WTNYOctober 05, 2004
Seen But Not Heard
By Bryan Smith

In previous articles, Ive written about some top-flight outfield prospects, like Los Tres Enemigos (Hermida, Francoeur, Pie) and the 3 college players (Reed, Swisher, Granderson). While the best players (Young, Kubel, Milledge) are always written about, few have touched on the great depth at the position. Today I will talk about seven players that often go unseen at the outfield position, and probably factor somewhere in the 15-30 prospect range.

A fitting way to start this article is to touch on one of the most underrated prospects in the minor leagues. Sure, Val Majewski made enough noise to land a Sickels profile, but not by much. With Adam Loewen lost to injury, John Maine struggling and Denny Bautista traded, Majewski will battle 2003 first-round choice Nick Markakis for the title of Top Oriole Prospect. That honor will probably come with a bit of reluctance, as previous winners have included Ryan Minor, Keith Reed and Rich Stahl. Whats similar with these 3? We have forgotten them, which means its a good thing the Orioles have dumped much of their player development staff.

Majewski is an interesting player, because he has both the polish of a college player to go along with the youth and upside of a prep player. The Baseball Cube shows Majewski as having played two seasons at Rutgers University, in 2001 and 2002. As a 17-year-old Freshman, Majewski hit .378/.452/.618 followed by .364/.431/.627 as a Sophomore. The Orioles made him a third-round choice in the 2002 draft, quickly assigning him to the New York-Penn League. Val hit .300/.376/.464 in 110 at-bats there, before finishing the season in the South Atlantic League. Success continued in 2003, where Majewski split the year between the Sally League (.303/.383/.553) and Carolina League (.289/.321/.509). We heard next to nothing about this guy last year, but a 19-year-old with an .830 High-A OPS is solid.

And solid Majewski has remained. After turning 20 in Spring Training, the Orioles challenged Val with a promotion to the Eastern League. And Oriole management simply saw more of the same, as Majewski hit .307/.359/.490 this past season. Whats concerning is the plate discipline we saw in the NYPL and SAL has evaporated in his last two levels. His power is simply solid, with not a lot of room from improvement, which is troublesome for a right fielder. But when considering the fact that Baltimore split Jay Gibbons and B.J. Surhoff there in 2004, its safe to say the Orioles will use Majewski when ready.

The same cannot be said for Matt Murton, an outfielder with the unfortunate fate of first playing with the Red Sox, and now the Cubs. Neither team is particularly known for giving position prospects much of a chance, instead dealing them midseason, like Theo Epstein did in the Nomar Garciaparra trade. Murton, also a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket, was previously known for his power after once winning the Cape Cod League home run crown. But after posting a .292/.364/.437 line in the Florida State League, it appears those days might be behind him.

Murton now has a career ISO of .135, definitely not good enough for a left fielder. But there is hope that Murton, otherwise harnessing a very solid game, will again show the power he did in his amateur days. As a Cubs fan, I love the addition of Murton, a player I feel will blossom in 2005. The FSL, nor the Southern League (where Murton will play in 2005), are great on hitters, but Matt Murton will be prove good enough to be traded, yet again.

Alex Romero is destined for the same fate, yet another outfielder in Minnesotas glut of young outfielders. Consider the following:

Player A: .298/.361/.400
Player B: .292/.387/.405

In this old, overused game, Player A is Jason Kubel, now the second best outfield prospect in the minor leagues. Player B is Romero, a Venezuelan that put up those numbers while being a year younger than Kubel. Now its unfair to say if Romero will have a Kubel-like breakout in 2005, though if I were Terry Ryan, I would wait nine months to consider trading him. For now, Romero is a 21-year-old, switch-hitting outfielder with solid tools, next year, well see what the Eastern League brings.

Yet another player that was hurt by the pitching-friendly FSL was WTNY favorite Melky Cabrera. And not only my favorite, but also frequent commenter Fabian, who tracks this stuff on a daily basis. After beating up on Midwest League pitching to the tune of .333/.383/.462, the Yankees gave Cabrera a mid-season to promotion to the FSL. It was in Tampa where Cabrera put up a .288/.341/.438, actually showing improvements in ISO and OBP-BA. So in case youre keeping score at home, that is three consecutive spikes in ISO, finishing with .150.

Like Romero above, Cabrera is a Caribbean, switch-hitting outfielder. At previous times, Ive compared Cabrera to Bernie Williams, another switch-hitter that played in High-A at 20, not 19 like Cabrera was in 2004. Bernies ISO was .152, though his average (.335) and walk (65) totals were superior. I doubt Melky will ever reach Bernies greatness, but I do think hes one of the Bronx Bombers top prospects. And unless they sign Carlos Beltran or another CFer in the near future, maybe theyll open a spot for him too. I doubt it.

