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Triple-A Pacific Coast League

Top 10 Prospects

BY PETER BARROUQUERE and LAURENCE MIEDEMA

NEW ORLEANS–The last group of Pacific Coast League Top 10 Prospects in the 20th century might have the advantage of packing light for road trips. Most of them seem almost too young for shaving.

Seven of the 10 are 22 or younger. The youngest is the No. 1 prospect, Memphis lefthander Rick Ankiel, who turned 20 just before the end of the season. The oldest are Vancouver righthander Tim Hudson and New Orleans first baseman Daryle Ward, both 24 and both apparently in the big leagues to stay.

Ankiel finished barely ahead of Oklahoma center fielder Ruben Mateo for No. 1. They garnered all but one first-place vote; the one manager picked Nashville third baseman Aramis Ramirez.

1. RICK ANKIEL, lhp
Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals)

Ankiel just plain owned the Double-A Texas League while pitching for Arkansas, going 6-0, 0.91. It wasn’t long before he was hanging his hat in Memphis, where he made 16 starts and solidified his selection as Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year.

"He’s a (20-year-old) who absolutely threw the ball like a grown man," said Salt Lake manager Phil Roof. "He sure

didn’t seem to think like a kid. He knew what he was doing."

The Cardinals had Ankiel on a 110-pitch count, so he didn’t pitch deep into a lot of games.

"His longest outing for us was seven innings," Memphis manager Gaylen Pitts said, "and he only pitched that long once. He’s still trying to get command of his breaking ball consistently, so he went deep in a lot of counts and that used up his pitch count.

"But he’s young, and he has a super arm. He’s not polished, but he has super ability and he’s going to be a good one. He had a lot of distractions and he handled them well."

New Orleans outfielder Mike Neal, who doubled in three at-bats against Ankiel, saw only one weakness.

"I thought he’d be taller, like Randy Johnson," Neal said.

2. RUBEN MATEO, of
Oklahoma RedHawks (Rangers)

If any of the managers saw a problem with Mateo, it was that he could use more discipline at the plate–he struck out during an at-bat with the Rangers while swinging at an inside pitch that hit him in the biceps. Other than that, he got rave reviews before earning a midseason promotion.

"He’s a five-tool player," Pitts said. "He’s a young guy who can do just about everything. He just needs to fix a few holes in his swing with a better knowledge of the strike zone. But a pitcher better not miss looking for those holes."

And the reason is, Mateo can easily lose the baseball. Oklahoma manager Greg Biagini said the biggest disappointment is he didn’t have Mateo for enough games.

"Those guys like him, with five tools, they’re hard to come by," Biagini said. "The only thing I saw is that he just needs more discipline on his pitch selection at the plate. I think he’ll have that figured out before long. He’s a smart kid."

3. ARAMIS RAMIREZ, 3b
Nashville Sounds (Pirates)

Everybody likes Ramirez’ bat. They also like his arm, only they wish he would keep it under control more. Most of his PCL-high 42 errors were the result of rushed throws.

"He has a tremendous eye at the plate," said Nashville’s Trent Jewett, who got to watch Ramirez more than any other manager. "He has great recognition of the strike zone for a young player, and he uses the whole ballpark.

"He has about as good a throwing arm for an infielder as you’d want. He will determine how good he can become."

Ramirez spent all of 1999 in Triple-A after being in the big leagues the last half of 1998–at age 19. All he needs is to develop the same discipline with his arm as his bat.

4. CHAD HERMANSEN, of
Nashville Sounds (Pirates)

Hermansen signed as a shortstop, and was tried at second base and left field before being moved to center field.

"I like him in center field," Pitts said. "He can run and he can throw. He can definitely play in center field."

"He’s an outstanding player, an outstanding person," Biagini said. "He can play center. He has tremendous foot speed, tremendous range. And he has an accurate throwing arm.

"He is mature beyond his years as a hitter. He will develop as a hitter for average and a hitter for power, and he’ll be a huge run scorer. He’s a young 22 with two years of Triple-A experience. It’s unusual for a hitter that young and with so many defensive challenges to keep his head above water at this level."

