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Baseball for the Ages

No matter how you slice it, it’s been a good year for baseball in Houston. From the big league Astros, to Minor League Player of the Year Josh Beckett, to numerous youth league national champions, Houston has produced more than its share of baseball highlights in 2001.

That success is clear in our fourth annual Baseball For The Ages program, which recognizes the best up-and-coming players in America from 12 to 25.

Four Houston players headline the list, ranging from 12-year-old catcher/shortstop Ryan Still to Astros 25-year-old all-star outfielder Lance Berkman. Two high school players–righthander Ryan Mitchell, 13, and lefthander Scott Kazmir, 17–also are highlighted.

Beckett, possibly the most celebrated player of all, was not chosen the best at his age. Though he is our Minor League Player of the Year, Beckett had to settle for runner-up status here to another 21-year-old standout, Cardinals rookie third baseman Albert Pujols.

The criteria for choosing each winner depends on the age. Older players are judged on talent and what they have achieved on the field, while the winners from 12 to 18 are based more on potential and performances at national and international competitions.

In each case, the universal youth baseball birthdate cutoff of Aug. 1 was used to establish a player’s age. As usual, our choices were based on contact with scouts, coaches, media and event organizers.

We also compiled all-star teams for players between the ages of 17 and 21.

Ryan Still

ss/rhp, Houston

The 5-foot-5, 130-pounder dominated his age group in 2001, leading two teams to major national titles. He won MVP honors at the United States Specialty Sports Association World Series, winning three games and hammering three homers as the Houston Raiders, the nation’s No. 2-ranked 12-year-old team, won the title. Still won MVP honors at the USSSA 11-year-old tournament in 2000. Still later joined the Woolsey (Ga.) Yankees and helped them win the Cooperstown Dreams Park National Tournament of Champions. He went 24-for-33, hammered 13 homers in 12 games and won three games against tough California teams. As a leadoff hitter, Still batted .580-32-82 overall in 58 games. He also went 16-0 as a pitcher and was clocked at 77 mph. "He’s a tremendous all-around talent," Woolsey coach Harry Peadan said.

Honorable Mention: Patrick Johnson, a jack-of-all-trades from Hickory, N.C., led the Woolsey Yankees to the Continental Amateur Baseball Association national title with two wins and a tournament-best .714 average. He also was instrumental as the Yankees won the Cooperstown Dreams Park Tournament of Champions, going 3-for-3 in the championship game . . . Kyle Koeneman, a third baseman/righthander from Knoxville, excelled in three national competitions. He was MVP of the American Amateur Baseball Congress’ Pee Wee Reese World Series for the champion Riverdale (Ga.) Aztecs. He led the AAU national tournament in homers and was second among pitchers with 31 strikeouts in 20 innings. He topped off his summer by beating the powerful San Diego Stars, the nation’s No. 1 12-year-old team, twice at the Cooperstown Dreams Park Tournament of Champions for the second-place East Cobb (Ga.) Aztecs . . . Righthander Justin LaFavers led Apopka, Fla., to the U.S. title at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., but was beaten 2-1 by Japan on two unearned runs in the bottom of the final inning in the championship game. LaFavers led his team in batting and didn’t allow an earned run in 17 innings. He also led the tournament with 26 strikeouts–after it was established that lefthander Danny Almonte, who went 3-0, 0.00 with 46 strikeouts in 18 innings for the Bronx, N.Y., team, was two years too old . . . Hector Rebago, a shortstop/righthander from Riverside, Calif., led the San Diego Stars to their fourth straight AAU 12-year-old title by going 3-for-3 with three runs in the championship game. Rebago hit .714 with nine extra-base hits overall, and led the tournament with 19 runs, 20 hits and 10 stolen bases.