On the other side of The Rivalry is another outfielder that saw a late season promotion to the FSL. Brandon Moss was one of the South Atlantic Leagues best hitters this season, hitting .339/.402/.515 before getting 83 at-bats in Sarasota. The greatness did not stop in those 22 games, where Moss hit a ridiculous .422/.462/.542. This season has come as quite a surprise to scouts, as Moss had previously posted a .587 OPS in the GCL and .720 OPS in the NYPL.

His tools arent superior, especially his outfield defense. But its too early to call this season a gaffe, as we saw improvements in his strikeout rate, which also helped a jump in batting average. While I have no way to have the stats behind this, my guess would be that Moss had a BABIP higher than average, and should see a reduction in batting average next season. But if he puts up a .280/.350/.480 line in the FSL, hell seem even better to me than Alex Romero or Matt Murton.

From the solid to the toolsy, we move to an overlooked Tampa Bay prospect. This really shouldnt happen, as you would expect Devil Ray fans to grasp on anything moving in the minor leagues. Elijah Dukes seemed to put all his tools together that made him a 3rd round choice in 2002, actually improving after a midseason promotion from the Sally League to the Cali League. Ive gotten some heat on not liking Rocco and liking Gathright, but cant we all just agree on Elijah Dukes?

In 43 games alongside Delmon Young in the South Atlantic League, Devil Ray brass promoted Dukes with a .288/.368/.423 line. What happened in Bakersfield? Average, up. ISO, up. OBP-BA, up. While he didnt have the 14/15 SB success rate he had in low-A, 16/23 aint bad. And overall, 30/38 is fantastic. Like a toolsy prospect, Dukes has significant SO/BB issues, especially when he has 227 career Ks in 218 games. This kid has possible star written all over him, and will be a name I watch next year extremely closely.

But Ill see your A-ball tools prospect, and raise you one. In case you werent aware, the South Atlantic League was home to not one, but 2 good outfield prospects with the last name Young. Im not a huge fan of the White Sox minor league system, but I think Chris Young has more potential than Brandon McCarthy, Brian Anderson or Ryan Sweeney. Young put his name on the map with a solid Appy League performance last year, hitting .290/.357/.479.

More of the same came from Young this season, though there was a significant decrease in contact. Youngs batting average went from .290 to .262, and he struck out 145 times in 135 games. But, good things came from the season as well. Young stole 31 bases in 40 attempts, an improvement off the 75% success rate from 2003. His ISO went up to .243, which shows superstar potential. And to make you sabermatricians happy, he also saw a rise in walks, reaching base 66 times via the walk.

Be mad at Kenny Williams for trading Jeremy Reed, and be mad at the media for overhyping Ryan Sweeney. But be happy White Sox fans, you got a good one in Chris Young.

Quickly, a ranking of the 7: Majewski, Cabrera, Young, Dukes, Murton, Romero, Moss. Thats all for today, though I urge interested readers in researching a few other players that just missed this list: Jason Pridie (Devil Rays), Michael Bourn (Phillies) and Fred Lewis (Giants).

Comments

I'm glad you mentioned Romero. I've been a huge supporter of his since his days with Quad City in the Midwest League. Once he starts to add strength and pull the ball, he'll be a top prospect.
I also agree that Chris Young is a major sleeper. I certainly like him more than Sweeney, though Anderson has more polish.
Another name to keep an eye on: Steven Doetsch, ATL

Elijah Dukes isn't unknown to Rays fans, we're well aware of him and what he did this year at Bakersfield. The concern with him is one of character, he was arrested in the offseason for throwing a video game controller at his child's mother, has had various off-field character problems in the past, some even before he was drafted, and was, from what we've heard, promoted to Bakersfield because the DRO didn't want him around in Charleston to possibly be a bad influence on guys like Young and Bankston. If he manages to put his problems behind him and grow up then he looks like he could become a top prospect.

I just read, and admittedly should have previously known this, that Val Majewski tore his labrum while on a September call-up. He might be ready for next year, but torn labrums aren't fun, and probably puts Melky Cabrera in front of Majewski.

Dukes does have his makeup problems, but I don't think that should hurt prospect status. I meant to imply that the world doesn't know about Dukes, rather than D-Ray fans. You guys might know, but you ain't talking too loudly :)

If the power Bourn showed this year is legit, the Phillies look like they could have an exceptional leadoff man on their hands. 85 BB's in 413 AB's and a 57/6 SB ratio? That's just awesome. Any idea on how good his defense is?

About Romero, while he's a good prospect I just can't find myself agreeing with the Jason Kubel comp. Kubel put up a .521 SLG in the Midwest League in 2002, while the best Romero's ever flashed is .457 in the GCL.

I think Melky will have a huge '05 in AA. Hopefully he gets his walk rate back to its previous levels. The most encouraging thing about him was that as the season progressed he quite literally went from hitting singles to doubles to triples to home runs. All of his homers were in the last 5 or 6 weeks of the season.

We talk loudly....in our own little corners of the internet.