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Short-season New York-Penn League

Top 20 Prospects

By Lacy Lusk

Wilson Betemit
Wilson Betemit
Photo: Rich Abel

It's not every year that a player who's already among Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects finds his way to the short-season New York-Penn League. But Jamestown shortstop Wilson Betemit's case is a little unusual.

Last offseason, coming off a year in which he was the No. 2 prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, Betemit tried to become a free agent. Major League Baseball eventually ruled that Betemit had indeed signed a contract when he was too young and Atlanta was fined $100,000.

Once the Braves kept Betemit's rights, he walked out of spring training. He and his agent filed a lawsuit against the Braves. Instead of going to Class A Macon and working his way into the South Atlantic League Top 20 Prospects, Betemit was negotiating out of court with Atlanta. Right before the start of the NY-P season, the sides came to an undisclosed agreement.

In this year's survey of the league's managers, Betemit was the runaway choice as the league's No. 1 prospect. In clubhouses from Oneonta to Williamsport, managers and coaches would get wide grins and say, "You've got to start with that Betemit kid."

A rich crop of pitchers takes up 65 percent of this year's NY-P Top 20, but they were all afterthoughts compared to Betemit.

One of the rare dissenters was Auburn manager John Massarelli, who opted for his hard-throwing closer, Robert Stiehl. Stiehl throws 94 mph and also has an above-average slurve, but he pitched just 10 innings in the NY-P and thus didn’t qualify for the list.

1 WILSON BETEMIT, ss, Jamestown Jammers (Braves)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country             Signed          Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
B-R  6-2  160  18  Dominican Republic  Braves FA '96  .331  269  54  89  15  2  5  37   3

A switch-hitting middle infielder with the ability to hit for average (and eventually power), Betemit didn’t play like an 18-year-old. Managers raved about his hands and his range, pointing to his defense first and offense second.

"He's a person where you can just see he's got good in him," said Jim Saul, Betemit's manager at Jamestown. "His 30 errors have been because of being too pretty instead of getting the job done. He has an outstanding throwing arm with range, and he hits well from both sides of the plate with power."

Said Williamsport coach Eric Chavez: "He swings the bat really well, plus he has a great arm and can field. He's going to be a good one. He just has good baseball instincts out there."

2 ELVIS CORPORAN, 3b, Staten Island Yankees (Yankees)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School           Drafted            Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
B-R  6-2  205  20  HS--Catano P.R.  Yankees '99 (31)  .260  281  37  73  14  2  8  36   7

On a talented and deep Staten Island club that responded to late-season pressure, Corporan was the most favored prospect around the league. He doesn't have the bonus figure or draft status of other Yankees, but he does have tools: a plus arm, excellent range and hitting ability.

Corporan impressed Staten Island manager Joe Arnold, who doubles as the Yankees' East Coast scouting supervisor, with his ability to make plays on the run and his quick lateral movement.

"I really like the makeup of Corporan," Pittsfield manager Tony Tijerina said. "He's very sound defensively, just with his body and the way he plays the game. I just like the focus he has, his size and his agility."

Jamestown's Saul said Corporan could become even more dangerous once he fills out his 6-foot-2 frame: "He has good range and a good arm. He's more of a line-drive hitter than a power guy right now. Being as young as he is, though, you don't know about the power. That might come, too."

3 JOSH GIRDLEY, lhp, Vermont Expos (Expos)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School             Drafted         W  L   ERA  G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
L-L  6-3  195  20  HS--Jasper, Texas  Expos '99 (1)   5  0  2.95  14  0  79  60  28  70

Anyone who strikes out 29 batters in a high school game must throw hard, and that's definitely the case with Girdley. This year, though, he also showed an improved changeup as he was able to complete an undefeated season.

"He hits 92-93 with his fastball, has an above-average breaking ball and an above-average changeup," said Tim Leiper, his manager at Vermont. "All I know is the guy really goes out, really competes. He's looked good the whole season and improved a lot during the season."

Lowell manager Arnie Beyeler lumped Girdley and Mahoning Valley lefthander Brian Tallet together. Tallet started the College World Series finale for national champion Louisiana State, but he doesn't throw quite as hard as Girdley and just missed making the Top 20.

