The Best Tools for 2001
Asian countries are fast becoming a major contributor to the major league talent pool. Already, Hideo Nomo, Hideki Irabu, Chan Ho Park, Masoto Yoshii and Shigetoshi Hasegawa have established themselves as major league regulars and Mac Suzuki and Byung Hyun Kim are well on their way. But all of them are pitchers. Well, hitters are on the way, led by the Dodger's Taiwanese outfielder Chin-Feng Chen. LA gave him a $680,000 signing bonus last winter after his impressive showing in the Asian Games. He's been Taiwan's best hitter for several years, having hit over .400 and 40 homers in international play. His transition from aluminum bats to wood has been seamless. Playing in pitcher friendly San Bernadino, Chen has been among the league leaders in batting average, homers and RBI all year. The 21 year old was recently voted by California League managers and scouts as the league's best batting prospect and power prospect. He should get his first look at Chavez Ravine late next year and vie for a regular position in the outfield by 2001.
The Astros have done a nice job filling their needs every year from their farm system. Richard Hidalgo, Scott Elarton and Billy Wagner have all played key roles in Houston's success over the past wo years. The next wave of Astro prospects is almost ready. Lance Berkman, Daryl Ward and Mitch Melusky have all made their debuts in the majors. The next in line is shortstop Julio Lugo. The 23 year old Dominican looks like the complete package offensively, with an OPS of nearly .800 to go along with 21 steals. He's hit 33 triples in the last 2+ years and is projected to have 15-20 home run power when he fills out. His defense is also solid. Lugo, chosen over Erubial Durazo and Rick Ankiel as the most exciting player in the AA Texas League this year, is likely to push incumbent Ricky Gutierrez to the bench by 2001 at the latest.
Florida's Julio Ramirez has been compared to everyone from Ken Griffey, Jr. to Vladimir Guerrero. He's described as having 5-tool talent with speed being his best. And it's no wonder - he stole 71 bases last year in A-ball and already has 51 more this year in AA Portland. He's been timed at 3.69 seconds from home to first... from the right side! Star speedster Kenny Lofton isn't as fast from the left side. The 21-year old Dominican has decent power (.422 slugging) and many think he could develop into a 30-homer hitter. He's an excellent defender in centerfield and was voted as having the best outfield arm in the Eastern League. His biggest problem seems to be strikeouts, already totaling 109 so far this year to go along with only 35 walks in just over 400 ABs. Still, his numbers aren't too different from those of Preston Wilson's at the same age and he's been an OK major leaguer so far.