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Short-Season New York-Penn League

Top 10 Prospects

BY DAVID RAWNSLEY

For all but administrative purposes, the 14-team New York-Penn League might as well be two leagues. Teams from the leagues’ two divisions do not play each other except in the playoffs.

The separation is primarily for scheduling purposes, as many of the teams in opposite divisions are relatively close to one another. The Rookie-level Gulf Coast League is the only other league where teams play only within their division. What this means is that each manager sees only half the players, making an overall assessment a little tougher.

The league was dominated by older and more experienced college players in 1999, and managers and scouts saw few high-ceiling players.

Power-hitting corner infielders and crafty lefthanders were the most prominent among the league leaders. While each manager seemingly had his favorite corner infielder, none made the top 10 list.

Among those considered were Hudson Valley third baseman Andrew Beinbrink, Hudson Valley first baseman Dan Grummitt, Auburn first baseman Jason Lane, Pittsfield third baseman Rodney Nye, Staten Island third baseman Andy Phillips and Oneonta third baseman Brant Ust. Grummitt led the league with 22 homers, and Lane was tops with 59 RBIs.

Among the top lefthanders were Staten Island’s Brandon Claussen, Hudson Valley’s Cody Getz and Joe Kennedy, Oneonta’s Randy Leek and Andrew Van Hekken and Utica’s Todd Moser. Moser led the league with a 1.53 ERA, while Kennedy led with 101 strikeouts.

1. ALEX GRAMAN, lhp
Staten Island Yankees (Yankees)

Graman has three solid pitches, all of which have a chance to be above-average. His fastball is in the 90-93 mph range with good, late life to it.

One manager said that although there were a number of pitchers in the league who threw harder than Graman, he seemed to be the fastest because of the late exploding action on his fastball.

Graman also throws a hard 77-79 mph curveball that one manager called exceptional and a split-finger change for an offspeed pitch. With his three pitches and command of both sides of the plate, Graman could be a fast-track prospect. One manager compared Graman to Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte, which would suit New York just fine.

2. TERRY BYRON, rhp
Utica Blue Sox (Marlins)

"This guy is legit," one manager said with feeling. "He has three plus pitches, but the most impressive thing is that he throws completely within himself. You know he can hit 95 when he wants to but he pitches at 91-92 with great life."

Byron gets excellent sinking movement on his changeup, which should help him move quickly if he can continue to command it. Byron also throws a hard curveball consistently for strikes. One concern scouts had with him this spring was his stout body, which is unconventional for a pitching prospect.

Byron is a native of the Virgin Islands who moved to Florida to play high school and junior college baseball before being drafted in the second round by the Marlins this year.

3. TONY ALVAREZ, 3b
Williamsport Crosscutters (Pirates)

No player elicited more opinions among league managers than the multi-talented Alvarez. Some saw him as a highly aggressive player with no fear who could make all the plays at third base. Others thought the young Venezuelan was erratic on the bases and in the field, had a wild swing and a future in the outfield or first base. Alvarez also played second base this summer.

Everyone agreed Alvarez has a high ceiling offensively if he can continue to adjust to breaking balls. He has excellent bat speed and is an above-average runner.

The Pirates have a strong history with New York-Penn League third basemen. In 1995 they took Freddy Garcia straight from St. Catharines to the big leagues as a major league Rule 5 selection from the Blue Jays. Aramis Ramirez was the league’s top prospect as an 18-year-old in 1996 and was in Pittsburgh less than two years later.

4. CHIP AMBRES, of
Utica Blue Sox (Marlins)

Ambres joined Utica more than halfway through the season from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he was named that league’s best prospect, but quickly adapted to the older competition.

The Marlins’ first-round pick in 1998, Ambres combines speed, power and patience in his offensive package. In 65 games between the two leagues, Ambres had 33 stolen bases, 31 extra-base hits and 46 walks.

Defensively, Ambres has the speed to play center field and solid average arm strength. He has overcome the hamstring and knee problems that were left over from his high school football days. An excellent athlete, he was recruited to play quarterback at Texas A&M.

5. MIKE NANNINI, rhp
Auburn Doubledays (Astros)

Nannini pitched in the Midwest League the first half of the season as an 18-year-old, and was 4-10, 4.43 when the Astros moved him down to Auburn when the short-season leagues opened. He dominated the older but less experienced hitters in the NY-P with a low-90s fastball, a sharp-breaking slider and an improving changeup.

Nannini aggressively comes right after hitters with his plus fastball. The Astros have worked with him to change speeds and use his excellent command to get hitters to swing at pitches at the edge of or out of the strike zone.

"He’s a short young guy," one manager said, "but he’s very mature and poised for his age and really has good stuff. He improved a lot during the season."

6. DAVID WALLING, rhp
Staten Island Yankees (Yankees)

The Yankees first-round pick was more heralded than his teammate Graman coming out of college and just as successful in his pro debut, but league managers didn’t see him having as a high a ceiling as the lefthander.

"He’s real close to Graman," Utica manager Ken Joyce said. "He pitches under control with an average fastball and an excellent changeup."

One thing that Walling must work on at the higher levels is developing a sharper breaking ball.

7. J.R. HOUSE, c/1b
Williamsport Crosscutters (Pirates)

House began the year in the GCL after being taken by the Pirates in the fifth round this June. He made a quick jump to the NY-P, an impressive accomplishment directly out of high school. Making the jump even more impressive is the fact that House was more of a football star in high school and has limited baseball experience.

House’s future is with the bat. He shows above-average bat speed and power potential and has an extremely advanced approach for his age and experience. Managers were divided over whether he would be able to remain behind the plate defensively, where his hands and footwork are still at the raw stage. House split time between catcher and first base this summer.

8. NICK GREEN, 2b
Jamestown Jammers (Braves)

Second basemen rarely make prospect lists, but second basemen rarely lead all junior college players in home runs as Green did this spring. He has excellent bat speed and a balanced approach at the plate, although there is some concern that his swing can get too long at times.

The Braves are thinking of switching Green to shortstop this fall, much as they did super prospect Rafael Furcal last offseason. Jamestown manager Jim Saul says that Green has plus arm strength and good enough hands and range for the switch.

9. ASDRUBAL OROPEZA, 3b
Jamestown Jammers (Braves)

Oropeza began the season as an 18-year-old but is already in his third season in the United States. The Venezuela native combines good bat speed and power potential with excellent defensive ability at third.

"He was the best defensive third baseman in the league by a wide margin," Saul said. "He has great agility and at his age is only going to get better."

10. MATT McCLENDON, rhp
Jamestown Jammers (Braves)

The 6-foot-6 McClendon battled nagging injuries throughout the year, including a pulled chest muscle this spring and a tender elbow early in the summer after he signed. When healthy he made a quick impression on league managers, despite making just seven starts.

"He was the best I saw all year," Mahoning Valley manager Ted Kubiak said. "He was very intimidating with a 94-95 mph fastball, and he threw a hard breaking curveball that was just as impressive."

McClendon was a supplemental first-round pick of the Reds out of high school in 1996 before struggling for three years at Florida. The Braves paid him a $950,000 signing bonus this June, though he was only a fifth-round selection.

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