03/05/2006 11:07 PM ET
10 California League names to know in '06
By Benjamin Hill / MLB.com
In 2005, the California League was home to Brandon Wood, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim farmhand who pounded a Minor League-leading 43 home runs with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. While Wood will move on in 2006, there will be plenty of prospects vying to takes his place as the league's best.
This year's potential standouts in the Class A Advanced circuit include a trio of power pitchers, three first-round draft picks, a lightning-quick middle infielder and an emerging five-tool phenom. Here are 10 names likely to make an impact in 2006:
John Mayberry Jr., OF, Bakersfield Blaze
Like father, like son. John Mayberry Sr. was the first pick of the Houston Astros in the 1967 amateur draft and went on to a productive 15-year Major League career. After three years at Stanford, the younger Mayberry was selected in the first round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers. After a lackluster short-season campaign with the Spokane Indians in 2005, Mayberry will seek to harness his raw power with the Blaze.
Luis Cota, P, High Desert Mavericks
A power pitcher with top-of-the-rotation potential, Cota was signed by the Royals for $1.05 million in 2003 -- a record for a 10th-round draft pick. After going 6-8 with a 4.01 ERA with the Burlington Bees in 2005, Cota will have to prove his mental toughness to succeed in hitter-friendly High Desert.
Jeff Clement, C, Inland Empire 66ers
One of the most powerful left-handed hitting catchers in baseball, Clement has the potential to put up jaw-dropping numbers with the 66ers. California League fans hoping to see the 2005 first-round draft pick in action better move quicky, because Clement could be in Double-A San Antonio by the time the All-Star break rolls around.
Matt Tuiasosopo, SS, Inland Empire 66ers
Tuiasosopo's father, Manu, and brother, Marques, both played in the NFL. While Matt excelled on the gridiron in high school, the Mariners are hoping his future is in baseball. The 19-year-old handled the rigors of a full season for the first time in 2005, hitting .276 with the Midwest League's Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, and will develop more of a power stroke as he fills out.
Matt Bush, SS, Lake Elsinore Storm
Bush, the top overall pick in the 2004 draft, has yet to live up to his potential. While his fielding often dazzles, he has managed just a .221 batting average over 552 professional at-bats, with minimal power and an inability to work deep counts. There's still plenty of time for the 20-year-old to turn things around, and a stint in the hitter-friendly California League could be just the jolt Bush needs.
Micah Owings, P, Lancaster JetHawks
A hard-throwing hurler with pinpoint control and a nasty slider, Owings pitched well in a stint with Lancaster in 2005. Over 16 relief appearances, the 23-year-righty went 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA while striking out 30 and walking only four. He'll return to the JetHawks in 2006, most likely as a member of the starting rotation.
Chad Kreuter, manager, Modesto Nuts
A veteran of 16 Major League seasons (most notably with the Rangers, White Sox, Tigers and Dodgers), Kreuter will be making his managerial debut with the Nuts. The 41-year-old had previously coached at USC. He will be taking over for Stu Cole, who will pilot the Double-A Tulsa Drillers this season.
Franklin Morales, P, Modesto Nuts
One of Kreuter's top charges will be the 20-year-old Morales. After an underwhelming stint in the Pioneer League in 2004, the left-hander made great strides in the South Atlantic League last season, finishing 8-4 with 108 strikeouts in just 96 innings. Morales' fastball has been clocked at 98 mph.
Marcus Sanders, SS/2B, San Jose Giants
Last season, Sanders tore up the basepaths with the South Atlantic League's Augusta Greenjackets. The 20-year-old stole 57 bases, fifth-best in the Minor Leagues, and was caught only nine times. Lingering pain from offseason shoulder surgery is a concern for Sanders, who will be seeking to establish himself as one a premier leadoff hitter.
Javier Herrera, OF, Stockton Ports
A five-tool standout who was the MVP of the Northwest League in 2004, Herrera's combination of power and speed has Oakland A's fans salivating. While the 21-year-old hit .417 in a brief stint with Triple-A Sacramento in 2005, he should begin 2006 with Stockton. Cutting down on his strikeout total (he had 110 in just 360 at-bats with Class A Kane County last season) will be a major focus.
Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.