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Class A Midwest League

Top 10 Prospects

BY BRANSON WRIGHT

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.–Voting on the Top 10 Prospects wasn’t an easy task this season. Midwest League managers ended up leaving out plenty of players who could have a legitimate spot on the list.

That’s especially true of pitchers. Wisconsin righthander Chris Mears was arguably the most effective pitcher in the league before an early promotion. Mears showed a solid fastball and changeup, but it was his command and maturity on the mound that helped him dominate during his short stint before moving to the California League.

Kane County righthander Wes Anderson entered the league with a big reputation, and left with it intact. He showed a low-90s fastball and command of two offspeed pitches before a late bout with shoulder tendinitis put him on the disabled list.

But managers decided hitters left the largest imprint on the league, so just two pitchers made the Top 10 list.

1. COREY PATTERSON, of
Lansing Lugnuts (Cubs)

Every manager agreed that it won’t take long for Patterson to roam the outfield at Wrigley Field. Patterson, the third overall pick in the 1998 draft, certainly made his presence known around the Midwest League in his professional debut.

Patterson was one of the league’s few potential five-tool prospects. He can run down any fly ball. He has an above-

average arm, lightning speed and a solid bat. He finished fifth in the league in batting, third in homers, first in triples, first in extra base-hits (72), sixth in slugging percentage (.592) and fifth in runs scored.

There wasn’t much Patterson couldn’t–or didn’t–do, except walk. He drew just 25 while striking out 85 times. Still, the season was an impressive introduction into professional baseball.

"He’s a good-looking athlete and everything he does looks easy," Michigan manager Al Pedrique said. "He’s the type that can make adjustments quickly. He’s going to be a solid major league player in the near future."

2. TRAVIS DAWKINS, ss
Rockford Reds (Reds)

Dawkins began the season, his second in the league, as something of an unknown. He finished it in the big leagues after emerging as one of the best defensive shortstops in the minors. Dawkins was quick in the field and on the basepaths.

He was caught only 13 times on 51 stolen-base attempts. Soon after a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga, he was named the lone true shortstop on Team USA’s roster for the Pan American Games.

He continued to show his defensive ability on the higher levels, finishing the season learning from Barry Larkin in Cincinnati.

"He knows how to play the game," Pedrique said. "He’s very solid defensively. He has good range. He made every single play against us. He turns the double play really well. He has a chance of being a good hitter too."

3. SEAN BURROUGHS, 3b
Fort Wayne Wizards (Padres)

Burroughs started the season slowly, hitting .268 in April and .228 in May. He was hitting .242 on June 2 and then started to catch fire.

Burroughs challenged for the batting title by hitting .359 in June, .426 in July and a remarkable .452 in August. He finished second in the batting race.

Even during his slow start at the plate, Burroughs impressed scouts with his cannon arm at third base. He was the most advanced hitter in the league despite his tender age and finished the season on a tear in the California League.

"I like the whole package," West Michigan manager Bruce Fields said. "He has a great arm. He had an outstanding season. It says a lot for an 18-year-old to challenge for the batting title."

4. MICHAEL RESTOVICH, of
Quad City River Bandits (Twins)

Restovich has the size of a major leaguer, and some believe he’s close to having a major league bat. He challenged for the batting title before finishing in sixth place.

He has above-average power and placed fifth in the league in home runs. He also showed a knack for driving in runs, finishing second in RBIs. And he provided some punch with clutch hitting. He hit .387 with the bases full.

"He has a big league body," Fields said. "He’s durable and able to hit with power."

5. ERIC MUNSON, c/1b
West Michigan Whitecaps (Tigers)

Munson joined West Michigan during the second half of the season after being the third overall pick in the draft. He quickly made an impression, getting four hits–a homer and three doubles–and five RBIs in his 11th pro game. Munson struck several days later with five hits and four RBIs in a game.

"We made him our number one pick because he has an outstanding bat," said Dave Miller, the Tigers’ farm director. "He has great promise with the bat. After a while during the season, they started pitching around him. The pitchers in the league started to show fear."

Munson’s power was especially evident in West Michigan’s spacious ballpark. He was the only Whitecap to reach double figures in home runs. Nagging injuries limited him to first base–he caught just five games–so the jury remains out on his defense.

6. NICK NEUGEBAUER, rhp
Beloit Snappers (Brewers)

Neugebauer simply dominated the opposition. He had 125 strikeouts in 81 innings and led minor league starters in strikeouts per nine innings. He held the opposition to a .178 batting average.

He was even more impressive during pressure situations, holding the opposition to a .187 batting average with runners in scoring position and a stunning .091 with the bases loaded. He had a season-high 13 strikeouts against Fort Wayne in his final regular season game.

"He had the best fastball in the league," Wisconsin mana-

ger Steve Roadcap said. "He’s a bulldog on the mound. We saw him twice and he was better the second time around. He throws in the high 90s. That’s scary because he’s only 19."

Neugebauer may not be as dominant without better control, however.

7. AARON McNEAL, 1b
Michigan Battle Cats (Astros)

McNeal had one of the most impressive offensive seasons in league history. He led the league in hits, homers and RBIs, and chased the league record for homers and RBIs in a season before falling short. He hit .318 with runners in scoring position and .341 with the bases loaded.

The biggest question for McNeal will be plate discipline. He walked just 40 times while striking out 121 times.

"He still has some things to improve on, but he has tremendous power," Pedrique said. "He has quick hands. He can drive the ball hard to all fields, and provided the big hit for us all season."

8. DAVID KELTON, 3b
Lansing Lugnuts (Cubs)

Lansing had a winning season in its first year as a Cubs affiliate, and produced the most players on this list. With the Cubs’ sorry history at third base, Kelton’s season was especially welcome.

Kelton, at 19 one of the youngest players in the league, caught fire early with a .287 average in April and a .347 average in May. He faltered later in the season, but his potential and solid play at third base overshadowed his late offensive slide. Lansing hitting coach Steve McFarland said the young slugger still needs to learn how to adjust better at the plate.

"He has a great knack of staying inside the ball and hitting nice line drives with gap power," McFarland said. "That’s impressive for someone his age. He has pretty good balance at the plate. He’s going to hit for power and with aver-

age."

9. JUAN RINCON, rhp
Quad City River Bandits (Twins)

After moving into the rotation part way through last year at Fort Wayne, Rincon became a full-time starter in ’99 and blossomed. He led the league in strikeouts despite having only one double-digit outing. He was second in the league in wins and third among all starters in ERA.

"Juan is a good young pitcher with very good stuff, but he’ll need to learn how to pitch at the next level to be successful," Quad City pitching coach David Perez said.

10. HEE SEOP CHOI, 1b
Lansing Lugnuts (Cubs)

Choi, one of the growing number of Koreans in professional baseball, arrived from extended spring training after the season started. That didn’t keep him from impressing managers with his plate discipline (50 walks) and power (.610 slugging percentage).

Big and physical, Choi displayed his awesome power with several tape-measure shots. He hit several homers in excess of 400 feet.

"Choi has a great understanding of the strike zone," McFarland said. "He has the knack of not making a mistake against pitchers the second time around. He has great balance at the plate and probably is farther along than anyone I’ve ever coached at this level."

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