2005 Top 20 Prospects: Carolina LeagueComplete Index of League Top 20s
By Chris Kline
Chat Wrap: Chris Kline took your Carolina League questions
Though Myrtle Beach catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Frederick outfielder Nick Markakis headline our CL Top 20 Prospects list, in recent years pitchers have stood out the most—and 2005 was no different. Seven of the first 10 spots went to pitchers, who would have held an even greater edge had lefties Chuck James (Myrtle Beach) and Troy Patton (Salem) pitched enough innings to qualify.
"There were some big bats in this league, but I think you'd have to lean toward the pitching if you're talking about major league quality players," Kinston manager Luis Rivera said. "There were some great, great arms on just about every club."
Winston-Salem first baseman Leo Daigle won the first CL triple crown since 1951 and added the MVP trophy, but he didn't make this list. At 25 he was too old for high Class A, a level he first reached five years ago.
Saltalamacchia has good physical tools behind the plate, with a plus arm and better agility than most catchers. While he refined both his receiving skills and his footwork, he still threw out just 26 percent of basestealers. Offensively, Saltalamacchia has outstanding raw power, especially from the left side of the plate, with a sweet swing and natural loft.
At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Saltalamacchia drew comparisons to Joe Mauer--more for his size than his defensive prowess--but is more along the lines of Jason Varitek.
"He's got more of a chance to be Varitek to me," an American League scout said. "The size, the strength, the power are all there."
One of the true five-tool players in the CL, Markakis stole the show at the California League-Carolina League all-star game in front of his home fans in Frederick. He won the home run derby over Royals slugger Billy Butler, then topped that performance by hitting two more homers in the game.
"Moon shots," Salem manager Ivan DeJesus said. "That's all I think of when I hear the name Markakis. We couldn't find a way to get him out."
Compared to former big league outfielder Andy Van Slyke, Markakis hits for average and shows outstanding raw power to all fields. While he has slightly above-average speed, his range and instincts fit better in right field than in center. Most teams considered Markakis a better prospect as a pitcher coming out of junior college, and his 70 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale fits well in right field.
No pitcher dominated the CL the way Sanchez did. Armed with a lively 95-mph fastball and a plus changeup, he held opponents to a .187 average. Though he's not physically imposing, he generates his power with the sheer quickness of his arm.
Sanchez fearlessly attacks hitters with an ultra-aggressive approach, but he's not just a thrower. He also shows advanced pitchability. His biggest need is to refine the command of his curveball, because several teams' approach against him was to look for the bender because they couldn't beat his heater or get good swings against his changeup.
Miller struggled in his return to the league, but velocity wasn't the main culprit. He lacked the usual bite on his 87-88 mph slider, which had late diving action away from righthanders in the past. His changeup also needs work, as the Indians have focused on using it in specific situations while limiting the number he throws.
One of the youngest players in the CL, Gonzalez also was its best lefthanded pitching prospect. Few southpaws anywhere can match his combination of a low-90s fastball, hammer curveball and a much-improved changeup.
Gonzalez' out pitch in the past was his curveball, but he has gained more confidence in his changeup and now throws both pitches in any count. He works quickly with clean mechanics and features an exaggerated leg kick in his delivery.
There have been durability concerns in Gonzalez's past, and those resurfaced again this year as he missed time with back and shoulder strains. He also sat out Winston-Salem's one-game playoff against Salem with shoulder discomfort.
Growing up, Sowers and his twin brother Josh (who pitches in the Blue Jays system) were more into chess than sports. That may be the best metaphor for his approach to pitching—a match of wits. Sowers was brilliant in his pro debut, tormenting hitters with his smarts and excellent command of the zone with four pitches.
Winston-Salem manager Chris Cron referred to him as a "comfortable loafer," and "sneaky" may be the best adjective to describe him. While most quality lefthanders get likened to Tom Glavine, Sowers is more like John Tudor, setting hitters up with pinpoint location of his secondary pitches and then blowing an average fastball by them. His best pitch is his curveball, and he also throws an 89-91 mph fastball, a slider with cutter action and a changeup.
