It wasn't a banner year for young talent in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Sacramento won BA's Team of the Year award after leading the upper minors with 92 wins and capturing the PCL championship, and did feature the league's top pitching (Rich Harden) and position (Bobby Crosby) prospects. But for the most part, the River Cats were a group of veterans on their way down rather than up.
At least they had two prospects who excited scouts and managers. Most clubs didn't have one, and the PCL lacked a single lefthander, first baseman or second basemen worthy of this list. When asked to name the league's most exciting player at midseason, the managers settled on 26-year-old Las Vegas outfielder Bubba Crosby, who was taking his third shot at Triple-A.
This was a sharp contrast to last year, when the PCL had a bountiful harvest of prospects that included 2003 All-Star Game hero Hank Blalock, World Series sensations John Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez and current standout rookies Angel Berroa and Brad Lidge. Most of them ranked well down the top 20, below future stars Jesse Foppert, Michael Cuddyer, Sean Burroughs and Hee Seop Choi.
"There's no question the PCL was down this year," an American League scout said. "Not only was it short on prospects, but I couldn't even find that many potential six-year free agents worth pursuing."
1. Rich Harden, rhp, Sacramento River Cats (Athletics)
Harden was the talk of the minor leagues in April, when he opened the season with 13 perfect innings in Double-A. Quickly promoted to Sacramento, he made just 16 appearances before being summoned to Oakland, where he was spectacular before tiring in mid-August.
He had the PCL's best fastball, sitting comfortably at 93-95 mph and pushing 97-98. The pitch has so much life that the AL scout compared it to Mariano Rivera's cutter. He also showed a feel for adding and subtracting velocity.
Harden often got Triple-A hitters out with heaters up in the zone, a plan that didn't always work as well in the majors. Though he is still mastering command of his slider, splitter and changeup, they all had their moments. The AL scout wasn't enthralled by Harden's arm action, but a National League scout had no concerns.
"He's a power guy," the NL scout said. "He has such a quick arm that I don't see him having any difficulty throwing strikes. His arm action is so deceptive because it's so quick out front, the ball gets on you quick."