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Arizona Fall League Top 20 Prospects

by Josh Boyd
November 18, 2003

Subscribers can access Josh Boyd's rankings and scouting reports for prospects 6-20

The Arizona Fall League has been providing a sneak peak at future major league stars since its inception in 1992, and that was no different this year, though it could have been billed as a future Devil Rays prospect showcase. Their brightest prospects, B.J. Upton, 19, and Delmon Young, 18, were far and away the most promising young talent in the league.

Though they are undoubtedly on a bullet train toward Tampa Bay, Upton and Young will start next year in the minors, while righthander Dewon Brazelton made some significant improvements with his breaking ball and should lock up a job in the rotation in 2004. Righthanded relievers Carlos Hines and Jose Veras both topped out in the mid-90s, and outfielder Jonny Gomes raked all fall, showing big-time power with a newfound emphasis on plate discipline.

"(The Devil Rays) are going to be fun to watch in a few years," a National League scout said. "The foundation is there for them to be a good offensive and defensive club, and they're going to be in pretty good position to go out and deal for some pitching."

Several top prospects scheduled to play in the AFL, including Twins catcher Joe Mauer, joined Team USA in Panama for the Olympic qualifying tournament, affecting the overall talent pool. Still, the AFL's collection of prospects is unrivaled in any setting, which is why it is a scout's haven and a lock to continue producing premium major league talent.

"It's the best league I scout all year, bar none," the scout added.

Discussions with several of the game's most respected scouting evaluators helped formulate Baseball America's Top 20 Prospects for the AFL, not including Team USA.


Best Batting Prospect
1. B.J. Upton, Solar Sox (Devil Rays)
2. Delmon Young, Solar Sox (Devil Rays)
3. David Wright, Saguaros (Mets)

Best Power Prospect
1. Delmon Young, Solar Sox (Devil Rays)
2. Jason Stokes, Saguaros (Marlins)
3. Jonny Gomes, Solar Sox (Devil Rays)

Fastest Baserunner
1. Rich Thompson, Desert Dogs (Pirates)
2. Jamal Strong, Javelinas (Mariners)
3. Dave Krynzel, Saguaros (Brewers)

Best RHP Prospect
1. Dustin Nippert, Scorpions (Diamondbacks)
2. Dewon Brazelton, Solar Sox (Devil Rays)
3. Ben Hendrickson, Saguaros (Brewers)

Best LHP Prospect
1. Tyler Johnson, Rafters (Cardinals)
2. Mike Johnston, Desert Dogs (Pirates)
3. Neal Cotts, Javelinas (White Sox)

Best Relief Prospect
1. Mike Johnston, Desert Dogs (Pirates)
2. Lincoln Holdzkom, Saguaros (Marlins)
3. Jason Frasor, Scorpions (Dodgers)

Best Fastball
1. Merkin Valdez, Rafters (Giants)
2. Dustin Nippert, Scorpions (Diamondbacks)
3. Carlos Hines, Solar Sox (Devil Rays)

Best Breaking Ball
1. Dustin Nippert, Scorpions (Diamondbacks)
2. Ben Hendrickson, Saguaros (Brewers)
3. Jason Frasor, Scorpions (Dodgers)

Best Defensive Catcher
1. Jeff Mathis, Scorpions (Angels)
2. Dane Sardinha, Scorpions (Reds)
3. Kelly Shoppach, Desert Dogs (Red Sox)

Best Catcher Arm
1. Rob Bowen, Grand Canyon (Twins)
2. Jeff Mathis, Scorpions (Angels)
3. Ryan Doumit, Desert Dogs (Pirates)

Best Defensive Infielder
1. Ferdin Tejada, Rafters (Yankees)
2. James Loney, Scorpions (Dodgers)
3. David Wright, Saguaros (Mets)

Best Infield Arm
1. B.J. Upton, Solar Sox (Devil Rays)
2. Corey Smith, Desert Dogs (Indians)
3. Sergio Santos, Scorpions (Diamondbacks)

