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Rookie-Level Arizona League

Top 10 Prospects

BY DAVID RAWNSLEY

If you were a player, manager or coach in the Arizona League this year, you probably missed some of the league’s top prospects. First-rounders such as Cubs righthander Ben Christensen, White Sox righthanders Matt Ginter and Jason Stumm and Mariners catcher Ryan Christianson were quickly promoted out of the league and do not appear on the list.

Just two first-rounders from the ’99 draft made the list, Padres outfielder Vince Faison and Padres righthander Gerik Baxter.

1. VINCE FAISON, of, Padres

The Padres had to lure the fleet-footed Faison away from a football scholarship with the first of their multiple first-round picks. Along with top-of-the-scale speed, Faison showed an impressive ability to drive the ball to all fields. The only knock of Faison is his below-average arm strength

A’s manager John Kuehl saw similarities between the lefthanded hitting Faison and a current big league center fielder. "He has Kenny Lofton-type tools, with maybe a click less speed. He could become an impact center fielder and he really knows how to hit."

2. CHA SUENG BAEK, rhp, Mariners

Baek became part of the growing South Korean movement into pro ball when the Mariners signed him last September to a $1.3 million contract. Baek’s debut was delayed by visa problems this spring and a tender elbow at the beginning of the AZL season.

"Even with the visa and elbow problems, he was able to show his tools," Mariners manager Gary Thurman said. "He has four pitches that he throws with plus command potential, including a low-to-mid-90s fastball. His curveball is his best breaking pitch."

3. GERIK BAXTER, rhp, Padres

Like his teammate Faison, Baxter was promoted to the Northwest League midway through the summer, but he left a strong impression on the league’s managers before he left.

"Baxter was extremely impressive," Kuehl said. "He threw his fastball in the 94-96 range and had a hard, hard curveball that he threw for strikes. You just don’t see that combination very much on a kid right out of high school."

4. JOSE VALVERDE, rhp, Diamondbacks

Closers at the lower levels of the minor leagues aren’t usually top prospects but Valverde, who finished second in the AZL in saves with eight, is an exception. He throws a fastball that is consistently 93-94 mph but tops out at 96 mph with above-average movement.

Says Diamondbacks manager Roly de Armas of his closer: "He’s crude and still needs work on his slider, but he’s got the chance to become a real power pitcher out of the bullpen."

5. ANGEL BERROA, ss, Athletics

Though Berroa didn’t stand out statistically, he was the first A’s player mentioned by every opposing manager.

"Berroa’s well above average with both his range and his speed," de Armas said. "He’s got a big league glove right now and is very aggressive with the bat." Other managers like the young Dominican’s power potential for his position and his ability to stay back and adjust on breaking balls.

6. GERMAIN CHIRINOS, of, Athletics

Chirinos showed raw tools that ranked with any player’s in the league, and he was able to translate his ability into a league leading 56 RBIs.

Chirinos’ best tools are his well-above-average power potential and his plus arm in the outfield. He is also an above-average runner under way.

7. JACOB PEAVY, rhp, Padres

Peavy was only a 15th-round draft choice but to AZL hitters he pitched like a premium pick. He won the league’s pitching triple crown. Peavy throws his fastball 87-91 mph with plus movement and complements it with a hard curveball and a straight change.

"He just dominated everyone," Kuehl said.

8. RYAN KIBLER, rhp, Rockies

Kibler is similar to Peavy in both talent and performance. "Kibler throws a nice sinking fastball in the 88-91 range, plus he has a great feel for his curveball and changeup," Rockies manager P.J. Carey said. "Plus he’s a real loose, projectable kid."

9. MICHAEL WENNER, of, Athletics

Though Wenner was a college player, he was sent to the AZL after missing most of the spring at Rider University with a thumb injury.

He led the league in hits, steals and runs scored, while batting .386. Wenner showed well-above-average speed and instincts in center field.

10. JOEL NOBOA, 3b, Diamondbacks

Noboa was signed by his dad, former big league infielder and Diamondbacks Latin American coordinator Junior Noboa. While dad was a quick middle infielder, Joel has well-above-average power potential and is a corner infielder. League managers felt that Noboa’s defense was anywhere from "outstanding" to "improving."

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