Prospects for 2000, Part Deux
There have been some remarkable hitting performances in the minors this year: Pat Burrell's rampage through the Eastern League, Sean Burrough's consistent barrage of hits in the Midwest League and Erubial Durazo's assault on minor league pitching in two leagues to name a few. Unfortunately, I've already covered these guys, as well as Raphael Furcal, Chin-Feng Chen, Julio Lugo, Julio Ramirez, Ben Broussard, Ben Davis and JD Drew... and that's just the hitters. Probably not many noteworthy guys left, right? Well, here are 4 more who will probably fill out the vacancies in the top 50 or so left by the guys who made the majors:
Milton Bradley is the next great outfielder for the Expos. Bradley, drafted in the second round in 1996, is a great athlete who's becoming great baseball player. The switch-hitting 20-year old has a very quick bat, good command of the strikezone, gap power that will eventually translate into home runs, excellent speed, great range and a very strong arm: your typical 5-tool/7-skill kind of player. Last year in 542 ABs in two levels of A-ball, he combined to hit .295 with 11 homers, 84 RBI and 30 stolen bases. This year, he's struggled a bit with injuries accumulating only 333 ABs in the AA Eastern League. But he's made the most of it improving his numbers, hitting .330 with 38 extra base hits (12 of them homers), 47 RBI and stealing 14 bases. His strikeout to walk ratio has also improved with the promotion. The one thing that prevents most analysts and scouts from naming him a top prospect is his highly combustible temper. Bradley was suspended from the Maryland Fall League last year when he slugged an umpire. He still won the batting title, though. This year he had another run in with an ump, but it didn't end quite as badly. Still, he was out a couple of games to cool off. I guess one could say his discipline at the plate has improved in more ways than just the balls and strikes. Bradley is game is good enough that there's talk about him moving Rondell White out of centerfield as soon as next year.
If Bradley's name isn't memorable enough for you, how about the Reds' Travis "Gookey" Dawkins? Dawkins, a second round draft pick in 1997, is probably the best athlete in the Reds system. The 20-year old shortstop started the season in the low A Midwest League at Rockford. He hit .267 with 8 homers, 31 RBI and 38 steals in 296 ABs there. That's pretty good for a shortstop, better when you consider he walked nearly as much as he struck out (35-37). But when he got promoted to AA Chattanooga, he really took off. In his 129 ABs against AA pitching, he's hit .364 with 2 homers, 13 RBI and 15 more steals. And he's maintained his strikeout-to-walk ratio (14-17). His on base percentage + slugging at AA is an impressive .892. His defense is quite good, also. Scouts often liken him to Pokey Reese, only with a better bat. The Reds think so highly of him, they recently called him up to the majors to help with their stretch run to the playoffs. With Reese and Dawkins in the mix, the Reds won't have to worry about shortstops when Barry Larkin eventually retires.
The Cubs have had terrible luck with their drafts for the past several decades. Most of their top picks have either been traded (Joe Carter), injured (Kerry Wood) or just not very good (Earl Cunningham). Corey Patterson should change their luck. Drafted 3rd overall last year out of high school, Patterson signed late and didn't play. This year he's making up for lost time at Midwest League Lansing, where he's slugged nearly .650 for the last half of the season. So far, he's hit .324 with nearly half of his 148 hits having gone for extra bases. All totaled he has 33 doubles, 16 triples and 20 homers. Throw in 93 runs scored, 79 RBI, 33 stolen bases and great defense and the Cubs have one terrific centerfield prospect. Patterson doesn't strike out a whole lot for someone with his power - 79 times in 457 ABs - but he doesn't walk a whole lot either, just 25 free passes. His star might rise a little more slowly over the next couple of years, as the Cubs haven't been very successful in teaching patience at the plate at the minor league level. However, many scouts compared him to Kirby Puckett when he was drafted and if he's able to keep up his current production, that comparison will certainly be warranted.
Is it the thin air? Or do the Diamondbacks know great young hitters better that just about anyone. First, they got Travis Lee. OK, he's had a rough year, but I still think the guy's gonna be a major hitter. Then they dug up Erubial Durazo out of the Mexican League and he destroyed two levels of minor league pitching before making a better than respectable showing in the majors, hitting .301 with 6 homers in less than 100 ABs so far. Now they have Jack Cust on the way. Cust was Arizona's first round pick in the 1997 draft and hasn't stopped hitting yet. He began relatively quietly, hitting .306 with 3 homers his first year in the minors. Last year, he upped the ante to .322 with 11 homers. This year, he has has evolved into a tsunami of hitting. The 20-year old lefty is hitting .336 with 32 homers, 103 runs and 111 RBI at high A High Desert of the California League. Along with all those homers, he has 41 doubles and 3 triples. He has a very good strikeout-to-walk ratio to boot - 91 walks to 138 strikeouts He's not a good outfielder defensively and doesn't have any speed to speak of, so he's probably destined to become a first baseman, which appears to be a problem for the Diamondbacks eventually. Where will they put all these first basemen? A switch to the AL might help where one could be the DH, but I suspect that someone lucky team will pry one of these guys loose in the near future for some help at shortstop, outfield or bullpen. Regardless, there seems little question that Cust will hit somewhere in the big leagues.
Well, the minor league season is just about over, to be followed by the playoffs. I'll keep you updated once the fall and winter leagues start. Sometime between the end of the winter league and the beginning of spring training, I'll pore over all the stats and rank the top 100 prospects for next year. Until then, enjoy these guys while their autographs are still free.