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Background: Furcal has blazed his way through the organization over the past two years. The Dominican infielder jumped on the fast track in 1998, when Appalachian League managers named him the Rookie-level league's top prospect. He batted .328-0-23 with a league-record 60 stolen bases for Danville. His efforts were even more impressive this season, when Furcal ranked as the South Atlantic League's top prospect after leading the circuit in stolen bases in just 83 games. He continued to excel in the Carolina League following a July promotion and served as a catalyst for Class A Myrtle Beach, which wound up sharing the league championship. Add in the fact that Furcal played most of the '99 season at age 18 (his birthday is in late August), and his rapid rise is nothing short of amazing. Strengths: Furcal made the move from second base to shortstop with aplomb this season. Equally productive from both sides of the plate, Furcal hits for a high average and has the tools necessary to be an outstanding major league leadoff hitter. His instincts are his most impressive trait. No minor leaguer reads a pitcher better on the basepaths, enabling Furcal to get massive jumps and lead the minors in stolen bases this year. He also always seems to be at the right spot on defense. His glove is consistent, while his range and arm strength are well above-average. Weaknesses: A four-tool player who lacks only power, Furcal needs to refine his skills. Already a good bunter, he will be a nightmare at the plate if he can learn to place bunts. Furcal needs to develop more patience at the plate and draw more walks, which he failed to do after his promotion to Myrtle Beach. The Braves want to see him learn to take the shortest route to ground balls instead of trusting his arm to retire hitters at first on bang-bang plays. Those improvements should happen as he continues to gain experience and face better competition. The Future: Furcal is the next long-term answer at short for Atlanta. He will begin the 2000 campaign at Double-A Greenville, but a midseason promotion to Triple-A Richmond is a distinct possibility.
Background: After solid back-to-back seasons, Lombard struggled with injuries at Triple-A Richmond this year. A groin injury limited him to four games between May 29-Aug. 10, and he never gained consistency at the plate. The Braves believe his strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .308-11-35, is a harbinger of a return to form. Strengths: Experience has brought Lombard's power and speed to the forefront. One of the fastest players in the organization, he has become a high-percentage basestealer and solid line-drive hitter. As evidence of his growing power, he led the AFL in homers and RBIs. Weaknesses: While good health is the key, Lombard needs to make more contact at the plate. He also needs to hit the ball to the opposite field more consistently and reduce his strikeout totals by waiting for his pitch. The Future: Atlanta hopes Lombard will be ready for left field next season. In all likelihood, he will return to Triple-A and could be knocking on the door during the second half.
Background: Giles earned his second league MVP award in as many seasons after leading the Carolina League in batting average, hits and doubles while placing second with a .513 slugging percentage and 60 extra-base hits at Class A Myrtle Beach. He is the younger brother of Pirates outfielder Brian Giles. Strengths: A line-drive hitter with a quick, compact stroke, Giles creates an explosion when the ball meets his bat. While he did not hit as many home runs as he had at Class A Macon in 1998 (37), he continued to drive the ball to the gaps and drive in runs. His defense also improved; he made just seven errors. Weaknesses: Giles is not blessed with tremendous quickness or soft hands but has the work ethic necessary to overcome such shortcomings. He has cut down on his strikeouts and must continue that trend. The Future: Giles has overcome long odds to make himself a prospect. He will climb one step closer to the majors in 2000 by starting at Greenville.
Background: In his first full pro season, Sobkowiak overpowered the Carolina League. He ranked second in the league in strikeouts and third in ERA. A bad-luck pitcher during the first half, he finished strong by winning his final seven decisions. Strengths: Sobkowiak is a classic Braves righthander who reminds many in the organization of John Smoltz and Kevin Millwood. He is a power pitcher with a plus fastball and a plus curveball. He showed steady improvement on his changeup, which gave hitters another pitch to think about. His laboring delivery allows him to hide the ball well. Weaknesses: With his delivery and large frame, Sobkowiak creates concerns about future injuries. More consistency with his changeup will only make his fastball and curveball better. Sobkowiak also needs to keep his weight under control. The Future: Sobkowiak, the organization's top pitching prospect, will start the 2000 season in Greenville's rotation. He could move quickly, as Millwood did in 1997.
