Saturday, October 01, 2005
BA: Florida State League Top 20 Prospects
1. Andy LaRoche: After making a late-season cameo in the FSL last year, LaRoche quickly showed that he was ready for Double-A with a blistering 63-game stint with Vero Beach in 2005. When he was promoted to Jacksonville, LaRoche was on pace to destroy the league's single-season home run record of 33. As impressed as they were with his power, FSL managers also were excited about LaRoche's ability to hit for average.
LaRoche went to the plate looking for fastballs that he could drive, but he had enough pitch recognition and plate discipline to avoid getting suckered into chasing breaking balls. When he did get a pitch to hammer, he showed power to all fields.
"I've seen him make adjustments," Jupiter manager Tim Cossins said. "It's not just power. He also has some hitter in him."
LaRoche isn't as polished in the field yet, as he is still adjusting to a move from shortstop last year. But he shows average hands and quickness, a good understanding of positioning and a strong arm. One manager said LaRoche warranted a shot at catcher if his bat weren't putting him on a fast track to the majors.
5. Matt Kemp: Kemp has improved dramatically since signing as a sixth-round pick in 2003, when he likely would have pursued college basketball instead of baseball had he had the grades to get a college scholarship. He wowed FSL observers with his plus power and surprising speed.
Kemp doesn't try to pull everything, showing pop to the opposite field and a good ability to cover the entire plate with his swing. He's a solid average center fielder, though he may grow into a corner outfielder if he continues to add weight to his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame. He has the arm strength for right field if needed.
Kemp's athleticism allowed him to succeed despite a relatively poor approach at the plate. He struck out too much as he struggled to read pitches and was susceptible to soft-tossers.
8. Justin Orenduff: Orenduff handled the jump to high Class A to start his first full pro season with aplomb, not allowing an earned run in seven of his 12 FSL starts before a promotion to Double-A.
He did a good job of pitching down in the zone with his fastball, which sat at 91-93 mph and touched 95. His slider is also a plus pitch, as it has good velocity and tilt. His changeup was much more erratic, varying between a fringe offering and a solid third pitch.
Orenduff showed the ability to work both sides of the plate, changing speeds like a veteran. He has the frame and free and easy motion to be an innings-eater at the major league level.
11. Tony Abreu: Abreu and Chin-Lung Hu gave Vero Beach the best middle-infield combination in the league. Abreu stood out defensively with his range, quickness and ability to turn the double play. He has soft hands and the range to handle shortstop, but his arm plays better at second base.
At the plate, the FSL batting champ showed a solid line drive stroke and proved difficult to strike out. He has the bat speed and hand-eye coordination to put the bat on the ball in most situations. A switch-hitter, he produced identical .327 averages from both sides of the plate.
While Abreu isn't a power hitter, his bat speed gives him gap power. He's quite willing to hit the ball to all fields, and has shown solid pitch recognition. The next step is to draw more walks.
12. Chin-Lung Hu: Abreu's double-play partner was a defensive star who also showed a solid approach at the plate.
"He's one of the most polished players in the league," Cossins said.
Hu has excellent flexibility, fluid actions, soft hands and a quick first step that let him gobble up grounders up the middle. His strong, accurate arm also allowed him to make the play in the hole as well. And he showed the instincts and understanding of positioning that ensured he was usually in the right place.
At the plate, Hu fits the profile of a traditional No. 2 hitter. He's very happy to hit the ball the other way, but he also has enough pop to turn on a pitch and hit it out if a pitcher makes a mistake. Despite his 5-foot-9 frame, he got good plate coverage, but like Abreu he needs to show more patience.
17. Chuck Tiffany: Early in the season, Tiffany was dominant. His 88-91 mph fastball, his curveball and his changeup all were a tick above average, and the combination baffled FSL hitters.
But as the season progressed, Tiffany's command wavered, and hitters started to catch up to him. While his velocity never really dropped, he wasn't able to hit his spots as well. His last start in the playoffs was symptomatic of his second half--he didn't allow a hit in five innings, but he also walked five.
Tiffany started to wear down, which may have led to his struggles. His body has never been outstanding, and he appeared to gain a little weight as the season went along.
When he was on, Tiffany had plenty of positives. He has a loose arm action and the ball jumps out of his hand, making his fastball seem faster. He feels comfortable using his full repertoire and has a very good feel for pitching.