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January 25, 2000

Top 40 Prospects of 1999

Part three of a five-part series

by Rany Jazayerli

Part 3 of our ongoing review of the Top 40 Prospects from Baseball Prospectus 1999:

24. Peter Bergeron, CF, Montreal (BBA: #40, Sickels: #33)

What we said last year: "...Bergeron is not the only prospect heisted from the Dodgers, but he may be the best of them...he has a terrific on-base percentage, his range in center is good enough that the Expos are talking about trading or moving Rondell White, and he's an excellent base stealer and bunter. Naturally, he's being compared to Brett Butler, and that's not a bad comparison."

What he did in 1999: Despite a nagging shoulder injury that cut into his stolen bases--the Expos didn't want him to slide head-first--and hurt his arm strength in the outfield, Bergeron hit .327/.407/.512 in Double-A, then .314/.386/.454 in Triple-A, before hitting .244 with nine walks in 16 games for Montreal in September. He's a good bet to be their center fielder on Opening Day.

Take-home lesson: The ability to get on base is still the seminal offensive skill, and the best prospects are the ones who excel at doing so. It helps that Bergeron has some power; in fact, with 38 extra-base hits in 356 at-bats, he projects to hit for more power than Butler ever did.

23. Ben Petrick, C, Colorado (BBA: #85, Sickels: B)

What we said last year: "Petrick hits for a low average but has good power and draws lots of walks...any hitter who gets drafted by the Rockies has won the lottery, and although he struggled to keep his average up in New Haven, once he reaches Colorado Springs and then Denver, he's going to have some fun. He's about a year away, and could win the Rookie of the Year award in 2000 if voters don't take the park into account, and we already know they don't."

What he did in 1999: After hitting just .238/.345/.470 in Double-A in 1998, Petrick went back to the same level to start 1999. After hitting .309/.388/.588 in 20 games, he was promoted to Triple-A Colorado Springs. Not surprisingly, his numbers were fantastic, as he hit .312/.403/.606 there, then .323/.417/.565 for the Rockies in September. Nevertheless, there are concerns that his defense may not be ready for the major leagues, prompting Dan O'Dowd to mar what was otherwise a good offseason for the Rockies by signing both Brent Mayne and Scott Servais.

Take-home lesson: Neither of our sister publications thought that Petrick was a top-notch prospect, and there are two reasons for the difference of opinion. The first was Petrick's age--he didn't turn 22 until last April--and the other was the fact that his secondary skills were much, much stronger than his ability to hit for average.

Very young prospects who can hit for power and know the strike zone usually will raise their average as they get older, Ruben Rivera notwithstanding. Petrick's offensive skills are also well suited for Coors Field, where hitting line-drive singles is less important than hitting deep fly balls and not making outs. There's still no consensus on his prospect status, because of the defensive concerns and the Rockies' lack of a commitment to him. But we'd feel comfortable with Petrick as our starting catcher this season.

22. George Lombard, RF, Atlanta (BBA: #26, Sickels: #32)

What we said last year: "Lombard is a speed guy who developed power about the same time as he learned the strike zone, and would not have been overmatched as the Braves' starting right fielder as early as this season. The signing of Brian Jordan quashes that, but his defense, power, and speed should find him a spot on the Braves' bench before long."

What he did in 1999: Lombard had a miserable season; he was injured for three months and hit just .206/.317/.369 when he was able to play. He did get another September callup and went 2-for-6, and then he really came to life in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .302/.386/.619 and leading the circuit with 11 home runs in 37 games. The Braves are still high on him, and think his AFL performance is more indicative of his ability than his regular season.

Take-home lesson: Tools guys who suddenly put it all together sometimes need a year to consolidate those gains. Lombard should have a fine year if he stays healthy, but he turns 25 in September and the Braves don't look to have an opening in their outfield for at least another season or two.

21. Michael Barrett, C/3B, Montreal (BBA: #6, Sickels: #6)

What we said last year: "Drafted as a shortstop, moved to catcher after just one season. As soon as he'd mastered the position, the Expos decided to try him at third base. Nobody, not even a lot of coaches in their organization, understands the move. Chris Widger isn't exactly Gary Carter behind the plate, and Barrett was getting rave reviews for his gloveowrk. He hit for a good average and doubles power, but he needs work on his patience at the plate. At worst he's a right-handed B.J. Surhoff."

What he did in 1999: He alternated between third base and catcher all season (66 games at third, 59 behind the plate, and two at shortstop), but despite the lack of a position, had a very nice year at the plate, hitting .293/.345/.436 with 32 doubles in 433 at-bats. Despite throwing out only 21% of attempted base-stealers, the Expos seem convinced that Barrett's future is behind the plate. They have yet to figure out what to do with Chris Widger, though.

Take-home lesson: We were not nearly as high on Barrett as the other publications, for two reasons: not being left at one position could hurt him, and his poor knowledge of the strike zone in an organization that isn't known for teaching it very well.

The first concern didn't hurt Barrett in his rookie season, at least at the plate, but his mediocre plate discipline is still an issue. He walked just 32 times last year, and while he only struck out 39 times, that means a lot less than you might think. Hitters with low walk and high strikeout totals at least have something they can work on--making more contact. Hitters like Barrett are already making good contact; they're just making contact on borderline pitches. Everyone said that Carlos Baerga's free-swinging tendencies were OK because he rarely struck out. That's not to say Barrett will turn out like Baerga, who had other issues, but on a team that was dead last in the majors in walks, it's likely to remain a problem. One that may prevent Barrett from reaching the top echelon at whatever his position ends up being.