"Girdley has a good feel for pitching and he spots his fastball well," Beyeler said. "He's always right around the plate."

4 CHASE UTLEY, 2b, Batavia Muckdogs (Phillies)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School  Drafted            Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
L-R  6-0  180  21  UCLA    Phillies '00 (1)  .307  153  21  47  13  1  2  22   5

The 15th overall pick in the 2000 draft, Utley signed late and didn't play his first game until July 30. He doubled and walked in four plate appearances that night and stayed hot for his entire five weeks with the Muckdogs.

Before the draft, Utley was heralded as a second baseman with uncommon offensive skills. Going to the wood bat full-time, he hit the ball hard but not for power yet. His defense, which drew fewer raves, wasn’t bad at all according to Williamsport manager Curtis Wilkerson, a former major league infielder.

"He could field and hit," Wilkerson said. "I really liked the way he handled himself around the bag."

Still, the conversations about Utley usually go back to his bat.

"Utley's definitely going to be an offensive player," Massarelli said. "I'm not saying he's not a good defensive player too, but the stick's what's impressive about him. He sprays the ball around and hits everything hard."

5 MAURICIO LARA, lhp, Lowell Spinners (Red Sox)

B-T    Ht   Wt Age  Country   Signed           W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
L-L  5-11  185  21  Mexico    Red Sox FA '98   4  3  2.12  15   0  85  70  21  83

When asked to pick the best pitching prospect on a strong Spinners staff, Beyeler went with Lara, who pitched in the Venezuelan Summer League last year. Lara's first season in the United States went swimmingly as he mixed in decent breaking pitches—a plus curveball in the estimation of Massarelli—with a plus fastball, especially for a lefty. He still has work to do with his control.

"He's got a very good arm," Saul said. "He shows enough stuff that he can get any batter out. I think he could've pitched the whole game against us with his good fastballs and gotten away with it."

6 JOSH WILSON, ss, Utica Blue Sox (Marlins)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School                Drafted           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-1  165  19  HS--Mt. Lebanon, Pa.  Marlins '99 (3)  .344  259  43  89  13  6  3  43   9

Most of the league's managers didn't realize that Wilson is that son of Mike Wilson, the coach at Duquesne University. Based on their comments, though, they might as well have said, "He plays like a coach's son."

Here's a sampling:

From Arnold: "He's a tough out. He puts the ball in play, is a plus runner and plays a solid shortstop."

From Saul: "He's a kid who I put down as someone who will definitely be in the big leagues. Good contact, good range, good arm. He's a pretty heady player right now, and I think he'll only get better."

And Massarelli: "For a young hitter, he's very impressive in an advanced short-season league."

7 MATT WHEATLAND, rhp, Oneonta Tigers (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   Detroit '00 (1)  1  2  5.55  5   0  24  30   4  25

The eighth overall choice in June, Wheatland was the highest pick from this year's draft to play in the NY-P until No. 1 pick Adrian Gonzalez joined Utica at the tail end of the season. Following a promotion from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he also ranked as the No. 7 prospect, he recovered nicely from a couple of shaky starts.

Wheatland struggled with his velocity this spring, but his fastball touched 93 and was consistently above 90 with Oneonta. In a doubleheader, Wilkerson liked what he saw of Wheatland and righthander Mark Woodyard, a fourth-round pick out of Bethune-Cookman. That night Woodyard looked a shade more polished, but Wheatland has the higher ceiling.

"He has done an outstanding job in this league for someone his age, really all you could ask for," Oneonta manager Gary Green said.

8 DANNY BORRELL, lhp, Staten Island Yankees (Yankees)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School        Drafted          W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
L-L  6-4  190  21  Wake Forest   Yankees '00 (2)  4  2  3.20  10   0  56  39  19  44

Primarily a first baseman-outfielder in a college career that included two Atlantic Coast Conference titles at Wake Forest, Borrell has an arm with little mileage on it. Despite his inexperience, he managed to get immediate results in pro ball.

"Borrell's an outstanding athlete," said Arnold, whose scouting territory includes the ACC. "He was off and on this year in college, where he was used as a hitter too. He has a plus changeup right now, and he has the ability to hit 90-91 with his fastball."

