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New York-Penn Top 20 Prospects

By Josh Boyd
September 23, 2002

While a shortstop was the hands-down best prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League this summer, live-armed pitching prospects dominated the league.

The Blue Jays stockpiled smoke-throwing righthanders at Auburn, led by 2001 second-rounder Brandon League and sleeper D.J. Hanson. "One night I went in there and the lowest fastball between Auburn and Williamsport was Adam Peterson's at 92," one scout said.

Pitchers grabbed 13 of the spots on the Top 20 Prospects list, and that doesn't include 2002 first-rounder Scott Kazmir. He had the best arm in the league, but Kazmir took two months to sign with the Mets for $2.15 million and didn't join Brooklyn until the middle of August.

Fresh out of high school, the 18-year-old stepped into the league and dominated, never allowing more than one hit in any of his five outings while registering 34 strikeouts in 18 innings. Facing mostly college-experienced hitters, he held them to a .089 average. Kazmir's explosive fastball lit up the radar guns to the tune of 96 mph, and his hammer curveball was a second knockout punch.

Lowell shortstop Hanley Ramirez, one of the league's younger everyday players, also didn't get his start in the NY-P until August. After batting .341 with a league-high .555 slugging percentage in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, he quickly proved he belong at the higher level, hitting safely in his first 10 games after the promotion.

Hanley Ramirez
Photo: Ken Babbitt
1. Hanley Ramirez, ss, Lowell Spinners (Red Sox)
Had Kazmir pitched enough innings, he might have ranked No. 1 on this list. Ramirez, who did qualify despite his own late start, earned the top ranking in both the GCL and the NY-P. When they faced each other, Ramirez won the matchup by showing off his tremendous bat speed and driving a 96-mph fastball off the wall.

Ramirez spent a year in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League after signing in 2000. While the Red Sox were excited about his five-tool ability and natural athleticism, he far surpassed all expectations in his first taste of pro ball in the States.

"He's the best player in this league, and the best prospect in the Red Sox organization," Lowell manager Mike Boulanger said. "He can do everything. He's got a feel for the game you can't teach. You could put him in Triple-A right now and he'd fit in."

2. Brandon League, rhp, Auburn Doubledays (Blue Jays)
League followed in the footsteps of Dustin McGowan, who showcased his live arm for Auburn in 2001 a year after the Jays drafted him in the first round out of high school. League, who in high school against Bronson Sardinha, the league’s No. 4 prospect, is a couple steps ahead of where McGowan was last season. Both still need to harness their mid-90s heat.

"He was up to 96 mph against us with a pretty good breaking pitch," Batavia manager Ron Ortegon said. "He was a little inconsistent with his command."

League generates 93-97 mph velocity with plus movement from a low three-quarters release point. His two-plane slider is a potential out pitch.

3. Mike Hinckley, lhp, Vermont Expos
Hinckley came on strong as an Oklahoma high school senior before the 2001 draft, emerging from obscurity to become a third-rounder. After a lackluster debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last summer, Hinckley led the NY-P in innings and ERA.

Managers and scouts liked both his stuff and his makeup. Hinckley already touches 94 mph and sits in the low 90s, and some scouts project him to add more consistent velocity as he fills out his lean frame.

He works with a sound delivery and a clean arm action, allowing him to fill up the strike zone with his fastball, curveball and changeup. He generates good sink, and his changeup is an effective pitch against righthanders.

4. Bronson Sardinha, of, Staten Island Yankees
Sardinha began 2002 in the low Class A South Atlantic League and held his own as one of the circuit's youngest regulars, batting .263-12-44 with 15 steals. Though the Yankees insist it wasn’t a demotion, he was sent to Staten Island in late July and moved from his natural position, shortstop, to the outfield.

He made a quick transition with the help of his athleticism, strong arm and innate feel for the game. "He impressed me the most on his angles and going back on balls," Staten Island manager Derek Shelton said.

Shelton, who managed Sardinha in the GCL last year, also praised Sardinha for the improvements he has made with his bat and his conditioning. He has tremendous balance at the plate and is rarely fooled by a pitch.

5. Russ Adams, ss, Auburn Doubledays (Blue Jays)
Three 2002 first-rounders played in the NY-P this summer. While Kazmir and Jamestown outfielder Jeremy Hermida didn’t qualify for this list, Adams did and was the league’s best middle infielder until Ramirez arrived. After signing quickly for $1.785 million as the 14th overall pick, Adams following up his All-America season at North Carolina with a strong pro debut.

Adams fits the mold of the player Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi is looking for. He displayed outstanding control of the strike zone and is a constant threat on the bases with his speed and instincts. Ricciardi compared Adams to former A's shortstop Walt Weiss, another former Tar Heel, and sees him as Toronto’s leadoff hitter of the future.

6. Chien-Ming Wang, rhp, Staten Island Yankees
The Yankees have combined their unlimited budget and scouting skills to land immediate impact players on the international market such as Orlando Hernandez and Alfonso Soriano. They've also spent wildly on busts such as Kats Maeda and Andy Morales.

