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Hinckley quickly and quietly has established himself as one of the top lefthanded pitching prospects in the minors. His talent has been evident for some time--he ranked No. 2 in the organization behind Clint Everts in each of the previous two years--and his ascent accelerated rapidly in 2004. The Expos initially brought Hinckley along slowly, pitching him in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in his pro debut, then kept him in extended spring training before sending him to short-season Vermont in his second year. He finished strong at high Class A Brevard County in 2003, then handled that level with ease again last season before moving on to Double-A Harrisburg. Hinckley allowed two earned runs or fewer in 19 of his 26 starts while leading the system in victories (11) and strikeouts (131 in 156 innings). He now owns a 32-13, 2.80 career record in the minors and has won 20 of his last 26 decisions. Hinckley has a lot going for him. He has outstanding command of his fastball, which sits at 89-92 mph and touches 94, and he holds that velocity deep into games. His 76-78 mph curveball has good bite and depth. His changeup already is average. What really puts Hinckley ahead of most 22-year-olds is his makeup, which might be the best in the organization. He knows the game, he studies it and prepares well for every start. He demonstrates an advanced feel and tremendous poise on the mound. His athletic frame is durable and projectable, and his delivery is free and easy. He uses his lower half well, pitching on a downward plane that makes it difficult for hitters to take him deep. Hinckley has been equally effective against lefthanders and righthanders. Lefties hit .288 with five homers off him in Double-A but that likely was just an aberration, as they batted .182 against him in high Class A. While he does have a long, lean body, Hinckley still needs to fill out. Once he does, his fastball velocity should stay in the 91-94 range more often. How fast he realizes his potential also depends on his ability to refine his secondary pitches. Both his curveball and changeup are effective, but neither is as good as Everts'. If Hinckley can make them more consistent, his curve could be a strikeout pitch and his change could be above-average. Now that Hinckley has started to move, he should continue to fly through the system. He'll get a look in big league camp after being added to the 40-man roster this offseason, but he's a longshot to make the club. More realistically, he'll start 2005 in the minors and could return to Double-A for the first couple of months, but figures to see Triple-A New Orleans and the majors before the season is out. Few in the organization see Hinckley as a No. 1 starter in the majors, but he has a high probability of reaching the big leagues and becoming a successful No. 2 or 3 starter on a quality team.
The No. 3 starter on a Wellington (Fla.) High staff that included Pirates first-rounders Bobby Bradley and Sean Burnett, Broadway pitched his freshman year at Duke before a nerve problem in his elbow relegated him to first base. He struggled early last season while dealing with back problems, then recovered and hit like he had in his first two years. Broadway is the best power prospect in an organization desperate for power tools. He has the ability to hit for average and hit deep in the count. For a big guy, he handles himself well around the bag, and managers voted him the best defensive first baseman in the Double-A Eastern League. Broadway still has holes in his swing. When pitchers pound him inside, he tends to get jammed, and his stroke can get long. He's a well-below-average runner. Broadway will start 2005 in Triple-A, but he's not farm from the big leagues. He just needs to polish his approach a bit to become a 30-homer-a-year first baseman.
Former Expos general manager Omar Minaya made one of his best trades when he acquired Church and infielder Maicer Izturis from Cleveland for lefthander Scott Stewart. Like Larry Broadway, Church began his college career as a pitcher before hurting his arm. By learning to use the entire field and work counts better, he turned in his best offensive season in 2004. In many ways, Church is similar to Brad Wilkerson. He has a quick, classic swing and makes consistent hard contact. Strong and athletic, he's an average runner with a good arm. He could fill in as a center fielder in the majors but fits better in right. He might not have enough power to hit in the middle of the order in the majors. At 26 he's not young for a prospect, and he didn't exactly seize a big league job with his late-season performance. The Nationals' offseason trade for Jose Guillen decreases Church's chances of winning a starting role. In time, he could develop into a .300 hitter with 20-25 homers a year.
The No. 1 prospect in the system in 2003 and 2004, Everts still has the highest ceiling of any player in the organization. But his velocity dropped to 84-88 mph last season before it turned out he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. He'll miss all of 2005. Without a good fastball, Everts still posted excellent numbers and earned a berth in the Futures Game, played in his hometown of Houston, by relying heavily upon his curveball and changeup, which are both plus-plus pitches. He worked at 88-92 mph and touched 94 with his fastball before his elbow problems. His command and feel for pitching make his stuff that much tougher. Everts looked like a sure thing before he got hurt. Though the track record for comebacks from Tommy John surgery is good, he still has a long road ahead. He can focus on adding strength to his lean upper body during his rehabilitation. If he can regain his health, Everts still can develop into a frontline starter. The plan is for him to be throwing by the end of 2005 and to take the mound again in 2006.
