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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

1Chris TritleOFAZL AthleticsAthletics
2Shin-Soo ChooOFAZL MarinersMariners7,15635.3
3Andy GonzalezSSAZL White SoxWhite Sox257-2.6
4Ryan HannamanLHPAZL GiantsGiants
5Ronny CedenoSSAZL CubsCubs2,792-0.7
6Ervin SantanaRHPAZL AngelsAngels2,42134.4
7Anthony WebsterOFAZL White SoxWhite Sox
8Francisco LirianoLHPAZL GiantsGiants1,81419.4
9leonel cabrera2BAZL GiantsGiants
10Francisco EsparragozaCAZL BrewersBrewers

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.

1988Ed Ricks*OFAZL AthleticsAthletics
1989Henry Reynoso*2BAZL BrewersBrewers
1990Marc Newfield*1BAZL MarinersMariners-1.81,051
1991Manny CoraSS/3BAZL PadresPadres
1992Todd ErdosRHPAZL PadresPadres94-0.8
1993Derrek Lee1BAZL PadresPadres7,96334.4
1994Juan MeloSSAZL PadresPadres13-0.2
1995Ramon HernandezCAZL AthleticsAthletics5,70122.0
1996Jake WestbrookRHPAZL RockiesRockies1,74816.9
1997Todd NoelRHPAZL CubsCubs
1998Jesus ColomeRHPAZL AthleticsAthletics426-0.8
1999Vince FaisonOFAZL PadresPadres
2000Lou MontanezSSAZL CubsCubs323-1.5
2001Chris TritleOFAZL AthleticsAthletics
2002Felix PieOFAZL CubsCubs1,082-1.0
2003Chris LubanskiOFAZL RoyalsRoyals
2004Matt TuiasosopoSSAZL MarinersMariners404-0.8
2005Mark PawelekLHPAZL CubsCubs
2006Hank CongerCAZL AngelsAngels1,1346.7
2007Angel Villalona3BAZL GiantsGiants
2008Mike MontgomeryLHPAZL RoyalsRoyals5386.9
2009Mike TroutOFAZL AngelsAngels5,37274.4
2010Guillermo PimentelOFAZL MarinersMariners
2011Yeison AsencioOFAZL PadresPadres
2012Addison RussellSSAZL AthleticsAthletics2,2129.4
2013Clint FrazierOFAZL IndiansIndians4590.1
2014Alex JacksonOFAZL MarinersMariners22-0.3
2015Trent GrishamOFAZL BrewersBrewers3001.5
2016Leody TaverasOFAZL RangersRangers00.0
2017MacKenzie GoreLHPAZL PadresPadres
2018Brayan RocchioSSAZL IndiansIndians
2019CJ AbramsSSAZL PadresPadres

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