"He's just so polished," Cron said. "He just commands all his pitches well and finds a way to get it done. Sometimes you don't know how he did it, but by that time you're walking back to the dugout shaking your head."
Galarraga spent five seasons in Rookie ball, two in his native Venezuela and three in the Gulf Coast League, and he didn't open many eyes when he finally made it to low Class A last year. He's no longer anonymous after a breakout 2005, and he might have won the CL strikeout title if he hadn't been promoted to Double-A at midseason.
Using an effortless delivery, Galarraga works with a low-90s fastball, a mid-80s slider and changeup. Fierce and intimidating, he pounds the strike zone with his lively heater and uses his slider as his out pitch. He needs to improve his arm speed on his changeup to make it more effective.
Fiorentino received a surprise promotion to Baltimore in May, less than a year after he signed as a third-round pick. He held his own in the majors, victimizing Randy Wolf for his first big league homer, and helped lead the Keys to the league championship after he returned.
He has unorthodox but effective mechanics at the plate. He's not fluid but he's still able to turn on balls because he has quick hands. He's a good athlete and can steal an occasional base, though he'll probably wind up in left field.
Fiorentino doesn't have enough range to play center (his primary position for Frederick) or enough arm strength to play right in the majors on a regular basis. Baltimore's previous scouting department wanted to try him at catcher, where he played some at Florida Atlantic, but the development staff overruled them.
Broadway finished the college season with a rush, and his draft stock didn't stop rising until the White Sox took him with the 15th overall selection. He was somewhat worn down after pitching 117 innings at Texas Christian, so Chicago monitored him closely and spread out his starts, giving him as many as nine days' rest.
He wasn't quite the same pitcher who excelled in the spring. Though he showed good stuff, he lacked command at times, particularly with his fastball. He doesn't have an overpowering fastball, pitching at 88-91 mph, but he has excellent control of his plus-plus curveball. All three Warthogs pitchers on this list have above-average curves, but Broadway's has more velocity and a sharper break than those of Gonzalez and Ray Liotta.
Broadway could add a little more velocity if he can add more weight to his 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame. His changeup is still developing and is average at best.
Loewen has all the makings of a power lefty, starting with a mid-90s fastball that he delivers on a steep downward plane and a plus curveball. What he lacks is consistency, both with his delivery and with his arm slot. He struggled early on when he tried to harness his command by pitching too fine, but after midseason he started to trust his mechanics and stuff more.
"You just never knew what you were going to get," Rivera said. "He'll go 3-0 on you and then the next thing you know it's boom-boom-boom, every pitch on the black. I've never seen anything like it."
Several managers referred to Valido as a deserving MVP candidate, though the award went to Daigle, his teammate. "You have guys like Markakis in this league," Rivera said, "but if I could pick a guy I wanted to be at the plate with the game on the line or who the ball was going to be hit to with the game on the line, it's Valido."
Known more for his glove than his bat, Valido did all the little things the right way--with the exception of being suspended for 15 games in May after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
He was the best defender in the league, with outstanding range, soft hands and a plus arm. He makes consistent hard contact with a short, compact swing and hits to all fields with occasional gap power. He's an excellent bunter and did a better job of utilizing his speed than in years past, leading the league in steals and triples.
Sipp has excellent deception in his delivery. He gets eye-popping extension that shortens his distance to home plate and makes his 89-93 mph fastball seem much more explosive. His fastball has outstanding late tailing action, and his slider has become a plus pitch. He also has made strides with the development of his changeup, and if he's willing to trust it he could wind up becoming a starter again down the road.
Liotta has won two ERA titles in two years as a pro, topping the Rookie-level Pioneer League at 2.54 last year and the low Class A South Atlantic League at 2.26 in 2005. His 1.45 ERA in eight CL starts was the lowest in a prospect-laden Winston-Salem rotation that also included Gonzalez, Broadway, Daniel Haigwood and Charles Haeger.