5. BEN DAVIS, c
Las Vegas Stars (Padres)

Every manager agreed that Davis has been one of the best defensive catching prospects in baseball since he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1995 draft. But for the third season in a row, the 22-year-old made rapid improvement at the plate.

Davis hit .300 for the first time in his career, and probably would have set career highs in home runs and RBIs if he wasn’t promoted to the Padres after just two months with the Stars. This was Davis’ first taste of Triple-A.

"Ben just needed to be consistent hitting the ball this year," said Las Vegas manager Mike Ramsey. "Defensively, we knew he was going to be the real deal."

6. BEN PETRICK, c
Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Rockies)

The Rockies envision Petrick becoming a Jason Kendall-type performer one day, and the 22-year-old did nothing to hurt those comparisons in his fourth season of pro ball.

Petrick flashed 20-20 type ability in the low minors, despite never hitting better than .248. He put it all together in 1999, hitting more than .300 in Double-A and Triple-A, with 23 home runs.

He continues to improve defensively, and his arm is already top-notch.

"He showed he can catch and throw a little," Roof said. "But he can hit. He’ll hit in the big leagues, too."

7. TIM HUDSON, rhp
Vancouver Canadians (Athletics)

Hudson shot up the ladder quickly after going 10-9, 4.54 in Double-A last season in his first full pro season. He started 1999 back in Double-A and went 3-0, 0.50 before earning promotions to Triple-A and the majors, where he continued to excel.

"His stuff is electric," said Vancouver manager Mike Quade. "I don’t think even our scouting director knew how good he was going to be so quickly."

The only thing the Athletics might need to do to help Hudson’s development would be to increase his meal money. He’s still pretty skinny.

8. MARK MULDER, lhp
Vancouver Canadians (Athletics)

Mulder didn’t tantalize anyone with his statistics–until the PCL playoffs, where he excelled in leading Vancouver to a berth in the Triple-A World Series. But he impressed the A’s all along with his composure and poise, and he maintained that polished consistency in his first season of pro ball.

Mulder, the No. 2 pick in the 1998 draft, didn’t sign until after the season and then started his pro career in Triple-A, where he finished 10th in ERA. Of his six wins, three ended Canadians losing streaks.

He still has some work to do, and at times he labored under the most innings he has ever thrown in a season. He struck out 81 and allowed 152 hits in 129 innings.

"I tend to forget he’s 21," Quade said. "Just the fact that he was here and able to compete at this level was impressive. It was a challenge he was up to."

9. RAMON ORTIZ, rhp
Edmonton Trappers (Angels)

Because of his stature (6-foot, 180 pounds), and stuff, Ortiz is often compared to Red Sox righthander Pedro Martinez.

"He reminds me a lot of Pedro Martinez, just his mannerisms on the mound, his confidence, the way he goes after hitters," said Edmonton manager Carney Lansford. "He’s got an outstanding changeup to go with an outstanding fastball.

"He keeps them off balance. He throws well in hitters’ counts. He’ll come back with that changeup, and they’re out in front every time. That’s having confidence in what you have."

Ortiz missed most of 1998 with an arm injury but dominated the Double-A Eastern League (9-4, 2.82) before being promoted to Edmonton.

10. DARYLE WARD, 1b
New Orleans Zephyrs (Astros)

"He can hit," Jewett said.

For that reason, the Astros are trying to find a place for Ward. As good a hitter, as good a power prospect as he is, Ward isn’t about to move Jeff Bagwell off first base in Houston. So the Astros have been using him in left field.

"There won’t be as much ground to cover in left field in our new ballpark as in the Astrodome," Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said.

"He is one of the best young hitters I’ve ever seen," said New Orleans manager Tony Pena. "He’s so quiet with his bat, and he’s a great clutch hitter. If there’s one man I’d like to see with the game on the line, that would be Daryle because he can do so many things with the bat."

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