MiLB Top 10 Prospects Flashback: 2001 Arizona League

The Rookie-level Arizona League is both the newest league and the fastest growing. From its humble origins as a four-team league in 1988, the AZL had expanded to 21 teams by 2019 and will remain an important step in the developmental ladder even in the reorganized minor league structure coming in 2021.

Because the Arizona League has less history than other leagues, its prospect classes don’t quite measure up to other leagues. Angels first-round picks Mike Trout and Randal Grichuk graced the AZL in 2009. Jake Peavy and Jose Valverde were members of the class of 1999. Sluggers Joey Gallo and Jorge Soler played in the AZL in 2012.

But the best Arizona League class had a distinctly international flavor. In 2001, back when it was a seven-team league, the AZL boasted South Korean outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (No. 2), plus righthander Ervin Santana (No. 6) and lefthander Francisco Liriano (No. 8), both from the Dominican Republic.

2001 Arizona League Top 10 Prospects

No Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1 Chris Tritle OF AZL Athletics Athletics
2 Shin-Soo Choo OF AZL Mariners Mariners 7,156 35.3
3 Andy Gonzalez SS AZL White Sox White Sox 257 -2.6
4 Ryan Hannaman LHP AZL Giants Giants
5 Ronny Cedeno SS AZL Cubs Cubs 2,792 -0.7
6 Ervin Santana RHP AZL Angels Angels 2,421 34.4
7 Anthony Webster OF AZL White Sox White Sox
8 Francisco Liriano LHP AZL Giants Giants 1,814 19.4
9 leonel cabrera 2B AZL Giants Giants
10 Francisco Esparragoza C AZL Brewers Brewers

Choo is the first and so far only South Korean position player to star in the U.S. major leagues. “He hits for average and power, runs well and has an excellent arm,” one AZL manager said. Choo received praise as an “exciting player” and for playing with “poise and confidence.”

Santana led the AZL with 69 strikeouts, firing a “91-95 mph fastball” that was the “best in the league.”  A rival manager raved: “He throws a lot of strikes and throws every pitch with a purpose.”

Liriano had recently converted from outfielder to lefthander and took huge strides in the AZL. He topped out at 96 mph and “normally threw 91-92 mph” at 17 years old. “He showed great improvement with his mechanics and breaking ball,” said one manager.

Arizona League All-Time BA No. 1 Prospects

Players listed with career major league plate appearances/innings and FanGraphs WAR. Stats for active players current through mid August.

* For the seasons 1988, 1989 and 1990, BA compiled a joint Arizona/Gulf Coast League Top 10 Prospects ranking. The top AZL prospects from those three seasons are listed below, though none of the three ranked No. 1 overall in the complex leagues.

Year Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1988 Ed Ricks* OF AZL Athletics Athletics
1989 Henry Reynoso* 2B AZL Brewers Brewers
Year Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
1990 Marc Newfield* 1B AZL Mariners Mariners -1.8 1,051
1991 Manny Cora SS/3B AZL Padres Padres
1992 Todd Erdos RHP AZL Padres Padres 94 -0.8
1993 Derrek Lee 1B AZL Padres Padres 7,963 34.4
1994 Juan Melo SS AZL Padres Padres 13 -0.2
1995 Ramon Hernandez C AZL Athletics Athletics 5,701 22.0
1996 Jake Westbrook RHP AZL Rockies Rockies 1,748 16.9
1997 Todd Noel RHP AZL Cubs Cubs
1998 Jesus Colome RHP AZL Athletics Athletics 426 -0.8
1999 Vince Faison OF AZL Padres Padres
Year Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
2000 Lou Montanez SS AZL Cubs Cubs 323 -1.5
2001 Chris Tritle OF AZL Athletics Athletics
2002 Felix Pie OF AZL Cubs Cubs 1,082 -1.0
2003 Chris Lubanski OF AZL Royals Royals
2004 Matt Tuiasosopo SS AZL Mariners Mariners 404 -0.8
2005 Mark Pawelek LHP AZL Cubs Cubs
2006 Hank Conger C AZL Angels Angels 1,134 6.7
2007 Angel Villalona 3B AZL Giants Giants
2008 Mike Montgomery LHP AZL Royals Royals 538 6.9
2009 Mike Trout OF AZL Angels Angels 5,372 74.4
Year Player Pos Team Org PA/IP WAR
2010 Guillermo Pimentel OF AZL Mariners Mariners
2011 Yeison Asencio OF AZL Padres Padres
2012 Addison Russell SS AZL Athletics Athletics 2,212 9.4
2013 Clint Frazier OF AZL Indians Indians 459 0.1
2014 Alex Jackson OF AZL Mariners Mariners 22 -0.3
2015 Trent Grisham OF AZL Brewers Brewers 300 1.5
2016 Leody Taveras OF AZL Rangers Rangers 0 0.0
2017 MacKenzie Gore LHP AZL Padres Padres
2018 Brayan Rocchio SS AZL Indians Indians
2019 CJ Abrams SS AZL Padres Padres

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