Previous Winners
1998­John Peabody, rhp/ss, San Diego
1999­Austin Jackson, rhp/of, Denton, Texas
2000­Sean O'Sullivan, lhp/1b, San Diego

Ryan Mitchell

rhp, Houston

At 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, Mitchell is a man among boys. The Magnolia High freshman dominated his competition in 2001 with a fastball that topped out at 90 mph–unheard of for a player his age. As a member of the Houston Sox, the nation’s No. 1 13-year-old team, he was MVP of the USSSA national tournament. He also earned MVP honors for the Houston Force at the Triple Crown national tournament. He earned the same honors for the same teams a year ago, when he hit more than 60 home runs. He made an impact on the international stage as well, leading the strongest collection of American 13-year-old all-stars ever assembled to the Santo Domingo Classic championship in the Dominican Republic. Despite facing teams of players as old as 16, Mitchell went unbeaten. The U.S. team also went undefeated on a barnstorming trip to Cuba, where it faced players as old as 18.

Honorable Mention: Donald Gunn followed up an outstanding 2000 season, when he won MVP honors at the Cal Ripken World Series, with another stunning performance. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound righthander/first baseman was the key performer for the Palm Beach (Fla.) Dream Team that posted a gaudy 176-5 record. Gunn hit .553 with 48 homers while going 36-1 as a pitcher. He went 18-for-21 with 12 extra-base hits on the U.S. 13-year-old all-star team’s trip to the Dominican Republic and Cuba . . . Sean O’Sullivan was our 12-year-old winner in 2000 and was just as dominating this year. He led the San Diego Stars to a third-place finish at the AAU 13-year-old national tournament by hitting .630-3-19 while allowing no runs in 14 innings. O’Sullivan joined Gunn and Mitchell on the 13-year-old American all-star squad that won the Santo Domingo Classic. He was named the event’s best offensive player. A freshman at Valhalla High, O’Sullivan could be San Diego’s top high school player when he’s a senior . . . Greg Peavey powered Vancouver, Wash., to a berth in the 2000 Little League World Series, where it finished third in the U.S. pool. He didn’t pitch because of a sore arm but made up for it at the Babe Ruth League 13-year-old World Series, where he won four games, hit .444 as his team’s starting shortstop and earned MVP honors as Vancouver won the championship . . . Max Sapp was the best natural hitter on the U.S. squad that trekked to the Caribbean, according to coach Mike Adams. Sapp hit safely in all 16 games the team played in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and hit better than .600 overall. Playing for the Orlando Sting and two other club teams, Sapp hit .582 with 41 homers on the season.

Previous Winners
1998­Ashton White, of, South Mission Viejo, Calif.
1999­Delmon Young, rhp/of, Camarillo, Calif.
2000­Jordan Schafer, lhp, Tampa

3b/rhp, Crescenta Valley, Calif.

The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Bell wasn’t a big factor as his summer team, the Valley Heat, won the USSSA 14-year-old national tournament, but he was the unquestioned star of the team. He has one of the most potent bats in the country and hit better than .600 on the season. He also has three effective pitches, with a fastball in the high 80s, and posted a sub-1.00 ERA. Coaches at Crescenta Valley High, where he is a freshman, have looked forward to his arrival for two years. He’ll start at third base or shortstop and step into the rotation right away. Bell is so advanced for his age that he already plays for the Padres scout team, normally for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Honorable Mention: Xavier Cedeno led Ponce, Puerto Rico, to the 2001 Pony League World Series title. He won the championship game and two other games to tie a tournament record. In 14 innings, he struck out 22 and didn’t walk a batter. He also went 10-for-20 with three homers . . . Righthander/shortstop Gunner Glad and catcher Arin Fowble led the Tulsa Aces to the CABA World Series 14-year-old title. Fowble, a freshman at perennial national power Owasso (Okla.) High, hit two homers in the championship game to back the four-hit pitching of Glad, a Tahlequah (Okla.) High freshman who went 4-0, 0.00 in the tournament with 35 strikeouts in 22 innings. Glad hit .450-3-12 overall, while Fowble hit .500-5-13. On the year, Fowble hit .587-28-124 in 96 games . . . Outfielder Austin Jackson was our 12-year-old winner two years ago but turned his attention to his other passion, basketball, a year ago when no one would pitch to him. He resurfaced as a premium prospect this season and no less an authority than ex-big league outfielder Cecil Espy, who operates a baseball academy in Arlington, Texas, says the 6-foot, 155-pounder is destined for greatness. Jackson, a ninth grader at Denton (Texas) High, has exceptional bat speed. He led the Texas Reds to a third-place finish at the AAU’s 54/80-foot World Series . . . Outfielder/lefthander Kelly Minissale, a freshman at Wylie (Texas) High, earned MVP honors as the Dallas Tigers won the AABC Sandy Koufax World Series. The Tigers also won national titles in 1997 and 1999 with virtually the same group of players.

