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Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League

Top 20 Prospects

By Allan Simpson

Third base has been a revolving door for the Red Sox this season, and may be for another few years if veteran John Valentin doesn't bounce back from a severe knee injury. But the long-range prognosis looks good with Tony Blanco on the distant horizon.

With the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League featuring eight first-round draft picks this year, it was Blanco, 18, who earned the nod from managers as the league's No. 1 major league prospect.

Playing his first year in the United States, the Dominican product led the GCL with 13 home runs and a .556 slugging percentage, while finishing second in batting and RBIs. He also earned acclaim for his defensive skills despite committing 20 errors in 47 games.

1. TONY BLANCO, 3b, Red Sox

B-T   Ht  Wt Age Country              Signed           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-1 176  18 Dominican Republic   Red Sox FA '99  .384  190  32  73  13  1 13  50   6

The Red Sox knew Blanco was a special talent when he was named the outstanding player for their Dominican Summer League club a year ago. He enhanced his stock by hitting .384-13-50, tying the GCL record for home runs.

"I saw Vladimir Guerrero at the same stage of his development," Twins manager Al Newman said, "and that's what his swing looks like. He already swings it like they do in the big leagues. And he has the mentality that he thinks he can hit any ball that's thrown at him."

Newman, a former big league infielder, went a step farther in his praise: "He has the best infield arm I've ever seen. It's an easy 8 (on the 2-to-8 scouting scale), no doubt. He just needs to harness it."

Blanco tended to overswing at times but generates exceptional bat speed. He should hit consistently for average as he matures.

Managers had to be picky to find fault with Blanco. They say he needs to be a little lighter on his feet around the bag at third base, though he has acceptable range and makes all the routine plays. The only tool that doesn’t grade out well is his speed, which is slightly below average.

2. ADAM WAINWRIGHT, rhp, Braves

B-T   Ht  Wt Age School               Drafted          W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-7 195  19 HS--St. Simons, Ga.  Braves '00 (1)   4  0  1.13   7   0  32  15  10  42

Wainwright was picked seventh among the eight first-round picks who played in the GCL this year, but clearly left the strongest impression on managers. He lasted just seven starts before being promoted to the Rookie-level Appalachian League, where he was voted that league's No. 1 prospect.

"He was the No. 1 kid in our division, by far," said Marlins manager Kevin Boles, son of Florida skipper John Boles. "He had outstanding stuff for a high school player, with a loose, free arm action."

Wainwright's fastball topped out at 94 mph, and he had good command of his curve. He showed excellent poise for his age and attacked hitters aggressively.

3. DEIVI MENDEZ, ss, Yankees

B-T   Ht  Wt Age Country             Signed           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-1 165  17 Dominican Republic  Yankees FA '99  .300  210  37  63  20  1  2  25   4

At 17, Mendez hit a hard .300 and was hailed as the best defensive shortstop in the league.

"He's an exceptional fielder with excellent hands and range, and a great feel for the position," Yankees manager Derek Shelton said. "He reacts well. He knows when to stay back on balls and when to come and get them."

Mendez is a good gap hitter and slammed 20 doubles, one off the GCL lead. If he fills out his lanky frame, those balls may eventually turn into home runs.

4. JUSTIN MORNEAU, 1b, Twins

B-T   Ht  Wt Age School                    Drafted          Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
L-R  6-4 215  19 HS--New Westminster, B.C. Twins '99 (3)   .402  194  47  78  21  0 10  58   3

Morneau set league records with a .402 average and 58 RBIs. The Dodgers' Angel Dotel, the only previous GCL player to crack .400, hit an even .400 in 1991.

"Morneau's as good a hitter as I've ever seen at this level," said Darryl Kennedy, manager of the league champion Rangers. "He hits to all fields for both average and power."

"A very selective hitter, very disciplined," Orioles manager Jesus Alfaro said. "He hits all types of pitchers well and the ball just explodes off his bat. He's also very good at making adjustments from at-bat to at-bat."

Morneau was drafted as a catcher in the third round in 1999 by the Twins, but spent most of the season at first base, his likely position in the future. He lacks the quickness and arm strength to remain behind the plate on a regular basis.

5. ADRIAN GONZALEZ, 1b, Marlins

B-T   Ht  Wt Age School              Drafted            Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
L-L  6-2 190  18 HS--Bonita, Calif.  Marlins '00 (1)   .295  193  24  57  10  1  0  30   0

Gonzalez was the top pick in the 2000 draft and impressed managers with an exceptional feel for hitting, a fluid stroke and the expert way he handled himself around first base.

"He hits everything you throw at him," Tigers manager Kevin Bradshaw said. "His bat was a little slow at the start of the year, then it picked up speed. He lays off the tough pitches very well."

Gonzalez didn’t homer in 193 at-bats, but most managers believe he’ll develop power as he learns to pull the ball consistently. He's more of a line-drive hitter now.

"He's got excellent balance, timing and rhythm at the plate for a young hitter," Royals manager Andre David said.