Acquired along with Francis Beltran from the Cubs in the four-team trade highlighted by Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra last July, Harris appeared to be the franchise's third baseman of the future. That changed when the Nationals signed Vinny Castilla. Harris is a consistent line-drive hitter with good power to the gaps. Former GM Omar Minaya envisioned Harris as a 20-homer, 80-RBI threat. He has a plus infield arm and displays good athleticism at both second and third. He also has played some shortstop. Harris tends to start his hands a little late in his swing, cutting his reaction time. He's somewhat of a tweener because his bat fits better at second base--where he's blocked by Jose Vidro--but he's a better defender at third. Harris will vie for a big league utility job this spring but might end up back in Triple-A to get more at-bats. He profiles best as a No. 2 hitter, and perhaps as a No. 5 hitter if his power develops.
Like Brendan Harris, Bray was a standout at William & Mary. He left with a bit more fanfare, as the Tribe's highest draft pick ever. He worked just seven innings after signing for $1.75 million, so he headed to the Arizona Fall League, where he fanned 16 in 16 innings. Bray has good command of two power pitches, an 89-95 mph fastball and a late-breaking 82-85 mph slider. He is polished and aggressive, and he can put hitters away with both pitches. He provides a deceptive look from a three-quarters slot. Though Bray's changeup shows enough promise for the Nationals to consider him as a long-term starter, it still has a long way to go because he rarely used it in college. If he can't master it, the club will settle for using him in relief. A closer in college, Bray will pitch in the rotation at Washington's new high Class A Potomac affiliate in 2005. Even if he has to return to the bullpen, the innings he'll get as a starter will help his development and arm strength. He'd advance quicker in relief, where he would have a shot at becoming a closer someday.
An eighth-round pick in 2003, Thompson is looking more and more like a steal. After shining in his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League, he skipped a level and went to low Class A Savannah at age 18. His numbers weren't outstanding, but he was the youngest pitcher in the South Atlantic League, demonstrating amazing poise for his age and occasional dominance. Thompson works primarily with his 89-94 mph fastball, which features good life and could get even better as he adds strength. He has a wiry, athletic frame, a quick arm and a loose, easy delivery. He resembles a young Oil Can Boyd. Thompson's feel for pitching and makeup are remarkable for such a young pitcher. Like most teenagers, Thompson still is developing his secondary pitches. His curveball has 11-to-5 rotation and average depth, and it could become a plus pitch. He has good feel for a changeup but it isn't reliable yet. Thompson has considerable upside and his best days are ahead. The Nationals believe he can handle a move to high Class A in 2005.
As did Ryan Church, Rasner starred at Nevada, where he set records for career wins, strikeouts and innings. Minor shoulder tendinitis slowed him in 2003, his first full pro season, but he remained healthy in 2004 and turned a corner down the stretch. He allowed more than one earned run just once in his final 11 starts and did his best pitching yet in Double-A. Rasner has good control and induces plenty of grounders with his heavy 91-94 mph sinker. He commanded his solid-average curveball much better in 2004 than he had in the past. Rasner's circle changeup still needs plenty of work, and his curve could use more refinement. He lacks a true strikeout pitch and though he's around the plate with his pitches, he has been too hittable. Now that he's healthy, Rasner should advance rapidly through the system. He should return to Double-A to start 2005 and is line for a big league callup toward the end of the year. He doesn't offer a high ceiling but could become a solid fourth starter.
Drafted as an outfielder, Casto made his lackluster pro debut at that position. The Expos moved him to third base in 2004 and in his third game there, he took a grounder off his left eye. He missed two weeks and lost his confidence after he returned. His bat eventually came around, but he made 35 errors in 112 games. If Casto reaches the big leagues, it will be on the strength of his bat. He's a good gap hitter with blossoming home run power. Early in the year, he struggled against breaking balls, particularly from lefthanders, but he made adjustments and began driving the ball consistently. He shows a strong arm at third base. Coaches and scouts rave about his work ethic and desire. There are scouts who question whether Casto can become even an average defensive third baseman. His hands are stiff, his feet are heavy and he lacks instincts. He needs to shorten his arm action to make quicker throws across the diamond. Offensively, he needs to learn to work counts better. If Casto doesn't figure out third base, he may have enough bat for left or right field. He likely will begin 2005 at Potomac.
