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Rookie-Level Pioneer League

Top 10 Prospects

BY DAVID RAWNSLEY

The Pioneer League continued to live up to its reputation as a premium offensive league, as experienced college hitters such as Ben Broussard (Billings), Casey Bookout (Billings), Lyle Overbay (Missoula) and Troy Schader (Idaho Falls) ran up numbers.

But when it came to determining the league’s top prospects, three pitchers, including two teenagers, are among the top four prospects. The rest of the list is dominated by 17- and 18-year-old players just learning the professional game.

1. FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ, rhp
Butte Copper Kings (Angels)

The diminutive Rodriguez was the Angels’ first big bonus venture into Latin America when he signed last winter. Rodriguez already throws 94-95 mph with excellent life and tops out at 97.

"He was throwing 95-96 in the seventh inning with a slider from hell," Medicine Hat manager Paul Elliot said. "It was like a man against boys, except he’s just a boy himself."

There was some concern among managers that Rodriguez throws too much across his body and might be putting too much stress on his young arm. In addition to his fastball, Rodriguez throws a slider, curveball and changeup, with the slider being his top secondary pitch.

2. MIKE BYNUM, lhp
Idaho Falls Braves (Padres)

Two managers specifically compared Bynum to Steve Carlton. This despite Bynum throwing only 17 innings for Idaho Falls (all scoreless) before being promoted to the Class A California League. Bynum ran his scoreless streak to 27 innings in the Cal League and finished 3-1 with 44 strikeouts in 38 innings.

Bynum’s out pitch, like Carlton’s, is a nasty slider. The North Carolina alum throws his fastball in the 89-92 mph range with late explosive life and also throws a good straight changeup. Bynum battled control problems occasionally in college but walked just 12 in 55 innings after signing.

3. BEN BROUSSARD, of
Billings Mustangs (Reds)

Broussard wrote his name in the Pioneer League record books with a three-homer game against Great Falls in which he collected 11 RBIs and 16 total bases. He was promoted to the Class A Midwest League and eventually to the Double-A Southern League before the end of the summer.

Broussard has explosive power to all fields and was called a "pole to pole" hitter by one manager. A first baseman in college, his defense in left field was described as playable but improving. Broussard’s 6.7 speed in the 60 will help his outfield play but he is limited to left field by his arm strength.

4. GERIK BAXTER, rhp
Idaho Falls Braves (Padres)

Baxter stepped into the league at midseason from the Arizona League and didn’t miss a beat. He throws a fastball that tops out at 96 mph; a hard, biting curveball; and a developing changeup. Managers were unanimous in praise of Baxter’s makeup and poise on the mound.

"I compare him to David Cone in his body type and in his raw stuff," Idaho Falls manager Don Werner said. "He had tremendous poise and command for a kid right out of high school."

5. CRISTIAN GUERRERO, of
Ogden Raptors (Brewers)

Guerrero has the same type of body frame as his cousin, Expos outfielder Vladimir Guerrero–only he’s five inches taller. The Brewers hope he has the same type of ability.

"He has all the tools," Billings manager Russ Nixon said. "He runs very, very well and has a plus arm and power potential. He really improved throughout the year as he learned how to relax."

6. GUILLERMO QUIROZ, c
Medicine Hat Blue Jays (Blue Jays)

Like Rodriguez, Quiroz is a 17-year-old Venezuelan who received a first-round-equivalent bonus to sign last winter. Unlike many young Latin players, though, Quiroz has extensive international experience, including catching on the 1994 Venezuelan Little League World Series championship team.

Quiroz stood out defensively among league catchers with his quickness and arm strength behind the plate and his intelligence in calling a game. Quiroz also showed his power potential by hitting nine home runs.

7. JASON REPKO, ss
Great Falls Dodgers (Dodgers)

The league was split on whether Repko, who made 38 errors in 49 games at shortstop, would remain at the position. Those who didn’t feel he could learn the position believe he could be a solid second baseman or outstanding center fielder.

There was no disagreement about Repko’s offensive potential or hustling attitude. He is a well-above-average runner with surprising pop in his bat, and he has the potential to be an offensive disrupter at the top of the batting order. One manager compared him to a young Davey Lopes.

8. LUIS TERRERO, of
Missoula Osprey (Diamondbacks)

One manager compared Terrero to a young Bernie Williams for his body and overall skills. The young Dominican has above-average speed and is already an accomplished outfielder with an above-average arm.

The ball jumps off Terrero’s bat, but he is still learning to recognize pitches and lay off breaking balls outside of the strike zone. Terrero will have to improve on his 91 strikeouts in 272 at-bats as he moves up.

9. ALEXIS RIOS, of
Medicine Hat Blue Jays (Blue Jays)

Rios was the least impressive of the league’s top prospects statistically but may have the highest ceiling. He has enormous power potential as he grows into his frame. He has already gained 15 pounds since signing due to a weightlifting program and a specialized diet. Although he has the speed to continue to play center field, Rios will probably end up in right, where his above-average arm strength will be a plus.

"He can either be a five-tool player or a zero-tool player depending on how his bat develops," Nixon said. "He’s an impressive athlete with a big upside."

10. MATT FORD, lhp
Medicine Hat Blue Jays (Blue Jays)

One manager said that watching Ford pitch was like watching a young Tom Glavine in action. Ford throws an 88-92 mph fastball and has already mastered the art of changing speeds and getting hitters to swing at pitches out of the strike zone. He still has to work on tightening the rotation of his curveball.

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