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2003's Top 50 Prospects
by Aaron Gleeman

pros•pect (pras pehkt) - noun - Something expected; a possibility.

At some point, for every single Major League Baseball team, the phrase "wait til next year" is uttered, sometimes quite often. That saying is the mantra of some franchises, a constant wish for better things ahead that just never seem to actually arrive.

For other teams, it is a phrase that represents the hope of finding that missing piece for next year, the thing that can push a team over the top or give them that little something they lacked the year before.

And for one team every season, "wait til next year" is a warning to the rest of the league, a notification of reinforcements that will soon arrive and make last year’s World Series champions even stronger.

The 50 men discussed in this article are the "wait til next year" for their teams. They are that middle-of-the-order hitter that a team has been lacking, that dominant starting pitcher they have never had, that slick fielding shortstop that will rejuvenate the whole team.

These men are the hopes, prayers and dreams of many and while several of them will succeed, some to extraordinary heights, others will fail miserably and become nothing more than a nightmare, a tease of something that "coulda been."

For every guy that was a "sure thing," there is another guy that was a "sure thing."

Before I get to the prospects, I want to say a few words about my rankings.

To be "eligible" for this prestigious list, a player must meet the Rookie-of-the-Year qualifications, which means he has a total of less than 150 at bats or 50 innings pitched at the Major League level (so no Hank Blalock, Sean Burroughs, Josh Beckett or Mark Prior).

In addition to that, I do not rank players that have yet to play professional baseball in America, which means no Hideki Matsui, Jose Contreras or B.J. Upton. It is hard enough trying to rank players that play in the minor leagues, so I won’t even attempt to rank someone that has been playing against high school kids or in foreign leagues. It is just too difficult.

There is definitely no set formula for how I rank players as it is an extremely inexact science.

Of course, there are several key things I tend to look at for each player (in no particular order):

1) Age and level of competition.

Quite simply, a 21 year old hitting .330 at Double-A is just more impressive than a 24 year old doing the same. That’s not to say that every young player is a good prospect or every older player is a non-prospect, but it is a significant consideration for all players.

2) Plate discipline/control of the strike zone.

Despite what the old cliché might tell you, a walk is usually not as good as a hit. However, for a player in the minor leagues to show some semblance of discipline at the plate is a very important factor in their development and is thus a very important factor in these rankings. This is certainly not a must for every single prospect, but it is important.

3) Defense and the future position.

Accurately judging a player’s defensive abilities at the Major League level is a difficult task at best and tedious at worst, so doing the same for minor league players is like trying to come up with the perfect simile, it’s almost impossible. In the minors, shortstops routinely make 40 errors in a season, many players are learning new positions on the job and it isn’t like there is a place to find defensive Win Shares for center fielders in the Florida State League. But defense is a huge part of a player’s value and it is just as big a factor in how good a prospect is.

Another important aspect of defense for prospects is trying to determine which position the player will end up playing in the Major Leagues. Many players find themselves shifting down the defensive spectrum as they advance up through the minor leagues and a player’s overall status as a prospect must at least attempt to take into account their eventual position(s). A minor league shortstop that is a great hitter is a wonderful thing, but less so if the player is unlikely to stick at shortstop in the Majors.

4) Offensive performance and the factors involved.

The performance part is pretty self-explanatory: At some point, a "prospect" has to play like a prospect, because whether or not he was a first round pick or a highly touted foreign signing isn’t going to help him hit or pitch in the Major Leagues.

In addition to that, there are many things in a player’s performance beyond the obvious, which is to say that not all .300 batting averages or 30 home run seasons are equal. Just as in the Major Leagues, there are many different "park factors" throughout minor league baseball. There are parks that favor pitching and parks that favor hitting, and there are entire leagues that do the same.

5) Strikeouts and walks for pitchers.

For pitchers, the first thing I always look at is the strikeout rate. The more strikeouts the better, it’s as simple as that. Okay, maybe it’s not quite that simple. In general, the higher a pitcher’s K rate is, the better chance for long-term success he has. There are definitely tons of exceptions, but it is a good general rule. In addition to strikeouts, a pitcher’s control is also key. Striking out 10 batters a game doesn’t do much good if you are walking just as many and, at the same time, a pitcher can be very successful with an unexceptional strike out rate if he doesn’t walk very many batters.

There is a balance between the two that needs to exist at some point, although it is very tough to pin down in minor league pitchers. In most cases, a pitcher’s K rate will decrease once he gets to the Majors and his walk rate will increase, which gives added importance to being able to strike out a lot of batters and to keep the walks to a minimum while in the minors.

Finally, my rankings reflect my feeling about a player's long-term chance for success at the Major League level and the degree of that success. There are players on this list that will play in the Major Leagues next season and there are players that won’t sniff the bigs for another couple of years. I look at every player the same way: How good do I think this guy has a chance to be and how likely do I feel he is to reach that level?

Without further adieu, my top 50 prospects in all of baseball (and may your team’s "next year" be a good one)…

#50) Travis Blackley

Seattle Mariners

Age: 20

Pos: SP

Throws: Left

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2001

A

79

3.32

10.3

3.3

6.8

0.8

90

29

60

7

2002

A

121

3.49

11.3

3.3

7.6

0.8

152

44

102

11

The Mariners signed Travis Blackley out of Australia in 2000 and he did very well in his 2001 pro debut, striking out 90 batters in only 79 innings pitched. He suffered a fractured elbow during the 2001 off-season while pitching in an instructional league and missed the start of the 2002 season. Once healthy, Blackley continued to pitch extremely well and racked up huge strikeout numbers as the California League’s youngest pitcher.

Blackley is not a scout favorite because his fastball tops out at about 88 MPH. However, he has a super changeup and a good curveball and his performance thus far has certainly been great. Major League Baseball history is littered with successful lefties that had troubling reaching 90 with their heaters and Blackley’s command and secondary pitches should be more than enough for him to join that long list.

Blackley will likely start the year at Double-A San Antonio, which will be a real test to see if his performance continues to out-weigh his fastball. He’ll have to continue to pitch well, because guys like him don’t get as many chances or as much leeway as someone that can dial it up to 95 MPH.

#49) Jonny Gomes

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Age: 22

Pos: LF

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2001

R

206

.291

.442

.597

16

11

2

33

73

15

4

2002

A

446

.276

.431

.572

30

24

9

91

173

15

3

Fans of the "Three True Outcomes" (aka the Rob Deer fan club) that are reeling from the news that Russ Branyan will be out several months with an injury may have a new 3TO hero to latch on to.

Along with 173 whiffs and 91 walks, Jonny Gomes was also hit by a pitch an amazing 31 times last season.

When he wasn’t walking, whiffing and hitting the dirt, Gomes was crushing the ball. He hit over .450 when he actually put the ball in play and finished second in the California League with 30 homers.

Striking out 173 times in less than 450 at bats is a bit disturbing, but Gomes still managed to hit for a good average (.276) and got on-base at a very good clip, thanks in large part to that combo of 122 walks and hit by pitches.

He isn’t much of a defender and will probably be limited to LF, 1B or DH. Despite his subpar defensive skills, Gomes is actually a decent runner, further evidenced by his 9 triples in 2002 and 15 steals in each of the past 2 seasons.

2003 will be a huge year for Gomes as he makes the move to Double-A and we get to see if he can be the next Rob Deer or possibly something more. He isn’t overly young and Tampa actually has quite a logjam of outfielders coming up through the system, so he’ll need to make good on any chance he is given.

#48) Wilson Betemit

Atlanta Braves

Age: 21

Pos: SS

Bats: Switch

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

A

269

.331

.393

.457

5

15

2

30

37

3

4

2001

A

318

.277

.324

.412

7

20

1

23

71

8

5

 

AA

183

.355

.394

.514

5

14

0

12

36

6

2

2002

AAA

343

.245

.312

.370

8

17

1

34

82

8

5

Not many prospects saw their stock drop as far as Wilson Betemit’s did in 2002. Despite that, Betemit still makes this list, but just barely. Which tells you how high his stock was before 2002.

Betemit’s 2002 season is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t get overly excited about a player that shows absolutely no ability to control the strike zone. Prior to 2002, Betemit walked a grand total of 121 times in 350 minor league games. He still performed very well and his natural ability was reason for great optimism. At Triple-A in 2002, his lack of plate discipline began to hurt him against the more experienced pitching and his offensive attack, which had been almost entirely based on batting average, completely disintegrated. Betemit’s average was stuck below .200 for much of the season and he ended up hitting only .245 and walked 34 times in 93 AAA games. Various injuries kept him from playing in more games and also probably affected his performance when he played.

He still has a ton of potential offensively. He is a switch hitter, he’s still very young and he has a ton of natural skills. Many scouts still think he has 25+ home run potential.

Defensively, Betemit has decent range and a very strong arm. As he matures and gets bigger, he may move over to third base, which he should be able to handle with ease.

There is no doubt that Betemit still plays a big role in the Braves’ long-term infield plans, but he’ll need to bounce back in a big way in 2003. Expect him to have a good season, although he may never live up to the hype he was receiving in 2001.

#47) Kevin Cash

Toronto Blue Jays

Age: 25

Pos: C

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

A

196

.245

.323

.459

10

10

1

22

54

5

3

2001

A

371

.283

.369

.453

12

27

0

43

80

4

3

2002

AA

213

.277

.381

.469

8

15

1

36

44

5

2

 

AAA

236

.220

.299

.424

10

18

0

25

72

0

1

Ultimately, the quality of Kevin Cash’s career is going to depend on his batting average.

Cash is a phenomenal defensive catcher, he is going to take walks and he is going to hit for pretty good power. Whether he hits .220 or .280 is going to determine what his legacy will be.

A Gold Glover catcher that hits .225 with 25 homers and a lot of walks is nice, but a GG catcher hitting .275 with 25 homers and a lot of walks is something special.

Cash was originally a third baseman at Florida State and went undrafted. The Blue Jays saw him play as an emergency catcher in a summer league game and liked what they saw so they signed him and made him a full-time backstop.

Because he is relatively new to the position, Cash is still somewhat raw behind the plate. However, scouts rave about his cannon arm and athleticism and he definitely has the potential to be very special defensively. Cash threw out 56% of base runners in 2001 and 40% in 2002.

Offensively, power has been the only constant from year to year, level to level. Cash hit 10 homers and 10 doubles in only 196 at bats in 2000 and then followed that up with 12 homers and 27 doubles in 371 ABs in 2001. Last season, between Double-A and Triple-A, Cash totaled 18 homers and 33 doubles in 449 at bats.

The other parts of his offensively game are far less stable. After drawing slightly more than 1 walk per 10 at bats in 2000 and 2001, Cash improved his plate discipline last season and drew 61 walks to go along with those 449 ABs. I tend to think that the improved plate discipline is for real and will likely continue, particularly because it is something the Toronto organization feels is extremely important.

His batting average, on the other hand, is incredibly hard to predict. Cash hit .245 in 2000 and then .285 in 2001. Then he hit .277 last season in Double-A, but only .220 in Triple-A. With a gun to my head, I’d guess he will hover around .250 in the Majors, but I would wonder why someone would threaten me with a gun over Kevin Cash’s batting average.

#46) Prince Fielder

Milwaukee Brewers

Age: 18

Pos: 1B

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2002

R

146

.390

.531

.678

10

12

0

37

27

3

4

 

A

112

.241

.320

.384

3

7

0

10

27

0

0

Cecil’s little boy is all grown up and he can mash just like his old man.

A lot has been made of what Prince Fielder isn’t - he isn’t a great athlete, he isn’t in very good shape, he isn’t much of a defensive player - but if Prince Fielder is anything, it is a hitter.

The Brewers picked Prince with the 7th pick in the 2002 draft and he started his professional career at Ogden of the Pioneer (rookie) league. His stat line there looks more like something Barry Bonds’ son would put up - a .390 average with 37 walks, 10 homers and 12 doubles in only 146 at bats.

Milwaukee promoted him to the Midwest (Single-A) League and Fielder struggled. His average dipped below .250, but he continued to show good power and his walk rate remained decent.

Fielder will have to hit if he wants to play in Milwaukee, because he certainly isn’t doing anything else to help his cause. He has arguably the most power potential of anyone in the minor leagues right now, but still has to prove he can hit in a full-season league.

#45) Brad Nelson

Milwaukee Brewers

Age: 20

Pos: 1B/LF

Bats: Left

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2001

R

63

.302

.392

.429

0

6

1

8

18

0

0

 

R

42

.262

.298

.357

0

4

0

3

9

0

0

2002

A

417

.297

.353

.520

17

38

2

34

86

4

1

 

A

102

.255

.333

.451

3

11

0

12

28

0

0

I am a big believer in projecting future power for a player in the low minors based largely on his doubles totals. So, since I do what I say and say what I do, I have to include Brad Nelson on this list, simply because his power potential looks awesome. Nelson led all of minor league baseball with 49 doubles between 2 levels of Single-A in 2002 and he also managed to bang out 20 homers. Plus, he was the minor league leader in runs batted in, with 116.

There is an incredible logjam of first basemen in the Milwaukee organization, starting at the top with Richie Sexson and working its way down to Nelson and Fielder in the low minors. Because of that, Nelson may be tried in left field (you know Prince Fielder certainly isn’t going to be) or maybe even third base.

Nelson is your typical slow slugger, so he will never be a great left fielder, but he has enough athleticism that he probably wouldn’t be a complete disaster out there. If he stays at first base, he has plenty of glove to handle the position.

49 doubles (and 20 homers) for a guy that doesn’t turn 21 until December of 2003 is extremely impressive and expect those doubles to start gradually turning into homers, starting with this year.

#44) Boof Bonser

San Francisco Giants

Age: 21

Pos: SP

Throws: Right

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2000

A

33

6.00

11.2

7.9

5.7

0.5

41

29

21

2

2001

A

134

2.49

12.0

4.1

6.1

0.5

178

61

91

7

2002

A

128

2.88

9.8

4.9

6.3

0.6

139

70

89

9

 

AA

24

5.55

8.6

5.3

11.3

1.1

23

14

30

3

First of all, "Boof" is not Bonser’s given name. Wanna take a guess as to what it is?

If you guessed "Ezekiel"…well, you’d be incorrect. His name at birth was John Bonser, but he earned the nickname "Boof" as a kid and decided to officially change his name to it before the 2001 season.

Besides having a really strange name, Bonser is a massive human being that throws very hard, striking out a lot of guys and walking his fair share too.

The Giants decided to start Bonser at Double-A last year and it turned out to be a mistake. He struggled with his control and gave up 3 homers in 24 innings before he and his 5.55 ERA were demoted back to Single-A. Once back in Single-A, he did very well, striking out nearly 10 batters a game and limiting opponents to a sub-.200 batting average. There was some cause for concern even though he was pitching very well, because his velocity was down slightly from past years. His fastball was still clocking in above 90, but not at the usual 94+ that he was capable of in the past.