6. YOEL HERNANDEZ, rhp, Phillies

B-T   Ht  Wt Age Country     Signed             W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-2 170  18 Venezuela   Phillies FA '98    4  1  1.35  10   0  60  39  17  46

Hernandez doesn't possess overpowering stuff, but he displayed excellent mound presence and command of all his pitches on his way to a league-leading 1.35 ERA.

"He knows how to pitch already," Phillies manager Ramon Aviles said. "Even when he didn't have his best stuff, he knew how to get hitters out. He can throw his breaking ball for strikes at any time."

7. MATT WHEATLAND, rhp, Tigers

B-T   Ht  Wt Age School          Drafted          W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-5 215  18 HS--San Diego   Tigers '00 (1)   2  1  1.25   5   0  22  14   1  21

The eighth overall pick in the 2000 draft, Wheatland made just five starts in the GCL before finishing the year in the short-season New York-Penn League. His ability to throw his breaking ball at any point in the count led to his quick promotion. In 24 GCL innings, he walked one batter.

Wheatland, one of two first-round picks from San Diego's Rancho Bernardo High, complemented his curveball with a 91-92 mph moving fastball. He also mixed in an effective dose of arrogance.

"He's got a cocky side to him," Braves manager Rick Albert said. "He knows he's good."

8. GRADY SIZEMORE, of, Expos

B-T   Ht  Wt Age School                 Drafted          Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
L-L  6-2 195  18 HS--Mill Creek, Wash.  Expos '00 (3)   .293  205  31  60   8  3  1  14  16

The Expos raised eyebrows when they took Sizemore in the third round this year and gave him a $2 million signing bonus, grossly out of line with new parameters established by the commissioner's office. Montreal officials defended the expense because Sizemore was otherwise headed to the University of Washington to play football, and GCL managers agreed it was money well spent.

"He hit well, played a solid center field, stole some bases and had an excellent walk-to-strikeout ratio (23-24)," Expos skipper Steve Phillips said. "Because of his size, he'll develop some power and probably will move to a corner position."

"He has a nice, short stroke and the ball really comes off his bat good," Shelton said. "He has a very good approach at the plate."

9. JASON BOTTS, 1b, Rangers

B-T   Ht  Wt Age School                 Drafted           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
B-R  6-6 245  20 Glendale (Calif.) JC   Rangers '99 (49) .319  163  36  52  12  0  6  34   4

Botts made a huge impact on managers, considering he was a 49th-round pick of the Rangers out of a California high school in 1999. He signed just before this year's draft.

Botts is a mammoth switch-hitter who didn’t begin batting from the left side until he joined the Rangers after a year at Glendale (Calif.) Junior College.

"The ball jumps off his bat," Alfaro said. "He's got legitimate power from both sides."

10. OMAR BELTRE, rhp, Rangers

B-T   Ht  Wt Age Country              Signed           W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-3 195  18 Dominican Republic   Rangers FA '00   5  4  3.54  13   0  61  54  15  44

Alfaro and Newman ranked Beltre, 18, the ace of the champion Rangers, the best pitcher in the Southern Division.

"He's very polished for his age," Newman said. "He's primarily a fastball-slider pitcher, but really knows how to work the ball up and down in the strike zone."

"He also knows how to change speeds and hit the corners," Alfaro said. "His changeup is excellent."

11. YHENCY BRAZOBAN, of, Yankees

B-T   Ht  Wt Age Country               Signed           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-1 170  20 Dominican Republic    Yankees FA '98  .303  201  36  61  14  4  5  28   2

Brazoban, a repeat player in the GCL, hit .320 a year ago and dropped slightly to .303 this year. But every phase of his game--including his hitting--took a quantum leap forward.

"That was a soft .300 he hit last year," Aviles said. "He showed a lot more power this year, and a lot better contact. He’s got all the tools. I thought he was the best position player in our division."

By shortening his stroke, Brazoban cut his strikeouts from 47 to 28. He also made a successful transition to center field after playing right field in 1999. He covered a lot of ground and had the best outfield arm in the Northern Division.

12. RICK ASADOORIAN, of, Red Sox

B-T   Ht  Wt Age School                    Drafted          Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-2 185  20 HS--Whitinsville, Mass.   Red Sox '99 (1) .264  197  43  52   9  3  5  31  22

Asadoorian was a first-round pick of the Red Sox in 1999 but didn't make his professional debut until this season. He earned more support for his defense than his bat. In fact, more than one manager said he was ready to play center field in the major leagues right now.

"He gets excellent jumps on balls, covers a lot of ground and has an outstanding arm," Newman said. "But he's a wild swinger on occasion."

Asadoorian has a ways to go with the bat but shows good gap power on occasion. He has slightly above average speed and stole 22 bases.

