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Class A Carolina League

Top 10 Prospects

BY DAVE UTNIK

WOODBRIDGE, Va.–The Carolina League developed prospects at an accelerated pace this summer. Three players who began the season in Class A finished it in the majors.

There’s no sign of that trend ending anytime soon, with six first-round draft picks, a record-setting basestealer and one of baseball’s most-heralded young lefthanders ranked among the league’s Top 10 Prospects.

During a season when young talent zipped through the league, it took just half a season for most of the league’s best players to leave a lasting impression. Several others, like Myrtle Beach speedster Rafael Furcal, arrived late but left little doubt about their potential.

"This is a very, very good Class A league," Myrtle Beach manager Brian Snitker said. "We were consistently facing great players. Some kids who came through here were tough as nails."

1. KIP WELLS, rhp
Winston-Salem Warthogs (White Sox)

With a fastball that tops out around 94 mph and a nasty, knee-bending curve that managers voted the best in the league, Wells was worth the wait for the White Sox.

He was the 16th player taken overall in the 1998 draft but the next-to-last first-rounder to sign. He waited until December, made his pro debut with Winston-Salem in April and reached the big leagues in July, winning his first two games for the White Sox.

"His promotion to the big league club speaks for itself," Winston-Salem manager Jerry Terrell said. "He earned it."

Wells used an overpowering fastball to advance quickly through the White Sox system. He struck out 14 Myrtle Beach batters in one start for the Warthogs, then made a brief stop at Double-A Birmingham before receiving a big league callup. He went 8-2, 2.94 in Double-A.

"You’ve got a young kid here who’s gone through three levels of baseball in one year," Salem manager Ron Gideon said. "He already knows how to pitch."

2. DEE BROWN, of
Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals)

Brown overcame a disappointing 1998 campaign to regain his status as a future big league star. Managers selected him as the league’s best power prospect and most exciting player.

"Dee is one of those exciting players who can do a lot of things offensively," Wilmington manager Jeff Garber said. "He can hit for power and average and he can steal bases."

Brown can run and hit for power, and he has shown improved accuracy on his throws from the outfield. He was back in Wilmington to work on being more consistent at the plate. He was promoted to Kansas City during the first week of September for the second consecutive summer.

"He has extreme raw power and can drive the ball to all fields," Kinston manager Eric Wedge said. "He can be an impact player."

3. RAFAEL FURCAL, ss
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Braves)

In an organization known for its development of outstanding pitching arms, Furcal is creating a stir with his legs.

"He’s something else," Wedge said. "He has explosive speed."

Furcal is sprinting toward the majors at a rapid pace. He has adapted well to a defensive switch from second base to shortstop, but it is on the basepaths where he has the most impact.

"In two years, that kid will probably be in the big leagues," Gideon said. "He’s got all the talent and instincts it takes."

Furcal has learned to drag bunt, making his speed that much more useful. He nearly became the first minor league player in 14 years to steal 100 in a season–finishing with 96 between Class A Macon and Myrtle Beach.

4. MATT RILEY, lhp
Frederick Keys (Orioles)

The top prospect in the Orioles system, Riley quickly earned a promotion to Double-A and received a big league callup when rosters were expanded in September.

If Riley feels any pressure from moving so rapidly through the Orioles system, it wasn’t apparent on the mound. A self-described free spirit, he made the postseason all-star teams in both the Carolina and Eastern leagues. He was also chosen to the inaugural Futures Game roster.

"He’s a young kid who simply has great stuff," Terrell said. "He’s going to be a good one."

While fans tend to talk more about Riley’s facial piercings and tattoos, opposing hitters and managers are more inclined to marvel over his inside fastball and an armpit-to-ankle breaking ball that he’ll throw any time in the count.

5. JEFF AUSTIN, rhp
Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals)

Just two quarters shy of completing work on an English degree at Stanford, Austin resisted the temptation to finish school and wound up leading Wilmington to the Northern Division’s first-half title.

"He’s not that far from the big leagues," Garber said. "He has outstanding stuff and a great work ethic."

Under pitching coach Steve Crawford’s guidance, Austin developed intimidating movement on his 90-mph fastball and learned how to effectively mix in a changeup.

"He used all of his pitches at any time in the count," Gideon said. "He didn’t get rattled and usually made batters get themselves out."

6. JON GARLAND, rhp
Winston-Salem Warthogs (White Sox)

The White Sox acquired one of baseball’s best young arms when they dealt reliever Matt Karchner to the crosstown Cubs for Garland last summer.

"The White Sox took a chance on a young kid and it turned out to be pretty good," Terrell said.

Showcasing a low-90s sinking fastball and a pair of reliable offspeed pitches, he sped through the system, moving up to Double-A Birmingham in July and finishing the season with Triple-A Charlotte in the Triple-A World Series.

"He has poise and maturity beyond his years on the mound," Garber said.

"He came into an experienced league and figured the game out real well," Gideon added.

7. TIM DREW, rhp
Kinston Indians (Indians)

The younger brother of Cardinals outfielder J.D. Drew began to develop his own lofty reputation by leading the Carolina League in victories in 1999. After winning just seven games in his first two professional seasons combined, Drew led Kinston to the Southern Division playoffs.

"He’s got real good stuff," Terrell said. "The more he pitches, the better he’ll get."

Drew commands respect on the mound. He is an intense competitor with outstanding athletic ability. "He has a great attitude," Wedge said.

Drew throws a lively, sinking fastball, an effective changeup and a slider that has become his out pitch.

8. LUIS MATOS, of
Frederick Keys (Orioles)

Matos showed off more than the powerful throwing arm that managers rated the best in the league this summer. A multi-skilled player, he received a midseason promotion to Double-A after impressing the Orioles with his versatility.

"He’s a very exciting ballplayer," Garber said. "He can fill many different roles."

During his stay in Frederick, Matos established himself as a quality contact hitter with occasional power. He has tremendous speed and reads the ball well off the bat. Opposing baserunners rarely challenged his arm.

"He’s the best all-around, five-tool player in the league," Snitker said.

9. AARON ROWAND, of
Winston-Salem Warthogs (White Sox)

Selected by managers as the league’s top hitting prospect, Rowand overcame a spring training ankle injury to terrorize opposing pitchers all season.

"Offensively, he might be the best player in the league," Garber said.

Rowand generates tremendous bat speed and hits for both average and power, but what strikes fear into opposing managers and pitchers is his ability to hit behind in the count.

10. JOSH KALINOWSKI, lhp
Salem Avalanche (Rockies)

The Rockies are taking no chances with Kalinowski, the league ERA and strikeout leader. After winning 23 games in his first two professional seasons, the Rockies held off on promoting Kalinowski to Double-A during the season.

Kalinowski fell two victories shy of winning a pitching triple crown. With great location on his fastball and an exceptional curve, he has recorded 391 career strikeouts in two seasons.

"He’s a strikeout-type pitcher with a tremendous curve and the ability to locate his fastball on both sides of the plate," Wedge said.

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