Bonser did a lot of good work with his curveball and change up last season, possibly because he was less able to just blow people away with his fastball. The loss in velocity is still a concern, as is the drop in his K rate.

After striking out 11.2/9 in 2000 and 12.0/9 in 2001, Bonser’s K rate dropped quite a bit in 2002, as he struck out 9.8/9 in Single-A and 8.6/9 in Double-A. Drops in K rate as a player progresses through the minors is often to be expected and Bonser is still striking out a ton of batters. He did not improve his control in 2002 and he walks too many batters right now.

Bonser has a ton of potential, but the Giants have lots of good arms in the system and he’ll have to cut down on the free passes at some point and work on finding that extra zip on his fastball again.

#43) Colby Lewis

Texas Rangers

Age: 23

Pos: SP

Throws: Right

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2000

A

164

4.07

8.4

2.5

9.3

0.6

153

45

169

11

2001

AA

156

4.50

9.3

3.6

8.7

0.9

162

62

150

15

2002

AAA

107

3.63

8.3

2.4

8.4

0.3

99

28

100

4

 

ML

34

6.29

7.4

6.9

11.1

1.1

28

26

42

4

The Rangers drafted Colby Lewis out of Junior College with their supplemental first round pick in the 1999 draft and he has progressed very nicely, posting good K rates and decent control at every stop along the way.

Lewis made the big league club out of spring training, but struggled and was sent down after only 34 innings. He went to Triple-A and had another very nice season, improving his control and striking out 8.3 batters per 9 innings. Lewis also limited the amount of long balls he gave up, which is what killed him in his stint with the Rangers. After giving up 4 homers in his 34 big league innings, Lewis only surrendered 4 in 107 Triple-A frames. He has been very good at keeping the ball in the ballpark throughout his minor league career, so I don’t think he will have a huge problem with that once he gets settled in the Majors.

Colby Lewis is a big power pitcher with a great fastball and a lack of secondary pitches, which is a familiar story. He does work with a hard curve and changeup and he’ll need to be able to throw at least one of those for a strike consistently if he wants to stay in the Majors for more than 34 innings at a time.

The Rangers have acquired some pitching this off-season, but they still might have a place for Lewis, perhaps in the bullpen, to start the season.

#42) Chris Snelling

Seattle Mariners

Age: 21

Pos: LF/RF

Bats: Left

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

A

259

.305

.386

.483

9

9

5

34

34

7

4

2001

A

450

.336

.418

.491

7

29

10

45

63

12

5

2002

AA

89

.326

.429

.506

1

9

2

12

11

5

1

Seattle signed Chris Snelling out of Australia in 1999, at the age of 17. Since then, Snelling has always been one of the youngest hitters in the leagues he has played in and has probably been described as "scrappy" by pretty much every person that has ever seen him play baseball. He hustles like a madman on every play and that is always a good thing, but he also has a tendency to injure himself, which obviously is not so good.

He broke his left hand in 2000 and then hit .336 in 2001 while playing with a fracture in his ankle. Last season, Snelling missed the first portion of the year because he broke his thumb in spring training and when he finally started playing in Double-A and then made it to the big leagues, tearing his knee in only his 8th game as a Mariner.

A torn ACL is a very serious injury and Snelling may miss the beginning of the season (once again) in 2003. Even if he comes back healthy in spring training, he is likely to begin the year in Triple-A.

When he does come back, Snelling might want to tone it down just a little bit. He might need to learn that it doesn’t always have to be "Go Time" and he could do well by not crashing into as many walls or sliding head first into as many bases.

Snelling projects as a solid leadoff or #2 hitter and perhaps a good #3 guy if he develops a little more power. He may never hit 20+ homers, but he should be able to keep his average above .300 and hit lots of balls into the gaps. He also has exceptional plate discipline for a player his age and is a plus defensive outfielder at all three spots, although he will almost certainly end up in one of the outfield corners, particularly if he loses any speed/mobility because of the knee injury.

#41) Josh Hamilton

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Age: 21

Pos: CF

Bats: Left

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

A

392

.301

.345

.474

13

23

3

26

72

14

6

2001

AA

89

.180

.221

.236

0

5

0

5

22

2

0

2002

A

211

.303

.359

.507

9

14

1

20

46

10

1

Josh Hamilton is like that "Major Project" you had due at the end of a college course.

The expectation was that it was going to be really good and the potential for greatness was always there, but, for whatever reason, it never really got going quite the way it should have.

Hamilton isn’t quite up to the deadline yet, but he is going to be putting in some last minute work if this thing is going to turn out well. Injuries have been a constant during Hamilton’s pro career, putting a very early end to two of his seasons and causing that disastrous .180/.221/.236 line you see for 2001.

A former #1 overall pick in 1999, Hamilton still has all the "tools" and, when healthy, he has actually been a very good player. He just can’t seem to stay on the field for any length of time and that has stalled his development and taken away one of his biggest assets, his youth.

Another injury plagued season and Hamilton will probably drop off of the "Top Prospect" lists for good, but until then he still has too much potential and youth to ignore.

#40) Cliff Lee

Cleveland Indians

Age: 24

Pos: SP

Throws: Left

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2000

A

45

5.24

12.6

7.2

10.0

0.2

63

36

50

1

2001

A

110

2.79

10.6

3.8

6.4

1.1

129

46

78

13

2002

AA

103

3.58

10.7

2.9

6.3

1.1

123

33

72

13

 

AAA

43

3.77

6.3

4.6

7.5

1.5

30

22

36

7

Cliff Lee, who came over in the Bartolo Colon trade, is the best of seemingly thousands of left handed pitching prospects in the Cleveland system.

Originally drafted by Montreal in the 3rd round of the 2000 draft, out of the University of Arkansas, Lee has always shown incredible "stuff," but has had bouts with control problems.

Lee breezed through the Double-A, pitched effectively in Triple-A and even made his first 2 big league starts in 2002.

He throws a low-90s heater - two-seam and four-seam, a great changeup and a big, slow curve, plus a slider that he often struggles to control. After seemingly getting his wildness under control while in the Montreal system at the beginning of this year, Lee had a lot of trouble throwing strikes once he joined the Cleveland organization. He walked over 5 batters per 9 innings in his brief stint with Akron (AA) and followed that up with 4.6 walks per 9 with Buffalo (AAA).

With Cleveland in full rebuilding mode, Lee has a good shot at pitching a lot of innings in the big leagues in 2003. If he can’t get the walks under control, he’s going to struggle, but eventually he should be a very good front-of-the-rotation starter.

#39) Jeremy Bonderman

Detroit Tigers

Age: 20

Pos: SP

Throws: Right

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2002

A

157

3.79

9.7

3.4

8.0

1.0

170

59

140

18

Jeremy Bonderman was the first high school junior ever drafted when the A’s took him with a 1st round pick in the 2001 draft and he came to Detroit, along with Carlos Pena and Franklyn German, in the Jeff Weaver 3-way deal. Pena looks to be Detroit’s first baseman for the foreseeable future, German should be closing out games in 2003 and Bonderman is right behind them - making that deal a very good one for Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers.

Bonderman is extremely young and has already had remarkable success against high Single-A competition. Right now his biggest problem appears to be a propensity for giving up a few long balls, but that is a problem that may go away with a little more experience and coaching.

Other than that, Bonderman has the complete top-of-the-rotation package.

His fastball resides in the low-90s and he teams it up with an awesome curve/slider combo that he likes to use as his strike out pitch. Like most young pitchers, he is still working on his changeup, although it is already a solid pitch.

Bonderman will probably start out at Double-A Erie in 2003 and, if everything goes according to plan, the Tigers might have Bonderman in Motown by his 21st birthday.

#38) Lyle Overbay

Arizona Diamondbacks

Age: 25

Pos: 1B
Bats: Left

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

A

259

.332

.397

.498

6

19

3

27

36

9

2

 

AA

244

.352

.420

.533

8

16

2

28

39

3

2

2001

AA

532

.352

.423

.528

13

49

3

67

92

5

4

2002

AAA

525

.343

.396

.528

19

40

0

42

86

0

0

What does a guy have to do to get some playing time around here?

Take a look at that "AVG" column and you can see that Lyle Overbay is a fairly decent hitter. So far, all he has to show for all his minor league hits are a lousy 12 at bats in two cups of coffee with the D-Backs.

Overbay isn’t young and he is probably about as good as he is going to get. He has also had the benefit of playing in some very good parks for hitting, but he deserves a chance at a full-time gig.

He won’t hit many homers, but he is a left handed hitting first baseman in the Mark Grace mold - lots of doubles, lots of singles and some walks. Unfortunately for Overbay, he has been stuck behind the actual Mark Grace in Arizona. I am sure Erubiel Durazo feels his pain.

While he has generally hit in very good hitter’s parks and leagues and that distorts his numbers somewhat, Overbay is very capable of hitting about .315/.365/.500 as a full-time first baseman and he deserves the chance - and may finally get it this year with the D-Backs.

#37) Jason Arnold

Toronto Blue Jays

Age: 23

Pos: SP

Throws: Right

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2001

A

66

1.50

10.1

2.0

4.8

0.3

74

15

35

2

2002

A

80

2.48

9.3

2.5

7.2

0.2

83

22

64

2

 

AA

75

2.75

8.5

3.5

7.1

0.4

71

29

59

3

Pass.

Just kidding. Jason Arnold is with his 3rd organization in the last year after going from New York to Oakland in the Jeff Weaver deal and then Oakland to Toronto in the Erubiel Durazo 4-teamer. I think he has finally found a long-term home because the Blue Jays will eventually be looking for him to fill one of the many rotation slots after Roy Halladay.

Some scouts feel Arnold would be best suited as a reliever, partly because of his imperfect arm motion, but his minor league performance as a starting pitcher has been very good thus far. In 221 minor league innings Arnold has totaled 228 strikeouts and 66 walks while allowing only 7 homers. He has a 20-6 record and a 2.28 ERA.

Arnold pitches with a good fastball that usually sits in the low-90s and he also has two other plus-pitches, a split-finger fastball and a slider. He’s working on his change up, which has the potential to be a fourth good pitch.

Arnold has the potential for 4-plus pitches and his minor league track record as a starter is fantastic. He and Halladay will make a nice 1-2 punch very soon.

#36) Ken Harvey

Kansas City Royals

Age: 22

Pos: 1B

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

A

164

.335

.411

.470

4

10

0

14

29

0

2

2001

A

137

.380

.455

.591

6

9

1

13

21

3

1

 

AA

314

.338

.372

.506

9

20

3

18

60

3

0

2002

AAA

488

.277

.342

.465

20

30

1

42

87

8

3

If you went to "Central Casting" and asked for a designated hitter, they would probably show you Ken Harvey. He is big, fairly unathletic and, most importantly, he can hit.

Harvey came into the season with a career minor league batting average in the .350s but focused on improving his power in 2002. The end result was mixed. Harvey hit a career high 20 homers and also added 30 doubles, but he saw his batting average drop to .277, over 75 points below his career average.

Harvey will no doubt be looking to make one final adjustment in 2003, getting his batting average back up near what is was prior to 2002, while keeping his new found power.

He got a head start on his adjustment period in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit an amazing .479/.537/.752 with 7 homers and 11 doubles in 117 at bats. Obviously all the small sample size caveats apply here, but it is an encouraging sign nonetheless.

Harvey is the odds-on favorite to be Kansas City’s designated hitter in 2002, so he’ll have to make those adjustments at the Major League level. I don’t think Ken Harvey will ever be a truly great player, but he should be an upper-level DH/1B, hitting .300 with 20 homers and lots of doubles.

#35) Kevin Youkilis

Boston Red Sox

Age: 23

Pos: 3B

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2001

A

183

.317

.512

.464

3

14

2

70

28

4

3

2002

A

53

.283

.433

.377

0

5

0

13

8

0

0

 

A

268

.295

.422

.388

3

16

0

49

37

0

2

 

AA

160

.344

.462

.500

5

10

0

31

18

5

4

Kevin Youkilis is an extremely intriguing player, to say the least.

He walks at an incredible rate and he does so without striking out. In his first two pro seasons, Youkilis has a total of 166 walks in only 199 games. Perhaps more amazing is the fact that has only struck out 94 times during that time span. Along with the boatload of walks, Youkilis has also hit for very good average, including .344 in 160 Double-A at bats in 2002. He has a career minor league OBP of .457.

The one skill keeping Youkilis from being the Sabermetric poster boy of the millennium and the "Official Ballplayer of BaseballPrimer.com" is his lack of power. Youkilis has only totaled 11 home runs in 676 career at bats and even his doubles power (45) is not overly impressive.

Reports are that he is passable at third base, although his lack of athleticism may eventually force him across the diamond. Wherever he goes, Kevin Youkilis figures to get on base a lot and that is a skill that any team can use.

He’ll probably start 2003 at Triple-A Pawtucket, where the BoSox will be hoping for a power surge. Even if the power doesn’t come, Youkilis looks like a cross between a right handed Wade Boggs and a modern day Eddie Yost.

#34) Jerome Williams

San Francisco Giants

Age: 21

Pos: SP

Throws: Right

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2000

A

126

2.94

8.2

3.4

6.4

0.4

115

48

89

6

2001

AA

130

3.95

5.8

2.4

8.0

1.0

84

34

116

14

2002

AAA

161

3.59

7.3

2.8

7.8

0.9

130

50

140

16

It seems like Jerome Williams has been a top prospect for forever now, but he still won’t turn 22 until December, 2003.

Williams was the youngest pitcher in the Pacific Coast League (AAA) this season and he more than held his own. After striking out only 5.8 per 9 innings in 2001, his strike out rate jumped back up last season. Even with the jump in 2002, Williams’ K rate (7.3/9) is still not very impressive and his strikeouts have yet to match his "stuff."

His fastball isn’t overpowering - he prefers to work at about 89-92, but it has very good movement and he’s got good breaking stuff and the ability to change speeds very well with his excellent change up.

Williams will make an appearance with the Giants at some point in 2003, but he’ll most likely start the year back in Triple-A.

#33) Kurt Ainsworth

San Francisco Giants

Age: 24

Pos: SP

Throws: Right

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2000

AA

158

3.30

7.4

3.6

7.9

0.7

130

63

138

12

2001

AAA

149

5.07

9.5

3.3

8.4

1.3

157

54

139

22

2002

AAA

116

3.41

9.2

3.3

7.8

0.5

119

43

101

7

 

ML

26

2.10

5.2

4.2

7.6

0.3

15

12

22

1

Take a look at Ainsworth’s numbers from 2001 and 2002. Both years were spent pitching at Triple-A, in the exact same ballpark, in the exact same league. He struck out 9.5/9 IP in 2001 and 9.2/9 IP in 2002. He walked 3.3/9 IP in both years.