Background: Rivera continues to blow away batters when healthy. The Appalachian League's top prospect in 1997, Rivera battled a back injury in 1998 and struggled with a recurring blister problem on his right index finger in 1999. He dominated down the stretch after moving out of the bullpen and into the rotation. During a pair of six-inning starts in the playoffs, Rivera won both games while striking out 23 without allowing an earned run. Strengths: Rivera is a power pitcher with one of the hardest fastballs in the minors, a pitch that has been clocked as high as 98 mph. The pitch features excellent movement, thanks to his near-perfect delivery and loose body. Rivera is a dogged competitor who has worked hard to improve his curveball. Weaknesses: Rivera's inability to avoid blisters on his index finger is a concern. It may force the Braves to move him back to bullpen. His changeup and physical strength could also stand some improvement. The Future: Rivera will make the climb to the Greenville rotation in 2000.
Background: Marquis rebounded from a deceiving 2-12 season in 1998 to dominate when healthy this year. He overwhelmed the Carolina League before being promoted to Double-A Greenville, where a tender right shoulder and a strained abdominal muscle limited his effectiveness. Strengths: Marquis is another power pitcher who does an good job of mixing his 96-mph fastball with a plus curveball and a changeup. His success last spring can be attributed to his pitching inside more often. His competitive streak is apparent on the mound, and draws comparisons to the drive displayed by Greg Maddux. Weaknesses: Health concerns appear to be the biggest obstacle for Marquis. The Braves hope a winter's worth of rest will be the panacea. Marquis also needs to keep all three of his pitches low in the strike zone more consistently. The Future: Marquis is expected to return to the Greenville rotation in 2000. A strong spring could land him in Richmond.
Background: After three difficult seasons as a shortstop, Brignac moved to center field last spring and blossomed in all phases of the game. He was an offensive catalyst during the first half at Macon before receiving a promotion to Myrtle Beach in July. Strengths: A former wide receiver who turned down college football opportunities to sign with the Braves, Brignac's athleticism is well suited for center field. He can cover the outfield from gap to gap. Natural maturity has added some pop to his bat, which could produce 20 homers a season. Weaknesses: Brignac needs to make more contact at the plate and shorten his swing. He is still learning the game, particularly from a mechanical standpoint. With his move to the outfield, he needs to improve the angles he takes to balls hit to his left and right. The Future: For all of his success, Brignac struggled offensively at Myrtle Beach, which is where he will start in 2000.
Background: After missing more than a year due to Tommy John surgery, Osting proved his left elbow was sound this year and emerged as the most pleasant surprise in the organization. A Top 10 Prospect prior to his injury, Osting led the South Atlantic League in wins and was the organization's most consistent pitcher from start to finish. Strengths: Osting is not overpowering but offers a solid repertoire of average pitches, along with the knowledge and determination to have success. His command is outstanding, and his late-breaking curveball has the makings of becoming a plus pitch. Osting also offers excellent height and impressive maturity for a young lefty. Weaknesses: The Braves hope another year of health will help upgrade all of Osting's pitches. Atlanta would like to see him add velocity to his high-80s fastball and tighten his curveball. If he does that without another injury, Osting could move fast. The Future: The Braves do not want rush Osting and plan to start him at Myrtle Beach in 2000.
Background: Few prep players from the 1999 draft had more success than Manning. He was leading the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in hitting when he was promoted to Macon in August, a rarity for a first-year high school player in this organization. Strengths: Manning is a confident, pure hitter who has great instincts, a diamond rat who loves to play the game. Manning has a quick bat that should produce some power as his body matures. Scouts say his understanding and knowledge of the game at such a young age are uncanny. Weaknesses: Manning simply needs to play the game at the professional level. How he handles failure for the first time could determine how fast he moves up the ladder. Atlanta shifted him from shortstop to second base in instructional league because his range is better suited for the right side of the infield. The Future: Spring training will determine whether Manning returns to Macon or moves up to Myrtle Beach.
Background: The Braves were shocked when Evert still was available when they drafted him in June. He made them even happier with his pro debut in the GCL, placing second in the league in ERA. He was equally impressive during instructional league, where he was one of the camp's top performers. Strengths: Evert has a projectable body that will get stronger as he matures. He displays a good feel for pitching, particularly for such a young player, and has a good idea of how to mix his pitches and set up hitters. His fluid delivery also is impressive for a pitcher his size, especially with his lack of experience. Weaknesses: Evert sometimes depends too much on his plus fastball in an effort to compensate for a lack of overall command. He also needs to tighten his curveball. Evert has a good idea of what he is doing, but doesn't have all the ways and means to accomplish it just yet. The Future: The Braves expect Evert to spend his first full professional season pitching at Macon.