2005 Top 20 Prospects: Gulf Coast LeagueComplete Index of League Top 20s
By Allan Simpson
Chat Wrap: Allan Simpson took your questoins on the AZL/GCL
The Gulf Coast League (and Arizona League) may be in their final year of operation, depending on whether major league owners vote to eliminate complex leagues as part of significant changes to the draft and player development. If this was the GCL's farewell, it went out with a bang with a talented crop better than the league had produced in recent years.
Seventeen players selected in the first or second rounds of the 2005 draft appeared in the league this summer. The three highest picks—outfielders Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) and Jay Bruce (Reds), righthander Chris Volstad (Marlins)—ranked 1-2-3 on the prospect list.
The Marlins drafted five pitchers before the second round, and the four high schoolers they sent to the GCL all made the top 20. Behind Volstad, lefthanders Sean West and Aaron Thompson and righthander Ryan Tucker also made a huge impression, and all four were promoted to the short-season New York-Penn League before the summer ended.
“I’ve been in the game for 25 years and have never seen four quality starting pitchers on one staff like we had this year,” Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “All have excellent makeup, are not afraid to work hard and all recognize they still have a long way to go.”
With a powerful upper body and quick hands, McCutchen should hit for both power and average. He already has a good understanding of the strike zone and handles breaking pitches well. He projects as a leadoff hitter because of his outstanding speed and basestealing ability, but tends to be a better runner under way than out of the box, where he was timed consistently at 4.1 seconds from the right side to first base.
Though McCutchen came from a small Florida high school and had little coaching prior to signing with the Pirates, his combination of tools and makeup enabled him to adapt quickly to the pro ball. He had trouble reading balls off the bat early in the season but soon became proficient at running flies down all over center field, though his arm rates a shade below-average.
“He’s still raw but is an excellent runner with outstanding bat speed and power potential,” Pirates manager Jeff Livesey said. “He showed a lot of improvement in his outfield play and baserunning. He was the hardest worker on our club.”
“Bruce swings the bat more like Kirk Gibson,” Red Sox manager Ralph Treuel said. “McCutchen’s swing reminds you a little more of Gary Sheffield. Both run well, but Bruce has the size and throws a little better.”
Primarily a pull hitter at the start of the season, Bruce soon learned to drive balls to all fields. He also has a good two-strike approach, though he tended to get overanxious in hitter’s counts.
A hard-nosed player, Bruce takes pride in his defense and is determined to remain a center fielder, though his power potential profiles better on a corner. He gets excellent reads off the bat and takes good routes to balls, but he seems to showcase his above-average arm strength only when he needs to. Though he runs well, he remains raw on the bases.
The first of three Marlins first-round picks, Volstad was so advanced coming out of a Florida high school that he was promoted by midseason. Though he's 6-foot-7, he showed polished mechanics and a clean, effortless delivery with command of three pitches. He was not afraid to throw any pitch in any count.
“I was the hitting coach for the Marlins in Double-A last year and I didn’t see pitchers there with the command of all three pitches like he has,” Rodriguez said.
Volstad’s fastball registered 91-92 mph in the GCL after being clocked consistently at 93-95 during the spring, but still had excellent natural movement. He showed two versions of a curveball, one that he threw for strikes, another he threw to get hitters to swing and miss. He also throws his changeup for strikes, though he tended to slow down his arm speed to throw the pitch, his only real mechanical flaw.
Managers praised Volstad’s makeup, particularly his understanding of the game and willingness to learn. He has excellent mound presence, went about his job like a pro and found a way to win when he didn’t have his best stuff.
Andrus signed with the Braves in January and spent the entire season in the GCL season at age 16. He played like he was older in all phases of his game. “He has it all for his age,” Tigers manager Kevin Bradshaw said. “His whole game is very mature.”
Andrus used the whole field at the plate, laying off breaking balls in the dirt and punishing hanging curves. He hit two long home runs against the league champion Yankees and should add consistent power as he gets bigger and stronger.
His most significant improvement came in the field, where he displayed excellent middle-infield actions. Andrus has the arm, range, footwork, body control and first-step quickness to stay at shortstop. The only knock was that he played slightly out of control at times, something that should be corrected with experience.
