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2005 Futures Games: World Team Capsules

text by Chris Kline
June 22, 2005

RUSS MARTIN C, Jacksonville (Dodgers)
Age: 22. Drafted: 17th round, 2002, Chipola (Fla.) Junior College

Talk about bargains--the Dodgers certainly found one in Martin, who made one of the most significant leaps in the organization last season. Signed for $40,000, the Quebec native moved from third base to catcher in 2003 and leapt from Rookie-level Ogden to high Class A Vero Beach in 2004, and he’s become one of the top catcher prospects in the game. He's quick, uses excellent footwork to help him block balls and has an above-average arm. Offensively, Martin has a line-drive stroke, excellent plate discipline and potential to hit 15-20 homers annually. Strike-zone management is his best offensive skill, and it has only gotten better this season--posting a .446 on-base percentage through 211 at-bats.

MIGUEL MONTERO C, Lancaster (Diamondbacks)
Age: 21. Signed: Venezuela, 2001.

After two straight seasons at Rookie-level Missoula, Montero showed power potential last season at low Class A South Bend, hitting a career-high 11 homers in 403 at-bats. His power has been on full display this season at high Class A Lancaster, where he had 19 homers in 292 at-bats. He's been remarkably consistent, hitting safely in all but 11 of those games, highlighted by a 19-game hitting streak and a stretch when he homered seven times in 10 games. He is a plus defender with an average arm. At the beginning of the season, Chris Snyder, Koyie Hill, Phil Avlas and Orlando Mercado Jr. all graded out ahead of Montero. In a little less than three months, he has turned the organizational depth chart on its head.

JUSTIN HUBER 1B, Wichita (Royals)
Age: 22. Signed: Australia, 2000 (Mets).

The Royals acquired Huber from the Pirates for Jose Bautista as part of the three-team deal that sent Kris Benson to the Mets last season. In his last game in the Mets' system, he tore cartilage in his left knee in a home-plate collision. Arthroscopic surgery cost him the rest of the season, a chance to play for his native Australia in the Olympics, and has permanently moved him to first base. Huber has a lot of offensive upside, with the potential to be a .300 hitter with 20-plus homers annually and he also draws a ton of walks. He's still getting used to the position change, but it could be the best thing that's happened to his career, as he was only an average defender behind the plate.

KENDRY MORALES 1B, Arkansas (Angels)
Age: 22. Signed: Cuba, 2004.

Morales signed a six-year major league contract in December, which included a $3 million bonus and could be worth as much as $10 million. In 2002, he became the first teenager to star for Cuba's national team since Omar Linares, but the government later banned him after his repeated attempts to defect. He succeeded last June and established residency in the Dominican Republic, making him a free agent. But he was held up from debuting with the Angels until May because of visa problems. When he did, he raked California League pitching at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga, hitting .344-5-17 in just 90 at-bats before being promoted to Double-A Arkansas. A switch-hitter, Morales profiles as a middle-of-the-order run producer, with a level swing from both sides of the plate, power to all fields and an aggressive approach.

WILLIAM BERGOLLA 2B, Louisville (Reds)
Age: 22. Signed: Venezuela, 1999.

One of the hardest workers in the Reds' system, Bergolla continues to win fans in the organization with his hustle, defense and line-drive bat. He missed three weeks in 2004 after aggravating a broken hamate bone, but came back hitting for average and showing off his defensive tools at second base in Triple-A this season. Bergolla has good bat control, using the whole field with a compact swing. He's also an outstanding bunter and is learning the value of getting on base consistently. An above-average runner, Bergolla led the organization in steals for a second straight year last season, but hasn't run much this year--he only had four steals in five attempts in 38 games. Defensively, Bergolla has the range and infield actions to play shortstop, as well as solid-average arm strength.

HERNAN IRIBARREN 2B, West Virginia (Brewers)
Age: 20. Signed: Venezuela, 2002.

Iribarren scorched Rookie-level Arizona League pitching in 2004, winning the batting race by 88 points and finishing with the second-highest average in league history. He also led the league in hits, on-base percentage and slugging en route to earning MVP honors. After playing in 15 games at low Class A Beloit at the tail-end of last season, Iribarren is repeating that level in new affiliate West Virginia this year. He struggled early on but was red-hot the last two months, upping his average to .331 in 254 at-bats. Iribarren is a hit machine who puts the ball in play with consistent, hard contact that belies his lean, wiry frame. He projects to hit for more power as he fills out and is already an above-average runner with seven triples for the Power this season.