The only difference in Ainsworth’s performance from one season to the other was the fact that he allowed almost 3 times as many homers per 9 innings in 2001 and that resulted in a 5.07 ERA.

This year, Ainsworth gave up only 7 homers in 116 innings and he saw his ERA drop to 3.41.

In two stints with the Giants, Ainsworth has pitched a total of 27 2/3 innings, including 25 2/3 last year. He limited Major League hitters to a .245 average, although he did struggle with his control.

Ainsworth works with a fastball in the 90-92 range, a curve, slider and solid circle change, giving him 4 above-average pitches.

The Giants have a ton of good, young starter prospects and Ainsworth is probably the closest to the Majors. I’d say he has a better than 50/50 shot at sticking with the team this year and putting an end to his minor league career.

#32) Hanley Ramirez

Boston Red Sox

Age: 19

Pos: SS

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2002

R

164

.341

.402

.555

6

11

3

16

15

8

6

 

A

97

.371

.400

.536

1

9

2

4

14

4

4

Hanley Ramirez may have been the least known player on this entire list coming into the 2002 season. He certainly made sure that won’t happen again as his pro debut in 2002 was about as good as a debut can possibly be. He started in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and hit .341 with 20 extra base hits in 164 ABs, before being promoted to the NY-Penn League, where he hit .371 and added 12 more XBHs in 97 ABs. Managers in both leagues rated him as the best overall prospect.

Originally a switch hitter, Ramirez abandoned hitting from the left side after his right handed hitting proved more than sufficient. He is a true "5-tool player," with the ability to hit for average and power demonstrated by his huge batting averages and bunches of XBHs in 2002. Not only did he hit a combined .352 between his two stops in 2002, but over one-third of his hits went for extra bases, which is an excellent sign of future power development. He is also a very good runner, although his base stealing instincts are not great yet.

Defensively, he is a natural shortstop that has a lot of potential for growth with the glove. He has very good hands and a solid, but unspectacular arm.

The hype-o-meter for Hanley Ramirez is off the charts right now and it is probably unrealistic to project so much on to a player that hasn’t even played in a full-season league yet. At the same time, he has incredible natural skills and his performance so far has been incredibly good. The only reason he is ranked this low is because he has yet to prove he can do well against more experienced competition, in tougher leagues. If he proves that in 2003, he’ll be near the top of this list next year.

#31) Andy Marte

Atlanta Braves

Age: 18

Pos: 3B

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2001

R

125

.200

.306

.272

1

6

0

20

45

3

0

2002

A

488

.281

.339

.492

21

32

4

41

114

2

1

Andy Marte is probably currently the least well-known player on this list, but at only 18 years old, he has one of the highest ceilings.

Atlanta signed Marte out of the Dominican Republic in 2000 for $600,000 and started him at rookie-level Danville to start his pro career. Marte struggled mightily there, hitting .200 with a .272 slugging %. Still, scouts were talking about his natural ability and the Braves expected him to do big things before too long. And he did.

Marte led the Sally League in RBIs in 2002, while mashing 57 extra base hits in 488 at bats. He did all that as one of the league’s youngest players. Like a lot of young hitters, he doesn’t walk a whole lot, although 41 walks in 126 games isn’t awful. If his offensive game develops like many think it can, Marte will be a major force at the plate.

In a poll done by Baseball America, managers in the South Atlantic League named Marte the best defensive third baseman. He has Gold Glove potential at third base.

The Braves have shown a willingness to advance "special" players (Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal, etc) very quickly, all the way up to the Major League level. Marte is that type of player. Because of that and the complete lack of third base talent in the organization, Marte could be playing in Atlanta well before his 21st birthday.

#30) Rafael Soriano

Seattle Mariners

Age: 23

Pos: SP

Throws: Right

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2000

A

122

2.87

6.6

3.7

7.2

0.2

90

50

97

3

2001

A

89

2.53

9.9

3.9

5.0

0.4

98

39

49

4

 

AA

48

3.35

9.9

2.6

6.4

0.9

53

14

34

5

2002

AA

47

2.31

10.0

2.9

6.1

1.1

52

15

32

6

 

ML

47

4.56

6.1

3.1

8.6

1.5

32

16

45

8

Rafael Soriano was originally an outfielder that couldn’t hit (.220 career average), so the Mariners switched him to pitcher in 1999 and have been extremely happy with their decision ever since.

Soriano has the "live arm" that you always hear about. His fastball resides in the mid-90s and he compliments it with a hard slider and a changeup that should eventually be his third above-average pitch.

Because he wasn’t a pitcher until very recently and has had quite a few injuries since becoming one, Soriano’s arm doesn’t have a whole lot of mileage on it yet, which is probably a good thing. He definitely needs to show that he can stay healthy and may have a chance to do so in the Seattle rotation in 2003.

Soriano showed he can handle his own in the Majors during his 10 game stint in Seattle last year and even if he starts the year in Triple-A, he’ll make an extended appearance at Safeco before the year is up.

#29) Michael Restovich

Minnesota Twins

Age: 23

Pos: LF/RF

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

A

475

.263

.350

.408

8

26

9

61

100

19

7

2001

AA

501

.269

.345

.489

23

33

4

54

125

15

7

2002

AAA

518

.308

.357

.538

29

32

7

53

151

11

7

Restovich’s power numbers have climbed in each of the past 3 years, from 43 XBHs in 2000 to 58 in 2001 and 68 in 2002.

As the extra base hit totals have climbed, so have the strikeouts. Restovich struck out 151 times in 518 Triple-A ABs this season and even added 4 Ks in his 13 at bat stint with the Twins in September. The high strikeout totals, combined with the fairly low walk rate is a bit troubling. The best development of 2002 for Restovich was the hike in his batting average. After hitting in the .260s in 2000 and 2001, Restovich batted .308 in Triple-A last season.

The Twins have an incredible amount of corner outfield/first base/designated hitter talent, at both the major and minor leagues levels, so Restovich could very easily get lost in the shuffle at some point. He has as much power potential as anyone in the Minnesota organization, but he may never hit for a high enough average or walk enough to be a really great hitter.

Restovich is a huge guy but is actually pretty athletic and can handle left field. On the bases, he is far from a clogger and he has stolen 10+ bases in each of the last 3 years.

If I had to guess, I would say that Restovich spends the majority of his career playing for a team other than the Twins. They just have too many choices for the two outfield spots not occupied by Torii Hunter and I don’t see Restovich beating out Justin Morneau as the future at first base.

Wherever he ends up, he’ll hit for a lot of power and rack up big strike out totals. He can be a very productive, middle-of-the-order hitter.

#28) Khalil Greene

San Diego Padres

Age: 23

Pos: SS

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2002

A

183

.317

.368

.525

9

9

1

12

33

0

0

After being selected in the 14th round of the 2001 draft by the Cubs, Khalil Greene decided to return to Clemson to play his senior season. I think he made a pretty good decision.

Greene won the Golden Spikes award as the country’s top player and was selected by the Padres with the 13th overall pick.

The Padres hope Greene will be able to advance quickly and he looks like he will. He started 2002 at low-A, but after only 37 at bats was promoted to high-A. He did very well there, hitting .317 and showing good power (20 extra base hits in 183 ABs). His plate discipline was not very good, with 12 walks and 33 Ks in 183 ABs, but he showed exceptional strike zone judgment in college and he should improve on that next year.

Offensively, Greene will be very good. The jury is still out on his defense. He will be given every opportunity to stay at shortstop, but whether or not he can handle the position is debatable. His range is passable, but not great and his arm is average. With his bat, the Pads can afford to keep him at SS as long as possible.

Greene will most likely start the year at Double-A, but will move very quickly and may see time in San Diego before the year is over.

#27) Clint Nageotte

Seattle Mariners

Age: 22

Pos: SP

Throws: Right

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2000

R

50

2.16

10.6

5.0

5.2

0.0

59

28

29

0

2001

A

152

3.13

11.1

3.0

8.3

0.6

187

50

141

10

2002

A

165

4.54

11.7

3.7

8.3

0.5

214

68

153

10

For a guy that led the Midwest League in strikeouts in 2001 and all of minor league baseball in strikeouts in 2002, Clint Nageotte is not very well known.

Nageotte racks up those high K totals with a low-90s heater and an excellent slider that clocks in around 80-82 MPH. The slider is truly his #1 pitch and it is among the best in all of the minor leagues. That, along with the plus fastball, is a devastating combination and has allowed Nageotte to rack up incredible K rates throughout his minor league career.

Unlike most young pitchers, Nageotte actually trusts his slider more than his fastball. He occasionally goes through long stretches of not being able to locate the fastball for strikes and often relies on his awesome slider too much. Right now, he lacks any sort of semblance of a quality 3rd pitch, which will hinder him as he climbs higher up the organizational ladder.

Nageotte needs to improve his control, particularly with the fastball, and work on developing a quality 3rd pitch, most likely a changeup. The talent is undeniable and any young pitcher with a slider this good and a plus fastball is someone to watch out for.

Nageotte will most likely begin the year at Double-A and if he keeps leading leagues in strikeouts, he is going to become a household name very soon.

#26) Justin Huber

New York Mets

Age: 20

Pos: C

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2001

R

159

.314

.415

.528

7

11

1

17

42

4

2

2002

A

330

.291

.408

.470

11

22

2

45

81

1

2

 

A

100

.270

.370

.400

3

2

1

11

18

0

0

Mike Piazza has to get out from behind the plate at some point and, when he does, Justin Huber will be ready to take over as the Mets’ catcher.

Offensively, Huber looks like a stud. He hits for a good average, shows solid plate discipline and has nice extra base power. He even likes to take one for the team, with 29 hit by pitches in 2002.

On defense he is a little raw. He improved a lot from 2001 to 2002, but still has some work to do.

His arm is decent, but he struggled throwing out runners. Other than throwing out base runners, Huber’s defense is pretty good and the Mets think he has the potential to be a very good defender.

Huber is still very young, so the Mets are in no hurry to rush him. He’ll likely begin back where he ended 2002, high-A, and will probably make his way to at least Double-A by season’s end.

#25) Adam Wainwright

Atlanta Braves

Age: 21

Pos: SP

Throws: Right

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2000

R

32

1.13

11.8

2.8

4.2

0.3

42

10

15

1

 

R

29

3.68

12.1

0.6

8.7

0.9

39

2

28

3

2001

A

165

3.77

10.0

2.6

7.9

0.5

184

48

144

9

2002

A

163

3.31

9.2

3.6

8.2

0.4

167

66

149

7

As we learned this off-season, the Braves won’t be able to count on Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux pitching 200 innings every year for the rest of their existence.

Fortunately for them, they have a ton of good arms in the minor leagues, the best of whom is Adam Wainwright.

Looking at Wainwright, he just looks like a pitcher. He’s big (6’6"), he throws in the low-to-mid-90s and he works with a good curveball and a plus changeup. Managers in the Carolina League rated his fastball as the league’s best in 2002.

And his minor league record is superb. He even led his league in strikeouts in each of the last 2 seasons.

The only downside to Wainwright’s 2002 performance was probably his fading down the stretch. After posting an ERA in the low-2.00s during most of the season, he struggled badly in the last portion and ended up with a 3.31 ERA.

Wainwright will likely begin 2003 at Double-A Greenville. He should be in Atlanta for good by mid-2004, as the Braves try to restock their starting pitching shelf.

#24) Gavin Floyd

Philadelphia Phillies

Age: 19

Pos: SP

Throws: Right

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2002

A

166

2.77

7.6

3.5

6.5

0.7

140

64

119

13

Gavin Floyd has taken the first important step for any pitcher that was drafted out of high school, which is being at least reasonably successful in the low-minors.

It doesn’t sound like such a tough thing to accomplish, particularly for a first round draft pick, but it is. Just ask someone like Colt Griffin, who was a first round pick in the 2001 draft out of high school just like Floyd was.

Also like Floyd, Griffin pitched in A-ball last season, but he struggled quite a bit, walking more men than he struck out and posting a 5.36 ERA.

The Phillies lured Floyd away from the University of South Carolina with a $4.2 million dollar bonus and have been very careful with him ever since, limiting his pitch counts along the way.

His fastball is well above average, but not exceptionally overpowering. It lives in the 89-92 range and he can pump it up to 93-95 when needed. Floyd’s best pitch is likely his phenomenal curve ball and he spent last season working on developing a changeup, which he hadn’t be forced to use in high school.

Gavin Floyd has cleared that first hurdle, "adjusting to the pro game" or whatever you want to call it. But, like any 19 year old pitcher, he is still a long way away. He needs innings and coaching and, perhaps most importantly, to stay away from injuries.

To their credit, the Phillies seem willing to take it slow with Floyd and let him advance through their organization at a reasonable pace. He’s got all the tools and his performance in his first pro season was excellent. Now it’s just a matter of playing the waiting game and hoping he can clear the next few hurdles as easily as he cleared the first.

#23) Scott Hairston

Arizona Diamondbacks

Age: 22

Pos: 2B

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2001

R

291

.347

.432

.588

14

16

6

38

50

2

2

2002

A

394

.332

.426

.563

16

35

4

58

74

9

3

 

A

79

.405

.442

.797

6

11

1

6

16

1

0

Scott Hairston is the younger brother of Orioles infielder Jerry Hairston. Looking at them reminds me of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in that movie Twins.

Jerry is a speedy, good field/no hit second baseman. Scott is a offensive machine who doesn’t run all that well and has a lot of "issues" with his defense at second base.

The Diamondbacks snatched Hairston up in the 3rd round of the 2001 draft, after he won Baseball America’s Junior College Player of the Year award by hitting .503 at Central Arizona Junior College.

His debut in pro ball was at Missoula of the Pioneer (Rookie) League and he took up right where he left off, hitting .347 with 14 homers, 16 doubles and 6 triples in only 74 games.

Hairston began 2002 at low-A South Bend and continued to hit the snot out of the ball, smacking 16 homers and 35 doubles in 109 games, before a promotion to high-A Lancaster. All he did there was hit .405 with 18 extra base hits in 79 at bats, which comes out to a nifty .797 slugging %.

Middle infield prospects that slug .600 don’t grow on trees, so Arizona can probably afford to work around his defense at this point. His career minor league totals are .346/.430/.597, so it really doesn’t matter what position he plays, he’ll still be valuable.

#22) Adrian Gonzalez

Florida Marlins

Age: 20

Pos: 1B

Bats: Left

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

R

193

.295

.397

.358

0

10

1

32

35

0

0

2001

A

516

.312

.382

.486

17

37

1

57

83

5

5

2002

AA

508

.266

.344

.437

17

34

1

54

112

6

3

Gonzalez was the #1 overall pick in the 2000 draft, partly because of his willingness to sign for "only" $3 million dollars. Whatever the reason the Marlins picked him, they have to be very happy with their choice. Gonzalez hit .295 in his pro debut, although he didn’t hit for any power at all.

