. A host of doctors and X-rays failed to detect any damage before he encountered more pain two weeks before his sophomore season began. He missed all of 2004 after having Tommy John surgery. He returned in just 11 months, but he lacked arm strength, command and confidence last spring and went 2-7, 5.09. The Phillies took him in the 22nd round in the hopes that his arm would bounce back, and it began to last summer at short-season Batavia. His fastball got back into the low 90s, topping out at 93 mph with above-average life. His slider rates as a solid out pitch, though he still needs to regain consistency with it. Overholt threw a limited amount of changeups last summer. If he can improve that pitch, he has a chance to become a back-of-the-rotation starter. If not, his competitive and fearless mound presence should make him a solid set-up man. He'll advance to low Class A Lakewood this year.
Steve Pearce, 1b, Pirates
Born: April 13, 1983. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 200. Drafted: South Carolina, 2005 (8th round). Signed by: Jack Powell.
After batting .346-21-70 for South Carolina's 2004 College World Series team, Pearce turned down the Red Sox as a 10th-round pick. He gambled he'd do better in 2005, and he did go in the eighth round after hitting .358-21-63. While he moved up in the draft, he probably lost money because he accepted a $40,000 bonus as a senior with little leverage. Pearce's bat is his ticket. He can hit and has plenty of raw power, generating good bat speed with a short righthanded stroke. He led the short-season New York-Penn League with 26 doubles in his pro debut. Pearce doesn't run particularly well. The knock against him defensively is that he presents a small target for infielders as a 5-foot-11 first baseman. However, Pearce shows good agility around the bag and his reactions are good enough that he was able to see considerable action at third base during his college career. Some teams thought he might have the potential to catch, but Pittsburgh has no immediate plans to try him behind the plate. Pearce probably will open 2006 at low Class A Hickory.
Grant Psomas, 3b, Marlins
Born: Sept. 2, 1983. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Drafted: West Virginia, 2004 (15th round). Signed by: Matt Wondolowski (Mets).
Psomas looked more like an organizational player after his pro debut. Then he came to spring training last year and blew the Mets away with his performance and effort. He continued to do so in the low Class A South Atlantic League, where he was one of the more complete hitters before earning a promotion to high Class A when Shawn Bowman went down with a fracture in his lower back. Psomas also impressed the Marlins, who requested his inclusion in the Carlos Delgado trade in November. Mainly a gap-to-gap hitter, Psomas gets most of his power when he pulls the ball. He still has trouble recognizing breaking balls and often fails to sit on hangers, but he doesn't chase balls out of the zone. A shortstop in college, Psomas is an average third baseman with a good arm. He played briefly at second base in 2005 and could see more time there this year as Florida tries to figure out where his future lies. He should get a shot at starting for Double-A Carolina this year.
Steven Register, rhp, Rockies
Born: May 16, 1983. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 170. Drafted: Auburn, 2004 (3rd round). Signed by: Damon Iannelli.
Register's Shaw High (Columbus, Ga.) team drew frequent attention from scouts in 2001, as the pitching staff also included Nick Long and Edwin Jackson. Long (fourth round, Expos) and Jackson (sixth round, Dodgers) signed out of high school, while Register went undrafted. He went to Auburn, where he led NCAA Division I with 16 saves as a junior and became a third-round pick in 2004. He moved into the rotation for the final three weeks of his college career, and the Rockies have used him exclusively as a starter since he turned pro. He'll most likely shift back to a relief role, but they wanted to extend him to see how his secondary pitches developed. His quick arm generates a solid-average 91 mph fastball. He shows a good slider and changeup, but he has trouble maintaining his stuff past the first few innings. Register is aggressive, has a good idea how to use his pitches and works consistently around the strike zone. A good athlete, he has solid mechanics but must concentrate on finishing his pitches to avoid leaving them up in the zone, where they're hittable. He'll advance to Double-A Tulsa this year and could return to the bullpen in the near future.
Matt Rico, rhp, Devil Rays
Born: Oct. 8, 1981. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Ht.: 197. Drafted: Fresno (Calif.) CC, 2001 (6th round). Signed by: Hank King.
The Devil Rays believed Rico had the ability to make an impact as an outfielder, but they finally gave up on that idea after he hit .204 in the first three months of last season while repeating high Class A. The best tool he had shown in five pro seasons was a strong arm in right field, and they decided to see how it would play on the mound. He looked intriguing in eight outings at short-season Hudson Valley, showing a fastball that sat at 93-95 mph and touched 98. Though raw, Rico has an excellent feel for pitching and the makings of solid changeup. His command is good and his mound presence is also a strength. At 24, Rico needs to progress quickly in order to become a reliever at the major league level, and he'll have to come up with a reliable breaking in order to do so. He'll be assigned to a Class A team to open 2006.
