The California League opens the 2010 campaign Thursday. Here are 10 of the premier prospects the league will feature this season:
Jay Austin, OF -- Lancaster JetHawks
An extremely swift outfielder with great range and a strong throwing arm, Austin offense needs to improve at the plate to climb the ladder. He's considered by some to be the best athlete in the Astros' system but batted just .267 last year at Class A Lexington. Austin also needs to harness his speed more effectively -- he stole 23 bases but was caught 13 times.
Rex Brothers, LHP -- Modesto Nuts
A strong lefty reliever with only 21 1/3 innings of pro ball under his belt, Brothers' 28 strikeouts and 3.38 ERA suggest he can rise quickly. He was the 34th overall pick in the 2009 Draft and could develop into a closer.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B -- Visalia Rawhide
It will be interesting to see how Visalia will find playing time for its two elite first basemen (Ryan Wheeler is the other) because both are lethal hitters. Goldschmidt tore up the Pioneer League last year, batting .334/.408/.638 with a club-record 18 homers and 62 RBIs for Rookie-level Missoula.
Grant Green, SS -- Stockton Ports
The highly touted offensive-minded shortstop will get his first extended taste of pro ball with the Ports this year. A 2009 first-round pick who signed late last summer, he appeared in only five games for Stockton and hit .316 with three RBIs. Green's strength is at the plate, but the big club will want to see how he handles his position.
Ethan Martin, RHP -- Inland Empire 66ers
Ranked No. 49 on MLB.com's list of top prospects, Martin leads an impressive pitching staff at Inland Empire. He boasts one of the best curveballs in the Minors and induces a lot of swings and misses. He struck out 120 over 100 innings last year while allowing only 85 hits. His 61 walks indicate he needs to improve his control, but Martin is ticketed for a speedy rise through the Dodgers organization.
Aaron Miller, LHP -- Inland Empire 66ers
Another member of the Inland Empire rotation for whom the Dodgers have high expectations, Miller was a 2009 supplemental first-round pick and showed why in seven starts at Great Lakes. He was 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. Opponents hit just .208 against him.
Jordan Pacheco, C -- Modesto Nuts
Somewhat unheralded, probably because he's 24 years old and was only a ninth-round pick in the 2007 Draft, Pacheco got a chance to play everyday last year at Class A Asheville and made the most of it. He proved he can handle the stick by batting .322 with 13 homers and 79 RBIs in 117 games and also stole 12 bases in 14 tries.
Francisco Peguero, OF -- San Jose Giants
Just 21 years old, Peguero hit .353 in 75 games across two levels last season, then was named Most Outstanding Player in the Cal League Championship Series. He didn't hit for much power, but he stole 22 bases and played good defense. He's a bit too aggressive at the plate and would benefit from a more patient approach, walking only eight times in 328 plate appearances last year.
Kyle Russell, OF -- Inland Empire 66ers
This big-time power prospect for the Dodgers was Midwest League co-MVP last year. He led the circuit in homers (26), RBIs (102), extra-base hits (72) and slugging percentage (.545).
Ryan Wheeler, 1B -- Visalia Rawhide
A physical specimen at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, the lefty-swinging Wheeler is known for his plate discipline. He batted .361/.462/.540 in 72 games at two levels last year. Though he totaled only six homers, his slugging percentage and body type suggest he will improve on that number.