In his first full-season experience, he smacked 17 homers and 37 doubles in Single-A.

Gonzalez’s average dropped 50 points in 2002, but his power numbers remained almost identical and it should be noted that he skipped an entire level (high Single-A) to play at Double-A Portland this year. He is very young and, in retrospect, it may have been a mistake to have him skip high-A entirely. His 2002 performance was far from a complete failure and Gonzalez is still on track to be a very good player.

Defensively, Gonzalez is a great first baseman, with soft hands and good athleticism.

Gonzalez has been involved in several trade rumors this off-season and the Marlins do have some other options at first base throughout their organization. Wherever he ends up, he’ll hit and be a very valuable player.

#21) Travis Hafner

Cleveland Indians

Age: 25

Pos: 1B

Bats: Left

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

A

436

.346

.447

.580

22

34

1

67

86

0

4

2001

AA

323

.282

.396

.545

20

25

0

59

82

3

1

2002

AAA

401

.342

.463

.559

21

22

1

79

76

2

1

"When the fox hears the rabbit scream, he comes running, but not to help." - Mason Verger, Hannibal.

Mark Shapiro heard the rabbit’s screams and he recognized them, because, well, he had heard them before.

You see, John Hart has a bit of a history of giving up very good hitters for not much in return.

Exhibit A is, of course, Brian Giles - he of the back-to-back-to-back-to-back .400+ OBP / .590+ SLG / 35+ HR seasons with Pittsburgh - for whom Hart received Ricky Rincon.

Exhibit B is Richie Sexson - he of the 45 HRs in 2001 and 88 HRs in 2 and a half seasons with the Brewers - for whom Hart got Bob Wickman. There are other, lesser exhibits like Sean Casey.

And now, Travis Hafner.

Hafner was "stuck" behind Rafael Palmeiro in Texas in the same way Lyle Overbay has been stuck in Arizona.

Fortunately for Travis Hafner, the Indians decided to free him (or FREE HIM! for you Durazo fans out there) and make him their replacement at first base for Jim Thome.


All they needed to give Mr. Rabbit…er, Mr. Hart, was Einar Diaz (a career .259/.309/.357 hitter) and Ryan Drese (a career 5.90 ERA pitcher). Hart even tossed in Aaron Myette, a pitcher at least as good as Ryan Drese, along with Hafner.

I am pretty sure that even if Shapiro wanted to ignore them, he couldn’t have. Those screams must have been pretty loud.

Hafner can flat out hit. He posted a .346 average in 2000 and a .342 average this season, with a .282 sandwiched in between. Hafner has good home run and doubles power and an excellent eye at the plate.

His defense, even at first base, is pretty awful, which wasn’t helping his quest for a full-time job.

Hafner is already 25 years old, which means the time is now. He has an opportunity with Cleveland and really needs to take advantage of it immediately. If he struggles, he runs the risk of getting tagged with the dreaded "AAAA" hitter label for circumstances (read: Rafael Palmeiro) that have mostly been beyond his control.

His MLE for 2002 was .318/.427/.512, which would put him right alongside guys like Ryan Klesko (.300/.388/.537 in 2002), John Olerud (.300/.403/.490) and Jeff Bagwell (.291/.401/.518) near the top of the first base pile.

The Indians had a lot of nice pieces in place for their rebuilding job, but one thing they needed was a young replacement for Jim Thome. They have that in Travis Hafner and, given the chance, he’ll make John Hart scream again - for a different reason.

#20) Scott Kazmir

New York Mets

Age: 18

Pos: SP

Throws: Left

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2002

R

18

0.50

17.0

3.5

2.5

0.0

34

7

5

0

I fought the urge to include Kazmir on this list, I swear I did.

A high school pitcher with only 18 career pro innings shouldn’t be a on a list like this right?

Well, probably not, but I couldn’t stop myself.

Kazmir was almost certainly the top pitching talent available in the 2002 draft, but many teams passed on him because of his small stature and large salary demands. The Mets snatched him up with the 15th pick and now they have perhaps the top left handed pitching prospect in the game.

His fastball works in the mid-90s and he compliments it with a good slider as his second pitch. His curve and change up are in the "developmental" stage at this point.

Kazmir’s high school numbers are almost unreal. He pitched 75 innings for Cypress Falls High School in Houston, Texas, totaling 172 strikeouts, 19 walks and a 0.37 ERA. That strikeout rate comes out to an unbelievable 20.64 per 9 innings pitched.

High school stats are still high school stats no matter how you look at them, but 172 Ks in 75 innings is impressive wherever you are pitching.

A diminutive high school pitcher with almost zero pro experience has no business on this list, but he’s on it anyway. He might be the next Sandy Koufax or he might be the next Brien Taylor, who knows.

Whatever happens, it’ll be fun to watch.

#19) Marlon Byrd

Philadelphia Phillies

Age: 25

Pos: CF

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

A

515

.309

.379

.515

17

29

13

51

110

41

5

2001

AA

510

.316

.386

.555

28

22

8

52

93

32

5

2002

AAA

538

.297

.362

.476

15

37

7

46

98

15

1

While Doug Glanville has been devouring outs by the hundreds in Philadelphia for the past several seasons, the Phillies have been extremely conservative with Marlon Byrd. He has played full seasons at A, AA and AAA in the past 3 years, without any mid or late season promotions, except for last season’s September call up.

Byrd is ready, both offensively and defensively, and now that Glanville’s days of making 500 outs a year are over with - at least in Philadelphia - Byrd can step in as the everyday center fielder.

Marlon Byrd has been pretty much the same hitter for the last 3 years - .300 average, 50 walks, 60 extra base hits, 100 strikeouts and solid center field defense. The only thing that has really changed is his work on the bases. Byrd has always been a phenomenal base stealer, but his attempts at thievery have dwindled over the past few years, from 46 in 2000 to 37 in 2001 and only 16 this past year. He has always had an exceptional success rate, which is why the lack of attempts this year is troubling. Perhaps he just decided to focus entirely on hitting in 2002 or maybe he bulked up a little and lost some speed. Whatever the reason, if he hits like I think he can, the Phillies won’t really care what his stolen base totals look like.

Marlon Byrd doesn’t particularly look like a centerfielder, sort of like how Kirby Puckett didn’t look like a centerfielder. However, his defense has never been an issue and he should have no problem manning center for the Phillies.

Byrd will make Philadelphia fans forget Doug Glanville, because lord knows they’ll try to.

#18) Jose Lopez

Seattle Mariners

Age: 19

Pos: SS

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2001

A

289

.256

.309

.329

2

15

0

13

44

13

6

2002

A

522

.324

.360

.464

8

39

5

27

45

31

13

I really like this guy.

I suppose that every person ranking prospects and trying to predict the future gets that "feeling" about certain lesser-known players. I get that feeling about Jose Lopez.

Signed out of Venezuela in 2000, Lopez was one of the youngest players in the California League this season at 18 years old and was also one of the league’s best hitters finishing second in the league in batting average (.324) and led the league in runs (82), hits (169) and doubles (39).

Along with an improving offensive attack, Lopez has shown excellent fielding ability at shortstop. He has good range, a cannon for an arm and a natural fielding ability that was unmatched in the low minors.

It is almost too good to be true and it might be. There have been some rumors in regard to his actual age being in question. If Lopez is truly 19 years old, he has some serious star potential. Heck, even if he isn’t really 19, he still has a pretty bright future.

If we trust his age, Lopez won’t turn 20 until November of 2003, which means he will spend the entire 2003 season at age 19, likely at Double-A San Antonio. 18 year old shortstops with Gold Glove caliber defense that smack 40 doubles, steal 30 bases and hit .320 in Single-A are pretty tough to find.

Consider me the driver of the Jose Lopez bandwagon. There are still plenty of seats available, so hop on. I think it’ll be a hell of a ride.

Keep an eye out for Jose Lopez, he could move very quickly and make me look really good or age 3 years in a single day and make me look...well, not so good.

#17) Miguel Cabrera

Florida Marlins

Age: 19

Pos: 3B

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

R

219

.260

.344

.352

2

10

2

23

46

1

0

 

A

32

.250

.294

.313

0

2

0

2

6

0

0

2001

A

422

.268

.328

.382

7

19

4

37

76

3

0

2002

A

489

.274

.333

.421

9

43

1

38

85

10

1

The Marlins spotted Miguel Cabrera, at the age of 16, in Venezuela and signed him to a $1.9 million dollar bonus in 1999, the most ever given to a Venezuelan player. He began his pro career as a shortstop but shifted to third base prior to last season. Third appears to be his natural position and one that he has the potential to be very good at. Cabrera has very good hands and a great arm at the hot corner.

At the age of 19, Cabrera has already appeared in the "Futures Game" during two different All-Star breaks and has been one of the youngest players in each league he has played in.

Cabrera spent 2002 playing at Jupiter of the Florida State League, which is a very tough place (and league) to hit home runs. He only hit 9 dingers, but his total of 43 doubles is an extremely good sign for power yet to come. As he develops physically, look for many of those doubles to turn into homers.

On the bases, Cabrera is slightly above average. He doesn’t clog things up, but he isn’t much of a base stealing threat either.

Cabrera’s plate discipline is not great, but it is passable, particularly for someone so young. He only walked 38 times in over 500 plate appearances, but his strike out rate is not abnormally high and he generally has a solid approach at the plate to go along with lightning quick bat speed.

He’ll most likely begin 2003 at Double-A Carolina, which should give him a significant boost in his raw hitting totals. Cabrera could move very quickly and might be ready to take over for Mike Lowell before his 21st birthday.

#16) Hee Seop Choi

Chicago Cubs

Age: 23

Pos: 1B

Bats: Left

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2001

A

345

.296

.369

.533

15

25

6

37

78

4

1

 

AA

122

.303

.419

.623

10

9

0

25

38

3

1

2001

AAA

266

.229

.313

.417

13

11

0

34

67

5

1

2002

AAA

478

.287

.406

.513

26

24

3

95

119

3

2

 

ML

50

.180

.281

.320

2

1

0

7

15

0

0

Don’t worry Cubs fans, Eric Karros blocking Hee Seop Choi from the starting first base job would be like asking someone to block Mo Vaughn from the buffet. Choi is too good and it just isn’t going to happen.

Choi’s bad 2001 (.229/.313/.417) was the result of a hand/wrist injury. Other than that, he has been pretty consistent at every level.

He has tremendous home run power, a great eye at the plate (as evidenced by his PCL leading 95 walks) and the ability to hit for a good average.

Choi is a monstrous man at 6-5 and about 240 pounds, but he has worked himself into being an above-average defender at first base and should have no problems playing there for the Cubs.

Barring a completely idiotic decision by Dusty Baker, Choi (and not Karros) will be the Cubs’ first baseman in 2003, beginning what should be a very long career hitting balls out of Wrigley Field.

#15) Joe Borchard

Chicago White Sox

Age: 24

Pos: CF/RF

Bats: Switch

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

A

52

.288

.377

.462

2

3

0

6

9

0

0

2001

AA

515

.295

.384

.509

27

27

1

67

158

5

4

2002

AAA

438

.272

.349

.498

20

35

2

49

139

2

4

The White Sox lured Joe Borchard away from quarterbacking Stanford and a future in the NFL with a gigantic $5.3 million dollar bonus after they drafted him with their first round pick in 2000.

Though Borchard has performed well everywhere he has played, his development has not been as fast as the White Sox were hoping. That said, he is still a major part of their future plans.

Borchard 2002 season was stalled when he broke a bone in his foot during spring training. He recovered very quickly and was still able to play almost entire season (133 games) in Triple-A and even got a few at bats with the White Sox in September.

A switch-hitter, Borchard shows tremendous power from both sides of the plate and along with that comes a ton of strikeouts. He whiffed 158 times in 2001 and 139 times in 133 games last season. He also doesn’t walk a tremendous amount.

Defensively, Borchard will be tried as a centerfielder, but is more likely headed for a career in one of the corners and is probably best suited for right field because of his throwing arm, although that position is filled in Chicago for the foreseeable future.

Chicago may give him a chance to play right away in 2003 as their starting centerfielder and, if not, Borchard will be called up soon enough. Borchard has as much power potential as anyone and if he can learn to make a little more contact or draw a few more walks, he can be a hell of a player.

#14) Jeff Mathis

Anaheim Angels

Age: 19

Pos: C

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2001

R

77

.299

.387

.455

0

6

3

11

13

1

0

2002

A

491

.287

.346

.444

10

41

3

40

75

7

4

Jeff Mathis was the Angels’ supplemental first round pick in the 2001 draft that also netted them Casey Kotchman in round one.

Mathis is a very good defensive catcher with a plus arm and good athleticism. The Angels are very impressed with his leadership and receiving skills as well.

At the plate, Mathis has the potential to be a major force. He has excellent strength and good bat speed, which allows him to mash gappers all over the field. Mathis racked up 41 doubles in under 500 at bats last season and also added in 10 homers and 3 triples - all at the age of 19. He also showed decent plate discipline, drawing 40 walks while striking out a reasonable amount of times (75).

As with many young players, those impressive doubles totals should eventually lead to more home run power.

Projecting young catchers is a very tough thing to do, but Jeff Mathis looks like a 2-way star, combining excellent fielding skills with the potential for 30 home run power.

He’s several years away at this point, but I think he’ll be worth the wait.

#13) Rich Harden

Oakland Athletics

Age: 21

Pos: SP

Throws: Right

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2001

A

74

3.39

12.2

4.6

5.7

0.4

100

38

47

3

2002

A

68

2.93

11.3

3.2

6.5

0.5

85

24

49

4

 

AA

85

2.95

10.8

5.5

7.1

0.2

102

52

67

2

Call it luck or scouting or whatever you want, but the A’s have a unique ability to churn out high quality starting pitching prospects and the newest member of that ever expanding group is Rich Harden. The A’s took Harden in the 17th round of the 2000 draft as a "draft and follow" and eventually signed him after he had a great sophomore season in junior college.

Harden has a great fastball that resides in the 93-95 range and a very good changeup. In addition to those 2 plus-pitches, Harden also works with a slider and splitter/sinker that are improving.

Right now, Harden’s lack of control is his biggest problem. He started 28 games last season, but only managed to pitch 153 innings (5.4 per start) because the A’s have strict pitch count limits and Harden often reached them very early in games.

Harden appears to be on the same path as Tim Hudson and Barry Zito - start the season in Triple-A and, if all goes well, make a second half Major League debut, pitch around 100 innings with the A’s and then join the rotation full-time the next year.

Rich Harden is a legitimate #1 starter in the making, which would give the A’s 4 of those, I guess.

