Countdown to Opening Day 2008
South Atlantic League preview
SAL By the Numbers
Q&A with President Eric Krupa
Old meets new in the SAL
With two weeks left in Spring Training and many moves left to be made, it's hard to say how many of the following assignments are engraved in stone (or bus seats) yet.
But with 16 teams full of talented young players, many of them about to make their full-season debuts, the South Atlantic League promises to feature many names you will absolutely know by September if you don't know them now.
It was a challenge to cut the list to 10 (in fact, we kind of cheated in one case), so if one or two of these players dazzle so brightly in the next few weeks that they earn themselves a promotion to the next level, there will be equally promising prospects to take their place.
1. Dellin Betances, RHP
You've heard about Joba, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. Now it's time to start hearing about Dellin Betances.
The lanky -- okay, skinny -- 6-foot-7 right-hander from Brooklyn is just 20 years old, so it may be a while before you see him at the new Yankee Stadium. But the eighth-rounder from 2006 has all the earmarks of being a future star, and he'll likely join the rotation of the South Atlantic League's Charleston RiverDogs for his first full season of pro ball.
He comes off two short-season campaigns that offered glimpses of his potential. In his pro debut he posted a 1.16 ERA in seven starts in the Gulf Coast League, and last summer his ERA was 3.60 in six starts at short-season Staten Island. That 2007 campaign, however, was abbreviated by forearm tightness.
"He had some bumps and bruises but nothing serious," Yankees Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations Mark Newman said of Betances, whose repertoire is highlighted by a mid-90s fastball and curveball. "He's got high-caliber stuff."
2. Michael Burgess, OF
Nationals fans who live in the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C., can preview the future by heading up Interstate 270 to catch the Suns. They'll see some of the most exciting prospects in the much-improved Nats system, including the multi-talented Burgess.
A supplemental first-round pick in 2006, Burgess heads into his first full season after cracking 11 homers in just 198 at-bats in his debut between two short-season stops. His .617 slugging percentage in the Gulf Coast League led that circuit; don't be surprised to see him vie for the same title in the Sally League this year.
Big, strong and powerful, the right fielder will be working on his plate discipline to reduce his high strikeout rate, but that tends to come with the territory with young sluggers.
Look for him to light up opposing pitching and the home crowd's enthusiasm.
3. Matt Dominguez, 3B
The Grasshoppers will be hosting this year's South Atlantic League All-Star Game on June 17 -- don't be surprised to see Dominguez, a 2007 first-rounder, representing them.
A high school standout with dazzling defensive skills, his glove is way ahead of most of his contemporaries at the hot corner. But he is by no means a one-trick pony.
Just 18, he heads into his first full season with a surprisingly well-rounded and mature game for a teenager, boasting good plate discipline and polish. He's also extremely coachable, which is always a plus.
4. Wilmer Flores, SS
Mets fans bemoaning the stripping of a thin farm system to acquire ace Johan Santana need look no further than Flores to regain some hope for the future.
With a projectable body and live bat, the 17-year-old summer sign from Venezuela could soon top the organization's prospect list. While he may seem a little young and raw to head to a full-season club, that didn't stop them last year with 17-year-old catcher Francisco Pena and it may not dissuade them from sending Flores to Savannah.
Though he may start the season with the extended Spring Training squad in Florida, don't be surprised to see him in the Sally League before mid-summer.
5. The Four Southpaw Aces
Okay, so we're cheating and getting four for the price of one. The Rome Braves will feature a quartet of brilliant young left-handers and we couldn't pick just one.
Steve Evarts was the Braves' supplemental first-round pick in 2006 and part of the reason the short-season Danville Braves made it to the Appalachian League finals. He went 4-0 with a 1.95 ERA in eight games, walking four and striking out 34 in 37 innings.
Jeff Locke, a second-round pick in 2006 who, according to Wikipedia, goes by the nickname "The Redstone Rocket," was 7-1 with a 2.66 ERA for Danville, throwing a low-90s fastball and a nice off-speed arsenal.
Jose Ortegano led the organization with a 1.48 ERA at Danville, going 6-1 for the league runners-up.
Chad Rodgers, a 2006 third-round pick, posted a 3.18 ERA in two seasons of short-season ball and has limited opposing hitters to a .218 average.
6. Jose Martinez, OF
Long-time White Sox fans no doubt remember a lanky shortstop prospect from the late 1980s named Carlos Martinez, who went by the affectionate nickname "Café." He played for the club from 1988-1990 and was perhaps best known, later in his career with Cleveland, for hitting the home run that bounced off of Jose Canseco's head in 1993. He passed away at age 41 in 2006.
His legacy will live on, however, as his 19-year-old son Jose signed with the White Sox organization in 2006 and has the front office abuzz with his talent.
At 6-foot-5 and just 170 pounds he has plenty of room to grow but already boasts a strong arm and good skills across the board. Last summer at short-season Bristol he hit .282 with seven homers, 37 RBIs and 12 steals.
7. John Henry Moss, President Emeritus
In his first summer not serving as South Atlantic League president in 50 years, Moss' presence will still be felt as he visits each park on what the league is calling his "2008 Celebration Tour."
Starting on April 18 in Rome, Ga., and ending on Aug. 2 in Charleston, W. Va., with a stop at the league's All-Star Game along the way, each club will honor Moss in a pregame ceremony and retire No. 50 in his honor. A bronze plaque enumerating his achievements will be installed at each stadium as well.
8. Josh Smoker, LHP
Like Burgess, Smoker is a top prospect who will delight Nats fans making the trek out to Hagerstown this summer. A potential southpaw ace, he was taken in the supplemental first-round in 2007.
With a blazing fastball and an arsenal that includes an impressive splitter, he set the Georgia high school record for strikeouts but was shut down early because of the workload on his arm.
Invited as the youngest player in big-league training camp this spring, he tossed two shutout innings in an exhibition against nearby Georgetown University.
9. Oscar Tejeda, SS
Tejeda got a late start to his much-anticipated 2008 Spring Training due to a staph infection in his arm, but despite the delay he should soon be lighting it up for the Drive.
Playing in the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn Leagues at age 17 last summer he hit .296 with 10 stolen bases in 67 games, not bad even for an older player.
He has a projectable body that should ultimately supply decent power for a middle infielder and his defense is also a plus. A natural team leader, his personality will allow him to avoid the inevitable nickname of "Oscar the Grouch."
10. Angel Villalona, 1B/3B
One of the top young power prospects in the game, "Big V" will likely make his Sally League full-season debut at age 17. He'll join an Augusta squad that might be even more talent-laden than the dominant teams that won 90-plus games each of the past two seasons.
In his pro debut last summer, Villalona hit .285 with five homers and 37 RBIs in the Arizona League while displaying a plus arm and soft hands. This spring he's been the talk of Minor League camp, launching 450-foot bombs with regularity.
He still needs work on baseball fundamentals, as one might expect -- were he growing up in the U.S., he would just be starting his senior year of high school this coming September.
His size could become an issue as he's already a little more than the 210 pounds listed for his 6-foot-3 height.
Lisa Winston 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.