Borrell is working on a slider and a curve now, and may have to choose one in the future. Several hitters in the league thought Borrell's stuff wasn't necessarily the best on Staten Island's staff, but that he was the club’s best pitcher.

"Borrell's crafty. He hit 92 the second time we saw him, but the first time he was only around 86," Pittsfield pitching coach Bob Stanley said. "But he's a smart kid and he mixes his pitches well. His curve needs a little work, and he has to pitch down to be effective."

9 ANDY BEAL, lhp, Staten Island Yankees (Yankees)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School       Drafted          W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
L-L  6-1  185  21  Vanderbilt   Yankees '00 (5)  9  3  2.34  14   0  92  72  17  87

Beal had a rough spring, going 2-11, 4.59 on a 21-33 Vanderbilt team. But he never stopped competing, an ability that carried over to pro ball. He struck out 13 the night Staten Island clinched a playoff bid.

"He's been very consistent for us and he throws four pitches, touching 90 at times and mixing the fastball with a changeup, slider and a curve," Arnold said. "He's very tough on lefthanded hitters and has very high pitchability with above-average command."

Said Beyeler: "He has a real good slider. That's definitely a plus breaking ball for him. I was definitely impressed with how he pitched."

10 BRIAN CARDWELL, rhp, Queens Kings (Blue Jays)

B-T    Ht   Wt Age  School              Drafted            W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-10  210  19  HS--Sapulpa, Okla.  Blue Jays '99 (4)  2  4  4.71  12   0  50  49  19  61

"He has a good fastball and his curve is pretty sharp," Stanley said. "He's very young and he can get frustrated on the mound."

Could this be the next Jon Rauch? The 6-foot-11 Rauch broke out this year, winning Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year award with his big season in the White Sox system. Cardwell has a few of the same traits.

11 SEUNG SONG, rhp, Lowell Spinners (Red Sox)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Country   Signed           W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-1  192  20  Korea     Red Sox FA '99   5  2  2.60  13   0  73  63  20  93

Comparing the league's top two Asian pitchers, the managers gave a slight edge to Korea's Song over Taiwan's Chien-Ming Wang. Song may have been a notch below Lara, but he received his share of notice. He throws hard, but his breaking stuff hasn't developed as quickly as Lara's.

That repertoire helped Song lead the NY-P with 93 strikeouts in 73 innings. He also showed excellent command and allowed just one homer all season.

12 SETH McCLUNG, rhp, Hudson Valley Renegades (Devil Rays)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School                Drafted              W  L   ERA  G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-6  235  18  HS--Lewisburg, W.Va.  Devil Rays '99 (5)   2  2  1.85  8   0  44  37  17  38

By the end of the year, McClung was out of the league and at Class A Charleston. But no one forgot the teenager’s fastball. Though he projects as a reliever, he was used as a starter by Hudson Valley and dominated.

"He was very impressive with that power arm," Arnold said. "I think he'll be a setup-closer type guy. He touched 97 and showed the makings of a good breaking ball with his power curveball. It had some depth on it. He really has a good mentality to be a reliever."

13 BRETT EVERT, rhp, Jamestown Jammers (Braves)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School           Drafted          W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
L-R  6-6  200  19  HS--Salem, Ore.  Braves '99 (7)   8  3  3.38  15   0  77  92  19  64

As if fifth-round pick Matt McClendon weren't enough of a find in the Braves' 1999 draft, seventh-rounder Evert has been impressive in his own right. He has posted a strikeout-walk ratio of nearly 4-1 since turning pro, though he has been hittable because he has been around the strike zone so much.

"Evert's got enough fastball, 90-93 miles an hour. And he has a good changeup and a breaking ball that has really improved," Saul said. "I like his attitude. He's a winning-type pitcher and very aggressive on mound."

14 RYAN DOUMIT, c, Williamsport Crosscutters (Pirates)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School               Drafted           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
B-R  6-0  180  19  HS--Moses Lake, Wa.  Pirates '99 (2)  .313  246  25  77  15  5  2  40   2

Late this season, Green joked that the only reason he ever sent runners on Doumit was to see the kid throw. A switch-hitter who may wind up being the best prospect from a talented 1999 Moses Lake, Wash., crop, Doumit was better received than Yankees first-round pick David Parrish this year.

