League Top 20 Prospects

California League Top 20 Prospects




FIVE YEARS AGO
1. *Rocco Baldelli, of, Bakersfield (Devil Rays)
2. *Oliver Perez, lhp, Lake Elsinore (Padres)
3. *Clint Nageotte, rhp, San Bernardino (Mariners)
4. *Jeremy Bonderman, rhp, Modesto (Athletics)
5. *Ben Hendrickson, rhp, High Desert (Brewers)
6. *Xavier Nady, dh, Lake Elsinore (Padres)
7. *Boof Bonser, rhp, San Jose (Giants)
8. *Jose Lopez, ss, San Bernardino (Mariners)
9. *Josh Hamilton, of, Bakersfield (Devil Rays)
10. *J.J. Hardy, ss, High Desert (Brewers)
*Has played in major leagues
The high Class A California League is known as a hitter's paradise, and rightly so. Yet San Jose rode its pitching staff (a league-best 3.81 ERA) to overcome the league's worst offense (a healthy 4.86 runs per game) and win the playoffs. And while Justin Upton established himself as unquestionably the circuit's brightest talent during a five-week stopover on his way to the major leagues, four of the top seven prospects in the league were pitchers.

Righthanders Henry Sosa (San Jose), Chris Tillman (High Desert), Justin Masterson (Lancaster) and James McDonald (Inland Empire) all posted ERAs of 3.95 or higher, but pitched well in league context and showcased quality stuff. Lancaster righty Michael Bowden would have joined them near the top of this prospect list had he not fallen two-thirds of an inning short of qualifying.

The Cal League has had more than its share of middle-infield prospects in recent years, and 2007 continued that trend. Lake Elsinore's Matt Antonelli established himself as the game's best second-base prospect and kept on producing after his promotion to Double-A. High Desert shortstop Carlos Triunfel batted .288 as a 17-year old, Modesto shortstop Chris Nelson showed why he was a first-round pick in 2004 and Modesto second baseman Eric Young Jr. led the league with 73 stolen bases.

1.Justin Upton, of, Visalia Oaks (Diamondbacks)
B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 205 Age: 20 Drafted: Diamondbacks '05 (1)
Justin UptonAfter a lackluster pro debut in 2006, Upton hit just .152 in the first nine games of the Cal League season. He hasn't looked back since, as he destroyed the league over the next month before being promoted to Double-A and eventually the majors.

Upton showed off a complete five-tool package. He has incredible bat speed and tremendous power to all parts of the ballpark. He has well above-average speed, which makes him a basestealing threat and allows him to outrun his mistakes in center field, where he has played for just two years. He also has a strong arm that could easily play in right field if needed.

"He's got power to all fields and a great, quiet approach," a scout with an American League team said. "His hands are so quick. He's going to be a hell of a big leaguer for a hell of a long time."
 
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2.Henry Sosa, rhp, San Jose Giants
B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 185 Age: 22 Signed: Giants FA '04
Sosa's 4.38 ERA with San Jose was six times his mark (0.73) in the low Class A South Atlantic League, but he still displayed the most powerful arm in the Cal League. His fastball sat at 91-95 mph, and his loose delivery made his heater seem even more explosive. When he's going well, he has a tight curveball that he’s not afraid to throw when behind in the count.

Despite his success, Sosa remains very much a work in progress. He struggled to repeat his delivery, and as the season wore on he relied heavily on his fastball, with mixed results. He needs to develop more consistency with his breaking ball, which devolved into a slurve by season's end.

“Henry has the talent but he doesn’t have the pitching skill yet,” San Jose manager Lenn Sakata said. “He’s a guy that has been pushed to the limit right now. He’s explosive at times, but he went from dominating a young league where guys swing at everything to struggling at times.”
 
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3.Chris Tillman, rhp, High Desert Mavericks (Mariners)
B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-5 Wt.: 195 Age: 19 Drafted: Mariners '06 (2)
In his first full pro season, Tillman showed off the most upside of any pitcher in the league beside Sosa. His 5.28 ERA at High Desert may seem high, but consider: he was 19 in high Class A; he made noticeable improvements on a month-by-month basis; and the Mavericks' team ERA was 6.38.

The lanky Tillman uses the leverage in his clean delivery to give extra life to a fastball that sits in the low 90s. He mixes in a plus curveball with late 12-to-6 break, and he'll throw it when behind in the count. He's still growing into his frame and should add more strength and velocity.

"He's a guy who with each start got better and better," High Desert manager Scott Steinman said. "Not only in numbers, but the way he carries himself on the mound. He got more comfortable and confident."
 