Balester wasn't a hot commodity entering his senior season in high school, but he pitched himself into the fourth round with a strong spring. Though he wasn't in peak condition after signing late, he still showed fine command during his pro debut. Tall and thin with a loose, easy arm action, Balester is projectable. His fastball already reaches 91-92 mph and touches 94-95. He's polished for his age and does an excellent job controlling the strike zone. His late-biting curveball is already an average pitch and could become a plus offering. Balester needs a third pitch if he's to succeed as a starter at higher levels. His changeup shows potential, but it's still a long way from being trustworthy. He also needs to strengthen his upper body and build up his durability. Washington views Balester as a combination of power and command who could become a front-of-the-rotation starter if everything clicks. He could begin 2005 in low Class A, but the Nationals may take it slow and start him in extended spring training before sending him to Vermont.
After catching one pass for nine yards in two injury-plagued seasons as a wide receiver at UCLA, Owens transferred to The Masters College and focused on baseball, which he hadn't played since his sophomore year in high school. He made a name for himself with his blazing speed and won the Golden State Athletic Conference player of the year award in 2003. Owens ran into an outfield wall in his second pro game, injuring his throwing shoulder. He required surgery to repair the shoulder and a pre-existing hernia, ending his debut. He played mostly left field last season to allow his shoulder to heal, but he still profiles as a center fielder. Owens surprised club officials with how advanced he was despite his lack of baseball experience. He knows his game well, making good contact and hitting the ball on the ground to take advantage of his tremendous speed. He needs to improve his bunting and his ability to draw walks, but he's already decent at both skills. Owens never will be a power hitter, though he's strong enough to drive the ball a little more than he has a pro. As fast as he is, he shouldn't have been caught in 13 of his 43 steal attempts last season. He has a below-average arm, but it's playable in center. The Nationals will push Owens because he's already 24, and he could spend the bulk of 2005 in Double-A.
A four-year starter at shortstop at Furman, Rueckel logged bullpen innings after then- Paladins pitching coach Tommy John noticed his devastating curveball. John coached in the Expos system in 2002 and recommended they draft Rueckel as a pitcher. He really gained command of his curve, a 78-82 mph bender with sharp 12-to-6 bite, down the stretch in 2003, which allowed him to skip a level to Double-A last year. He blossomed there, getting hitters out by varying his grips and arm slots to throw a variety of curves. He also mixes in an 89-92 mph fastball, which he commands well. Athletic and durable, Rueckel can work multiple-inning stints out of the bullpen. He's not too far from being ready for a middle- relief or set-up role in the big leagues, but he will begin 2005 in Triple-A. He probably could pitch in the majors right now just with his curveball, which grades as a 70 on the 20- 80 scouting scale, but he'll be more effective when he learns to keep his fastball down in the zone. He's working on a two-seam fastball for just that reason.
Bernadina has continually been touted as the highest-ceiling player in the system, with a caveat--he's raw and young. With three pro seasons under his belt, he still has better tools than any other player in the organization, and he's still raw and young. He repeated low Class A in 2004, increasing his power, walks and stolen bases. But he once again struck out far too often, a problem he'll have to solve before he can become a true threat at the plate. Bernadina has the ability to do it all. His above-average speed and strong arm make him an exciting, natural center fielder. His thin frame is projectable, and he has good baserunning instincts that will only get better. If all goes well, Bernadina can be a five-tool center fielder or right fielder hitting in the middle of a lineup. But he just as easily could flame out in Double-A if he doesn't make the necessary adjustments. He'll move up to high Class A this year.
Baez projected to go in the top two rounds in 2003 before an underwhelming performance at a predraft showcase allowed the Expos to get him in the fourth. He was overmatched at low Class A in his first full season, but flashed his plus power potential and strong rightfield arm following a demotion to Vermont. It wasn't a phenomenal year, but Baez demonstrated improved selectivity at the plate and a mature approach for a teenager. He has a big, athletic frame and a fluid stroke, and his tools are average or better across the board. He even has enough speed to give the Nationals confidence to put him in center field if necessary. Baez still has a hitch in his swing to work out, and he has difficulty recognizing and hitting breaking pitches. But he's a smart hitter who just needs at-bats, and he will get them as the everyday right fielder in low Class A this year. He's considered a long-term project, but Baez profiles as a prototypical right fielder if he reaches his ceiling.