Previous Winners
1998­Kyle Davies, rhp/1b, Stockbridge, Ga.
1999­Chuck Tiffany, lhp, Covina, Calif.
2000­Delmon Young, rhp/of, Camarillo, Calif.

Andrew Beal
Photo: Gaines Du Vall

rhp, Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.

Delmon Young gets more attention, but no 15-year-old had a better year than Beal. As a freshman at Peninsula High, he went 7-2, 0.63 with 73 strikeouts in 44 innings and was California’s freshman of the year. He topped that performance as a member of Team USA at the world youth championships in Mexico, striking out 14 in the gold-medal game as the U.S. beat Venezuela 6-2. Overall he went 3-0 and struck out 53 in 34 innings. He ranks as the nation’s top high school player in the Class of 2004. Despite his 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame, Beal’s fastball sits at 89-91 mph and touches 93. He has excellent command and an effortless delivery.

Honorable Mention: Lefthander Chuck Lofgren was the youngest player for Team USA as it captured the world youth championship. He went 1-0, 1.29 with a save and 12 strikeouts in seven innings against some of the world’s best 16-year-olds. At 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, Lofren has a fastball clocked at 88-90 mph that touches 92 and has excellent life. A two-way star at Serra High in San Mateo, Calif., he went 7-0, 0.48 with 96 strikeouts while hitting .561 as a freshman . . . Chris Nelson should be the next rising star to come out of the powerful East Cobb program in suburban Atlanta. "He’s as good as any 15-year-old I’ve ever seen," said Guerry Baldwin, architect of the East Cobb dynasty. "He’s got the whole package." A sophomore at Redan High in Stone Mountain, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Nelson hit .475 in leading the East Cobb Red Soxx to a second-place finish at the USSSA national 15-year-old tournament. He later helped East Cobb’s 16-year-old team to a gold medal at the AAU 16-year-old World Series . . . Shortstop Chris Valaika struck gold at three tournaments this summer with three different teams. He hit .526 in leading California’s South Bay Sharks to the Junior Olympics championship in June. He hit .444 and was selected the top second baseman at the world youth championship. And he helped California’s Orange County Dawgs win the Super Seven Series in Marietta, Ga., beating host East Cobb in its own event. A junior at Hart High in Newhall, Calif., Valaika hit .551 and .411 in two years as the team’s starting shortstop . . . Outfielder Delmon Young’s talent is unmistakable. He was the nation’s best all-around talent in his age group before he was a teenager. But he didn’t have the resume this year to unseat Beal. Young, a junior at Camarillo (Calif.) High, missed a significant portion of his summer schedule with an ankle injury. His talent was on display, though, at this year’s Area Code Games and he was the top prospect there–regardless of class.

Previous Winners
1998­Carlos Quentin, of, San Diego
1999­Kyle Davies, rhp/1b, Stockbridge, Ga.
2000­Ryan Sweeney, lhp/1b, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Lastings Milledge
Photo: Gaines Du Vall

of, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Rated with Young as the No. 1 high school player in the draft Class of ’03, Milledge is an exceptional hitter. He has a quick bat, with above-average power potential and outstanding plate coverage. He runs the 60-yard dash in 6.5 seconds. At the world youth championship in Mexico in August, he homered twice in the championship game as Team USA defeated Venezuela 6-2. Overall, he hit .522-3-10 and was named the tournament’s outstanding center fielder. He led all players with eight homers and 32 RBIs on Team USA’s summer tour. At Northside Christian High in St. Petersburg, Milledge earned all-state honors as a sophomore by hitting .548-6-42 with 23 stolen bases.

