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Friday, November 18, 2005

Four Angels, Two Dodgers In Baseball America's Top 20 AFL Prospects

Baseball America has released its top 20 prospects in the AFL, and the usual suspects come out on top for both clubs. (The complete list and opening remarks for non-subscribers can be found here.)
1. Brandon Wood, ss, Surprise Scorpions (Angels)

When managers and scouts saw Wood for the first time this fall, most were taken back that someone with his body-type—tall and wiry strong--led the minors in homers and amassed 101 extra-base hits. But once they saw him get in the cage and take his hacks during BP, perceptions quickly changed.

Wood has an outstanding combination of bat speed and leverage that allows him to generate loft power, as balls just fly off his bat. Pitchers had some success against him by working fastballs in on his hands and then setting him up away. Wood tends to chase pitches out of the zone, especially when he’s behind in the count, which led to many of his 31 strikeouts, which were the second-most in the league. His swing can get long. Defensively, Wood is average to above, with good hands, decent range and plus arm strength.

4. Howie Kendrick, 2b, Surprise (Angels)

Kendrick was widely considered the best hitter in the league. One scout referred to him as “The Generator” for his approach with his hands—he holds them high next to his head, waving the bat in a circle that intensifies as the opposing pitcher goes into his windup. He rarely swings and misses, and his compact stroke coupled with quick hands, wrists and excellent hand-eye coordination allow him to make adjustments to any pitch, anywhere in the zone.

Kendrick’s biggest weakness has been his defense, but in the AFL he showed good range, soft hands, and a plus arm on the right side of the diamond. He needs to be more aggressive on the bases.

11. Andy LaRoche, 3b, Phoenix Desert Dogs (Dodgers)

LaRoche went through a power outage at the end of the regular season—he didn’t hit a homer from August 20 until the AFL championship game on November 12—and fatigue is the greatest reason. The ball wasn’t jumping off his bat the way it normally does, and even though LaRoche has a fairly compact swing, he had the tendency to drop his hands and uppercut.

When he’s fresh, LaRoche is one of the best third base prospects in baseball. He has a low center of gravity in his swing, with a lot of his plus raw power coming from excellent use of this lower half in his approach. LaRoche is an average defender at third, moves well to either side and has above-average arm strength.

16. Matt Kemp, of, Phoenix Desert Dogs (Dodgers)

Kemp had one of the best packages in the league in terms of overall tools, and he put them to use, hitting over .400 and adding two homers in the championship game against Surprise. But for as much success Kemp had this fall, he is still very raw.

Kemp has plus raw power, but tends to leak forward with his front leg and will pull off pitches over the inner half. He worked on getting his hands further back to stay through the ball more consistently. Kemp runs surprisingly well for a big man, but his routes to balls in the outfield were questionable at times. He has classic right field tools, with more than enough power and arm strength to stick at the position.

18. Kendry Morales, 1b, Surprise Scorpions (Angels)

Morales remains somewhat of an enigma. Since signing for a $3 million bonus as a Cuban defector last winter, Morales had a decent debut season and followed that up by raking his way through the Fall League. But for as much as there is to like about the potential middle-of-the-order run producer, scouts felt he may be living off his reputation as an overpaid international dynamo.

There is no question about Morales’ savvy—he works counts well and pitchers in the AFL tended to go after him cautiously, which plays directly to his strength. He’s a below-average athlete and some scouts had questions about his defensive abilities at first base. While he has plus pitch recognition and plate discipline, there are a lot of moving parts to Morales’ swing—his head, hands and feet are all in motion, which affects the amount of bat speed he’s able to generate. He could be exposed as he faces more quality pitching at the higher levels.

19. Jered Weaver, rhp, Surprise Scorpions (Angels)

Weaver was in the Fall League to get more innings, as his season didn’t begin until June after his long holdout as a 2004 first-round pick. And while the overall results weren’t exactly pretty—he went 1-3, 5.47 in 24 innings—Weaver’s secondary numbers were outstanding, with a 35-5 strikeout-walk ratio.

Weaver has excellent command of four pitches, starting with a two-seam and four-seam fastballs. His two-seamer has great late life, diving down in the zone, and is anywhere from 86-89 mph. His four-seamer is harder, in the 91-95 mph range. He also throws two variations of a slider, and a changeup that showed flashes of being a plus pitch at times with nice, downward tumble. Weaver struggled to stay consistent with his mechanics at times, which was a sign of fatigue in his first full season after nearly a yearlong layoff. He tended to get around on his slider, and it would flatten out as a result. He worked on improving his time to the plate out of the stretch, which should help him control the running game.


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