NL talent found beyond the top 10s
by Jim Callis
CHICAGO--We're wrapping up our annual organization Top 10 Prospects coverage in this issue, but that's no reason to be sad. Our overall Top 100 Prospects extravaganza is just around the corner, and you'll soon have the 2005 Prospect Handbook in your hands.
We write up 300 prospects for our issue Top 10s, a mere trifle compared to the 900 in the Handbook. For those of you who just can't wait for all that extra prospecty goodness, we're here to help.
Here's an all-star team of National League prospects who couldn't quite make the Top 10 cut. Last year's version of this column included five players who graduated to Top 10 status this time around: Rockies third baseman Jeff Baker, Cubs outfielder Jason Dubois, Braves outfielder Kelly Johnson, Tigers first baseman/catcher Chris Shelton and Diamondbacks catcher Chris Snyder.
Dioner Navarro, c, Dodgers. Navarro's breakthrough 2003 season, which established him as the Yankees' top prospect, apparently went to his head. He arrived in spring training overweight last year and never got going offensively until the end of the season. The line-drive hitting ability and defense are still there, though he finds himself No. 2 on the depth chart in Los Angeles (behind Russell Martin) after being used in the Randy Johnson and Shawn Green trades.
Cory Dunlap, 1b, Dodgers. Dunlap put up some gaudy numbers last year, leading California junior colleges in hitting (.523) and the Rookie-level Pioneer League in on-base percentage (.492). Here's another lofty figure: 300, his weight at Encinal High (Alameda, Calif.), where he played with Dontrelle Willis. Now down around 230, Dunlap uses a Tony Gwynn-like approach and promises more power in the future.
Richard Lewis, 2b, Cubs. Lewis' reward for winning the Arizona Fall League batting title (.404) in 2003 was getting sent to Chicago in the Juan Cruz trade. In turn, the 24-year-old repaid the Cubs with a breakthrough season, winning the Double-A Southern League MVP award and serving notice he'll be ready to contend for a big league starting job by the end of 2005. He has solid all-around tools, with his plus speed and reliable hands standing out the most.
Garrett Atkins, 3b, Rockies. Just the third-best third-base prospect in his organization, behind Ian Stewart and Baker, Atkins nevertheless will get the first chance to start for Colorado this year. The Triple-A Pacific Coast League batting champion (.366), he's a line-drive machine but needs to improve his power and defense.
Freddy Sanchez, ss, Pirates. Sanchez was ready to play in the majors in 2003, when he opened the year by tearing up Triple-A. But after his trade from the Red Sox to the Pirates that summer, he went down after his first game with bone spurs in his right ankle and didn't play again until last June. He fits better defensively at second base but should produce quality offense for a middle infielder.
Matt Murton, lf, Cubs. When the Expos didn't want Murton from the Red Sox in the four-team Nomar Garciaparra trade last July, the Cubs shipped Brendan Harris to Montreal and took Murton to get the deal done. Murton has a long track record of success with wood bats and immediately became the best pure hitter in Chicago's system. His power has developed slowly though, and he doesn't project to be more than a 20-homer threat. Defensively, his weak arm will restrict him to left field.
Rajai Davis, cf, Pirates. Yet another batting champ on this list, Davis, 24, topped the high Class A Carolina League in hitting (.314), runs (91), hits (160) and steals (57) last summer. Unlike a lot of speedsters, he has figured out how to use his wheels at the plate, on the bases and in center field.
Nelson Cruz, rf, Brewers. Cruz made our Athletics Top 10 when it originally came out but couldn't crack our Brewers list after changing addresses in a trade for Keith Ginter. A five-tool player, Cruz took a huge step forward last year when his pitch recognition improved. He faces several corner-outfield obstacles with Milwaukee, which has Geoff Jenkins and Carlos Lee in the majors, plus Corey Hart and Brad Nelson in Triple-A.
Manny Parra, lhsp, Brewers. Parra wouldn't be on this list if he hadn't come down with shoulder problems that ended his 2004 season prematurely. He didn't need surgery and the Brewers hope that by tweaking his delivery, they'll be able to keep him on the mound. He throws a lively low-90s fastball, a sharp curveball and an improving changeup.
Bobby Brownlie, rhsp, Cubs. After his sophomore season with Rutgers and Team USA, Brownlie was the favorite to go No. 1 in the 2002 draft. Because he came down with biceps tendinitis and had questionable signability, the Cubs got him at No. 21. He's healthy now after also battling a tired shoulder in 2003, but his fastball has gone from 92-94 mph to 88-90 and his curveball, still a plus pitch, doesn't buckle as many knees. Brownlie has learned about pitching and won with just solid stuff, and he could be an ace if he regains what he once had.
Yhency Brazoban, rp, Dodgers. Credit scouts Vance Lovelace and Mark Weidemaier for astutely suggesting the Dodgers obtain Brazoban, a recently converted outfielder, in the Kevin Brown trade with the Yankees. Brazoban became Los Angeles' most reliable setup man after Guillermo Mota was dealt last summer, going after hitters with a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider.
You can reach Jim Callis by sending e-mail to email@example.com.