For the third consecutive year, the high Class A Florida State League featured a pair of the game's most promising prospects. In 2001, Josh Beckett began his Minor League Player of the Year season and Hank Blalock broke out in the FSL. Last season, Mark Teixeira and Jose Reyes lived up to high expectations.
This year the league's top talent was Joe Mauer, who also started a Minor League Player of the Year season in the FSL and solidified his spot as one of baseball's brightest prospects. Right behind him was an 18-year-old lefthander who had received little hype entering his first full pro season. Now Greg Miller has emerged as perhaps the best of a deep pool of Dodgers pitching prospects and one of three Vero Beach standouts to make the upper half of the top 20 list.
The FSL wasn't top-heavy, though, with plenty of depth as well. Such players as Dunedin righthanders Vince Perkins and Jesse Harper, Fort Myers outfielder James Tomlin and Palm Beach lefty Chris Narveson couldn't crack the top 20 despite drawing praise from managers and scouts. Lefties Cole Hamels (Clearwater) and Scott Kazmir (St. Lucie) would have been near the top but didn't pitch enough innings to qualify.
The late-season additions of Hamels and Kazmir intensified the debate about the league's best pitching prospect. Besides them and Miller, righthanders Gavin Floyd, J.D. Durbin, Dustin McGowan and Denny Bautista all showed the potential to pitch in the front of a big league rotation.
"That group are the kind of pitchers who make you stop eating your hot dog and put down your Coke," Vero Beach pitching coach Ken Howell said. "You have to put everything down and sit back and watch them work."
1. Joe Mauer, c, Fort Myers Miracle (Twins)
Ten games into the season, Mauer's average sat at .184 and he had been held hitless for three straight games. But he quickly showed he could handle a pitcher's league, batting .364 and never going more than one game without a hit the rest of the way. Managers unanimously chose him as the FSL's top prospect.
Mauer led Fort Myers to a first-half Western Division title with his productive bat, defensive skills and instinctive understanding of the game before a midseason promotion to Double-A. All of his tools rate average or better, and managers loved the way he managed the game.
"He's the total package," Tampa manager Bill Masse said. "Number one, you want your catcher to receive, block and throw well, and he does all three well-above-average. You throw in his bat and you've got about as top a prospect as you're going to get."