Honorable Mention: Patrick Clayton was the ace pitcher for the East Cobb Astros, who won the AAU 16-year-old national title for the fourth time in five years. The team pitched three straight no-hitters at this year’s tournament. Clayton didn’t get in on the no-hit action but went 12-1, 0.90 on the season for the Astros after setting a school record with a 0.78 ERA at Marietta’s Walton High in the spring . . . Shortstop/righthander Jeff Flaig starred for Team USA’s gold-medal team, leading the world youth tournament in average (.536), homers (three) and RBIs (12) while earning all-tournament honors at shortstop. Flaig also excelled as a pitcher at El Dorado High in Placentia, Calif., in the spring, going 12-2 with two no-hitters while hitting .362 . . . Xavier Paul is one of the nation’s best two-way players. Clocked at 95 mph in the spring, he was featured in Sports Illustrated for Kids as the nation’s hardest-throwing 16-year-old. He’s also one of the fastest position players with a 6.5-second time over 60 yards. A player on U.S. teams in international competition since he was 10, he played on Team USA’s world youth championship team . . . Shortstop B.J. Upton excelled at three major showcases this summer, stamping himself as one of the top middle-infield prospects for next year’s draft. He was a second-team All-American in the spring at Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake, Va., where he hit .633-13-44 with 43 stolen bases.

Previous Winners
1998­Tony Richie, c, Jacksonville
1999­Joe Torres, lhp, Kissimmee, Fla.
2000­Paul Oseguera, lhp, Encinitas, Calif.

Scott Kazmir
Photo: Greg Wagner

lhp, Houston

Kazmir’s stature and explosive velocity draw comparisons to another Houston lefty, Billy Wagner. The only junior on BA’s High School All-America Team after going 6-0, 0.69, Kazmir was unhittable. The 6-foot, 175-pound lefthander, who throws a fastball ranging from 90-96 mph and a plus curveball, threw four no-hitters, including three in a row. In one stretch, he gave up one single over 36 innings and fanned 55. He surrendered 19 hits and 22 walks, while striking out 127 in 61 innings on the season, but he was just getting started. He was named the No. 1 prospect at the Perfect Game USA Showcase at Tropicana Field, the Team USA Tournament of Stars in Joplin, Mo., and the Area Code Games. Though Kazmir took a pair of losses for the silver-medal U.S. junior national team in Cuba, he struck out 31 in 14 innings.

Honorable Mention: Kyle Davies was the top 14-year-old and the best 15-year-old, and was mentioned again as a 16-year-old last year. An outstanding two-way player at Stockbridge (Ga.) High, he was drafted as a righthander in the fourth round by the Braves. Davies earned second team All-America honors by going 9-3, 1.07, while hitting .450-3-30. After signing, he went 6-2, 2.03 between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and the Class A South Atlantic League . . . Jeff Francoeur led Parkview High of Liburn, Ga., to state championships in baseball and football. As a safety/wide receiver, the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder picked off 15 passes and caught another 15 for touchdowns. On the diamond, the second-team All American hit .500-20-49 with 27 steals before leading the U.S. junior team in hitting and RBIs . . . Adam Loewen’s most notable 2001 outing was a 16-strikeout no-hitter for the Canadian junior team in the Dominican Republic. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound lefthander has command of a 95 mph fastball that could make him the highest-drafted Canadian ever. Last year, he was the only pitcher to defeat the champion Koreans at the World Junior Championship . . . The Angels signed righthander Johan Santana for $700,000 out of the Dominican Republic last September. Armed with a 95 mph fastball, he made his pro debut this summer in the Rookie-level Arizona League and emerged as one of the league’s top prospects by striking out 69 in 59 innings.

Previous Winners
1998­Sean Burroughs, 3b, Long Beach
1999­Jason Stokes, 1b, Coppell, Texas
2000­Joe Mauer, c, St. Paul, Minn.

Joe Mauer
Photo: Bill Setliff

c, Twins

The No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft and High School Player of the Year keeps adding to his trophy case. He spurned a scholarship to play quarterback at Florida State when he signed with the hometown Twins for a $5.15 million bonus. He hit a three-run homer and pitched five scoreless innings of relief–striking out nine–in a state semifinal game for Cretin-Derham Hall, then went 3-for-3 in the championship game. He kept it up in his pro debut, hitting .400-0-14 with 19 walks and 10 strikeouts in 110 at-bats for Rookie-level Elizabethton.