"I like the way he goes about his business," said Saul, a former big league catcher. "He runs the game well for a young kid. He's a take-charge person and he has pop in his bat."

15 MATT MASSINGALE, rhp, Utica Blue Sox (Marlins)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School      Drafted           W  L   ERA  G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-0  195  21  Washington  Marlins '00 (8)   3  0  0.50  6   0  36  23   9  31

Massingale emerged into a prospect as a Cape Cod League reliever during the summer of 1999. He threw as hard as 94 mph this spring at the University of Washington, but often ran out of gas in the late innings when used as a starter. He didn’t have that problem as a pro, as he was untouchable in the NY-P, allowing a total of two earned runs in six starts.

"My pitching coach (Bill Ballou) and I both like him a lot," Massarelli said. "He has an average fastball but he spots it, sinks it and has good life. He's real tough on righthanded batters."

16 CHIEN-MING WANG, rhp, Staten Island Yankees (Yankees)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  Coutnry   Signed           W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-2  180  20  Taiwan    Yankees FA '00   4  4  2.48  14   0  87  77  21  75

Wang already has shown three quality pitches. As a bonus, he can throw them for strikes and keep them down in the zone.

"Wang shows flashes of a plus fastball," Arnold said. "He's recently started throwing a split-finger, which can be above-average. His slider is good too. That's at least one plus pitch and a couple of average ones. In one of his games this year, he was over 92 with his fastball 24 or 25 times during a ballgame. His command is outstanding."

17 DAVID PARRISH, c, Staten Island Yankees (Yankees)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School    Drafted           Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-3  210  21  Michigan  Yankees '00 (1)  .240  221  29  53  20  1  4  29   0

Except for Derek Jeter—and that's a major exception—the Yankees haven't been too successful in drafting first-rounders. When New York chose Lance Parrish's son this June, it was a bit of a surprise. The NY-P managers questioned Parrish's arm strength and game-calling abilities, but there was plenty to like.

"He could catch and throw," Wilkerson said. "He moved real well back there. He didn't hit very well, but he looks like he can hit."

Said Arnold: "He's worked very hard at trying to get a swing pattern that works for him. He has hit very hard recently, and he's thrown out better than 40 percent of the runners. When our pitchers have given him a chance, he does well at getting rid of the ball. He definitely has a chance to catch in the big leagues."

18 DOUG WAECHTER, rhp, Hudson Valley Renegades (Devil Rays)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School              Drafted              W  L   ERA   G  SV  IP   H  BB  SO
R-R  6-4  210  18  HS--St. Petersburg  Devil Rays '99 (3)   4  4  2.35  14   0  73  53  37  58

A local pick for the Devil Rays out of a St. Petersburg in 1999, Waechter was manhandled in his pro debut in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. This year, though, he looked every bit worth a third-round pick. He threw a no-hitter and showed a nice mix of fastballs and breaking balls.

"He has good poise on the mound, a good fastball and an above-average curveball," Stanley said. "I was really impressed with how he pitched."

19 CHRIS BASAK, ss, Pittsfield Mets (Mets)

B-T   Ht   Wt Age  School     Drafted         Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
R-R  6-2  190  21  Illinois   Mets '00 (6)   .349  249  46  87  18  4  0  15  32

Taking to Pittsfield's leadoff spot with ease, Basak drove opposing defenses crazy with his knack for fouling off pitches until he saw one he liked. He led the league with a .349 average.

He’s solid defensively and the only tool he lacks is power.

"He's pretty solid," Leiper said. "You try to find a way to get him out, but he has good line-drive power to gaps and catches everything at short."

20. DOMINIC RICH, 2b, Queens Kings (Blue Jays)

B-T    Ht   Wt Age  School   Drafted             Avg.  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR  BI  SB
L-R  5-11  185  21  Auburn   Blue Jays '00 (2)  .263  236  37  63  11  4  0  25  10

After an outstanding collegiate career at Auburn, moving between second base, shortstop and center field, Rich made a lukewarm first impression in the NY-P. But one manager who saw him while scouting Auburn liked what he saw. Staten Island's Arnold says Rich has the potential to be an offensive force down the line, though he’s not in Utley’s class.

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