New York signed Wang out of Taiwan for $1.9 million in 2000, and he was impressive that summer with Staten Island. Then he suffered a shoulder injury that knocked him out of action until this summer. He came back at nearly full strength after more than 16 months of rehabilitation.

"The last three or four starts, we started to see that 90-95 come back," Shelton said. "He's holding his velocity and the sharpness of the breaking ball and splitter are there."

Wang complements his heat with a tumbling forkball, curveball and change. He threw with an easy arm action and was at his best in the playoffs, winning two starts to help Staten Island claim the championship.

7. D.J. Hanson, rhp, Auburn Doubledays (Blue Jays)

Hanson doesn't garner the same hype that his higher-profile teammates League and Adams do, but some managers felt he was Auburn’s best pitcher.

"He's more polished than League," Ortegon said. "If I had one game to play to win, I'd go with Hanson."

Hanson, who missed all of 2001 after tearing an ACL in a collision with 6-foot-4, 240-pound Alvin Morrow during an offseason minicamp, had his season cut short by another knee injury this year. Before he was sidelined, he showed off a 90-95 mph fastball and 80-82 mph hammer curve.

8. Carlos Cabrera, rhp, Batavia Muckdogs (Phillies)
Whether they find them in the draft or in their burgeoning Latin American program, the Phillies just keep churning out young power arms. Like Brett Myers, Gavin Floyd, Taylor Buchholz and Ryan Madson, Cabrera and teammate Erick Arteaga have towering, projectable frames.

Cabrera is a lean 6-foot-4 and 183 pounds and already is capable of reaching 94 mph with boring action on his fastball.

"He's in the same mold as Arteaga," Ortegon said. "He's 90-92 consistently with a breaking pitch and a change. He's more of a strikeout pitcher than Arteaga."

9. Alex Hart, rhp, Williamsport Crosscutters (Pirates)
Hart went to the University of Florida with high expectations after turning down the Orioles as a second-round pick in 1998. His first three years were destroyed by injuries–he needed Tommy John surgery–and he entered this spring with a 6-9, 6.94 record. He was able to turn things around by refining his mechanics and adding a cut fastball in January.

"He has a real high ceiling," Pirates roving pitching instructor Gary Ruby said. "He has a good body and a good live fastball up to 92 mph, but there's more in there. He throws downhill and has savvy on the mound."

Hart also throws a tight-breaking curve. But after he became dependent upon his cutter with the Gators, not everyone is convinced his secondary pitches are enough.

"If he didn't have his cutter, he was hittable," one manager said. "He needs better fastball command to not rely so much on the cutter."

10. Curtis Granderson, of, Oneonta Tigers
Granderson set several school records at Illinois-Chicago last spring, including a .483 average that ranked second in NCAA Division I to Southern’s Rickie Weeks, a possible No. 1 overall pick for the 2003 draft. Granderson continued to hit as a pro, as some managers thought he had the best bat in the league.

"I really like him, probably as much as anyone in the league," Shelton said. "He has a great feel for the strike zone and he puts the ball in play. He's not afraid to hit deep in counts."

Some scouts project Granderson as a fourth outfielder because he doesn't have the quality speed to play center field or the true power to hold down a corner. He has fairly solid tools across the board, with no significant strength or weakness.

11. Robinson Cano, 2b, Staten Island Yankees
Cano didn't make much noise in his 2001 GCL debut by hitting .230-3-34, but he was turning heads last spring in Tampa. He moved from third base to the middle infield and started the season in the Sally League alongside Sardinha.

Some NY-P managers accused Yankees owner George Steinbrenner of stacking Staten Island for the championship run, and Cano was sent to short-season ball despite hitting .276-14-66 in low Class A.

"He can really do some things," Shelton said. "He has the unique ability to adjust his hands very well and hit balls in different zones. He has a great feel for the barrel of the bat."

After splitting time between second base and shortstop at Greensboro, he played almost exclusively at second with Staten Island. Cano has a strong arm and solid infield actions that should land him at second or third base down the road.

12. Henry Owens, rhp, Williamsport Crosscutters (Pirates)
Owens was signed as a nondrafted free agent out of Division II Barry (Fla.) University in 2001. A catcher in college, he moved to the mound because his big, strong body and cannon arm intrigued the Pirates. He made major strides in instructional league and extended spring training before showcasing the best fastball in the NY-P.

"He was up to a cool 98 mph, just pouring it in there," one American League scout said of Owens. He pitched between 91-98 mph and averaged 96 with his four-seamer in most outings.

Owens has been able to shed the short arm action catchers use to get rid of the ball quickly, and he gets good extension out front. While his lively fastball has good movement, he's working on tightening his slurvy breaking ball, which too often arrives on a flat plane.

13. Darrell Rasner, rhp, Vermont Expos
Rasner went 14-2 as a freshman at Nevada, and while his record tailed off in his last two years of college, his stock as a prospect continued to rise. Scouts were enthralled with his workhorse frame (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and power arsenal.

"He used his height well, threw downhill with a hard 90-94 mph fastball, and did a good job of using a hard curveball in the zone or out," Aberdeen manager Johnny Almaraz said. "It was an 84-85 power breaking ball. You don't see many of these."

