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Gulf Coast League Top 20 Prospects

By Allan Simpson
September 19, 2002

First impressions often can be deceiving at the entry level of professional baseball, but Hanley Ramirez may be the exception. Every manager in the Gulf Coast League's Southern Division was effusive in their praise of the 18-year-old Red Sox shortstop, saying if ever there was a sure Rookie league bet to be a future star in the majors, Ramirez was it.

"He's the best prospect I've seen in this league in 10 years," said Pirates skipper Woody Huyke, who has managed or coached in the GCL every year except one since 1974. "He would have been the No. 1 pick in the draft this year if he had been eligible, no question."

Only three first-round picks from the 2002 draft debuted in the GCL, and none made a particularly strong impression on managers as Latin Americans claimed the first nine spots on the Top 20. Only one first-rounder, Tigers shortstop Scott Moore, cracked the Top 20 – at No. 16.

Marlins outfielder Jeremy Hermida, the 11th overall pick, didn't make the list as managers were unconvinced that he has the tools to play in the big leagues, even as he moved up to the short-season Class A New York-Penn League and hit .319 in his final 13 games. Hermida hit .224 in the GCL.

"He's just a fringe prospect now, more of a scouts' guy," one manager said. "He's got a nice short swing, but he was hitting with wood for the first time and looked lost out there at times."

Hanley Ramirez
Photo: Ken Babbitt
1. Hanley Ramirez, ss, Red Sox
Managers were so enthralled with Ramirez' five-tool ability that they compared him to Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra at the same stage of their careers.

"He's awesome," Orioles manager Jesus Alfaro said. "He's tall and thin like A-Rod, and has similar actions. He's got range and arm strength, and is capable of making the spectacular play. And he's an outstanding hitter."

"He has the gift," Reds manager Edgar Caceres said. "He has great bat speed and should hit for both power and average. There are no holes in his swing."

Ramirez' bat is his best tool. He hit .341 for the Red Sox – second in the league – and outdid himself when he was promoted to the New York-Penn League for the final 19 games. He hit .379 there and was named the short-season circuit's No. 1 prospect.

"He's on the fast track to the big leagues and should get there quicker than anyone," Twins manager Rudy Hernandez said. "He may end up at third base, but he has the bat to play there."

While managers universally praised Ramirez' can't-miss talent, they were also unanimous in their concern for his lackadaisical, sometimes cocky approach to the game.

2. Rudy Guillen, of, Yankees
Tall, lanky and very strong at 18, Guillen has all the tools to become an impact player.

"He's got raw power, drives in runs, uses the whole field, covers ground and has the best outfield arm in the league," Yankees manager Manny Crespo said. "He reminds me of Vladimir Guerrero at a similar stage."

"He's got the highest ceiling in the league," Phillies manager Ruben Amaro said. "He's 6-foot-4 and pretty much can do it all."

Guillen's weakest tool is his speed. He’s just an average runner by major league standards, but he positions himself well in right field, runs excellent routes and has a very strong, accurate arm.

3. Manuel Mateo, rhp, Braves
Strong, athletic and possessing a competitive fire on the mound, Mateo stood out among players in the GCL's Eastern Division. His fastball routinely registered 93-95 mph and he threw it consistently for strikes.

"He's already got an above-average major league fastball with movement," Expos manager Andy Skeels said, "but he's also got a great approach to pitching. He wants the ball. He really competes."

Mateo's secondary pitches are inconsistent. His slider shows good depth at times and his changeup still is developing.

4. Leo Nunez, rhp, Pirates
Nunez showed amazing arm strength for a pitcher who tipped the scales at a slight 155 pounds. He was clocked consistently and at 93-94 mph, topping out at 96. He should throw even harder as he gets stronger.

Nunez had excellent command, particularly with his fastball, and walked just five hitters in 60 innings. He flashed a nasty slider but his secondary pitches were erratic. Managers liked his poise and his willingness to challenge hitters.

5. Jose Diaz, rhp, Dodgers
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Diaz used his sheer mass to overmatch GCL hitters in the first half, earning a promotion to the Rookie-level Pioneer League.

"He was too good for this league," Marlins manager Jesus Campos said. "He was a fighter. He went right after hitters with his fastball."

Diaz always was around the strike zone with his pitches but his breaking ball needs work. Though he looks heavy, his big body is viewed as a strength. He pitched at 93-97 mph, touching 98 in every outing.

