First-round picks, World Series winners and a Hall-of-Famer will be part of the Florida State League this season. The Class A circuit, generally considered one of the best in Minor League Baseball, has seen some of the game's brightest stars pass through its venues. Last season, Justin Verlander began his ascent
to Detroit by playing for Lakeland. Who'll be this year's rising star? Without further adieu, here's a look at 10 of the players and managers who could have a big impact on the Florida State League this season.
Gary Carter, St. Lucie
The Hall-of-Fame catcher cut his teeth as a manager last season in the Gulf Coast League and was successful enough that the Mets decided to bump him up. He relates well to the younger players, who have little choice but to respect his impressive credentials. The Kid wants to be a big-league manager someday and views this as another step toward that goal. Carter always has time for the fans, who will enjoy his outgoing personality at Tradition Field.
Mike Pelfrey, RHP, St. Lucie
The Mets' first-round pick signed in January, and expectations are high. He hasn't pitched since taking the mound for Wichita State last spring but both he and the club feel that's not a problem, viewing the time off as beneficial. He's expected to be an integral part of the staff in New York and may only spend a year or so in the Minor Leagues, so check him out early because he may be in Double-A Binghamton before long.
Ryan Braun, 3B, Brevard County
Braun, the fifth pick in last year's draft, will return to his stomping grounds for at least a while this season. The University of Miami product will give his home-state fans something about which they can cheer as he looks to light it up on the Space Coast. Braun combined to hit .352 with 10 homers and 45 RBIs last season at Helena (Pioneer League) and West Virginia (South Atlantic League). A strained elbow cost him some time at season's end, but he figures to be one of the rocks in what should be a spectacular Milwaukee infield for years to come.
Ryan Harvey, OF, Daytona
The former first-rounder (2003) had a big season in 2005, leading the Midwest League in homers (24) and finishing second in RBIs (100). He's got unbelievable power but needs to work on his discipline at the plate, cutting down on the strikeouts (137 last year). The pitching will be much better in the FSL, so it will be interesting to see how he adjusts. Regardless, the chance to see him go deep will make him a must-see in '06.
B.J. Szymanski, OF, Sarasota
The former second-rounder (2004) from Princeton has a world of potential but has also been hampered by injuries in each of his first two seasons. A two-sport star in the Ivy League -- he was the Tigers' leading receiver -- Szymanski has played in only 72 games since being drafted. But his age (23) and the fact that the Reds want to see what he's capable of accomplishing at a higher level will land him in the FSL. He's a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate and is dynamic when healthy.
Gaby Hernandez, RHP, Jupiter
The Marlins acquired the hard-throwing youngster from the Mets in the deal that sent Paul Lo Duca north. He spent the latter part of 2005 in the FSL with St. Lucie (2-5, 5.74) and didn't fare as well as he did in the South Atlantic League (6-1, 2.43). His fastball has a great deal of movement and he's not afraid to attack the hitter. If he can get a better grip on his off-speed stuff he should be able to handle the FSL better this time around. Hernandez tossed a no-hitter last season for Hagerstown on Father's Day, clinching the first-half title for the Suns.
Tyler Greene, SS, Palm Beach
The Cards grabbed Greene in the first round last season out of Georgia Tech. When he showed that he had little trouble handling the New York-Penn League, he was bumped up to the FSL, where he played 20 games and hit a respectable .271. He's a smart, versatile kid who has outstanding speed with the knowledge of how to use it. Don't expect him to be in Palm Beach for long, probably jumping to Springfield of the Double-A Texas League by mid-year.
Brad Harmon, IF, Clearwater
The Australian native had a solid season last year at Lakewood of the South Atlantic league, hitting .303 with 11 homers and 58 RBIs. While Mike Costanzo, last year's second-round pick, might get more attention if he earns a spot on the Clearwater roster, Harmon deserves just as much attention. He committed 32 errors in 511 chances at shortstop and second base last year but will get the nod at short for Clearwater. He had a strong World Cup for Australia and has shown a solid work ethic since signing in 2003.
Don Buford, Daytona
The former Orioles outfielder was part of the great Baltimore teams of the late 60s and early 70s. He's served the O's in a variety of positions during his post-playing career and last season served as former teammate Frank Robinson's first-base coach in Washington. The last of Buford's previous four managerial stints was in 2004 at Aberdeen of the New York-Penn League.
Kevin Boles, Fort Myers
The son of former Marlins manager John Boles, Kevin Boles arrives in the Florida State League after guiding Beloit to a Midwest League playoff berth in 2005. He's got a .509 winning percentage in five seasons as a Minor League skipper and has as much integrity as any skipper in baseball.