Honorable Mention: First baseman Casey Kotchman entered the spring with as much hype as Mauer. The son of Angels scout and minor league manager Tom Kotchman didn’t disappoint, leading Seminole (Fla.) High to a No. 1 national ranking. After he was a first-round pick of the Angels, he signed late and squeezed in a few at-bats for his dad’s Rookie-level Provo club . . . Righthander J.D. Martin wasn’t the first pitcher the Indians drafted in 2001, and his fastball doesn’t reach into the 90s. But he still dominated all competitors, first at Burroughs High in Ridgecrest, Calif., going 11-1, 0.64, then for Rookie-level Burlington, where he was 5-1, 1.38 with 72 strikeouts and 11 walks in 46 innings . . . An outfielder who will play shortstop for Southern in 2002, Rickie Weeks earned third-team All-America honors and a spot on Team USA this summer. He didn’t disappoint, hitting .277-2-10 with eight stolen bases and flashing five-tool ability not often seen in college.

Previous Winners
1998­Josh Beckett, rhp, Spring, Texas
1999­Sean Burroughs, 3b, Padres
2000­Jerome Williams, rhp, Giants

Wilson Betemit
Photo: Robert Gurganus

ss, Braves

The youngest player in the big leagues got a September callup, though he hadn’t played in part due to a visa snafu. It’s always something with Betemit, who missed time in 2000 while his agent, the Braves and the commissioner’s office wrangled with his actual age and whether he had been signed out of the Dominican Republic improperly. When he has played, though, the shortstop has shown the ability to inherit the Braves’ phenom mantle from Rafael Furcal and Andruw Jones. He hit a combined .305-12-62 between Class A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Greenville.

Honorable Mention: Michael Aubrey pitched in two of Tulane’s three College World Series games, but most think he has a brighter future at the plate, thanks to his power, level swing and strong arm. The lefthander/outfielder’s two-way ability (.361-13-69; 3-1, 5.15) helped make him our Freshman of the Year . . . A .311-17-103 average is a disappointment only if you thought you’d hit .420. The Marlins didn’t expect Adrian Gonzalez to hit his goal and were happy with the loud debut of the 2000 draft’s No. 1 overall pick . . . The Giants boast a pair of accomplished 19-year-old power righthanders with high ceilings. The top 18-year-old last year, Jerome Williams, had an inconsistent year with Double-A Shreveport (9-7, 3.95), but his strong finish should quiet doubters. He went 3-0, 1.74 in 31 August innings, and in his last two months, opponents batted just .213 in 240 at-bats. Boof Bonser proved in his first pro season that he’s more than a nifty name. In his 16-4, 2.49 season at Class A Hagerstown, he had four double-digit strikeout efforts and held opponents to a .192 average.

Previous Winners
1998­Rick Ankiel, lhp, Cardinals
1999­Matt Riley, lhp, Orioles
2000­Rafael Furcal, ss, Braves

Hank Blalock
Photo: Greg Wagner

3b, Rangers

He may have hit for the cycle twice in three games for Double-A Tulsa in July, but that was just icing on the cake for his breakthrough season. Blalock has done nothing but rake since the Rangers signed him as a third-round pick out of Rancho Bernardo High in San Diego. After hitting .380 at Class A Charlotte, he was promoted to Tulsa, where he became the youngest everyday player. Blalock, who entered the year as a .313 career hitter, finished second in the minors with a combined .352 average and surpassed his previous career total with 18 home runs. The sweet-swinging lefthanded hitter has competition at the hot corner with first-round pick Mark Teixeira aboard, but Blalock also improved his glovework this year and committed just 15 errors.

Honorable Mention: After winning 10 games as a freshman, Rutgers righthander Bobby Brownlie was limited by a thumb injury as a sophomore. He bounced back to claim BA’s Summer Player of the Year award. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder went 7-0, 0.84 for Team USA and is an early favorite to be the first player drafted in 2002 . . . Sean Burroughs has been in the limelight since leading Long Beach to consecutive Little League World Series in 1992 and 1993. A high school All-American, he has since added the title of first-round pick, top prospect and a gold medal to his honors. After hitting .322-9-55 as the youngest regular in Triple-A, the next logical step is a big league position . . . Rafael Furcal was the best in his age group last year after hitting .295 with 40 steals as the Braves’ rookie shortstop. One of the few players in baseball regarded as an 80 runner with an 80 arm (on the 20-to-80 scouting scale), Furcal got off to a slow start this year before having shoulder surgery in July . . . College Player of the Year Mark Prior posted unearthly numbers in one of the best seasons in college baseball history. The Southern California righthander went 15-1, 1.69 with 202 strikeouts in 139 innings. His command is as impressive as his mid-90s fastball and he walked just 18 while allowing 100 hits. The Cubs signed the No. 2 overall pick to a four-year, $10.5 million major league contract.

