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June 16, 2006

Future Shock

Don't You Forget About Me

by Kevin Goldstein

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While the major league All-Star game is still nearly a month away and most teams are still 16-18 games away from the halfway mark, the minor league season is almost at its midpoint, with some league all-star breaks beginning their festivities this weekend. So though we've had a number of players already take a dramatic step forwards (or backwards) this year, some big (and not so big) name prospects have yet to play this year. Perhaps this is because of injury, or just a combination of youth and inexperience leading an organization to believe that a player would be best served by half a year of extended spring training. With that in mind, here are ten names from 2005 that you may have forgotten about. They'll start showing up in box scores again next week, when the short-season leagues begin play.

Jeff Bianchi, ss, Kansas City Royals

A second-round pick out of a Pennsylvania high school last June, Bianchi set the Arizona League on fire in his brief 28-game stint there last summer, batting .408/.484/.745 with six home runs in 98 at-bats to go along with 16 walks and six stolen bases. Bianchi needed to work his way through a glut of middle infielders (lots of them, but not a lot of them who are necessarily good) to make the roster at Low A Burlington, but a sore shoulder made the decision much easier for the Royals. Bianchi is long (6-foot-2), loose and projectable. He has excellent speed and the power was a big surprise even to the Royals. Being able to stay at shortstop is still a question mark, but he'll start the year there at Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League.

Edgar Garcia, rhp, Phillies

Just 18 years old, the Dominican native received a $500,000 bonus in 2004, but struggled at times in the Gulf Coast League last year, giving up 63 hits in 55.2 innings. While he was inconsistent, he was also dominant at times. His fastball touches 94 mph--and that velocity should become the norm as his body matures--and he has impressive secondary pitches for his age. He's still extremely raw, but the upside is significant. He'll open next week in the Batavia (New York-Penn League) rotation.

Waldis Joaquin, rhp, Giants

Teenagers who throw 98 mph don't grow on trees, you know. Joaquin does just that (throw 98, not grow on a tree) and has a hard slider to boot. While his performance in the Arizona League last year (28 hits in 29.2 innings, 3.64 ERA) wasn't impressive other than the strikeouts (37), the progress he made during his ten appearances was impressive.

                   IP  BB   K
First Five Games  14.0  6  11
Second Five Games 15.2  4  26

Clearly, Joaquin has the ability to dominate, and we'll see how he works in the friendly offensive environment of the Northwest League at Salem-Keizer.

Daryl Jones, of, Cardinals

You wants tools? You want athleticism? Here you go. Jones was a third-round pick last year out of a Texas high school, where he was more well known for his exploits on the gridiron, which earned him several big school football options. Jones is a compact power/speed combination with plus makeup and also a tremendous gap between what he is now and what he can be. He hit just .209/.311/.286 last year for Johnson City in the Appy League, but his approach made great strides as his walk rate improved in every month of the season. He's definitely one to watch at the top of the new State College Spikes lineup in the New York-Penn League. He's one of those guys who is capable of hitting .209 again, or absolutely exploding and finishing among the leaders in several categories.

Shane Lindsay, rhp, Rockies

The 21-year-old Australian exploded onto the scene last year at Tri-City in the Northwest League with numbers that look like something out of amateur ball. Lindsay had more strikeouts than innings in all 13 starts he made for the Dust Devils, finishing with 107 punch outs in just 66.2 innings while giving up only 37 hits. With a mid-90s fastball and a hammer curve, the sky seemed the limit until an offseason MRI on his shoulder revealed some tearing in his labrum. Expected to have season-ending surgery, Lindsay and the Rockies instead chose the rehabilitation route and his numbers both in the box score and on the radar guns will be followed with great anticipation when he returns to Tri-City.

Ryan Mount, inf, Angels

A second-round pick last June out of a southern California high school, Mount had a disappointing pro debut in the Arizona League, batting .216/.325/.333. Despite the bad numbers, including a miserable 1-for-25 mark against lefties with 17 strikeouts, there was a silver lining, as Mount drew 17 walks in 102 at-bats and nine of his 22 hits went for extra bases. He has solid hitting tools, but opinions on his defense differ wildly. He split time between shortstop and second base last year, and some people think third base is where he'll end up when all is said and done. He'll get a chance to turn things around with Orem in the Pioneer League.

Jason Neighborgall, rhp, Diamondbacks

The numbers speak for themselves:

YEAR TEAM            G    ERA    IP   H  BB  SO  WP
COLLEGE
2003 Georgia Tech   15   3.70  41.1  30  36  32   9
2004 Georgia Tech    9  27.00   6.2   6  24  11  13
2005 Georgia Tech   14   7.13  53.0  47  53  72  16
PRO
2005 Missoula       15  11.12  22.2  21  45  29  23

A second-round pick last year, Neighborgall is the ultimate tease. The number of pitchers in all of baseball capable of throwing two pitches that can even sometimes earn a perfect 80 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale is in the single digits, and Neighborgall is one of them with a fastball that can reach 100 mph and a curveball that falls off the table and beyond. As you can see, however, the control is just a little shaky at times. Neighborgall has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in the game, but his chances of reaching that status are probably somewhere around 500 to 1. He'll return to Missoula, and the Diamondbacks hope that he doesn't make a run at the Pioneer League single-season wild pitch record that he set last year in just 22.2 innings.

Mark Pawelek, lhp, Cubs

What kind of odds could one have gotten on a Scott Boras client being the first draftee to sign in any given year? That was the case last June, when Pawelek signed for a slightly-above-slot bonus of $1.75 million as the 22nd overall pick out of a Utah high school. He overmatched opposing hitters in the Arizona League last summer, allowing 25 hits in 43 innings while punching out 56. On paper he seemed perfectly ready for Low Class A, but the Cubs have a history of being conservative with young talent, and decided to have Pawelek follow the same path as 2003 first-round pick Ryan Harvey, spending his second year at Boise in the Northwest League and going to the Midwest League in season number three. With plus-plus velocity for a lefthander and a deep repertoire, Pawelek just might be the best prospect in the Cubs system by year's end.

Keiron Pope, of, Orioles

A fourth-round pick last year out of a Georgia high school, Pope is basically the Daryl Jones of the Orioles, only with a tick less speed and a tick more power. While he did hit five home runs last year for Bluefield in the Appalachian League, the rest of his debut was a disaster, as he hit just .228/.297/.362 with 62 strikeouts in 149 at-bats. Pope is obviously extremely raw, and the range of possibilities in what he'll do this year at Aberdeen in the New York-Penn League is wider than the Grand Canyon.

Josh Wall, rhp, Dodgers

It's hard not to trust Dodgers scouting director Logan White--you get the feeling that if he drafts a high school arm in the second round, he has to be good. A 6-foot-6 righthander from Louisiana who can get it into the mid-90s on occasion, Wall was limited to 14 unimpressive innings in the Gulf Coast League last year due to a tired arm. He'll be 100% for the first time as a pro at Ogden in the Pioneer League.

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

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