13. EDWIN YAN, ss, Pirates

B-T   Ht  Wt Age Country              Signed           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
B-R 5-11 160  18 Dominican Republic   Pirates FA '99  .357   42  10  15   0  1  0   1   5

Yan got hurt early and again late, and ended up playing in only 12 games. Still, he made an immediate impression on all four managers in the Northern Division, particularly as a leadoff hitter. Defensively, he has good hands and an excellent arm.

"For 18, he really knows how to work the count, which is important for a leadoff guy," Pirates manager Woody Huyke said. "He's an excellent bunter and finds a way to get on base."

"He can fly," Shelton said. "With his speed, he can change the whole tempo of a game."

14. DENNY BAUTISTA, rhp, Marlins

B-T   Ht  Wt Age Country              Signed           W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-5 170  17 Dominican Republic   Marlins FA '00   6  2  2.43  11   0  63  49  17  58

Bautista, 17, excelled in his first season in the United States. But every manager in the Eastern Division felt the 6-foot-5, 170-pounder had just scratched the surface of his potential.

"There's still a lot of improvement left in him," Albert said. "He has a lot of room to fill out, and he should pick up velocity as he gets bigger and stronger."

Bautista occasionally touched 92 mph but more frequently worked in the high 80s. He also has a good breaking ball and changeup.

15. TRIPPER JOHNSON, 3b, Orioles

B-T   Ht  Wt Age School                 Drafted          Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-1 190  18 HS--Bellevue, Wash.    Orioles '00 (1) .306  180  22  55   5  3  2  33   7

Johnson, a supplemental first-round pick in June, went about his job in a controlled, businesslike manner.

"He has very quiet hands and was very quiet in the box," Newman said. "I didn't see a lot of power or strength, but he will always hit. He's a natural hitter."

Johnson needs work on his defense, but Alfaro believes he will be a solid third baseman in a year or two. "He has a solid average arm," Alfaro said, "but he just needs to learn how to use it."

16. ANTRON SEIBER, of, Red Sox

B-T   Ht  Wt Age School                 Drafted          Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-1 185  20 HS--Independence, Mo.  Red Sox '99 (3) .306  196  36  60   7  1  4  21  21

Seiber was an outstanding football player in high school in Louisiana, and his raw athletic ability translated well to the baseball field, especially his speed.

"He runs, hits, fields . . . he does it all," Alfaro said.

Though Seiber played left field on a talented Red Sox team, he has a strong, accurate arm and outstanding range. He also has a solid, compact swing and should hit for average. He earned a late-season promotion to short-season Lowell.

17. JUAN FRANCIA, 2b, Tigers

B-T   Ht  Wt Age Country     Signed           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
B-R  5-9 150  18 Venezuela   Tigers FA '99   .268  194  34  52   5  3  0  14  23

With speed the equal of anyone in the GCL, Francia creates havoc at the top of a batting order and on the bases. He specializes in the slash bunt and has been clocked as fast as 3.6 seconds down the line when he drops one down.

"He's a sparkplug, a real scrappy player who handles the bat well and puts a lot of pressure on the defense," David said.

Francia is just an average defender with adequate arm strength for second base, but he gets to a lot of balls because of his speed. He has little or no power.

18. CARLOS DE LOS SANTOS, rhp, Pirates

B-T   Ht  Wt Age Country              Signed           W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R 5-10 182  19 Dominican Republic   Pirates FA '98   3  5  3.48  11   1  52  45  23  53

The Yankees' Shelton saw de los Santos make three starts against his club, and was sufficiently impressed to rank him as the top pitcher in the Northern Division.

"He's not big or deceiving," Shelton said, "but he threw strikes with a 90-92 mph fastball and a plus slider for this league."

19. JEFF RANDAZZO, lhp, Twins

B-T   Ht  Wt Age School             Drafted          W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-L  6-7 200  18 HS--Brooman, Pa.   Twins '99 (4)    7  2  3.15  13   0  69  70  19  58

Randazzo, a lanky 6-foot-7 lefthander, signed with the Twins as a fourth-rounder in 1999, just days before he was to enroll at Tennessee. He enjoyed a successful debut in 2000, leading the GCL with seven wins and three complete games, and he also fared well in two late-season starts in the Midwest League.

"I had Mark Redman his first year of pro ball, and at the same stage they're equal," Newman said. "He's a fastball-curve-changeup pitcher, the same mix as Redman. And he can throw all three for strikes. He doesn't throw that hard now, only about 87-90 mph, but he'll fill out."

20. MIGUEL CABRERA, ss, Marlins

B-T   Ht  Wt Age Country      Signed           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-3 218  17 Venezuela    Marlins FA '99  .260  219  38  57  10  2  2  22   1

Signed a year ago to a Venezuelan-record $1.8 million bonus at age 16, Cabrera debuted in the United States this summer. He made rapid strides as he adjusted to a wood bat.

"He hit most balls to right-center at the start," Albert said, "but he got the bat head out pretty consistently toward the end."

Cabrera may have to hit to make it big, as most managers believe that at 6-foot-3 he'll soon outgrow shortstop. He has excellent hands for the position and made all the routine plays, but limited range may push him to third base.

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