#12) Casey Kotchman

Anaheim Angels

Age: 19

Pos: 1B

Bats: Left

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2002

A

288

.281

.390

.444

5

30

0

48

37

2

1

The Angels picked Kotchman with the 13th pick in the 2001 draft, out of a Florida high school. His pro debut in 2001 was cut very short after he injured his wrist during a slide into home during a game.

Kotchman’s season was again cut short by injuries in 2002, when he once again injured his wrist and missed about 2 months. He was able to come back from the injury to play again in 2002, but he struggled. He also had some back injuries while in high school.

If real life worked like a Playstation game, the Angels could just turn injuries to "off" and Kotchman would have nothing to worry about. Barring some technological and biological advancements that I am unaware of, that is not yet an option, so staying on the field will be a huge key for Kotchman throughout the rest of his career.

While healthy, Kotchman has performed very well and has always shown tremendous ability. He has very good plate discipline for a young hitter and smacked 30 doubles in under 300 at bats this season, showing very good power potential. A lot of people expected Kotchman to produce huge batting averages, which he not done, but .281 is nothing to sneeze at and it may have been better if not for his struggles after coming back from the wrist injury.

Kotchman has been compared to Rafael Palmeiro by some and the Angels are certainly hoping that he gradually develops power like Palmeiro did.

As an added bonus, Kotchman is a tremendous defensive first baseman.

Kotchman has two main areas to work on in 2003: staying healthy and turning some of those doubles into homers. If he can accomplish the health part, I think the homers will follow.

#11) Justin Morneau

Minnesota Twins

Age: 21

Pos: 1B

Bats: Left

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

R

194

.402

.478

.665

10

21

0

30

18

3

1

2001

A

236

.356

.420

.597

12

17

2

26

38

0

0

 

A

197

.294

.385

.437

4

10

3

24

41

0

0

2002

AA

494

.298

.356

.474

16

31

4

42

88

7

0

Justin Morneau began his pro career as a catcher, but was quickly switched to first base, partly because of his defensive deficiencies and partly because of the hope that he would develop into an offensive force once he was out from behind the plate.

Lots of scouts have projected big power numbers for Morneau in the future, based on his sweet left handed swing and good size, but so far the power isn’t quite there. After hitting .402 in his pro debut in rookie-ball and .356 in low-A in 2001, Morneau’s average has dropped into the .295 zone during his last 700 at bats, between A and AA.

Although he doesn’t walk a lot, he has always had a pretty nice K/BB ratio, although it deteriorated a little bit last year, when he struck out 88 times while only drawing 42 walks.

Morneau’s defense is steadily improving, but there is still a lot of work to be done there.

Right now he looks like John Olerud, minus about 50 walks a year and the Gold Glove defense.

If the power comes, watch out. He’ll make Twins fans forget all about Doug Mientkiewicz’s glove.

#10) Rocco Baldelli

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Age: 21

Pos: CF

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

R

232

.216

.269

.310

3

9

2

12

56

11

3

2001

A

406

.249

.303

.394

8

23

6

23

89

25

9

2002

A

312

.333

.382

.535

14

19

1

18

63

21

6

 

AA

70

.371

.413

.529

2

3

1

5

11

3

2

 

AAA

96

.292

.292

.469

3

6

1

0

23

2

5

Yo, Rocco! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself)

When someone with as many "tools" as Rocco Baldelli puts everything together and has a season like he did in 2002, a lot of people get excited, and rightfully so.

Toolsy high school outfielders tend to have problems actually performing well, so it is big news when a guy jumps through 3 levels of a minor league system, wins Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year and hits .330 with 19 homers and 28 doubles - all at the age of 20.

Before you get too excited, keep in mind that Baldelli only drew 23 walks combined between those 3 levels and 2 of them were intentional. Plus, he didn’t draw a single walk in almost 100 plate appearances at Triple-A.

Baldelli is a line drive machine with plus speed and solid base stealing instincts that should get even better with more experience. On defense, he is a natural centerfielder with good speed, great athleticism and the ability to glide to balls in the gaps.

There is an awful lot here to get really excited about and the Devil Rays have shown a willingness to promote players very aggressively. However, the fact is that most players not named "Soriano" have a pretty difficult time being superstars while walking twice a month.

Baldelli is a step ahead of most toolsy high schoolers at this point, but the coaching he receives in the near future will play a gigantic part in whether or not he becomes a star. I’d feel better if that coaching was coming from an organization other than Tampa Bay, but he’ll have to make the most of what they have to offer him.

Rocco Baldelli’s "ceiling" is as high as anyone’s and he looks like a potential MVP candidate, but he’s going to make it very difficult on himself if he doesn’t start taking some walks. Short term, I wouldn’t expect him to hit .330 in the Majors anytime soon, which is what he’ll have to do to make himself valuable with such an atrocious walk rate.

#9) Brandon Phillips

Cleveland Indians

Age: 21

Pos: 2B/SS

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

A

484

.242

.306

.378

11

17

8

38

97

23

8

2001

A

194

.284

.414

.428

4

12

2

38

45

17

3

 

AA

265

.298

.337

.449

7

19

0

12

42

13

6

2002

AA

245

.327

.380

.506

9

13

2

16

33

6

3

 

AAA

258

.279

.318

.453

9

18

0

16

45

8

2

The crown jewel of the Bartolo Colon package from Montreal, Brandon Phillips appears to be all set to make up one half of the Cleveland middle infield for the next decade or so.

Which half isn’t exactly certain yet.

Phillips has the ability to be a good defensive shortstop, but Cleveland cult hero and fancy playmaker Omar Vizquel currently holds that spot.

I would suggest the Indians trade Omar, but I have seen firsthand the reaction from Cleveland fans when someone suggests that maybe Omar isn’t the 90s version of Ozzie Smith so I can only imagine the backlash that would come with a "they should trade him" statement.

Phillips won’t make as many barehanded plays as Vizquel, but he’ll do some things, particularly at the plate, that will make Cleveland fans forget Omar as quick as you can say "overrated."

Phillips’ hitting has been good at every level, but his plate discipline has varied quite a bit. He walked only 38 times to go along with 484 at bats in 2000 and then followed that up with 38 walks with only 194 at bats in the first part of 2001. Last season, he only walked 32 times combined, between AA and AA, with over 500 ABs.

Right now, Phillips looks like he has the potential to be a .280-.290 hitter with good gap power and some homers. He also has very good speed on the bases and has been efficient base stealer at every level, although his attempts have dropped off steadily.

I would say that he will make a very good shortstop for years to come, but he may never get the chance to do that. Nevertheless, he’ll make a fine second baseman too.

#8) Jason Stokes

Florida Marlins

Age: 20

Pos: 1B

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2001

A

130

.231

.299

.400

6

2

1

11

48

0

0

2002

A

349

.341

.421

.645

27

25

0

47

96

1

1

Jason Stokes was thought of as one of the top hitters in the 2000 draft, but dropped to the Marlins in the 2nd round because of concerns about whether or not he would be willing to sign. The Marlins lured him away from attending the University of Texas with a $2 million dollar bonus and he started his pro career at Utica in the New York-Penn League, where he struggled at the plate and with injuries. While Stokes did show good power in 2001, he hit only .231 and struck out 48 times in 35 games.

Stokes started 2002 at Kane County, which is high-A ball. He immediately showed improvements from 2001 and crushed the ball throughout the year, hitting .341. He also added 27 homers and 25 doubles in only 97 games, before going down with a season-ending wrist injury. Stokes is a dead pull hitter capable of hitting monstrous bombs to left field, but can also look foolish against off-speed stuff at times.

Stokes’ walk rate looks phenomenal on paper, but 15 of those 47 walks were intentional. Still, 32 non-intentional walks in 97 games is an adequate rate, although nothing special. He also racks up huge K totals, having struck out 144 times in 132 career games.

Defensively, Stokes will never be much more than average at first base, but with his bat it won’t be an issue. He and Adrian Gonzalez appear to be in a race to see who can be the Marlins’ future at first base and, although Gonzalez is playing at higher levels, Stokes might just have the lead.

#7) Jesse Foppert

San Francisco Giants

Age: 22

Pos: SP

Throws: Right

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2001

A

70

1.93

11.3

3.0

4.5

0.9

88

23

35

7

2002

AA

61

2.79

10.9

3.1

6.5

0.4

74

21

44

3

 

AAA

79

3.99

12.4

4.0

8.1

1.4

109

35

71

12

Foppert is a converted shortstop/first baseman that is now the best starting pitching prospect in baseball.

The Giants grabbed him with their 2nd round pick in 2001 and he won the Northwest League ERA title in his first year, posting a 1.93 ERA.

San Francisco decided to take a chance with Foppert and they had him skip high-A, starting him at Double-A Shreveport in 2002. Foppert had no problems with the jump and dominated the Texas league to the tune of 10.9 Ks/9 IPs and a 2.79 ERA.

The Giants promoted him to Triple-A at mid-season, where he continued to rack up gigantic strike out totals, although he did give up 12 homers in 79 innings there.

There isn’t much not to like about Jesse Foppert. He’s 6-6 and has a perfect pitcher’s physique and throws an overpowering fastball, a great cut-fastball and a solid, developing slider. His actual performance thus far has been extraordinary. In 210 professional innings pitched Foppert has 271 strikeouts to go along with 79 walks and only 150 hits allowed. Even better, his strike out rate has not gone down as he advances to tougher levels of competition, as his 12.4 Ks/9 IPs in Triple-A would attest to.

The Giants have not been conservative with Foppert so far, so how soon he sees action with the big club is an unknown. At the latest, expect to see him make an appearance at Pac Bell (or whatever the heck they are going to call it) by mid-season.

He’s the real deal.

#6) Francisco Rodriguez

Anaheim Angels

Age: 21

Pos: RP

Throws: Right

YEAR

LG

IP

ERA

SO/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

SO

BB

H

HR

2000

A

64

2.81

11.1

4.5

6.0

0.3

79

32

43

2

2001

A

114

5.38

11.6

4.3

10.0

1.0

147

55

127

13

2002

AA

41

1.96

13.4

3.3

7.0

0.4

61

15

32

2

 

AAA

42

2.57

12.6

2.8

6.4

0.2

59

13

30

1

Francisco Rodriguez had himself a pretty nice month of October this year. In other news: Bill Gates is wealthy, Yao Ming is tall, Ashley Judd is attractive and Barry Bonds is a good baseball player.

After seeing what Rodriguez did in the post-season and after looking at his strike out rates in the minors, it is hard to imagine how he was relatively unknown prior to this year. He didn’t appear on many top prospect lists and, because hindsight is always 20/20, it’s tough to tell the reason.

As a starter prior to this season, he consistently showed the ability to strike out 11+ batters per game and, since moving to the bullpen full-time, his K rate has gone up even more. His control is still somewhat of an issue, but it improved dramatically in 2002, as Rodriguez shaved almost a walk-and-a-half per 9 innings off his performance from last year.

Rodriguez looks like a "sure thing" at this point. He has a blazing fastball and a devastating slider that makes hitters look absolutely ridiculous. The Angels appear to have chosen a setup role for him in 2002 and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him put up Octavio Dotel-type numbers (~100 IP/2.50 ERA).

Whether or not 100 high pressure innings is more valuable to the Angels than 200 innings as a starter is debatable. As is the possible effect that pitching fewer innings would have on his arm in the future. Additionally, Rodriguez may simply be better suited for short appearances where he can let it all hang out without having to worry about stamina problems or facing a hitter more than once or twice.

Rodriguez may never be able to duplicate his post-season magic or live up to what will almost certainly be astronomical hype, but he has all the skills to be a dominant reliever at the Major League level and possibly a starter.

#5) Jose Reyes

New York Mets

Age: 19

Pos: SS

Bats: Switch

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

R

132

.250

.359

.318

0

3

3

20

37

10

4

2001

A

407

.307

.337

.472

5

22

15

18

71

30

10

2002

A

288

.288

.353

.462

6

10

11

30

35

31

13

 

AA

275

.287

.331

.425

2

16

8

16

42

27

11

While Francisco Rodriguez made the biggest jump up the prospect lists this year, Jose Reyes made the biggest jump in the regular season.

Reyes went from "sleeper" to the best shortstop prospect in all of baseball, faster than you can say "Rey Ordonez."

At the age of 19, Reyes did it all in 2002. He hit .288, smacked 53 extra base hits, stole 58 bases and even improved his plate discipline, with a somewhat adequate 46 walks. He also played great, although occasionally erratic, defense at shortstop and won the MVP of the "Futures Game" during the All-Star break.

Reyes committed 29 errors between A and AA, but he has outstanding range and a rocket arm. According to Baseball America, managers in both the Florida State and Eastern Leagues voted him the best defensive shortstop in the league.

In 2001, Reyes hit .307 with 42 XBHs and 30 steals as the youngest full-season everyday player in the all the minor leagues.

Reyes has the total package. He has the potential to be a Gold Glove caliber shortstop while being a major offensive force. He hits for average and extra-base power from both sides of the plate. Reyes has blazing speed, as evidenced by his minor league leading 19 triples in 2002, and is a great baserunner, but he needs to work on his base stealing and improve his stolen base percentage.

Reyes’ combination of youth, performance and "tools" is very rare and he is on track to becoming a special player.

Expect Reyes to start 2003 at either AA or AAA, but he could be playing in Shea Stadium very soon because it isn’t like he has much blocking his path.

#4) Michael Cuddyer

Minnesota Twins

Age: 23

Pos: RF/3B

Bats: Right

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

AA

490

.263

.351

.394

6

30

8

55

93

5

4

2001

AA

509

.301

.395

.560

30

36

3

75

106

5

9

2002

AAA

330

.309

.379

.594

20

16

9

36

79

12

7

 

ML

112

.259

.311

.429

4

7

0

8

30

2

0

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, Michael Cuddyer was drafted as a shortstop. I would imagine seeing him there now would be almost as bad as watching David Wells leg out a triple.

Cuddyer may have outgrown shortstop, but his hitting shoes still fit.

After a disappointing 2000 season at Double-A, Cuddyer rebounded in 2001, hitting .301 with 30 homers and 36 doubles in just over 500 at bats. In 2002 he showed that his improvement wasn’t just because he repeated Double-A. Cuddyer ripped through the Pacific Coast League, slugging .594 in 330 at bats, before the Twins called him up in mid-July.

Cuddyer struggled in sporadic playing time in July and August with the Twins, hitting only .196 in 56 at bats. He was given the semi-everyday right field job in September and responded well, hitting .321/.367/.518 with 2 homers and 5 doubles in 56 at bats.

Expect to see Cuddyer playing full-time somewhere in 2003, though exactly where has yet to be determined. The Twins would like to see him establish himself in right field and he certainly has the athletic ability to do so.

