03/28/2006 8:00 AM ET
10 Pacific Coast League names to know in '06
Four divisions stocked with stars, Pacific pair may have edge
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
If all the rosters in the Pacific Coast League are filled out according to plan, meaning there are no surprise promotions to the Major Leagues, then the Pacific Conference could have the edge when it comes to top-flight talent on the circuit.
That's not to disparage the eight American Conference teams, but with some of the hot commodities expected to fill out rosters in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Tucson, it's hard not to imagine a large group of All-Stars coming from those cities.
Here's a closer look at the 10 names you need to know in the PCL. See if you agree.
Carlos Quentin, OF, Tucson
Quentin is no stranger to the Pacific Coast League, having torn up the circuit for much of last summer with fellow first-round pick Conor Jackson. While Jackson was promoted to Arizona, Quentin's path remains blocked by Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green. The former Stanford star, however, has been a professional about the whole situation and returned to Tucson without griping, despite the fact he no longer needs any seasoning down below. He hit .301 last season with 21 homers and 89 RBIs and has a career on-base percentage of .428.
Stephen Drew, SS, Tucson
One of Arizona's shortstops of the future -- Justin Upton may have something to say about it in a few years -- figures to start the season in the PCL but shouldn't be there long. Drew got a long look in Spring Training and more than held his own. But he only played 69 Minor League games last year and another 19 of independent ball, so he's still a bit short on experience. While he had a strong Arizona Fall League, the idea that he gets to see some top-flight PCL pitching for a while certainly won't hurt.
Howie Kendrick, 2B, Salt Lake City
The Angels second baseman in waiting is a career .359 hitter in four Minor League seasons and could probably start with the parent club this year. But he only has 46 games of Double-A experience on his resume, so there is some legitimate concern about him making the jump to Los Angeles. He combined to hit 19 homers, drive in 89 runs and hit .367, second-best in the Minor Leagues, last year. Throw in a .380 average in the Arizona Fall League, his winning personality, and his fantastic outlook and the Angels have a public relations dream for the next dozen years. He's been having a great spring and there was some talk he could be with the parent club from the outset but that isn't likely.
Kendry Morales, 1B, Salt Lake City
The Cuban import has only 96 Minor League games on his resume but he was being strongly considered for a spot on the Major League roster this spring. He hit .315 last season, with 22 homers and 71 RBIs while splitting time between Rancho Cucamonga of the California League and Arkansas of the Texas League. That the Angels considered him capable of making the leap to the big leagues so soon speaks volumes about his ability.
Chad Billingsley, RHP, Las Vegas
The former first-rounder (2003) was sparkling at Double-A Jacksonville last season, going 13-6 with a 3.51 ERA in 28 games (26 starts). He got a long look this season during Spring Training and was being considered for a place in the Los Angeles rotation. But the club determined that he needed some more seasoning so he'll at least begin the season in Vegas. He'll anchor the staff on what should be a fantastic team at Vegas.
Andy LaRoche, 3B, Las Vegas
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? Well, the Dodgers hope not, particularly where LaRoche is concerned. He had 30 homers and 94 RBIs splitting time last season between Class A Advanced Vero Beach and Double-A Jacksonville, and the brass in Los Angeles is hoping he'll replicate those numbers out in the desert. If he does, Hollywood will be his new home before long. Give him a chance to hit at some of the hitter friendly venues in the PCL and watch the numbers pile up.
Brian Harper, Manager, Salt Lake City
The longtime utility man spent 16 seasons in the Major Leagues, enjoying his best years with the Twins in the late 80s and early 90s. He was on the squad that won the 1991 World Series, and brings a wealth of experience to Salt Lake City, where he will replace the talented and immensely popular Dino Ebel. Harper has a son, Brett, who plays in the Mets' system.
Felix Pie, OF, Iowa
Pie could easily qualify as the most dynamic player in the PCL this season. He's gifted and graceful and is expected to fill either center or right field in Chicago for many years to come. This season, however, will be spent in Iowa where he will polish some of the few rough edges he has left. Pie has power, speed, can hit for average but needs to show more patience at the plate (168 Ks, 55 BBs the last two seasons). A bone bruise sidelined him for an extended period of time last year, but former Major Leaguer Von Joshua, his hitting coach at West Tenn, likened him to former Astros great Cesar Cedeno.
Jason Hirsh, RHP, Round Rock
What Roger Clemens ultimately decides will probably have an impact on where Hirsh pitches for most of this season. The consensus early on was that he'd start the season in Round Rock but likely move up quickly if he shows he can handle the competition. Based on what he did last year in Corpus Christi (13-8, 2.87 in 29 starts), that shouldn't be much of a concern. At 6-foot-8 and nearly 250 pounds, Hirsh is intimidating as they come on the mound.
Daric Barton, 1B, Sacramento
Barton sports a career .312 average in three Minor League seasons, and is coming off a season in which he excelled at both the Class A Advanced (California League) and Double-A (Texas League) levels. He's a production machine, having driven in 89 runs last year, and 77 in 90 games during the 2004 season. He's also patient at the plate, as his 97 walks to only 79 strikeouts last season will attest. A fluid, easy swing makes this former first-rounder an exciting player to keep an eye on.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.