Randy Ruiz, 1b/of, Royals
Born: Oct. 19, 1977. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 220. Signed: Bellevue (Neb.), NDFA 1999. Signed by: John Brickley (Reds).
In six previous seasons with four organizations, Ruiz had never played above high Class A or hit more than 20 home runs. He raised his profile by hitting 27 homers for Double-A Reading in 2005, but he also raised suspicion when he was busted for his second violation of the minor league drug policy. Ruiz was suspended for 30 games toward the end of the season. He told reporters the only foreign substance he'd taken was Viagra. He also missed the first two weeks of last year while serving a suspension for a positive test at the end of 2004. Ruiz led the Eastern League in batting and the Phillies organization in homers. Philadelphia attributed his improved performance to a better approach at the plate. He always had power but had trouble making contact, especially against pitches on the outer half. He closed that hole prior to 2005. His lack of quick feet or hands means he's just an adequate defender at first base or left field. He must be careful not to let his weight get out of hand. Blocked in the Phillies system by Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard, Ruiz should get much more of an opportunity after signing with the Royals as a minor league free agent. He'll probably open the year with Triple-A Omaha.
Gaby Sanchez, inf/c, Marlins
Born: Sept. 2, 1983. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 225. Drafted: Miami, 2005 (4th round).
After a suspension cost him his junior year at the University of Miami, Sanchez signed with the Marlins for $250,000 as a fourth-round pick. East Coast scouting supervisor Mike Cadahia vouched for a player he had known for years. Sanchez then scraped off the rust and lit up the short-season New York-Penn League with his bat, claiming the batting title with a .355 average, 11 points better than his closest rival. He did so despite an excess of hand movement in his swing that some scouts believe will have to be eliminated as he climbs the ladder. Hitting the ball the other way is no problem for him, but he didn't show much power despite good natural strength. Some scouts think he'll add power as he progresses, especially if he smoothes out his swing mechanics. He played both corner infield spots and also saw action behind the plate, where he wasn't as comfortable but showed enough to make it an option. Sanchez showed a plus arm and has better speed than his large lower half might indicate. He has solid makeup and good baseball instincts, which allowed him to pull off a straight steal of home. Given his strong debut, he could jump to high Class A Jupiter this year.
Errol Simonitsch, lhp, Twins
Born: Aug. 24, 1982. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 225. Drafted: Gonzaga, 2003 (6th round). Signed by: Bill Lohr.
Simonitsch won't blow anyone away with his velocity, but he has a good feel for pitching and throws strikes. That was more than enough to carry him through a 2005 season split between high Class A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain. He pitches at 86-88 mph, is comfortable throwing his changeup and shows a plus curveball as well. Tall and lanky, he uses his frame well to create downward angle with his pitches. In terms of command, only 2004 first-rounder Kyle Waldrop ranks higher in the Twins system. Simonitsch has a clean delivery, loose arm and solid mound presence. Bothered by shoulder tendinitis in the spring of 2003, he made just eight starts as a junior at Gonzaga. That was enough for area scout Bill Lohr and scouting supervisor Deron Johnson to recommend him, and Minnesota took him in the sixth round. He reminds some club officials of former Twins pitcher Mark Redman, another soft-tossing lefty with a college background. Added to Minnesota's 40-man roster during the offseason, Simonitsch figures to return to the New Britain rotation to start 2006.
Scott Tyler, rhp, Marlins
Born: Aug. 20, 1982. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 240. Drafted: HS--Downingtown, Pa., 2001 (2nd round). Signed by: John Wilson (Twins).
The doubts are starting to pile up about Tyler, yet the Marlins still asked for him when they traded Luis Castillo to the Twins. Though he was one of the more effective pitchers in a talented high Class A Fort Myers rotation last year, he had knee problems, which raised further questions about his durability. He never has pitched more than 118 innings in a full season. Some Minnesota officials were disappointed with his work ethic after he was added to the 40-man roster for the first time after the 2004 season. Physically imposing with a large, stiff body, Tyler continues to struggle with his delivery and command. He might be best suited for middle relief. At his best, Tyler pitches at 92-94 mph and shows a hard curve and a decent changeup. He releases all of them from a low three-quarters arm slot that doesn't seem to fit his frame. Tyler repeated low Class A in 2004 and Florida may have him spend a second year in high Class A in 2006.
Rick Vanden Hurk, rhp, Marlins
Born: May 22, 1985. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 190. Signed: Netherlands, 2002. Signed by: Fred Ferreira.