However, his arm is not great and he looked downright awful at times out there during the post-season, to the point that he was benched by manager Ron Gardenhire for the final 3 games against Anaheim in the ALCS.

Wherever the Twins end up sticking him in the field, he’ll be fine at the plate. His MLE for his 2002 Triple-A performance was .291/.356/.523, which would immediately make him Minnesota’s best hitter. Throw in the fact that he is a right handed hitter in the middle of a lefty-dominated Minnesota lineup and he is exactly what Carl Pohlad’s doctor ordered.

Cuddyer is a favorite for the AL Rookie-of-the-Year award and I expect him to have a great season.

#3) Victor Martinez

Cleveland Indians

Age: 24

Pos: C

Bats: Switch

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2000

A

70

.371

.452

.614

2

9

1

11

6

0

0

 

A

83

.217

.313

.301

0

7

0

11

5

1

1

2001

A

420

.329

.394

.488

10

33

2

39

60

3

3

2002

AA

443

.336

.417

.576

22

40

0

58

62

3

3

Despite playing catcher and hitting .329/.394/.488 in 2001, Victor Martinez was absent from most top prospect lists coming into last season. That is quite obviously no longer the case.

The switch-hitting Venezuela native continued to tear the cover off the ball in 2002, leading the Eastern League in batting average (.336), slugging % (.576) and on-base % (.417) on his way to the league MVP award. Martinez hit an impressive 22 homers in less than 450 at bats and his huge amount of doubles (40) suggests a possibility for even more long ball power to come. He even added in some very good plate discipline too, walking 58 times while only whiffing 62.

While his throwing arm is probably below average behind the plate, his overall defensive ability is pretty good, particularly his athleticism, and the Indians rave about his leadership skills.

Cleveland signed Martinez as an 18 year old in 1996 and they haven’t really rushed him very much thus far. Because of that, he isn’t extremely young, which is about the only possible blemish on his resume.

Martinez might benefit from a little time at Triple-A to start 2003, but, in all likelihood, he is about as ready as he needs to be. Cleveland promoted him for a cup of coffee with the big league club in September and Martinez made a nice ML debut, collecting 9 hits in 32 at bats, including a homer on the final day of the season.

In Victor Martinez, the Indians should have themselves a starting catcher and switch-hitting middle-of-the-order hitter for the next decade or so.

#2) Joe Mauer

Minnesota Twins

Age: 19

Pos: C

Bats: Left

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2001

R

110

.400

.492

.491

0

6

2

19

10

4

0

2002

A

411

.302

.393

.392

4

23

1

61

42

0

0

Joe Mauer and I attended high school at the same time. We both went to schools in the St. Paul (Minnesota) City Conference. My school had the pleasure of getting its butt kicked by Mauer in 3 different sports - football, basketball and yes, baseball.

Whether it was shooting guard, quarterback or catcher, Joe Mauer did it all in high school.

Mauer was offered a scholarship to Florida State with a good chance of becoming their starting quarterback (you’re all familiar with Chris Rix, right?). He chose baseball over playing for Bobby Bowden and the Twins happily selected him with the first overall pick in the 2001 draft.

Don’t let anyone tell you it wasn’t a "budget selection," because it was. Yes, Mauer is from Minnesota. And yes, he is a very good baseball player.

But all things (and payrolls) being equal, Mark Prior would be pitching half his games in the Metrodome right now.

That said, the Twins could’ve done a whole lot worse than Mauer.

If there is anything more unpredictable and unstable than drafting high school pitchers, it is drafting high school catchers. Whatever worries the Twins had along those lines were quickly squelched, as Mauer hit .400 in his pro debut and followed it up with a .302 average in his first full season.

Right now, the only thing missing from Mauer’s game is power. He hits for a great average, has exceptional plate discipline and is even a plus on the base paths ("runs well for a catcher!").

His defense draws rave reviews and his rocket arm, intelligence and athleticism behind the plate give Mauer Gold Glove potential.

But, power is a big part of baseball and it can be the difference between an all-star and a Hall-of-Famer.

In 521 pro at bats (about 1 full Major League season’s worth) Mauer has a .322 batting average and 80 walks to go along with only 52 strikeouts. However, he has only totaled 4 home runs and 29 doubles during those same 521 ABs and, anyway you slice it, that is simply not very much power.

The good news is that most people in the Twins organization and many throughout baseball feel that Mauer has the potential to significantly increase his power as he develops. Mauer is big and strong and has a beautiful swing and the power should eventually come, or so the theory goes.

Twins fans hoping for a breakout power year from Mauer in 2003 shouldn’t hold their breath. He will most likely open the season at Fort Myers of the Florida State League, which is a very tough park and league for hitting bombs.

Mauer is still a long way away from the Majors, so it isn’t as if A.J. Pierzynski should start packing his bags yet. He should probably start to get himself some luggage though.

#1) Mark Teixeira

Texas Rangers

Age: 22

Pos: 3B

Bats: Switch

YEAR

LG

AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

2B

3B

BB

SO

SB

CS

2002

A

150

.320

.411

.593

9

10

2

21

24

2

0

 

AA

171

.316

.415

.591

10

11

3

25

36

3

2

I smell superstar.

The Texas Rangers selected Mark Teixeira with the 5th pick in the 2001 draft after he had an injury plagued final season at Georgia Tech.

Teixeira’s pro debut was delayed quite a bit because he signed too late to play in 2001 and then had elbow and shoulder problems that kept him off the field for the beginning of 2002.

Texas played it very conservatively with Teixeira, choosing to start him at Single-A.

After 150 at bats, the Rangers decided to do the Florida State League’s pitchers a favor and they promoted Teixeira to Double-A Tulsa.

Single-A, Double-A, it doesn’t really matter. Mark Teixeira will hit wherever you put him. A big, strong, switch hitter, Teixera has the ability to hit for a good average while combining extraordinary power and great plate discipline with a highly advanced and mature hitting approach.

On defense, he is a great hitter. Okay, it isn’t that bad. Teixeira is never going to win any Gold Gloves, but he is capable of playing a passable third base for sure. He has a strong arm, decent hands and the Rangers are hoping he can handle the hot corner, but, if not, he can always move across the diamond.

Texas may decide to start Teixeira at Triple-A in 2003, but he is more than ready to begin feasting on Major League pitching. Teixeira is a .300+ AVG / 40+ HR / 100 walk switch-hitting third baseman, which doesn’t come around very often (and when it does, it sometimes gets moved to left field by the Braves).

He and that Rodriguez guy will make a pretty nice left side of the infield and a decent 3-4 combination in the Rangers’ lineup for the next dozen years or so.

Top 50 by team:

Seattle Mariners

5

Minnesota Twins

4

Cleveland Indians

4

San Francisco Giants

4

Anaheim Angels

3

New York Mets

3

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

3

Florida Marlins

3

Atlanta Braves

3

Texas Rangers

2

Philadelphia Phillies

2

Toronto Blue Jays

2

Arizona Diamondbacks

2

Milwaukee Brewers

2

Boston Red Sox

2

San Diego Padres

1

Oakland Athletics

1

Chicago White Sox

1

Chicago Cubs

1

Kansas City Royals

1

Detroit Tigers

1

New York Yankees

0

Baltimore Orioles

0

Montreal Expos

0

St. Louis Cardinals

0

Houston Astros

0

Cincinnati Reds

0

Pittsburgh Pirates

0

Los Angeles Dodgers

0

Colorado Rockies

0

Top 50 by position:

Starting Pitcher

15

First Base

10

Shortstop

5

Catcher

5

Center Field

4

Third Base

4

Left Field

3

Second Base

2

Right Field

1

Relief Pitcher

1

Top 50 by draft position:

1st Round

19

Foreign

13

2nd Round

5

3rd Round

2

4th Round

2

5th Round

2

8th Round

1

10th Round

1

17th Round

1

18th Round

2

31st Round

1

Undrafted

1


Reader Comments and Retorts
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January 27, 2003 - Keith Auclair

Interesting article. Was this all paper research or have you seen many (any) of these guys play?

January 27, 2003 - Aaron Gleeman (www) (e-mail)

I have seen quite a few of these guys play, but there are several that I have never seen.

January 28, 2003 - STL

Probably the best the the recent prospect list to come out. Of course, to satiate my contrarian nature, I will have to say that you were a little generous with high ceiling/low experience prospects in A and AA (apparently you almost agreed with me on Kazmir).

January 28, 2003 - dude

F-Rod wasn't unknown to Angels fans, who have been salivating over him for about three years, yet of course Angels fans salivate at the drop of a hat (anyone remember their 'hot catcher prospect' of the late 80s, John Orton?)...whoops, I can't pick on the Angels anymore.

Word also has it that they have an even BETTER young prospect similar to F-Rod: Johan Santana. He is supposedly similar to F-Rod but has endurance.

January 28, 2003 - A Twins Fan

Frankie Rodriguez, and now Johan Santana? Dude, stop bogarting our pitchers' names!

January 28, 2003 - Mikael

Aaron,

Fun list.

One thing - I have to say I find it a bit unlikely that 10 of the top 50 prospects in baseball play first base. What is your rationale for choosing so many slow sluggers? Do you believe the minor leagues just happen to be chock full of 'em this year?

January 28, 2003 - Aaron Gleeman (www) (e-mail)

Mikael -

I do think that 2003 is a particularly good year for first base/DH-types.

Guys like Hafner, Choi, Harvey and possibly Overbay are going to get a chance to start their ML careers as full-time players in 2003. I think Hafner and Choi will be the best in the near future and Choi likely has the most long-term value potential, but they all have a chance to be valuable players as soon as this upcoming season. I would think that 4 rookie 1B/DH-starters breaking in at the same time is somewhat rare, although who knows if all of them will be starters or not (Dusty Baker, Eric Karros, Bob Brenley and Mark Grace may have something to say about it).

And, guys like Morneau, Kotchman, Stokes and Adrian Gonzalez, to me, have to be included on a list like this because they just have so much potential.

That leaves Nelson and Prince Fielder, the 2 lowest ranked 1B/DHs on my list. Nelson may not end up at 1B, depending on what happens with Fielder and Richie Sexson, etc. Anyone ranked in the 40s was a tough decision to include on the list (Nelson is #45, Fielder #46), but I think Nelson has incredible power potential and I felt he deserved a spot. Fielder is obviously a "risky" pick for the list. He only has a few hundred pro at bats under his (large) belt and he has yet to play any advanced competition. As I said in the comment on him, he's got extraordinary power potential, I think he'll hit for a good average and he has a very mature approach at the plate, which will lead to good walk totals (and a lot of strike outs too). Any guy ranked #46 could just as easily be ranked #52 and not be included on the list, but I incluced Fielder because I think he has a good chance of being a special hitter. We'll find out a lot about whether or not that will come true this year.

I'm off to class now. I'll be back later and will answer any and all questions that are asked in the meantime. Thanks for reading and BE NICE! :)

January 28, 2003 - Joel Barrett

"Betemit’s 2002 season is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t get overly excited about a player that shows absolutely no ability to control the strike zone."

With respect, Betemit's 2002 shows no such thing. If anything, it shows that if you rush a young player through 4 levels in a little over a year, and then let him play through injuries, he might struggle a bit.

First off, Betemit's strike zone judgement was fine prior to 2001. His walk rate did go down in 2001, but he was also a 19-year old who skipped Low-A, played part of the year in High-A (in arguably the toughest park for hitters among those in full-season leagues), and then was promoted again to AA. Some decline in his control of the strike zone was to be expected under those circumstances, so assuming he was clueless about the strike zone based on 2001 was a bit premature. His walk rate in 2002 improved back to a respectable level, especially for a player this young playing in such an advanced league. Including his rehab assignment in July and the Dominican League regular season, Betemit had 54 walks vs. 96 strikeouts in 471 at bats in 2002. That's far from terrible. Blaming his early 2002 struggles primarily on his strike zone judgement is completely missing the boat.

Betemit was the youngest player in the NY-Penn League in 2000 (where he hit .331). Jumping to High-A to start 2001, Betemit was the second youngest hitter in the Carolina League in the first half of 2001, and the second youngest hitter in the Southern League in the second half of 2001 (where he hit .355). Betemit then hit .308 in the Dominican League after the 2001 season (second highest average in the league).

Betemit opened the 2002 season on the 7-day disabled list because of a strained lower back, before being rushed back into the lineup. In May, Betemit fouled a ball off his foot, breaking a bone. After a visit to Dr. Andrews, he decided to try and play through the injury, which did not work out so well. Mercifully, in June Betemit was finally forced onto the DL for a month with a bad ankle sprain. When he returned in July, he appeared fully recovered from all his ailments.

Betemit's 2002 was a tale of 2 seasons. Prior to the All-Star break, Betemit hit .198/.271/.314. After his return from the DL in July, he hit .292/.363/.427 the rest of the way. Betemit then followed that up by hitting .312/.395/.422 in the Dominican League this winter (with 15 walks and only 14 strikeouts in 109 at bats).

Outside of his injury riddled first 2 months of 2002, Betemit has hit for a .313 average in 1200 at bats over the last 4 years (.320 in 1999, .331 in 2000, .305 in 2001, .292 in the second half of 2002). You are correct that batting average is currently the biggest part of his offense, but he's very good at it. He also has a good frame and a great swing, and his power is expected to emerge as his body matures and fills out.

So who do you think is the real Wilson Betemit? The player with a sore back and a broken foot who hit .198 in 171 at bats? Or the player who has hit .313 when healthy over the past 4 years, and who hit .292 the second half of the season?

Dropping your expectations for Betemit dramatically as a result of 2002 is a fundamental error, just as dropping expectations for Austin Kearns dramatically after 2001 would have been an error. The only reason for significantly downgrading Betemit as a prospect would be if his injuries appeared chronic, which so far they do not.

Just out of curiosity, how do you think Travis Hafner would do if we were able to time travel back to the spring of 1998 (when he was 5 months older than Betemit was last season), strain his lower back, promote him 3 levels to AAA, break his foot, and then ask him to play through it? Seeing as how he only hit .237 in Low-A that year, I'm E‘Ósing not too well.

January 28, 2003 - Odd isn't it...

I was wondering when I would see one Twins prospect, but finally I got the much added triple dosage in the top 11. Hmmmm, 3 in top 11 isn't good enough with the author holding a Twins website.

January 28, 2003 - PhillyBooster (not by Strom Thurmond)

Great list, with a small quibble. Hanley Ramirez cracks the list at 32, but where's the love for the Phillies' top shortstop prospect Anderson Machado?

Only 21, Machado put up a .751 OPS in AA Reading, plays solid defense, with 40 SB (against only 11 CS -- his SB% has improved every year). His bat is still developing (.251 BA), but he's got lots of walks and XBH on that low avearge, especially for a shortstop. (.353 OBP/.398 SLG).