A bulldog on the mound, Wood attacked hitters with two quality pitches: a 93-94 mph fastball and an outstanding changeup. He showed such good arm speed, deception and action on his changeup that hitters routinely would start their swing, stop and then try unsuccessfully to restart it.
Wood has a skinny frame but could throw in the high 90s when he fills out because his arm action is so quick. He's poised and has confidence in his stuff.
“If he stays healthy, it’s all there to pitch in the big leagues,” Treuel said. “He just needs work on his breaking ball.”
Wood went to the Pioneer League to work on his curve with Billings pitching coach Butch Henry, who had one of the best in the game during his seven-year big league career.
Louisiana's draft crop was loaded with quality lefthanders, and Jones was the first to go, 41st overall to the Braves. A true power lefty with a moving fastball consistently in the 92-94 mph range, Jones has the ability to spot the pitch anywhere in the strike zone.
His curveball is also a plus offering but erratic, and he continues to develop a changeup. Jones has solid mechanics and yet gets good deception on his pitches. His biggest strength, though, may be his fearless nature on the mound.
With Tabata in left, Austin Jackson in center and Wilkins de la Rossa in right, the Yankees had the most prospect-laden outfield in the GCL. All three have the speed, range and arm strength to play center. With 6.5-second speed in the 60-yard dash and a powerful stride, Tabata led the GCL with 22 stolen bases.
Tabata, a Venezuelan who played most of the season at age 16, has the highest upside of the three. Though he still tends to give at-bats away, he had the best approach at the plate of the trio. Tabata is powerfully built and his home run potential will evolve with experience.
West drew comparisons to Randy Johnson because of his size and three-quarters release point. His slider was especially tough on lefthanders and was an effective backdoor offering against righties. He also gets good deception on his curveball.
Tucker has the best fastball among the Marlins' quartet of pitching prospects, with velocity in the 94-96 mph range, command and movement.
“He was the most impressive pitcher of all,” Dodgers manager Luis Salazar said. “He was 95-96, had good command of his fastball and was aggressive on the mound.”
Tucker’s fastball could become even more effective when he adds movement and develops his complementary pitches. His curve became more effective when he found a more consistent target by switching to the third-base side of the rubber. His slider and changeup are works in progress.
Henry, who could have followed in his father Carl's footsteps and played basketball at Kansas, has barely scratched the surface of his ability but has plenty of athleticism and five-tool potential.
He’s already 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds with tremendous speed, and he'll add legitimate power as he gets stronger and becomes more refined at the plate. His hitting ability is behind his other tools, but he generates outstanding bat speed and the ball jumps off his bat when he hits it solidly.
Henry has outstanding feet and body control, as well as soft hands. He stays down well on balls, reads them well off the bat and has good first-step quickness. There's some question whether he'll remain at shortstop because he has a hitch in his throwing action.
Jackson was recognized by Baseball America as the nation’s best player in his age group at both 12 and 15, but he’s never been as proficient at baseball as basketball. He could have started at point guard as a freshman at Georgia Tech before the Yankees coughed up an $800,000 bonus, a record for an eighth-round pick.
Jackson played center field over Tabata and de la Rossi because he’s the fastest of the three, with 6.4-second times in the 60-yard dash. He showed off his superior athleticism most on defense, where he was exceptional at running balls down in the gaps. His arm was strong and accurate, though it's not in the class of de la Rossi’s—possibly the strongest in the GCL.
At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Jackson is not as physical as Henry and didn't hit a home run, but he should grow into average power. He has a good swing path for his age but had the poorest approach to hitting among the Yankees' outfield prospects. He chased a lot of breaking balls and had a tendency to drift at the plate.
Kelly pitched extensively in high school, flashing a 94 mph fastball and drawing comparisons to Jesse Crain. Though Crain has done an excellent job as a set-up man for the Twins, they saw more upside in Kelly as an everyday player.
A sound defensive shortstop with excellent hands and arm strength, he has the same wiry build and approach to the game as Nomar Garciaparra. After a slow start with the bat, Kelly got going once he learned to stay inside the ball better with a short, compact swing that generated gap power. He formed a promising double-play combination with fellow Twins second-rounder Drew Thompson.
