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June 13, 2007

Future Shock

Coming Attractions

by Kevin Goldstein

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Monday's Ten Pack featured a pair of 2006 first-round picks who were finally getting their season started after spending most of the first half in extended spring training. What other names are about to show up in box scores? Here's ten players from team top prospect lists thawill start play once the short-season leagues begin next week.

Dellin Betances, RHP, Yankees

Betances remains in the spotlight despite not actually pitching yet. Being a Yankee, being from New York, and receiving $1 million as an eighth-round pick doesn't hurt. It's not totally out of bounds to compare him to this year's first-round pick, Andrew Brackman, except that he's four years younger than the Yankees' first-rounder this year. He's already grown a bit since signing, now standing six-foot-nine, and he brings major heat, sitting this spring at 92-94 mph, and touching 98. He still has a long way to go when it comes to command and secondary pitches, but he'll be the rare minor league crowd draw if he begins the year, as anticipated, with Staten Island in the New York-Penn League.

Neftali Feliz, RHP, Braves

Feliz drew the attention of scouts last summer when he struck out 42 Gulf Coast League hitters in just 29 innings while showing plus-plus velocity. Feliz is a classic Dominican pitching prospect, with a long projectable frame. His fastball has been touching 98 mph in extended spring, while sitting in the 93-95 mph range. The velocity is there, so coaches are focusing more on his breaking ball and changeup--we'll get to monitor is process with Danville in the Appalachian League.

Balbino Fuenmayor, 3B, Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are not the first team that comes to mind when you think about big-money Latin American talent, yet they dipped back into the market last summer to sign Fuenmayor out of Venezuela. He's a well-rounded prospect with at least average tools across the board, though scouts are mixed as to whether he'll develop into an average hitter or a power hitter, or in an ideal world, both. Fuenmayor gave team brass a sneak preview of his skills by going deep in the Hall of Fame game, and he's expected to make his pro debut with Toronto's new Gulf Coast League affiliate.

Esmailyn Gonzalez, SS, Nationals

Like Toronto, the Nationals don't have a track record for throwing money around in Latin America, but they started to reverse that trend last summer, signing Gonzalez for $1.4 million. A defensive stalwart with outstanding range to both sides, great instincts, a plus arm, and a flair for the dramatic, Gonzalez is also a switch-hitter with above-average speed. Power is the only tool he's currently lacking. He's one of the many teenage players the Nationals are resting their hopes on, and he'll make his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League.

Tom Hickman, OF, Marlins

A second-round pick out of a Georgia High School last summer, Hickman showed the kind of performance that one often sees out of a raw player, striking out 43 times in 175 at-bats, but also surprising with 30 walks and 18 of his 46 hits going for extra bases. The Marlins love Hickman's swing and upside, while also seeing him as the kind of player who might need 1,500-2,000 at-bats before reaching the big leagues. On the negative side, some scouts see him as a tweener who lacks the range for center or the power for a corner. We'll get more clues about what his future holds when he begin the year with Jamestown in the New York-Penn League.

Chris Huseby, RHP, Cubs

Everyone knows the Nick Adenhart story, and the Cubs are hoping they have their own version in Huseby. The Florida native had Tommy John surgery in 2005, and he barely pitched last spring, but the Cubs saw enough potential in him to pony up $1.3 million on his potential. On one level, it's easy to understand why. Huseby is six-foot-seven, throws in the low to mid-90s, and has a mature feel for his craft. Huseby scuffled a bit last year in the Arizona League, and he'll likely start the year with Boise in the Northwest League, a tough place for pitchers. The Cubs overpaid for a number of their 2006 draftees, and the Jeff Samardzija signing is looking like a disaster so far, so high hopes rest on Huseby.

D'Arby Myers, OF, Phillies

A fourth-round pick last June, Myers surprised even his own organization with his pro debut, batting .313/.353/.430 in the Gulf Coast League when most expected a slow transition from athlete to baseball player. He's still quite raw, as evidenced by seven walks and 32 strikeouts in 128 at-bats, but his tools rank with nearly anyone's in the system. With a large, projectable frame and outstanding speed, Myers has a sky-high ceiling, but lots of work to do, work that will continue with Williamsport in the New York-Penn League.

Kieron Pope, OF, Orioles

Pope seemed to be coming into his own last summer, when he hit .341/.411/.585 in the Appy League. Then everything went down the tubes in 20 New York-Penn League games with Aberdeen, as Pope went 8-for-75 (.107) with two walks and 33 strikeouts. Pope's raw power has earned an 80 grade from some scouts, but whether he'll ever hit enough to tap into it remains to be seen, He'll return to Aberdeen for his third year in a short-season league. Sometimes those raw tools players take a long time, but at the same time, sometimes time runs out.

Juan Carlos Ramirez, RHP, Mariners

Ramirez was the talk of the Venezuelan Summer League last year, earning Pitcher of the Year honors thanks to a 1.66 ERA in 65 innings while limiting opposing hitters to a .191 average and no home runs. Team officials think that the Nicaraguan native is the best player to come out of their Venezuelan academy since Felix Hernandez, and with a mid-90s fastball and a plus curve already in his arsenal, they're looking forward to his stateside debut, likely starting in the Arizona League.

Angel Villalona, 3B, Giants

Saving the best for last, Villalona was the top talent in the Dominican last year, finally signing with the Giants for $2.1 million, or more than the team gave Tim Lincecum as the tenth overall selection in the draft. His hitting skills are remarkably advanced for a person born in 1990, and he has the size and raw power of a college slugger. The only concern is that since he's already six-foot-two and well over two hundred pounds, he'll grow off of third base, but we'll get a sense of just how far he's come since signing when he makes his pro debut in the Arizona League before his 17th birthday.

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

Related Content:  Dominican Prospect League

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