6. Elizardo Ramirez, rhp, Phillies
Ramirez led the league with a 1.10 ERA and pitched a two-hit shutout in the playoffs, leading the Phillies to their first GCL title. More impressive was this eye-popping ratio: 80 innings, two walks.

Amaro credits Ramirez' uncanny ability to throw strikes to superior athleticism, fundamentally sound mechanics and an advanced understanding of his craft. "He can throw any of his pitches for strikes at any time in the count," Amaro said.

Ramirez' fastball registers only 88-91 mph, but it has good life. His curve and changeup are also considered major league average pitches. His ability to locate all three is what gives him an edge.

7. Joaquin Arias, 2b, Yankees
Arias bears a striking resemblance to fellow Dominican Alfonso Soriano, who one day could present an obstacle to Arias' goal of playing second base in New York. Arias has the same tall, lanky build and similar actions in the field. He also runs exceptionally well and could use better plate discipline.

"He's got good hand-eye coordination and makes good contact," Crespo said, "but he needs to walk more and learn the strike zone."

Arias has the range and arm strength to play shortstop, but the presence of natural shortstops Ferdin Tejada and Deivi Mendez prompted the Yankees to shift Arias across the bag to second.

8. Alex Romero, of, Twins
Romero has a chance to become a complete player. He hit a solid .333 and particularly impressed managers with his outfield play. There may not have been a better defensive center fielder in the league and certainly not in the Southern Division.

"He gets great jumps and can really go get it," Caceres said. "He's got great instincts in the outfield and also on the bases, but he runs with a long stride so he won't be a basestealer."

A scrappy lefthanded hitter, Romero sprays the ball to all fields. It's expected that he'll add power down the road.

9. Luis Hernandez, ss, Braves
As a hitter, Hernandez has fringy major league potential. As a shortstop, he can’t miss.

"He could play defensively in the big leagues right now," Dodgers manager Luis Salazar said. "He makes all the plays."

In 47 games, Hernandez committed just two errors while displaying above-average range, hands and arm strength.

"He can really pick it," Skeels said. "In 16 games against our club, I remember him misplaying one ball. He has excellent instincts in the field."

Though just a .254 hitter and small in stature, the switch-hitting Hernandez sprayed the ball to all fields and was one of the league's best bunters. He understands his limitations and focuses on doing the little things.

10. Brent Clevlen, of, Tigers
Detroit was the only team to send its top two draft picks to the GCL and the general consensus was that Clevlen, a second-rounder, was better than Moore.

"He looks like a young Al Kaline," said Amaro, who broke into the game with the Tigers Hall of Famer in the 1950s. "He's strong with a good-looking swing and he has a good, accurate right-field arm."

"He's got a beautiful righthanded swing," Tigers manager Howard Bushong said. "The ball jumps off his bat and it's the same swing every time. I think he's got a chance one day to hit .300 with 35-40 home runs."

Defense is Clevlen's weakest tool. A center fielder and pitcher in high school, he switched to right field in the GCL and had trouble getting to balls. He needs work on his routes and positioning.

11. Javier Guzman, ss, Pirates
A natural shortstop, Guzman showed good actions, range and arm strength. A switch-hitter who hit leadoff for the Southern Division champion Pirates, he also showed surprising power for his size, especially to the gaps.

Guzman should become a good all-around hitter as he gets stronger. He led the GCL in runs scored.

"He reminds me a lot of Neifi Perez," said Subero, who played against the Royals shortstop in the minors. "He's got the same instincts and the same approach at the plate. He even jumps at pitches the same way Neifi does. The only way we got him out was with fastballs in on his hands."

12. Victor Prieto, rhp, Marlins
With Prieto, it's all about throwing strikes. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, he has a solid pitcher’s build, and he goes right at hitters with a moving, two-seam fastball that registers 92-93 mph. He also has the makings of an outstanding curveball and a slider with late, quick tilt. His changeup continues to evolve.

"He has outstanding stuff and can be overpowering when he gets his pitches in the strike zone consistently, but he has a tendency to be wild," Skeels said. "He could blow through the minors in a hurry if it all comes together for him."

13. Miguel Mota, of, Braves
Mota is a four-tool talent, short only on raw power. He has a quick bat and drives balls hard to all fields from both sides of the plate. Legitimate power could come when he fills out his 6-foot-2, 165-pound frame.

At this stage of development, Mota's defense is his biggest strength. He has excellent center-field instincts and a prototype right fielder's arm. Though he has above-average speed, his baserunning technique needs work.

"He's the best center fielder in our division," Campos said. "He's a Kenny Lofton-type player with a chance to hit for more average."