Thompson threw an 88-89 mph fastball that peaked at 91. He worked both sides of the plate effectively while mixing in a curve and changeup. He had little drive in his lower half initially, but minor tinkering with his mechanics resulted in greater extension, leading to more crispness on his pitches. He still needs better command of his secondary offerings.
Though he made 12 errors in 33 games before earning a promotion to Rookie-level Ogden, DeJesus is a quality shortstop. He has soft hands and excellent footwork, and his speed and range allow him to make more than his share of athletic plays. He has everything scouts look for in a prototype shortstop except arm strength, though the Dodgers see a move to second base only as a worst-case scenario.
“He’s got range, hands and footwork—all natural ability he gotten from his dad’s genes,” Mets manager Gary Carter said. “He knows how to play.”
DeJesus isn’t as advanced with the bat. He shows little more than gap power but stays within himself. He excels at putting balls in play and hitting behind runners. His upside is a .280-.290 hitter with 20-plus steals and maybe 10-15 homers if his power blossoms.
Egan’s bat was supposed to be his meal ticket after he hit .588 with 16 home runs this spring at a Georgia high school, but he impressed managers in the GCL more with his defensive ability.
He excelled behind the plate with his arm strength and accuracy, producing consistent 1.9-second pop times to second base. Egan's hands, footwork, blocking ability and game-calling skills also stood out. With his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame providing a big target for pitchers, he even drew defensive comparisons to Joe Mauer.
Egan struggled with the bat, particularly against some of the better fastballs he saw in the GCL. But he jumped all over mediocre pitching, showing decent bat speed and power to the opposite field. A little soft for his size, Egan should develop above-average power as he tightens his body.
A lengthy season-ending slump lowered Schafer’s final average to .203 with 49 strikeouts in 182 at-bats, but managers were impressed with the way he swung the bat early in the year. He had a plan at the plate, was patient, hit to all fields and made pitchers come to him. As he slumped, he got overly aggressive and was slow to make adjustments.
Schafer approaches his job with all-out energy. Also a top pitching prospect in high school, he has an excellent arm in center field, runs well and excels at taking away extra-base hits.
Thompson plays the game much like his father Robby did as an all-star second baseman with the Giants. He’s a heads-up player with leadership qualities and natural instincts. He's mechanically sound in all phases of the game.
Lean and wiry at 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds, Thompson stands out most at the plate. He’s aggressive at the plate with a compact swing. He sprays line drives to all fields with occasional in-game power.
He has more potential with the bat than Kelly, his double-play partner. A shortstop in high school, Thompson is better suited for second base at the pro level because he lacks true shortstop range.
Big and strong with a bulldog approach to pitching like former Brave Kevin Millwood's, Lyman generates consistent 93-94 mph heat. He locates his pitches well and gets good run on his two-seam fastball.
Lyman needs work on his delivery, though his funky mechanics help give him deception. Lyman's secondary stuff, a sharp curve and a splitter he uses as a changeup, also will need time to develop.
A 5-foot-11, 195-pound lefthander from the Dominican Republic, Sanfler has an easy motion that belies a power arm capable of reaching 95 mph. At times he can spot his fastball anywhere he wants, but he frequently leaves it up in the strike zone.
His secondary stuff has a ways to go, though his curveball can be a devastating pitch that falls off a table when he has it working. His changeup has been slower to develop but has the makings of being an above-average pitch with slider action.
Passed over in the 2004 draft when a visa embargo sent the draft stock of Canadians plummeting, Garcia signed with the Mets after the season. He surprised the Mets in spring training and followed with breakout summer for a team that posted the GCL’s best regular-season record. He led the league in runs, hits and on-base percentage while using his above-average speed to steal 17 bases in 18 attempts.
Garcia demonstrated offensive potential with an ability to bunt and put the ball in play, along with a good two-strike approach. Defensively, he showed exceptionally quick feet and sure hands, excelling on balls in the hole because of a rare ability to get in position quickly to unload the ball. His arm strength is a bit short for shortstop, so he could end up at second base down the road.
All Photos: Cliff Welch