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4.Matt Antonelli, 2b, Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres)
B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 203 Age: 22 Drafted: Padres '06 (1)
The most major league-ready player in the Cal League, Antonelli made a seamless transition from third to second base and showed a disciplined approach at the plate. He works counts well, makes consistent contact and uses the whole field.

Antonelli answered questions about his power, which sprung up after he hit three homers in two seasons in the wood bat Cape Cod League and failed to go deep in his 60-game pro debut in 2006. He showed a quicker bat this year and backed pitchers into situations where they had to feed him pitches he could drive. He hit a combined 21 homers in high Class A and Double-A, and should have plus power for a second baseman.

Antonelli's offensive game profiles better at second than it did at third base. He's athletic enough to handle the double-play pivot and to provide the necessary range. His arm is strong for second base as well.
 
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5.Justin Masterson, rhp, Lancaster JetHawks (Red Sox)
B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-6 Wt.: 250 Age: 22 Drafted: Red Sox '06 (2)
Masterson showed off tremendous polish in his first full pro season, particularly considering he was pitching in hitter-friendly Lancaster. After going 2-3, 6.31 in his first nine starts, he adjusted and went 6-2, 2.52 in his last eight before earning a promotion to Double-A.

Masterson controls the strike zone with a heavy 91-92 mph sinker, getting extra movement by using a low three-quarters delivery. His slider improved and became a go-to pitch. He throws strikes, keeps the ball down and has shown some feel for a changeup, though some scouts think he projects better as a reliever than as a starter.

“He has tremendous makeup,” Lancaster manager Chad Epperson said. “His work ethic is off the charts. He prepares mentally and physically and was rewarded for it.”
 
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6.Carlos Triunfel, ss, High Desert Mavericks (Mariners)
B-T: R-R Ht.: 5-11 Wt.: 175 Age: 17 Signed: Mariners '06
The Mariners believed Triunfel was advanced when they handed him a $1.3 million bonus as a 16-year-old in 2006, but even they didn't plan on putting him in the Cal League in his first pro season. He batted .309 in low Class A to start the year before breaking his right thumb, and when he healed, Seattle sent him to High Desert. He was up to the task, hitting safely in 11 of his first 12 games and showing he could more than hold his own against pitchers often four or five years his senior.

Triunfel still has a lot of holes in his game, some of which should improve as he adds strength and experience. He has yet to show much power and had trouble catching up to good fastballs. He makes consistent contact but has yet to show much on-base ability.

Triunfel possessed one of the best infield arms in the league and terrific instincts at shortstop, though at times he was too flashy in the field. His below-average speed and lack of range make it likely that he'll move to third base in the future, though he should hit enough to profile at the hot corner.
 
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7.James McDonald, rhp, Inland Empire 66ers (Dodgers)
B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-5 Wt.: 195 Age: 22 Drafted: Dodgers '02 (11)
McDonald has had an unusual career path. The Dodgers drafted him out of high school as a first baseman in 2002, signed him as a pitcher as a draft-and-follow in 2003, moved him to the outfield in 2004 and then shifted him back to the mound toward the end of the 2005 season. Now he's showing command of three potential plus pitches and still has room to add strength on his 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame.

Managers rated his curveball the best in the Cal League, and McDonald sets it up with an 89-93 mph fastball he can spot in any quadrant of the strike zone. His changeup gives him a solid-average third pitch. His stuff plays up because he throws on a steep downhill plane, and he continued his success after a promotion to Double-A in mid-July.
 
GGSWLSVERAIPHRERHRBBSOAVG
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8.Chris Nelson, ss, Modesto Nuts (Rockies)
B-T: R-R Ht.: 5-11 Wt.: 176 Age: 21 Drafted: Mariners '04 (1)
The ninth overall pick in the 2004 draft, Nelson was the league's most improved player after struggling at the plate and in the field during his first two full pro seasons. After he lowered his hands in July, he was able to use his tremendous bat speed to drive the ball. He hit .333 with 13 homers and 62 RBIs in the final two months.

Nelson also has plus speed and stole 27 bases in 32 attempts. Prior to the season, he seemed ticketed for second base or center field because he was too erratic and didn't cover enough ground. But he may have saved his job at shortstop by improving his range and fundamentals while reining in his strong arm.

“He made all the plays defensively,” one manager said.
 
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9.Chris Davis, 3b, Bakersfield Blaze (Rangers)
B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 210 Age: 21 Drafted: Rangers '06 (5)
Davis bounced back from a slow start in historic fashion. He batted just .262 in the first two months as he struggled with offspeed pitches. Then he regained his timing by planting his front foot and keeping his weight back, and he went on a tear, matching a league record by hitting in 35 consecutive games.