Best Defensive Outfielder
1. Dave Krynzel, Saguaros (Brewers)
2. Rich Thompson, Desert Dogs (Pirates)
3. David DeJesus, Javelinas (Royals)

Best Outfield Arm
1. Delmon Young, Solar Sox (Devil Rays)
2. Jason Dubois, Solar Sox (Cubs)
3. Reggie Abercrombie, Scorpions (Dodgers)

Scouts' Sleeper Picks
1. Rich Thompson, of, Desert Dogs (Pirates)
2. Kelly Johnson, ss, Solar Sox (Braves)
3. Mike Johnston, lhp, Desert Dogs (Pirates)

1. B.J. Upton, ss, Mesa Solar Sox (Devil Rays)

Playing just twice a week on the taxi squad, Upton had more than ample time to establish himself as the best prospect in the league, perhaps the best in baseball. More than just a raw package of tools, Upton combines premium athleticism with a good swing and quick wrists to produce lightning-quick bat speed and surprising raw power.

"He hit a ball in BP out to right-center into the second bullpen . . . with no velocity, he's hitting balls 410 feet the other way," an American League scout said. "You're not going to see this much in your baseball career. I don't even know if I can name you a handful of guys who do it this easy."

Unlike many young hitters, Upton already has a polished approach with a good idea of the strike zone. He was impressive in recognizing breaking balls early and not chasing bad pitches out of the zone.

2. Delmon Young, of, Mesa Solar Sox (Devil Rays)

Young announced his arrival in pro ball with some bold predictions about his ETA, and then he let his bat make a few statements of its own. Albert Belle comparisons, "minus the makeup," as a National League scout pointed out, are in full effect. Young elicits such lofty expectations with outstanding power to all fields.

"He keeps his hands in pretty good," the AL scout said. "And hits the ball the other way real well. He has some real instincts for hitting. He still has a ways to go, naturally, with some breaking balls, but he is a patient hitter with gargantuan power."

After signing a five-year major league deal worth at least $5.8 million in September, Young will make his much-anticipated regular season debut next April. His AFL performance only hastened his timetable.

"I see this kid exploding," the NL scout added.

3. David Wright, 3b, Peoria Saguaros (Mets)

If you haven't caught on yet, Wright's prospect profile is skyrocketing. In the scouting section in the AFL, he was one of the most talked-about prospects, and there is very little disagreement about whether or not he'll continue to hit. His advanced hitting approach guarantees it.

"He has an idea of how they are trying to pitch him," Peoria Saguaros manager Frank Kremblas (Brewers) said. "He stays up the middle from right-center to left-center. He makes adjustments well."

Wright's athleticism and baseball instincts make him a factor on the bases as well as in the field. "He's a good baseball player, and might hit 20 to 25 home runs when it's all said and done," an AL scout said.

4. Rickie Weeks, 2b, Peoria Saguaros (Brewers)

Drafted behind Young with the second overall pick in June, Weeks headed to the Fall League after going 2-for-12 in his major league debut. An exciting athlete, he has electric bat speed and quick, strong wrists that allow him to drive the ball for power.

Because the Saguaros lost shortstop J.J. Hardy to Team USA, J.J. Furmaniak was the only shortstop on the roster, meaning second basemen Weeks and Jason Bourgeois had to see time at short. Most of Weeks' eight errors came there, but he impressed scouts with his work around the bag at second and his ability to turn double plays.

Only needing experience against upper-level pitching, it shouldn't be long before Weeks returns to Milwaukee.

5. Jeff Mathis, c, Scottsdale Scorpions (Angels)

A perfect example of how little performance matters in the AFL, Mathis hit .180 in 50 at-bats, but stood out as the best in an impressive group of catchers. With three backstops on each roster, it's not uncommon for catchers to have a tough time finding any type of rhythm at the plate. Many, including Mathis, spend much of their fall schedule focusing on side work to improve their receiving skills.

"I like the way he goes about his business," the NL scout said. "He takes charge out there. I compare him a little to Bob Boone; he can be that type of hitter, hit .275 with 15 home runs and catch everyday."

Subscribers can access Josh Boyd's rankings and scouting reports for prospects 6-20

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