February 18, 1998
Prospect Report: NL West
Possible breakouts and names to watch in 1998
Travis Lee should open the season at 1B for the Diamondbacks, and he figures to be a good one. Last year, he ripped up the California League, was promoted to AAA, and more than held his own. He's had no trouble adjusting to the wooden bat, his defense is outstanding, and he rated eighth in our Top 25 Prospects list. What more could you ask for?
How about another top 25 prospect with a good bet at playing time? Karim Garcia, snagged from the Dodgers chain in the expansion draft, has been one of the best power hitters in the minors for years. He will be handed the LF job in Arizona and could respond with a 30 HR season. He doesn't have much patience, isn't a good defensive player, and has a reputation for a bad attitude, but he's got a great shot at 600 medium-yield PA.
David Dellucci, Brent Brede, and Yamil Benitez will all be competing for the vacancy at right field. Brede has got a great eye at the plate but his power leaves much to be desired. Dellucci will probably have the best career of the three overall. Like Brede, he doesn't have much power, but he's younger and better defensively, and projects to hit for average. Benitez is the only one of the three with much previous major league experience. He's a good athlete but not much of a baseball player, with absolutely no clue what that "strike zone" thing is about. A hot spring session could make all the difference, and at this point, not even the Diamondbacks have a good idea who they are going with.
Tony Batista will probably have the 2B job out of spring training. He had a terrible year in Oakland last season, and probably won't achieve any sustained success without some strike zone judgement, but he's got some pop and a good glove. The Diamondbacks aren't deep at this (or any) position, and he's the clear favorite at this point.
The Diamondbacks will start the season with Brian Anderson and Jeff Suppan, their top two picks in the expansion draft, in the rotation. Suppan was the top pitcher available in the draft, and should be a very successful pitcher for years. Anderson was a World Series hero for Cleveland; he should fend off all comers and hold his spot in the rotation easily. His development over the last couple of years has been strong, and he's a player to keep an eye on.
It begins and ends with Todd Helton, an excellent young 1B who will be handed the job in 1998 with the departure of Andres Galarraga. He should get 500 PA this year and hit at least .300, with considerable power. Helton, 24, was rated the the 16th best prospect in MLB by the BP staff, and should be considered a front runner for NL RoY.
Neifi Perez ran Walt Weiss out of town by batting .291 in limited action last season. He's not a good player (or a particularly good prospect), but he's all the Rockies have at SS, so he should get lots of playing time.
The Rockies have Edgard Velasquez and Derrick Gibson in the OF. Neither is likely to get much playing time this year, but the Rockies' starting outfielders are all injury-prone, so you never know. Look for Gibson to get the nod if one of the Rockies' corner OF goes down--he's an unpolished physical specimen who hits the ball a mile and should enjoy major league ball at altitude.
The Rockies have no pitchers in the minors who are likely to make much of a difference at the major league level this year. Heath Bost and Mark Brownson had some success at AA last year, but neither is likely to pitch in Coors this year. Steve Shoemaker has a very solid fastball and will start the season in Colorado Springs; he'll get blown out if he's promoted, but he probably has the best chance of anyone in the chain of getting the call.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Everyone agrees that Paul Konerko is a dynamite prospect. At this point, his credentials are indisputable: his OPS in Albequerque last year was well over 1.000, and that's not out of line with his previous performance. What remains to be seen is when he'll get a chance to play in the bigs: the Dodgers have had no luck trading incumbent 1B Eric Karros, and they'd rather play the unexciting Todd Zeile at third. Konerko, 22, might luck out and win the LF job in spring training; otherwise, this looks to be a year of waiting for him.
Roger Cedeno looks to be the favorite for the CF job this season. After years of waiting, he should be a good one if the Dodgers don't decide to pull him for Thomas Howard or something. He's a switch hitter with great patience and some speed, so he's a natural for the leadoff spot once the team gets tired of Eric Young's .335 OBP.
Uberprospect Adrian Beltre, 19, might be better than Todd Zeile right now, but don't look for him to get meaningful AB in Dodger blue until 1999. Second basemen Adam Riggs and Wilton Guerrero are both out of luck with the Young signing, and neither figure in LA's plans. Either could be traded and play elsewhere.
Dennis Reyes has been penciled in to the Dodger rotation this year. He's young, has an excellent fastball, and should thrive in Dodger Stadium. The depth of the Dodger pitching staff will probably keep Mike Judd from seeing much time this year, but he's a good bet for some serious time in 1999.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
Derrek Lee is gone in the Kevin Brown trade, and the Padres don't have much else ready in the way of position players. The starting eight is set, although Ruben Rivera has a shot at taking LF away from Greg Vaughn. He's still a very good prospect and should do well in what playing time he gets. Andy Sheets isn't young and doesn't have much potential at this point, but he's got the best chance of any non-regular to get AB in the Padre infield.
Juan Melo might make a token appearance, but he's a non-prospect. He isn't worth the considerable ink he gets; with that bat, he's lucky if he's the next Pokey Reese. C Ben Davis is a stretch for much time (though he'll make a token appearance due to a provision in his contract) next year as well, but its worth noting that he showed tremendous improvement with the bat at Rancho Cucamonga and you can bet the Padres will be watching him very closely this year. OF Mike Darr had a big season in the California League, but the Padre OF is stacked and he's nowhere near a major leaguer yet.
BP rated Matt Clement the 13th best prospect in baseball, and with the departure of Lee he's the crown jewel in the Padre system. He's a 22 year old righthander who ripped up the California and Southern Leagues last year, and will start the season in Las Vegas. He's coachable, has great stuff, and hasn't been overworked. Look for an appearance in 1998, especially if Sterling Hitchcock or Pete Smith/Mark Langston struggles in the Padres rotation.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
The best bet on this team is probably Wilson Delgado at SS. He's 22 and wasn't terrible at Phoenix last year. Two things stand in his way: Richie Aurilia, who is a better player and who got time at SS for San Francisco last year, and Rey Sanchez, a late free agent signing whose big stick figures to replace the sorely missed Jose Vizcaino at SS for the Giants. Look for Sanchez to start and be a waste of money, Aurilia to back him up, and Delgado to stay at Phoenix.
Jake Cruz has nothing left to prove in the minors; the 1997 PCL batting champ isn't a particularly good player, but he'll be better than Glenallen Hill as the Giants fourth OF next season. He's not really a better bet than Stan Javier or Darryl Hamilton, and he's "unproven", so it'll take injury or implosion on someone else's part for him to get much playing time.
Dante Powell is the best Giants position prospect. At that he's not all that hot, and he faces the same problems Cruz does with the established players the Giants figure to play in their OF. He'll get another year of AAA seasoning.
Russ Ortiz is the Giants' ranking minor-league pitching property, but he's not ready (especially if he's kept a starter) and won't be this season.