Hawaii Winter Ball's Top 15 prospects
Switch-hitter Wieters might be on the fast track to Baltimore
The following list was compiled from statistics from the '07 Hawaii Winter Baseball Season and opinions of Major League coaches and scouts. The list also considers the probability of the player making an impact at the Major League level.
1. Matt Wieters, Honolulu Sharks, C (Baltimore Orioles)
As a 6-foot-5, switch-hitting catcher, Wieters is a wall behind the plate with a great arm who can hit to all fields with power. It's no wonder the Orioles invested $6 million in the backstop who made his professional debut in HWB. As a catcher and designated hitter with the Sharks, Wieters hit .283 with nine doubles, a home run and 17 RBIs in 106 at-bats. Most impressive, however, was the Goose Creek, S.C. native's plate discipline. Wieters drew 12 walks and amassed a .364 on-base percentage, not an easy feat considering the rookie faced some of the best young prospects from the United States and Japan. Many experts predict Wieters will make his way up to the big league club by 2009, but I see him getting called up late next season by a team desperate to win and looking to advance a core group of youngsters through its system -- see the 2007 Milwaukee Brewers club for a blueprint.
2. Austin Jackson, Honolulu Sharks, OF (New York Yankees)
A prototypical five-tool player, Jackson can hit to all fields with power, run the bases and glide around the outfield a la Andruw Jones. The top left-field prospect in the Yankees' system notched 10 doubles, five triples and three home runs while driving in 22 runs and swiping eight bases in HWB, where he was the only member of the Sharks' squad to play in all 39 games. Jackson has been mentioned in a few trade rumors as the free-spending Yankees go after pricey free agents, but I think the club would benefit by holding on to the top-tier athlete. Based on what he did in Hawaii, and the fact that he will probably start 2008 in Double-A Trenton, I see Jackson donning the pinstripes in 2009 if the club decides to hold on to him.
3. Brett Sinkbeil, North Shore Honu, RHP (Florida Marlins)
As Florida's top draft pick in 2006, Sinkbeil was rolling along in Class A Advanced until his campaign was cut short by elbow tendinitis. But the hurler put his strong fastball and slider coupled with a work-in-progress change-up to use in Hawaii, amassing a 3-1 record and a minuscule 1.64 ERA while striking out 24 through 33 innings. Sinkbeil should start the year at Double-A Carolina, and don't be surprised if the Marlins call him up around midseason as a replacement starter or a reliever. 2006 HWB alum Rick VandenHurk was promoted to the big leagues before even cracking the Double-A plateau, and the Marlins could do the same with Sinkbeil if the club is stricken with injuries again this season.
4. Mat Gamel, North Shore Honu, 3B (Milwaukee Brewers)
While his defense at the hot corner needs a little polishing, Gamel more than made up for his 10 errors at third base with a scorching-hot bat. The Jacksonville native led HWB with eight home runs and compiled a .333 batting average -- the third highest mark in the league. Gamel also led the league with 25 runs scored and collected 25 RBIs and a .608 slugging percentage. The left-handed hitter should start the season at Double-A Huntsville, and if he continues his hot streak at the plate, the slugger could make his way up to Milwaukee as a backup to Ryan Braun by 2009. The Brewers might consider using him in the outfield to increase the opportunity for at-bats in a stacked Brewers lineup.
5. Brandon Snyder, Honolulu Sharks, 3B (Baltimore Orioles)
The former catcher spent the HWB campaign working on his skills at third base. The right-hander put together a consistent season at the dish, and he ended up leading the league with a .378 batting average. It will be interesting to see what Baltimore decides to do with Snyder as the club has high hopes for top-rated prospect Bill Rowell at the hot corner. If that is indeed the case, look for Snyder to compete an aging Aubrey Huff for time at first base with the Orioles in early 2009. Snyder has suffered injuries to both shoulders, so a permanent move to first base could prolong his shelf life as an effective hitter.
6. Kris Medlen, Honolulu Sharks, RHP (Atlanta Braves)
A stellar fastball/change-up combination coupled with a strong breaking ball makes Medlen one of HWB's most formidable relievers. The Artesia, Calif. native struck out 27 with four walks through 14 1/3 innings and notched a 1.88 ERA and a save in 11 appearances. As the Atlanta Braves continue to bring young players through the pipeline, Medlen has positioned himself as one of the organization's next go-to relievers. The 22-year-old already has some Double-A action under his belt, and he could make the jump to Atlanta this season.
7. Michael Wilson, Waikiki BeachBoys, OF (Seattle Mariners)
Wilson showcased his tremendous power at the plate throughout the HWB campaign. The Tulsa, Okla. native crushed seven home runs and was second in the league with a .605 slugging percentage. Wilson had a promising 2007 regular season cut short by a quadriceps injury, but he was back near 100 percent in the fall. The top left-field prospect in the Seattle organization led the league in RBIs (30), doubles (11), and finished third in on-base percentage (.408). The outfielder has a shot at making the Mariners' Triple-A Tacoma roster, and he should see Major League action by 2009 if he can shore up his defense.