On a related note, it may be a bias of prospect forecasting in general, but by focusing on low level (Rookie, A ball)/ high ceiling guys and high level (AAA)/ ready to help guys, I only counted a handful of guys (5 or 6) out of 50 who played most of 2002 in AA ball (like Machado). Where is the rookie class of 2004?

January 28, 2003 - Paul

Cliff Lee was taken in the 4th Rd of the 00 draft, not the 3rd.

January 28, 2003 - Jon

Has Hank Blalock dropped completely off the top 50, or does his April coffee remove him from consideration?

January 28, 2003 - Joel Barrett

Hank Blalock played enough in 2002 that he is no longer considered a rookie. I assume that's why he's not on the list.

January 28, 2003 - Brian

Aaron mistakenly quoted the eligibility guideline as 150 AB's, under which Blalock would still be a rookie (AB's , not PA). However, the rule is no more than 130 AB's and thus Hank is out.

January 28, 2003 - JimmyAAA

On a related note, it may be a bias of prospect forecasting in general, but by focusing on low level (Rookie, A ball)/ high ceiling guys and high level (AAA)/ ready to help guys, I only counted a handful of guys (5 or 6) out of 50 who played most of 2002 in AA ball (like Machado). Where is the rookie class of 2004?

Its the nature of a top prospect list. They skip levels like AA or only have cups of coffee. For example, Reyes played 2001 in A ball, half of 2002 in A and half in AA. Next year, he'll be in AAA and then the majors. There are plenty of good prospects in AA, but not many GREAT prospects.

January 28, 2003 - John M. Perkins

I've been split on Andy Marte all year. Yes, he has a good bat and huge power for an 18 year old. Yes, he plays smart defense; "smart" as in, never makes a throw he shouldn't and is where he supposed to be. Marte belongs high on a lot of lists. But on the team with the best rotation in Low A, Marte, in my eyes, was only the third best position player on the MBraves.

I don't have many knocks on Marte. Andy's range is adequate at 3B. I've sat on top of 3B for 12 minor league seasons, and I can mark the range of 3B. Andy Marte has the worst range of any home starter in those 12 years, with only part timer Cliff Brumbaugh with less range. Granted, I've had many excellent fielding 3B playing for the home team, with Tom Quinlan the best. Mike Lamb, is dinked by scouts on range, but covers all four directions better than Marte. [Admittedly, Mike liked to overthrow 2B often, and rush too many throws to 1B]. Anyway, Marte wasn't the best fielding 3B on the MBraves. That distinction belonged to Wes Timmons. Randall Shelley, and Victor Diaz were better Sally League defenders in the hot corner. Like Gold Gloves, Andy's defense kudos were due to his bat. Lynn Jones described Marte as not losing any games with his fielding. That's good enough for me, but it's less than he's been mistakenly touted.

As to his legit bat, Andy was pull happy, and slowed down a bit in the second half. When Marte was dropped in August from 3rd in the lineup to 5th, it signalled that the Braves were ahead of BA in the scouting curve.

Power, that would be another 1B for the list. True power, to all fields, if admittedly shy of LHP, Scott Thorman looks very good.

But overall, the best prospect on the MBraves was another 18 year old who had to bunt everything for two weeks having never seen stateside pitching. After tracking movement, he had two weeks of half swings, then punch an judy swings, then full. By the end of the season, Gregor Blanco was hitting HRs to all fields and moved from leadoff to batting third. Gregor Blanco was better than Marte the second half of the season. Gregor Blanco has more upside than Marte. That's not a knock on Marte. Gregor Blanco should be ahead of Marte on any prospect list.

Talking MBraves comparisons, Marte is no Chipper Jones, and Blanco is no Andruw Jones.

OTOH, Marte is better than Wes Helms and Blanco is better than Jermaine Dye. And Thorman is slightly better than Ryan Klesko.

[Meanwhile Zach Minor, Gonzalo Lopez and Macay McBride were the best the team had to offer.]

January 28, 2003 - Bambi's Bomber

A minor correction in case anyone cares: Prince Fielder bats lefthanded.

January 28, 2003 - Texas Ranger Fans Everywhere

Only one more year before Fuson kicks John Hart's sorry-trading butt to the curb.

Oh, and if Blalock hadn't exhausted his rookie status, where would he have placed on this list?

January 28, 2003 - Aaron Gleeman (www) (e-mail)

Joel -

Betemit had 54 walks vs. 96 strikeouts in 471 at bats in 2002. That's far from terrible. Blaming his early 2002 struggles primarily on his strike zone judgement is completely missing the boat.

I agree with you and I also want to respond that I did not blame his 2002 struggles on plate discipline. I simply said that he is a perfect example of why getting overexcited about someone that doesn't have good plate discipline is not the greatest idea. His offense was completely based on average and when that went down, the whole offensive ship went down with it.

And, I did not mean to imply that Wilson Betemit is the sole prospect for which bad plate discipline is a reason to avoid extreme hype. The same goes for Baldelli and many other guys. I made a sort of warning about Baldelli in my comment on him in this regard. If they have a poor 2003, their stock will go down, just as Betemit's did.

Dropping your expectations for Betemit dramatically as a result of 2002 is a fundamental error, just as dropping expectations for Austin Kearns dramatically after 2001 would have been an error.

I'll grant you that his 2002 performance was affected by injuries. However, to say that every prospect losing some of his luster because of injuries is a mistake just because Austin Kearns bounced back in a big way last year is just silly. You chose a very good example of player that had a poor, injury riddled season and came back to have a great season the next year, restoring his status. However, not every injured prospect does that and I will not assume that Betemit will do that.

Injuries are not a good thing for a baseball player, so to say "Don't count his 2002 because he was injured, he'll bounce back just like Kearns did" is, to me at least, a big mistake. I won't just write off an injury like it never happened, or excuse an entire season because of it.

Obviously, I am putting some words in your mouth here, but you get my general point, I hope.

Just out of curiosity, how do you think Travis Hafner would do if we were able to time travel back to the spring of 1998 (when he was 5 months older than Betemit was last season), strain his lower back, promote him 3 levels to AAA, break his foot, and then ask him to play through it? Seeing as how he only hit .237 in Low-A that year, I'm E‘Ósing not too well.

I'm not sure I see the point here. The reason Betemit is on this list at all is because of his youth, past performance and natural abilities. Hafner is on this list because he has demolished pitchers for the last several seasons and is as Major League-ready as someone can be. The fact that Hafner struggled 4-5 years ago at Betemit's age doesn't mean any more in Betemit's case than it does in the cases of 20 other young players that struggled last year. The two players are on this list for completely different reasons, so comparing them loses me at some point.

January 28, 2003 - Aaron Gleeman (www) (e-mail)

Odd isn't it... -

I was wondering when I would see one Twins prospect, but finally I got the much added triple dosage in the top 11. Hmmmm, 3 in top 11 isn't good enough with the author holding a Twins website.

Are you saying Mauer, Cuddyer and Morneau don't deserve high rankings?

Also, my blog is far from a "Twins website," although I do cover Twins topics, as well as topics from the other 29 teams.

January 28, 2003 - Aaron Gleeman (www) (e-mail)

Has Hank Blalock dropped completely off the top 50, or does his April coffee remove him from consideration?

Hank Blalock played enough in 2002 that he is no longer considered a rookie. I assume that's why he's not on the list.

Aaron mistakenly quoted the eligibility guideline as 150 AB's, under which Blalock would still be a rookie (AB's , not PA). However, the rule is no more than 130 AB's and thus Hank is out.

First of all, sorry about the 150/130 at bat mistake. I am not sure how the 150 got stuck in my brain as the number, but it did. Sorry.

As for Blalock, here is what I wrote at the beginning of the article:

To be "eligible" for this prestigious list, a player must meet the Rookie-of-the-Year qualifications, which means he has a total of less than 150 at bats or 50 innings pitched at the Major League level (so no Hank Blalock, Sean Burroughs, Josh Beckett or Mark Prior).

(Sub 130 at bats for 150 at bats) Blalock would certainly crack this list, very likely in the top 5 or 10, but he had 147 ABs last year. Strangely enough, that falls under my mistake 150 AB limit, but over the actual limits for ROY eligibility.

January 28, 2003 - Ben

Re: The Twins prospects, Morneau and Cuddyer both seem a little high. Given context, an accusation of favoritism is not out of place.

January 28, 2003 - Aaron Gleeman (www) (e-mail)

Bambi's Bomber -

A minor correction in case anyone cares: Prince Fielder bats lefthanded.

Oops. I actually know this, so at some point I must have just typed it wrong and never noticed to correct it. Speaking of which, nice work Mr. Editor! :)

January 28, 2003 - batpig

Aaron, why no Mark Phillips? He is a consensus top-5 LHP prospect, and though he has control issues he improved greatly in the 2nd half of last season, struck out more than a batter per inning, and throws 93-95 mph (touching 97mph) with a power curve from the left side. And he did very well in the Cal League at the age of 20...

January 28, 2003 - Aaron Gleeman (www) (e-mail)

batpig -

Aaron, why no Mark Phillips? He is a consensus top-5 LHP prospect, and though he has control issues he improved greatly in the 2nd half of last season, struck out more than a batter per inning, and throws 93-95 mph (touching 97mph) with a power curve from the left side. And he did very well in the Cal League at the age of 20...

Phillips made my cut down from 200 to 100 and I ended up ranking him somewhere between 60-65 (I don't have my big list handy). I think he certainly has great stuff and a very high ceiling and could very easily have made the top 50. The difference between a #45 ranking and a #62 ranking is pretty small.

This time next year he could be very high on the list.

January 28, 2003 - Kevin Stine

What about Brandon Larson?

January 28, 2003 - Mark Edward

Aaron,

Great list, but where is Kris Honel? 152 strikeouts in 153 innings, 2.82 ERA for Kannapolis.

January 28, 2003 - Odd isn't it...

I was partly bustin' your rocks...but partly not

first, this has nothing to do with Minnesota. Kazmir, I know you go back and forth about putting him on there, but you did. And so high too..from what i read the kid is great. But that sample size is 18 innings in Rookie ball. Just by virtue of the sample size and competition level, Gavin Floyd should be in front of him. I'm not saying raise Gavin's position, but more or less lower Kazmir.

As for your Twins...Morneau is above Hee Seop Choi, and I find that hard to believe. Morneau's OBP has lowered slightly with each level of competition, while Hee has pretty much maintained his high OBP. As for plate discipline I see Morneau K/BB ratio slipping.

As for Mauer, and it goes for Martinez too, I just have this thing about rating catchers so high. Especially if they are going to play catcher in the majors, I just don't, but then again there are two of them, and i would definately not put Cuddyer ahead of them. Francisco Rodriguez should be ahead of Cuddyer. Both had ML experience, and I think it's safe to say that Rodriguez outperformed him in the limited time. And by that virtue alone, he should be bumped ahead of Cuddyer.

January 29, 2003 - ALJ

yeesh... 9 teams have as many or more of the top 50 prospects than the entire NL central...

January 29, 2003 - murraygd13

Sure F-Rod had a great post-season as a short reliever. I think Cuddyer is justly ranked ahead of Rodriguez. I'd take a full time player any day over a short reliever. As far as F-Rod and being able to convert his numbers over to being a starting pitcher, your guess is as good as mine.

January 29, 2003 - Ted Nye

Here is the concensus in the 6 or 7 lists so far. The list includes people that are rookie eligible

Mark Teixeira Hideki Matsui (not listed my many but clearly #2) Brandon Phillips Jesse Foppert Jose Reyes Victor Martinez Rocco Baldelli Joe Mauer Joe Borchard Justin Morneau Marlon Byrd Casey Kotchman Hee Seop Choi Gavin Floyd Jerome Williams Adrian Gonzalez Jason Stokes Francisco Rodriguez Cliff Lee Clint Nagoette Scott Hairston Miguel Cabrera Adam Wainwright Scott Kazmir Franklyn German Sean Burnett Dewon Brazelton Kurt Ainsworth Michael Restovich Chris Snelling Colby Lewis Hanley Ramirez Dontrelle Willis Rich Harden Aaron Heilman Travis Hafner Jeff Mathis Josh Hamilton Justin Huber Wilson Betemit Jimmy Journell

January 29, 2003 - Odd isn't it...

Ok, here's some more evidence against your Twins bias...

To be a rookie one must a)exceed 130 AB or b) spend 45 days on the active roster.

For Cuddyer who have him playing in 2002. He played in 41 games, so if that doesn't surpass the 45 days, how bout this. He also played in 8 games during the 2001 season, and has acummalted exactly 130 AB. So he barely doesnt pass for (A), but it seems he passes for (B), so in essence he is no longer a prospect. am i right about this?

January 29, 2003 - Pat

No, you're not right. Cuddyer is still eligible.

Days on the roster during September roster expansion do not count toward the limits.

January 29, 2003 - Odd isn't it...

So expanded rosters dont count? Ok, thanks, I'll shut up now.

January 29, 2003 - Hab

Re: Morneau

It's my understanding that Morneau suffered some sort of intestinal illness toward the beginning of the year, resulting in weight loss. To what extent did this skew Morneau's stats, if at all?

January 29, 2003 - kcboomer

I see the KC Royals don't have a single pitcher in your top 50 despite drafting them like a drunken sailor on leave. Do they have any sign of promising pitchers and did any of them come close to making your list?

January 29, 2003 - Aaron Gleeman (www) (e-mail)

What about Brandon Larson?

Great list, but where is Kris Honel? 152 strikeouts in 153 innings, 2.82 ERA for Kannapolis.

Anytime you make a list like this, you are always going to have a lot of guys "on the bubble."

Both Larson and Honel were definitely under consideration, but didn't make the final cut down to 50.

Larson turns 27 in May, so I don't think he can really be considered much of an elite prospect. However, it sounds like he might get a chance to play a lot with the Reds this year and could have a very good rookie year. He hit .340/.397/.667 with 25 homers and 20 doubles in only 80 Triple-A games last year and hit .275/.362/.549 in 51 at bats with the Reds. Larson had laser eye surgery during the off-season and many believe that to be the biggest reason for his break out season in 2002. Prior to 2002, he hit .255 with 14 homers in 2001 and .272 with 20 homers in 2000. I think he's got a good shot at being an average to above-average third baseman for a few years.

Honel was Chicago's 1st round pick in 2001. He pitched very well in rookie-league in 2001 and followed it up with a very nice season in the South Atlantic (A) league. I think he's the best pitching prospect in the Chicago system and is probably the second best overall prospect, behind Borchard (although I'm still holding out some hope for Jon Rauch).

January 29, 2003 - Aaron Gleeman (www) (e-mail)

It's my understanding that Morneau suffered some sort of intestinal illness toward the beginning of the year, resulting in weight loss. To what extent did this skew Morneau's stats, if at all?

