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Rookie-Level Appalachian League

Top 10 Prospects

BY JAMES BAILEY

There was no doubt in any manager’s mind–nor should there have been–that outfielder Josh Hamilton was the top prospect in the Appalachian League this year. Of course, that figured to be the case the moment the Devil Rays assigned the No. 1 pick in the draft to Princeton.

Hamilton wasn’t the only prospect on his own club. Princeton was the youngest team in the league and understandably was prone to youthful errors and wild pitching, but the Rays were stacked with prospects.

1. JOSH HAMILTON, of
Princeton (Devil Rays)

Hamilton lived up to all the hype. He homered in his first and last games in Princeton, and dazzled managers with all five tools in between. He earned a promotion to short-season Hudson Valley in mid-August and led that team to the New York-Penn League title.

When you see how pretty Hamilton’s swing is, it’s easy to overlook his power–but it is there. Defensively, he did a sound job in center field and showed the arm strength one would expect of a former pitcher. He even showed he could run a little, stealing 18 bases. Most impressively, he made everything look easy and never appeared to get rattled.

"He’s a quality person to start with," Bristol manager Gary Pellant said. "He’s got a chance to be the full package."

2. WILSON BETEMIT, ss
Danville (Braves)

Betemit has the complete package for a shortstop. He’s an exciting player who has pop from both sides of the plate and should develop more power as he fills out his lanky frame. He runs well, though that has not translated into many stolen bases yet.

Betemit showed good hands, good range and a strong arm in the field. He was the managers’ consensus choice as the top defensive shortstop in the league. Though he made 33 errors, many of them came on aggressive plays.

3. B.J. GARBE, of
Elizabethton (Twins)

The No. 5 overall pick in this year’s draft, Garbe was a two-way star in high school. Though he didn’t hit for much power this summer, he should down the road as he can turn on any fastball.

Garbe might not remain in center field as he climbs, but he should be a solid outfielder defensively with above-average arm strength. He runs well and can steal a base when needed.

"He’s got a chance to be a good offensive player and a solid outfielder," Pellant said. "He’s got a good work ethic and a good baseball mind."

4. COLBY LEWIS, rhp
Pulaski (Rangers)

Lewis consistently overpowered hitters, striking out 84 while giving up just 46 hits in 65 innings. You would never know by watching him throw that he had Tommy John surgery in 1996. He was so dominant at times that opposing hitters couldn’t pull the ball against him. He complements his mid-90s fastball with a curve and changeup.

"He’s got the best stuff in the league," Martinsville manager Brad Wellman said.

5. RICK ELDER, 1b/of
Bluefield (Orioles)

Elder has the ability to play either outfield corner as well as first base, but a nagging arm injury and soreness limited him to first base for much of the season. He’s a big, strong, aggressive hitter with excellent lefthanded power. He should hit for average as well and runs well for his size. Elder spent his first season in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

6. RYAN DITTFURTH, rhp
Pulaski (Rangers)

Dittfurth, the youngest of Pulaski’s four key starters, was at his best when he got ahead in the count and dropped a curveball in for strike three. He had 85 strikeouts in 83 innings. But he’s not just a breaking ball pitcher; he has an average fastball, too.

"He looked like a Triple-A pitcher against us," Bluefield manager Duffy Dyer said. "He’s got great command of two pitches."

7. CARL CRAWFORD, of
Princeton (Devil Rays)

Crawford, who turned down a scholarship to play football at Nebraska, is an outstanding athlete. He has a chance to be at least a four-tool player, lacking only a plus throwing arm.

His best asset at this point is his speed, but he will develop more power as he plays more and matures into his body. He moved to center field after Hamilton was promoted to the New York-Penn League. His biggest drawback might be his cocky attitude, but if he backs it up, that will be overlooked.

"The only thing he doesn’t do is throw," Mull said. "He should hit for more power as he gets bigger. He can fly."

8. CODY NOWLIN, of
Pulaski (Rangers)

Nowlin, the No. 5 prospect in the Gulf Coast League last year, has excellent power potential from the left side of the plate. He holds his hands high and has a nice swing, and he’s patient enough to wait for his pitch. Defensively, he’s solid in right field and has an average major league arm. He reminded a couple of managers of Cleveland’s Dave Justice.

"He’s got a tremendous ceiling," Pulaski manager Bruce Crabbe said.

9. JUAN SALAS, ss
Princeton (Devil Rays)

Salas held his own as the youngest player in the league. He bypassed the Dominican Summer League and made his pro debut with Princeton. At his size, he could grow off shortstop but he has the potential to be a five-tool infielder. His most outstanding tool is his arm.

"He’s a very high-ceiling player," Princeton manager Bobby Ramos said. "He’s got an unbelievable arm, an 80 arm. And he’s got some pop."

10. ANGEL CARABALLO, rhp
Bristol (White Sox)

Caraballo, who struggled in the Rookie-level Arizona League last year, consistently showed good stuff this summer. He throws his fastball comfortably in the 90-91 mph range and tops out at 94. He also throws a curve and changeup that helped him strike out 88 batters in 81 innings.

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