Despite that streak, Davis hits for power more than he does so for average. He can get pull-conscious and impatient, but when he connects, he crushes the ball. “He can swing and miss in three at-bats, then hit a home run in the ninth,” said Bakersfield manager Carlos Subero, who praised Davis' ability to make in-game adjustments.

A former pitcher, Davis had the strongest infield arm in the league. After playing the outfield and first base in his pro debut, he showed improvement with his glovework and range at third base. While his athleticism and speed don't stand out, he can be at least adequate at the hot corner.
 
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10.Dexter Fowler, of, Modesto Nuts (Rockies)
B-T: B-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 173 Age: 21 Drafted: Rockies '04 (14)
Fowler had the best all-around tools in the league outside of Upton's, but he's not as advanced in being able to turn them into production on the diamond. He lost a half-season of needed at-bats when he ran into San Jose outfield's fence in June, breaking the hamate bone in his right hand.

A natural righthanded hitter, Fowler started switch-hitting after turning pro. He has plus power potential and speed, but he has yet to become a big home run threat or a successful basestealer (he was caught 11 times in 31 tries this year). He does have good patience at the plate and should improve with more experience.

Taller than most center fielders as 6-foot-5, Fowler is a plus defender with the ability to glide to balls in the gap. He has average arm strength.
 
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11.Brandon Hynick, rhp, Modesto Nuts (Rockies)
B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 205 Age: 22 Drafted: Rockies '06 (8)
Hynick had proven his dominance by the all-star break but remained in Modesto for the entire season. He was named Cal League pitcher of the year, topped the circuit in wins (16) and ERA (2.52) and led the minor leagues in innings (182).

There's nothing flashy about Hynick, but he has command of four pitches (fastball, changeup, splitter and curveball) and mixes speeds well to keep hitters off balance. His biggest strength is his ability to locate his 89-92 mph fastball to all four quadrants of the strike zone. His splitter and changeup rank ahead of his curveball, but he may be able to survive without much of a breaker.

“The first three pitches are so good, it might not even be a factor,” Modesto manager Jerry Weinstein said. “Velocity is all relative. He gets four pitches over the plate and gives you four speeds to look at.”
 
GGSWLSVERAIPHRERHRBBSOAVG
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12.Wade LeBlanc, lhp, Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres)
B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 202 Age: 23 Drafted: Padres '06 (2)
LeBlanc may throw his fastball at just 86-89 mph, but that's more than enough to set up one of the most devastating changeups in the minors. He can locate his fastball on both sides of the plate, and he likes to go up and in with his fastball and then put hitters away with a low-70s changeup on the outer half.

“It’s a cartoon changeup,” a manager said. “It’s laughable the way people swing and miss at it. There’s so much contrast.”

LeBlanc's fastball not only lacks velocity but it's also fairly straight, and his curveball is ordinary, leaving him little room for error. But he makes few mistakes and had no problem making the jump to Double-A in the second half of the season.
 
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13.Taylor Teagarden, c, Bakersfield Blaze (Rangers)
B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 200 Age: 23 Drafted: Rangers '05 (3)
Defense never has been a question for Teagarden, but his ability to hit and stay healthy have been concerns. He allayed the first of those this season, as he hit .310 with 27 homers between Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco. He has legitimate gap power and solid strike-zone judgment.

However, Teagarden missed most of last season after having Tommy John surgery in 2005. Further elbow problems and back troubles forced him to DH for most of 2007. In the 30 games he caught in the Cal League, he was as good as advertised.

Teagarden regular clocked a 1.9 pop time on throws to second base and erased 38 percent of basestealers. He also calls a good game and pitchers enjoy working with him. Subero called him the most intelligent player he ever has managed.
 
ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
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14.Eric Young Jr., 2b, Modesto Nuts (Rockies)
B-T: B-R Ht.: 5-10 Wt.: 180 Age: 22 Drafted: Rockies '03 (30)
If Young reaches the majors, his speed will be what gets him there. After leading the minors with 87 steals in 2006, he ranked second this year with 73. He became more efficient swiping bases, succeeding on 80 percent of his attempts, up from 74 percent a year ago.

"He's a legitimate big league basestealer," Subero said. "He could go up on speed alone."

Young uses his speed to get on base via bunts, though he still needs to improve his strike-zone judgment to be a tablesetter at the top of the order. He upgraded his total package by improving his defense at second base, showing better range and footwork.
 