The Nationals were familiar with Davis before new general manager Jim Bowden traded for him. Manager Frank Robinson skippered him on Team USA in the fall of 2003 (before Davis bowed out with a right hamstring injury), and scouting director Dana Brown was a Pirates area scout when Pittsburgh drafted him in 1997. Davis never could crack the Pittsburgh lineup, totaling 80 big league at-bats over the last three seasons and missing almost all of 2004 with injuries to his right pinky and right hip flexor. His tools are obvious, starting with plus power, speed and arm strength. But he's an undisciplined hacker who struggles against breaking balls, and he can look awkward in right field. Davis had a strong winter in the Mexican Pacific League, and he'll compete for a reserve role in Washington this year.
Hill pitched for Canada at the 2003 Olympic qualifying tournament, but he was in the big leagues when the team set its roster for the Athens Games last year and was left off initially. When the Rockies promoted Jeff Francis to the majors, however, Canada needed a pitcher and turned back to Hill, who was back in Double-A. He pitched well in Athens, beating the Netherlands in the round-robin and holding a 3-2 lead over eventual champion Cuba in the semifinals before Canada's bullpen collapsed. When he returned to the United States, the elbow discomfort Hill had battled for years finally stopped him in his tracks, and he had Tommy John surgery. When he returns to the mound, possibly late in the 2005 season, Hill's velocity could improve. Even with a sore elbow, he threw a heavy 89-92 mph sinker that made him a groundball machine. He also has an improving curveball and changeup to go with a good feel for pitching. Over the past two seasons, he has matured physically and mentally, understanding that he won't blow most hitters away. Still just 22, Hill could vie for a big league job in 2006.
The talented Karp underachived at UCLA and has performed far below expectations since being picked sixth overall in the 2001 draft. The organization expected him to bounce back in 2004 after a rough season in Double-A, but instead he regressed. Making matters worse, he walked away from Triple-A Edmonton in mid-August after allowing 10 runs in a start, exacerbating the already serious doubts about his makeup. Karp has the stuff to be an elite pitcher--a 92-93 mph fastball that reaches 96, an 83 mph curveball and an even better changeup--but never has reached that level. Some club officials say he wants to succeed so much that he's too hard on himself when he struggles, and that he'll be a better pitcher in the majors than he has been in the minors. Others say Karp just lacks mental toughness. Washington isn't giving up on him, of course, and added him to its 40-man roster. Besides competing better, Karp needs to keep the ball down in the zone more often and stop relying on his changeup so much. He will have a chance to make the big league team, but in all likelihood he'll repeat Triple-A.
Washington general manager Jim Bowden acquired Blanco twice in two years. While with the Reds, he got Blanco from the Red Sox in a deal for Todd Walker, and shortly after he took over the Nationals, they selected Blanco from Cincinnati in the major league Rule 5 draft. He needs to stick on the big league roster, or else be exposed to waivers and offered back to the Reds for half his $50,000 draft price. Once Boston's top position-player prospect, Blanco has been waylaid by his inability to manage the strike zone. He led Reds farmhands with a career-high 29 homers and played in the Futures Game in 2004, and his power and bat speed are unquestionable. But he has had difficulty making adjustments. He still tries to pull too many pitches and remains woeful against breaking balls. While he had enough arm strength for third base, his lack of range or soft hands forced him to move to left field and first base. It's hard to see him making the Nationals roster when he should be in Double-A.
The Nationals aren't paying much heed to Desmond's dismal numbers from his pro debut. When it comes to shortstops, his ceiling is easily the highest in the organization, even if at 19 he's far away from the majors. A third-round pick last June who signed for $430,000, he flashes all the tools and has an athletic, live body. He has a plus-plus arm but needs to improve his accuracy after making 25 errors in 51 pro games, many on throws. His actions are smooth in the field, and his confident attitude and high energy level evoke Derek Jeter. Desmond has quite a few adjustments to make at the plate. He needs to establish an approach after striking out four times as often as he walked last summer. He also needs to get a lot stronger in order to hit pro pitching. When he fills out he could become an adequate or maybe even above-average offensive player. He'll probably begin 2005 in extended spring training before going back to short-season Vermont.
Majewski has become a bit of a journeyman at age 25. He already has been with four organizations, been part of three trades and been selected once in the major league Rule 5 draft. He came to the Expos in the White Sox' second annual deal for Carl Everett last July. He may finally have found a home in Washington, as he'll probably make the Opening Day roster this year as a middle reliever. Majewski is an aggressive fastball/slider pitcher with a bit of a mean streak. His fastball has good life, sitting at 91-94 mph and maxing out at 96. His hard, 82-86 mph slider can be an out pitch at times. He also has a changeup but doesn't use it often. Majewski held his own in 21 innings with the Expos in 2004, and with a little more confidence he could become a good set-up man in the big leagues.