8. George Kontos, Honolulu Sharks, RHP (New York Yankees)
Despite posting a 3-4 record, Kontos showed great control on the mound. The 22-year-old struck out 42 and walked 10 through 34 innings. The hurler surrendered a base hit per inning but continued to hone his control, and he notched a respectable 3.71 ERA. Kontos is expected to start the season at Double-A Trenton and has a shot as a late-season big league call-up if New York decides to replenish its bullpen. Remember, 2006 HWB alumni Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and Jeff Marquez all spent time at Trenton last season and are on track to spend lengthy careers in the Majors.
9. Blake Wood, West Oahu CaneFires, RHP (Kansas City Royals)
Wood led HWB with an impressive 15.55 strikeout-per-nine innings pitched ratio, notching 57 strikeouts through 37 innings. The Georgia Tech University product missed the first half of the 2007 campaign with a back injury, so his time in HWB was spent not only making up for lost time, but also refining mechanics. Kansas City has done a good job under general manager Dayton Moore of stockpiling young, effective starting pitchers, and Wood should make the move to Double-A Wichita to start 2008.
10. Argenis Diaz, Honolulu Sharks, SS (Boston Red Sox)
The 20-year-old led HWB with a .421 on-base percentage and wound up second in the league with a .358 average after hitting over .400 through the first half of the campaign. The Venezuela native's ability to put the ball in play and set the table for the meat of the order has Diaz high on Boston's list of middle-infield prospects. He has already been named to the big league club's 40-man roster and expects to start the year in Double-A Portland. While he possesses average speed and range in the hole, Diaz routinely gunned down runners from the infield fringe, and he finished his HWB stint with the third-best fielding percentage (.914) among everyday shortstops.
11. Daniel Bard, Honolulu Sharks, RHP (Boston Red Sox)
The former first-round draft pick impressed fans behind the Hans L'Orange Park backstop and intimidated opposing hitters with his blistering fastball while honing his control in HWB. The 22-year-old was used as a one-inning reliever per Boston's orders, and he fanned 15 while walking 15 through 16 2/3 innings. He still needs to harness his fastball, but Bard allowed only two earned runs and improved mightily upon the 78 walks and 7.08 ERA he posted in the regular season. He also has a strong curve and an adequate change-up. Bard should see the majority of his 2008 innings in Double-A, and depending on his progress, might warrant a late-season callup.
12. Michael McKenry, Waikiki BeachBoys, C (Colorado Rockies)
McKenry wrapped up a successful HWB campaign with a .281 batting average and five home runs and finished second on the BeachBoys in both areas behind Michael Wilson. In addition to his .358 on-base percentage and 17 runs scored in 26 games, McKenry's strength emerged behind the dish. Not only did he pace the league's catchers with 22 games behind the plate, but the 22-year-old also led his position in putouts (191), assists (26) and double plays (3). More impressive, however, was McKenry's ability to gun down runners attempting to swipe bases. Of the 34 runners who attempted to steal on McKenry, the catcher threw out 16, and he dominated all catchers with a .471 caught-stealing percentage. The Middle Tennessee State University product will probably start the season at Class A Advanced Modesto as he continues to improve his all-around game.
13. Bud Norris, North Shore Honu, RHP (Houston Astros)
Norris relied on a lively fastball coupled with a strong breaking ball en route to racking up 33 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings. While his 2-1 record and 3.65 ERA were commonplace amongst a stacked North Shore pitching staff, the Greenbrae, Calif. native fared much better than his inconsistent regular-season performance. Scouts laud Norris' mechanics, and mentioned that if he gets stronger and tweaks a few aspects of his delivery, a naturally live arm will give Norris a leg up on the competition. With Houston's trade for Miguel Tejada and subsequent purging of pitching prospects, Norris could be on the fast track through the system, most likely as a power reliever.
14. Lucas Duda, Waikiki BeachBoys, 1B (New York Mets)
Had Duda been entrenched in Waikiki's lineup from the get-go, instead of joining the squad midseason as an injury replacement, the slugging USC product would have competed for league all-star honors. In 15 games and a resulting 59 plate appearances, Duda notched a .340 batting average coupled with a .660 slugging percentage with six doubles, a triple, three home runs and 13 RBIs. While the Los Angeles native needs some time to smooth out a few rough edges of his game, including his defense at first base and possibly one of the corner outfield spots, Duda's raw power and size should allow him to move up the ladder quickly.
15. Jonathan Lucroy, North Shore Honu, C (Milwaukee Brewers)
Lucroy started his 2007 HWB campaign with a scorching-hot bat. The 21-year-old posted a .415 batting average through his first 11 games. While he cooled off a bit and finished the season with a respectable .299 mark, the backstop aided the champion Honu squad with an impressive .375 average with runners in scoring position. He thrived in clutch situations, hitting .444 with runners in scoring position and two out. Lucroy looked comfortable behind the plate, committing just one error in 120 total chances for a solid .992 fielding percentage. In 15 games, the Louisiana native surrendered just two passed balls, a mark which tied him for best in the league. One area Lucroy does need to work on is throwing out runners as the backstop allowed 12 of 16 runners to steal against him.
Kyle Gadeira is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.