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15.Hainley Statia, ss, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Angels)
B-T: B-R Ht.: 5-11 Wt.: 162 Age: 21 Drafted: Angels '04 (9)
Statia has the tools to play shortstop in the majors now. He's an athletic defender with above-average range to both sides, plus arm strength and good instincts. He's a savvy basestealer as well, swiping 29 bags in 37 tries despite just average speed.

While his defense is big league-ready, his bat is nowhere close. Until he adds some strength to his lanky frame, he'll be vulnerable to good fastballs. He has little power, and while he makes consistent contact, he doesn't draw many walks.
 
ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
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16.Michael Saunders, of, High Desert Mavericks (Mariners)
B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 205 Age: 20 Drafted: Mariners '04 (11)
Saunders is one of the best athletes in the Mariners system, but his stock took a hit when he batted .240/.329/.345 in his full-season debut in low Class A last year. He flashed his five-tool potential on a much more consistent basis in the Cal League, and he played well in Double-A in August.

He's still growing into his 6-foot-4 frame and has good loft in his swing, which could make him a 20-homer hitter on an annual basis. He has plus speed that makes him a basestealing threat and a plus defender in center or right field. A Canadian who had NHL potential in hockey and also played basketball, lacrosse and soccer, he lacks true baseball instincts but has shown a better sense for the game with each of his promotions.
 
ABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBCSAVGOBPSLG
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17.Andrew Bailey, rhp, Stockton Ports (Athletics)
B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 220 Age: 23 Drafted: Athletics '06 (6)
Bailey had Tommy John surgery while in college but has made up for lost time, succeeding at two Class A levels in his first full season in 2007 and throwing in eight innings of one-run ball in a Triple-A cameo. A thick workhorse built along the lines of Joe Blanton and Brad Penny, Bailey has a chance to have three average-or-better pitches.

Bailey continued to wrack up strikeouts in his second professional season with a low-90s fastball made even more explosive by its late life. Bailey hides the ball well with a deceptive delivery and likes to work up in the zone with the fastball and complement it with an effective 12-to-6 curveball that still has room to be tighter.

Bailey has an 89-93 mph fastball and its heavy sink and boring action make it even tougher on hitter. He has a hard 12-to-6 curveball and a changeup that's deceptive despite being a bit too firm at 85-87 mph. There's some effort and head tilt in his delivery, which makes it difficult for him to hold his stuff into the late innings, which could make him a setup man.
 
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18.Kelvin Pichardo, rhp, San Jose Giants
B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 160 Age: 21 Signed: Phillies '03
Pichardo showed flashes of dominance but was still searching for consistency at San Jose. He flashed three quality pitches while averaging 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

His top offering is a lively 94-96 mph fastball. He also has a curveball that's a plus pitch at times, and he shows good arm action on his changeup.

Pichardo was unhittable when he could get his curve over the plate, but he lacked confidence in it and often relied on his fastball. He also tended to overthrow his fastball, leading to control issues that worsened following his promotion to Double-A.
 
GGSWLSVERAIPHRERHRBBSOAVG
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19.Brooks Brown, rhp, Visalia Oaks (Diamondbacks)
B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 205 Age: 22 Drafted: Diamondbacks '06 (1s)
After pitching out of the bullpen in his 2006 pro debut, Brown jumped to high Class A and moved into the rotation, where his aggressive approach translated well. He earned a promotion to Double-A for the second half and held his own there.

Brown's fastball clocks at 89-90 mph with good sink, and he complements it with a nice slider. He works well down in the strike zone and he surrendered just four homers in 146 innings between the two levels. He has a closer's mentality and could wind up as a late-inning reliever.
 
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20.Bubba Bell, of, Lancaster JetHawks (Red Sox)
B-T: L-R Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 195 Age: 24 Drafted: Red Sox '05 (39)
Lancaster's launching pad allowed several JetHawks to post impressive offensive numbers. Outfielder Zach Daeges led the minors in runs (124), doubles (a league-record 55) and extra-base hits (81); first baseman Aaron Bates homered four times in one game; and former indy leaguer Brad Correll went deep 23 times in just 59 contests.

The best prospect on the club was Bell, who led the league in all three triple-crown categories before he was promoted to Double-A, where he continued to hit after a slow start. He held on to the batting (.370) and slugging titles (.665) and won Cal League MVP honors.

Though he was old for high Class A at 24 and benefited from Clear Channel Stadium, Bell drove the ball to all fields and punished any pitch left over the plate. He also played a solid center field, taking good routes and displaying an average arm.

"For me, he is all-world," Sakata said. "We had to be perfect in to get him out. Anything else he kills."
 
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