Yep, Morneau missed several weeks and reportedly lost about 20 LBS. It is certainly very possible that the illness and weight loss resulted in less power or overall performance. As a Twins fan, I hope so. Here is a link to an article about Morneau's situation: http://www.rockcats.com/pr-morneau1.html

I see the KC Royals don't have a single pitcher in your top 50 despite drafting them like a drunken sailor on leave. Do they have any sign of promising pitchers and did any of them come close to making your list?

The Royals don't a pitcher in the top 50, although I did talk about Colt Griffin in my comment about Gavin Floyd. :)

They do have some good arms in the system, guys like Zach Greinke and Jimmy Gobble. Also, Jeremy Hill, although he is a reliever. Griffin still has a lot of potential, but I'm not very optimistic about his long-term chances.

January 29, 2003 - Devin McCullen

Aaron, nice job as usual. Now, as a Mets fan who cares not for these other teams (for the most part), one question: Any reason Aaron Heilman doesn't show up? Is he just in the "almost there" category? I know I shouldn't complain when there's 3 Mets in the top 25, but Heilman shows up on most other lists, so I'm just curious if there's something about him that you don't like.

I hope you're right about Kazmir, though. (I can just see the Prospectus guys performing an intervention on you. "Aaron, there's no such thing as a pitching prospect! If you really cared about your readers, you'd realize that. How many fans do you have to give false hope to?")

January 29, 2003 - Aaron Gleeman (www) (e-mail)

Devin -

Aaron, nice job as usual. Now, as a Mets fan who cares not for these other teams (for the most part), one question: Any reason Aaron Heilman doesn't show up? Is he just in the "almost there" category? I know I shouldn't complain when there's 3 Mets in the top 25, but Heilman shows up on most other lists, so I'm just curious if there's something about him that you don't like.

I like Heilman too and had him ranked in the low-50s. It is just another case of having a lot more than 50 guys that are solid prospects. I think he'll be a very nice middle-of-the-rotation starter and pretty soon too.

I hope you're right about Kazmir, though. (I can just see the Prospectus guys performing an intervention on you. "Aaron, there's no such thing as a pitching prospect! If you really cared about your readers, you'd realize that. How many fans do you have to give false hope to?")

I really generally do try to be very conservative with pitching rankings. Which is why you see only 3 pitchers in my top 19; 4 in my top 23.

As I said in the article, I went back and forth about whether or not to include Kazmir in the article at all. Once I made the choice to include him, I thought it was silly to rank him near the bottom of the top 50. I think he has extraordinary potential and ranking him 48th or something would have been worse than not ranking him at all (in my opinion). Pitching prospects are risky, high school pitching prospects are really risky and ranking one 20th after 18 pro innings is almost insane, but I think Kazmir is a special player. It could very easily blow up in my face obviously, but I took a chance.

January 29, 2003 - FJM

Excellent article. I have a suggestion, though. If I were you, I'd post your Second 50 as well, especially since the difference between those who just made the cutoff and those who just missed is both infinitesimal and highly judgemental. Otherwise, you're bound to get questions asking "How could you possibly include so-and-so and leave off such-and-such, who is clearly better?" Queries like the following.

How could you include Kurt Ainsworth(#31) and leave off John Patterson of the D'backs? They are both big, powerful righties who spent most of 2002 in the PCL before getting in about 30 IP each for the NL West rivals. Granted, Ainsworth is about 8 months younger, which would make him the better prospect, all else being equal. And he did post better ERA's at both AAA (3.41 vs. 4.23) and the ML level (2.10 vs. 3.23). But, as you pointed out, Kurt was repeating AAA in 2002, so you'd expect his numbers to be better. As for the age difference, Patterson lost the better part of 2 years to Tommy John surgery. So, in terms of experience, he's actually much greener than Ainsworth.

What about their MLB numbers? The difference in ERA is entirely explained by their HR/9 differential: 0.3 for KA, 2.1 for JP. Big edge to KA there. But look at the other numbers. SO/9: 5.2 for KA, 9.1 for JP. BB/9: 4.2 for KA, 2.1 for JP. SO/BB: 1.25 for KA, 4.43 for JP. Patterson's high HR total is largely due to one horrible start against the Mets, in which he gave up 4 of them in 3 1/3 IP. Aside from that game, his ERA was 1.32 and his H/9 was 5.6.

Before I go, I'd like your opinion of another D'back pitcher I was surprised didn't make your list: Mike Gosling.

January 29, 2003 - brad

the bucs have the second highest winning percentage of all the minor league systems and no players in the top 50? to get so many wins with so little talent. what coaching!

January 29, 2003 - Craig B

Brad, you can make a case for a lot of Pirates prospects, but no one is eye-popping to me. The great record comes out of their A-ball teams, and almost all their prospects are from the A-ball level.

Van Benschoten is a great prospect who needs to cut his walks, but he's a good bet to do that (I think) as he gets used to starting. I'd be reluctant to include very many A-ball pitchers in a top 50 list, though. Chris Young is also in this category... A-ball guy with good K numbers; Young has better control but his stuff is not as good as Van Benschoten's... his fastball clocks 3-5 mph slower and doesn't have the same quality slider.

Walter Young almost won a triple crown in the Sally League. He's a 300-pound first baseman who came out of nowhere. He repeats that in high A, he has a chance at making some lists. Tony Alvarez was a AA guy, he was 24 though. He hit well, but didn't tear his league apart or anything. Castillo is a good prospect, he started to learn the strike zone but he was repeating a level. There are good reasons to leave him off a top 50. Jose Bautista showed good on-base skills, but struck out a lot at a low level. I wouldn't think of him as a "top 50" type, but he could still be very good.

I don't know who else is a top prospect for the Pirates. They have a lot of good guys, but 50 is a small group. There are easily 300 good prospects in the minor leagues; they can't all be top-50. Only about 60-100 of those "top 300" guys will go on to have much of a major league career.

January 30, 2003 - Kyle

[i]Kazmir, I know you go back and forth about putting him on there, but you did. And so high too..from what i read the kid is great. But that sample size is 18 innings in Rookie ball.[/i]

Just to nitpick, it was short season A ball, not Rookie. That's one level above Rookie, roughly equivalent to low A (maybe a little lower). Mostly college players drafted that year play in short season A ball.

January 30, 2003 - Kyle

Doh! Too much ezboard use. That should read:

Kazmir, I know you go back and forth about putting him on there, but you did. And so high too..from what i read the kid is great. But that sample size is 18 innings in Rookie ball.

Just to nitpick, it was short season A ball, not Rookie. That's one level above Rookie, roughly equivalent to low A (maybe a little lower). Mostly college players drafted that year play in short season A ball.

January 30, 2003 - Joel Barrett

"The two players are on this list for completely different reasons, so comparing them loses me at some point."

Well, that essentially was the point I was trying to make.

January 30, 2003 - Joel Barrett

Aaron, it is a very nice article which I generally like. I'm trying to offer an alternative viewpoint, not criticize your rankings. If you think that Betemit is only the 48th best prospect in baseball, that's fine. I don't agree, but no two prospect lists agree on everyone (which is why Baseball America publishes 4 different Top 50 lists in their annual prospect book). Not everyone agreed that Betemit was a top 20 prospect before 2002 (though both John Sickels and Baseball Prospectus had him ranked 5th).

I do have a few responses to your comments:

"His offense was completely based on average and when that went down, the whole offensive ship went down with it."

Well, it's hard to be valuable offensively when you're batting .198 no matter how good you're secondary skills are. But point taken.

"However, to say that every prospect losing some of his luster because of injuries is a mistake just because Austin Kearns bounced back in a big way last year is just silly."

I'm not advocating that you ignore all prospect injuries. I'm suggesting that when an otherwise Grade-A prospect plays markedly worse for a few months, while playing through known injuries which do not appear to be chronic, and then recovers fully from his injuries and bounces back strongly on the field, you should probably not severely downgrade performance expectations based primarily on how the player hit while injured. This is a very narrow and heavily qualified statement, not a broad generalization about all injured prospects.

"You chose a very good example of player that had a poor, injury riddled season and came back to have a great season the next year, restoring his status."

I chose an example that I considered a similar case. In the eyes of many, Kearns didn't have much loss of status to restore.

I'll quote John Sickels on Austin Kearns, post-2001: "His 2001 numbers were ruined by a torn thumb ligament, but he returned late in the season and played very well. I saw him in the Arizona Fall League and he showed excellent bat speed and power."

Sound familiar?

Sickels ranked Kearns as the 12th best prospect in baseball after 2001, up 2 places from his ranking the prior year. Kearns' "recovery" in 2002 was hardly a stunning development, since he had already shown himself fully recovered by the end of 2001.

"However, not every injured prospect does that and I will not assume that Betemit will do that."

You don't have to assume anything - Betemit's already bounced back from his injuries, that's part of the point. His second half performance was completely in line with his performance prior to 2002 - slightly less power and batting average, and a somewhat improved walk rate, but overall pretty comparable to his aggregate 2001 numbers. He finished the season very strongly, and his hitting in the Dominican League this winter was even better than the year before. There is no reason to be guessing about whether or not Betemit will "bounce back".

"Injuries are not a good thing for a baseball player, so to say "Don't count his 2002 because he was injured, he'll bounce back just like Kearns did" is, to me at least, a big mistake. I won't just write off an injury like it never happened, or excuse an entire season because of it."

I'm not suggesting that you write off injuries like they never happened. On the contrary, I'm suggesting that you should take them into account when looking at raw numbers, and that you should try to distinguish between a player's ability when healthy and his injury risk. Depending on the nature of an injury, it may be perfectly appropriate to lower expectations on a prospect because of health concerns. Did the player fully recover? Are there likely to be lingering effects? Is there reason to believe the injury is chronic? Is the player injury prone? These are all legitimate issues in evaluating a prospect. In Betemit's case, that he played dramatically better in July and August and then had a strong winter are relevant facts to which you seem to be giving insufficient weight.

Betemit doesn't need anyone to excuse him for how he played from July on - so the only question is how much weight to put on his 172 very bad injury-impaired at bats to start the season (as opposed to the 1400+ at bats in the past 4 years where he has hit very well). Betemit was promoted 4 levels from the end of 2000 to the beginning of 2002, which is aggressive to point of being borderline reckless. Even if you don't discount the significance of his early season struggles because of the injuries, there is still an argument against weighing them too heavily.

I do think that your reaction to Betemit's season (in both this article and your prior article about last year's top 40 prospects) is a little inconsistent with your own statements about other prospects (such as Blaylock and Burroughs, for instance). Betemit's stock is "Way Down" while Burroughs and Blaylock's stocks are "Neutral"? I just don't see it.

January 30, 2003 - Craig B

By the way, I'm a dummy. I forgot that Chris Young got traded to Montreal in the Matt Herges deal.

January 30, 2003 - Jeff Biddle

Correction: That would be Dave Littlefield who is the dummy.

Aaron, good list. Interesting comments. Especially the Marte discussion.

Thanks

January 30, 2003 - Fog City Blues

FJM,

For what its worth, Kurt Ainsworth also had Tommy John surgery. Granted, his surgery occured much earlier in his career than Patterson's, but I'm just sayin'. Also, I wouldn't put too much stock into evaluating Ainsworth's, or any player's for that matter, MLB stats when their MLB career consists of 25 IP. All in all, I think both Ainsworth and Patterson will develop into solid #3/#4 starters.

To Aaron,

Very nice job. I've always enjoyed reading prospect reports, but this season is especially nice, since for the first time in memory, a few Giants prospects are ranked very highly on everyone's lists.

January 31, 2003 -

FCB: I wasn't implying that Patterson is better than Ainsworth based on their MLB stats. I was just saying there is no reason to believe Kurt belongs in the Top 50 but John doesn't. So we agree. I didn't know about Kurt's TJ surgery, though. Thanks for the info.

February 4, 2003 - wvaras

Great article although I was surprised to see two Red Sox farmhands on your list. Everyone recognizes that the Sox minor league system is one of the worst in baseball. They have an atrocious record for developing prospects. Their coaches are terrible teachers of the game. Even though Epstein is trying to rebuild the system, the pressure to "win now" is usually too much to overcome. If these two ever make it, it won't be with the Red Sox.

February 5, 2003 -

I am disappointed that Rett Johnson...Seattle....was not on the list

February 6, 2003 - thomas tillman

I enjoyed reading your top prospects today for the first time. I believe I blielieve I'll return for more. I was wondering why Luke Allen lf/1b, Joe Thurston2b, or Chan Fe Chen(name?)1b didn't make your list, and if not, where do you palce them. Also, Guillermo Mota-rhp, who has played a year now in Majors, seems like a guy who might be worthy of "Top Prospect" in my book. Thomcat/Dodger fan

February 8, 2003 - McBeannie

Thank you for your support of the Indians prospects. Peter Gammons and other ESPN baseball anylists talk about them, but I've lost all faith in those guys. Give Travis Hafner a year. I think Brandon Phillips is a bit of a sleeper. Victor Martinez is the real deal.

And thank you for putting Fielder so low. He'll probably turn out to be fatter than his father!

February 10, 2003 - Daniel Swinney (www) (e-mail)

Wow, have the Cubs graduated so many guys that the once-dominant minors system now yield only one top 50 prospect? Were you close to including guys like Sisco, Kelton, Harris, Wellemeyer, or Pie?

February 18, 2003 - M's fan

i was wondering where seattle's ryan anderson stacks up on your list. is he not here because he has been a top prospect for so long or that u don't think he will be able to overcome his injuries? also, how about gil meche? thanks, and great article.

February 18, 2003 - Jeff Shope (e-mail)

Not a bad paice. Pretty in depth and informational, with a little opionion thrown in. And 5 Mariner's listed was a definite plus. Go M's! Let's make it 400 wins in 4 years!

March 3, 2003 - Mike

Who the hell is this guy? And WHO cares what HE thinks.

April 17, 2003 - MO

Great stuff Aaron. I also liked the Twins long-term plan articles that you wrote since I have a lot of them on my fantasy team. everyone is trying to get Santana from me, but the offers are laughable. If you think he'll be an ace I'll hang on to him for dear life. I've got a deal in the works and the guy is offering my choice of Restovich, HAmilton, R. Soriano, Werth, Kozlowski or A. Torres. I was thinking Hamilton but you have Restovich rated higher. I'm in no hurry for this player to get to the majors because I can keep 3 minor leaguers each year, but I want the one guy who you think has stud written on him 2-3 years from now. Also, I'd prefer a 5 tool guy if possible. And don't tell me Restovich just b/c he's a Twin. Thanks MO

April 17, 2003 - mario

Im a mets fan,i was dissapointed to see only three prospects in your top 50 list i was shocked to see that aaron heilman wasnt on your list.

 

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