As with Gonzalez and Broadway, Liotta's best pitch is his curveball. It's a true 12-to-6 breaker with tight, downward rotation. He also has a low-90s fastball and showed improvement with his changeup, though it's still a work in progress. He's a prototypical ground ball lefty who earns comparisons to Sean Burnett, though Liotta is bigger and stronger and has a higher ceiling.
While he gets good extension, Liotta's delivery is long and not very fluid. Some scouts also questioned his conditioning and stamina. His fastball tends to flatten out, particularly as he gets deeper into games.
"The more I see him, the more I like his upside," a National League scout said. "His curveball isn't as good as Broadway's and his stuff isn't quite Gio-like, but he's one of the best lefthanders in this league."
The Orioles have been patient with Johnson, sending him to Rookie ball for three straight seasons and having him open his fourth in extended spring training. They loosened the reins in 2005, and he responded by winning the CL strikeout title and pitcher-of-the-year award.
Johnson's top pitch is a curveball that managers rated as the best breaking ball in the league. His curve is hard and sharp, with great depth and downward action. He also has a 91-93 mph fastball and a changeup that gives him a legitimate third option.
Coming into this season, Casto was considered a below-average defender at third base, a position he began playing only in 2004. But he was the CL's most improved defensive infielder this year, as his actions, footwork and throws all took a huge step forward. He's at least average with the glove now, though his positioning, angles and reactions still can get better.
Casto still has the bat that has been his calling card. He showed more power than ever before, setting career highs in both doubles and homers. He showed the ability to shorten his stroke and use the whole field, though some scouts worry about a slight uppercut that can creep into his swing.
Snyder drew comparisons to Fred Lynn and Paul O'Neill because of his strong base of tools, particularly his sweet, compact swing from the left side. Snyder has above-average bat speed that produces easy power to all fields, runs well and has excellent instincts.
CL pitchers liked to work him inside with fastballs until he adjusted, started to turn on those pitches and jerk them over the right-field fence. While he plays a solid center field, he lacks true range for the position and saw action in left and right once he was called up to Double-A. His makeup and work ethic are off the charts.
"He just carries himself differently," Winston-Salem hitting coach Andy Tomberlin said. "You see that maturity in his approach at the plate, in the field. Just everything he does commands your attention."
Diaz, who led the league in hits and doubles, had shown gap power in the past. By shortening his swing and improving his pitch recognition, he got the bat head out quicker and started sending balls over the fence. He stayed back on breaking balls better and began to use the whole field.
His speed and arm are plus tools as well. His first-step quickness allows him to get good jumps in center field, and he throws better than most players who man that position.
Pence had as much power as anyone in the CL, though he wasn't as spectacular as he was in the South Atlantic League, where he went deep 25 times in 80 games. A strained quadriceps threw off his timing and he didn't find a groove with Salem until the end of August.
His swing is unorthodox and he tends to choke up on the bat more than most big-bodied outfielders, but it works for him. He has quick hands, allowing him to turn on any fastball, and he controls the strike zone well. He has a below-average arm and doesn't take good routes or get good jumps in the outfield, leaving left field as his only option defensively.
Head hit six homers in 10 games at short-season Mahoning Valley after signing as a second-round pick in June. He didn't tear up the CL in quite the same fashion, but he was able to adapt easily to high Class A pitching in his pro debut.
He has big-time power potential thanks to an easy, level approach and quick hands from the left side. Head still tends to become too pull-conscious at times, which adds length to his swing. He should improve as a hitter now that he doesn't have to worry about pitching after starring in both roles at the University of Mississippi.
Though he was a two-way player, Head isn't very athletic. He has decent range, good body control, soft hands and an above-average arm at first base.
Burrus looked like a first-round bust when he hit .225 and couldn't get out of Rookie ball in his first three pro seasons. He took some baby steps forward in 2004 then surged this year, totaling 16 homers at three levels and making it up to Triple-A.
He has extremely quick hands and wrists, and he showed more patience this season. He still can get pull-happy, but he has gotten more consistent at keeping his swing short and hitting balls to the opposite field.
Burrus always has been a threat on the bases with his above-average speed, and he's more of a weapon now that he studies pitchers' tendencies and understands game situations. A lack of arm strength limits him to left field.