14. Zach Segovia, rhp, Phillies
Going back to his days as a member of Team USA's junior national team, Segovia always has dominated his competition. He did so in the GCL as well, showing command of all his pitches while mixing them well. At times Segovia touches 93 mph, and his slider also has its moments.

"He really knows how to pitch," Bushong said. "He pitches well above his age. He runs his fastball up there good and has an excellent changeup. His breaking ball is just an average pitch but he throws it for strikes."

15. Joel Zumaya, rhp, Tigers
An 11th-round draft pick in June, Zumaya's stock jumped considerably in the GCL as he outpitched a number of higher-round selections.

His fastball was clocked at only 88-90 mph in high school but it improved over the summer to 91-92 and topped out at 94. His breaking ball was inconsistent but almost unhittable when he located it. Zumaya generally showed good command, walking 11 in 37 innings and striking out 46.

"He came a long way this summer," Bushong said. "He really competes for a 17-year-old. The ball explodes out of his hand."

16. Scott Moore, ss, Tigers
Reviews were mixed on Moore, Detroit's first-round pick. While most were positive as a hitter, most managers didn't see a long-term future for him at shortstop.

"He is a great hitter with good pop for his age," Crespo said. "He takes an aggressive cut and the ball really jumps off his bat."

Moore's development at shortstop was interrupted by injuries. He missed two weeks with a lower-back problem and another two when he was hit on the hand by a pitch.

Overall, he showed poor feet at shortstop, limited range, only an adequate arm and he an inability to read balls well off the bat. Most managers projected him as a third baseman.

17. Jake Blalock, of/3b, Phillies
Blalock comes from a baseball family and it showed in his approach. He played hard and was one of the most fundamentally sound players in the league.

He also was one of the top offensive players. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Blalock was a shortstop in high school and was tried at both third base and in the outfield.

"He takes a big hack and can put a charge in the ball when he makes contact," Bushong said. "Most of his power now is gap-to-gap but he should develop pull power as he grows into his frame."

Blalock’s brother Hank is a top third-base prospect with the Rangers, while his uncle Sam is the head coach at San Diego's Rancho Bernardo High, one of the top high schools in the country. Blalock's dad Dana is a successful youth league coach in the San Diego area.

18. Dustin Brown, of/c, Red Sox
Compared by at least two managers to former big leaguer Brian Harper (now a minor league manager in the Angels system), Brown showed major league potential as both a catcher and right fielder.

"He's got the arm strength to play either position, but he looks a little more relaxed at the plate when he's in the outfield," Subero said. "I question whether he'll develop enough power for right field, but he's a good enough hitter that he'll adjust to pitching in any league."

Brown's quickest route to the big leagues is behind the plate. He's light on his feet and very agile, and he has a quick release with a strong, accurate arm.

19. Zach Duke, lhp, Pirates
Duke signed too late to play in 2001 but made an easy transition to pro ball this year, leading the GCL in wins. His stuff, deception and ability to mix up his pitches made comparisons to Braves lefthander Tom Glavine commonplace.

"He's not a power pitcher," Subero said, "but he hits the corners and dominates both sides of the plate. He works in and out really well and was very good at making adjustments."

Duke's best pitches were his curve and changeup. While not overpowering, his fastball showed more velocity than Glavine's.

20. Brian McCann, c, Braves
McCann signed late after being drafted in the second round by the Braves, reported out of shape and didn't particularly distinguish himself either at the plate or behind it. Managers still were intrigued with his offensive potential.

His calling card is his power. He can turn on any pitch.

"He was the best hitting prospect in our division," Skeels said. "He had the best swing of anyone and an excellent overall approach to hitting. He already makes solid contact and hits lefthanders and righthanders equally well.

McCann drew comparisons to Tigers prospect Eric Munson, the third overall pick in the 1999 draft. Munson started out as a catcher before shifting to first base and it’s expected that McCann will follow a similar career path.

Top 10 Gulf Coast League prospects five years ago
* has reached majors

1. Marquis Roberts, lhp, Devil Rays
2. Jose Taveras, of, Royals
3. Chris Moore, rhp, Marlins
4. *Erick Almonte, ss-3b, Yankees
5. Jackson Melian, of, Yankees
6. Luis Cruz, 2b, Devil Rays
7. *Alex Escobar, of, Mets
8. *Joaquin Benoit, rhp, Rangers
9. Brett Caradonna, of, White Sox
10. *Roy Oswalt, rhp, Astros

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