EDWIN ENCARNACION 3B, Louisville (Reds)
Age: 22. Drafted: Ninth round (Rangers), 2000, Manuela Toro High, Caguas, P.R.

If it weren't for righthander Homer Bailey, Encarnacion would rank as the Reds' No. 1 prospect. He has excellent hitting tools, including improved patience (career-high 53 walks last year and 31 through 243 at-bats this year) and power--he was well on his way to topping his career mark in homers this season at Louisville. He's also improved in using the whole field, and his above-average bat speed has scouts projecting him to be a .280-.300 hitter with 25-30 homers annually. But they also continue to question his defense. While 2004 marked the first campaign in which he recorded less than 30 errors, most of the miscues came on poor throws related to his footwork. This is Encarnacion's third straight Futures Game appearance.

JOHN HATTIG 3B, Syracuse (Blue Jays)
Age: 25. Drafted: 25th round (Red Sox), 1998, Southern High, Santa Rita, Guam

The first player ever drafted out of Guam, Hattig is also trying to become the first from the island territory to reach the majors. His chances appeared remote after he made little progress in four seasons, but he turned a corner after deciding to take conditioning seriously. The Red Sox sent him to Toronto for reliever Terry Adams last July, and he responded by hitting 10 homers in 40 games at Double-A New Hampshire. He finished with 22 homers last season, six more than his previous career high. Hattig has plus raw power, but high fastballs give him trouble and he tends to strike out in bunches. His arm is playable at third base, but the lack of first-step quickness could eventually force him to move to first.

HANLEY RAMIREZ SS, Portland (Red Sox)
Age: 21. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000.

The deepest position in the Red Sox' system is at shortstop, and Ramirez is by far the best of the bunch. His five-tool package makes him the best athlete in the system with the potential to excel in all aspects of the game. A career .313 hitter entering 2005, Ramirez has quick hands and a short stroke, allowing him to catch up to any fastball. He also has plus raw power, which is beginning to show at Double-A Portland. In addition to his offensive skills, Ramirez also has the most speed, best infield skills and strongest infield arm in the organization. With Edgar Renteria signed through 2008, there is some speculation that Ramirez is slated for a position change--possibly to center field--but he's staying at short for now.

Age: 23. Signed: Cuba, 2005.

Another organization loaded with premium shortstops, the Mariners added to the strongest position in its system by signing Cuban defector Betancourt in January. He received a four-year major league contract worth $3.65 million, as general manager Bill Bavasi called him the equivalent of a first- or second-round pick. Betancourt starred at the 2000 World Junior Championship, hitting .429 as Cuba won the bronze medal. He makes consistent hard contact, and while he doesn't have loft power, he's strong enough to drive balls into the gaps. Where he will wind up defensively is uncertain, however. Betancourt has all the actions to stay at short, but the depth in the system coupled with the fact that he spent the last three seasons at second base with Cuba could make a move to second base a possibility.

MELKY CABRERA OF, Trenton (Yankees)
Age: 20. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001.

After Cabrera signed for $175,000 in 2001, he quickly developed into one of the Yankee organization's better hitters. He showed the best power output of his career last year at high Class A Tampa, hitting eight homers and 20 doubles in 333 at-bats. Offensively, the switch-hitter has drawn comparisons to Jose Vidro with a quick stroke from both sides of the plate, and quick hands that allow him to drive quality fastballs. He's also shown the ability to recognize and hammer breaking balls, lashing them from gap to gap. Defensively, Cabrera projects as an average center fielder, but may have to move to a corner as he becomes stronger and adds to his 170-pound frame.

SHIN-SOO CHOO OF, Tacoma (Mariners)
Age: 22. Signed: Korea, 2000.

A former lefthanded pitcher, Choo dominated the 2000 World Junior Championship on the mound, winning MVP honors. The Mariners signed him for $1.335 million and made the two-way star a full-time outfielder. Already having made two Futures Game appearances, Choo completes the trifecta this season and is the lone Asian player on the roster. Choo impressed scouts and managers alike in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .310-3-5, and earned a brief callup to Seattle earlier in the 2005 season. He is a line drive hitter with above-average speed and profiles as a No. 2 hitter in the big leagues. Choo has an easy, compact swing from the left side, with above-average plate discipline. A plus defender with a 70 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale, he needs to work on improving its accuracy.

NELSON CRUZ OF, Huntsville (Brewers)
Age: 23. Signed: Dominican Republic (Mets), 1998.