Machado's career was sputtering before the Expos acquired him from Milwaukee last March. The Brewers designated him for assignment after he hit .226 for them in Double-A. Capable of playing either middle-infield position, Machado impressed his latest organization both offensively and defensively. He's fluid and consistent at second base, where he made just four errors in 85 games last year. He has the range to play shortstop, and his arm is adequate there despite his unconventional arm angle. Machado's reactions are terrific both in the field and at the plate, where he's a switch-hitter who makes contact, draws walks, bunts well and sprays the ball to all fields. His speed is average and he enhances it with his intelligence on the bases. But Machado has almost no pop, and he has had a tendency to start hot at the plate and have difficulty sustaining it. At 22, he'll likely begin 2005 in Double-A and could get a September callup. His ceiling is as a second baseman who could bat No. 2 in an order, but a more realistic expectation would be for him to become a utilityman.
Scouting director Dana Brown, a New Jersey native, saw a lot of Bergmann at Rutgers and liked his potential despite an up-and-down college career. A starter his first two pro seasons, he began 2004 in the low Class A rotation but moved to the bullpen when he was promoted in mid-June. He was a little reluctant to become a reliever, but team officials thought his live arm would be most effective in short stints. Bergmann settled into the role as the summer progressed. His fastball is a plus pitch that sits at 90-93 mph and touches 95. He used his slider more as a reliever, and it showed flashes of becoming an above-average pitch. He also added an 88 mph cutter that could be the key to his development. Bergmann's deep repertoire also includes a decent tumbling changeup and an inconsistent curveball. His three-quarters arm angle is tough on righthanders, who hit .160 against him once he moved to the bullpen. At times, however, his arm slot will vary and his delivery gets too long. He still needs to work on his command and learn how to attack hitters as a reliever. Projected as a set-up man, Bergmann will begin 2005 back in Double-A.
The Expos were thin on catching prior to the 2004 draft, and upgrading the position was one of their top priorities. They drafted six backstops and signed four, starting with San Pedro in the second round and another top college catcher, South Florida's Devin Ivany, in the sixth. San Pedro, who signed for $650,000, does his best work behind the plate. He's agile and does an excellent job blocking balls in the dirt. His plus arm allows him to shut down the running game, he calls a good game and he handles pitchers well. The question with San Pedro is his bat. Though he has some pop, he doesn't have a good approach or strong hitting mechanics at the plate. He makes inconsistent contact and will sometimes lunge at the ball, leaving him vulnerable to offspeed stuff. Still, San Pedro should move quickly in an organization that lacks depth at his position, and he has a good chance to start 2005 in high Class A. If he refines his offensive game, he could develop into an everyday, defensive-minded catcher who could hit in the lower half of a lineup.
The first of two major league Rule 5 picks by the Nationals in December, Godwin was a first-round pick by the Yankees in 1997 and a supplemental first-rounder by the Rangers in 2000, but he didn't sign until the Blue Jays took him as a third-rounder in 2001. He still has the tools that always have endeared him to scouts, but he has yet to realize his potential and is coming off his worst season as a pro. Godwin has struggled with adjustments from level to level, and he didn't respond well when Toronto tried to tinker with his approach. He has a decent stroke and showed improved mechanics and plate discipline in 2004. But his power never has manifested itself and he struck out at an alarming rate last year. He did make better use of his speed, taking a step forward as a basestealer and continuing to play a solid center field. His arm is average. Godwin wants to improve, and he paid his own way to attend instructional league. His talent makes him a long-term project worth sticking with, but getting chosen by Washington wasn't the best move for his development. Instead of seeing if he could put it all together in Triple-A in 2005, he has to remain with the big league club or be offered back to Toronto for half the $50,000 draft price before being sent to the minors.
Just minutes after he led East Carolina to an NCAA regional title by striking out 11 UNC Wilmington batters in eight shutout innings, Bunn was drafted in the fifth round by the Expos. A double major in physics and mathematics who also owned a hot dog stand in college, Bunn signed for $190,000. His out pitch is a plus curveball with good depth. He also has a slightly above-average fastball that tops out at 92 mph. His delivery is sound and his feel for pitching is off the charts. Bunn's makeup is outstanding. He works hard to improve and has great mound presence, drawing rave reviews from everyone in the organization after his pro debut. Bunn will need to develop his changeup and mix speeds better to keep pro hitters off balance, because while he commands his fastball well, it's not overpowering. Bunn logged a staff-high 107 innings for East Carolina last spring, so he didn't get a lot of work after turning pro. He should move quickly, beginning 2005 in Class A, and could crack Washington's rotation at some point in 2007 if he stays on track.