Previous Winners
1998­Adrian Beltre, 3b, Dodgers (Age was later revealed to have been incorrect)
1999­Rick Ankiel, lhp, Cardinals
2000­Jon Garland, rhp, White Sox

Albert Pujols

3b/1b, Cardinals

In just his second professional season, Pujols surpassed even the Cardinals’ most optimistic expectations and should be a hands-down choice for National League rookie of the year. A virtual unknown coming out of junior college in Missouri, Pujols slugged his way to Triple-A in 2000 and didn’t even sniff the minors this year. He was batting .333-34-111 as the clear offensive leader for the Cardinals, and he was in the top 10 in 13 NL offensive categories. He could set rookie records for both home runs and RBIs and has an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) over 1.000. He’s been a useful player on defense as well, manning both outfield corners as well as third and first base.

Honorable Mention: Righthander Josh Beckett nosed out Adam Dunn as our Minor League Player of the Year (see Page 14) and looked impressive in his major league debut with the Marlins . . . Pujols isn’t the only 21-year-old who has made an impression in the big leagues this year. Reds outfielder Adam Dunn started the season in Double-A but slugged all the way to the big leagues and didn’t slow down once he got there. He could end the season with 50 homers between the majors and minors . . . Last year’s winner in this age group, White Sox righthander Jon Garland, struggled to start the season but gradually whittled down his ERA to 3.67 and looks like he has established himself in the White Sox rotation . . . Lefthander C.C. Sabathia would be a strong rookie candidate in the American League–if Ichiro hadn’t made his debut this year. He was leading the Indians with 15 wins and looks like a longtime staff workhorse . . . Lefthander Bud Smith gives the Cardinals even more reason to be optimistic, putting up another solid minor league season and then throwing a no-hitter on Labor Day.

Previous Winners
1998­Kerry Wood, rhp, Cubs
1999­Eric Chavez, 3b, Athletics
2000­Rick Ankiel, lhp, Cardinals

Mark Buehrle
Photo: Larry Goren

lhp, White Sox

Buehrle’s ascent to the top of this age group is about as surprising as Pujols’ emergence among 21-year-olds. He was considered a solid part of the White Sox’ wealth of young pitching, but other pitchers were more highly regarded and he spent his rookie season in 2000 in the bullpen. He takes a back seat to no one now, nailing down a rotation spot and ranking among the American League leaders in ERA. He has pitched 65 innings more than anyone else on the White Sox staff, providing stability in an injury-riddled season for the club.

Honorable Mention: This is the first time anyone not named Rick Ankiel has won this age group, but everyone knows what he went through this year. After battling control problems in the big leagues and Triple-A, Ankiel went all the way down to the Rookie-level Appalachian League, where he seemed to rediscover his love of the game. He showed his considerable all-around baseball talent again, not only overmatching the Appy League’s young hitters but also hitting 10 home runs in 105 at-bats . . . Shortstop Jimmy Rollins has been a sparkplug for the Phillies, adding to a bumper crop of rookies in the big leagues this season. Rollins was batting .282-13-52 as Philadelphia made a run for the playoffs . . . To get past the Braves, Rollins and the Phillies will have to hope righthander Jason Marquis falters. He has pitched his way into the Atlanta rotation and looks as if he could be there for a while.

Previous Winners
1998­Vladimir Guerrero, of, Expos
1999­Andruw Jones, of, Braves
2000­Barry Zito, lhp, Athletics

Mark Mulder
Photo: Larry Goren

lhp, Athletics

Mulder may have been the third of the A’s three young guns coming into the season, but that was before he became the first A’s lefthander to win 18 games since Vida Blue in 1978–when Mulder was a year old. He hadn’t exactly been a disappointment since the A’s made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 draft, but Mulder had not shown his dominant form consistently as a pro. That changed this season. He, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito will make the A’s a formidable foe in the postseason.