Originally signed by the Mets, the Athletics stole Cruz in a 2000 deal for Jorge Velandia, and he subsequently came over from Oakland to Milwaukee for Justin Lehr and Keith Ginter last December. Cruz improved his stock significantly in 2004, when he was one of five hitters in the minors to reach 300 total bases. He is a legitimate five-tool talent with power to all fields. He has a plus arm, runs well and is an asset in right field. Despite the strides he made in improving his pitch recognition last season, Cruz still has the tendency to overswing at times. He tries to hit every ball farther than the last, leaving him slow out of the box, but he also was among the Southern League leaders in home runs this season.

FRANK DIAZ OF, Potomac (Nationals)
Age: 21. Signed: Venezuela, 2000.

Diaz has been playing under the radar four much of his four-year pro career, but has fully established himself on the prospect map this season. He started to break out playing in the Venezuelan League last winter and has parlayed that into this season at high Class A Potomac. The righthanded-hitting outfielder has a smooth, compact swing and drives the ball to all fields with gap power. He still needs to tighten up his management of the strike zone, however, to be a force at the top of the order. Defensively, Diaz gets good jumps and takes good routes to balls, utilizing his above-average speed to make up for his lack of arm strength.

FELIX PIE OF, West Tenn (Cubs)
Age: 20. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001.

Another three-time returnee to the World roster this season, minor league championships follow Pie wherever he goes—he’s won four rings in four seasons as a pro. He is poised to do that again this year with Double-A West Tenn after the Diamond Jaxx won the first half title in the Northern Division of the Southern League. While Florida State League managers voted him the circuit's best batting prospect, fastest baserunner, best defensive outfielder and most exciting player last season, it is Pie's power numbers that have grabbed everyone's attention this year. Coming into this season, his career-best in homers was eight, and he already had 11 in 59 games this year.

Age: 23. Drafted: 10th round, Disciples of Christ Academy, Bayamon, P.R.

Cabrera's impact could be felt in Cleveland this year as he's been dominating International League hitters with a 0.95 ERA in 38 innings at Buffalo. He has all the makings of a power reliever with two plus pitches--a 92-96 mph fastball and a hard, diving splitter. He also controls both sides of the plate well. Cabrera's slider and changeup aren't as useful as his other two offerings, though he doesn't need an advanced repertoire for the role that best suits him. This season, he went over a month and a half without allowing an earned run, and Triple-A hitters were hitting .191 against him.

Age: 21. Signed: Dominican Republic (Giants), 2000.

Liriano was the least known of the three players Minnesota received in the A.J. Pierzynski deal but could end up being the steal of that trade. Considering Joe Nathan was an all-star closer in 2004, that's really saying something. After two years of shoulder problems, Liriano stayed healthy last season and flashed a brilliant package that had Twins scouts daydreaming of another Johan Santana. He pitches at 93-95 mph, topping out at 97. He also has a plus changeup and a big-breaking curveball to complement his heater. A former outfielder whom the Giants converted to the mound after signing, Liriano is still raw, both in terms of experience and build. But he made the jump to Triple-A this season and showed poise early on, whiffing eight in just six innings for the Red Wings.

ADAM LOEWEN LHP, Frederick (Orioles)
Age: 21. Drafted: First round (fourth overall), 2002, Chipola (Fla.) Junior College.

The highest-drafted Canadian ever, Loewen went fourth overall in 2002 and signed for a $3.2 million bonus as part of a $4.02 million big league deal. But he was too ineffective to be considered for Canada's Olympic team, and at the end of the year was diagnosed with a torn labrum. When he's healthy and focused, Loewen has dominant stuff. He's effectively wild in the strike zone with a 90-92 mph fastball and a knockout curveball. Loewen's shoulder is a concern, but the injury did not require surgery and he completed a throwing program last October. inconsistent in terms of command this season, sprinkling dominating appearances between bouts of wildness, but if Loewen can put it all together he could move through the system quickly.

SCOTT MATHIESON RHP, Clearwater (Phillies)
Age: 21. Drafted: 17th round, Aldergrove (B.C.) SS, 2002.

Mathieson played with fellow British Columbia natives Adam Loewen and Jeff Francis on the Canadian national teams, and he went 16 rounds after them in the 2002 draft. After going 2-9, 5.09 in his first two seasons, Mathieson made considerable progress in 2004. His velocity jumped up to 96 mph at low Class A Lakewood last season, while he consistently pitched in the low 90s with average life. His changeup has also improved to an average pitch, though he needs to fine-tune his curveball more in order to get it to break straight down consistently. If he can master the control on his curveball, Mathieson could be a legitimate No. 2 or No. 3 starter; otherwise, he has the makings of a power reliever.

