Off The Radar
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on May 2, 2006
Ever wander away from the game for a few months and then check back and all of a sudden there is a group of prospects that you've never heard of before?
Nah, me neither. But if you did some of the top names would be foreign to you once you returned. The prospect turnover rate is higher than it is at McDonald's in South Central.
The best prospects either swiftly move through the minors and become major leaguers or their progress stagnates and they are no longer seen in the same status.
Lately, the M's have seen the former happen with a few of their own; Clint Nageotte, Yorman Bazardo, Travis Blackley, Mike Morse, and to a lesser extent, Greg Dobbs, Jamal Strong, who just signed a minor league deal with Atlanta, and Michael Garciaparra.
But someone is always there to take their place as the organization's top prospects.
Enter Asdrubal Cabrera, Jeff Clement, Rob Johnson, Adam Jones and Matt Tuiasosopo.
But what about the replacements for the current top group?
Usually they are either currently in college and yet to be drafted, still playing in their homeland's summer and winter leagues or working out down in Peoria.
They remain off the radar until they get the chance to break through.
Here are the top 10 candidates to break into the spotlight over the next few years, starting with this summer.
10. Jose Escalona, LHP – Wisconsin: A pretty solid arsenal for a 20-year-old puts Escalona on top of the pack that did not compete in the US last season. He'll need time to develop but he's got the feel for pitching and is showing that with the Rattlers.
9. Julio Santiago, LHP – Inland Empire: Similar to Escalona, minus a few natural mphs on the radar gun. Santiago has a better set of secondary pitches right now and a little bit better control. He could move a little faster through the system.
8. Marwin Vega, RHP – Wisconsin: Struggling of late, but has better current stuff than any starter below AA San Antonio. Vega will not be 20 until the year is over, so he has time to sharpen his control and continue to develop his change and breaking ball. Velocity (87-90) is fine and will only get better.
7. Greg Halman, OF – Everett: Possesses some intriguing power potential and his 6-4, 200-pound frame backs that up. Two-time MVP in the Netherlands, Halman had a pretty good year in the rookie league last summer. He'll see Everett this June and won't be 19 until late August.
6. Jair Fernandez, C – Everett: The best among a group of teenage catchers the M's have nabbed in the past two years. Fernandez is just 19 and the club believes he can develop better than average offensive skills while providing plus defense.
5. Miguel Marquez, RHP – Everett: Marquez posted an ERA over seven last year in Peoria but everyone keeps telling me to ignore it. He can miss bats and has a plus fastball in the 90-94 range. Could be a front-line starter with time.
4. Jeffrey Dominguez, SS – Wisconsin: After not hitting much in his first full year as a pro, Dominguez has been well above .300 for the T-Rats, spending most of the year as the leadoff hitter. His defensive tools suggest he can remain a shortstop, though his bat may ultimately play better at second base, where he could project as a gold glover.
3. Chia-An Huang, RHP – Peoria: Huang has some serious off field issue to clear up before returning to the field, but he's got all the tools to become a frontline starting pitcher. He's typically in the 90-94 range with his fastball but sat 87-89 last summer in the rookie league. Huang stands 6-feet, 2 inches and weighs in at 220 pounds at just 20 years of age. Even considering his extra-curricular problems, his pure stuff cannot be ignored.
2. Michael Saunders, OF – Wisconsin: Prematurely, Saunders has been ranked as high as 7th on various prospect lists, but the holes in his swing have to be mended before he gets that kind of praise from me. His swing is long and though he can draw a walk, his command of the strike zone needs work. At 6-4, he's a very good athlete currently playing center field for the Rattlers, but his future is in right field. His left-handed power potential reminds many of Kevin Maas. But it's still raw and his approach needs refining.
1. Hui Kuo Lo, OF – Everett: Lo, a Taiwan native, was signed in July of last year and at 20, should get a shot at Everett next month. Lo is a right-handed hitter with medium power and strong athletic skills. He's likely to play a lot of right field but the M's may see a reason to see what he has in center. He has the speed for the gig and showed in last Fall's instructional league that he can track fly balls with ease. Lo is not much of a project compared to the rest of this list and if he can get past the language and cultrual barriers, he's certainly one to watch.