Signed at 17 out of the Marlins' Dutch academy, Vanden Hurk was one of the better European finds for the club under former international scouting supervisor Fred Ferreira. A converted catcher, Vanden Hurk has pitched for just three years but is polished. He's also one of the hardest workers in the Florida system and has great makeup. Shoulder tendinitis slowed him early in the 2005 season, and an elbow problem caused him to be shut down in August. In between he made progress at two Class A stops. A strike-thrower, he pitches at 88-92 mph and tops out at 94 mph with his fastball, which has late life. He tightened up his curveball and used it more often, as he did with a developing changeup. Mound time is a must for Vanden Hurk, who still lapses into bad habits mechanically, such as throwing across his body. Though he figures to start out back at high Class Jupiter for the third straight year, he still projects as a No. 3 or 4 starter in the majors.
Will Venable, of, Padres
Born: Oct. 29, 1982. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Princeton, 2005 (7th round). Signed by: Jim Bretz.
The son of 12-year major leaguer Max Venable, who's also the hitting coach at low Class A Fort Wayne in the Padres system, Will was known more for his exploits on the basketball court than on the diamond at Princeton. He was the Tigers' hoops MVP in each of his last two seasons and finished among the program's career leaders in steals and assists. The Orioles drafted him in the 15th round in 2004, but he returned for his senior year and moved up to the seventh round after leading Princeton in all three triple-crown categories as well as stolen bases. Signed for $120,000, Venable is an outstanding athlete with strength and speed. But because his primary focus in college was basketball, he's still a raw baseball player at 23. He has a fluid swing and occasional pop, but he's easily fooled by good breaking pitches. While he's a good baserunner, Venable lacks the speed to play center field. He does have good defensive instincts and a solid arm. San Diego is banking on his makeup and intelligence allowing him to quickly translate his tools into ability. He'll likely start 2006 at Fort Wayne under the hitting tutelage of his father.
Jonathan Venters, lhp, Braves
Born: March 20, 1985. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 188. Drafted: Indian River (Fla.) CC, D/F 2003 (30th round). Signed by: Alex Morales/George Martin.
The Braves were thrilled with the progress Venters made in his first full pro season after signing the year before as a draft-and-follow. But he was dealt a major setback last September, when he required Tommy John surgery that will sideline him for the entire 2006 season. Atlanta had been cautious with Venters, a converted outfielder who's a tremendous athlete with a projectable body. He throws in the low 90s and mixes in a developing breaking ball and changeup. Despite his limited amount of experience on the mound, he has a good feel for pitching and a strong mound presence. Once he returns to health, Venters will need to master his command of the strike zone. The Braves hope he'll be at full strength for 2007.
Carlos Villanueva, rhp, Brewers
Born: Nov. 28, 1983. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2002. Signed by: Rick Ragazzo (Giants).
The Brewers flipped Wayne Franklin and Leo Estrella to the Giants in spring training 2004 in exchange for Villanueva and Glenn Woolard. While Woolard had a solid run in 2004, Villanueva emerged as the better prospect with a dominating 2005 season in the high Class A Florida State League. He led the FSL with a 2.32 ERA and the Milwaukee system with 138 strikeouts, but he didn't do it with overwhelming stuff. He'll have to maintain fine command to continue his success at higher levels. Villanueva uses his fastball well, throwing strikes with it and generally keeping it down in the strike zone. His fastball velocity varies, at times sitting at a fringe-average 88-90 mph and at other times dropping to 84-88. His curveball and slider are just so-so pitches with little to differentiate them other than velocity, but he generally commands them well. His changeup makes him a prospect. It's a plus pitch that he has a real feel for, and he'll throw it any time in the count, allowing him to pitch backwards and making his other pitches more effective. Villanueva got hit hard after a promotion to Double-A Huntsville, in part because his conditioning is mediocre and he ran out of gas. He doesn't have much margin for error, but Villanueva has a chance to be a back-of-the-rotation starter. He'll open 2006 back in Double-A.
Josh Wilson, ss, Rockies
Born: March 26, 1981. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 178. Drafted: HS--Pittsburgh, 1999 (3rd round). Signed by: Ty Brown (Marlins).
Dangled in trade talks throughout the summer, Wilson finally changed addresses in January when he went to the Rockies for a player to be named. The Marlins liked him, but designated him for assignment after their lengthy list of offseason moves made 40-man roster space scarce. The son of Duquesne coach Mike Wilson, Josh has played mostly shortstop in the minors but played almost exclusively at second base in the Arizona Fall League. He could win a spot with Colorado as a utilityman. Wilson continued to make strides at the plate in 2005, working deeper counts, drawing more walks and setting career highs in home runs and doubles. However, he topped 100 strikeouts for the second straight season. If he can make more contact, he could be a No. 2 hitter in the majors. He also shows good instincts on the bases and is a solid middle-infield defender.