JUAN MORILLO RHP, Modesto (Rockies)
Age: 21. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001.

Even though Morillo hadn't pitched in a full-season league until this season, his pure arm strength attracted enough attention that the Rockies were compelled enough to protect him on their 40-man roster this season. The White Sox reportedly clocked Morillo at 104 mph at short-season Tri-City last year and his fastball sits consistently in the high 90s. The problem is with his command of the fastball. Morillo was tentative pitching inside in his first two seasons outside the Dominican, and his strikeout-walk ratio reflects that. But this season, his overall command has improved and he's taken control over the inner half of the plate. If his secondary pitches continue to impress, Morillo could leapfrog Ubaldo Jimenez as the best pitcher in the system.

FERNANDO NIEVE RHP, Round Rock (Astros)
Age: 22. Signed: Venezuela, 1999.

The Astros have been patient with Nieve, and in 2003 their patience started to pay dividends from the 6-foot, 195-pound righthander, as he went 14-9, 3.65 at low Class A Lexington. Nieve has only gotten better since then, dominating hitters in the Carolina League last year and moving on to Double-A before the season's end. Nieve pitches off his electric 91-97 mph fastball, challenging hitters up in the zone with a four-seamer and mixing in some cutters for good measure. He throws both a curveball and a slider, and they can be strikeout pitches at times. Nieve lacks consistent feel for a changeup, simply because he likes to throw hard. He already has earned a promotion this year to Triple-A Round Rock from Double-A Corpus Christi.

YUSMEIRO PETIT RHP, Binghamton (Mets)
Age: 20. Signed: Venezuela, 2001.

Despite working under strict pitch counts because of all the innings he logged in winter ball at home in Venezuela, Petit still misses bats on a regular basis. He has dominated at every level along the way of his brief, three-year career and is dominating again this season at Double-A Binghamton. He struck out more than a batter an inning in all six minor league stops, and finished second in the minors with 200 whiffs in 2004. Petit's fastball leaves batters and scouts scratching their heads. It has solid velocity--88-91 mph, touching 93--but nothing about it appears to be exceptional. His slider is already average and has plus potential. The Mets gave Petit three weeks off this spring to be with his girlfriend in Venezuela when their child was born, but he returned to form when he got back to the States.

ANIBAL SANCHEZ RHP, Wilmington (Red Sox)
Age: 21. Signed: Venezuela, 2001.

Sanchez missed all of 2003 due to elbow surgery to transpose a nerve, but since then his velocity has been up in the mid 90s. He handcuffed hitters in the short-season New York-Penn League, leading the circuit in ERA and is doing similar things in the Carolina League this year at high Class A Wilmington. He was averaging 11.11 strikeouts per nine innings through his first 12 starts. His fastball is also notable for its movement and his ability to command it to both sides of the plate. He complements his heater with an above-average curveball and a changeup that has plus potential. With an electric arm and pitching savvy, Sanchez just needs more innings and continued good health to make it to Boston.

MERKIN VALDEZ RHP, Norwich (Giants)
Age: 23. Signed: Dominican Republic (Braves), 1999.

Valdez hadn't pitched above Rookie ball when the Giants got him from Atlanta in the Russ Ortiz deal in December 2002, but he quickly burst on the prospect scene with a dominant 2003 season in low Class A. Valdez throws a mid-90s fastball when he starts, while the pitch has touched 99 mph when he has worked out of the bullpen, as he did last season briefly in San Francisco. He's been used as a starter at Double-A Norwich this season, complementing his mid-90s fastball with a mid-80s power slider with excellent bite. He's had trouble gaining confidence in his changeup, which is something he will have to adjust to if he is to remain in the rotation. The Giants have yet to decide if Valdez, who has closer's stuff, is better suited for relief. But the results so far this season have been promising.

EDISON VOLQUEZ RHP, Frisco (Rangers)
Age: 21. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001.

The easy comparison of Volquez is Pedro Martinez because he's Dominican, has long fingers and studies his idol on television and in video games. Formerly known as Julio Reyes, the Rangers discovered Volquez was actually 15 ½ months older than they believed thanks to the recent crackdown on visas. He's still advanced for his age with considerable upside if he can remain a starter. Volquez pitches at 90-93 with his fastball, touching as high as 97 with good life at times this season. He became more consistent in pounding the zone due to improved strength, which allows him to maintain his mechanics deep into games. His secondary stuff--a changeup and slider--are also above-average offerings.

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