Honorable Mention: Barry Zito won his age group last year, and he has been no slouch this season, coming on strong late. He struggled early as his ERA went over 6.00, but he had won his last five starts and winnowed the ERA down to 3.57 . . . Astros righthander Roy Oswalt made a strong run at our Minor League Player of the Year award in 2000 and was making a similar run at rookie honors in 2001. He started the season in the minors but didn’t last long there, moving up to Houston after five Triple-A starts and prompting Jeff Bagwell to say that he needed to get called up to a still higher league. A 14-2, 2.50 debut says it all and already makes him the best Astros rookie pitcher ever . . . Brewers righthander Ben Sheets built on his gold-medal success of 2000 with a solid debut season in Milwaukee. True to Brewers tradition, though, it was cut short by injury . . . The A’s strong youth movement includes position players as well, with third baseman Eric Chavez coming back from a slow start to maintain his place as one of the best young hitters in the game. He was batting .271-25-94 . . . Pirates third baseman Aramis Ramirez finally emerged from several years of stagnated development, providing a bright spot in another dismal season in Pittsburgh. He was hitting .308-32-102.

Previous Winners
1998­Alex Rodriguez, ss, Mariners
1999­Vladimir Guerrero, of, Expos
2000­Andruw Jones, of, Braves

of, Braves

Jones got more attention for his testimony in the Gold Club trial this year than for his exploits on the field. While some may have been disappointed that Jones didn’t build on his 2000 breakthrough season with even better numbers, he remains the best all-around player in this group. He will not match last year’s numbers but has heated up in the second half to reach .256-31-90 late in the season. And he remains the best defensive outfielder in the game.

Honorable Mention: The Mariners have been the best team in baseball in the absence of their former stars because young players like Freddy Garcia have proven ready for prominent roles. Garcia, obtained from the Astros in the 1998 Randy Johnson trade, established himself as the ace of the staff and was leading the AL in ERA at 2.98 . . . It’s not as if the Astros are hurting for pitching, though. Wade Miller was at 16-7, 3.54 for Houston in his first full season in the big leagues, as the Astros put together their own group of young aces to carry them to the playoffs . . . Kerry Wood looks like he’ll make it all the way back from Tommy John surgery to return to his rookie form of 1998. He had put up seven double-digit strikeout games this season for the Cubs, though he also missed most of August with tendinitis . . . Angels third baseman Troy Glaus continued to show his power this season, with 38 home runs, but he also struggled to get his average past .240 after batting .284 last season.

Previous Winners
1998­Derek Jeter, ss, Yankees
1999­Alex Rodriguez, ss, Mariners
2000­Vladimir Guerrero, of, Expos

of, Astros

The Astros finally found a full-time job for Berkman in Houston, and he rewarded them with an offensive explosion. Berkman was batting .333-31-111 in an all-star season, his first full year in the major leagues after spending parts of the last three seasons in Triple-A. He has made himself into a serviceable left fielder with Jeff Bagwell entrenched at first base, and he gives the team room for error on offense if Moises Alou departs after the season as a free agent.

Honorable Mention: Vladimir Guerrero had been the only player to rule his age group for every year of Baseball for the Ages, but he is nosed out this year in favor of the Houston celebration. Guerrero continues to provide a bright spot in Montreal, with his usual .313-33-99 numbers, and still no one in Montreal notices . . . If they would come out to see Guerrero, fans in Montreal would also see one of the best young pitchers in the game. Javier Vazquez learned from the struggles of his first three major league seasons and had steadily improved this season, with a 16-11, 3.50 record . . . And speaking of promise fulfilled, the Cardinals’ J.D. Drew finally looked like the five-tool outfielder about whom so much fuss had been made. In spite of missing about six weeks of the season because of injuries, Drew was hitting .327-24-62 and had an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 1.053.

Previous Winners
1998­Nomar Garciaparra, ss, Red Sox
1999­Derek Jeter, ss, Yankees
2000­Alex Rodriguez, ss, Mariners

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