In addition to his power-pitch knockout combo, Rasner throws a circle change with late drop and fade, and a sharp slider. His delivery is solid with a quick arm action and good extension out front. If he sharpens his command, he could jump on the fast track next year.

14. Josh Shortslef, lhp, Williamsport Crosscutters (Pirates)
Shortslef has a long way to go in his development, but his style and stuff already draw comparisons to a couple of southpaws who know a thing or two about winning games in the majors.

"He reminds me of a cross between Bruce Hurst and Andy Pettitte," one scout said. "He can pitch and (he) has a good breaking ball."

Like Hurst and Pettitte, Shortslef has a strong, athletic body. He averaged 21 points per game as a forward on his high school basketball team. He challenges hitters with a fastball that sits in the 87-90 mph range and was clocked as high as 93. He also has an effective curveball and led the NY-P in victories.

15. Sandy Nin, rhp, Auburn Doubledays (Blue Jays)
Most managers around the league cringed when they thought of Auburn’s pitching staff. If it wasn't League touching 96-97 or Hanson hitting 95, it was Brian Cardwell at 93-95, or David Bush, Vince Perkins, Adam Peterson or Chad Pleiness pumping low-90s heat.

Nin was a relative unknown until he kept firing 93-95 mph missiles. In his first year out of the Dominican, scouts were impressed with Nin's aggressive approach and his mental composure, especially for an 18-year-old.

Nin displayed good command of his fastball and slider, but he needs to vary speeds more efficiently and generate a better downhill plane from his 6-foot frame.

16. Chad Pleiness, rhp, Auburn Doubledays (Blue Jays)
If the plus velocity on Auburn's staff wasn't intimidating enough, many of the Doubledays’ arms had imposing bodies to match. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Pleiness started at forward for three years on Central Michigan’s basketball team.

He’s still raw on the mound, but Pleiness came a long way with his mechanics, as he overmatched opponents in his pro debut. He touched 94 mph in college and in the NY-P; he regularly worked at 88-92 mph. He also got strikeouts with his curveball.

"He really smoothed out his delivery," one scout said. "He might really throw hard when it's all said and done."

17. Ben Francisco, of, Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Indians)
After transferring from southern California junior college powerhouse Cypress to UCLA as a sophomore, Francisco established himself as a well-rounded center-field prospect. He missed more than 20 games with a broken collarbone, but still managed to lead the Bruins in hitting and steals last spring.

In his pro debut, he led the NY-P in hitting while finishing fifth in steals. Francisco has a little pop and controls the strike zone effectively.

"He has great balance and is a very good athlete," New Jersey manager Tommy Shields said. "He hits the ball straightaway real good. He must have hit 12 balls from gap to gap against us."

18. Brian Slocum, rhp, Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Indians)
Despite some concerns over Slocum's durability and health, he was considered a potential first-round pick before the Indians drafted him in the second round this June. Neither was an issue during the summer.

Slocum has a loose arm and gets his fastball into the low 90s with movement. He reached 94 mph at Villanova. His slider has good, hard rotation and is a plus pitch in the making. His clean, effortless delivery should help him avoid serious injuries.

19. Joey Gomes, of, Hudson Valley Renegades (Devil Rays)
The Devil Rays stole Jonny Gomes in the 18th round of the 2001 draft and see a lot of the same qualities in his older brother Joey, whom they took in the eighth round this year.

Jonny topped the Rookie-level Appalachian League in home runs in his debut last summer, and Joey followed suit by topping the NY-P with 15 homers. They combined for 45 homers in 2002, employing the same ultra-aggressive approach. Both project as solid left fielders with decent speed.

"I thought it was his brother," Almaraz said. "I saw his brother last year in the Appy League and thought this guy was just tormenting me, then realized it was his brother. What a player. He hits a ton, like his brother. Excellent power, similar to his brother. Pretty good plate discipline, and he impressed me with a mature approach at the plate."

20. Roberto Novoa, rhp, Williamsport Crosscutters (Pirates)
After going 5-5, 3.39 for Williamsport a year ago, Novoa was promoted to the Sally League for the first half of the 2002 season. He showed flashes of dominance, but his inconsistency earned him a return trip to the NY-P.

One of the most electric young arms in the Pittsburgh system, Novoa can run his fastball up to 97 mph. He also throws a hard-biting, 80-82 mph slider and a developing changeup. He’s just starting to figure pitching out, and if he puts everything together he’ll be very tough. He’s already throwing strikes but needs better command within the strike zone.

Top 10 prospects five years ago
* has reached majors

1. Matt White, rhp, Hudson Valley (Devil Rays)
2. * Vernon Wells, of, St. Catherines (Blue Jays)
3. * Randy Wolf, lhp, Batavia (Phillies)
4. * Adam Kennedy, ss, New Jersey (Cardinals)
5. Alex Steele, of, Jamestown (Tigers)
6. Scott Comer, lhp, Pittsfield (Mets)
7. Kris Lambert, lhp, Erie (Pirates)
8. Kevin Haverbusch, ss, Erie (Pirates)
9. Miguel Mejia, of, New Jersey (Cardinals)
10. Raul Franco, 2b, Utica (Marlins)

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