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ALís talent stretches beyond Top 10s
by Jim Callis
CHICAGOóFour issues ago, we presented a National League all-star team of players who werenít quite good enough to crack their organization Top 10 Prospects lists. Now, as we conclude our offseason prospect coverage and start to look ahead to the 2004 season, itís time for their American League counterparts.
All of these players, along with 889 others, are dissected in great detail in the 2004 Prospect Handbook. That book should be in your hands right about the time spring-training games get under way. To tide you over until then, here are 11 more prospects you should know about:
Pete LaForest, c, Devil Rays. If not for visa problems, LaForest might have followed up his Double-A Southern League home run title in 2002 with another in the Triple-A International League last year. Heís an offensive-minded player who still needs to prove he can catch in the big leagues. If Toby Hall doesnít snap out of his doldrums in 2004, LaForest could push for his job by midseason.
Chris Shelton, 1b, Tigers. Shelton made our NL team as well, because he was with the Pirates before Detroit made him the first overall pick in the major league Rule 5 draft. He still needs a positionóthe Tigersí signing of Ivan Rodriguez eliminated any chance Shelton would catch for themóbut Shelton can hit.
Howie Kendrick, 2b, Angels. Overshadowed at second base in his own organization by Alberto Callaspo, Kendrick has hit .348 in his first two pro seasons. He has the potential to develop into a Ray Durham with less speed but a better glove.
Justin Leone, 3b, Mariners. If Greg Dobbs hadnít ruptured his left Achilles tendon in the second game of the 2003 season, Leone would have been a Double-A utilityman. Instead he became the Texas League MVP and led Team USA with three homers at the Olympic qualifying tournament. Heís athletic enough to play any infield position, though Seattle must figure out what to do with him.
Robert Valido, ss, White Sox. Valido is the best shortstop to come out of the factory at Miamiís Coral Park High, which also has produced Luis Montanez, the third player taken in the 2000 draft, and fellow 2003 picks Sean Rodriguez and Guillermo Martinez. Validoís glove drew universal admiration, but he lasted until the fourth round last June because his bat did not. He hit for average and surprising pop in his pro debut, and he was a factor on the bases.
John-Ford Griffin, lf, Blue Jays. Griffin has yet to turn in a full, healthy season since the Yankees made him a first-round pick in 2001, and he has been traded twice. He doesnít do much but hit, but he can really hit. He started to produce more power before coming down with a stress fracture in his foot last year. Griffin might have to change addresses again, however, because Alexis Rios and Gabe Gross look like Torontoís corner outfielders of the future.
Lew Ford, cf, Twins. Ford isnít really a sleeper, because minor league aficionados have extolled his virtues for the last two years. All of his tools are average or better except for his home run power. Heís 27 and still looking for his first extended big league opportunity, which he may get after the Bobby Kielty and Dustan Mohr trades.
Josh Hamilton, rf, Devil Rays. Hamilton took all of 2003 off to deal with undisclosed personal problems, and the timetable for his return is uncertain. Whether he can straighten himself out and stay healthy remains to be seen, but Hamilton has a ceiling few prospects can match. Heís a classic No. 3 hitter with Gold Glove potential as a right fielder.
Bobby Madritsch, lhsp, Mariners. Madritsch was BAís Independent Player of the Year in 2002, then signed with the Mariners and showed plus stuff in Double-A last season. He has a 90-95 mph fastball and an improving changeup. Whether he can develop a reliable breaking ball and better command will determine whether heís a starter or reliever in the majors.
Francisco Cruceta, rhsp, Indians. Ricardo Rodriguez was the more heralded prospect Cleveland received in the Paul Shuey trade with the Dodgers in July 2002, but Cruceta could be better. He led the Double-A Eastern League in strikeouts last year, thanks to a 92-93 mph sinker and a solid slider. As with Madritsch, Cruceta will have to throw more strikes to remain a starter, but he has a bright future regardless.
Kazuhito Tadano, rp, Indians. Tadano has spent a lot of time in the headlines already after appearing in a pornographic video that contained homosexual acts. That got him shunned by Japanese teams and a few U.S. clubs. What he and the Indians consider a one-time mistake has overshadowed a scintillating pro debut last year: 1.55 ERA, 112-22 strikeout-walk ratio in 99 innings, .220 opponent average. Heíll be showing off his plus slider and splitter in Jacobs Field soon, perhaps by Opening Day.
You can contact Jim Callis by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.