A league like the South Atlantic League is the perfect place to see future stars just getting started.
The 2006 version of the SAL should be ripe with 2005 draftees with a ton of potential who are just short on experience. Throw in a couple of former big leaguers who will play prominent roles in the circuit this season, and you've got 10 names to know in the South Atlantic League.
Eric Campbell, 3B, Rome
After a ho-hum debut following being the Braves' top pick in the 2004 draft, Campbell had a huge 2005 season in Danville, where he was named co-MVP of the Appalachian League with teammate Max Ramirez (who will join Campbell in Rome). Campbell led the Appy league in six offensive categories while hitting .313 and even stealing 15 bases. This season will be his first full-season test to see if he's Chipper's heir apparent.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Hickory
The top prospect in the Gulf Coast League, according to Baseball America, McCutchen not only showed the ability to hit and run, he also showed tremendous plate discipline not often seen in high school hitters. He's got power and speed and can play an above-average center fielder. That, along with his mature approach at the plate, allowed him to skip over the New York-Penn League and could mean he moves quickly through the Pirates system.
Chris Volstad, RHP, Greensboro
The Marlins have never shied away from taking young pitchers and pushing them. So far, Volstad has seemed up to the task. The tall right-hander wowed everyone in both the GCL and NY-Penn League last year, finishing his debut with a 2.22 ERA over 65 IP. The Marlins often move young pitchers quickly, but with the influx of talent brought in via trades at the upper levels, you should be able to get a good look at him.
Brandon Snyder, C, Delmarva
The 13th overall pick in last June's draft, Snyder was chosen as the Appy League's top prospect after showing good offensive polish over 44 games there. The son of former big league pitcher Brian Snyder is relatively new to catching, but the Orioles think he's got the skills necessary to stay behind the plate. Even if he has to move, he'll be able to hit enough at any position.
Koby Clemens, 3B, Lexington
The Astros' eighth-round pick and son of a fairly well-known Texas-born right-hander, Clemens exceeded expectations with his showing during his debut last year. Rather than follow in dad's footsteps as a fireballing hurler, this Clemens is a power-hitting third baseman who slugged .469 in 143 at-bats last summer. His work ethic, not surprisingly, is outstanding, allowing him to make the most of his abilities both at the plate and in the field.
Eli Iorg, OF, Lexington
The father-son game for the Legends this season sure could be fun. Garth's kid played with Roger's kid in Greeneville last summer and will move with him to the Sally League as well (Unofficially, the elder Iorg went 1-for-8 with a homer in his career against the Rocket). After hitting .333 and posting a .966 OPS in the Appy League last year, the University of Tennessee product may not be in Lexington for long.
Chaz Roe, RHP, Asheville
If you want to see the prototype for a "projectable arm," go check out the 6-foot-5 Roe when he gets to Asheville. The Rockies' supplemental first-round pick already throws in the mid-90s which comes in from a downward plane thanks to his height. He's got a plus, plus curve as well, though he needs to tighten it and gain consistency (thus the projectable part). A Pioneer League All-Star last summer, if Roe can start getting the hang of a changeup, he could be the best pitcher in the South Atlantic League.
Jose Tabata, OF, Charleston
Tabata is one of several exciting prospects the Yankees have in the lower levels of their system. He won't turn 18 until August, yet Tabata has a very advanced approach at the plate. Last summer in the Gulf Coast League, Tabata hit .314 with a .382 OBP while leading the circuit with 22 stolen bases. The power will come as he matures physically, with the first step coming on a Charleston team that also should have C.J. Henry and Austin Jackson on the roster.
Roberto Kelly, MGR, Augusta
Kelly spent 14 seasons in the big leagues and made two All-Star teams while playing for the Yankees in the early 1990s. Now he's managing the first full-season stop in the Giants' system for the second year. In his SAL debut in 2005, Kelly piloted the GreenJackets to a 77-59 record. He'll manage Team Panama in the World Baseball Classic before Augusta's season gets underway.
Cal Ripken Jr., owner, Augusta GreenJackets
Team No. 2 in Ripken Baseball's ambitious "10 teams in 10 years plan," this is Cal and his brother Billy's first foray into a team outside of their home in Maryland. Aberdeen has led the NY-Penn League in attendance every year of it's existence. Augusta finished second in the South Atlantic League in 2005; look for Ripken's presence to push the GreenJackets over the top. And who knows ... if you head out to Lake Olmstead Stadium, you never know when you might run into a soon-to-be Hall of Famer.