Prospect Watch: Hidden treasures
David Srinivasan - Sporting News
Too true, the Super Bowl was lame, but arrrrr, it featured two fine swashbucklin', plank-walkin', rum-guzzlin', gold-earring-wearin' teams, Jim lad! So if you have a peg leg, an eye patch, a parrot or a cutlass (be it sword or Oldsmobile), consider yourself honored by the presence of the first two prospects I've written about this week, mateys. So without further ado, let's set sail for the Spanish main (by way of Altoona).

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Tony Alvarez, OF, Pirates, Age: 23. Alvarez has the speed and general defensive skills to succeed in the majors. He batted .318-15-59 with 29 steals for Double-A Altoona. In 507 at-bats, Alvarez had 37 doubles, a triple, and a 71-27 K/BB ratio. He must improve his K/BB ratio and baserunning judgment (18 times caught stealing), but he has an open path to the starting center-field job in Pittsburgh this spring. Based on 2002, you could expect Alvarez to bat .284-13-51 in Pittsburgh with around 20 steals. Expect him to vie for a starting job and get at least 200 at-bats.

Sean Burnett, LHP, Pirates, Age: 20. Burnett went 13-4 with a 1.80 ERA at high Single-A Lynchburg. He allowed 118 hits and only four homers in 155 innings and showed superb control, walking only 33. Burnett has an 88-92 mph fastball, a super changeup and a fine curveball. There is one flaw, however: Burnett whiffed only 96, an extremely lackluster 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings. If his K rate remains this low, he might hit a wall at Double-A. Burnett is one of the best young pitchers in the minors, but his low strikeout rate keeps him from being a top-tier prospect.

Travis Chapman, 3B, Tigers, Age: 24. Chapman batted .301-15-76 in 478 at-bats at Double-A Harrisburg. He had a 77-54 K/BB ratio and was hit by 19 pitches (ouch!) to earn a .388 OBP. That's the same as batting .274-12-61 in Philly. Unfortunately, the Phils signed David Bell as a free agent, temporarily cutting off Chapman's path to the majors. Cleveland took Chapman in December's Rule 5 draft, than shipped him to the Tigers. Chapman is a superior hitter. This means he has a good chance of unseating the chumps Detroit has lined up to play third base. In a full season, Chapman could do slightly better then Geoff Blum, especially since Detroit has moved in the fence in left-center. Watch him carefully in March.

Gavin Floyd, RHP, Phillies, Age: 20. Floyd went 11-10 with a 2.77 ERA at low Single-A Lakewood. In 166 innings, he allowed 119 hits, including 13 homers, and had a 140-64 K/BB ratio. Floyd has a mid-90s fastball, a superb hard curveball, and a good changeup. He has beautiful mechanics, and his control should improve as he gains experience. On top of that, Floyd is mature, intelligent and a hard worker. Arguably the best pitching prospect in the low minors, Floyd is 12-24 months from the majors.

Hanley Ramirez, SS, Red Sox, Age: 19. Don't be surprised if Ramirez is the No. 1 prospect in baseball by the end of next season. This athletic shortstop has drawn comparisons to Nomar Garciaparra and Alfonso Soriano. He batted .352-7-45 with 20 doubles, five triples, 12 steals and a 20-29 K/BB ratio in 261 at-bats between rookie ball and short-season Single-A. He might not develop tremendous power, but he profiles as a consistent .300 hitter with solid speed. He's 2-3 years away, but if you're in a deep league and looking for the next Barry Larkin, this is your man.

Joe Valentine, RHP, Athletics, Age: 23. Last season, Valentine used a mid-90s fastball and slider to tie the Southern League record with 36 saves. He went 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA (59 innings, 36 hits and a 63-30 K/BB ratio). He held hitters to a .173 average, but his command is poor (4.6 walks per 9 innings). Valentine came up with the White Sox organization, but he and Keith Foulke were sent to Oakland in the Billy Koch deal. Valentine could develop into a big-league stopper, but he must earn his wings as a complement to A's setup stud Chad Bradford. Valentine must hone his control, but he could have excellent value in leagues that value holds.

* -- With the additions of Jason Lane and Jimmy Gobble (thanks to two diligent readers), the 2003 prospect rankings now feature 188 kids. As we get closer to opening day, I'll continue to update these rankings to help ensure you grab the right rookies for your fantasy squads.



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