20. D'Angelo Jimenez, SS, New York (AL) (BBA: NR, Sickels: HM)

What we said last year: "A young switch-hitting shortstop with good defense, and he knows the strike zone? I'll take two, thank you. The Yankees don't need him, and Jimenez could certainly benefit from another year in the minors. Whether they have to move Jeter to third or trade Jimenez elsewhere, at some point the Yankees will have to let him play."

What he did in 1999: Jimenez had the breakout season we thought he was capable of, hitting .327/.392/.492 with 15 home runs and 26 steals in Triple-A, while being named the best defensive shortstop in the International League at midseason. Not bad for a 21-year-old. He went 8-for-20 for the Yankees in September, and Brian Cashman recognizes a good player when he sees one, so rather than having Jimenez waste another year in Triple-A, the Yankees have made room for him to be their utility player for 2000, unless some team desperate for a shortstop makes him an offer he can't refuse.

Take-home lesson: It's hard to believe that Baseball America didn't have Jimenez in their top 100, but this is what happens when a foreign import (Alfonso Soriano) steals all the headlines and the big club already has a future Hall of Famer at the same position. Jimenez had two unmistakable signs of a top prospect in 1999: he was an everyday player in Triple-A at the age of 20, and he made offensive contributions across the board (41 extra-base hits, 71 walks) while playing a key defensive position. He may still be the most underrated prospect in baseball, which is almost unfathomable for someone in the Yankees' organization.

19. Marcus Giles, 2B, Atlanta (BBA: NR, Sickels: B)

What we said last year: "Giles is just 5'8", but he generates amazing power, hitting 37 homers in his first full pro season. He was an outfielder in high school and only converted to second base in junior college, so he's still learning the position. If he masters it, he could end up somewhere between Jeff Kent and Ryne Sandberg on the continuum of slugging second basemen."

What he did in 1999: Giles moved up to the Carolina League, and while his home runs dropped from 37 to 13, he didn't lose any of his prospect status, for two reasons: his defense improved significantly, to the point where he is being taken seriously as a major-league-caliber second baseman for the first time; and he continued to hit for a high average (.326) and get on base (.393) in a notoriously pitcher-friendly league. His power didn't disappear completely; he slugged .513 on the strength of 40 doubles and seven triples, and he doesn't turn 22 until May.

Take-home lesson: Giles, perhaps more than any player on our Top 40 list, was a victim of "too-good-to-be-true" syndrome. How can a 5'8" runt who was drafted in the 37th round be this good? Baseball America completely ignored his .329/.433/.636 performance in 1998, but even if you make allowances for his defense, how can a 20-year-old with those numbers not be a prospect? Even if his glove one day forced him to move to left field, wouldn't a left fielder with those numbers be taken seriously?

Giles remains relatively unheralded, but he now has two full seasons of performance that say he can flat-out hit, and the Braves are too smart to let his perceived weaknesses overshadow his visible strengths.

18. Mitch Meluskey, C, Houston (BBA: #43, Sickels: #44)

What we said last year: "Another Astros' switch-hitter, and unlike [Lance] Berkman, he should have a starting job sealed and delivered for him this year. Meluskey's defense has held him back before, which is why it has taken him this long to get to the major leagues. But his defense was much improved last year, and his bat is lethal. He was the MVP of the International League, and with a half dozen stars in the Astros' lineup to take the pressure off him, he should contribute from the get-go."

What he did in 1999: He started the season as the Astros' first-string catcher, but played only 10 games before a chronically dislocating shoulder--his other shoulder had already been operated on--forced him to undergo surgery and miss the rest of the season. He returned to play in the Arizona Fall League and hit .306/.374/.380, with eight doubles in 108 at-bats. The Astros are counting on him for 2000, but they've also re-signed Tony Eusebio as an insurance policy.

Take-home lesson: Catching is a tough job, and we might be wise to be a little more cautious in ranking catching prospects in the future. It's very encouraging that he was able to play well in the AFL. His power was down, but a few more months of rest should help to restore that.

Meluskey's rookie status is still intact, and he remains an excellent bet for major-league success if he can handle the position defensively. The Astros think he can, and with their track record over the last five years, who are we to argue?

17. Lance Berkman, LF, Houston (BBA: #13, Sickels: #14)

What we said last year: "Outstanding power, a ton of walks, and a good average add up to one terrific hitter, even if he is slow and doesn't play great defense... the Astros have no room for him, and he may be stuck in Triple-A for a full year, which is a shame, because he doesn't need it. If some team puts together a package to relieve Houston of the responsibility of finding him playing time, they won't regret it."

What he did in 1999: After Moises Alou went out for the year with a torn ACL, Berkman figured to have a great opportunity for playing time in the Astros' outfield. Unfortunately, his own season was cut short by knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, which affected his power on his return. He batted .323/.419/.518 in 64 games in Triple-A, then got some playing time for Houston late in the year and hit .237/.321/.387. For the moment, Daryle Ward has passed Berkman in the battle for playing time, one that also involves Roger Cedeno, Richard Hidalgo and Moises Alou.

Take-home lesson: We had Meluskey and Berkman ranked back-to-back, while both Sickels and BA had Meluskey pegged 30 spots behind Berkman. For the time being, their approach looks far more sensible than ours. Berkman is simply a phenomenal hitter, a good enough hitter that despite concerns about both his defense and his opportunity to play, there's little doubt that he's going to be a terrific major league player within two to three years.

Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rany's other articles. You can contact Rany by clicking here

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