For the second straight year, Watson didn't start hitting until six weeks into the season. He was batting just .232 in mid-May, then hit .299 the rest of the way. In 2003, he shook off a .236 start to bat .349 after mid-May. Though he recovered and was young for Triple-A at age 22, Watson showed no improvement as a leadoff hitter because he doesn't draw enough walks. He has limited power, so setting the table is his ticket. He's a slap hitter who sacrifices his ability to drive the ball for contact. He can bunt fairly well, and his speed is above-average, but he needs to work on his jumps and reads on the basepaths. Watson is a good center fielder with plus range and playable arm strength. For him to be an everyday center fielder in the majors, though, he must become a more patient hitter. Otherwise he'll just be the second coming of Endy Chavez. Watson will repeat Triple-A in 2005.
With the acquisition of Brendan Harris and the emergence of Kory Casto, Washington suddenly has depth at third base. That's not good news for Norris, who stands out defensively but lacks the power expected from a corner infielder. As a result, the organization had him play more in the middle infield than at the hot corner in high Class A. While he played exclusively at third base following a promotion to Double-A, he saw time at second, third and shortstop in the Arizona Fall League. Versatility can only help Norris. Outstanding at third base and solid up the middle, he has superb instincts, excellent hands and an accurate arm. At the plate, Norris has a good line-drive stroke and a knack for getting on base. He should hit for average at the higher levels, and Washington hopes his bat speed will allow him to develop a little power as he matures physically. Norris will begin 2005 at Double-A, where the Nationals would like him to settle into one position. They still project him as a third baseman, but his best chance of making the majors is probably as a utilityman.
Labandeira was the Western Athletic Conference player of the year in 2001 at Fresno State and led the WAC with 15 homers and 68 RBIs despite his 5-foot-7 frame. He broke his leg in his first pro game, but since then he has advanced steadily and made his big league debut in 2004. Labandeira is frequently described as gritty and a sparkplug, and that's not a euphemism for a player who lacks talent. He plays the game hard and has tools. He owns the best infield arm in the system, and managers rated him the best defensive shortstop and strongest infield arm in the Eastern League last year. He makes plays in the hole thanks to his smooth footwork and quick release, and his range has improved since he shed extra bulk. Labandeira's tightly wound body generates surprising pop to the gaps. He has average speed and runs the bases well. Labandeira tries to do too much sometimes, hurting him when he's in RBI situations and leading to many of his 32 errors last year. He'll have to prove himself every step along the way, but he'll be the starting shortstop in Triple-A this year.
The Expos were intrigued by Whitesell's huge raw power after seeing him launch balls with wood bats during batting practice at Loyola Marymount. He has hit 21 homers in 162 pro games, but hasn't shown much in other areas of the game. Whitesell is a good fastball hitter with even more strength than Larry Broadway. He had quality at-bats in 2004 and does draw walks, but he still strikes out too often. Whitesell struggles against lefthanders and is streaky. Club officials like Whitesell's high energy level and solid work ethic, which have helped him improve defensively after primarily serving as a DH in college. He won't win any Gold Gloves, but he's fielding grounders more quickly and showing better footwork. He's a below-average runner. Whitesell's enormous power will make him an intriguing middle-of-the-order prospect if he can refine his approach and his defense. He should be the everyday first baseman in high Class A this year.
The Expos drafted Lugo last June with the expectation that he would go to junior college and possibly sign as a draft-and-follow if he pitched well in 2005. But when scouting director Dana Brown went home to New Jersey for a postdraft breather, area scout Larry Izzo persuaded him to come watch Lugo pitch firsthand. Brown was so impressed that he decided to sign Lugo rather than risk losing him. Though he was just 17 at the time, Lugo already had a smooth delivery, compact arm action and advanced command. His primary pitches are an 88-91 mph fastball and a promising curveball, and he's also dabbling with a slider and a changeup. As a high school pitcher from the Northeast, Lugo needs innings and is a long-term project. But he's got a lot of potential and the organization is pleased with his initial success. He figures to spend 2005 at short-season Vermont.